It's safe to say that Kansas has not been a good team in the last several years. If you want proof of this, you can look to the fact that KU has finished last in the conference every year since 2009. The way to rebuild a program in college sports is through recruiting, and this year's recruiting class is going to be huge for the Jayhawks. Even if these incoming freshman do not see the field much during the season, their development and future success is crucial to bringing Kansas to a consistently competitive level. Of course, fans are often impatient and want to see immediate results. So, what sort of impact will the 2014 recruiting class have on the field this year?
My prediction: not much of an impact in terms of actual playing. Let's start with KU's top recruit, the four-star running back from Gardner Edgerton High School, Traevohn Wrench. Unfortunately, there is not a whole to say about Wrench as he will not be attending Kansas this season due to academic reasons; he will instead be heading to Butler Community College. Without James Sims this coming season, KU is looking towards a running back by committee setup, unless someone can step up. Brandon Bourbon will enter as the likely starter, but it would not be surprising to see several other backs get a shot this year. Wrench likely would not have had a huge impact on the field this year anyway, a common thought that now is fact, and now he will have to dedicate himself this year to making sure he is only at Butler for one season and can move on to Lawrence next year.
Of all the skill-position players that Kansas signed in this class (that's a terrible term but you know what it means), if I were to peg two to have the biggest impact I would say it would be Bobby Hartzog (ESPN 3-star, 247 3-star) and/or Darious Crawley (ESPN 3-star, 247 3-star). The two top receivers in this class for the Jayhawks, they'll be put into a position group that needs a lot of help. Amongst wide receivers last year, the team leader in receptions was Tony Pierson with 24 catches. In a 12 game season, no receiver had more than 11 catches except one (James Sims led all players with 25). Can some of these statistics be attributed to bad quarterback play? Of course they can, there's no doubt about that. The fact remains though that receiver was a very weak spot for the Jayhawks in 2013. Transfer Nick Hartwell will be a definite improvement for the receiving corps, and the likes of Rodriguez Coleman and Tre' Parmalee should be even better with another season under their belts, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. It would not completely surprise me to see either Hartzog or Crawley, or perhaps both, see some reasonable action this coming year and make some sort of splash.
Clearly, offense is not the only area that needs improvement for the Jayhawks, and hopefully in the next couple of years this recruiting class will be making a real impact on the field. With Ben Heeney on the way out after this season, the KU corps of linebackers is going to be looking for an all-around solid player to serve as some sort of replacement, and while we cannot possibly say at this point that he'll match up to Ben Heeney, top defensive recruit Kyron Watson (OLB, ESPN 4-star, 247 3-star) is going to be looked at as a potential future star for this Kansas team, even if his immediate impact is minimal. Noted for his ability in the run game, Watson is a player who, in my opinion, has the potential to become the most successful player from this class. This has to be taken with a grain of salt, because a lot of kids look very impressive in high school, but reviewing some film of him makes me think that Watson can turn into a solid player at the collegiate level. The current starting linebacker situation is fine, with the likes of Heeney, Jake Love and Courtney Arnick up ahead of Watson on the depth chart, but it would not entirely surprise me to see Kyron Watson get a few reps this year. He may not become a starting-quality player this season, but watch out for him to become a mainstay of the KU defense in the next few years.
I do not believe that there is going to be a big on-field impact made by any of these incoming freshmen this year. While a few may get some opportunities to get in the game here and there, I do not think that any will set the world on fire. We only touched on some of the top recruits here, are there any other members of the class of 2014 who you think could make some noise this season? Any low-ranked prospects you think we should keep an eye on? Go ahead and comment, let us know.