Safety Kaleel Gaines
Frostproof, Florida (Frostproof)
between 5'11'' and 6'0', between 170 and 175 pounds.
Consensus 3* on all four sites.
Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, UCF, Wisconsin
Thoughts on offer sheet:
*whistles* That's a hit-squad of heavies right there. The participants of the last 2 title games, some huge Big Ten programs, and flavor of the week UCF. That's a really, really strong offer list.
Which is why with that self-evident take out of the way, I want to take a couple paragraphs to chat about a fun little recruiting two-step.
Slap Gaines' same offer list on a four or five star player and everyone just automatically goes, "Wow! Great offer list!". But Gaines, inevitably, gets to deal with some people being like, "Yeah, but are those 'commitable' offers, though?" This type of chatter pops up every-time a 3-star prospect commits to somewhere over a 'name' school, "Ah, they probably didn't offer offer, they just 'offered'." Look, here's two things we know:
1. Every school, even Texas and Notre Dame and USC offer many more kids than they actually have scholarships for in any given year, with the logical assumption that, at most, a minority of those offers are going to want to ultimately sign with them before the class fills up. Nearly every school from Bama to Massachusetts is eventually going to have to turn away a kid who they previously offered as the limited spots at that position dry up.
2. Kids self-report their offers. Schools can't comment on recruits until they've signed, and even if they could, there's no way they'd ever be willing to admit they got beaten out for a kid on the recruiting trail.
Is it really that far fetched that a defensive back that Michigan State showed heavy interest in also attracted serious attention from some other premier programs, even lots of them?
Could Gaines have dialed up Saban or Malzhan or Fischer and committed to each of them today? Maybe, maybe not. But shouldn't we assume all reported offers are legit until we explicitly get a 'this kid tried to commit there and they wouldn't let him.' story leaked out? I guess I don't see why not. It seems more fair to take a kid at his word as to who was interested enough to offer him a scholarship, than to apply this sort of stricter offer scrutiny based on what number of icons a scouting site puts by his name.
Sorry for the digression.
Thoughts on Film
The first impression from this film is that Gaines has two things that immediately make sense for an MSU defensive back:
1. He is a willing and able tackler
Gaines is not, in this film at least, a text-book form tackler. But when he hits players they go down, and he hits them before they go far. The first part of that signals a willingness to tackle, the certain type of person will to take a 10 yard running start and slam into another human being, which is hard to teach. The second part is the ability to diagnose, see where a play is going before it gets there, also hard to teach. Improved tackling, easier to teach.
2. Good size, and speed to burn
It's not impossible to see Gaines as a passable slot receiver at MSU, but the main thing I took out of the various sweeps and inverted veer plays he ran on offense was a better sense of his general athleticism and ability to stay with players in coverage. His competition doesn't look great, but he certainly runs circles around them.
What was missing on this set of highlights, was any direct viewing of how he fairs in pass coverage. Luckily, he played more pass d earlier in his career, as more of a nickel-back, which you can see here. There he defends a healthy number of passes (and can't come up with a couple would-be interceptions), in a few different situations, enough to shore up concerns about that aspect of his game.
And as always with defensive backs, the only thing you really need to know is that Barnett, Narduzzi, and Dantonio wanted him in Green and White, and so you should too.
Outlook on the Rest of the Class
Gaines is the 12th commit in MSU's 2015 class, and probably the 3rd defensive back so far. Spots are filling up quick, and if the scuttlebutt is true, the class could be down to just a few spots by the time the Spartans kick off their game vs Jacksonville State.
It seems likely that Gaines will start his career at MSU at safety, with the flexibility of being moved around elsewhere if that doesn't work out. I think he's a little raw, but should have the luxury of getting a year or two to further learn the position, before potentially getting eased in on third downs and ultimately into a starting lineup.
Frostproof, Florida is a town of ~3,000, a few hundred citizens smaller than Dry Branch, Georgia, the hometown of Darqueze Dennard. Players from small towns can, and do, make big impacts. Congratulations Kaleel, and welcome!