Rating the SEC recruiting classes

Filed under: Football,Previews |

 

By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief

Feb. 5, 2014

 

1. Alabama

Key signings: OL Cameron Robinson, LB Christian Miller, DE Da’Shawn Hand

Underrated: WR Derek Kief, TE Ty Flournoy-Smith

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Ex

Needs filled: Ex

Analysis: Alabama as much as recruited an entire team this cycle, getting players at all 22 positions plus a kicker/punter. The late steal of LB Rashaan Evans from Auburn’s back yard was what put the class over the top, as there was a bit of softness at the linebacker position prior to Evans making his decision. Alabama still would have liked to have secured another inside linebacker – the decommitment of Zach Whitley a few weeks ago stung Alabama badly – but this was a dominating class otherwise. Evans and Christian Miller give Alabama bookend outside linebackers, while tackle Cameron Robinson headlines a rock-solid offensive line class. Getting DE Da’Shawn Hand out of Virginia was a major coup, and the CB duo of Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown is unmatched anywhere else. And, while not technically a recruit, former Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker’s decision to transfer to Alabama filled in a huge missing puzzle piece. Once again, this was Nick Saban doing what he does best, which was leaving the rest of the SEC behind and securing not only the top class in the conference, but in the nation as a whole.

 

2. LSU

Key signings: WR Malachi Dupre, RB Leonard Fournette, S Jamal Adams

Underrated: WR D.J. Chark, LB Donnie Alexander

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Ex

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: This was a class perhaps more top-heavy than it originally looked. LSU grabbed several of the country’s best players, including the trio of Dupre, Fournette and Adams, but had some issues elsewhere. The Tigers didn’t quite answer the bell along the defensive line, failing to get a marquee tackle, and Davon Godcheaux was the only difference-maker signed at end. It reads as nitpicking, however, given the overall talent of the class. Still, this class was notable as much for who LSU allowed Alabama to steal away (OT Cameron Robinson, anyone?) as it was the players the Tigers actually signed. But LSU did, undeniably, grab the best group of wide receivers in the country. In addition to Dupre, LSU signed Trey Quinn, who has superstar ability, then added the criminally underrated D.J. Chark. Fournette will likely be an instant starter at running back. LSU did a good job in most areas and secured the No. 2 position in the conference by a comfortable amount.

 

3. Tennessee

Key signings: RB Jalen Hurd, WR Josh Malone, DE Dewayne Hendrix

Underrated: OL Coleman Thomas, OL Charles Mosley

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg

Needs filled: Ex

Analysis: Tennessee had plenty of holes to fill and the coaches found a way to massage the rules to allow them to do just that. It remains to be seen who won’t be a member of the class in the fall – the Volunteers are expecting to have to grayshirt several members of this class – but there was no doubting that Butch Jones had a better handle on Signing Day than did his predecessor. RB Jalen Hurd will start from day one, while WR Josh Malone should continue the tradition of top-flight Tennessee wideouts. The offensive line class looks solid, while Tennessee made a concerted effort to get bigger at linebacker. There were some hiccups; the tight end selections were a bit underwhelming, and the Vols failed to add any help at quarterback. Tennessee will also have to hope some of its long-term projects at defensive tackle find themselves ready to play ahead of schedule. But overall, this was exactly what Tennessee needed to get off the cellar of the SEC East.

 

4. Texas A&M

Key signings: WR Speedy Noil, QB Kyle Allen, DE Myles Garrett

Underrated: TE Koda Martin, OL Kealvin Davis

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: The Aggies lead a pack of several SEC schools bunched up around this range. The difference here is the “big three” of Noil, Allen and Garrett. Allen was probably the best quarterback any SEC school signed, while Noil is expected to live up to his nickname as a downfield threat. But it’s Garrett who the Aggie fans should probably be most excited about, as he’ll step onto campus as the best defensive playmaker Texas A&M has. The rest of the class was hit-or-miss. Texas A&M didn’t exactly ignite the landscape with its offensive line class, although Kealvin Davis will be an intriguing tackle prospect in about two years. The Aggies did a good job upgrading its linebacker corp, mainly via Otaro Anaka, and its defensive back group, thanks largely to the signatures of Armani Watts and Nick Harvey. But the Aggies struck out at the running back position. Overall, not a bad effort.

 

5. Georgia

Key signings: RB Sony Michel, DE Lorenzo Carter, DT Kendall Baker

Underrated: WR Shakenneth Williams, TE Hunter Atkinson

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: Signing Day was good to Georgia, who added Lorenzo Carter and, somewhat surprisingly, WR Isaiah McKenzie and vaulted into fifth place among SEC teams. This class was much like previous Georgia classes – spread out nicely, with contributions from all relevant position groups – except this time, Georgia turned up the total talent level a bit. The Bulldogs snagged a good tight end group, headlined by Jeb Blazevich, and built good depth at the wide receiver position. In addition to McKenzie, Georgia got Shakenneth Williams, who has excellent upside. QB Jacob Park was another solid addition, and bringing in Carter and Baker on the defensive line should make new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s job a lot easier. If there was a weakness here, it’s probably in the overall quality of the offensive line signees. This was not a typical Georgia O-line class, which is usually headlined by multiple gold-chip players; the top signee in 2014 is likely Isaiah Wynn, who will need a year or two of strength and conditioning work. Still, it was good enough to stay ahead of the Bulldogs’ two chief rivals, Florida and Auburn.

 

6. Florida

Key signings: CB Jalen Tabor, DE Gerald Willis III, QB Treon Harris

Underrated: WR C.J. Worton, DE Taven Bryan

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: Florida’s class got a huge boost when the Gators stole Jalen Tabor from Alabama and Arizona, but it was the signing of QB Treon Harris that really put the Gators over. It’s unclear how Florida will use the dual-threat Harris, who doesn’t seem to fit what Florida does on offense, but in choosing Florida over Auburn, he probably lifted the Gators above the Tigers in the final rankings. Florida’s class overall doesn’t have a lot of dispersion; most of the talent is tightly bunched around a similar ability level. It’s a solid class, top-to-bottom, that should help the Gators rebound. In addition to Tabor, who will likely find playing time immediately, DE Gerald Willis III headlines a solid defensive end group, while the Gators grabbed one of the most impressive defensive tackle hauls in years. If there’s weakness here, it’s at tight end, where neither C’yontai Lewis nor Deandre Goolsby is considered a difference-maker. The Gators were also a bit average at receiver, where Moral Stephens was probably the best of a just-so bunch. This class alone won’t bring Florida (not to mention Will Muschamp’s career) back from the brink, but it was a solid effort.

 

7. Auburn

Key signings: WR D’haquille Williams, RB Racean Thomas, CB Kalvarez Bessent

Underrated: DE Raashed Kennion, HB Kamryn Pettway

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: Auburn had more at the top than Georgia or Florida, but the class had a bit of a barbell look to it and the Tigers didn’t do as good a job of plugging holes. At the top, Auburn hit home runs, getting WR D’haquille Williams and RB Racean Thomas, and the theft of CB Kalvarez Bessent from Alabama looms huge. On the other hand, the loss of LB Rashaan Evans to Alabama created a problem for Auburn, which got only one true playmaker at linebacker (Tre Williams). Auburn also had an issue at offensive line, where the late signing of Braden Smith saved what would have been a nearly total whiff. The tight end group also will need some long-range development. Auburn snagged a very good quarterback in Sean White, but White is more of a pro-style quarterback than a scrambler, which calls into question how he’ll fit into Gus Malzahn’s offense. Overall, this was a good effort for Malzahn, but Auburn didn’t capitalize on its near-championship in nearly the fashion many people expected.

 

8. South Carolina

Key signings: LB Bryson Allen-Williams, DT Dexter Wideman, S D.J. Smith

Underrated: QB Michael Scarnecchia, CB Darin Smalls

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: This was a typical class for South Carolina: not quite up to the total talent levels of its SEC peers, but more than good enough to plug holes and bring in some developmental players for the future. The Gamecocks got a Signing Day surprise when Dexter Wideman cast his lot with Steve Spurrier, and linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams was wanted by several top teams. South Carolina brought in an impressive defensive back haul, highlighted by safety D.J. Smith and CB Wesley Green. Darin Smalls can play corner or receiver, and another multi-purpose athlete, Chris Lammons, could end up on defense as well. Where the Gamecocks fell short was in the offensive skill positions; RB signee Joe Blue lacks top-end speed, while receivers Shaq Davidson and Tyshun Samuel are average at best. However, Spurrier hit a home run in the interior defense, as Wideman was joined by Taylor Stallworth and JUCO tackle Abu Lamin. This class was typical South Carolina through and through – and that’s a good thing.

 

9. Ole Miss

Key signings: S C.J. Hampton, WR Markell Pack, OL Rod Taylor

Underrated: OL Jordan Sims, DE Marquis Haynes

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: After Ole Miss’ rather shocking 2013 class, this one was somewhat shocking for a different reason – that it wasn’t better than it ended up being. Ole Miss swiped S C.J. Hampton from Alabama back in January, but the momentum of the class stalled out after that. The class Hugh Freeze brought to Oxford on Wednesday has a blue-collar look, with few stars in the mix. WR Markell Pack and OL Rod Taylor are the exceptions, as both have good upsides. Safety/corner Tee Shepard could be a star. But Ole Miss’ greatest achievement down the stretch might have been getting OL Jordan Sims to pass up an Alabama grayshirt offer to be part of the Rebels’ Signing Day list. At least the strongest results came at a need position, defensive tackle, where Ole Miss got both Breeland Speaks and Garrald McDowell, along with Chris Williams. But the Rebels signed just one running back – D.K. Buford, who is somewhat of a project – and failed to get a difference-maker at quarterback. Overall, not a terrible effort, but the momentum the Rebels started with its 2013 class came to a crashing halt.

 

10. Kentucky

Key signings: WR Dorian Baker, DT Matt Elam, RB Mikel Horton

Underrated: LB Nico Firios, WR Thaddeus Snodgrass

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: Arguably, Kentucky filled its needs better than either Ole Miss or South Carolina, but the Wildcats’ total talent level fell just short of the other two. Still, get three or four classes like this one in a row, and Kentucky might actually start talking about contending in its division. Speed was the order of the day, on both sides of the ball, and Kentucky scored big-time with WR Dorian Baker and RB Mikel Horton. Even the second-line players like WR Thaddeus Snodgrass have the look of track stars. The biggest coup of all, though, was to keep DT Matt Elam out of Alabama’s hands. Unfortunately for Elam, he doesn’t fit the Kentucky defensive scheme nearly as well as he would Alabama’s, but he’ll get plenty of chances to help the Wildcats. Given that Kentucky outdid itself nearly across the board, finding areas of weakness in this class is difficult; the two most likely candidates are the linebacker group, which was a collection of overachievers and long-term projects, and tight end, where the Wildcats signed only one player, mid-level prospect Darryl Long. Kentucky also signed one of the smallest players in recent memory at an SEC school, 140-pound WR T.V. Williams. In summary, this was an excellent effort by the Wildcat staff and something Kentucky can build on for the future.

 

11. Missouri

Key signings: OL Andy Bauer, CB/S Raymond Wingo, WR Nate Brown

Underrated: WR Lawrence Lee, OL Paul Adams

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: While Auburn had issues following up its championship season, Missouri had an outright disaster. While this class was certainly better than the Tigers’ efforts in 2013, it was still horribly imbalanced and showed that the Gary Pinkel staff is likely to continue to struggle for consistency in the SEC. Almost all the potential difference-makers in Missouri’s class are on offense, and most are in the wide receiver group. Nate Brown, Lawrence Lee and DeSean Blair, all receivers, were all among the top 10 signees in the class. The biggest name overall was OL Andy Bauer, who legitimately could have gone anywhere he wanted. Aside from Bauer and Brown, CB/S Raymond Wingo has length and speed and should play early. OL Paul Adams and RB Trevon Walters are also solid talents. But Missouri signed zero defensive tackles, and most of its defensive players are a year or two away from contributing. The Tigers did, however, grab an all-name team nominee by signing CB Finis Stribling IV out of Tennessee. Overall, the class wasn’t terrible by Missouri standards, but the Tigers will soon learn that the SEC demands quicker reloading than this class will provide.

 

12. Arkansas

Key signings: OL Brian Wallace, DT Bijohn Jackson, QB Rafe Peavey

Underrated: S Henre’ Tolliver, CB Christopher Murphy

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Like the Missouri class, this one was spotty from a consistency standpoint, and the Razorback program fell further behind the other programs in its division. Arkansas got two solid players in OL Brian Wallace and DT Bijohn Jackson, as head coach Bret Bielema tries to shore up weakness along both lines, but after that things went a bit south. Observers are split on QB Rafe Peavey; some think he’s a top-level talent while others don’t see him as anything more than a stopgap. Arkansas did a good job replenishing its secondary, but the Hogs signed only one linebacker, and he (Dwayne Eugene) isn’t ready to play right now. Also, while Arkansas dedicated six scholarships to wide receivers and tight ends, none stood out. Slot receiver JoJo Robinson is probably the best of that group, and he needs to add some muscle. The best haul was certainly the offensive line, where in addition to Wallace, Arkansas picked up names like Frank Ragnow and Jovan Pruitt. This was a much better effort than Bielema had in his initial season, but still not good enough.

 

13. Mississippi State

Key signings: LB Gerri Green, CB/WR Jamoral Graham, RB Aeris Williams

Underrated: S Brandon Bryant, WR Jesse Jackson

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Fr

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: While not a terrible class, Dan Mullen continues to have trouble attracting top talent to Starkville. MSU signed only two consensus star players, LB Gerri Green and Jamoral Graham, an athlete without a position at the moment. RB Aeris Williams was the best of the rest. State continues to need speed across the field, and Mullen’s staff at least did a passable job at that. Safety Brandon Bryant has tons of raw talent, while WR Jesse Jackson was evaluated by Alabama and others at one time. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the defensive line recruiting was a washout. The Bulldogs tried to convince Alabama commitment O.J. Smith to jump ship, but he stuck with the Tide, leaving project Braxton Hoyett as the only interior defensive lineman signed. Ends William Coleman or Cory Thomas might be asked to move inside now. The Bulldogs signed four offensive linemen, but only Jocquell Johnson is anywhere close to being ready to play. Overall, the Bulldogs probably did the best they could under the circumstances, but other than Graham or one of the other skill players, this is a class whose impact won’t be felt until far down the road – maybe too far down the road to make a difference.

 

14. Vanderbilt

Key signings: DE Nifae Lealao, S Emmanuel Smith, S Trent Sherfield

Underrated: CB Ladarius Wiley, QB/WR Ronald Monroe

Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Fr

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: The loss of coach James Franklin to Penn State absolutely killed the Vanderbilt class, which would have ranked 10th or 11th in the conference had Franklin been there to see it through. As it is, Vanderbilt got some nice players, but aside from the undisputed gem of the class – DE Nifae Lealao – the Commodores seemed to sign nothing but defensive backs and athletes. Safeties Emmanuel Smith and Trent Sherfield could play anywhere, and CB Ladarius Wiley has the size that NFL teams like, but the Commodores signed no defensive tackles, no linebackers and no tight ends in this class, an amazing strikeout percentage. New head coach Derek Mason has his work cut out for him, to be sure. On the bright side, the Commodores did acceptably well in offensive line recruiting, with three of their signees (Cole Harden, Bailey Granier, Bruno Reagan) being somewhat close to field-ready. RB Dallas Rivers has nice upside, and QB/WR Ronald Monroe will be fine once he finds a position. In the final analysis, however, this was exactly the kind of momentum-killer the Vanderbilt program didn’t need.

 

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