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2021 Recruiting Breakdown: Fresno State

A class with solid high school balanced with an injection of transfer talent.

NCAA Football: Fresno State at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the third post in our twelve-part recruiting breakdown series. Today looks at the #3 team in our rankings, Boise State.

The Bulldogs had a small, low-ranking class last year, one that was put together in a short amount of time. This year could not have been more different for Coach DeBoer and company. They took their opportunity and turned in one of the best 2021 recruiting classes in the Mountain West. More than any other team in the conference, Fresno State seemed to find the best balance of recruiting top high school talent as well as securing premium players in the transfer portal. To learn more about that balance, read below.

The Skinny:

  • 24 recruits signed
  • 18 high school players, 6 transfers
  • 8 offensive, 16 defensive
  • 17 3-stars per 247 Composite rankings.
  • 3 players with a composite rating of 85 or higher
  • 12 players with a composite rating between 82-84
  • Breakdown by state: 14 California, 2 Nevada, 2 Texas, 2 Washington, 1 Arizona, 1 Colorado, 1 New Mexico, 1 Utah
  • 75th in the 247 Composite Rankings

The Players:

QB Jaylen Henderson

Jaylen is an athletic left quarterback with a big arm. He has plenty of touch on his deep balls and is accurate throwing on the run. Speaking of running, Henderson is incredibly mobile, slipping away from defenders with ease, and is a legit threat on the ground. He makes quick decisions in the pocket and knows when to wait for open receivers versus when to tuck it and run. Jaylen is the starting QB of the future for the Bulldogs and the only question is how soon the future will begin.

RB Johnathan Arceneaux

Johnathan is a big talent coming in at running back. He is terrific in the open field, making cuts and dodging defenders with ease. Arceneaux reaches top end speed quickly and shoots through holes once he has the ball. He can also make a difference in the passing game and as a returner. Johnathan looks like a versatile weapon to factor into the offense going forward.

RB Jordan Hornbeak

Jordan is one of, if not the, best running back in the conference. He is shifty and quick coming out of the backfield and isn't hard to bring down. Hornbeak displays impressive vision and regularly is able to bounce outside to evade tackles. Often he can simply outrun defenders because he is so fast. Jordan should play right away next fall.

Transfer RB Jordan Wilmore

Jordan is one of the top transfers in the Mountain West. He was a key contributor at running back for Utah. Wilmore is a compact running back who brings a total package of speed, power, change of direction, and breaking tackles. He is smaller but uses his low center of gravity to his advantage. Jordan should compliment Ronnie Rivers well next year.

Transfer WR Ty Jones

Ty is a dynamic wide receiver coming to Fresno State by way of Washington. He is a true deep-threat who high points the ball well and adjust his routes to catch the ball in stride. Jones has tremendous hands to go along with his speed and he beats defenders easily. He can play multiple receiver positions but he looks best on the outside. Ty adds a much-needed weapon to the wide receiver unit to take pressure off of Jalen Cropper.

TE Tre Watson

Tre adds an instant dynamic and play-making ability to the tight end position. He is a dedicated blocker and gives himself for the team to succeed. Watson uses his hands to create a large catch radius and makes difficult catches in traffic over the middle of the field. He can make an impact on short or deep passing routes and defenses need to scheme for him. Tre will be a major benefit to the Bulldogs offense down the line if he keeps developing.

OL Rolan Fullwood

Rolan comes to Fresno State as an offensive lineman. He is quite athletic, even moonlighting as a tight end and defensive end. Fullwood is aggressive off the line of scrimmage and uses his lower body nicely to get the maximum power in his run-blocking. He keeps his hands in a good position and knocks defenders to the ground with ease. Rolan looks best as a guard for his future college position.

OL Braylen Nelson

Braylen is a two-way lineman who will be coming to the offensive line for Fresno State. He is aggressive off the snap and very physical at the point of contact. Nelson is instrumental in plays, pulling on runs and providing sound protection on pass plays. He squares up well on his blocks and gets in position in plenty of time. Braylen may need time to add weight and get used to the college game but he should find a spot along the line before too long.

DE Ja’Quez Harvey

Ja’Quesz is a talented defensive end in this class. He is an active, high-motor player who is able to make an impact in a variety of ways. Harvey excels at getting to the quarterback, pushing past blockers with his speed and body position. He is patient and present in defending the running game, getting off blocks at the line of scrimmage. Ja’Quez should develop into a solid defensive end who can stuff the run and pass-rush.

DE Tito Chikere

Tito is a menace of a pass-rusher that the Bulldogs were able to sign. He easily gets into the backfield largely in thanks to a speed rush. Chikere chases down quarterbacks and wraps up to ensure they can’t escape. He also steps up big into the run game, filling gaps immediately to shut down lanes. Tito looks great as a traditional defense end who can impact the game in a few different ways.

DE Frankco Gratton Jr

Frankco has intriguing size at defensive end. He features a variety of moves at the line of scrimmage to get past the o-line, but it appears the swim-move is his most effective. Gratton is big in run support and can match the agility of running backs, which helps neutralize big plays. He gets into the correct position quickly, which can assist him in pass or run defense. Frankco may need some time to develop before getting on the field, but he should become an asset.

DT Julius Lewis

Julius is an explosive defensive lineman who can play all over the line. He pushes off would-be blockers fairly easily to get in the backfield quickly. Lewis excels at rushing the passer with his speed and follows the ball with concentrated skill. He also stuffs up the run, bear-hugging players in his tackles. Julius looks good at end or tackle, but if he puts on weight, he can be a talented tackle down the line.

LB Zeke Branham (signed but not announced by the school)

Zeke is a hard-nosed and versatile linebacker. He can play up on the line, where his tackling ability is on display as he helps in run support or is deployed as a blitzer. Branham is at his best playing in coverage, where he can matchup with tight ends or even receivers, utilize his speed. He sticks to his man so he can make plays on the ball. Zeke looks like every bit of a SAM linebacker where his versatility to be best used.

Transfer LB Isaac Garcia

Isaac comes from Oregon State to bolster the linebacker unit. He was a productive high schooler and a highly rated player back in the day. Garcia is fierce off the edge, and wraps up well when tackling ball-carriers. He is able to roam sideline to sideline and doesn’t give up on plays. Isaac adds talent and depth to the Bulldog’s linebacker corps and figures to make an impact next fall.

Transfer LB Tyson Maeva

Tyson was originally a Boise State starter before spending a year at FIU. He now returns to the Mountain West, where he was an all-conference caliber linebacker thanks to his ability to defend the run. Maeva is a pure tackler who can lead the defense at the MIKE spot thanks to his communication and ability to cover the middle of the field. He brings maturity to a conference where he has already been one of the top linebackers. Tyson will have a good year next fall.

DB Malik Brooks

Malik was primarily an offensive player but is switching to full-time defense at the college level. He is quite the athlete and displays speed above the rest of the players on the field. Brooks is physical and isn’t afraid of contact on the field. He has great vision on the field, which should suit him well in the secondary. Malik may need some time to full covert to defense, but his athleticism should win out before too long.

DB Julian Neal

Julian has spent time on both ends of the ball but is playing defensive back for the Bulldogs. He is quick, agile, and changes direction with ease. Neal is quite the play-maker and squeezes our every possible yard running when receiving or after an interception. He has a knack for the ball and isn’t afraid of contact. Julian may need more time to grow into a defensive role but it’s clear to see he can do well there.

DB Charlotin Charles

Charlotin is a playmaker on defense coming in for Fresno State. He is a hard-hitter who gets to the ball fast and wraps up on tackles with power. Charles can play in tight man coverage or in zone and has a knack for finding a way to make a play. He is also a capable blitzer and run-stopper. Charlotin looks like an ideal fit for the Bulldog’s hybrid safety/linebacker position once he works his way up the depth chart.

DB Alzillion Hamilton

Alzillion is a productive two-way player coming to the Bulldog defense. He is full of speed at defensive back and solid ball skills. Hamilton is explosive with the ball in his hands and it a threat to score anytime he gets an interception. He tracks the ball in the air well thanks to his time as a receiver. Alzillion is the type of player who is going to find a way to make an impact on the field.

DB Emari Pait

Emari is yet another defensive back in this class. He brings nice size to the secondary, able to neutralize wide receivers. Pait is elusive and agile, which combined with his size and strength make him versatile enough to be utilized in many different ways in a defensive scheme. He is a hard-hitter in run support who has great technique as a tackler. Emari looks like he can help out sooner rather than later.

DB Jalen Williams

Jalen looks great at cornerback going forward. He plays tight coverage and clearly knows how to defend receivers. Williams is able to follow the ball in the air and get a hand on the ball more often than not thanks to his great positioning. He can also make an impact on special teams and clearly has a high football IQ. Jalen’s combination of intelligence and skills should make him a strong player going forward.

DB Cale Sanders

Cale is another player coming into the Fresno State secondary. He flies to the ball with great closing speed and is always ready to make a tackle. Sanders is versatile enough to be used as a blitzer or in run support for some defensive plays and performs those tasks with no issue. His vision allows him to be in position to make plays nearly every time. Cale will benefit from a redshirt season but it won’t be too long before he gets on the field.

Transfer DB Elijah Gates

Elijah is a premium talent entering the Bulldog secondary. Especially considering the program has a good track record with developing and making stars out of their defensive backs. Gates possesses incredible speed and good hands, which allow him to match the athleticism of wide receivers when in coverage. His high school tape demonstrates that he is a huge playmaker no matter the situation. Again, Elijah figures to be an instant difference-maker for Fresno State.

Transfer DB Daron Bland

Daron is another transfer, although one from less-heralded Sacramento State. He reads the field well, flocks to where the action is, and has good game speed. Bland is a tough tackler who isn’t afraid to get in the thick of things near the line of scrimmage. He can also make an impact on special teams if they choose to utilize him that way. Daron will add talent and depth to the secondary.

Team Writer Thoughts:

This entire class was all about filling in gaps, and adding depth. The 2020 Signing Class was thrown together quickly with Jeff Tedford holdovers and those that the staff could pull together. Then throw in the completely absent off-season and an almost completely new staff, the 2021 class would really be the first full class for them. Even after a 3-3 2020 Fall season, the staff put together what looks on paper to be Fresno State’s best ever recruiting class. Utilizing both the transfer portal and standard recruits, they loaded up on talent and positions of need both for 2021 and the future.

The biggest headline for the class has been what Fresno State’s focus needs to be on, Central California recruits. 10 of their 16 signees hail from the Golden State, including star running back from San Joaquin Memorial RB Jordan Hornbeak from Fresno. The change on the defensive side from a 4-3 to a 4-2-5 required recruiting a different type of player, and the staff did focus on that. They brought in huge DT Julius Lewis, DB Jalen Williams, and DE/LBs Ja’Quez Harvey and Tito Chikere. This should build up the run-stopping that was sorely missing in the 2020 defense.

On the transfer front, it will be interesting to see which players are eligible to play this year. While the NCAA did not pass its resolution for a free one-time transfer, but it stands to reason that most transfers will appeal for immediate eligibility. Jordan Wilmore and Ty Jones both come in to crowded rotations at RB and WR respectively, but grad transfer Tyson Maeva (yes, from Boise St) should be an immediate impact player on the defense. The staff though managed to entice 3 different 4* transfers from PAC-12 schools (Wilmore, Jones, and UCLA DB Elijah Gates) all boosting the profile of the Bulldogs and the talent level on the field.

Quick Hits:

Headliner(s):

Matt: Hornbeak, Henderson, Harvey, Williams

Mike: Hornbeak, Williams, Henderson

Talented enough to play right away:

Matt: Hornbeak, Williams, Harvey, Fullwood

Mike: Hornbeak, Williams, Henderson, Arceneaux, Harvey

Sleeper Recruit:

Matt: Lewis, Branham

Mike: Lewis, Hamilton

Best unit:

Matt: Running Back

Mike: Running back, Defensive back.

Summary:

There it is for the Bulldogs. It’s an impressive class, one that is leaps and bounds better than last year and the previous years under Tedford. Clearly, the transfers will be able to plug into holes in the depth chart right away. As for the top high school talent, it will be worth keeping an eye on to see how many of them play as true freshmen and who pans out over the course of their careers. Fresno State had some bright moments last season, and the hope is that this class can jump-start their journey back to the top of the conference.

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