Brad Lambert and the Charlotte 49ers staff officially welcomed 16 new players into the fold as the team's fourth recruiting class took shape on National Signing Day. In a way, it feels a little like the first because it's the first signing class that will play entirely in FBS and Conference USA. Let's break it down:
|Greensboro (N.C.) Smith
|Huntington (W.V.) Spring Valley
Four members of the current front five are either true juniors or redshirt juniors, and the fifth one, right tackle Danny Book, is a senior. It's fair to think that the three players headed in will be pushing hard to grab a spot on the depth chart. It's also not out of the question that one of the three could be in line to either replace Book at RT completely or be a backup at another spot on the line in 2016.
Charlotte still has Kalif Phillips around for another couple of seasons but will have to think at least short term as to who will share the load with presumed backup Dammarrell Alexander next year and, long-term, who will back Phillips up in 2016 and be ready to take the baton a year after that. Could Rankin knock Alexander back a peg on the depth chart next season? Time will tell. Note: Joseph Young from Fairfield (S.C.) Central came in as a verbal commit to Charlotte but had not yet signed as of this writing; David Scott from the Charlotte Obsever tweeted that Tennessee could be making a push for the player's services.
|Charlotte (N.C.) Butler
|Harrisburg (N.C.) Hickory Ridge
One thing is for sure: Charlotte is very, very deep at wide receiver. So deep, in fact, that it's basically a given that both Barrow and Mullen (son of 49ers offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen) will sit out the 2015 season as redshirts. It's not because they aren't talented enough; it's just that the older, more experienced guys in front of them have a good lock on the position at this time. We'll see how they're utilized this year, if at all.
|Charlotte (N.C) Victory Christian
|Mt. Pleasant (S.C.) Wando
One thing to keep in mind when looking at the tight ends is that Mullen's offense doesn't really utilize TEs in the traditional sense. They are used as H-backs, meaning that they will need to be more versatile and Swiss-army-knife like in their capabilities as not just receivers, but upfront blockers. You can see from looking at the two incoming freshmen's vitals that size and strength are key to playing this particular position.
|Winter Garden (Fla.) Foundation Academy
|Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek
The crown jewel of this particular group looks to be Lyon, who was offered by Marshall, Ball State and Toledo (among others), with schools like Michigan State, Florida State and South Carolina showing interest. He'll push incumbent cornerbacks Tank Norman and Greg Cunningham Jr. when he gets to campus in the fall. McDonald joins former high school teammate Nick Halmon on the team, so he'll be familiar with at least one player on the team.
|South Charleston (W.V.)
|Jeff Gemmell (ATH)
|Wake Forest (N.C.) Heritage
|Roanoke (Va.) Hidden Valley
One of Charlotte's biggest concerns is replacing Caleb Clayton-Molby, who will leave a big gap in the linebacker corps with his departure after 2015 (he gained a medical redshirt after injury during 2014). The other ILB slot? That depends on the health of Nick Cook, who was injured during the 2014 campaign and was spelled quite nicely by true freshman Dustin Crouser, who could very well slide over to Clayton-Molby's vacant spot as a full-time starter in 2016. OLB incumbents Jalen Holt and Nico Alcalde should be starters once more in 2015. Can Cunningham, Gemmell and Harris push the vets in camp and make the case for themselves getting into the rotation?
|Wilmington (N.C.) New Hanover
|Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek
Former NFL first-round pick Aaron Curry will have the opportunity to work with Hardy and Suydam directly as the team's defensive line coach. Defensive end is a very deep position at Charlotte (with a redshirt junior-to-be starting on each side of NT Larry Ogunjobi in the 3-4 scheme that new DC Matt Wallerstedt will inherit), though, so it might not be until 2016 (unless they really impress in camp and get worked into the rotation) that these two get a shot at some playing time.
By the Numbers
9--the number of recruits from the state of North Carolina. South Carolina is represented by two players, West Virginia by two, and one each from Georgia, Florida and Virginia.
6--the number of signees from the Charlotte area.
Offense makes up nine members of the class, while defense makes up eight.
552--Denzel Irvin, the recruit farthest from home, is from Winter Garden, Florida--552 miles from the Charlotte campus.
Who To Watch
Definitely Lyon. The Charlotte product grabbed offers from high-end FCS programs as well as several MAC teams before settling on playing right in his backyard. It's a very strong get and key for an upstart group that is looking to keep homegrown talent from shipping off to larger, more well-known destinations. Keep an eye on the offensive linemen, too, namely Trevor Stacy, wooed from West Virginia by O-line coach and former Marshall TE coach Phil Ratliff.