We may still be digesting the developments of an exciting 2016 national signing day, but college coaching staffs can't afford to rest on their laurels. Programs across America are well underway with their recruitment of the 2017 class, and America's high school juniors are now thrust into the spotlight as top targets.
It remains extremely early in the 2017 cycle, but several squads have already made big moves. Here's how we size up the nation's top 25 classes one year away from next signing day, with a nod toward talent value or sheer volume.
Now that the dust has settled from another national signing day, it's time to take a look at the new blue-chip stars who can take over the top spots on their new depth charts from the opening kickoff of the fall.
Last season, college football saw several true freshmen take over as key starters, including UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, Florida State safety Derwin James and Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk.
Which of these talented 2016 signees appear to have the best chances at becoming the next teenage stars in college football?
Here are 12 recruits that have the talent to take over a starting job and a favorable depth-chart situation upon arrival at their new school. Some of them have already enrolled early and started putting in work for a chance at the No. 1 job in the 2016 season.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are more potential instant-impact starters from yesterday's signing classes. Shout out some more from the class of 2016 in the comments below.
With national signing day for the 2016 class firmly in the rear-view, coaches from around the nation will focus their attention on the recruiting trail to prospects in the 2017 class.
Players such as 5-star linebacker Dylan Moses—who is the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2017 class—are already household names in recruiting circles.
However, there are a handful of other talented rising seniors who have already compiled dozens of offers before they enter their senior year.
Some have flashed on the summer camp scene over the last year, while others have already committed to top-flight programs.
While they are already standouts in their respective home states, these players are generating interest from coast-to-coast.
Which early standouts should fans be paying close attention to in the months leading up to the 2016 season?
Let's take a look 25 prospects to watch in the class of 2017.
Note: Prospects listed in alphabetical order.
Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Terry allegedly got into an altercation with the mother of his child:
On Jan. 5, Dallas Police responded to a major disturbance call at the intersection of Bonnie View Road and Marjorie Avenue, where officers spoke to the alleged victim, who said the suspect assaulted her, according to Dallas police officer Carlos Almeida in a case summary released to the Post-Dispatch. The suspect and victim have a child together, the statement said. The victim was treated by Dallas Fire-Rescue Department and was released on the scene. Terry was later arrested on a warrant.
According to Dallas County records, Terry is facing three charges stemming from the incident and being held on $34,500 bond.
Terry had scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas Tech, TCU, Louisville and Miami, among others, per 247Sports. In his last three years at South Oak Cliff High School in Dallas, he recorded 56.5 sacks, 80 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.
Despite his commitment to the school, Morrison reported Terry didn't sign a letter of intent with Missouri on national signing day. As a result, Missouri head coach Barry Odom is unable to comment publicly regarding Terry's situation, per NCAA bylaws.
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Impact freshmen are everywhere now in college football. Thanks to the rise of 7-of-7 and summer camps, high school football is now a 365-day-per-year sport and incoming freshmen are more prepared than ever to immediately take that next step at the college level.
With national signing day 2016 in the books, there are a wealth of new signees ready to help their teams out in year one. But which first-year player is not only prepared to crack the two-deep, but help their team win a national championship?
That question alone cuts down the crowd to a handful of legitimate candidates. After closing strong on Wednesday, it's hard to look at Alabama's 2016 class and not walk away impressed. After all, the defending national champs claimed 247Sports' recruiting title for the sixth straight year.
Within that class is 5-star linebacker Ben Davis. From a talent and depth chart perspective, Davis is a perfect fit to contribute right away in Alabama's rebuilt, but stocked, defensive front seven.
It starts with the fact that Davis is the highest-rated prospect in Alabama's '16 class, which, as Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh pointed out, is numerically one of the best head coach Nick Saban has ever had in Tuscaloosa.
The Gordo High School standout is the No. 1 inside linebacker prospect from '16 and the No. 1 in-state player for Alabama. At 6'3", 240 pounds, Davis is already built for the grind of college football's regular season. But he's not just a big inside linebacker who can only play in a phone booth (though he is that). He's an athletic specimen who can do well in space and go sideline to sideline.
And he has great bloodlines, too. His father, Wayne Davis, is Alabama's all-time leading tackler. This is a player who has been brought up by the best and has an edge on the mental side of the game to go along with his physical presence.
Per Braden Gall, Davis can grow into the next star inside linebacker for the Tide, comparable to the likes of Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower and the recently departed Reggie Ragland.
You have to be careful making such lofty comparisons so early, but the bigger point is Saban knows what he wants from an inside linebacker. If Davis fits that particular mold, that's a good sign for his future.
As it so happens, Alabama could use some immediate assistance at inside linebacker. Ragland is bound for the NFL and could be a first-round draft pick, but Dillon Lee, who did a little bit of everything for the Tide at linebacker, is gone as well. Lee was a veteran presence along that linebacker unit.
That leaves a sizable hole in the middle of their defense needing to be filled. Saban said as much about Davis and fellow 5-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson. Via Walsh:
We like getting good players who can go out on the field and play good. Perception doesn't win any games for us around here, but good players do. We thought they were outstanding players.
The goal for us is to teach those guys as much as we can as soon as we can because this is a position where we’ve had lots of guys in the past contribute as freshmen. Rolando McClain did, Dont'a Hightower did, C.J. Mosley did, I think Nico Johnson did.
That's not to say Davis is guaranteed to start from Week 1. He's not an early enrollee so he doesn't have the advantage of going through spring drills and getting acclimated to the speed of the game over a longer period of time. Like a lot of freshmen, he's going to be thrown into the fire during preseason camp and will need to prove himself there. Even the most talented freshmen have to adjust.
But the good news for Davis is he has a high ceiling and a lot of room to grow. He has an all-time great head coach who believes in his ability to fill that McClain/Mosley type of role and a new defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt, who is starting with a clean slate.
To see Davis as the leader of Alabama's defense in two years is easy. In the meantime, though, he has the capability and opportunity to see playing time as a freshman.
Last season, Alabama's front seven was so stout not just because of its starting talent, but because of its No. 2's and No. 3's. Though many players from that front seven are departing, there are still talented players ready to step up. Rotation should be the key again for the Tide in 2016.
By season's end, if Alabama is once again in the national title hunt like many suspect it will be, don't be surprised if Davis has grown to the point where he's a pivotal part of that run.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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When Bob Stoops captured the national title early in his tenure at Oklahoma, he did so with just four players from the state of Texas in the starting lineup back in 2000. That, more than anything that happened that year, might have been the biggest anomaly in Norman during a season for the ages.
Four years later, when the Sooners lost to USC in the BCS National Championship Game, Adrian Peterson and Rhett Bomar paced a group of 13 Texans who started for the team that season. 2008’s team, which also made it to the title game and set a host of school, conference and FBS records on offense, featured eight players from the Lone Star State in the lineup.
It’s been basically a birthright for the crimson and cream the past several decades. Dating back to the days of Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, Oklahoma has always crossed the Red River to pluck plenty of Texas talent.
Until the class of 2016, that is.
While the rival Longhorns took home most of the press on Wednesday and SEC schools were stuffing the 247Sports Top 25 with quality classes, quietly and under the radar was an interesting phenomenon unfolding for head coach Bob Stoops: a diminishing amount of Texans among the Oklahoma signees.
Of the 19 players the Sooners inked this year, just three hailed from south of the state line. That’s the fewest ever in one class for Stoops, who is the nation’s longest-tenured head coach and just hauled in his 18th crop of recruits.
"It's a class that really covers the country, from East Coast to West (Coast),” Stoops said in his signing day press conference. “With having a national brand, we continue to do well all over the country, and I felt like we did again this year."
Instead of pounding the ground in their rich and fertile recruiting territory just a three-hour drive from campus, Oklahoma’s strategy in piecing together its 2016 class was in many ways a culmination of a big gamble begun by Stoops several years ago. Back in 2011 in a similarly-sized class, the team signed players from just six states and had over three-quarters of the group hail from Oklahoma or Texas.
This year, the Sooners brought in players from a whopping 13 states and the District of Columbia. Just five recruits were in-state players or from south of the Red River. It’s part of a continuing trend the past several cycles as the team looks to navigate what is quickly becoming a new era for the school in a reconfigured Big 12.
“We’ve always been national, but we start with Oklahoma and Texas. That’s where it starts with us,” Stoops added. “We are always going to scour Texas the best we can. But when we have interest around the country, we’ve always gone after it since I’ve been here.
“The landscape of college football is different now, though, so I do think it’s fair to say it’s as challenging as it has ever been. The footprint of college football continues to change. But I’ve always felt strongly we’ve had a national brand and could go across the country and will continue to do it.”
The question is whether this recruiting gamble has been a savvy move as a result of those landscape changes or one that has been forced upon the Sooners by others. Long gone are the days—just five years ago, really—when Oklahoma was landing one of the top two or three players in Texas and grabbing its fair share of the top 20 in the state. It simply is no longer a two- or three-man race when a top recruit from the area is looking to make his college choice.
Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012 and has ridden a wave of momentum under Kevin Sumlin ever since Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. Baylor recently won back-to-back Big 12 titles and just this year captured one of the best recruiting classes the Bears have ever had. TCU remains a perennial Top 25 team under Gary Patterson and now has the distinction of being the only Power Five school in the talent-rich Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
And that’s to say nothing of the surge Houston (which hosts Oklahoma this season) has experienced under Tom Herman and the success SEC powers like Alabama and LSU have had in the area.
Then there’s the simple fact that recruiting, in this social media-fueled day and age, has simply become less about where you’re from, and the importance of staying close to home has decreased. Look no further than this year’s Top Five recruits from the state of Texas, according to 247Sports, who are going to Ole Miss, Houston, Florida, Baylor and Stanford, respectively.
To help combat this, Stoops has remained tied to productive areas but also opened up new pipelines.
Perhaps the most intriguing has been the connection to California that Oklahoma has developed. The Sooners plucked 5-star linebacker Caleb Kelly out of Fresno and lured 4-star cornerback Jordan Parker from the Bay Area. Last year, they convinced Dru Samia to come to Norman from Danville, California, and the true freshman wound up starting at offensive tackle for the team during its run to the College Football Playoff.
Going back even further, one can find Oklahoma snagged talented players from the Sunshine State such as Tony Jefferson and Kenny Stills.
Will it all pay off for Stoops and the Sooners eventually? This year’s run to the final four is a good omen that the program can still field an elite team despite an increased reliance on talent in its backyard.
Still, things are certainly different in Norman now compared to the heyday of the Stoops era, and even well before that. The core of the Sooners football team is changing, and it was readily apparent on Wednesday just how much.
Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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This was as good a time as any to doubt Alabama, so I did. Just 22 days after the engineer of this magnificent machine reinvented himself in the national championship, I questioned whether Nick Saban could pull it off once again.
After five consecutive recruiting national championships, this was the year that Alabama’s stranglehold on the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class would be loosened. I just knew it. It was time.
Heading into national signing day, Alabama had an exquisite collection of recruits lined up—the kind of class of which most ravenous fanbases only dream. There were gifted players out there still to land, too.
Still, with work to be done, a recruiting national championship felt unlikely. A top-five or even top-three class seemed reasonable. But No. 1? Not this year.
So heading into signing day, I wrote as such. I was foolish.
“In the end,” I scribed, unaware that I would issue an apology only days later, “Alabama likely will have to settle for (sigh) a deep class loaded with prospects and finish somewhere around the top three in the team rankings.”
At the time, this didn’t seem like an outlandish proclamation. It seemed safe. This was going to be an exceptional group, but not the most exceptional group.
I felt good about this prediction—just like I felt good about predicting Alabama would win the national championship less than a month earlier. It simply didn’t seem like the streak could possibly continue—plain and simple.
Then national signing day came. One after the next, Inevitability sat down next to me on my sofa, grabbed all of my food out of the fridge, placed it down on my family room coffee table and ate every last morsel while smiling at my failed prophecy.
The commitments poured in, per usual: a 4-star here, a 5-star there. Oh, look, another 5-star. And sure, another 4-star to cap it all off.
Instead of securing the No. 1 class in October or November, Alabama waited until the waning hours of the final day.
It did precisely what it has done each and every year since 2011. Fresh off another national championship, Alabama finished with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, according to 247Sports' composite team rankings.
So I suppose this is that apology I alluded to earlier—not that Saban demands one.
Wearing a blue sport coat and a crimson tie, the architect of this class introduced his exciting new pieces once all the commitments had been received on Wednesday.
There was no champagne. There were no on-campus celebrities or red carpets. There was no live stream to showcase every nonexistent Saban fist pump. This was business as usual.
It wasn’t so much a celebration as a familiar yearly gathering. Even the local media in attendance has grown accustomed to this day. Having sat in the same seats before and listened to the same vocal victory lap, the process was restored.
“Perception doesn’t win any games for us around here,” Saban told reporters. “But good players do.”
The push for the No. 1 class on February 3 began with Shyheim Carter—the nation’s No. 9 cornerback who committed not long after the day began. Jared Mayden, the No. 13 corner in this class, later joined him.
In between those commitments, Saban hauled in his first 5-star of the day. Ben Davis, the top inside linebacker in this class and a legacy recruit, announced his pledge on national television.
The rise was taking shape, although it needed one final push. That push came when the nation’s No. 2 linebacker, Lyndell “Mack” Wilson, announced his commitment to the school.
“We thought they were outstanding players,” Saban said on his new linebackers. “Very athletic guys. Both of ’em can run. They’re instinctive players, and the goal for us is going to be to teach those guys as much as we can as soon as we can, because this is a position where we’ve had lots of guys in the past contribute as freshmen.”
That was the tipping point. The No. 1 class was theirs.
But staying true to form, Alabama did not stop there. With the day winding down, defensive lineman Terrell Hall— the No. 6 weak-side defensive end in the class—announced he was headed to Tuscaloosa. This was the cherry on top.
Saban’s latest creation leapfrogged LSU and Ohio State—two teams many, including myself, gave the inside track for finishing with the No. 1 class in 2016.
It withstood a violent push from Florida State. Jimbo Fisher commandeered the top spot earlier in the day, only to surrender it hours later.
It overcame strong, flashy signing-day showings from Michigan and Ole Miss. The Wolverines secured the commitment from the best overall player in the class—defensive tackle Rashan Gary. The Rebels landed Deontay Anderson, the No. 2 safety in 2016, after he announced his decision by skydiving.
But there was Alabama—college football’s Rock of Gibraltar. In reality, there was always Alabama. Signing day’s most immovable force simply changed the pace. Just as he did three weeks ago, Saban unleashed a new winning blueprint.
Like a jockey patiently sitting off the pace, waiting to unleash his horse on the home stretch at the appropriate moment, Alabama conquered the college football world for the second time in as many months.
Nothing should surprise when it comes to Alabama and recruiting. It’s the closest thing the sport has to an assembly line.
Still, it’s hard not marvel at how this all came together. And now a roster already unfairly packed with talent in all areas has more pieces to play with.
Since the streak began in 2011, Alabama has landed 111 players with at least a 4-star grade. Many of these players still have yet to receive meaningful playing time. The favorite to repeat next season will have a dashing new influx of resources at its disposal.
The machine isn’t just fully operational; it’s stronger than it has ever been.
For a while, that didn’t look like this would be the case. I told you otherwise. I told you that the streak was ending. I told you that the crown would no longer reside in Tuscaloosa.
I suppose I should’ve known better. Even with such a minute margin for error, Alabama managed to keep a fascinating streak alive—one that is not celebrated with a trophy, banner or rings. That part comes next.
Perhaps 2017 is the year Alabama’s run of recruiting dominance will finally end. Perhaps this year’s most capable athletes will finally stare wide-eyed at this roster bulging with star power and decide to take their talents elsewhere.
That is a reasonable thesis to have as Alabama embarks on yet another recruiting cycle. Let me know how that goes.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was business as usual at the University of Alabama football complex during Wednesday’s national signing day, which was just the way the Crimson Tide wanted it.
Like usual, Saban downplayed the mythical title.
“Until it's all said and done, until these guys all grow and develop, you really don't know what kind of class you have,” he said. “It's everybody's guesstimate at this point as to what kind of class we really have.
“We're excited about them. We're pleased with them. But you know, you can't make predictions about these type of things.”
Nevertheless, the Crimson Tide's latest recruiting class was rated comparably to some of the ones that helped lead to four national championships in seven seasons. While Alabama still has an open slot and signed fewer players than in recent years, the average class grade on a 100-point scale—again, using 247Sports' composite—was 92.85.
That’s the fourth best of Saban’s recruiting classes at Alabama.
Although it had numerous true freshmen play during the 2015 season, including standout wide receiver Calvin Ridley, the Crimson Tide will be looking to two players in particular from the signing class to contribute immediately—the junior college transfers.
With Dominick Jackson’s eligibility having expired, the Alabama has an opening at right tackle and no obvious replacement.
“Charles Baldwin was probably at least the best junior college offensive tackle-type that we could find, which we thought we were a little short in tackle-types, especially guys that had experience,” Saban said. “We recruit junior college guys because we think he's going to be good enough to play, because they need to play. So then we need for him to play.”
Among those Baldwin could compete with in the spring include 5-star addition Jonah Williams, reserve Korren Kirven and Ross Pierschbacher if a suitable replacement steps up at left guard.
The other junior college addition is defensive lineman Jamar King, who didn’t land his scholarship offer until late December and was a late commitment. Ohio State also made a late run at him.
Steal of the signing class?
One of the more interesting additions to Alabama’s signing class was Joshua Jacobs, a running back from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was largely overlooked for a variety of reasons and received his offer late in the recruiting process.
Part of that had to do with playing in just six games his junior year at McLain High due to an injury. As a senior, though, he averaged 15.1 yards per carry and 245.8 yards per game en route to 2,704 rushing yards on 179 carries with 31 rushing touchdowns.
Wanting to add another running back in addition to B.J. Emmons, who rated second in the nation at that position, Alabama didn’t latch on to him until after the national championship game and dispatched running backs coach Burton Burns to check him out and call back.
“We thought something was wrong with the guy, maybe he’s too small or whatever, and he said ‘No, this is a pretty good looking guy and I watched him practice basketball and he’s very athletic and very explosive,’” Saban said. “I said ‘Well there’s got to be something wrong with the guy.’”
Now Alabama thinks it might have gotten a recruiting steal.
In addition to his national championship, Saban claimed another state recruiting title after landing the only two 5-star prospects, linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson, and four of the top five players according to 247Sports.
Overall, since 2008 the state has had 16 players rated as a 5-star prospects, with Saban having signed 12 of them. Two went to Florida State in 2012, and two landed at Auburn in 2014. That’s the equivalent to a .750 batting average.
"We weren't worried about perspective,” Saban said. “We like getting good players who can go out on the field and play good. Perception doesn't win any games for us around here, but good players do. We thought they were outstanding players.”
Consequently, they figure to be among the first of the new defensive players to see playing time in 2016.
“The goal for us is to teach those guys as much as we can as soon as we can because this is a position where we’ve had lots of guys in the past contribute as freshmen,” he said. “Rolando McClain did, Dont'a Hightower did, C.J. Mosley did, I think Nico Johnson did.
“We didn't have a lot of depth at that position this year so I think how quickly these guys can learn and grow and develop at that position is important because I think they both have the kind of athletic ability and critical factors at that position that we're looking for."
The process never stops
Among the playmakers, those with the best chance of contributing in 2016 are the running backs. With Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake heading to the NFL, they left behind a talented group topped by sophomores Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough, but with very little experience.
Consequently, Saban is leaving the door open for a possible graduate transfer or recruit to still join the 2016 team.
“It seems with these graduate transfers, just looking at the history of it, there seems like there are more skill guys, receivers, running backs that do that type of thing,” he said. “So we'll probably be on the lookout for the next best player we can find, whether it's somebody that didn't sign on signing day or someone who is out there looking for an opportunity."
Yes, that was Saban demonstrating why he was the six-time reigning recruiting champion, by working a recruiting angle during his press conference at the end of national signing day.
Here’s a full look at Alabama’s 2016 signing class:
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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President Barack Obama may be the leader of the free world, but he is just like the rest of us: He's a huge sports fan.
When President Obama hangs out with a Heisman Trophy winner, he does what any football fan would do: He takes a picture with the player while striking the legendary pose, as evidenced by these photos with Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry from Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast.
While he does have the basics of the pose down, Mr. President needs to make sure he uses his left hand to protect the football.
[h/t John R Parkinson]
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In order for Auburn to get back to where it feels like it belongs in the college football world, it had to keep doing what it was doing on the recruiting trail.
On Wednesday, Auburn officially signed its fourth straight top-10 recruiting class under Gus Malzahn. The Tigers finished No. 9 nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.
Even after back-to-back seasons in which it fell short of high expectations, Auburn continues to bring in the talent necessary to compete for championships in the cutthroat SEC West.
The Tigers overcame some late losses of key recruiters on the coaching staff and still managed to sign one of the nation's best classes for both defensive linemen and wide receivers. Auburn did especially well in the nearby state of Georgia and continued to maintain a stronghold in Florida.
Auburn's 2016 roster situation should make for plenty of early impact from this year's signing class, which features a few potential starters for this upcoming season.
It's time to get to know the players who will be huge pieces to the team's puzzle for the next several seasons, from the much-needed passing targets to the under-the-radar names on the defensive side of the ball.
Here's an in-depth look at Auburn's 2016 recruiting class.
The top offensive and defensive recruits of the 2016 class for Auburn both came down to national signing day, when they gave the Tigers plenty of reason to celebrate in the war room.
Five-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown was rated as the ninth-best player in the entire country. He'll provide a huge boost to what should already be a strong Auburn defensive front in 2016.
The longtime Georgia lean trended toward the Tigers in the days leading up to signing day. He ultimately picked Auburn over the in-state Bulldogs, Alabama and Tennessee.
By signing with Auburn, he became the program's best-ever pick from the Peach State, as the Tigers hadn't signed Georgia's No. 1 player in the recruiting ranking era.
"I think that for the next three-to-four years, it's going to be great to watch Auburn football," Brown said on the ESPN2 telecast of his announcement. "That's why I made this decision."
Brown has the skill set to play a huge role and even start for Auburn in 2016. He's extremely athletic for a 317-pound defensive tackle, and his top-notch pursuit abilities made him a National Player of the Year candidate in high school.
"He's a true impact player," Malzahn said. "We believe he’s one of the best players in the entire country. I got a chance to watch him in person, and it was one of the more impressive performances I’ve had a chance to watch at any position."
The Tigers needed more punch at the point of attack and another highly rated playmaker to line up alongside the likes of Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Byron Cowart. It'll be nearly impossible to keep him off the field this fall.
The same goes for 4-star wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers, a big-bodied receiver who will provide a major shot in the arm for a receiving corps that lost both of its top playmakers from the 2015 season.
Craig-Myers announced his commitment to Auburn over finalist North Carolina on Wednesday morning at his high school and immediately made big promises to the Tiger fanbase:
The Tampa native has an all-around game to go with his 6'2", 205-pound frame. When healthy in high school, he was one of the nation's most productive receivers, and he had a chance at being a top-10 player for the Class of 2016 before a knee injury in his junior season.
"He’s a big guy, he can go get the football, he’s tough to tackle and he’s got that competitive edge," Malzahn said.
In addition to Craig-Myers, the Tigers also picked up his brother, 3-star cornerback Jayvaughn Myers. A 6'0" athlete who made it to the Under Armour All-American game, the Tigers will be thrilled to also seal Myers over UNC, especially with some of their depth concerns at corner.
"He’s long and he’s very athletic," Malzahn said. "Coach [Wesley] McGriff is very excited about this guy. We think he’ll have a chance to come in and compete for playing time."
One of Auburn's biggest signing-day pickups in quite some time was 4-star offensive tackle Prince Sammons, a Nigerian-born recruit who was also highly ranked at defensive end. He chose Auburn over Michigan State, Oregon and Duke.
Sammons has a similar background to 2015 defensive end signing Prince Tega Wanogho. Still relatively new to the game of football, Sammons was still able to earn a coveted 4-star rating thanks to his 6'8", 280-pound frame and his physical nature on both sides of the ball.
"We really went hard the last month or so at offensive tackle," Malzahn said. "He’s a guy that a lot of people wanted as a defensive end, and that tells you his physicality. We’re very excited about him playing offensive tackle for us. We think the sky is the limit."
With tackles Avery Young and Shon Coleman leaving early for the NFL draft, Auburn needed to restock at the position. Sammons has an extremely high ceiling and could be one of the most dominant players of this recruiting class.
Already on the Plains
Even with all the normal drama on national signing day, Auburn was able to be 100 percent confident in nine impact players for its 2016 class—because they were all already on campus.
Auburn's nine early-enrollees were led by three top-100 recruits, two of which will play on the defensive line with the 5-star Brown.
Marlon Davidson, a former 5-star at defensive end, committed to the Tigers last September and stayed strong the entire way. The state of Alabama's No. 3 recruit is the younger brother of Kenneth Carter, who was a defensive lineman at Auburn from 2010 to 2013 and is currently on Malzahn's staff.
"We think he’s an impact player," Malzahn said. "He's a big, athletic guy that can run, and we feel very good about him."
While most recruiting services preferred the linebacker combination of Ben Davis and Mack Wilson—both former targets for the Tigers—Malzahn said Davidson was identified early on by staff as the best player in Alabama:
Antwuan Jackson is another highly rated defensive tackle whom Auburn plucked from the state of Georgia. Like Brown, Jackson stands out for being so light on his feet while weighing more than 300 pounds.
His explosion off the ball will make him another early-impact signing for the Tigers defensive line, especially since he enrolled in time for spring ball on the Plains. Expect him to play some sort of role in the rotation for the Tigers this fall.
"Auburn's top four defensive tackles all return, so Jackson, an early enrollee, could contend for playing time as the fourth man in the rotation or be a redshirt candidate," James Crepea of AL.com wrote. "Three defensive tackles are entering their senior seasons, so developing Jackson should be the priority in 2016 regardless of his playing time."
Perhaps the name Auburn fans are most familiar with among the early enrollees is 3-star JUCO athlete John Franklin III.
The former Florida State player, who practiced with Nick Marshall during the Seminoles' preparation for the 2013 national title game, is expected to be one of the top names in Auburn's upcoming quarterback battle.
"He’s got great speed, and we think he throws the ball well," Malzahn said. "He’s familiar with our offense, so we’re definitely excited about what he can do."
Auburn made Franklin a priority during this recruiting cycle, and his early arrival should give him a great chance at taking the starting job this fall. He's built for the more run-heavy style of offense Auburn used to perfection in 2013 and 2014.
Although he wasn't the full-time starting quarterback at his junior college, Franklin made plenty of plays with his legs and arm. He'll be one of the stars of the spring for the Tigers.
Four-star wide receiver Kyle Davis, another top player from the state of Georgia, could be catching touchdown balls from Franklin as early as this spring.
The early-enrolling Davis is similar to Craig-Myers in both size and skill set, making him the ideal possession receiver in Malzahn's offense. He also pushed for the No. 1 spot at the receiver position during this cycle.
"We really put an emphasis in this class on big guys that could run and could do some things with the ball after they catch it," Malzahn said. "We think he’s got a chance to be a phenomenal player."
Other big names who enrolled early at Auburn include 4-star tight end Landon Rice—which gives Auburn a traditional weapon at the position—4-star local area standout John Broussard and 4-star JUCO pass-rushing specialist Paul James.
Best of the rest
Auburn signed a few more blue-chip prospects on Wednesday, including its possible quarterback of the future in 4-star Woody Barrett.
Barrett is a dual-threat quarterback who has some bulk at 225 pounds. The Florida native is equally as skilled at running over defenders as he is at tossing spirals over their heads for big plays.
Although he's not as polished a quarterback in terms of technique just yet, the potential is there in Barrett's legs and arm.
Malzahn said Wednesday he would also have a shot as the starting quarterback, but the early projection on him is that he'll be a No. 1 guy later down the road.
When he gets adjusted to the college game and tightens up a few things, Barrett looks like he'll be a perfect fit in a Malzahn offense. He can be quite dangerous on the ground and through the air.
Fellow 4-star Eli Stove, on the other hand, might not take as long to make an impact on Auburn's offense.
Stove is the third member of a wide receiver class that has a claim to be the best in the entire country for 2016. He has skills that immediately translate to the next level.
He has sure hands and a little more quickness than some of the other receivers Auburn picked up in 2016.
“We really feel like he’s got a very unique skill set," Malzahn said. "We think he’s got a chance to be an impact player. He can really do some things with the ball once he gets the ball in his hands."
Four-star defensive end Nick Coe will bring great size to his position from the moment he steps onto Auburn's campus as a freshman.
At 6'5" and 269 pounds, Coe can be plugged in virtually everywhere on the Auburn defensive line—any position, any role. His athleticism jumps out in his high school film, and the ceiling is high for the North Carolina native.
"The fronts that they run, they like to have a stud end," Owen George, Coe's high school coach, told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "They all talk about how his size is going to help him immediately. He's got the size and athleticism to play in a three-man front at defensive end or in a four-man front, maybe slide down to a 3-technique in the pass rush."
Coe also excelled as a high school wrestler, making him a force in one-on-one situations with offensive linemen. While Auburn signed quite a few players for a defensive line that returns several key players, Coe has the ability to crack the rotation early.
Sleepers to watch
If any Auburn fans are looking for any 3-stars who could develop into some top-notch Tigers, start with linebacker Tre Threat—the only player at his position in this year's class.
By being the lone incoming linebacker in a season after the departure of three seniors, Threat automatically has a shot at early playing time for Auburn.
Enrolling early will be another benefit for this underrated Under Armour All-American, whom Auburn targeted early in the cycle as a player to have.
"He’s got the unique ability where he can play inside or out, so he’s going to give Coach [Kevin] Steele and Coach [Travis] Williams some flexibility," Malzahn said. "He’s a talented young man."
Threat comes from a strong high school program at Spanish Fort in southern Alabama and has an edge to his game that could make him a real difference-maker in college. He's the type of linebacker who can get a team fired up with a big hit.
Another defensive player to watch is the lowest-rated one on the board for Auburn in 2016 and the last one to receive a scholarship offer.
Three-star defensive back Daniel Thomas had to play the waiting game with the Tigers, who were after 4-star safety Nigel Warrior. When Warrior decided to follow in his father's footsteps and play at Tennessee, Auburn gave the Montgomery native a shot.
"He’s been on our radar a long time," Malzahn said. "He’s come over to games, and we brought him on an official visit this weekend and just fell in love with him and his family."
According to recruiting analyst JC Shurburtt, Thomas could be one of those players in a few years whom fans will look back on as a severely underrated prospect:
At Robert E. Lee High School in the Alabama capital, Thomas picked off seven passes last season and had a couple of huge touchdowns in the return game.
Auburn could always use depth at both roles, and Thomas will have a chance to become an under-the-radar difference-maker for the Tigers in the next few seasons.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
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The winners keep getting winners.
The defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide landed the No. 1 recruiting class following national signing day on Feb. 3, per 247Sports' national composite rankings.
While head coach Nick Saban continues to build a dynasty at Alabama, there could be a new recruiting sheriff in town. Jim Harbaugh, in his second year as Michigan Wolverines head coach, might not have landed the top class, but he was No. 5 and scooped up the No. 1 talent in the country, defensive tackle Rashan Gary of Paramus (New Jersey) Catholic.
Even though a few schools, such as the Florida State Seminoles at No. 2 (who ESPN.com ranked No. 1) and the Ohio State Buckeyes at No. 4, crashed the party, the Top 10 was still owned by the SEC with five teams.
Here's a look at the Top 25 classes, as well as some analysis of a few teams and top prospects:
Alabama Just Keeps on Winning
It's starting to get a little ridiculous in Tuscaloosa. Saban and the Tide finished atop the 247Sports' rankings for the sixth straight year, a stretch where they have won three national championships.
Paul Myerberg of USA Today remarked on Alabama's recent recruiting dominance:
Two offensive linemen from opposite coasts, Jonah Williams and Charles Baldwin, lead the class. Williams, from Folsom, California, is a 6'5", 296-pound lineman who is ranked as the No. 2 tackle in the country. The only player ranked higher, fittingly, is Baldwin, a junior college transfer who stands 6'5" and 315 pounds.
Baldwin talked about his decision to attend Alabama, per Drew Champlin of AL.com.
They were telling me they want me to come in and contribute right way, and the fact I'm coming in as an early enrollee is really going to help.
I think it's a good chance I'll play early as long as I work hard and buy into the system. That's what the coaches are telling me and that's what I plan on doing.
As long as I buy into the system, learn the playbook and do what I'm taught, that's the plan.
Alabama currently has 24 in its 2016 class with seven early enrollees—including Baldwin and Williams—and 17 who signed letters of intent. Other top prospects include No. 1 inside linebacker Ben Davis (Gordo, Alabama), No. 2 outside linebacker Lyndell "Mack" Wilson (Montgomery, Alabama) and No. 2 running back B.J. Emmons (Morganton, North Carolina).
Although Saban noted his team failed to add another wide receiver in the class, John Talty of AL.com wrote the head coach seemed to like the signees.
"Saban says this recruiting class is the culmination of a lot of hard work from his staff. He says it's been an honor to play in the national championship but that it pushed his coaches harder to have to put together a strong recruiting class."
Those wanting Alabama to fade away and allow new blood to enter the championship picture are going to be waiting a long time for that to happen—at least as long as Saban is in town.
Click here for a full list of Alabama recruits.
Michigan, Harbaugh Making a Move
Michigan's rise on the recruiting trail was especially impressive considering it was ranked No. 37 in 2015 and No. 20 the year before. FS1 radio host Colin Cowherd is excited to see the Wolverines doing well:
Harbaugh, known for his unusual recruiting tactics, could begin to build an inevitable rivalry with Saban. The two teams will rarely meet in the regular season, but they will certainly be going head-to-head for top prospects.
The Michigan coach quipped during national signing day that one of his school's biggest problems, dealing with cold weather, is becoming less of an issue, per SportsCenter:
Whether that comes across in poor taste to some—or many—likely doesn't matter to Harbaugh. He offered to sleep over at one recruit's house and even attend class with him. While that might seem like fun and games, some coaches and others think there is a dark side to his process.
Nine players as of Jan. 26 had either decommitted or had their scholarship pulled from Michigan, per Brian Manzullo of the Detroit Free Press. The most notable was offensive lineman Erik Swenson, who had been committed to the Wolverines since 2013 but ended up with the Oklahoma Sooners after he said Michigan yanked his scholarship late last month.
According to Dan Murphy of ESPN.com, Harbaugh's reputation is starting to take a hit:
Harbaugh’s reputation through most of his coaching career has been that of a brutally honest evaluator. His players say they know where they stand at all times. The events of the past week have called into question whether or not his recruits enjoy the same clarity. Suddenly a month full of entertaining and peculiar recruiting trail hijinks can be spun as calculated and disingenuous.
The 52-year-old coach, who formerly was the head man for the Stanford Cardinal and took the San Francisco 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl, isn't bothering every recruit with his odd ways. In fact, he used them to land the No. 1 prospect in Gary.
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown raved about his potential, per Jim Halley of USA Today:
Rashan is a difference maker. He can rush on the edge. He’s extremely physical and talented. He has a great motor and plays hard every down. Rashan is also a guy we can move around and play at any of the four-down defensive line positions. I was really impressed with how hard he played in the Under Armour All-American Game.
The Wolverines added the most combined 3- and 4-star recruits with 14 apiece, including seven early enrollees. Gary wasn't the only No. 1 recruit at his position for Michigan, as it signed the top fullback and kicker in the country.
Harbaugh and Michigan are clearly here to stay, and it's going to be fun to see them battle it out against Saban and the Tide.
Click here for a full list of Michigan recruits.
Top Five Recruits
The SEC is clearly the big winner when it comes to recruiting, but it was the Big Ten and ACC that nailed down the Top Two recruits. Here's a quick snapshot of the Top Five, per 247Sports:
1. Rashan Gary, Michigan, Paramus Catholic (Paramus, New Jersey) DT 6'5", 293 pounds
Versatile lineman ready to make an early impact.
2. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson, Wake Forest (Wake Forest, North Carolina) DT 6'4", 327 pounds
Massive talent who should help the Tigers continue their front-seven dominance.
3. Gregory Little, Ole Miss, Allen, Texas (Allen) OT 6'5.5", 305 pounds
Potential replacement for possible No. 1 NFL draft pick Laremy Tunsil.
4. Shea Patterson, Ole Miss, Bradenton, Florida (IMG Academy) QB 6'1.5", 192 pounds
Polished quarterback could benefit from sitting a year behind senior Chad Kelly.
5. Jacob Eason, Georgia, Lake Stevens, Washington (Lake Stevens Sr), QB 6'5.5", 208 pounds
Pro-style quarterback drawing comparisons to former Bulldog and No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It’s the day after recruiting Christmas, and Notre Dame football officially unveiled its 23-man recruiting class of 2016 on Wednesday.
There were few surprises for the Irish on national signing day, as Notre Dame landed linebacker Jonathan Jones but missed out on fellow ’backers Ben Davis, Jeffrey McCulloch and Caleb Kelly throughout the rest of the day.
In all, the Irish check in with the 15th-best class in the country.
Note: Highlighted players enrolled in January.
No, the Irish didn’t land either of their 5-star targets—Davis and Kelly—who announced their pledges Wednesday. And for now, the recruitment of 5-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson is ongoing.
So while the stable of elite, high-end talent is somewhat low—Notre Dame boasts just two top-100 signees—the top of the class is still solid.
Offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer is slotted as the No. 3 tackle and No. 27 overall prospect in the class. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday that Kraemer profiles on the edge at Notre Dame, as does fellow Ohio native Liam Eichenberg, the No. 7 tackle and No. 80 prospect nationally.
“Those two kids are as good as you’re going to find in the country,” Kelly said.
Wide receiver Javon McKinley is the next highest-ranked recruit in the class, sitting 16th at his position and 110th overall. The Irish lost their top three receivers from 2015 in All-American Will Fuller, senior leader Chris Brown and slot man Amir Carlisle. Even more so than most years, Notre Dame’s incoming freshman wideouts will have the opportunity to fight for immediate playing time.
On the other side of the ball, early enrollees Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem are the top additions. Hayes is the No. 10 outside linebacker and No. 132 overall recruit and could profile on the line with Kareem, who’s the No. 9 strong-side end and No. 189 overall prospect.
Hayes brings positional versatility, something that will sort itself out, Kelly said.
“We just feel like with the shoulder surgery, he hasn’t really been able to weight train,” Kelly said. “He’s already a pretty big kid. He’s only going to get bigger. We just think that he has such a range of positions that he can play. We’re just going to kind of let it naturally happen, and where there’s an area he can help us, I think we all know that getting after the quarterback would be a great start for him.”
Let’s not confuse the top recruits with those most likely to make an immediate impact.
Notre Dame, for instance, added seven defensive backs, and Kelly said the secondary is the likeliest spot for freshmen to fight for early playing time.
Early enrollee safeties Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill get a head start on acclimating to the collegiate pace and learning the system of Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. There’s certainly a chance for either or both of those safeties to carve out roles in the spring as the Irish replace starting safety Elijah Shumate and bring back Drue Tranquill from another torn ACL.
“I would naturally look towards that group right away,” Kelly said of the incoming defensive backs. “Just by the pure number of having seven in the back end of the defense, it’s probably a good shot that somebody is coming out of that group.”
There are also openings at the receiver spots, so McKinley, Chase Claypool and early enrollee Kevin Stepherson could fight for reps. Elsewhere on the defense, Kareem and Hayes seem most ready to contribute.
While some Irish fans might bemoan the lack of top-of-the-rankings talent, let’s look at potential sleepers who could outperform their current rankings.
Because as Kelly said Wednesday, “Today is a celebration, but it shouldn’t be the highlight of their career moving forward.”
British Columbia native Claypool is pegged as the No. 33 wide receiver and No. 169 overall prospect in the country, and perhaps the 6’5”, 205-pound athlete could’ve flown relatively under the radar north of the border.
“When we got a chance to see him play, we were just drawn to his pure physical ability, and then we loved him in person,” Kelly said. “We just loved his want-to. He’s a blank slate. He’s so raw that we’re going to be able to create a player that can play so many different positions for us.”
Sounds like a nice red-zone target, for starters.
The latest addition to the class came in the form of linebacker Jonathan Jones on Wednesday. Notre Dame lists the Florida product at 6’0”, 200 pounds, and Jones is the No. 448 overall prospect in the nation.
“Physically, maybe his lack of height scared some people away, but just great instincts as a linebacker, great leadership quality, physically strong, fit, athletic and has a great awareness in the pass game, as well,” Kelly said. “For us, just looked like the consummate linebacker.”
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports.com and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports' composite rankings.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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The recruiting world is still buzzing one day after national signing day. Water-cooler discussions are lively, and the coaches who were a part of the all-day festivities are now focusing their attention on preparing their "signees"—and not "recruits"—for the 2016 season.
Wednesday was college football recruiting's version of the Super Bowl, and national signing day didn't disappoint. Alabama remained the top dog in the team recruiting rankings, Texas closed in amazing fashion, Michigan showed its importance to the state of New Jersey and Ohio State—without much fanfare this year—landed one of the best classes in the country.
Oh, and then there were the verbal commitments. One athlete upped the ante in commitment announcements before signing with Ole Miss.
Here are 10 takeaways from what ended up being an action-packed national signing day.
Four defensive backs for a depleted secondary. Signed.
Three of the country's top defensive linemen for a unit losing three of its four starters? Got 'em.
A potential quarterback of the future (one Meyer called "the best" quarterback prospect he's seen, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman)? Check.
The faction of offensive skill players that can often be found in a Meyer-recruited class? It's on its way.
"Very excited about this class," the three-time national champion head coach told reporters in a national signing day press conference. "Rankings aren't important. As long as you're keeping score, we like to do the best we can."
By that measure, the Buckeyes did very well on Wednesday, with their 25-man haul ranking fourth in the country.
Several times throughout the 2016 cycle—including early on signing day—Ohio State laid claim to the nation's top-ranked class, but it saw its ranking slip due to late surges from Alabama, Florida State and LSU.
"What I look at, even more than the rankings—because some people have 30 in their class, some people have 25—is the average," Meyer said. "I think that's kind of appealing to me to know that we're one of the top teams in the country as far as quality of player."
And yet despite the Buckeyes bringing in what is arguably their second-most impressive class under Meyer—trailing only a legendary 2013 group that helped anchor Ohio State's run to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship and will be well represented in this spring's NFL draft—something still seemed to be missing in Columbus on national signing day.
But what exactly it was the Buckeyes were left without on Wednesday wasn't that hard to figure out. And it won't ultimately matter when it comes to the product Meyer puts on the field either—even if it made for a relatively unexciting signing day for an otherwise impressive class.
Just 190 miles north in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jim Harbaugh was hosting an unprecedented "Signing of the Stars" event, complete with cameos from the likes of Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and Ric Flair.
As the show neared its conclusion, the second-year Wolverines head coach disappeared into a back room, where he received word that 5-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary—the nation's top-ranked player—had committed to his program, solidifying Michigan's class as one of the top in the country, ultimately finishing fifth in the national rankings.
When it came to signing-day spectacles, what occurred in Ann Arbor on Wednesday was unlike anything ever seen in college football, mixing together both the theater and celebration that makes signing day so unique.
Meanwhile in Columbus, Meyer and his staff were enjoying their most drama-free signing day since arriving at Ohio State four years ago.
Ultimately, it was a relatively unexciting final few weeks for Ohio State heading into national signing day, save for a Jan. 18 afternoon that saw a trio of 4-star prospects—quarterback Dwayne Haskins, outside linebacker Keandre Jones and wide receiver Binjimen Victor—commit to the Buckeyes.
"It was a good day," Meyer admitted on Wednesday.
The other good days this past winter and fall primarily came as a result of already committed prospects opting not to reconsider their options.
According to Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni, nearly 70 percent of the Buckeyes' class was committed before November and didn't even look to take visits elsewhere down the stretch of the recruiting process:
This was a change from what's become the norm under Meyer in Columbus, with late drama only amplifying the typical signing-day excitement.
In 2012, it was Meyer surging to a top-five finish despite only being on the job at Ohio State for just more than two months. The following year, the Buckeyes held off Missouri to keep their commitment from Ezekiel Elliott while adding 5-star safety Vonn Bell on signing day and flipping Dontre Wilson from Oregon just days earlier.
Signing-day drama manifested itself in 2014 in the form of Ohio State keeping Jamarco Jones from Michigan State before ultimately losing its pursuit of Malik McDowell. Last year, the Buckeyes weren't truly confident in their commitments from Michael Weber, Torrance Gibson and K.J. Hill until they had the trio of 4-star prospects' letters of intent in hand.
But 2016's signing day was a quiet one as Ohio State added a pair of prospects it didn't seem to have much competition for, with the rest of the class already seemingly set in its decision.
The Monday commitment of 4-star athlete Jordan Fuller was the closest the Buckeyes saw to signing-day drama, with the New Jersey native choosing Ohio State over Michigan. According to Cleveland.com's Bill Landis, Ohio State plans to use him at safety.
With the excitement otherwise lacking, it's no wonder that something seemed to be missing in Columbus on signing day. It certainly wasn't the newfound talent that was lacking, with the Buckeyes adding 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa, 17 4-star and seven 3-star prospects to an already well-recruited roster.
Ultimately, that's all that matters on signing day, and even then, there are no guarantees that a class will pan out as expected.
"Every coach in the country is walking up to the podium saying how great their class is," Meyer said. "The next phase of all that is development."
Given Meyer's track record in Columbus, which includes a 50-4 record and national championship already under his belt, there's very little doubting his ability to do that.
Perhaps that's what should be what's most exciting for Ohio State fans on what was otherwise a relatively unexciting national signing day by the Buckeyes' standards.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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National signing day represented a day of many emotions for the lucky prospects in the 2016 class who were able to land scholarships to continue their playing careers in college.
It’s also the last time a majority of the players will have control over their future destination in the sport.
With that control comes a cost—one that is hidden to the average teenager.
Their journey began with hopes of flashing on the radar of top college programs around be nation.
However, once that goal was achieved, their days of being a normal teenager were over.
While the limelight and perks associated with being a top recruit are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, their new realities also presented them with unseen challenges and pitfalls that left them with plenty of confusion and frustration.
"It's a huge mix of emotions. It can be stressful. It can be fun. It can be tiring. It can be annoying,” 5-star tight end and Georgia pledge Isaac Nauta told Bleacher Report. “But at the end of the day, you have to realize you have an opportunity that a ton of kids wish they could have."
Nauta would know better than most. After piling up 40 offers, he made an early pledge to Florida State before reopening his recruitment last summer.
He’s far from the only star recruit to have second thoughts about an early decision.
Of the nation's Top 200 overall recruits, 49 of them made at least one decommitment.
Furthermore, of the nation's Top 25 classes, more than 15 of those programs encountered at least one change to their coaching staff during the current recruiting cycle.
Add in the pressures that come with interactions with rabid fans on social media and rankings that serve as targets for fans and coaches alike, and recruiting often turns into a roller coaster.
Except this decision—one that is certain to change the course of their lives—plays out more like a reality series on Bravo.
As many recruits in the class of 2016 reflect on their process, a lot of them have gained banks of knowledge they wish they would've been armed with when it first began.
Bleacher Report spoke with a number of 2016 stars on topics such as committing early, dealing with coaches, social media and the instant notoriety that comes with a growing offer list.
What's left is a gift to the players in the 2017 class and beyond—a guide that captures what stars in the current class wish they would have known after their first big offer landed.
The trend of offering prospects when they are in the ninth and 10th grade has helped lead to more recruits deciding to commit early.
Current Ole Miss early enrollee and 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson remembers getting caught up in the excitement of having a major college program show interest in him right after he got to the high school level.
“I committed to Arizona in my freshman year when I was in Hidalgo, Texas,” Patterson explained to VSporto’s Recruitniks podcast. “I always wanted to play college football, but I never knew that could actually happen. Then my coach sent out my tape, and Arizona was the first one to see it. They immediately offered me, and I just went ahead and committed.”
Patterson said had he been able to go back and do it over again, he would’ve waited until later in the process to sort through his options.
In his case, after he decommitted from the Wildcats, his recruitment picked up steam with more offers that began to roll in after his junior season.
After taking visits to programs such as Ole Miss, Texas A&M and USC, Patterson selected the Rebels last February.
Nauta committed to the Seminoles back in December 2014, yet he continued to take visits to other programs.
His decision to reopen his recruitment had less to do with his feelings about the ‘Noles program. Instead, it was more about learning what it was he truly wanted out of the process.
"I would tell guys to wait. You can get so excited about a certain program and feel like you need to commit, but you gain more wisdom and knowledge throughout the process,” Nauta said. “Coaches change between schools, and you can get stuck and feel lost. It's just part of the business, and you should take your time with it."
Some recruits do enter the process with a plan on what they are looking for, but their decision-making can become cloudy with visits and dealing with pitches from coaches at various schools.
David Long, a 4-star corner who was committed to Stanford before ultimately deciding on Michigan late in the process, noted the importance of sticking to that plan instead of being swayed by one good visit or a promise by a coach.
“It’s really easy to get sidetracked when you see something flashy and say, ‘that’s good for me.’ When in reality, it’s not what you originally wanted,” Long explained. “A lot of guys get stuck up in that and get caught up in a bad decision. Mainly, [the recruiting process is about] just staying true to what you told yourself you wanted to do originally.”
Pitfalls of the Process
As a recruit’s offer list expands and recruits get exposed to more campuses on visits, the buzz around their name also brings increased attention.
Rankings may fluctuate, but their star rating remains an attachment to their name that carries on throughout the rest of their careers.
The competition between coaches in recruiting is every bit as fierce as the action that takes place on the field in the fall.
All the while, rabid fans flood the social media accounts of recruits with messages imploring them to select their favorite school.
Just like rankings, the tone of messages from fans can turn in the snap of a finger.
Even though 16- and 17-year-old kids are a few years away from legally being able to consume alcohol, the mix of these elements makes for a lethal concoction that can influence a wide-eyed athlete into making rash choices without logic behind them.
Left in the balance is a teenager trying to figure out the most important decision in his life to date.
As 4-star safety and Ole Miss pledge Deontay Anderson notes, the gravity of that choice begins to become clearer as the process wears on.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime decision. It’s probably one of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make because it’s not just a football decision,” Anderson said. “You have to consider the environment of a school, who you are and what you want to be. It’s a very, very, very big decision.”
With observers across the nation watching their every move, the lines often get blurred on social media between fans and recruits.
Some fans can be harmless or enjoy playful banter with recruits, while others—as 5-star linebacker Caleb Kelly found out earlier this week—can take things too far.
Florida early enrollee and 4-star quarterback Feleipe Franks—who was initially committed to LSU—said that while dealing with negative messages is part of the territory that comes with being an elite recruit, it’s important to understand the consequences that could come with an ill-advised response.
"Just be smart with it. Only answer the questions you want to answer,” Franks said of his strategy on social media. “If you don't want something to be out there for the whole world to see, avoid it."
As with their ultimate decision, social media is something that recruits can largely control by choosing what they do and do not want to share on various platforms.
Still, other circumstances out of their control can cause issues with their recruitment.
On the top of that list is the annual coaching carousel. The movement that typically happens in December and January—a period just weeks before national signing day—can cause the most stable recruitments to crumble.
According to 4-star receiver and Ohio State signee Binjimen Victor, it’s something future recruits need to consider when choosing a program.
"The coaches who recruit you to a school might not be at a school the whole time you're there, so you have to prepare for that. Make the decision for yourself based more on life at the school,” Victor said.
Making the Final Decision
Even for recruits who do wait it out and use all their time without making a commitment until signing day, the process intensifies as the finish line appears.
As Long surmised, most recruits are deciding between good schools that present similar opportunities on the field and in the classroom.
"It's really hard coming toward the end because there are all these schools constantly telling you why you should come there,” Victor explained. “It's a lot of people talking to you at the same time. Don't think it's going to be an easy decision at the end."
As Patterson noted, sometimes it can make it hard to enjoy the fruits of the labor that went into earning a number of offers from big-time programs.
“Make sure that you enjoy it during your junior and senior year, but once you get that feeling in your heart and you know where you want to go, then go ahead and pull the trigger and help recruit a championship class,” Patterson said.
Patterson was able to accomplish his goal after he made his decision to attend Ole Miss, but it wasn’t easy, as schools such as Alabama made a late run at him, as detailed by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.
Pressure comes in many forms and from many different angles during the late stages of the process.
Dealing with fans, media and coaches is expected. However, even family members and people in the inner circle of recruits can create more issues instead of helping them make the right decision.
Shavar Manuel—a 4-star defensive tackle who flipped from Florida to Florida State on signing day—cautions future recruits on listening to people who can try to influence them into a decision that may not be best for them.
“Stay focused and be humble. No matter what, don’t let anyone talk you into something you don’t want to do,” Manuel said. “Follow your heart. You will have people in [your] corner to give you advice, but at the same time, you have to do what is best for you because no one is going to go through that experience except you.”
These 2016 prospects represent a small sample of the recruits who went through ups and downs in the recruiting process.
With the coverage and attention in the recruiting industry only growing, it’s likely that the challenges will increase for the kids in the 2017 class and beyond.
While the recruiting process has its share of potential pitfalls, it’s also full of experiences that most athletes never get to have.
Between being courted on official visits and working out at prestigious camps such as The Opening, there are relationships often built with coaches and other players that last a lifetime.
Perhaps most importantly, at the end of the process is an opportunity to get a great education at a top-notch university.
As Anderson explains, finding a balance between enjoying the perks while keeping a level head can make the ups and downs of the process easier to navigate.
“Once it’s over with, you have to start over again in college. Just take it in and enjoy it. At times, it gets annoying, and at times, it gets frustrating. You have to remember to have fun with it and take your time,” Anderson said. “You are blessed to do some cool stuff too. At the end of it is a free education that you’ve earned from a great school.”
Quotes from Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue were used in this report.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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The Georgia Bulldogs scored a major victory Wednesday in head coach Kirby Smart’s first recruiting class.
Despite being hired on December 6, 2015, and not becoming the full-time boss in Athens until the second week of January, Smart was still able to haul in the seventh-ranked signing class in the country, according to 247Sports.
What makes this accomplishment greater is that it comes after Georgia fired longtime head coach Mark Richt, one of the SEC’s most successful coaches of the last decade. The class very well could have imploded, but Smart did an excellent job of keeping the group mostly intact.
The Bulldogs could still add 5-star receiver Demetris Robertson as the Peach State product will announce in roughly a week or two, according to Kipp Adams of 247Sports. This could possibly allow Georgia’s class to move up even further in the team rankings.
As it stands right now, let us take a closer look at Georgia’s 2016 signees.
Most Impactful Recruit
Signing its most heralded signal-caller since Matthew Stafford in 2006, Georgia looks to have a quarterback capable of leading it to SEC East championships in the near future.
Jacob Eason, who stands at 6’5” and 208 pounds, ended his senior season as the second-ranked pro-style passer nationally and fifth-ranked player overall. The Washington product signed in January and is already on campus working out with the team and preparing for spring ball.
Much like Stafford, Eason is a big kid with a laser arm. He is not the most mobile quarterback you will find, but his size and quick release allow him to make any throw.
Take a look at his tape for a better understanding of what Georgia is getting:
With Greyson Lambert at quarterback, Georgia struggled mightily to throw the ball downfield, averaging a mere 185 yards per game. Opposing defenses crowded the line of scrimmage to stop running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, daring Lambert to beat them over the top, which he usually failed to do.
This gives Eason an immediate opportunity to earn the Bulldogs’ starting position as a freshman. He certainly believes he can win the job, according to the Telegraph’s Jason Butt:
As a first-year coach, Smart will likely opt for experience over the more talented Eason, at least to begin the season. If Lambert fails to prove he can become a legitimate threat through the air, look for Eason to take over, especially if Georgia drops a game or two by the second week of October.
Having a great quarterback gives a team a chance to win every week. Expect Georgia to possess this benefit as Eason develops into a All-SEC performer.
Most Dynamic Recruit
Georgia signed plenty of explosive players in the 2016, but one clearly stands above the rest in terms of speed and playmaking ability.
Mecole Hardman, a 5-star rated as the No. 1 athlete nationally and No. 2 player in Georgia, chose the Bulldogs on signing day. This instantly makes Hardman the team’s most dynamic playmaker, along with receiver Terry Godwin.
As his film demonstrates, Hardman can make plays from anywhere on the field with his absolutely blazing speed. This will allow Georgia’s staff the luxury of scheming creative ways to get the ball in his hands, adding an element of versatility the team was missing last season.
Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee also sees Hardman’s playmaking ability as an asset, but believes his future lies on the defensive side of the ball.
Hardman will see the field right away in multiple capacities, as he is just too dangerous and explosive to leave on the bench as a redshirt. He will eventually develop into a defensive back, as Sallee noted, but Georgia will look to get the ball in his hands often in the meantime.
Expect a special teams score and at least two offensive touchdowns from Hardman in 2016.
Immediate Contributors Offensively
Outside of Eason and Hardman, two players who are likely to see the field early due to phenomenal skill sets, Georgia possesses a few players who could make an impact offensively in 2016.
Smart admitted Wednesday he was not thrilled with Georgia’s depth at offensive tackle, even after adding three in the 2016 class, via DawgNation’s Michael Carvell:
We want some offensive tackles. If you say what’s the No. 1 need going into 2017? It’s offensive tackles is what we need. That’s the most deficient area on our front. I think if you combed the country and asked every SEC coach he’s going to say we’re most deficient at offensive tackle.
With Georgia losing three starters up front from 2015, including mainstay John Theus at tackle, freshman Ben Cleveland should contribute right away.
Cleveland, a 4-star ranked nationally as the No. 9 offensive tackle, has the size at 6’6” and 319 pounds to compete in the SEC trenches. He also has nimble feet and can get out and make blocks on the edge when needed. The Georgia native will be in the rotation before earning a regular spot late in the season. Look for him to become a staple of future Bulldog offensive lines.
Isaac Nauta, a 5-star tight end, is also too talented to keep off the field. He runs well for his size and, with some proper coaching, should develop as a blocker.
Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman tabbed Nauta as an impact freshman due to matchup problems he presents. Judging by his highlights, it is easy to agree. Nauta has the ability to outrun linebackers while shielding off smaller safeties downfield with his 6’4” frame.
Nauta will start behind incumbent Jeb Blazevich but will see the field plenty in passing situations. Expect to him to become a favorite target of Eason down the road while gaining valuable experience in 2016.
Running back Elijah Holyfield, son of legendary boxer Evander Holyfield, has the ability to contribute right away but will certainly be the third option all season, barring injuries to Chubb or Michel. Look for him to break off some nice runs in garbage time before becoming more prominent in 2017.
Immediate Contributors on Defense
Missing out on defensive tackle Derrick Brown, Georgia’s top-ranked player, dealt a blow to the Bulldogs, but the team still received another stud inside.
Standing at 6’5,” 321 pounds, Julian Rochester is a monster 4-star defensive tackle who is already equipped to eat up space inside. Fox 5 Atlanta’s Dale Russell provided a rather accurate comparison for the Georgia native.
Rochester also has the quickness and strength to command double-teams, as he often lined up at defensive end in high school. He is a special talent.
Georgia loses three key interior defensive linemen to graduation, opening the door for Rochester to play immediately. The big fellow is already on campus as an early enrollee. This should allow him to be more prepared for a bigger role as a freshman, and Georgia is certainly going to need him.
Perhaps the weakest area on Georgia’s defense is its linebacker group. The team must replace its three starters: stars Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, plus Jake Ganus, the Bulldogs’ leading tackler in 2015.
Smart could have addressed this area better in the 2016 class, as Georgia brings in only one true linebacker in Jaleel Laguins.
However, Laguins, a 4-star, is capable of playing right away with his solid instincts and adequate speed. At 209 pounds, he will need to get stronger over the summer to sustain the grind of SEC play.
Expect Laguins to join the linebacker rotation along with former top recruits Lorenzo Carter and Roquan Smith.
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Head coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State found themselves in a familiar spot on national signing day, pacing the Big Ten with the conference's top recruiting class for the fifth consecutive year.
The Buckeyes' 25-member class ranked fourth nationally behind Alabama, Florida State and LSU and filled a number of big needs on the roster—primarily at wide receiver and in the secondary.
With the number of holes to fill in Ohio State's two-deep roster, Meyer envisions plenty of first-year players making an immediate impact.
"I hope 18 of them play," Meyer said of his 2016 recruiting class, according to Ari Wasserman of the Plain Dealer.
Here's a look at the newest Buckeyes.
Cherry-Picking the State of Ohio
Ohio State didn't dominate the in-state recruiting scene like it usually does, but it did a good job of cherry-picking some of the top players from its own backyard.
Since Meyer took over the Buckeyes in 2012, he's managed to sign 21 of the state's top 40 players, highlighted by nabbing the No. 1 overall Ohio prospect each year since 2012. This year, Ohio State only signed four of the state's top 10 players—4-stars Jonathon Cooper (defensive end), Demario McCall (all-purpose back), Jake Hausmann (tight end) and Luke Farrell (tight end)—and failed to nab No. 1-ranked Tommy Kraemer (offensive tackle).
In total, nine of the Buckeyes' 25 new players hail from the state of Ohio, so Meyer and his coaching staff did a good job of pulling from the local talent pool.
Loading Up on Playmakers
Ohio State lost a lot of firepower to the NFL with the departures of running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receivers Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller. One of Meyer's top recruiting priorities was to load up on offensive playmakers ahead of 2016, and that's exactly what he did with this class.
It starts at wide receiver, where the Buckeyes signed two of the country's most dangerous red-zone threats in Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor. Mack, the nation's 10th-ranked wide receiver, is a 6'2" blazer who can go up and make tough catches. Victor, rated the 12th-best receiver, is nearly 6'4" and a polished route-runner who uses his size to his advantage.
McCall, who played running back in high school, is projecting to H-back at the collegiate level, and he's the biggest home run hitter in the class. He'll have a running mate in 4-star Antonio Williams, the seventh-best running back in the country.
Behind center, though, Ohio State is excited about 4-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The Buckeyes were able to wrangle Haskins away from the home-state Maryland Terrapins, and Meyer thinks he has a special talent in the fold, as he told Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman on The Audible podcast:
Originally, I thought Dwayne would be a redshirt candidate. When I first started recruiting him two years ago, he was very skinny. Then about three weeks ago, I saw him work out. I’ve been blessed to be around some incredible quarterbacks. But he’s the best that I’ve seen at his age since I’ve been coaching.
Another Bosa Headlines the Defensive Haul
Superstar defensive end Joey Bosa anchored Ohio State's defense over the last two seasons, and while his departure will leave a big void in the defensive line, his younger brother Nick is on his way to Columbus and headlines a huge influx of defensive talent.
Nick Bosa, Ohio State's lone 5-star prospect, is the top-ranked strong-side defensive end and the No. 8 overall recruit nationally. He tore his ACL during his senior season, but he's ahead of schedule in his recovery and has a good chance of being healthy before fall camp starts.
He's the headliner for a special group of defenders.
The Buckeyes also got a big boost to their pass rush with the addition of Cooper, the nation's third-best weak-side defensive end. The linebacker corps was bolstered by 4-stars Tuf Borland, who enrolled early to take part in spring camp, and Keandre Jones, who Meyer singled out on signing day, per the Ozone's Patrick Murphy:
When Meyer came to Ohio State, he talked about a philosophy that he and his staff didn't redshirt their freshmen. That wasn't the case last year, however, when only a handful of Ohio State's 25 freshmen saw the field during the 2015 campaign.
But with the mass departure of talent—the Buckeyes are replacing 16 starters and a number of key reserves—there will be a lot of opportunities for young players to crack the two-deep rotation.
Meyer talked about that potential at his signing day press conference, saying he has aspirations that 18 of his new players will see the field this fall. So which Buckeyes are primed for early playing time?
Both Bosa and Cooper are talented enough to factor into Ohio State's defensive line rotation. Meyer is very high on Jones at linebacker, and he and Fuller could get their feet wet on special teams.
Offensively, there's a huge opportunity for wideouts Mack, Victor and McCall, thanks to the attrition on the perimeter. And Haskins, the quarterback Meyer has fallen in love with, will compete for the No. 2 spot with Stephen Collier and Joe Burrow this fall.
Unlike last year, it won't take long for Buckeyes fans to see the new freshmen in action.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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National signing day 2016 was the typical frenzy of activity, with eager college football fans, programs and commentators across the nation awaiting the commitment decisions of the top high school football players.
The best of the best, the blue-chip prospects, receive the most attention from various programs and have incredibly tough decisions to make. Only so many prep players earn the coveted 5-star rating, and only so many programs have the opportunity to land one of these talents.
Putting together a complete recruiting class is important, but landing that one potentially transcendent player can boost a program's profile for years to come.
Here's the full list of 5-star recruits and where they will play college ball. Rankings are based on 247Sports' composite ratings.
Michigan Lands Consensus No. 1 Rashan Gary
In his first year as Michigan coach, Jim Harbaugh transformed the Wolverines defense into one of the most feared groups in the nation. A string of three straight shutouts early in the 2015 season drew the program plenty of buzz.
The famously intense coach is no slouch when it comes to molding young players in a hurry, and he now has the opportunity to develop the top overall recruit in the nation in Rashan Gary.
Gary donned the maize and blue cap live on ESPN2 on Wednesday, confirming what many recruiting analysts had long expected. Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue provided some insight as to why the New Jersey kid chose to play football in Ann Arbor:
"Former Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge is now a member of the Wolverines staff and played a pivotal role in this recruitment. Gary becomes the sixth New Jersey product to join Michigan's class, which includes multiple close friends."
Michigan Football passed along highlights of its latest and greatest recruit:
Based on 247Sports' composite rankings, Gary is the first No. 1 overall prospect to choose a non-SEC school since Matt Barkley signed with USC in 2009. It's not easy to beat out the allure of the SEC schools; SB Nation's map of 5-star recruits and their commitments shows the best talent is concentrated the Southeastern United States.
No less than Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss were targeting Gary, but he eventually chose the northern program looking to return to former levels of glory.
Gary has the size, power and speed to be a punishing every-down defensive tackle at the next level. The future is bright for both Gary and Michigan football as a whole.
Alabama Adds Linebackers Ben Davis, Mack Wilson to Already-Terrifying Recruiting Class
A number of players made commitments to the Crimson Tide on Wednesday, most notable among them linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson. They joined offensive tackle Jonah Williams in their pledge to play ball in Tuscaloosa, giving Alabama three 5-star recruits for 2016.
Georgia and Ole Miss also managed to get their own trio of 5-star studs, but neither school's class can match the depth of Alabama's. Head coach Nick Saban is a master recruiter, with former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier going so far as to call him the best ever, per Bleacher Report's Christopher Walsh:
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. 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.
Davis is the No. 10 overall recruit and top inside linebacker. He's a legacy recruit for Alabama. His father, Wayne Davis, is the program's all-time leading tackler. Wilson is an outside linebacker and is the program's best prospect at his position in the last decade, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Both players will have to fight tooth and nail to get any playing time as true freshmen, as Alabama's defense is chock full of talented players.
Like some sort of Deep South Death Star, Saban's football juggernaut is primed to terrorize the world of college football for the foreseeable future.
Where Will Demetris Robertson Land?
After Wednesday's commitment frenzy, wide receiver Demetris Robertson is now the only 5-star recruit yet to reveal where he will play college football.
According to 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions, 45 percent of analysts believe Robertson will choose Notre Dame, while 40 percent think he will join fellow 5-star prospects Jacob Eason (QB), Isaac Nauta (TE) and Mecole Hardman Jr. (ATH) in Georgia.
247Sports' Jake Rowe notes Robertson's commitment would bump the Bulldogs up to fifth in recruiting class rankings. It would also give them four 5-star recruits, more than any other team in the nation.
While the Fighting Irish are the favorite to land the nation's top wide receiver prospect—they sent their equipment truck to his house for goodness' sake—both Alabama (10 percent) and Stanford (five percent) are in the mix. Walsh noted that Alabama still has room for one more recruit, and Saban "would like to add another offensive playmaker or defensive end."
The prospect of playing for Stanford is reportedly why Robertson is waiting to make a final decision.
“We just want to take more time,” said Carlos Robertson, Demetris' brother and legal guardian, per Rivals.com's Andrew Ivins. “He also wants to get [his SAT score], so we can take an official visit out to Stanford and see how that is before sitting down and making an informed decision.”
Should he join Georgia, Robertson could make for a special crop of offensive recruits in Athens. Eason is a pro-style quarterback, Nauta a well-rounded tight end and Hardman could play wide receiver at the next level. Add Robertson, and the Bulldogs offense could be a force in the passing game in a couple years' time.
Robertson can hardly go wrong in his decision, however, as the likes of Notre Dame, Stanford and Alabama should afford him plenty of opportunity to capitalize on his prodigious talents.
All player rankings, stats and recruiting info courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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Before national signing day, Florida State had a strong class.
After national signing day, it had an amazing class.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher landed four of his eight Top 100 recruits on the last day of the cycle, including one he flipped from rival Florida. Behind that, he also added a pair of Top 170 recruits.
Even the losses of 4-star athlete Jamel Cook and 3-star athlete Clifford Chattman, to USC and Texas A&M, respectively, couldn't offset a banner Wednesday for the Noles.
Let's meet the class that has Tallahassee buzzing.
Full List of Players
Signing Day Breakdown
Key Offensive Playmaker
He's not the highest-rated offensive signing (more on that to come), but California quarterback Malik Henry, by virtue of his position and his talent, is the key offensive playmaker in this class.
Before him, FSU's future staked a lot on Deondre Francois' development. Francois, a redshirt freshman, is supposed to be the future at quarterback—either this year or once Sean Maguire graduates—but if any sort of injury, suspension or developmental failure happened, the Noles would have been screwed under center.
Now they have this to fall back on:
Henry and Francois were both Top 70 prospects, which makes them potential cornerstones. They're also linked by IMG Academy, where Francois played two years ago and Henry transferred to from California to replace him. But then, four weeks after arriving at IMG this summer, Henry left under debated circumstances and returned to play his senior year in the Golden State.
Henry is enrolled for spring ball, so he and Francois will spend the next seven months pushing Maguire to start. If Maguire wins and keeps the job all year, Henry and Francois would wage a fun QB battle next offseason. Or one could unseat Maguire this summer.
Either way, the Noles appear set.
Key Defensive Playmaker
Looking for someone to step in and play as a freshman?
Levonta Taylor is the safest bet.
Even with roadblocks at cornerback, Taylor's too good to waste on the sideline. He's the No. 7 overall prospect and No. 1 cornerback in the 2016 class. Florida State has signed similar players under Fisher, and those players—with the exception of Tarvarus McFadden, whose story is stilling being written—have all turned into megastars:
Karlos Williams now plays at running back, so maybe it's cheating to include him. But perhaps that's actually fitting, since Taylor also has the skills to play offense. That's one of many things that has endeared him to Noles great Deion Sanders.
"I expect him to walk in there Day 1 and learn the game and to be able to play and contribute," Sanders said of Taylor at the Under Armour All-America Game, per 247Sports' Kevin Flaherty. "He has the attitude. He has the swagger. He has the work ethic."
It takes one great Nole to know one.
Best Offensive Line Class in the Country
Thanks in large part to national signing day, Florida State closed with the nation's best offensive line class.
The alpha is offensive tackle Landon Dickerson, a 5-star on 247Sports' site rankings who barely missed that distinction in the composite. But despite that, even the composite scale—the one that ranks him lower—rates him higher than any lineman Fisher has signed at FSU.
Behind that there's Baveon Johnson, the No. 1 center in the class. He's the highest-rated center in the country since 2008 (Michael Brewster, Ohio State).
Then, for depth, there are two 6'7" tackle prospects, Jauan Williams and Josh Ball, who rank inside the national Top 200; a third tackle prospect, Mike Arnold, who ranks No. 1 among prep schoolers; and a guard prospect, Andrew Boselli, whose father is an NFL Hall of Fame candidate.
And that's to say nothing of their other talents, per Safid Deen of Noles Sport:
"It's a tremendous haul," Fisher said of his offensive linemen, per Tomahawk Nation's Bud Elliott. "We've been putting a lot of guys in the NFL, and we run a pro system."
By Elliott's count, the Noles will enter fall camp with 19 scholarship linemen. That would be a record under Fisher.
Depth is the key to this signing class.
Twelve Top 250 recruits join the six already mentioned above. In total, that makes 18. Seven percent of the Top 250 is coming to Tallahassee.
As a result, this class ranks second among Fisher's seven at Florida State. Only the 2011 class graded higher:
That 2011 class was special. It's one of the best of the Internet recruiting era. The big names it produced include:
- QB Jake Coker
- RB Karlos Williams
- RB Devonta Freeman
- WR Kelvin Benjamin
- WR Rashad Greene
- TE Nick O'Leary
- OT Bobby Hart
- OG Josue Matias
- DE Tank Carradine
- DT Timmy Jernigan
- LB Terrance Smith
Many of those players formed the spine of Florida State's national championship team. They helped the Noles win 29 straight games. Even though Jameis Winston, the face of those great Florida State teams, arrived one year later, the Elevens got the ball rolling.
This new class has similar positional depth. The blue chips are spread like butter across the depth chart. This is how the class looks if you only include Top 250 recruits:
- QB Malik Henry
- RB Amir Rasul
- WR Keith Gavin
- TE Naseir Upshur
- OT Landon Dickerson
- OT Jauan Williams
- OT Josh Ball
- OC Baveon Johnson
- DE Brian Burns
- DE Janarius Robinson
- DT Shavar Manual
- DT Cedric Wood
- LB Dontavious Jackson
- LB Josh Brown
- LB Keion Joyner
- CB Levonta Taylor
- CB Carlos Becker
- CB Kyle Meyers
That's almost an entire starting lineup!
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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.
One of the best prospects in the 2016 NFL draft class is Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. The 6’7”, 300-pound mammoth was a dominant and versatile playmaker along the Ducks' defensive front the last two seasons. His transition to the NFL will be one of the easier ones from this class.
Recent draft classes have provided several early defensive line contributors: Leonard Williams in 2015, Aaron Donald in 2014, Ezekiel Ansah in 2013 and many more. The film that Buckner has produced over the last two seasons points to him being a bona fide top-10 pick like the aforementioned group.
Before making bold proclamations about Buckner, we need to look at his achievements and background. The enormous Honolulu, Hawaii, native was a 4-star prospect who was recruited by a dozen of the best schools in the nation. He was part of a class that also featured 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead, 2013 first-round pick Kyle Long and other prospects like Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison.
As good as some of those players were for the Ducks, Buckner has a better resume and film to back it.
The 2015 Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year had a senior season as big as his frame. Buckner ranked second on the team with 83 tackles and was first with 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. It was his fourth consecutive season where his production improved.
Buckner was also first-team All-America and All-Pac-12. He capped off the season with the Morris Trophy award.
This happened despite the team around him struggling to replicate the success it had in previous seasons. Buckner had to do more on his own since the talent around him lessened. His response couldn’t have been better in this situation.
While it’s easy to look at Buckner’s frame and worry about whether that’s the only reason he’s winning, his tape shows a dangerous and versatile player. Playing at Oregon allowed Buckner to be exposed to playing 5-technique in a 3-4 front and 3-technique in a 4-3 front.
Former Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum preferred to rush three on a majority of passing plays. This pigeonholed Buckner because he rarely had help as a pass-rusher. But it did allow him to show off his elite run-defending talent.
Being large and having great length is highly advantageous if it’s used correctly. At 6’7”, Buckner plays high because he really doesn’t have a choice; anatomically, he can’t play much lower. Buckner compensates with his Hulk-like upper body strength.
It is difficult to move Buckner off his spot when he lines up as a 3-4 end. His consistency creating space between him and his blocker is difficult to stop because of his extension and sheer strength. Even when he’s not creating force with his lower body he’s able to shed a block and play the ball.
The play above highlights what is constantly littered throughout Buckner’s film. What makes Buckner different than most 3-4 ends isn’t just the physicality of his play style; that’s to be expected from the position. It’s what Buckner does after he gets free from the block. He finishes the play with a tackle for loss in space.
Humans at his size shouldn’t move as well as he does. Yet Oregon often limited Buckner to stay true to its scheme. If it had unleashed him by getting him more single blocks, he’d have surely been even more productive.
Whether Buckner is asked to be a pass-rusher or run defender in a 3-4 front, he’s a low-risk, high-reward player. As a weak-side defender, he will often be playing a finesse left tackle as opposed to a power right tackle. While some NFL teams are getting away from that archetype, many still subscribe to the “strong side must be the run side” roster-building strategy.
This leaves left tackles being athletic but lacking lead in their pants. That’s excellent for Buckner, who has an upward swooping motion with his attack due to his length. Again, this isn’t a negative, but more of a function of his frame. He has a trump card similar to how Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals has learned to win.
When Buckner was given outside protection that forced offenses to leave their left tackle on an island, he flashed better pass-rushing skills than when it was a three-man rush. He was able to formulate and execute a plan of attack more effectively because he could rely on his athleticism more. Below, he swims past Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin en route to a quarterback hurry.
It’s important to see flashes like this from Buckner since he was rarely in these situations.
Make no mistake about it, he is an elite run defender already at this point in his development. His strength at the point of attack and ability to shed blocks when the ball-carrier nears is parallel to 2015 star Leonard Williams, who also had an uncanny ability to sniff out where plays were heading.
But it’s Buckner's pass rushing that will separate him from being a Pro Bowl star and not just a gap-eater.
Fortunately for 4-3 defenses that need help, Buckner can step into their base defense and provide plenty of support. Versatility is a major positive for Buckner since he might be a better 4-3 3-technique than he is a 3-4 end.
Being at 3-technique allows Buckner to face a guard, who has less length than a tackle. This creates the opportunity for Buckner to be a speed- or pass-rusher without having to deal with the extra space. In a phone booth, Buckner is an absolute nightmare to guard.
We didn’t see Buckner slide inside too often, but he was vicious when unleashed. His ability to bull rush is one of his biggest positives and projects well to the next level. He consistently shows quick but powerful hands that land inside the chest of the blocker.
Once he gets his hands in place, he can manipulate where the blocker will be tossed with his extension. When combined with his quickness, he can completely disrupt how an offense operates.
Sometimes, the versatility tag is applied to players in an attempt to characterize the player lining up at multiple positions. While that can be accurate, true versatility only applies when an individual can be successful at multiple spots. Simply aligning in different positions is worthless if production isn’t coming at each spot.
Buckner certainly has the versatility to excel in whichever scheme he’s drafted for. He’s a good athlete in short spaces and seems to catch blockers off guard with his quick feet. His rapid weight transfer on plays like the one below just isn’t normal for men his size.
Most of what Buckner does is positive, but he has some areas to improve as he enters the NFL.
His matchup with Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker was the best opportunity to see two great prospects go head-to-head. Decker was the best blocker Buckner faced, albeit it was in his junior season.
Decker got the best of Buckner on the limited snaps they saw each other. Buckner’s inability to use speed moves to the outside shoulder of the tackle was on display when he tried.
Even on a play where Buckner originally failed with his attack, he did end up forcing Decker to reset his feet several times with his power toward the play’s completion. This adjustment was smart and showed the ability to counter despite losing the snap overall.
A second key matchup between the two came on a modified speed-dart play to Buckner’s side. Decker takes a strong zone step to the right and catches Buckner drifting inside, which puts pressure on the weak-side linebacker behind Buckner to make the right read. He doesn’t, instead floating to the pitch man.
Regardless of what else went wrong for Oregon on the play, Buckner was caught off-balance when he recognized the play developing. His shoulders were no longer aligned with the line of scrimmage since his base had been compromised.
The only major knock on Buckner is his ability to handle double-teams. At times, his legs will get skinny when he tries to anchor. He doesn’t have the functional strength to simply reset with his lower body yet, and that issue is compounded when his shoulders aren’t square when he embraces contact.
NFL offenses may target Buckner with this early in his career, but it’s not like handling double-teams is easy for anyone. If execution is solid around the double-team or if Buckner can even stand his own ground decently, then a defensive unit can certainly survive that weakness.
Projecting Buckner to the NFL, he is a versatile and well-rounded defensive lineman. His size and raw power are tremendous positives and will instantly allow him to start in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He can be impactful as a run-stuffer or pass-rusher.
Although Buckner is not a twitched-up athlete who regularly wins off the snap or shows flexibility, he is an above-average athlete on film. When we put the total package of length, power and quickness together, Buckner has enough upside to be a good long-term starter.
Comparisons for Buckner can be difficult because of his size. Calais Campbell is the most similar physically and is likely the high-end side of his ability. The low-end comparison is San Diego’s Corey Liuget, who is also a solid player.
Not everything Buckner does is elite or especially noteworthy when isolated. He is high-functioning in a team role and showed flashes of excellence when he was given the chance to create on his own. His lack of certain physical traits like suddenness and flexibility somewhat limits his upside, but his floor is high and his ceiling still considerably good.
In the 2016 class, Buckner should be a top-10 pick. He’s a safe prospect with his ability to play at a high level as a rookie. Buckner plays with brutality and a high motor at a premium position. His unique skills and versatility shouldn’t be taken for granted.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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