NCAA Football

DeForest Buckner Offers Impact Skill Set, Versatility in 2016 NFL Draft

Every year, the NFL draft offers teams the chance to find impact players who can help change the course of the franchise. Loading up on these special individuals creates opportunities for themselves and teammates because of their unique traits...

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USC Football Recruiting: Meet the Trojans' 2016 Class

A huge surge of commitments on national signing day helped propel USC to another strong recruiting class, finishing in the top 10 for the third year in a row.

The Trojans ended up eighth in the country in 247Sports' composite rankings thanks to adding seven players on Wednesday, three of whom had previously been committed to other schools. This allowed the class to rise from 20th in less than 24 hours, getting a final boost late in the day when 5-star cornerback Jack Jones continued the program's pipeline from Long Beach Poly High School.

All told, USC added 20 players—19 from high school—including seven who had signed in December and are already enrolled in school. The signings addressed immediate needs and should help provide depth in other areas, making for an impressive first class for Clay Helton.

"As a head coach, I cannot tell you how proud I am of the staff for how they finished and how they closed," Helton said, per Lindsey Thiry of the Los Angeles Times.

Follow along for a more detailed look at the next wave of future USC standouts.

 

The surprises

USC's class got a major boost thanks to a trio of players whom recruiting experts didn't think it had a good shot at, mostly because those players were already committed elsewhere.

It started early on Wednesday when Jamel Cook flipped from Florida State, giving USC two players from the Miami area along with receiver Keyshawn Young. The 6'4", 190-pound Cook, who played safety and cornerback in high school, is the cousin of FSU running back Dalvin Cook.

Hawaiian running back Vavae Malepeai backed out on a pledge to Oregon, and later, Long Beach City College defensive tackle Joshua Fatu opted not to sign with Boise State. Malepeai, who is 5'11" and 195 pounds, is the state career record holder in rushing yards (4,549) and touchdowns (71).

Another shock came when E.J. Price, an offensive tackle from Georgia who seemed like a lock to stay close to home, picked a USC hat instead of one for Georgia or Auburn.

The 6'6", 311-pound Price is one of two players from the Peach State in USC's 2016 class along with receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe. He's the brother of tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida.

 

Early enrollees

Seven of USC's signees will be able to participate in spring practice after enrolling for this semester, including the class' highest-rated player. Oluwole Betiku, the No. 2 player from California, committed to the Trojans on Christmas after previously being set to go to UCLA.

The 6'3”, 240-pound defensive end is originally from Nigeria, moving first to Maryland in 2013 and then coming to California along with mentor and former NFL star Lavar Arrington. Depending on how he develops, he could end up working on the edge or moving to linebacker with the Trojans.

Four other early enrollees were 4-star prospects, including two of the six receivers USC brought in. Imatorbhebhe and Michael Pittman, who are 6'2" and 6'4", respectively, can help the Trojans prepare for the inevitable departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster to the NFL draft after the 2016 season.

 

Sleeper of the class

Connor Murphy was among the players who Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh tried to recruit via a “sleepover,” but it wasn't enough to sway the 4-star Phoenix prospect from signing with USC. He could end up being the jewel of the 2016 class if he's able to keep growing into his 6'7", 250-pound body.

"[He] has all of the tools to be a big-time player," Scout.com's Jason Jewell wrote. "Still developing and raw physically, but the future is bright as he continues to grow."

Murphy has the versatility to get used at multiple spots on the defensive line or get moved to offense in the future.

 

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP

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USC Football Recruiting: Meet the Trojans' 2016 Class

A huge surge of commitments on national signing day helped propel USC to another strong recruiting class, finishing in the top 10 for the third year in a row...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Florida Football Recruiting: Meet the Gators' 2016 Class

The Florida Gators look to be in great shape moving forward following Jim McElwain’s first full recruiting class as head coach. 

Florida used a successful 10-4 2015 campaign to help reel in the 13th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to 247Sports. The Gators’ class sat in the top 10 heading into 2016 national signing day, but it fell a bit due to surges from other programs and the flip of 4-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel to in-state rival Florida State. 

Nonetheless, this incoming group will be instrumental in establishing a foundation for McElwain’s program. 

Offense appeared to be a focus for Florida, as 14 of its 25 2016 signees will start their careers on that side of the ball. In addition, five of those 14 are 4-star prospects. This is good news, since the Gators struggled mightily to move the ball in 2015, averaging only 17 points in their last eight games. 

Let us now take a closer look at Florida’s 2016 signing class.

 

Early Enrollees 

A major advantage for Florida’s class is that nearly half of it is already on campus and working out with the team. 

A total of 12 players signed early with the Gators in January, including many of their top pieces in 4-star quarterback Feleipe Franks, 4-star safety Chauncey Gardner and 4-star running back Mark Thompson, a bruising junior college rusher. 

Thompson fills a glaring need for the Gators, who lose leading rusher Kelvin Taylor to the NFL. The team lacks any proven experience at running back, and the 6'2", 230-pound Thompson, who rushed for 1,298 yards and 18 touchdowns at Dodge City Community College last season, will instantly give Florida a powerful, short-yardage rusher who can pick up critical first downs at the end of games. Expect him to lead the team in rushing scores next season. 

Having 12 players on campus early is a tremendous boost for Florida’s roster, as noted by Mark Wheeler of InsideTheGators.com: 

These players will be more acclimated to the collegiate game and the offensive or defensive playbook than their classmates when the 2016 kicks off, increasing the chances of them making an early impact. Great job by McElwain and his staff to get this many kids on campus in January.

 

Florida Looking to Revive Its Passing Attack 

After Will Grier was suspended after six games and subsequently left the Florida program, the 2015 Gators were pitiful moving the ball through the air.

Florida dropped its last three games as Treon Harris, Grier’s replacement, completed 44 percent of his throws for only 445 yards, one touchdown and two picks. The lack of an aerial attack severely hindered the offense, which was forced to rely on Taylor and the ground game. 

McElwain made a concerted effort to add difference-makers in the passing game, and it appears to have paid off, at least on paper. 

Franks is the nation’s fifth-rated pro-style passer. He has phenomenal arm strength and enough mobility in the pocket to find receivers down the field. Take a look at his film and see for yourself. 

Joining Franks is a five-man receiving class, which is headlined by Tyrie Cleveland, the second-ranked receiver in the nation. The longtime Houston commit flipped to the Gators on signing day, which garnered some praise from Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman: 

Cleveland is an electric athlete who will benefit greatly from Franks’ throwing ability in a year or two. Fellow 4-stars Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain join him, giving Florida a deep and talented pass-catching group. 

Given McElwain’s past success in developing NFL quarterbacks Garrett Grayson at Colorado State and AJ McCarron at Alabama, Franks should become a star in Gainesville. Combine that with the bevy of receiving weapons, and you should expect the Gators to produce one of the SEC’s top passing offenses by 2018.

 

Impact Players on Defense 

As is typical of most Florida recruiting classes, the defensive side of the ball will be receiving some big-time playmakers. 

It starts with Gardner. By looking at his tape, it is obvious he brings tremendous speed and versatility to Florida’s defensive backfield. According to Andy Hutchins of SB Nation’s Alligator Army, this should allow Gardner to see the field right away for the Gators: 

The talkative defensive back has the skills to play both nickel back and safety, and Florida has openings available at both positions. Gardner may be destined for an outside corner role eventually, but with Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson set at those positions in 2016, the Cocoa [High School] product's shortest route to the field is probably a jog to the safety spot.

Gardner should be able to excel for Florida and follow in the steps of 2015 All-American Vernon Hargreaves and Tabor as elite Gators defensive backs.

On the defensive line, defensive end Antonneous Clayton will come in as nationally the highest-ranked player in Florida’s 2016 class at No. 26 overall. The accolades are for good reason, as Clayton is arguably the best pass-rushing prospect in America.

McElwain tweeted his excitement for Clayton's arrival:

By looking at his above measurables, it is no wonder this kid is such a force on the edge. He possesses dynamic quickness while using his long arms and 6’3” frame to fend off opposing linemen on his way to the quarterback. 

He will line up opposite of CeCe Jefferson, a 5-star in 2015, to form arguably the SEC’s best young duo of pass-rushers. Look for Clayton to start out as a third-down specialist before earning a full-time role toward the end of this upcoming season.

 

Sleeper 

Each program is looking for a diamond in the rough to join its most heralded recruits as major parts of the team’s future. 

There are plenty of worthy candidates to become that sleeper in Florida’s class. McArthur Burnett is a 3-star athlete capable of contributing in all aspects of the game, while 3-star running back Lamical Perine possesses a nice blend of speed and power out of the backfield. 

Yet Florida’s offensive line situation and the rare physical attributes make 3-star offensive tackle Stone Forsythe the pick here. 

Forsythe is a specimen at nearly 6’8” and 325 pounds. He has ideal size for an offensive tackle and a long reach to keep opposing pass-rushers from getting inside position on him. Take a look at his game film to get some additional perspective on his abilities. 

Possessing the power to block downhill while being able to get out in space to throw blocks makes Forsythe a special prospect with phenomenal potential. 

McElwain sees the same promise in Forsythe. 

“First and foremost, when you think about the size and then you couple that with the athleticism,” McElwain said, per InsideTheGators.com’s Landon Watnick. “[Forsythe] will fit in there.” 

Florida has some depth up front, which will allow Forsythe to redshirt in 2016 and develop his raw ability into a more polished game. When he does, he could be scary. Look for him to become a potential All-SEC performer by his junior season.

All recruiting rankings are courtesy of 247Sports.

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Texas Football Recruiting: Meet the Longhorns' 2016 Class

Another dramatic college football national signing day gave Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong his second-straight top-tier recruiting class at UT. Now it's time for him to get this 2016 class on the same path as last year's group.

With 10 commits within the final 24 hours of the process, Strong and the Longhorns became the story of signing day. In that span alone, the Horns marched from No. 33 all the way into the top-10 before getting bumped back to No. 11.

Considering where this class started, the fans, players and coaches ought to be just fine with the Big 12's top class.

The madness started on Tuesday afternoon when running back Kyle Porter made the surprising decision to commit. From there, it was win after win for Strong's program. The day was highlighted by a flip from LSU commit Erick Fowler (4-star outside linebacker), the addition of four defensive tackles and the huge pledge from No. 1 safety Brandon Jones.

Of course, this is just the beginning with Strong. His last class, a 27-man haul that ranked 10th in the country, ended up featuring six regular starters and 21 contributors.

That's what makes this 2016 group so exciting. Not only is there plenty of talent for Strong to develop, but the class fills pressing needs at quarterback and safety as well as in trenches.

Winning the state wasn't so bad either.

 

Longhorns Back to Winning Texas

Aside from landing some top-notch recruits, Texas' biggest achievement with this 2016 class was proving it's once again a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the state's best players.

It's no secret that the state of Texas has some of the best football talent in the country, and it's a well that every national power wants to tap. Just this cycle, eight different programs have grabbed at least one of the state's top-10 talents. Five of the programs are from outside the state.

That being said, this is the second-straight year that the Longhorns have landed the best class in the state. Led by Jones, the Horns have 11 of the state's top-50 recruits, which is four more than any other program. Six of those players didn't decide until the final day of the cycle.

Whereas Texas won the 2015 cycle thanks to the recruitment of linebacker Malik Jefferson, as noted by SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, the Longhorns had to fight for all of these guys. The Horns especially scored big head-to-head wins over Texas A&M with Jones, 4-star outside linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, 4-star offensive tackle Jean Delance and 4-star cornerback Eric Cuffee.

Much of this has to do with the December drama in College Station, Texas. The Aggies lost former 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray in very public fashion, then had to give the dreaded vote of confidence to head coach Kevin Sumlin. That stroke of bad luck gave 5-7 Texas the edge it needed to close strong.

However, the Aggies' misfortune doesn't take away from what Strong, his staff and his players did to bring this class together. It was a total effort, and that's why the Horns once again have some of the best players the state has to offer.

 

Who Will Make an Early Impact?

As previously mentioned, the Longhorns put their last class right to work in 2015. Even if the hope is that the 2016 class doesn't have to get thrown into the fire, there's talent at Texas that belongs on the field.

Jones, McCulloch and Fowler, Texas' top-3 defensive recruits are no-brainers for early action. Jones can play either free safety position, thanks to his 4.3 speed (per Inside Texas' Justin Wells) and uncommon physicality, and should provide instant depth at the very least. Meanwhile, "The Shark" and Fowler are already terrific pass-rushers—players Strong can always find a use for.

The question is whether a freshman can provide help at defensive tackle. Defensive tackles Poona Ford and Paul Boyette have no obvious backups, meaning Texas' five commits at the position will get all they can handle.

Jordan Elliott and Chris Daniels are the top candidates, but tackle is a really tough position for freshmen. Some JUCO help would be welcome here.

Moving to the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Collin Johnson deserves fans' full attention. The early enrollee comes in as at 6'6"and 200 pounds. He catches and blocks like a grown man. Physically, he's miles ahead of every other receiver on the roster.

As with the defensive side of the ball, freshmen will factor into the O-line rotation. Three-star commit Zach Shackelford has already made a move to center, and he looks like he's making a move for the job as an early enrollee. Jean Delance is too athletic to count out at right tackle.

 

Dark Horse of the Class: OL Denzel Okafor

Charlie Strong called 3-star defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald the "dark horse of the class" in Wednesday's press conference, but the cat's already out of the bag on him. Fitzgerald dominated the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which justifiably made him the No. 205 prospect in the nation.

Leaving him out only makes this slightly easier, but 4-star offensive guard Denzel Okafor gets the nod.

All three of Texas' 3-star linemen have good potential. Shackelford is legitimately making a play for a starting job, and Tope Imade is a dancing bear at 6'4" and 327 pounds. These guys aren't just throw-ins.

Okafor is interesting, though. At 6'4", 295 pounds, he has enough length to swing out to tackle, and his mobility makes him an ideal fit for O-line coach/running game coordinator Matt Mattox's scheme.

Much like senior guard Kent Perkins, Okfaor can help Texas anywhere it needs him, and Inside Texas' Eric Nahlin loves his fundamental skill set. It may not be this year, but Okafor will be an impact player up front.

As a bonus, fans are going to be shocked by Porter, the late running back commit. Maybe it's because his recruitment was so low-key, but he has the power, quickness, vision and receiving skills to be special.

The Longhorns basically stole one of the best backs in the nation.

 

Most Important Offensive Recruit: QB Shane Buechele

Until the Longhorns find a quarterback, every one of them who the program recruits will be the most important member of the class.

This time around, the microscope is on 4-star quarterbackShane Buechele. However, the state's top quarterback comes in with one important distinction—he's already a polished passer.

Whereas Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard, Kai Locksley and even Matthew Merrick were recruited as raw passers, Buechele's got that part of his game down. As Inside Texas' Ian Boyd notes in his breakdown, he gets the ball out quickly, accurately and on time, no matter where he's asked to throw it. He's also a decent athlete to boot.

The issue for the early enrollee will be getting to where he can physically and mentally handle the college game. Buechele's not a big prospect by any means, and there's a reason quarterbacks usually spend a year holding a clipboard.

Ideally, an incumbent will be able to hold the job for a year or two while Buechele gets his bearings. After that, he will put up some huge numbers in offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's offense.

 

Most Important Defensive Recruit: S Brandon Jones

Texas' five defensive tackles form the most important group of signees on the roster. But if you're singling out one player on the defensive side of the ball, 4-star commit Brandon Jones is in a class by himself.

As previously mentioned, Jones brings everything you could ask for from a safety. He's incredibly fast, knows how to punish ball-carriers and has a nose for getting his hands on the football. Jones can play either safety spot, and it wouldn't be surprising at all to see him man the nickelback position at some point.

Before long, he's going to be one of the leaders in a secondary that's already packed with elite talent.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Meet the Volunteers' 2016 Class

Right about the time Thompson-Boling Arena was erupting as Tennessee's victorious Volunteers basketball team was upsetting Kentucky on Tuesday night, super-athlete Tyler Byrd settled in on Periscope to drop another dose of Big Orange excitement onto UT fans.

The 5'11", 194-pound cornerback flipped from Tennessee to Miami, following his close friend and longtime running back commitment Carlin Fils-aime to Knoxville.

Twitter erupted with elated Vols fans and writers trying to balance the biggest win of the year on the hardwood with an elite commitment on national signing day eve.

It was a sign of big things to come over the next 18 hours. 

Coach Butch Jones added Nigel Warrior, Latrell Williams and a 6'5", 264-pound cherry on top when Jonathan Kongbo pledged to Tennessee early Wednesday afternoon.

That's the kind of feel-good stretch that wasn't lost on anybody, including one of the basketball Vols who helped start the good vibrations, Armani Moore, then soaked up signing day as a UT football fan:

Indeed, it was a great couple of days to be a Tennessee Vol.

Jones' final class of 21 prospects ranked 14th nationally by the 247Sports Composite. It filled huge needs at defensive back, wide receiver and offensive tackle. The Vols rebuilt their stable of speed and landed their quarterback of the future as well as a potential dynamic running back.

They got immediate-impact help with four JUCO signees, and while falling a bit short on the defensive line, two of those (Kongbo and Alexis Johnson) should immediately settle into the rotation.

Let's take a closer look at the class.

 

New coaches make recruiting ripples

Prior to the recruiting homestretch, Jones did a little luring of his own to the coaching staff that wound up paving the path for the grand finale on the trail.

While defensive coordinator Bob Shoop's prowess will be felt right away on the field, it was former Miami interim coach Larry Scott's hiring as the new tight ends coach that wound up being a home run. 

The veteran coach immediately injected a dose of orange into a South Florida region that is prospect-rich and also had been devoid of any Tennessee buzz in recent years. Scott helped UT get a foot back in the door on Byrd and Williams, two players he'd had some involvement with while coaching the Hurricanes.

That legwork wound up helping produce two flips. 

Jones didn't mince words when discussing Scott's impact—and the fallout—on Wednesday, according to Volquest's Paul Fortenberry and GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

If Scott's prowess was felt this early with basically just a month on Rocky Top under his belt, imagine how much the Vols can benefit from him recruiting the region moving forward.

Shoop, meanwhile, wasn't discussed as a primary recruiter much, but it's clear prospects felt comfortable with him. Focusing on defense down the stretch, the Vols landed Warrior, Kongbo and Byrd after Shoop's hiring.

Immediately following his hire, a then-uncommitted Kongbo tweeted his approval:

He recommitted and signed with UT on Wednesday, and it's hard to imagine the nation's top-rated JUCO player would have done so over the likes of Florida State, Alabama, USC and Ole Miss had he not been comfortable with the coordinator.

So, Jones' hires were big hits with prospects.

 

NFL bloodlines run deep in Vols class of '16

The sons and nephews of former Tennessee football players have been very good to Jones and the rebuilding of UT's football program the past few years.

Now, it's time to see if NFL legacies pay the same dividends.

Jones secured signing papers from four prospects in this year's recruiting class who had family members play in the NFL. Two of them are the sons of former All-Pros.

The group, of course, is led by Warrior. Every Vols fans knows by now that his father is UT legend Dale Carter, who also starred with the Kansas City Chiefs.

His high school teammate will also join him in Knoxville. Baylen Buchanan committed to Tennessee on New Year's Day and held strong even after an offer from Ohio State. His father is former Atlanta Falcons great "Big Play" Ray Buchanan, as confirmed by a photo in Tennessee's confirmation tweet:

Brandon Johnson is the son of former Miami Hurricanes All-American and Florida Marlins All-Star catcher Charles Johnson, but he's also the nephew of Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's father, James, played briefly for the San Diego Chargers after his career at Rutgers.

 

Biggest immediate impact

With so many positions dripping with talent from Jones' past couple of classes, the Vols don't really need a lot of quick fixes on the roster. The 2016 edition of UT should be ready to compete for championships almost as it is.

But there were a couple of needs that had to be addressed, and the Vols did it.

Warrior, Byrd and Alexis Johnson all could carve roles right away along with tight end Austin Pope and the other JUCO players. But Kongbo should provide the biggest impact.

The defensive lineman from the Republic of Congo via British Columbia, Wyoming and Arizona is big, athletic and versatile. He can line up on the edge opposite Derek Barnett and help Tennessee fill the void Curt Maggitt vacated. The Yuma Sun's Grady Garrett provided a video of Kongbo discussing his decision to select Tennessee:

Sure, Corey Vereen, Kyle Phillips and LaTroy Lewis all have the ability to start at end, and the additions of Darrell Taylor and Andrew Butcher will be big, too. But Kongbo is a special talent. It's also not out of the question with his body size and with three years remaining that he could play some in a 3-technique, too.

Whether Kongbo plays inside or out, one thing's for certain: He'll play. A lot. 

Johnson will, too, just based out of sheer need. But Kongbo is going to be part of the defensive line rotation because he's simply too spectacular a player to keep on the sideline.

Kongbo was such a huge part of Tennessee's class that it became a team effort luring him to Knoxville rather than Oxford, Mississippi, down the stretch. Derek Barnett called him early in the day.

Then, Todd Kelly Jr. tweeted that he'd contacted him. Running back Alvin Kamara even got on Periscope with him during the national signing day festivities being videoed in Knoxville before Kongbo had made up his mind. Barton Simmons of 247Sports pointed out the "entire defense" recruited Kongbo:

The nation's top programs wanted him, and there's a reason for that.

Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell noted in the moments after he committed to the Vols over Ole Miss and the nation's top-ranked player Rashan Gary pledged to Michigan that those two teams got the players of the day:

That's high praise. "King Kongbo" has a cool nickname, but he's got the game to back up the moniker. The Vols hope he causes as much destruction as his namesake.

 

Star of the class

There are several guys who can carry the banner as Tennessee's bell cow of the class. Given the long-term potential of players such as Guarantano and Warrior, as well as Kongbo, Marquill Osborne and Marquez Callaway, there's a lot of talent in this year's stable.

But Byrd is a next-level playmaker.

When placed on the field with the best prospects in the country at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he showed out. 

Players like him just stick out like a swollen thumb on film. He may not have the best 40 time, but when the pads go on and he gets in the game, he has another gear. The explosion he shows, his hip fluidity and his coverage skills make him elite. 

With a little polish, he's got the ability to be a shutdown cornerback and a first-round NFL draft selection. He's long and lanky, yet effortlessly and aggressively goes after passes. 

As exceptional as Warrior can be, Byrd just looks like a slightly better player on film, and he was playing against great competition while at Naples (Florida) High School, too.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman interviewed an anonymous Power Five assistant for a story on prospects who could play right away back when Byrd was committed to Miami, and the assistant opined of Byrd: "He's just a baller. Watch him in the Army All-American Game. He blocks a kick and returns it. Then, he picks off a pass. He's a great competitor."

Byrd steps into a secondary just brimming with talent, so it's possible his biggest help in 2016 will be on special teams. But he's the kind of player who, with a little coaching, won't be able to keep on the sideline.

Whether it's next year or not, Byrd's ceiling to shine is higher than anybody else's in Tennessee's class.

 

Sleeper of the class

Again, a few different players fit this bill in a class that isn't as top-loaded as Jones' past couple of national signing days have boasted.

Offensive tackle Marcus Tatum initially comes to mind, but just because he's a 3-star doesn't mean he's a sleeper. Virtually the entire SEC offered the undersized lineman with a big frame and high upside. He ultimately chose UT over Florida, Alabama, Miami, Auburn and others.

But in the truest sense of the word, a definite sleeper who could shine is Pope.

The 6'4", 219-pound tight end is the nation's 655th-ranked player and 35th-ranked tight end, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

When he camped at Tennessee and earned an offer, Pope was right on the cusp of breaking out. But, at the time, the attention he was beginning to draw hadn't materialized in offers. Still, once the hometown Vols offered the Christian Academy of Knoxville standout, it didn't take him long to accept.

He told GoVols247's Wes Rucker why recently:

As far as regretting anything? No, I don't. A lot of guys like to get 30 offers and all this other crap, and they give out their top-15 list and their top-10 list. I don't find that realistic, you know? Right before I committed to Tennessee, Miami was gonna offer me. TCU got in the mix. Michigan State in the mix. USC was gonna offer me. Georgia was gonna offer me.

The only other realistic place I could have seen myself playing was Georgia. That was the other place I thought I could play at. But I haven't had any regrets about any of it. Getting all those offers, that's just to build yourself up, and I know who I am and where I belong. And that's why I decided to commit to Tennessee.

Pope comes from a small private school that also provided the Vols with receiver Josh Smith and offensive tackle Brett Kendrick. The newest addition hopes to crack the rotation like his former two teammates.

He has the ability to, maybe as soon as 2016. 

The Vols are looking for a tight end to back up Ethan Wolf following Alex Ellis graduating. While there are some candidates already on the roster such as Jakob Johnson, Neiko Creamer and perhaps even jumbo receiver Jason Croom, Pope will get a shot.

He already has the attention of his position coach, according to Scout.com's Cory Gunkel:

Pope is a little bit undersized and could use a year in the weight room, but it won't be long before he's on the field. He's too talented not to be.

 

All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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LSU Football Recruiting: Meet the Tigers' 2016 Class

Just two months ago, the LSU Tigers wanted to fire head coach Les Miles. Now, on national signing day, Miles is sitting pretty thanks to a class ranked No. 3 overall, according to 247Sports.

The Tigers signed 24 players for the class of 2016 and focused heavily on the defensive side of the ball, specifically the defensive line. After receiving little from their front-seven signees the last two years, Miles and the Tigers made it a priority to load up in 2016. It also helped the state of Louisiana was loaded with big-time talent up front. 

Of the 24 players signed, six were defensive linemen. Rashard Lawrence, a 6'3", 305-pound defensive tackle from Monroe, Louisiana, is the headliner. 

Miles, speaking about his class, felt filling needs was more important than what recruiting services had the Tigers ranked, according to Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune

"Whether it was No. 1 or No. 3—when I left the room it was No. 1—the key piece is that you answer needs, get the guys you need to fill the holes you need," Miles said. "You do so with great players."

And the Tigers signed several great players—on both sides of the football. LSU signed 10 players who were ranked in the top 10 of their respective position nationally. 

With a terrific class on board and the return of offensive standouts Leonard Fournette, Brandon Harris, Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, the Tigers are poised to make a run at the national championship in 2016. 

Now, let's take a look at the LSU Tigers' 2016 recruiting class.

 

The Tigers Own Louisiana

It's not exactly a surprise to see LSU dominate the recruiting scene inside the state of Louisiana. In fact, it's expected. Unfortunately, in recent seasons, schools like Alabama have came into the state and plucked some elite talent. Remember Landon Collins?

That didn't happen in 2016.

The Pelican State was loaded with top-flight talent in this recruiting cycle, and the Tigers took full advantage, signing nine of the state's top 10 players and 14 of the top 18. Each of those 14 players was at least a 4-star recruit.

Lawrence, 5-star cornerback Kristian Fulton and linebacker Michael Divinity were the top three players in the state and all could play big roles in next fall. Miles effusively praised Divinity today in his signing day press conference, per Kleinpeter:

Again, Michael Divinity, a 6'2", [218-pound outside linebacker], from Marrero, Louisiana, John Ehret High School; very violent and very fast, very capable, really going to be a guy that fits into this Okie defense and the opportunity for him to stand up and play very significant football as a true freshman.

Several other in-state players have a chance to be special, too. Offensive tackle Willie Allen—the No. 10 player in the state—has a bright future and has the size and athleticism to come in and help immediately. Miles recognizes Allen's ability, according to James Moran of the Tiger Rag:

 

Top Offensive Playmaker

Allen is certainly in the mix as he could win the starting right tackle job with a strong summer. 

However, LSU's top offensive playmaker from this class will be wide receiver Stephen Sullivan

An early enrollee, Sullivan has outrageous size (6'5", 230 lbs) and could figure prominently in the mix as LSU's No. 3 wide receiver in 2016.

While Dural and Dupre have good size, they aren't nearly as big as Sullivan. He could give a struggling offense a red-zone weapon the Tigers lacked last season. That, in turn, makes Harris a better quarterback.

While Sullivan has good speed, he often lulls defensive backs to sleep because of his size. Most defensive backs are surprised at Sullivan's speed, and he goes right by them. He is quicker than his size would indicate and can take a short screen to the house. He gets consistent separation at the line of scrimmage, but it won't be quite as easy in the SEC. 

Not surprisingly, Sullivan has a wide catch radius and is a physical runner after the catch.

Sullivan isn't the strongest route-runner at this point in his development, but he won't need to be. 

 

Top Defensive Playmaker

This could be Fulton or Lawrence. Both players will likely see the field in 2016. There are some veterans ahead of both players, but it shouldn't take long for the talented freshmen to move their way up the depth chart. 

One player with a quicker path to playing time is Divinity.

The super athletic outside 'backer enrolled in January. Both LSU starting outside linebackers from a year ago are no longer on campus, clearing the way for Divinity to make an immediate impact.

This spring will be big for him.

Divinity is fast and plays with tremendous instincts. He can rush the passer or drop into coverage with ease. If he shows a good grasp of new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's defense, he will start.

The one knock on Divinity is he needs to add some weight. He has a lanky frame and that could get him into trouble as he meets some of the SEC's bigger offensive linemen in the hole.

 

Early Enrollees  

Sullivan, Divinity, cornerback Saivion Smith, running back Devin White and wide receiver Dee Anderson were LSU's five early enrollees. 

Divinity will see the field this fall. Sullivan has a prime opportunity this spring to show coaches he deserves to be in the two-deep at receiver.

Smith is a player to watch. While Fulton gets most of the accolades, Smith is an accomplished cornerback himself. At 6'1", 175 pounds, Smith has good length. He will obviously need to spend some time in the weight room, but he has the opportunity this spring to get a head start on that.

Smith has tremendous physical gifts. He will blossom at LSU with good coaching. One area he must improve is willingness to take on contact. Miles already identifies him as a player who could make an immediate impact, per Kleinpeter:

White could see the field as a handcuff to Fournette. The Tigers do already have some talented backups on campus in Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams. So, despite enrolling early, it may be in White's best interest to take a redshirt in 2016.

Anderson is another intriguing receiver. At 6'5", 205 pounds, he could vie for the same spot Sullivan is aiming for in 2016: a red-zone threat with size.  

 

Sleeper 

Three-star quarterback Lindsey Scott was not LSU's first choice. Or second choice. Or even third choice. However, he could end up being one of the more surprising players in this class.

Fortunately for the Tigers, there's no need to rush Scott. Harris has two years of eligibility remaining and backup Anthony Jennings has one year left. 

Scott led his high school to the state 5A title in December—an impressive feat.

The biggest knock on Scott is his height. At 5'11", 205 pounds, Scott isn't built like a prototypical quarterback. But stop if you've heard this before: Russell Wilson is 5'11", too. 

Miles seemed pleased with the signing of Scott, per Kleinpeter:

We think he'll be a guy that can throw it, run it, and extend plays, and yet really give you a very bright leader on the field. I think many times there's the opportunity given to a bright, athletic, throw and run quarterback, a dual threat. I think that those guys have the opportunity to do things that are pretty special, and so we're going to look at Lindsey Scott and look at that. He looks pretty tall to me.

Scott has a strong arm and is a terrific athlete. Much like most quarterbacks of his stature, the biggest question will be can he throw from the pocket? The answer is yes, although Scott is even more comfortable throwing on the run.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Bryan Manning covers college football for the Bleacher Report and you can follow him on Twitter @bdmanning4

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama May Have the Most Loaded Roster in College Football History

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's in the midst of a dynasty, perhaps the greatest college football has ever seen, and Nick Saban is already staking his claim as the sport's most successful coach. But the University of Alabama football program hit another new high Wednesday on national signing day. 

It wasn't Saban being able to claim his sixth straight recruiting title, per the 247Sports composite team rankings, although that unprecedented accomplishment is beyond impressive. Rather, with the addition of three more consensus 5-star prospects, plus 14 4-star players, the 2016 team appears to be unparalleled when it comes to talent, at least on paper. 

Heading into spring practices Alabama's roster features 19 players who were considered consensus 5-star recruits, in addition to 49 4-star prospects. Combined, that's just under 80 percent of the entire team.

It also means that of the 34 5-star players whom Saban has landed for Alabama since 2008, a remarkable number magnified by there having been very few busts, more than half are currently on the Crimson Tide.

“Yeah, it’s probably a record,” said college football analyst Phil Steele, who writes the wildly popular season preview magazine that’s become an annual industry staple. “I can’t recall anybody prior to that having that many, and the [previous] three straight classes really helped.”

Highlighting the 2016 class are offensive tackle Jonah Williams and prize in-state linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson. Another three players (OT Charles Baldwin, DT Kendell Jones and DE Terrell Hall) were rated 5-star talent by one of the other major recruiting sites.

Even before them, the 2016 team already had at least one 5-star talent with every position group except special teams, where no one gets that designation.

It helps explain why some recruits are drawn to Alabama, and others are not.

Williams, for example, was recruited out of California, but his father went to Georgia, his mother Auburn and there’s a lot of family in Louisiana. He grew up in Atlanta before a job took the family west and wasn’t scared off by the high level of talent that already existed on the reigning national champion’s depth chart.

“I think it probably intimidated some people, it probably discouraged some people away," Williams said. "Anyone who would sign here I already have a little bit of respect for because they’re willing to come to an environment like this, where you’re expected to be the best.

“I think that’s what we live for, it’s what we work for here.”

It all only reinforces that Saban simply does recruiting better than anyone else. Granted, some other services crowned different recruiting champions Wednesday, but no program has ever had this kind of consistency.

"I think this class sort of reflects some of the needs that we have,” said Saban, who still has an open slot and would like to add another offensive playmaker or defensive end. “You don't get everything that you want all the time.”

But he comes the closest, and has compiled what might be the most loaded college football team in terms of talent that anyone has ever seen.

Alabama had a whopping 18 5-star players in 2015, but only two of them have since departed, running back Derrick Henry and defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson. It already had developing 5-star players ready to compete for those spots, and many of its recent major award winners came in as 4-star prospects (including Mark Ingram, Amari Cooper, AJ McCarron, Barrett Jones and C.J. Mosley). 

This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, just like a program isn’t supposed to be able to win four national championships in seven years. Numerous changes, including the 85-man scholarship limit which has only been in effect since the 1994 season, were thought to guarantee parity in the sport.

Schools used to be able to offer as many scholarships as they could afford, sometimes just to keep talented players off an opposing team, and rosters with 150 players weren’t considered unusual.

So in addition to athletes being bigger, stronger and faster nowadays, and also specializing in one sport, there’s really no accurate way to measure a team’s talent against history, as the game has changed so much over the years.

The attention recruiting receives has evolved as well. Rivals has been around since 1998, Scout since 2001, while 247Sports and ESPN’s recruiting coverage are just a few years old. Before then, you’re talking about publications like Super Prep Magazine, which was created in 1985 and has since gone out of business. 

Even the 5-star rating system hasn’t been around that long and was developed as a way to give fans something to which they could easily relate, like with a 5-star hotel or restaurant. Approximately 30 players garner that can’t-miss status every year, yet sometimes they still miss the mark, too.

Until very recently, any discussion about a team’s talent level had to focus on accolades after the fact, like all-conference and All-American honors, the NFL draft and even the College Football Hall of Fame. For example, the record for most inductees from a single recruiting class is four: 1921 Notre Dame, 1932 Stanford, 1938 Boston College and 1963 Michigan State.

That why one could ask 10 different experts to name the most talented team to ever play college football and get 10 different answers.

“The 1979 Southern Cal team, I maintain, is still the best team as far as pure talent goes,” Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mule said. “They had two Heisman Trophy winners, Charles White in 1979 and Marcus Allen in 1981, the Lombardi Award winner in Brad Budde, two future Hall of Famers with Ronnie Lott in the secondary and Anthony Munoz on the line, 12 All-Americans, 12 first-round draft choices and 31 athletes who spent at least one season in the NFL.

“I want to see the team that will equal that.”

Steve Richardson, the longstanding executive director of the Football Writers Association of America suggested numerous possibilities like 1966 Notre Dame and Michigan State, 1996 Nebraska and the teams that helped make up some of the sport’s greatest dynasties.

They include Amy and Notre Dame in the 1940s, Oklahoma in the early 1950s and 1970s, and Miami in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

With top athletes who enlisted during World War II able to play football for their school or base, Army went 27-0-1 from 1944-46. The 1944 team alone boasted six consensus All-Americans, which caused head coach Earl Henry “Red” Blaik to once proclaim that the best game he saw his team play was a practice scrimmage.

Meanwhile, Miami holds all the draft records, including most players selected in the first round of a single draft (six in 2004) and the most first-round selections in a span of two (10), three (15) and four years (19), but that was long after its dynasty years.

Those are the kinds of things that Alabama is chasing, despite having numerous disadvantages like a tougher schedule and the NFL draft now lasting just seven rounds.

“As far as there being a complete team I don’t think there’s one that stands out above the rest,” Steele said. “If you gave me a list and said, ‘Make a case for this team, and for this team,’ I could probably make the case for five or six different teams.”

Of course, with recruiting rankings, the key is they only indicate potential, as none of Alabama’s current 5-star players have been named an All-American and only defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and offensive tackle Cam Robinson have been All-SEC. Some aren’t even on campus yet.

Being a top recruit also doesn’t automatically translate to the NFL draft. Last year, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com looked at each Rivals.com 5-star prospect from 2002-11 and found that of the 288 players rated that high, 123 were eventually drafted (42.7 percent), and 45 went in the first round (16 percent).

Keep that in mind when considering the following from the Bleacher Report Insights team: During the past 10 seasons, there have only been three teams with at least seven combined All-Americans and first-round picks in the subsequent draft, and they were all coached by Saban: 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Overall, since 2008, no program has had as many consensus All-Americans (25), NFL draft picks (48) or first-round selections (17) as Alabama. One has to wonder how many future inductees there will someday be in the College Football Hall of Fame.

But it all starts with recruiting, which Saban attacks as vigorously as an opponent.

“I think they've had five No. 1 recruiting classes out of the last six years, which has got to make him the greatest recruiter in the history of college football,” Steve Spurrier said. “Arguably, they've got the greatest collection of football players ever assembled for a college team. If the recruiting services are correct, and they're pretty much correct.”

The thing is, Spurrier made that comment at SEC media days in 2014. Alabama and Saban have won back-to-back league titles and a national championship since then.

“He's great at recruiting, and he's great at putting a staff together,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recently said during media day at the National Championship Game. “He hires great coaches. He's got great coordinators, he's got great assistant coaches, great support staff. He understands the importance of that, having that type of infrastructure. So do I. 

“But there's no big secret why they've been so successful. You just check their recruiting.”

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings are from 247Sports.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

National Signing Day 2016: Grading Every Top 25 Team's Recruiting Class

College football fans across the country can finally take a moment to catch their breath in the wake of another action-packed national signing day.

The annual event allows America's most talented high school seniors to take center stage and put pen to paper on a national letter of intent to the university of their choice.

The process that preceded Wednesday's developments spanned years, as the recruitment process started for many elite talents during underclassman seasons. Now that the dust is settled, we've taken a broad look at the big picture, placing the spotlight on 247Sports' top 25 recruiting classes in 2016.

The outcome of 2016 recruiting efforts won't ultimately be understood until at least 2020, but speculation about which teams landed the best talent based on high school production and camp performances started well before signing day.

We've assigned grades to these top 25 classes, assessing each group based on how it measured up to early expectations in the cycle and how coaching staffs closed down the stretch.

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Michigan Football Recruiting: Meet the Wolverines' 2016 Class

The Michigan Wolverines football program entered national signing day 2016 with a highly rated class, and a few more pledges finalized the team's No. 5 haul.

Rashan Gary—the nation's top-rated prospect—4-star cornerback Lavert Hill and 4-star tight end Devin Asiasi headlined the Wednesday additions to the Wolverines' well-rounded group.

Michigan also avoided any surprise decommitments. Though Dytarious Johnson was not officially announced as a signee, Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser reported the coaching staff is "sticking with" the 3-star linebacker.

All told, the Wolverines addressed their glaring immediate need, picked up some immediate-impact players and gathered a collection of talents who should contribute within a couple of years.

 

Early Enrollees

Two of Michigan's top offensive additions are considered the future at their position, and they both arrived on campus for the spring semester.

Quarterback Brandon Peters and running back Kareem Walker, a couple of 4-star talents, will participate in spring practice—as well as Ahmir Mitchell, Carlo Kemp, Devin Bush Jr., Kingston Davis and Sean McKeon.

Peters will compete with Wilton Speight, John O'Korn and others for the starting job, while De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson must attempt to hold off Walker. At worst, Bush will provide depth at a position that dearly needs it, but the 4-star linebacker will probably occupy a significant role.

According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, head coach Jim Harbaugh said all seven players will count toward the 2015 class.

 

Top Offensive Playmaker

The easy choice for this spot is Walker, especially because he's the most likely freshman to contribute next season. However, Michigan saw the importance of an offensive game-breaker last year in Jehu Chesson.

Dylan Crawford is that type of player.

A 6'1", 186-pound wideout, he's a long-strider with respectable speed and above-average route running. Crawford doesn't rely on his body to rein in passes, meaning the nation's No. 19 receiver won't unnecessarily sacrifice his body on a ball above his head.

What dazzles on tape, however, is how Crawford shakes defenders after the catch. While running back-like vision contributes to that prowess, he's also surprisingly tough to bring down considering his stature.

Crawford has enough straight-line speed to make opponents pay, but missing a tackle often leads to a larger problem for defenses.

Amara Darboh and Chesson will lead the Wolverines receiving corps in 2016, which will allow Crawford to add weight and prepare for the increased physicality of the college game. When the seniors head to the NFL, don't be surprised if Crawford steps in right away.

Keep an eye on: Walker, RB; Mitchell, WR; Chris Evans, All-Purpose Back

 

Top Defensive Playmaker

There's a reason Gary was the country's unanimous No. 1 overall recruit: He does everything well.

Gary has a remarkably explosive first step and shows an impressive balance of speed and power. Perhaps his best attribute is the combination of active and strong hands, something that keeps offensive linemen from getting a solid punch on Gary.

An impressive performance at the Under Armour All-America Game backed up the hype. Gary was a constant disruptive force and racked up a team-leading six tackles—including three sacks—per BlogAndTackle.net.

Michigan can use him as a 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle. That versatility will be useful immediately, though we'll discuss that later on.

Gary is initially an ideal complement to the Wolverines' established pieces and can develop into the undisputed star of the defensive line—and potentially the Big Ten.

Keep an eye on: David Long, CB; Hill, CB; Ron Johnson, DE

 

Immediate-Impact Players, Contributors, Redshirt Candidates

Every recruiting class brings the hope of a brighter future, but not every freshman is ready to play. It takes a special talent to earn snaps, let alone start, immediately.

Gary is an obvious choice and will likely contribute as a defensive end because Michigan returns Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. Taco Charlton is a leading candidate to be the "Buck" linebacker, but the other D-end role—where Ron Johnson has the potential to claim a few snaps—is wide open for Gary.

Three-star inside linebacker Elysee Mbem-Bosse could be thrust into the rotation purely out of necessity. The Wolverines must replace their top three tacklers at the position.

Long, Hill and Khaleke Hudson are prime candidates to contribute on special teams and a handful of defensive snaps to be ready for 2017, when Michigan loses most—if not all—of its starters in the secondary.

Ben Bredeson should challenge for snaps, though the 4-star offensive tackle will battle four returning starters for that chance. Asiasi might break into the rotation if he establishes himself as a blocker Harbaugh can trust.

Should that happen, Asiasi may be sealing the edge for Walker, who doesn't expect to sit around and watch in 2016. Per MLive's Nick Baumgardner, Walker said:

Peters is already on campus, so he's not exactly a long shot to succeed Jake Rudock. However, the nation's No. 6 quarterback will probably observe from the sideline as a true freshman. If Peters doesn't fill the vacancy, he might even join fellow 2016 signees and take a redshirt.

Evans, Davis, Brad Hawkins, Eddie McDoomNate Johnson, Nick EubanksStephen Spanellis, Michael DwumfourJosh Metellus, Devin Gil and Nordin are each entering depth-filled positions, so Michigan need not rush them into the lineup.

If Dytarious Johnson qualifies academically, the 6'1", 205-pounder still could use a year to develop physically. The same applies to McDoom, McKeon, Joshua Uche, Metellus and Gil, who will benefit from a year in the weight room.

Overall, the Wolverines signed a terrific mix of immediate-impact talent as well as role-playing and developmental prospects.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Biggest Surprises of College Football National Signing Day 2016

With national signing day 2016 officially ending, it's time to take a look at its biggest surprises.

Which schools had the most shocking commitments?

Watch in the video above as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the biggest surprises of national signing day 2016. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking Every Pac-12 Team's 2016 Recruiting Class

On one day each year when the calendar rings up as national signing day, the fax machine becomes the center of the universe for college football fans, players, staff members, coaches and even media members.

Such was the case once again Wednesday as national letters of intent crisscrossed the country and players from the class of 2016 officially signed on the dotted line with their future schools of choice.

While headlines were made around the country and the SEC once again dominated the national conversation, it was in many respects a banner year out west in the Pac-12. Between USC and UCLA’s late surges into the top 15 of the 247Sports’ team rankings and Stanford’s impressive coast-to-coast collection of talent, it was yet another day filled with talented players finding homes in the conference of champions.

That being said, there appeared to be a clear pecking order in the Pac-12 when it came to how each school’s recruiting class shook out. We won’t know for several years how each will truly contribute on a whole, but nevertheless we can still look at the big picture and see how each class stacks up.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the classes in the Pac-12 based on overall talent level, team needs and even upside down the road. 

Begin Slideshow

Power Ranking Every Pac-12 Team's 2016 Recruiting Class

On one day each year when the calendar rings up as national signing day, the fax machine becomes the center of the universe for college football fans, players, staff members, coaches and even media members...

Begin Slideshow

National Signing Day 2016: Ranking Top 25 Recruiting Classes

The fax machine: a slightly outdated media device until right around this time of year. But ask any college football coach, and when national signing day rolls around, it's one of the most important pieces of technology on an entire campus.

Fax machines nationwide received overtime work Wednesday, as college commits, as well as uncommitted targets, became college signees with the help of an official signature on a national letter of intent. And while some athletes sent over national letters of intent digitally through PDFs and tablets, many used the old reliable approach of the fax machine to make their college futures official.

Wednesday provided the anticipated fireworks of a typical national signing day, with some athletes making last-minute verbal commitments that had their new coaches jumping for joy—and others feeling the agony of defeat.

The 2016 recruiting cycle has come to a conclusion, and it is now time to evaluate the best of the best. Here are the nation's top 25 classes, according to Bleacher Report. Rankings are based on the player ratings, which stems from 247Sports.com's composite ratings.

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Texas A&M Football Recruiting: Meet the Aggies' 2016 Class

The Texas A&M Aggies wrapped up the 2016 recruiting cycle with the nation's No. 18 class. While the Aggies didn't sign one 5-star recruit, it could end up being Kevin Sumlin's best recruiting class since becoming Texas A&M's head coach back in 2012.

The reason for that is depth and versatility. 

Sumlin's previous classes had star power. Whether it was Kyle Allen, Myles Garrett or Kyler Murray, the Aggies featured a big-time headliner. 

Not this group. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Aggies signed 21 players, including five offensive linemen, three wide receivers, three defensive backs, two running backs, two linebackers, two defensive ends, two athletes, one quarterback and a kicker. 

A&M failed to sign a defensive tackle or tight end for the class of 2016. Fortunately for the Aggies, they have youth and depth at both positions. 

Now, let's take a look at Texas A&M's 2016 recruiting class.

 

Aggies Loaded Up on the Offensive Line

The Aggies have become something of an offensive tackle factory in recent seasons. Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi were all first-round picks in the NFL draft in each of the last three seasons, respectively. Germain Ifedi hopes to make it four in a row this April.

That meant it was time to restock this position in the class of 2016.

Texas A&M received signatures from four offensive tackles, including 4-star Kellen Diesch. At 6'7", 270 pounds, Diesch has the type of build that could add 30 pounds of muscle with ease and not sacrifice any athleticism. While he isn't as athletic as some of the previous A&M offensive tackles, Diesch has outstanding length. He will need work on keeping his pad level down at the next level.

The Anderson brothers—Austin and Riley—both have good size and the necessary strength to come in and push for playing time as early as 2016. Both are rugged blockers who play with the necessary mean streak and finish their blocks. They could project as guards in the future.

 

Top Offensive Newcomer

For the first time in three years, Sumlin didn't sign an elite quarterback prospect. The past two years saw the additions of Allen and Murray. However, both players decided to transfer within a week from one another back in December.

That left the quarterback position in a perilous position. 

Fortunately for the Aggies, former Oklahoma starter Trevor Knight transferred to Texas A&M and enrolled last month. He could be the team's starting quarterback this season.

Sumlin considers Knight a part of this class and is pleased with his addition, per Suzanne Halliburton of the Statesman.

“He’s a guy as as far as college football goes, he’s a grown man,” Sumlin said. “He’s very, very strong in his faith. You see how certain guys ooze leadership. He’s all about that. He’s filling a void in leadership that we need." 

While the Aggies did sign a quarterback for this class, 3-star Nick Starkel, he could use a year on the sidelines while Knight and the only experienced quarterback left from last year's team, Jake Hubenak, battle it out for the starting job this spring. 

Sumlin likes Starkel, but believes he could use some developmental time, according to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle:

The Aggies signed a few offensive players who could possibly help them this fall, including wide receiver Quartney Davis and running back Trayveon Williams, but the addition of Knight makes him A&M's top offensive newcomer for 2016. 

 

Top Defensive Newcomer

Defensive end Justin Madubuike, a 6'2 ½", 250-pound defensive end from McKinney, Texas, could make an immediate impact for the Aggies in 2016.

Madubuike is thickly built and possesses a high motor and an explosive first step. While he isn't as gifted as Myles Garrett, Madubuike brings a relentlessness to the position that makes him a handful to block. 

While the Aggies return all of their two-deep at defensive end, Madubuike could help in a specialized pass-rushing role. 

He will need to develop more moves to his repertoire. It will be tougher to beat SEC offensive tackles with just speed and athleticism. With so many upperclassmen in front of him, Madubuike won't need to play every down. He doesn't struggle versus the run, but it will obviously be a bigger challenge at the next level. Fortunately, that won't be an issue in 2016. 

 

Sleeper of the Class

Cornerback Charles Oliver is a bit of an unknown on the national level. The 6'2 ½", 184-pounder from Fairfield, Texas, could be a big-time addition for the Aggies.

Oliver possesses outstanding length. His long arms allow him to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. In addition to his length, Oliver is fluid in his movements and can flip his hips and run with the receivers. 

Oliver will need to add some strength at the next level, and that shouldn't be a problem. He has a high football IQ and plays with confidence, making him a favorite of defensive coordinator John Chavis. 

With good coaching in college, Oliver will learn to get his pad level lower to take on ball-carriers. He's a willing tackler, but that sometimes gets in him trouble. 

The Aggies graduated two of their top cornerbacks from last season. There's a chance for Oliver to make an immediate impact. Don't be surprised if he seizes that opportunity. 

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

Bryan Manning covers college football for the Bleacher Report and you can follow him on Twitter @bdmanning4 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC National Signing Day 2016: 5 Takeaways from Trojans' Class

Talk about a surprise showing from a football program many thought had fallen significantly behind its inter-city rival. On a day where only the unbelievable can happen, new head coach Clay Helton and USC proved beginner's luck may, in fact, be a thing. 

The Trojans secured a plethora of signees, many of them surprises, as a formerly mediocre class blossomed into a nationally renowned powerhouse. The once downed program, anchored by poor coaching hires and some off-the-field issues with former players, seems to have finally cut ties and pulled away. 

With the unofficial holiday all but over, we examine a few takeaways from USC's incredible finish to the 2015-16 recruiting cycle and try to put it in perspective for the program's future success. 

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USC National Signing Day 2016: 5 Takeaways from Trojans' Class

Talk about a surprise showing from a football program many thought had fallen significantly behind its inter-city rival. On a day where only the unbelievable can happen, new head coach Clay Helton and USC proved beginner's luck may, in fact, be a thing..

Begin Slideshow

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