Going into today, 22 young men had verbally commmitted to the coaching staff to come to Iowa State, and after the day, 21 have faxed their LOIs while 1 is expected to tomorrow. There was no major drama, and guys who said they were coming, are coming. There were some guys the coaching staff went after and missed on, but they weren't guys anybody expected to sign. Now that the guys have all signed, this is where fans start to play coach. They are making their own depth chart, discussing what the starting lineup is going to be in 2012, and all of that. Internet debates have and will continue to take place, all of which entails wild predictions of high school (and some JUCO) athletes in what they will do in the future.
For me, I care mostly about the upcoming year, but recruiting at Iowa State is less about the following year. This class is more about 2013 and 2014, than it is about 2011. Recruiting is important, but what makes Iowa State tough to analyze is the way you have to recruit to be successful. It is all about getting a specific skill in the spot you need it. For example, say you need a linebacker that can stop the run. If you're Iowa State, you aren't going to be able to land the guy who can do it all from day one. Instead, you get the guy that does the one thing you need, develop them, and hopefully by the end of their career they can do more than one thing well.
You have to bring in players that are coach-able, and as a coaching staff you have to be more of a teacher and less of a director than at other places. What makes it hard as a fan, is we may be able to have some idea of what a player can do if they suited up today, but as fans we aren't able to know what an individual player's ceiling is, unless it is relayed from the coaching staff, or until we see them play some games.
So now comes the question, "ok the guys are signed, what does it all mean?". Honestly, that is a good question, but one nobody has the answer to. With the JUCOs, I'd expect all of them to either play or get a legit chance to compete for the starting position. They all fill high need positions (QB, WR, C, OLB) going into next year. As far as freshmen go, your guess is as good as mine. A lot of it is going to depend on how things come along. It would seem like Nealy could see the field, but I remember thinking the same thing about Shontrelle, and he played much less than I originally thought he would.
Really my concerns about the program are two separate functions. For next year, I'm worried about the offense. The terrible offense really cost this team big, and has been very disappointing, considering the talented linemen and running backs we have had the last few years. The coaching staff looks to have really addressed the offense, as 14 of the 21 guys who have signed are offensive players, some of which will have the chance to step on the field next year. When a team has a deficiency, and the people in the program work to fix that.
For the longer-term, I worry about the defensive line. We have had a terrible defensive line for quite a while. Because recruiting impact defensive linemen guys is so tough to do, I did not expect the staff to really bring in anybody that would be expected to contribute right away for next year. I was hoping, we would sign more than just 1 defensive linemen. I'm not going to pretend to know what the optimal number is, but I was hoping they could bring in a few high-upside projects that could potentially contribute in a couple of years. If Iowa State wants to get to the next level, they need to have defensive linemen that can get to the opposing QB, and at least hold their own so the team does not allow 5+ yards/carry on runs.
At the end of the day, national signing day gets fans to think about the future. It is fun to look at all of the new guys coming in and seeing where and how they will fit in. There are a whole bunch of athletic guys being brought in, and we are going to see more speed on the field year after year, which is nice.