Rating the SEC recruiting classes

Jan 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart on the field before the 2018 CFP national championship college football game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart on the field before the 2018 CFP national championship college football game against the at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

By Jess Nicholas
TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Feb. 8, 2017

1. Georgia

Key signings: QB Justin Fields, DL Brenton Cox, RB Zamir White

Underrated: OL Owen Condon, DE Azeez Ojulari

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

Needs filled: Ex

Analysis: The Bulldogs probably signed the best class, top to bottom, in modern college football history, eclipsing the class Alabama brought together a year earlier. Georgia filled every need, stockpiled talent, and did it with a clear level of separation over the No. 2 class in the country (Ohio State), and especially over the No. 2 class in the SEC (Alabama, 8th overall). Kirby Smart’s staff pretty much executed their plan start to finish, but Smart took some criticism early in the process for possibly over-leveraging proprietary information he had brought with him from Alabama.

In the end, though, that shouldn’t matter, as successful staffs have to plan for the loss of talented personnel like Smart to rival programs. Georgia got its quarterback of the future in Justin Fields, replaced losses at running back in the form of Zamir White, and restructured a defense heavily hit by graduation. The toughest part of this class is finding two players to highlight as “underrated,” but there Ojulari gets the nod simply because he was overshadowed by other names late in the process. It’s hard to imagine any school equaling this haul in the coming years.

2. Alabama

Key signings: LB/DE Eyabi Anoma, WR Jaylen Waddle, CB Patrick Surtain Jr.

Underrated: CB Eddie Smith, DE Jordan Davis

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: Alabama got the nation’s best DB haul, and for the most part got what it needed in a year of modest losses to graduation. But the Crimson Tide didn’t fill its available allotment of scholarships, and stuggled to recruit an interior defensive tackle, getting just one player (Christian Barmore) who might not qualify. The flash factor was low for Alabama this year, as the Tide failed to sign a quarterback, and the only running back Alabama took was hybrid scatback Jonathan Ford. Looking down the list, Alabama grabbed one of the most overlooked 3-4 defensive ends in the country, Jordan Davis, and cornerback Eddie Smith, who while not as famous as classmates like Patrick Surtain Jr. and Saivion Smith, has a tremendous upside and plays with great technique.

Unfortunately for Alabama, it couldn’t be overlooked that while the Tide delivered on Surtain and WR Jaylen Waddle on Signing Day, Alabama whiffed on several prospect that were thought to be in the bag, not the least of which was WR Justyn Ross. This was not ’s best effort, but anything inside the top 15 is good enough to compete for championships if bracketed by great classes, which Alabama certainly has done of late.

3. Auburn

Key signings: WR Richard Jibunor, RB Asa Martin, S Quindarious Monday

Underrated: OL Jalil Irvin, LB/DE Caleb Johnson

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: Rare is it that only two SEC teams find themselves in the top 10, but it happened this year. Auburn’s class, while solid, lacked any true star power at the top, and the Tigers didn’t necessarily fill needs all that well. Auburn got one of the highest-upside offensive linemen available, the athletic Jalil Irvin, but the Tigers needed to hit a home run on the offensive line and decidedly did not do that. Auburn signed only two OL overall, the other being Kameron Stutts, a true project. In a down year in the state of Alabama, the Tigers got two of the most highly-rated 2017-2018 prospects, but also two of the most difficult to project: RB/LB Harold Joiner and DT Coynis Miller, whose stock fell a bit toward the close of the process.

As usual, Auburn took several prospects whose final position is still up in the air, including Richard Jibunor, who projects at receiver, safety and maybe even linebacker. One of the most intriguing is 5’5” RB Shaun Shivers, a dynamo that reminds many of former Alabama RB/WR Brandon Brooks but with a higher upside. Overall this was a good class, not great, and not what Auburn needed to close the gap with its two main rivals.

4. Texas A&M

Key signings: DL Bobby Brown, OL Cole Blanton, WR Jalen Preston

Underrated: TE/DL Glenn Beal, LB Vernon Jackson

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: Texas A&M more or less filled the last slots in its class by stealing Alabama targets. The Aggies flipped Alabama’s best defensive line commitment, Bobby Brown, on Signing Day, then also convinced LB Vernon Jackson to switch and got Glenn Beal to resist a last-minute offer from Nick Saban. This was an admirable first effort from new A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, but not one likely to get the Aggies to the next level. The Aggies needed a more dependable playmaker at quarterback, but got only James Foster, who is a solid athlete but who needs a lot of work as a passer.

The Aggies got only one defensive back of note, S Leon O’Neal, despite needing a talent infusion there. But Fisher did manage to rein in several interesting options for the perimeter of his front seven, including possibly Beal, as well as Jeremiah Martin and Max Wright. As for Jackson, he’s a long-term project at linebacker, but his raw athleticism and versatility make him an intriguing take.

5. LSU

Key signings: WR Terrace Marshall Jr., DT Dare Rosenthal, LB Micah Baskerville

Underrated: DT Dominic Livingston, RB Tae Provens

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: The Tigers finished in a dead heat with Texas A&M, but with a class that had more at the top and the bottom and less in the middle. It was also notable for what it didn’t get: a frontline quarterback or a proven playmaker at running back, both of which were positions of major need. For that matter, TideFans.com/NARCAS almost rated LSU just “Fair” in filling needs. The Tigers did, however, replenish talent at receiver, headed up by a consensus gold-chipper in Terrace Marshall Jr. and solid prospects Kenan Jones and Ja’Marr Chase, and did a nice job refilling the talent level at offensive line. Even the lesser-heralded players the Tigers signed there have tons of potential. Running back, though, was almost a bust.

LSU convinced Alabama native Tae Provens to sign, but he’s not an every-down back unless he changes his body type. The other back LSU signed, Chris Curry, doesn’t look like an SEC bellcow. Ed Orgeron did a nice job of getting a pair of anvils at defensive tackle, the massive Dominic Livingston and the almost-as-massive Dare Rosenthal. LSU did good work at defensive end, too, along with both inside and outside linebacker. Aside from stud corner/safety Kelvin Joseph, however, the defensive backfield wasn’t addressed. If LSU hired Ed Orgeron solely because he could recruit, this isn’t going to cut it in the long term.

6. South Carolina

Key signings: DT Rick Sandidge, CB Jaycee Horn, QB Dakereon Joyner

Underrated: S Israel Mukuamu, DT Jabari Ellis

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

Needs filled: Vg

Analysis: The biggest surprise among SEC classes, aside from Georgia’s dominance, had to be the class Will Muschamp put together at South Carolina. The Gamecocks got an intriguing quarterback prospect in Dakereon Joyner and surrounded him with the talent necessary to be successful. A lack of offensive explosiveness has been an issue for South Carolina for quite some time, and this class helps address it. Wide receiver Josh Vann, along with WR/DB Bryce Thompson, could both prove to be key targets for Joyner.

The Gamecocks signed six offensive linemen, and brought in a couple of intriguing running back prospects, the most electric of whom was Lavonte Valentine. Defensively, the Gamecocks did well on the line – led by its best signee, DT Rick Sandidge – and in the secondary, but nabbed only one linebacker. This is one of those classes that could springboard South Carolina to the next rung on the latter – if Muschamp backs it up next year with a class of similar quality.

7. Florida

Key signings: LB David Reese, WR Jacob Copeland, WR Justin Watkins

Underrated: TE/H Kyle Pitts, CB/S Jonathan Huggins

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: A late flurry of activity helped pull Dan Mullen’s first Florida class up to a respectable level, but the Gators didn’t do an even job of filling needs and they’ll need to hit on a lot of boom/bust players in order to count this one as a victory. Florida got a nice receiver tandem in Jacob Copeland and Justin Watkins, and LB David Reese is a solid recruit and probably the Gators’ best prospect overall. But QB Emory Jones saw his stock freefall over the winter, to the point that some analysts began to project him at receiver or safety rather than – not in addition to – quarterback.

DE Malik Langham, who the Gators held away from Alabama on Signing Day, has the prototype body for his position but has yet to be consistent in his high school career. TE Kyle Pitts is a player in the “big H” mold that Mullen likes to use in his spread-option offense; think what Aaron Hernandez was like early in his college career. Elsewhere, the Gators came up a DB or two short (especially pure CBs) and the offensive line class was so-so. Mullen was not known for being an ace recruiter at Mississippi State, and he’ll probably do better at Florida when he gets more momentum. But this initial outing failed to hit all the right notes.

8. Tennessee

Key signings: LB J.J. Peterson, TE Dominick Wood-Anderson, DE Jordan Allen

Underrated: DT Brant Lawless, OL Jahmir Johnson

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

Needs filled: Av

Analysis: The Volunteers nearly caught up to Florida late in the process, as Tennessee’s recruiting benefited from the late hire of Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The star of the class was linebacker J.J. Peterson, perhaps the best available in the country and a player Alabama coveted. Tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson gives the Vols an instant starter at a position that has been so important to the UT offense’s health in recent eras. DE Jordan Allen almost fell into the “underrated” category and could end up being a relative steal. Tennessee also covered the second level of recruits fairly well, headed by big Brant Lawless, a defensive tackle prospect with a good attitude and upside. But there were a few missteps.

The Vols didn’t get a top quarterback, settling for J.T. Shrout, whose hype waned over the course of his final prep year. In need of bolstering its wide receiver depth, Tennessee got one, maybe two players tops depending on which side of the ball Alontae Taylor winds up landing. The problem with projecting Taylor to offense is he may be needed worse on defense, where the Volunteers largely struck out in the secondary. Loading up on the defensive line was necessary, but Tennessee sacrificed effort at positions that were of equal need in order to do it.

9. Mississippi State

Key signings: QB Jalen Mayden, WR Malik Heath, WR Devonta Jason

Underrated: LB Devon Robinson, WR Steven Guidry

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Apparently new head coach Joe Moorhead decided the Bulldogs needed an upgrade at wide receiver, because he signed seven of them. Mississippi State did a fine job pulling in a boatload of talent; the problem is, it was too concentrated in two or three areas and left the rest of the depth chart to twist in the wind. First, the good: QB Jalen Mayden is an underrated dual-threat passer who gives MSU a long-term play at that position. He got lots of future help, primarily in the form of the tall duo of Malik Heath and especially Devonta Jason, the Bulldogs’ most highly-ranked signee. Geor’Quarius Spivey gives Mississippi State a catch-it-first tight end to pair with more capable blockers at the position.

Unfortunately, the dispersion of talent wasn’t even. The Bulldog DB class was uninspiring; the offensive line class was a group of one. The jury is also out on the interior defensive line, where the best of the bunch, Fabien Lovett, is middle-of-the-road. MSU was still able to find value in spots – LB Devon Robinson has a ton of potential, for instance – but Moorhead was mostly trying to get his feet wet and keep the damage of losing a coach in the middle of the recruiting cycle to a minimum. In that regard, he succeeded.

10. Ole Miss

Key signings: QB Matt Corral, DT Noah Jefferson, WR Elijah Moore

Underrated: LB Kevontae Ruggs, WR Demarcus Gregory

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: There’s a significant gap from the Bulldogs to the Rebels, and the remaining classes in the SEC largely missed the mark. Ole Miss was scrambling to deal with the fallout of the NCAA scandal that arose under the previous coaching staff, and a contract extension for head coach Matt Luke probably saved this class from being an utter disaster. What separates this class from Kentucky’s were the three names in the “Key Signings” category: QB Matt Corral, DT Noah Jefferson and WR Elijah Moore. All three could play anywhere in the conference, and Corral gives the Rebels hope for the future after Shea Patterson opted to take his talents elsewhere.

Jefferson is the kind of tackle Ole Miss has lacked recently, dynamic and able to defend both run and pass. Moore is a speed burner and dynamic receiver who can play either in the slot or outside. Ole Miss also added another wideout, Miles Battle, whose 6’4” height and good ball skills will make him a mismatch. Unfortunately, the class withers quickly after that. Kevontae Ruggs saw his stock soar in the last couple of months, but he’s the Rebels’ 5th-ranked prospect on the NARCAS board and would be nowhere near that high on any of the above classes. He’s still shy of the 200-pound mark and will need at least one year in the weight room. Ole Miss needed interior defensive tackle help more than anything, but failed to get any other big names.

Jalen Cunningham’s stock dropped as a senior, but he’s still the second-best of a group of five that simply fails to move the needle. Curiously, Ole Miss spent a lot of time raiding the state of Alabama for prospects despite it being a very down year here. Aside from WR Demarcus Gregory, there are few red-chippers with obvious potential. If this is the new normal for Ole Miss in the post-Hugh Freeze world, Luke might not make it to another contract extension.

11. Kentucky

Key signings: OL Marquan McCall, LB Chris Oats, TE Keaton Upshaw

Underrated: RB Kavosiey Smoke, OL Nick Lewis

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: The only thing separating Kentucky’s class from Ole Miss’ was a big name at the top. Offensive lineman Marquan McCall was really the only highly sought-after player in the class, although LB Chris Oats looks like a stud. Tight end Keaton Upshaw, who is already a freak at 6’7”, 240, and CB/S Stanley Garner were also considered early contributors. The rest of the class is superior to the Rebels’ group, with names like WR Marvin Alexander and OL Nick Lewis leading the way. Kentucky also landed RB Kavosiey Smoke, whose films show average moves and speed but incredible productivity nonetheless. If anyone can do something positive with such a makeup, it’s the Wildcats, who have made a cottage industry out of turning second-line running back prospects into stars.

There were some glaring problems with the class, however. Kentucky has needed to bolster its defensive line with better players – not just more players – for some time now, but the lone tackle signee, Jerquavion Mahone, is considered a huge reach for an SEC team. Kentucky also took just one defensive end, Davoan Hawkins, although his makeup and upside is on more solid ground. Kentucky took a JUCO dual threat at quarterback in a curious move, Terry Wilson. Unlike some of the classes that ranked below this one, Kentucky shouldn’t be worried by its haul, but it’s not clear whether the Wildcats actually got better.

12. Vanderbilt

Key signings: LB Alston Orji, S Brendon Harris, OL Daniel Dawkins

Underrated: TE Elijah McAllister, CB/S Maxwell Worship

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

Needs filled: Pr

Analysis: This was by far the weirdest class in the conference, arguably higher on pure talent than either Ole Miss or Kentucky – and even more top-loaded than Ole Miss’ class – but falling woefully short of addressing some longstanding issues in the Commodore roster. Vanderbilt got five guys that should be immediate difference makers. LB Alston Orji is already good, but he has the frame to add plenty of weight without slowing down. Defensive back Brendon Harris looks like a Georgia or Alabama DB. Offensive lineman Daniel Dawkins is as good a player as anyone in the conference signed.

Stepping down just a peg, there’s high-upside TE Elijah McAllister and WR Camron Johnson, who could be the most dynamic receiver Vanderbilt has signed in years. And on the other hand, there’s this: Dawkins was one of only two offensive linemen the Commodores signed, and Vandy got only two defensive linemen – project E Lorenza Surgers, who quite frankly is a long shot to ever play, and big Tyler Steen, who has the measurables but isn’t fast enough for end and needs body work for tackle. Vandy loaded up on tight ends and defensive backs, but failed to impress with either its quarterback or running back signees. A better class overall than the Commodores usually get, but schizophrenic in its makeup.

13. Missouri

Key signings: DE Daniel Parker Jr., LB Chad Bailey, RB Jalen Knox

Underrated: DE Trajan Jeffcoat, OL Mike Ruth

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

Needs filled: Fr

Analysis: Missouri’s class was better allotted than Vanderbilt’s, but the top of the order lacked a leadoff man. DE Daniel Parker Jr. is the only real bona fide star of this class, although LB Chad Bailey was productive. Parker, though, seems to be the only one with potential star quality. Fortunately for Missouri, the Tigers had enough scholarships to give and managed to cobble together an impressive enough list of signees that the Tigers probably lifted all ships. OL Mike Ruth slipped under everyone’s radar; he looks like the prototypical left tackle going forward. DE Trajan Jeffcoat could be the next great Mizzou pass rusher. RB Jalen Knox needs some additional size, but he’s already turned some heads.

Missouri did a nice job in sprinkling in guys that have great frames but just need some technique work (Ruth, TE Messiah Swinson, DT Antar Thompson), but some of the other takes were a bit curious. It’s not clear whether QB Lindsey Scott Jr., originally an LSU Tiger, is capable of playing even FBS-level quarterback, much less SEC quarterback. Running backs Simi Bakare and Tyler Badie may have too far to go to become ready for this league. Overall, not a bad class, and a lot to like. Just not enough of it.

14. Arkansas

Key signings: CB Ladarrius Bishop, LB Bumper Pool, CB Joseph Foucha

Underrated: DE Coutre Alexander, DE Isaiah Nichols

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

Needs filled: Pr

Analysis: There’s no sugarcoating this effort, because it flat-out stunk, and it calls into question Chad Morris’ ability to recruit Arkansas’ way out of trouble. We would estimate this class fell somewhere in the 80th-place range nationally, lower than Vanderbilt’s usual landing spot for a significant amount, and low enough that – coupled with the changeover from the conservative Bret Bielema to the high-flying Morris – may mean a 10-loss season on the horizon.

Aside from cornerbacks Ladarrius Bishop and Joseph Foucha, and LB Bumper Pool, who may have forever retired the all-name trophy, Arkansas got literally no one who can be expected to help in the upcoming season. None. Bishop, at least, is as good as anyone most teams signed, a tall corner with the capability of playing safety. Foucha may lack a bit in height but is a good technique player. A pair of defensive end signees, Coutre Alexander and Isaiah Nichols, are probably better than advertised, but ideally both would redshirt. All three offensive line signees are long-term projects, as is DT Billy Ferrell, who may be forced to play this year out of necessity. Neither quarterback recruit impresses.

Connor Noland committed to Arkansas nearly two years ago and stuck it out because he’s a fan. John Stephen Jones is 5’11”, 180 and more or less came with Morris from SMU. A cursory search of competing offer lists for just about every member of this class reveals just how bad things really were. Morris got knocked around and abused in his first SEC recruiting season, and considering he was hired Dec. 6, he had more than enough time to do better than this.

Overall Class Ratings (National Top 10 Plus SEC)

1. Georgia

2. Ohio State

3. Southern Cal

4. Oklahoma

5. Penn State

6. Clemson

7. Miami

8. Alabama

9. Texas

10. Florida State

12. Auburn

14. Texas A&M

17. LSU

19. South Carolina

20. Florida

22. Tennessee

23. Mississippi State

29. Ole Miss

30. Kentucky

38. Vanderbilt

39. Missouri

80. Arkansas

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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