Rating the 2016 SEC recruiting classes

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: John David Mercer-

By
TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Feb. 4, 2016

1.
Key signings: OL Jonah Williams, LB Ben Davis, OL Charles Baldwin
Underrated: TE Irvin Smith, DL Jamar King
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Ex
Needs filled: Ex
Analysis:
The addition of Jamar King at the last moment brought Alabama up to a rating of “Excellent” in the “Needs Filled” category; otherwise, it would have been hard to rank No. 1 in the country overall over . Alabama, over the past few years, has finished with at least one position group’s worth of signees somewhere to be called best-in-class; in 2016, Alabama did it for at least one position group and maybe as many as three. Alabama got the nation’s best linebacker haul, picking up three 10.0-rated prospects on Signing Day: Ben Davis, Lyndell Wilson and Terrell Hall. But Alabama also was in the running for best OL class, headed by Jonah Williams (the top prep OL available) and Charles Baldwin (the top JUCO lineman available). The rest of the OL group, though, is likely a couple of seasons away from producing. Alabama also snuck in a solid DB class, headed by cornerbacks Shyheim Carter and Nigel Knott, but the lack of a front-line safety hurt Alabama there. If there was one whiff, it was at wide receiver, where Alabama got two solid future contributors (T.J. Simmons, Trevon Diggs), but struck out with every big, physical receiver it targeted, losing A.J. Brown to was the biggest disappointment of Signing Day. Tight end Irvin Smith was a huge get, however, and shores up a position of immediate need. For the first time in several years, Alabama will have to wait until final grades and test scores are in before it knows whether several key pieces of its class will make in to Tuscaloosa in the fall, headed up by RB B.J. Emmons. Emmons will step into the playing rotation on day one if he’s eligible. Overall, this was another solid effort from Nick Saban and his staff, but the staff turnover triggered when left for Georgia put a dent in this class.

2. Ole Miss
Key signings: QB Shea Patterson, OL Greg Little, WR A.J. Brown
Underrated: OL Bryce Matthews, DE Tariqious Tisdale
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Ex
Needs filled: Ex
Analysis:
Had the Rebels finished the way they originally expected, they would have passed Alabama easily for top billing in the . But Signing Day quickly became more about who Ole Miss lost than who it got. The Rebels lost DE Jeffery Simmons to and CB Shyheim Carter to Alabama, following up an earlier loss of CB Nigel Knott to the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss grabbed WR A.J. Brown on Signing Day, however, which was more than just salve for the wound, as the loss of Brown from Alabama’s class hurt the Tide. Ole Miss managed to hang onto OL Greg Little, as there was some late concern over his signature, and picked off significant targets in Texas: RB D’Vaughn Pennamon, Little, and S Deontay Anderson. With Simmons going to Starkville, Ole Miss’ DL class hinges on the futures of DE Charles Wiley and DT Benito Jones, two smallish, non-traditional linemen who nonetheless have huge upsides thanks to their athleticism. OL Bryce Matthews and linebacker Tariqious Tisdale, who will probably go to DE in college, headed up the second line of this class. It remains to be seen whether the news of Ole Miss’ pending NCAA investigation had any effect on its class Wednesday, although it couldn’t have helped. Losing Simmons and Carter and failing to register with Mique Juarez, Rashan Gary or Derrick Brown – all of whom were connected to Ole Miss in the previous week – has an explanation somewhere. But if Ole Miss focuses on who it got rather than who it lost, this looks like a spectacular class.

3.
Key signings: RB Devin White, DB Saivion Smith, WR Drake Davis
Underrated: LB Michael Divinity, OL Lloyd Cushenberry
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Ex
Needs filled: Vg
Analysis
: LSU didn’t have a single standout recruit beyond RB Devin White, but the depth of this class was almost unheard of. LSU took a chance only on one position player, OL Lloyd Cushenberry, and some observers think he could end up being one of the best OLs signed by an SEC team. Beyond White – a 6’0”, 260-pound killer at the RB spot – it’s hard to pick two other names to list under “Key Signings,” because there were so many. It’s easier, then, to talk about what LSU didn’t do, which was bolster a LB group that needed more help than it got Wednesday. Michael Divinity is a second-level prospect but became the de facto star of LSU’s linebacker haul, and he needs a year in a conditioning program before he fits what LSU really needs. Unless DE Andre Anthony keeps his weight down and moves back to linebacker, Divinity’s only compatriot in this class is Rahssan Thornton, a decided red-chipper. LSU went all-in for bigger wide receivers, getting 6’4” Drake Davis and 6’6” Stephen Sullivan. The Tigers probably brought home the best DB haul in the country, headed up by Saivion Smith and Kristian Fulton, who could end up being the nation’s best corner when all is said and done. The biggest glaring hole? Quarterback, where LSU needed immediate help but got only Lindsey Scott Jr. Overall, a very solid effort from Les Miles, who spent as much time late in the season trying to stay employed at the school as he did trying to sell it to recruits.

4. Georgia
Key signings: QB Jacob Eason, TE Isaac Nauta, WR/CB Mecole Hardman Jr.
Underrated: RB Elijah Holyfield, DE Chauncey Manac
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Ex
Needs filled: Vg
Analysis
: Kirby Smart’s initial effort portends good things down the road, as he was able to basically not recruit until January yet still pull in a class that was just off LSU’s. For that matter, if Georgia pulls off Demetris Robertson in the coming week, the Bulldogs could make a legitimate claim for third. Georgia landed its quarterback of the future – perhaps even its quarterback of the present – in Jacob Eason, and the school known for churning out tight ends like they were donuts kept the assembly line rolling, inking Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner. Mecole Hardman will find his way onto the field somewhere in 2016, perhaps multiple somewheres. Smart, learning from Nick Saban, stockpiled defensive linemen, getting five total, including the Signing Day snatching of David Marshall from . On the downside, Ben Cleveland is the only offensive lineman Georgia got who isn’t considered a developmental prospect, while its top interior defensive tackle, Michail Carter, is a true boom/bust talent. RB Elijah Holyfield didn’t get much press down the stretch, but he’ll be a superb option for Smart provided he stays healthy, which has been the bane of the Bulldog program over the years. This class hit all the high notes and had enough depth to give it staying power.

5. Auburn
Key signings: DT Derrick Brown, DE Marlon Davidson, WR Elijah Stove
Underrated: DE Nick Coe, DE Paul James III
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Ex
Needs filled: Av
Analysis
: It’s a good bet Auburn walked away with the No. 1 defensive line class in the nation Wednesday, but that’s sort of where the class stopped, with the exception of wide receiver. On the good side, Auburn nailed down Derrick Brown on Signing Day and kept a hard-charging Alabama away from DE Nick Coe, who could end up being the best player Auburn signed at any position. With Marlon Davidson already in the fold as an early enrollee, Auburn turned its attention to wide receiver, getting a pair of very solid prospects, Elijah Stove and Nate Craig-Myers. Of the 21 players Auburn signed, 11 were either defensive linemen or wideouts. The fact Auburn didn’t fill its overall needs was troubling. Auburn especially failed to get the offensive linemen it needed; Auburn needed four or five good ones, it ended up with only Brodarious Hamm, an intriguing prospect but a guy a couple of years away at best from starring. Auburn also missed out on all its major running back targets, and there are serious concerns about Malik Miller’s speed. Miller will probably end up at linebacker or H-back in the final analysis. Speaking of linebacker, Auburn got only one player there as well, Tre Threat. Overall, this class felt like a misfire, but there is so much talent at the DL and WR positions, it’s hard to criticize.

6.
Key signings: DE Jonathan Kongbo, S Nigel Warrior, DT Alexis Johnson
Underrated: WR/S Marquez Callaway, LB Ja’Quain Blakely
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg
Needs filled: Vg
Analysis
: Tennessee’s class is stronger than might initially appear, thanks largely to the Volunteers basically not being in the mix for many big names on Signing Day. Still, Tennessee got DE Jonathan Kongbo back in the fold Wednesday after nearly losing him to several different schools over the last couple of weeks. Tennessee beat out Auburn and Alabama for S Nigel Warrior, and DT Alexis Johnson reminds some of Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson. The glaring issue with Tennessee’s class is the offensive line, where the Vols need all the help they can get. Only Ryan Johnson looks like a sure-fire SEC talent, while both Marcus Tatum and Nathan Niehaus will need a couple of years of S&C. The Vols also missed completely on a big running back, getting change-of-pace back Carlin Fils-Aime as their only take on the day. LB Ja’Quain Blakely has a huge upside at linebacker, a good thing given he was one of only two that Tennessee got. Overall, it was a good effort given Tennessee didn’t have the full complement of 25 scholarships to give, but a couple of glaring weaknesses can’t be overlooked.

7.
Key signings: DE Antonneous Clayton, QB Feleipe Franks, WR Freddie Swain
Underrated: DE Jordan Smith, OL Stone Forsythe
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg
Needs filled: Av
Analysis
: Florida’s class was top-heavy, with three or four players making up the bulk of the Gators’ bragging sheet. DE Antonneous Clayton is a pass-rushing demon, but he’s also about 20 pounds too light. His ability to contribute at a high level in 2016 is in question. Florida was the most direct beneficiary of LSU’s indecisiveness regarding head coach Les Miles, as was able to pry QB Feleipe Franks away from the Tigers. The move not only gave Florida the quarterback it needed, it left the Tigers without a highly-ranked one in this class. Florida got better at the outside skill positions on both sides of the ball, thanks to signees like WR Freddie Swain and CB Chauncey Gardner. But the Gators also lost Aaron Robinson to Alabama on Signing Day. Overall, there seemed to be sort of a division line between Tennessee’s class and the next level of classes, which started with this one. Florida completely struck out at defensive tackle, and only Clayton looks like a game-changer at defensive end, although Jordan Smith has the frame to be a monster a couple of years into the future. The Gators also missed on most of its RB targets and added several linebackers who will come to campus as projects. Georgia and Tennessee both pulled away from Florida this year.

8.
Key signings: DE Justin Madubuike, LB Tyrel Dodson, WR Quartney Davis
Underrated: OL Ryan McCollum, QB Nick Starkel
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Vg
Needs filled: Av
Analysis
: This was a rough year for the Aggies, although the class still has enough quality in it to help Texas A&M at key positions. There seemed to be an increased focus on the defensive side of the ball, which led to such signings as DE Justin Madubuike and LB Tyrel Dodson, both of whom should make the playing rotation in 2016. But like Florida, Texas A&M couldn’t find a defensive tackle. Madubuike has enough size to play there in sub packages, but not against power rushing teams. Texas A&M tried to address its linebacker and secondary failures of previous years, netting S Ikenna Okoye, LB Aaron Hansford and Alton Robinson, the latter having a future at either linebacker or end. And it wouldn’t be a class if wide receiver didn’t play a big part in the final rankings; Quartney Davis and Clyde Leflore-Chriss carried on the tradition. The Aggies eschewed going after the big-name, big-ego quarterbacks this year, instead taking Nick Starkel, who has good upside in this offense. The offensive line class wasn’t flashy, but Ryan McCollum has a bright future and another signee, Riley Anderson, is also underrated. Those two came in addition to higher-ranked names like Austin Anderson and Kellen Diesch, giving Texas A&M a solid group overall. Still, the lack of big men in the middle on defense took the Aggies down a couple of notches and resulted in Florida overtaking them.

9.
Key signings: DB JaMarcus King, WR/RB Kiel Pollard, WR Bryan Edwards
Underrated: DE Javon Kinlaw, DE/TE Evan Hinson
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av
Needs filled: Vg
Analysis
: ’s first class at South Carolina left much to be desired, but there is enough here to intrigue onlookers that three’s a fairly sizable jump downward to at No. 10 on this list. Muschamp concentrated on athleticism, given that there has been a general lack of it in Columbia during the last few years of ’s reign. Kiel Pollard and Evan Hinson were two good examples of it, given each player projects at two or three different positions. If Pollard stays at wide receiver, he’ll be a class of one, given there aren’t many 6’1”, 230-pound wideouts in the SEC. DB JaMarcus King could start immediately, while WR Bryan Edwards has the kind of physical put-together that modern offenses like to see. DE Javon Kinlaw could be a monster with the right strength program. Muschamp got serious about upgrading the defensive tackle profile of his team, adding Darius Whitfield, Aaron Thompson and Kobe Smith, each of whom could crack the playing rotation. Stephon Taylor adds to that mix. What South Carolina didn’t do well was improve itself at offensive line or running back, which carries over a theme Muschamp unfortunately started while at Florida. Sadarius Hutcherson needs two years at least of weight training before competing at offensive tackle; new running backs C.J. Freeman and Rico Dowdle don’t appear to be more than serviceable. Overall, Muschamp’s staff did a good job addressing needs, but they’ll need to do it with more talented players going forward.

10. Arkansas
Key signings: DE McTevin Agim, RB Devwah Whaley, WR/CB T.J. Hammonds
Underrated: S Alexy Jean-Baptiste, WR Kofi Boateng
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av
Needs filled: Av
Analysis
: Once again, Bret Bielema will have to do more with less, as Arkansas can’t seem to get out of the bottom third of SEC rankings. This could end up being one of Bielema’s better efforts, however, depending on how players like S Alexy Jean-Baptiste and QB Cole Kelley pan out. Kelley – a 6’7”, 240-pound freak of nature – will be watched in much the way the Bearded Lady is watched at a traveling carnival. At the top of the class, DE McTevin Agim was an Alabama target for awhile, while RB Devwah Whaley will carry on the tradition of tough Razorback running backs. T.J. Hammonds will make either the wide receiver corps or the secondary better. The majority of Arkansas’ class are solid prospects who are lacking one key attribute that keeps them from being considered a difference-maker, but the odds are good that Arkansas eventually gets some level of contribution from them. Included in that mix are linebackers Giovanni LaFrance and Dejon Harris, OL Paul Ramirez and WR Jordan Jones. DT Briston Guidry has a chance to be an early contributor. Bielema’s first priority when he took over Arkansas was to increase the total team athleticism level; with this class, he’s at least done that even if the star power is low.

11.
Key signings: OL Landon Young, OL Tate Leavitt, DB Jordan Griffin
Underrated: DE Jaylin Bannerman, WR/TE Dakota Holtzclaw
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av
Needs filled: Av
Analysis
: Kentucky’s class had more punch at the top than Arkansas’ class did, but the Razorback class was more consistent throughout. Still, there’s a gap down to ’s and State’s classes, thanks to raw numbers more than anything else. Heading Kentucky’s class was OL Landon Young, who had offers from everywhere, along with fellow offensive linemen Tate Leavitt and Drake Jackson. Those three will form the nucleus of a first-rate offensive line sometime over the next couple of years in Lexington. Kentucky spent most of its time on defense or along the offensive line, a good strategy given the Wildcats were clearly behind their competition in those areas last year. Safety Jordan Griffin should contribute in his first year, while LBs Kash Daniel and Roland Walder both have serious upside. DE Jaylin Bannerman needs weight room work, but could be a force sooner rather than later. Both Dakota Holtzclaw and Justin Rigg bring impressive size to the tight end position, while Holtzclaw could stick at receiver if he can prove he can get open against SEC cornerbacks. If there’s a criticism here, it’s that Kentucky didn’t close well against the competition despite having offers out to a lot of late commitments. Most of the Wildcats’ late signees are projects, with DT Naquez Pringle being the most intriguing based on size alone. This class is capable of helping Kentucky improve, but not contend.

12. Mississippi State
Key signings: DE Jeffery Simmons, DE Marquiss Spencer, OL Stuart Reese
Underrated: LB Erroll Thompson, TE Dontea Jones
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av
Needs filled: Fr
Analysis
: Mississippi State did a decent job packing a lot of talent into its 18 slots, but the Bulldogs missed out on several positions of need. The Bulldogs needed an upgrade at running back, but got no one there. There was no quarterback in the class, and like several other SEC teams, didn’t particularly address defensive tackle. The one player the Bulldogs got there, Tre Brown, is a project. But Mississippi State made its share of noise on Signing Day, pulling 10.0-rated Jeffery Simmons out from under Ole Miss and Alabama. Added to Marquiss Spencer, the Bulldogs brought home a pair of bookends for its defense, both of whom are ready to play in the opener. Four of the top seven signees were defensive ends, for that matter, calling into question whether Emmit Gooden can redshirt and bulk up for a future move inside. Elsewhere, picked and chose players with good upside. LB Erroll Thompson out of Florence was a player many Alabama fans wanted for their own team; he’s a possibility to either play middle linebacker or join the now-overcrowded fray at defensive end. TE Dontea Jones looks physically ready to play immediately, as does fellow TE Jordan Thomas. Nero Nelson will help quickly either at receiver or corner, but the rest of the Bulldogs’ wide receiver signees and all of their DB signees look like long-term projects. Sheer numbers were a problem for Mississippi State, as well as the aforementioned lack of attention paid to certain positions.

13. Missouri
Key signings: DE Tre Williams, RB Natareace Strong, TE Brendan Scales
Underrated: OL Trystan Castillo, OL Trevour Simms
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av
Needs filled: Fr
Analysis
: The Tigers might have changed head coaches, but the performance on Signing Day was more of the same. Missouri signed only two top-level prospects, DE Tre Williams and RB Natareace Strong, but the middle of the class was better than in years past. Missouri flipped TE Brendan Scales from Alabama on Wednesday, and got a second good running back prospect, Damarea Crockett. Missouri’s problems occurred in the front seven; like many SEC teams, defensive tackle was not a strong suit. Missouri signed Markell Utsey, a borderline SEC prospect at tackle, and no one else. At linebacker, Cale Garrett could be one of the hidden gems of the class, and Trey Baldwin, whose offer sheet was lacking. While the Tigers took just two offensive linemen, both Trystan Castillo and Trevour Simms have good upside. Adding Albert Okwuegbunam to Scales at tight end gives Missouri a solid haul there, while Marvin Terry’s presence opposite Williams at defensive end means the Tigers won’t be lacking for pass rushers in the future. Missouri arguably has the toughest assignment each year outside of Vanderbilt as Signing Day draws near; while this class is better than a couple of ’s efforts recently, it’s still not good enough to make Missouri a regular contender.

14. Vanderbilt
Key signings: S JoeJuan Williams, QB Deuce Wallace, CB Zaire Jones
Underrated: OL Toleafoa Auwae, WR Donnaven Tennyson
Total talent level (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr): Av
Needs filled: Fr
Analysis
: This was a better effort, top to bottom, than Vanderbilt was probably expecting. Safety JoeJuan Williams is a front-line prospect at 6’3”, 200 and with 4.4 speed. Vanderbilt seems to get one of those every other year and would be wise not to squander Williams’ talent. QB Deuce Wallace will join a crowded field at the position, but a field that has been arguably mismanaged by the Commodore staff the last two seasons. Getting CB Zaire Jones out of Mississippi was a minor coup, and WR Donnaven Tennyson should become an immediate contributor. While he probably won’t contribute in 2016, OL Toleafoa Auwae looks like a future road-grader inside, and fellow OL Braden Kopp is a prototype at tackle. Vanderbilt was actually one of the few SEC teams to properly address defensive tackle, getting 2016-ready Drew Birchmeier to go along with longer-term projects Cameron Tidd and Josiah Sa’o. Still, there were misses. Jamauri Wakefield was considered a reach at running back, while the Commodores’ lone DE signee was also its lowest-rated prospect, Andre Mintze. Vanderbilt struck out completely at linebacker; Kenny Hebert is projected there eventually, but will likely start out at safety due to his size. Overall, Vanderbilt did well where it usually does well – defensive backfield, offensive line – but needed more help and more athleticism at receiver and running back.

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