Rating the SEC recruiting classes


By Jess Nicholas

TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief

Feb. 4, 2015

1. Alabama

Key signings: CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, WR Calvin Ridley, QB Blake Barnett

Underrated: LB Josh McMillon, OL Richie Petitbon

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

Needs filled: Ex

Analysis: Alabama battled Southern Cal for the top spot in this year’s recruiting rankings, and by TideFans.com’s estimate, probably came out on top. Even with two decommitments in the final week, Alabama signed probably the top defensive back class in the country – five players total, headlined by two top-rated cornerbacks and two top-flight safeties who will both be with the team for spring practice. Alabama needed options at inside linebacker and signed one of the most underrated players in the country at any position, Josh McMillon, along with a couple of longer-term prospects. Alabama continued to add to its impressive collection of outside linebackers and running backs, and QB Blake Barnett may break the trend of early-entrant quarterbacks at the Capstone and actually compete for playing time in his first year. There weren’t any true disappointments in this class, although Alabama signed only one tight end (it needed two) and the offensive line class lacked a true left tackle after Alabama got caught two steps behind in the recruitment of a trio of players (Drew Richmond, Isaiah Prince, Chidi Valentine-Okeke) and ended up landing none of them, despite having a commitment from one (Prince) as recently as the end of January. Still, the simple, overwhelming level of total talent brought in with this class calls into question whether it’s the best Nick Saban has ever signed at any school.

2. Tennessee

Key signings: DT Khalil McKenzie, OL Drew Richmond, CB Micah Abernathy

Underrated: RB Alvin Kamara, QB Quinten Dormady

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: The Volunteers closed strongly and filled a ton of needs, especially along the defensive line and in the secondary. DT Khalil McKenzie looks like an instant contributor, and former Alabama RB Alvin Kamara will be perfect in the current UT offense. Getting OT Drew Richmond to spurn Ole Miss was probably the greatest coup for Butch Jones’ staff, while LBs Quart’e Sapp and Darrin Kirkland Jr. fill immediate holes. There wasn’t much downside here, if one ignores what happened at wide receiver, historically one of Tennessee’s most well-filled positions. The Vols hit a home run with Preston Williams, but Tennessee needed to get four or five signees and ended up with a maximum of three, and that’s assuming Jauan Jennings and Darrell Taylor both go to offense. Elsewhere, QB Quinten Dormady is a sleeper that could be deadly in the right offensive system, while CB Micah Abernathy was a major get out of Georgia. Tennessee has been down for several seasons now, but classes like this will have the Volunteers back atop the SEC East in short order.

3. Auburn

Key signings: DE Byron Cowart, WR/CB Ryan Davis, CB Darius Slayton

Underrated: RB Kerryon Johnson, FB Chandler Cox

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: Auburn landed the country’s No. 1 prospect on Signing Day (Cowart), although not without a lot of late-minute drama that raised more than a few questions. The biggest issue for Auburn moving forward, though, is that qualifying will be close with several key members of the class. Taken at face value, Auburn went a long way toward fixing its horrid secondary, as CB Darius Slayton headlines a group that could go five deep depending on which side of the ball some of the two-way athletes are allocated. Auburn significantly bolstered its offensive backfield, getting JUCO RB Jovon Robinson and signing the potentially explosive Kerryon Johnson, but the biggest add of the bunch may be fullback Chandler Cox, who fills a void at the position that Auburn never could seem to fill in 2014. At linebacker, Auburn added several talented outside players, headed up by Jordan Colbert and Jeffery Holland, but largely missed at inside linebacker. QB recruit Tyler Queen is also somewhat of an odd bird. The biggest breath-holding moment, though, comes thanks to a defensive tackle class that doesn’t exactly excite. Still, this was a solid class that fills key needs and puts the Tigers on level ground.

4. Texas A&M

Key signings: S Justin Evans, DT Daylon Mack, S Larry Pryor Jr.

Underrated: DT Kingsley Keke, OL Connor Lanfear

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: The Aggies appeared to finally listen to the obvious, and get serious about the defense. Holes in the secondary were immediately plugged thanks to the addition of JUCO safety Justin Evans and prep S Larry Pryor Jr. The Aggies also landed three major interior players, tackles Kingsley Keke and all-star game superstar Daylon Mack and combo player James Lockhart. Additional adds who figure to make a difference were S Justin Dunning and WR Christian Kirk. In all, Texas A&M netted three wideouts, which means the Aggies have approximately 403 of them on scholarship at the moment. Offensive tackle Connor Lanfear is an excellent long-range prospect with room to grow, while Kyler Murray could be a player at wideout, running back or quarterback. The only problem here was a lack of attention paid to inside linebacker. The Aggies signed several outside linebacker prospects, but only JUCO player Claude George looks able to make the transition inside if needed. Still, this class was a nod to the reality of playing in the SEC; the defense the Aggies put on the field in 2014 won’t cut it in this conference.

5. Georgia

Key signings: DT Trenton Thompson, WR Terry Godwin, S Rashad Roundtree

Underrated: DT Da’Quan Hawkins, WR Michael Chigbu

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: This class looked soft to some because of the chances the Bulldogs took on a handful of lower-rated prospects, but the top of the class is as good as any. WR Terry Godwin may be the best receiver signed by an SEC school outside of Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, while DT Trenton Thompson is an instant difference-maker. Safety Rashad Roundtree will help shore up a secondary that has been erratic for years. Georgia also pried S Rico McGraw away from Alabama late in the process, and also bolstered its wide receiver corps with several players including the physical Michael Chigbu. As usual, Georgia also landed a stud tight end (Jackson Harris) and got signatures from four top-level defensive ends. Notably missing were any quarterbacks, which could not possibly have been to the coaching staff’s satisfaction. The Bulldogs also failed to pull in any potential blue-chip running backs, but the need for such is not great for the upcoming season. Overall, this was a steak-and-potatoes lineup of talent designed to get stronger at positions of need, with a little flash thrown in at the wide receiver position.

6. LSU

Key signings: DE Arden Key, OL Chidi Valentine-Okeke, CB Kevin Toliver II

Underrated: RB David Ducre, WR Jazz Ferguson

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: This is a solid class but not up to typical LSU standards. The big issue for LSU in this class was the almost total lack of any defensive tackle prospect or inside linebacker prospect. The Tigers got richer at defensive back, where CB Kevin Toliver II and CB Xavier Lewis make for a nice one-two punch, and RBs David Ducre and Lanard Fournette add to the already impressive depth there. The Tigers nabbed several impressive offensive linemen, including LT Chidi Valentine-Okeke and G Maea Teuhema. But the Tigers failed to bring home a single defensive tackle or linebacker despite those positions being slots of need. The closest LSU came to either was tweener DE Hanner Shipley, who is considered a project. The Tigers improved their position at wide receiver, nabbing Tyron Johnson and the aptly-named-for-Louisiana Jazz Ferguson, but the failure to improve the defensive front seven undid most of the good done elsewhere. Were it not for the raw talent concentrated in the top third of the class, the Tigers would have fallen lower than sixth overall.

7. Mississippi State

Key signings: S Jamal Peters, OL Martinas Rankin, WR Donald Gray

Underrated: DT T.D. Moton, DE Kendell Jones

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: The Bulldogs did a good job parlaying on-field success in 2014 into a nice, well-rounded class in 2015. MSU reached down into the JUCO ranks to fill immediate holes, including offensive tackle prospect Martinas Rankin and WR Donald Gray. Both should be instant starters. The JUCO world also contributed OLB Traver Jung and DE Johnathan Calvin to the cause, and both of them should start as well. Unfortunately, top ILB prospect Leo Lewis is probably JUCO-bound himself. Mississippi State also took its fair share of multi-position athletes, including the intriguing fireplug Malik Dear, who could have a future at safety, linebacker or possibly at running back or receiver. DE Kendell Jones has the prototypical body for the Bulldog defense, and former Alabama commitment DT T.D. Moton could be the eventual star of the class if his academics work out. S Jamal Peters is a no-doubter, while G Darrell Williams is a nice long-term prospect. This class has good depth and hits all the high points, which makes it especially solid given the fact it’s Mississippi State.

8. South Carolina

Key signings: DT Dexter Wideman, DE Marquavius Lewis, OL Christian Pellage

Underrated: DE Ulric Jones, OL Blake Camper

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: In terms of raw talent score, this isn’t the best class by far and not even one of South Carolina’s recent bests, but it gets the job done. The Gamecocks realized their talent shortcomings on defense and did something about it, signing a who’s who of defensive ends, many of them from the JUCO ranks. Marquavius Lewis leads that group, but fellow JUCO’er Dante Sawyer and prep star Shameik Blackshear are equally talented. Dexter Wideman gives the Gamecocks some star power up the middle, while Ulric Jones is a prototype three-man-front defensive end. ILB Sherrod Pittman could be an instant starter, while OL Christian Pellage has the look of a pure left tackle on offense. South Carolina added a couple of talented receivers (Jalen Christian, Dexter Neal) and a talented running back in Mon Denson. But the quarterback position went untouched, and the defensive backfield was also left a bit high and dry. Overall, this is the kind of class that will keep South Carolina competitive, but won’t raise the program’s profile.

9. Ole Miss

Key signings: DT D.J. Jones, WR DeMarkus Lodge, CB Tony Bridges

Underrated: QB Chad Kelly, CB/S Montrell Custis

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: This class was top-heavy and suffers more due to who the Rebels didn’t get on Signing Day (pretty much everyone, with the exception of WR DeMarkus Lodge) rather than who they did. JUCOs DT D.J. Jones and CB Tony Bridges headline the class, which takes the Rebels back to the days when JUCOs regularly ruled their Signing Day activities. But OL Javon Patterson and WRs Lodge and Van Jefferson figure to make an impact – although Lodge’s stock fell a bit late in the process. From the red-chip ranks, Ole Miss signed former Clemson QB Chad Kelly, but his questionable decision-making continues with more off-field trouble at the start of his Rebel career. CB/S Montrell Custis, lured away from Alabama, is an intriguing combo defensive back. The bottom end of the class was a bit sparse, although DE Austrian Robinson has intriguing measurables, and Ole Miss struck out on getting an inside banger at running back, signing only speedster Eric Swinney. While better than most pre-Hugh Freeze classes at Ole Miss, this is not the kind of class that will close the gap between the Rebels and the true leaders of the SEC West.

10. Florida

Key signings: OL Martez Ivey, RB Jordan Scarlett, OL Tyler Jordan

Underrated: TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe, DL Richerd Desir-Jones

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: Although new head coach Jim McElwain got off to a late start, this was still an embarrassingly bad class for a Florida program that routinely recruits in the top five of the conference based off geography alone. The Gators lost significant ground to rivals Georgia and Tennessee with this group, especially given that, as of press time, DE CeCe Jefferson had yet to actually sign with Florida. If Jefferson follows through, he’ll become the No. 2 recruit in the class behind OT super-prospect Martez Ivey. Ivey was the biggest get for the Gators, and he came late, which is something McElwain can hang his hat upon. The most surprising pull, perhaps, was powerback Jordan Scarlett, whose skill set is ideal for what McElwain wants to do with this offense. But the Gators didn’t get a quarterback, and the receiver group was underwhelming, led by speedster Antonio Callaway and little else. Project TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe will be a good one some day, and his name alone may drive a handful of play-by-play announcers into retirement. But Florida is being forced to gamble on too many projects with this class.

11. Arkansas

Key signings: TE Will Gragg, DE Jamario Bell, DT Hjalte Froholdt

Underrated: OL Colton Jackson, OLB Derrick Graham

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Arkansas continues to double down on Bret Bielema’s power-pro attack. The Razorbacks landed tight ends Will Gragg and C.J. O’Grady, who should combine to form an impressive Ace package in coming years. Guards Jalen Merrick and Zach Rogers bolster the offensive line, and Arkansas added beef to the defensive line in the form of Njalte Froholdt and JUCO DT Jeremiah Ledbetter. But there were problems in the back end of the defense, where the Hogs signed no pure cornerbacks, and only one safety that looks close to being game ready (Nate Dalton). Elsewhere, Bielema took on long-term projects with good measurables (OLB Derrick Graham, OL Colton Jackson) or system-style players without outstanding abilities (RB Rawleigh Williams III). Arkansas did manage to get a quarterback in this class (Ty Storey), and DE Jamario Bell should be ready to play quickly. This was a good effort for Arkansas but it ignored too many needs (linebacker, cornerback) and didn’t get any skill players with real pop.

12. Missouri

Key signings: QB Drew Lock, DE Marcell Frazier, DT Terry Beckner Jr.

Underrated: TE Josh Moore, OL Malik Cuellar

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: Missouri landed the second-best QB prospect among SEC teams this year in Drew Lock, who trailed only Alabama’s Blake Barnett in ability and potential impact. The Tigers also got better along the defensive line with prep DT Terry Beckner Jr. and JUCO DE Marcell Frazier. Missouri also went a long way toward bettering its power running game by bringing in JUCO offensive linemen Malik Cuellar and Tyler Howell and prep star A.J. Harris. The SEC Championship Game exposed the Tigers’ inability to run the ball when needed, and this class should help. But Missouri got only one above-average linebacker in this class (Franklin Agbasimere) and was light on defensive back signees. JUCO running back Chase Abbington is a welcome addition, however, as he’ll give the Tigers a little beef in the backfield. TE Josh Moore flew under the radar, but he’ll provide some balance of receiving ability and power at a position the Tigers have had mixed results over the years. Not a bad effort at all, but one has to wonder when Gary Pinkel’s ability to wring results out of mediocre talent will end.

13. Kentucky

Key signings: S Marcus Walker, LB Eli Brown, WR Jabari Greenwood

Underrated: WR Therrell Gosier, DE Kengera Daniel

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Mark Stoops’ sophomore effort was probably a step back, although this is a good-for-Kentucky-at-least class that should pay dividends. There were only three players of real note – S Marcus Walker, WR Jabari Greenwood and LB Eli Brown – but each will likely play as true freshmen and be counted upon for key contributions. The rest of the class was made up almost entirely of red-chip projects that won’t make an impact for awhile. Wideout Therrell Gosier is 6’6” and could get bigger, but he needs to add bulk. DE Kengera Daniel has all the measurables but needs to be more consistent. Like several other teams, Kentucky ignored a need at inside linebacker, but stacked up on offensive skill players, leading one to wonder if the SEC isn’t going the way of the Big 12.

14. Vanderbilt

Key signings: QB Kyle Shurmur, LB Josh Smith, DE Nehemiah Mitchell

Underrated: RB Dare Odeyingbo, WR Sam Dobbs

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: This was actually not a bad effort for Vanderbilt and there was a chance the Commodores were going to find themselves ranked 12th or 13th in the conference heading into the last couple of days. Derek Mason got one of the best quarterback signees in the region, Kyle Shurmur, while LB Josh Smith could play for any team in the league. After that, it’s a matter of finding diamonds in the rough. DE Nehemiah Mitchell, a JUCO transfer, will start immediately, while RB Dare Odeyingbo gives the Commodores a power threat out of the backfield. WR Sam Dobbs has plenty of size (6’5”, 215) but is raw. Like in most years, it’s not that Vanderbilt didn’t get some good players – CB Donovan Sheffield was coveted by several programs, for instance – it’s that the Commodores didn’t get enough of them.

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