Grading Bobby Petrino's top five signees at Louisville
Bobby Petrino’s second stint as Louisville’s head coach officially came to an end on Sunday when he was fired after four-plus seasons at the school. Since his hiring 2014, the school has seen plenty of highs, including Lamar Jackson’s Heisman Trophy-winning season, but the 2-8 start to this year was too much for him to overcome.
Petrino’s recruiting efforts resulted in him landing players of Jackson’s caliber as well as several other highly-ranked prospects, but the failure of some to live up the hype also helped lead to his demise. Today, we take a look at the five highest-ranked prospects Petrino and his staff signed during his time at Louisville and grade their time with the Cardinals.
Colin Wilson: 2017 – No. 154
As a recruit: Wilson drew attention from several major programs as an underclassman and considered Auburn, Clemson, Miami, South Carolina and Notre Dame before landing with Louisville during the middle of his senior season.
What he did under Petrino: Wilson was a major recruiting victory when he landed with the Cardinals, and he was viewed as an instant fix to the school’s woes at running back. During his freshman year in 2017, he played sparingly, rushing for 69 yards. This season, he has picked it up a notch, rushing for 130 yards on 30 carries with one touchdown. While those numbers might not seem that impressive, it actually ranks third among the team’s running backs this season. So far, Wilson has yet to live up to his ranking, but he could turn the corner in the future.
Mekhi Becton: 2017 – No. 195
As a recruit: Becton was an elite recruit with offers from many power programs, and his recruitment went all the way until National Signing Day. He elected to sign with the Cardinals over Oregon and the longtime favorite, Virginia Tech.
What he did under Petrino: Becton has done a nice job of living up to his recruiting hype, stepping right into the lineup as a true freshman and not looking back since. He has started every game this season while working at both left and right tackle and rates as the team best all-around offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus.
The only thing keeping Becton from an A is his overall scores on PFF. But to step in as a starter at tackle and hold down the position for years, Becton has lived up to his billing and will likely be a key player for the next coach, as well.
Desmond Fitzpatrick: 2016 – No. 208
What he did under Petrino: Fitzpatrick was one of the biggest success stories of the Petrino era, redshirting as a freshman in 2016 before becoming Jackson’s go-to receiver during the 2017 season. Fitzpatrick finished the year with 45 catches for 699 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. But the departure of Jackson has taken its toll on the Cardinals' passing game, and Fitzpatrick has just 407 yards receiving on the year. His three touchdowns are still the best on the team, but the drop in his production isn’t surprising, considering the team’s drop-off at quarterback.
This would be a full A if it weren’t for Fitzpatrick’s decline in stats. His production last season shows his potential, and it’s even possible that he leaves early for the NFL after this season. If the new coach can get him to stay, he’s likely to be a major part of the offense again next season.
Malik Cunningham: 2017 – No. 219
As a recruit: Cunningham was identified early by the Cardinals staff and bought in with the chance to follow Jackson. Cunningham committed to the Cardinals during the spring over Georgia, LSU and several others.
What he did under Petrino: With Jackson at the helm in 2017, Cunningham spent the season red-shirting. This year, he began the season as the backup behind Jawon Pass, but he’s seen plenty of playing time. He helped lead the team’s comeback victory over Western Kentucky, the program’s only win over an FBS program this year. He’s also the team’s leading rusher, with 308 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to go along with his 319 yards passing.
It’s early in Cunningham’s career, but he looks like the best bet to be the quarterback going forward. He’s flashed his exciting playmaking ability when given the opportunity, and he should be an important part of the program’s future.
Russ Yeast: 2017: No. 231
What he did under Petrino: Another major recruiting victory, Yeast was a high school All-American who came in with very high expectations. His first year, he started to live up to them almost out of the gate, playing in 12 games and making seven starts at cornerback. But much like the rest of the Loulsville team, Yeast took a major step back in 2018, falling out of favor with the coaches and playing mostly special teams before leaving the team with the intention of transferring. It’s been reported that Yeast has rejoined the team since Petrino’s firing and is expected to remain at the school going forward.
Yeast adjusted nicely to playing defensive back full-time, and while he had his ups and downs as a true freshman, most expected him to continue improving in 2018. He didn’t get those chances, and perhaps a fresh start is exactly what he needs to live up to his potential.