The fax machines can be packed away for another year, as National Signing Day has come and gone, and BYU's 2016 recruiting class is in the books. Despite not getting anything close to a full cycle to evaluate and recruit talent, Kalani Sitake and BYU's new coaching staff managed to keep the bulk of their recruiting class together, while finishing strong, giving BYU one of their best classes in recent memory.
At the end of National Signing Day, the Cougars added 24 players, including two consensus blue-chippers, and finished with the 50th-ranked class nationally, via the 247 Composite. That's BYU's highest ranked class since 2010, when they finished 30th.
What does this class mean for this year, the direction BYU football is going, and more? Let's take a closer look.
BYU's finish to the 2016 recruiting class was very, very strong
Before we dig too deep into the numbers, it's worth remembering some very important context here. BYU had a coaching search just a few months before National Signing Day, and didn't have a 100% complete coaching staff until a few days before this recruiting cycle ended. It would have been completely reasonable for this class to fall apart thanks to defections, and the lack of time to properly evaluate talent and build relationships. After all, that's pretty common for programs that change coaches after the season. You don't really judge the coaching staff until their next recruiting class.
Not only was BYU able to add a few productive players right as the horn sounded on NSD, but more importantly, they were able to prevent any major defections. Many of BYU's top 2016 players, from Jonah Trinnaman to Max Tooley to Jaren Hall, could have flipped, but Sitake and staff kept everybody in the boat, while also adding to it. That's a pretty impressive feat, and could bode well to what this staff can do when given an entire cycle (and staff) to work with.
The 2016 recruiting class was a big improvement, but BYU probably still has a ways to go
Compared to previous BYU classes, on paper, this one certainly looks pretty good. It features two consensus blue-chip players, in JUCO DT Handsome Tanielu (who should compete for a starting job out of the gate), and four-star CB Troy Warner, who will probably see snaps somewhere next season, either at defensive back, wideout, or special teams. Multiple other players picked up four-star ratings from at least one service as well. 20 of BYU's 24 NSD commitments had at least a three-star rating in the 247 Composite rankings (although not every prospect was rated by all four major services).
The problem is, BYU isn't playing against BYU. They're playing challenging schedules against multiple teams that recruit more, and better, players. Next season, BYU faces seven teams that have outrecruited BYU in recent memory. In 2017, it could be five. Utah's recruiting profile is continuing to grow as well, and the future is only going to get tougher.
For a variety of reasons, BYU probably isn't going to be pulling down top 25 classes in the near future. But it is reasonable to think that the 50th best class in the country isn't the program ceiling. Improving the program's depth and overall talent level is going to be critical if they expect to play multiple well-resourced, power programs a season, and all the "coaching up" of two stars with only Air Force offers won't help you beat out NFL draft picks on a regular basis.
Last year, BYU had one of the highest percentages of walk-ons on their two-deep in the country. That's not sustainable if they want to be a Top 25 caliber program against this schedule — and improved recruiting on all levels is the way to prevent that.
I would not expect a ton of members from this class to make an immediate impact
At the top end, there are several players who should crack the two-deep or see snaps early. Beyond Warner and Tanielu, Jonah Trinnaman may be needed to immediately contribute at wideout, given the number of other targets who recently have left the program. There could be room for a pass rusher to crack the lineup early as well (perhaps Keanu Salepaga?).
But given the makeup of this roster, while everybody will compete, I'm not sure there are a ton of other spots, outside of special teams, for too many other players to step in on day one. Plus, many of the other bigger names in the class will be going on missions first. I would expect the bulk of the players from this group to redshirt, or not make significant impacts on the field this season.
That's not a bad thing, of course. Projecting half your freshman class to do big things right away is typically not something good teams anticipate.
BYU could certainly have another solid class in 2017. The state of Utah already has four consensus blue-chip prospects, and more could be added over the spring and summer as local kids get additional evaluation and exposure over the camp circuit. BYU has already been aggressive in courting high level out-of-state prospects for 2017 as well (they just offered one of the best offensive tackles in the country). There's certainly a good reason to be optimistic, given how 2016 closed, and the mentality of the coaching staff. But for BYU to simply be a regular Top 25-caliber team, they can't let the 2016 class be their peak.
In all likelihood, groups even better than this one will need to be the norm, not a twice-a-decade high water mark.