Rating the SEC recruiting classes

Jul 17, 2014; Hoover, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban talks to the media during the SEC football media days at the Wynfrey Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 17, 2014;  Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

By Jess Nicholas
TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Feb. 2, 2017

1. Alabama

Key signings: DT , DT , QB

Underrated: TE Kedrick James, RB Brian Robinson

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: For maybe the first time ever, the conference leader didn’t get “excellent” ratings in both Total Talent Level and Needs Filled. Alabama struck out in cornerback , a sin serious enough to draw a mention from himself in post-Signing Day press conferences. But that was the only glitch. Alabama needed to get at least two impact defensive tackles, and did, netting JUCO sledgehammer Isaiah Buggs and Louisiana standout Phidarian Mathis. Mass transfers at quarterback left Alabama needing to bring in competition for Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa and his unlimited potential certainly fit the bill there. The list of DE and LB signees is a who’s who of all-star standouts, with certified tough guy VanDarius Cowan, multi-talented Dylan Moses and inside banger Chris Allen leading the charge. Alex Leatherwood leads a talented offensive line haul so deep that it managed to bury Jedrick Wills almost in obscurity. DL LaBryan Ray is the kind of flex player Alabama has used to confound offensive lines in the past. So too is Jarez Parks, who agreed to be a grayshirt just to be a part of this class – a Saban-esque coup if there ever was one, given Parks was a top-100 player nationally in the eyes of some analysts. Alabama’s “second-line” guys would head up many schools’ recruiting classes themselves; the most intriguing name to watch there is TE Kedrick James, who has the kind of raw skill set that could make him the next Howard Cross. Overall, with the exception of the blank spot at corner, this class elevates Alabama’s game yet again – something no other school inside or outside the SEC wanted to see.

2. LSU

Key signings: S Jacoby Stevens, QB Lowell Narcisse, DE K’Lavon Chaisson

Underrated: RB/S Patrick Queen, WR Racey McMath

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

Needs filled: Ex

Analysis: LSU arguably filled its needs better than Alabama, but the sheer number of highly-rated players in Alabama’s class pushed the talent numbers too high for LSU to catch up. Ed Orgeron took heat for striking out with several Louisiana prospects that eventually chose Alabama, but his own class was more than good enough to get the job done in the SEC West. LSU turned DE K’Lavon Chaisson late in the process, adding him to massive NT Tyler Shelvin. ILB Jacob Phillips provides game-changing talent at a position of sore need, while S Jacoby Stevens was the rare head-to-head, LSU-Alabama battle that Orgeron won. Getting QB Lowell Narcisse was huge given LSU’s need at the position, and once again, the Tigers stocked up on talent at the wideout spots. The humorously-named Racey McMath flew under the radar but gives LSU a good mix of size and speed there. LSU also got a top-flight offensive tackle (Austin Deculus) and two quality guards (Edward Ingram, Saahdiq Charles). Saban will still win his share of Louisiana battles but Orgeron has nothing to be ashamed of here.

3. Georgia

Key signings: OT Isaiah Wilson, QB Jake Fromm, S Richard LeCounte III

Underrated: CB Ameer Speed, CB Latavious Brini

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: The Bulldogs stocked up on cornerbacks, including Ameer Speed, who Alabama briefly courted. They got two solid safeties (Richard LeCounte III, Deangelo Gibbs), a standout quarterback prospect (Jake Fromm, who was briefly connected to Alabama) and several quality offensive linemen, a class headed up by mammoth super-prospect Isaiah Wilson. There were some holes, however. The inside linebacker group was lackluster, with tweener Nate McBride the best option there, and while the cornerbacks were numerous, only William Poole has the look of a next-level player, presuming Speed doesn’t take the next step. Latavious Brini is a rare, physical corner who will be dangerous in that role if he doesn’t eat himself into safety, which is very possible. Georgia also elected not to take a tight end, and aside from Mark Webb, the other WR takes are long-term projects. This was a solid haul for a team looking to grab the brass ring in a wide-open SEC East.

4. Florida

Key signings: OL Tedarrell Slaton, WR James Robinson, CB C.J. Henderson

Underrated: DT Kyree Campbell, CB/S Brian Edwards

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: There was a big step down from Georgia to Florida (TideFans.com/ placed only three SEC teams in its top 10), but this class still marked improvement for head coach Jim McElwain over past efforts. Florida managed to keep prized cornerback C.J. Henderson away from Alabama, and WR James Robinson has the look of an instant contributor. The best player in the class, though, was probably an offensive guard (Tedarrell Slaton), which is usually not a great sign. JUCO DT Kyree Campbell could be a high-impact player and should have gotten more attention, but he was just part of an outstanding DL haul that McElwain absolutely had to have. Elijah Conliffe and Zach Carter rounded out the DL group for Florida, and both players had plenty of options to play elsewhere. Florida probably oversigned in the defensive backfield, taking six players in all. Brian Edwards isn’t the best of the bunch, but at a legit 6’3”, he’s certainly one of the most intriguing cornerback options in the league now. On the other hand, Florida whiffed on inside linebackers and none of the outside linebackers taken are going to impress. The best of the bunch is probably Ventrell Miller, who lacks a couple of inches but does have the frame to eventually play inside if needed. Florida also went small at running back and tight end, two positions needing an upgrade anyway. TE Kemore Gamble is two years away from contributing at a high level. Florida also failed to get a big-name quarterback yet again. Overall, a better effort from McElwain, but still a flawed one.

5. Auburn

Key signings: ILB T.D. Moultry, QB Jarrett Stidham, OL Calvin Ashley

Underrated: DT Tyrone Truesdell, S Jordyn Peters

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: Getting QB Jarrett Stidham, a Baylor transfer, has injected new life into Auburn’s hopes, but this class didn’t go far enough in building a supporting cast. The gem of the class is probably ILB T.D. Moultry, a next-level player that probably didn’t get enough national attention. Auburn’s one true standout, OL Calvin Ashley, may have qualification issues. If that’s the case, it would leave Auburn’s already-thin offensive tackle class – which stands currently at one, Ashley – hoping that Austin Troxell is quick enough to play the position. The overarching positive from the day was the rest of the linebacker class, which included ILB Kenney Britt, underrated OLB Chandler Wooten and combo OLB/DE Markaviest Bryant. On the flip side, Auburn let an already threadbare offensive skill group sit idle. All running back hopes hang on the shoulders of Devan Barrett, who needs bulk, while receiver, a real position of need, went almost untouched. Noah Igbinoghene is the lone pure wideout taken there; any additions to the group would have to come from two-way players projected by most to end up on defense, such as Alaric Williams or Malik Willis. Looking down the list, JUCO TE Salvatore Cannella is an intriguing player, while DT Tyrone Truesdell could be a diamond in the rough. This class finished like Auburn’s 2016 season did: rattling and wavering, but never truly going off into the ditch.

6. Texas A&M

Key signings: ILB Anthony Hines, WR Jhamon Ausbon, DT Jayden Peevy

Underrated: TE Camron Horry, DE Ondario Robinson

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: There’s another sizeable drop from Auburn back to Texas A&M, which barely stayed in our top 20 list and points to a downtick for SEC teams in general this year in the recruiting wars. Texas A&M got solid quality top to bottom, without a lot of reaches but also without a lot of splash. WR Jhamon Ausbon and ILB Anthony Hines should be playing as true freshmen, and DT Jayden Peevy is the kind of player Texas A&M needs more of in order to take the next step up in the SEC West. Texas A&M also cornered the market on project defensive ends, getting at least three (Ondario Robinson, Micheal Clemons, Tyree Johnson) who have one or more standout physical characteristics but haven’t put it all together just yet. Once again, the Aggies struggled to get good linebackers. After Hines, the next-best option is Santino Marchiol, who looks to need more time before being ready to contribute. Devodrick Johnson, an undersized project, was the only other pure linebacker taken. The Aggies continued to stockpile red-chip offensive linemen, the likes of which seem to magically transform into NFL prospects as soon as they hit College Station. QB Kellen Mond has potential, as does TE Camron Horry. The Aggies can win with rosters like these, but they still need more help in spots.

7. South Carolina

Key signings: WR OrTre Smith, DE M.J. Webb, DL Javon Kinlaw

Underrated: CB Kaleb Chalmers, OT Dennis Daley

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: It was only a matter of time before Will Muschamp started to leave his mark on the recruiting trail, and if he continues to put together classes like this one, the Gamecocks will be competitive soon. WR OrTre Smith and DE M.J. Webb are both top-end talents that could play at numerous schools. Combo DE/DT Javon Kinlaw may have been the most criminally underrated defensive lineman in the country this year and was TideFans.com/NARCAS’ No. 3 interior DL on the board. Muschamp has typically worked from the Nick Saban playbook when taking chances on guys with good measurables, and OT Dennis Daley is a prime example of a reach that could pay off in huge ways. South Carolina may have signed the best CB group in the conference, getting the underrated Kaleb Chalmers to go with no-doubter Jamyest Williams, physical Keisean Nixon and project Tavyn Jackson. The one glaring omission was inside linebacker, where South Carolina landed no one. The Gamecocks did secure at least four players who can play OLB positions and possibly shift over, with another red-chip sleeper Sherrod Greene leading the way. There’s no pure QB here, either, outside of Jay Urich, who has been projected at other positions and needs polish. Overall, nothing to really complain about here and Muschamp was punching far above his weight with this haul.

8. Tennessee

Key signings: OT Trey Smith, S Maleik Gray, LB Will Ignont

Underrated: DE Deandre Johnson, DT Kivon Bennett

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: This class was so all over the map, South Carolina ranked ahead of the Volunteers despite the Vols perhaps pulling a better overall talent load. The difficult season in Knoxville certainly seemed to carry over to the recruiting trail, as Tennessee underwhelmed at several positions, not the least significant of which was quarterback. Will McBride was the pick there, though there are questions as to whether he’s SEC material. Tennessee overloaded at offensive tackle, headlining the class with Trey Smith, for whom the Vols beat out Alabama for a signature. Tennessee also added Riley Locklear and K’Rojhn Calbert, but both are projects. There were no guards or centers taken. The only tight end taken, James Brown, was a big reach. Tennessee did snag scatback Ty Chandler, but the Vols needed a big back to go with him and failed to deliver. All wide receivers taken are projects, although Marquez Bembry, who projects at multiple positions, could wind up being a find. The one home run on the board came at defensive tackle, where Tennessee got several guys with substantial upsides, including Kivon Bennett, Matthew Butler and Eric Crosby. The rest of the defensive takes, beyond S Maleik Gray and LB Will Ignont, were uninspiring. The lack of game-ready talent was particularly evident, as this was a class more fitted to a long-term development strategy than what Butch Jones likely has available to him in Knoxville. Jones is under pressure to win now, and there are precious few players in this class who can help him do it.

9. Mississippi State

Key signings: DE Chauncey Rivers, QB Keytaon Thompson, DE Montez Sweat

Underrated: DT Noah Elliss, OT Cordavien Suggs

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: Overall, a nice haul for the Bulldogs, who put together one of the most solid classes top-to-bottom of the Dan Mullen era. The headliners were definitely DE Chauncey Rivers and multi-purpose QB Keytaon Thompson, who is following in Dak Prescott’s shoes by escaping Louisiana to find playing time in Starkville. RB Kylin Hill ought to find his way onto the field pronto. LB Willie Gay and DE Montez Sweat have sky-high upsides, while a lot of teams will likely wish they could have found space for DT Noah Elliss. The DL class in general was an impressive haul for Mullen’s staff, as it added Deion Pope and Lee Autry inside and Aaron Odom outside. Another down-the-list DT, James Jackson, is sort of Terrence Cody Lite. Not everything was wine and roses, however: Since the gameplan was obviously to load up on linemen, skill positions suffered. MSU took only one wideout (Austin Williams), no tight ends and no running backs outside of Hill. Defensively, no ILBs were taken, and only one cornerback, Tyler Williams, who likely won’t stay there. In short, Mississippi State fought familiar problems with class balance before falling back into what it knows best: Tough defense, solid fundamental play up front and a quarterback that can freestyle his way to victory.

10. Arkansas

Key signings: WR Brandon Martin, S Montaric Brown, TE Jeremy Patton

Underrated: WR Jonathan Nance, WR/CB De’Vion Warren

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Another significant dropoff back to Arkansas, which starts the run of SEC teams that failed to impress. JUCO WR Brandon Martin and S Montaric Brown are the only sure-fire contributors of this class, although TE Jeremy Patton has tremendous upside and a lot of fans in the evaluator world. Arkansas went heavy on receivers and two-way athletes, grabbing another JUCO in Jonathan Nance to go along with Martin. De’Vion Warren is an intriguing talent with an athletic pedigree. Arkansas is hoping that red-chipper Maleek Williams can step up at running back, because size was wanting in the Razorbacks’ other RB, Chase Hayden. For that matter, size was lacking all up and down Arkansas’ signee list, and then there was the issue of defensive line, where the Razorbacks basically didn’t sign anyone of note. Arkansas took one tackle (Melvin Johnson) and two ends (David Porter, JUCO Gabe Richardson) that are borderline SEC players. On the offensive line, only Dalton Wagner fit the traditional “Big Hog” lineman mold, and he went overboard with the concept (6’9”, 320). QB Daulton Hyatt is coming in with the game manager tag but he at least has the frame to get bigger and stronger. Overall, this was a disappointing class for Arkansas and not even an “Arkansas class” in terms of size or layout. The job of recruiting to Fayetteville might just be too big for Bret Bielema.

11. Kentucky

Key signings: WR Javonte Richardson, DE Joshua Paschal, WR/S Tyrell Ajian

Underrated: CB Yusuf Corker, DT Quinton Bohanna

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: An argument could be made that this class was better than Arkansas’, but there were just a few more holes here. Kentucky got good balance throughout most of its list, starting with the star of the class, WR Javonte Richardson, who should play immediately. DE Joshua Paschal and two-way prospect Tyrell Ajian were the others of note, along with another two-way athlete, Lynn Bowden. If most of these two-way players end up on defense, Kentucky might have something, because the Wildcats need all the help they can muster there. The only pure DB who looks like immediate help – JUCO S Lonnie Johnson – isn’t enough. Except for the underrated Yusuf Corker, Kentucky more or less struck out with pure cornerbacks, as neither Michael Nesbitt nor Cedrick Dort appear ready to contribute. Kentucky also made underwhelming choices at RB (Bryant Koback) and QB (Danny Clark). On the offensive line, only T Naasir Watkins looks like more than a fringe prospect. The situation at defensive tackle was somewhat better, with Quinton Bohanna and Phil Hoskins both looking game-ready. The biggest red flag of all, though, was linebacker – Kentucky signed exactly zero. Overall, it’s a typical Kentucky class – good enough to get hopes up, not good enough to take the next step.

12. Ole Miss

Key signings: LB Breon Dixon, DE Chester Graves, LB Brenden Williams

Underrated: DE Ryder Anderson, OT Tony Gray

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Let’s get this out of the way first: This was a class decimated by the mere threat of an NCAA investigation. This is the kind of class Ole Miss used to sign before anyone in Oxford cared about anything other than the Grove and beating Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. Hugh Freeze did his best to put together something resembling an actual signing class, and to his credit, the inside linebacker haul Ole Miss managed to get has nothing to be ashamed of. Breon Dixon is a top-level prep talent, and on top of him, Ole Miss added JUCO star Brenden Williams and underrated Mohamed Sanogo. Given what a bad year it was for inside linebackers in general, the Rebels should thank their lucky stars they got this group. Ole Miss also got a nice group together at defensive end, including next-level talent Chester Graves, JUCO transfer Markel Winters and 6’7” project Ryder Anderson. Wideout D.D. Bowie should go immediately into the rotation there. And then the good news just stops. Outside of Tony Gray, there were no offensive linemen taken who are ready to play to any degree, or able to play inside. Badly needing tight ends and running backs, Ole Miss missed on both, reaching far out to take lightly-regarded JUCO transfer Isaiah Woullard late in the process. The Rebels signed only one defensive tackle, long-term project Sincere David. Freeze was visibly upset in his post-signing press conference, but one has to wonder if he’s upset at himself for challenging people to report potential recruiting violations and having someone actually take him up on it.

13. Missouri

Key signings: DT Walter Palmore, WR/S Daron Davis, DE Nate Anderson

Underrated: RB Larry Rountree III, DT Rashad Brandon

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Missouri’s inability to recruit with the big boys in the SEC continued in a big way. This was a class made up entirely of red-chip talent, from the very top to the very bottom. Two-way prospect Daron Davis becomes BMOC almost by default, although Missouri did do a good job attracting JUCO DTs Walter Palmore and Rashad Brandon, both of whom are ready now. Missouri went hard after linemen and core players on both sides of the ball, with 11 of its 24 signees being trench guys. The Tigers got three offensive linemen of note, including the best center signed by an SEC school (Case Cook), and big tackles Hyrin White and Pompey Coleman. OLB Aubrey Miller has promise. Unfortunately, there was almost no attention paid to offensive production, outside of Davis. The Tigers did manage to snag a running back, Larry Rountree III, who looks good on the hoof and is the closest thing to a classic SEC-style back the Tigers have signed since coming into the conference. Missouri added two more backs, but just one tight end and no pure wide receivers. Just not an adequate effort.

14. Vanderbilt

Key signings: DE Dayo Odeyingbo, OT Bryce Bailey, DE Jalen Pinkney

Underrated: OLB Michael Owusu, ILB Feleti Afemui

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: On the bottom again is Vanderbilt, and this class didn’t measure up to recent ones. There is arguably more consistent quality to the bottom of the list, but at 19 names long, it doesn’t matter that much. The top end of the class is hard to find, and is probably either DE Dayo Odeyingbo or OT Bryce Bailey, both of whom had other reasonable options. QB Jacob Free doesn’t look like a difference-maker. CB Randall Haynie and S Tae Daley are respectable talents at their respective positions, while a LB haul fronted by physical Feleti Afemui and prospect-in-the-raw Michael Owusu could be good in a couple of years. Big wide receivers James Bostic Jr. and Chris Pierce are intriguing, but Vandy has signed plenty of those over the years only to have them fail to make an impact. OT Jonathan Stewart is one of those big-frame linemen the Commodores like to take fliers on from time to time. Overall, the Commodores may have done a better job balancing out its class than some other schools that scored higher, but Vandy also pulled an oh-fer on both tight ends and running backs. In the end, it’s more of the same from the SEC’s most lovable stepchild.

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