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Signing Day Central: Duke

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Head Coach: David Cutcliffe

Total number of commitments: 21

While the 2015 Blue Devils may have taken a step back on the field compared to recent years, Duke continued to improve on the recruiting trail. For the second straight year, the Blue Devils secured a commitment from the highest-rated recruit in program history, with Scott Bracey replacing 2015 signee Ben Humphreys as Duke’s biggest recruiting win.

Duke’s recruiting class may be one of the best in school history, and one major servie has the Blue Devils in the top 25, nationally.

In addition to Bracey — the 4-star receiver out of Richmond — Duke pulled in a pair of 4-star offensive linemen: Bogart, Georgia’s Robert Kraeling and Tarpon Springs, Florida, product Julian Santos. Linebacker Koby Quansah gives David Cutcliffe a quartet of 4-stars in the 21-man class.

Duke also adds Mark Birmingham, a 3-star tight end out of Ashburn, Virginia, who is considered 4-star quality by several services.

Cutcliffe, who is known for his work with quarterbacks, including Peyton and Eli Manning, wasn’t able to land a passer in the 2016 class. Duke had a commitment from Chazz Surratt, but the highly rated quarterback flipped to archrival North Carolina last June.

In general, this class is light on skill position players on the offensive side. Duke brings in just one wide receiver, one tight end and two running backs. On defense, Duke will reload its secondary with five defensive backs joining the team.

 

2016 commitments

Player, POS, City, State, Rivals.com Star Rating

Mark Birmingham, TE, Ashburn, VA,***

Scott Bracey, WR, Richmond, VA, ****

Brittain Brown, ATH, Canton, GA, ***

Elijah Deveaux, RB, Charlotte, NC, ***

Xander Gagnon, LB, Charlotte, NC, ***

Mark Gilbert, DB, Fayetteville, NC, ***

Brandon Hill, LB, Columbia, SC, ***

Tre Hornbuckle, DE, Murray, KY, **

Myles Hudzick, DB, Arlington, VA, **

Javon Jackson, DB, Tyrone, GA, ***

Robert Kraeling, OL, Bogart, GA, ****

Terrell Lucas, DE, Miramar, FL, ***

Jaylen Miller, OL, Jacksonville, FL, ***

Jacob Morgenstern, LB, New Canaan, CT, ***

Chidi Okonya, DE, Riverdale, GA, ***

Koby Quansah, LB, West Hartford, CT, ****

Austin Reed, K, Prattville, AL, **

Julian Santos, OL, Tarpon Springs, FL, ****

Dylan Singleton, DB, Lawrenceville, GA, ***

Liam Smith, OL, Red Bank, NJ, ***

Antone Williams, DB, College Park, GA, ***

 

National Recruiting Rankings:

Rivals.com:  No. 68 (2002), No. 109 (2003) under Carl Franks; No. 70 (2004), No. 46 (2005), No. 56 (2006), No. 78 (2007) under Ted Roof; No. 65 (2008), No. 51 (2009), No. 72 (2010), No. 77 (2011), No. 52 (2012), No. 68 (2013), No. 58 (2014), No. 59 (2015) under David Cutcliffe.

Scout.com:  No. 60 (2002), No. 76 (2003) under Carl Franks; No. 65 (2004), No. 31 (2005), No. 36 (2006), No. 64 (2007) under Ted Roof; No. 71 (2008), No. 52 (2009), No. 71 (2010), No. 63 (2011), No. 63 (2012), No. 70 (2013), No. 67 (2014), No. 69 (2015) under David Cutcliffe

247Sports: No. 69 (2011), No. 64 (2012), No. 78 (2013), No. 59 (2014), No. 50 (2015) under David Cutcliffe

 

2016 Duke ACC Rankings by Network (& overall national ranking):

ESPN: No. 4 (No. 28 overall)

Rivals: No. 6 (No. 30 overall)

Scout: No. 4 (No. 25 overall)

247Sports: No. 5 (No. 33 overall)

 

Signee Breakdown by Rivals.com Star Rating: Five-Stars (0), Four-Stars (4), Three-Stars (14), Two-Stars (3)

States Represented (9): Georgia (6), North Carolina (3), Florida (3), Virginia (3), Connecticut (2), Alabama (1), Kentucky (1), South Carolina (1), New Jersey (1)

Breakdown by Position: Defensive Backs (5), Linebackers (4), Offensive Linemen (4), Defensive Linemen (3), Wide Receivers (1), Athletes (1), Tight Ends (1), Running Backs (1), Kickers (1)

 

Top Recruiter: Defensive backs coach Derek Jones may have been the MVP of the staff during this recruiting cycle. Jones had a role in landing cornerback Mark Gilbert, defensive end Chidi Okonya and defensive back Dylan Singleton. While it makes sense that Jones would be involved with the recruitment of future members of the secondary, he also helped to land several linebacker and defensive line prospects. On the other side of the ball, he was involved in landing running back Elijah Deveaux as well. All told, Jones played a major role in 10 of the 21 commitments in the class of 2016.

 

A Closer Look

Scott Bracey

Height: 6-3

Weight: 210

Richmond, Virginia; Benedictine

Duke’s first 2016 recruit was the gem of the class. Scott Bracey, ranked 138th in the country on the 247Sports Composite Index, became the highest-rated recruit in Duke history when he gave his verbal to David Cutcliffe in July 2014.

Even though it was 19 months before National Signing Day, Bracey was ready to choose his college, and he hasn’t wavered over the year and a half he’s been a Blue Devils commit.

“I feel like the football program is building something,” he said at the time. “I think this is the start of something big. I think they’re starting something special and I want to be a part of that.”

He’ll be a key building block as the program strives to get to the next level.

 

LIKELY TO PLAY RIGHT AWAY

He’s just a 2-star recruit, but Austin Reed will have big shoes to fill. Reed’s task will be to replace perhaps the most successful placekicker in Duke history: Ross Martin. Reed, a Prattville, Alabama, product, chose Duke over Clemson, Mississippi State and Alabama. He has a pair of walk-ons to beat out for the job of taking over after Martin gave Duke four years of knowing they were getting into field-goal range soon after crossing midfield.

WHAT THEY SAID

“Academics have been a big part of my recruitment. They’re a top 10 university in the world, and there are a lot of benefits and opportunities that come with a Duke degree. I wanted a smaller school. I’ve been in a smaller environment at Benedictine, and I’m used to the small school feel. Duke is two hours away from home, and I didn’t want to go too far away.” — Scott Bracey, WR (to Rivals)

BIGGEST FLIP

David Cutcliffe raided his old employer for a 3-star defensive end. Chili Okonya committed to Tennessee last May, but in December, he decommitted, visited Duke and flipped to the Blue Devils in a one-week span. He’s been described by his high school coaches as “a warrior” and a future “Senator or Governor Okonya”. His parents are immigrants from Nigeria and put a strong emphasis on academics, threatening to pull him out of football if he got too many C grades.

 

Position-by-Position Breakdown

TE: Duke loses Braxton Deaver and David Reeves. While the Blue Devils have some veteran tight ends on the roster, including Dan Beilinson and Erich Schneider, 3-star recruit Mark Birmingham has a good chance of garnering playing time early in his Duke career. Birmingham chose Duke over offers from Florida State, Florida and Michigan in late 2014. “I believe I can bring a lot to the team. I have the ability to stretch the field and create mismatches on smaller defenders,” he told SB Nation.

DB: Duke always seems to stock up on defensive backs, and this recruiting cycle is no exception. Mark Gilbert, a promising corner out of Fayetteville’s Terry Sanford high, is already enrolled at Duke and will participate in spring practice. The Blue Devils also have a commitment from safety Dylan Singleton, brother of current Duke defensive back Deondre Singleton. Corners Antone Williams and Javon Jackson, as well as safety Myles Hudzick, give Duke another deep secondary class.

OL: Recruiting is a game of inches, and Duke came tantalizingly close to having an offensive line class for the ages. Duke was a finalist for 4-stars Clark Yarbrough and Michael Menet but finished second for both. Yarborough chose Stanford, while Menet picked Penn State. Instead, Duke will have to settle for “just” a pair of 4-star linemen in Robert Kraeling and Julian Santos. Guard Jaylen Miller is a highly rated 3-star who will join them, as will 3-star Liam Smith.

LB: Duke doesn’t need many pure linebackers in its 4-2-5 scheme, so many of the recruits will likely play safety or a hybrid position like Bandit. Still, Duke brought in a solid quartet of high school backers in the class. Jacob Morgenstern is already enrolled at Duke and getting ready for spring practice. Four-star Koby Quansah is the most promising player in the group, and 3-stars Xander Gagnon and Brandon Hill complete the class.