Coveted linebacker prospect Clifton Garrett concluded a lengthy recruitment process Tuesday afternoon, announcing his intentions to play for LSU, per the Times-Picayune's Andrew Lopez. The 5-star Illinois native committed to the Tigers during a ceremony at Plainfield South High School after considering several SEC programs.
Garrett, a 6'2", 228-pound playmaker, also weighed offers from Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Alabama, among others. His decision to bolt for Baton Rouge has a direct effect on the recruiting efforts of various conference rivals.
Now that another top-tier 2014 prospect is set to join the SEC, let's examine how all 14 conference squads stack up against each other on the recruiting trail. We assess and rank each program, valuing prospect quality more than quantity.
We rank the 12 programs based on volume and quality of incoming talent. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.
Total Commitments: 17 (two 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Rafe Peavey is a dual-threat athlete at quarterback. Dallas offensive tackle Jovan Pruitt provides depth up front, while tight end Ravian Pierce is a promising Florida prospect. Defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson anchors the incoming group of defenders, which also features 3-star cornerback tandem Henre' Toliver and Chris Murphy.
Still Targeting: The Razorbacks would love to bookend Pruitt with fellow 4-star offensive tackle Brian Wallace, a St. Louis standout. The team is eyeing up defensive backs Raymond Wingo and Payton Hendrix but 5-star end Solomon Thomas is arguably Arkansas' top-rated target.
Total Commitments: 18 (three 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Running back Aeris Williams injects the offense with a new explosive element. He'll be joined in the attack by wide receiver Jesse Jackson and versatile quarterback Elijah Staley. Athletes Jamoral Graham and Gerri Green are dynamic playmakers who could be called upon to contribute on either side of the ball.
Still Targeting: Marlon Humphrey still has Mississippi State in the mix. The nation's top-ranked cornerback views the Bulldogs as an option, along with Alabama, Clemson and Florida State. If Humphrey ultimately elects to go elsewhere, JUCO standout Tee Shepard is an excellent consolation prize. Athlete J.T. Gray ranks among Mississippi's top uncommitted prospects.
Total Commitments: 26 (three 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Missouri found matches at receiver by searching beyond state borders. Nate Brown (Georgia) and Lawrence Lee (Florida) provide a dangerous passing attack with additional firepower. A 4-star offensive tackle, Andy Bauer, gave the Tigers a boost in November when he flipped his commitment from Ole Miss. Brandon Lee is an impressive linebacker prospect from Indianapolis.
Still Targeting: JUCO defensive tackles Calvin Heurtelou and Rika Levi are each considering Missouri. In-state tight end recruit Kendall Blanton would be a quality addition to a deep offensive arsenal.
Total Commitments: 20 (three 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: The Commodores welcome in the younger brother of current quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels next season. San Jose prospect K.J. Carta-Samuels arrives on campus as a promising young passer. Running back Mikale Wilbon and receiver Kameron Uter join him on offense, while Kyle Gibson and Emmanuel Smith add athleticism to the defensive backfield. Louisville product Lloyd Tubman is an intriguing pass-rusher.
Still Targeting: The team is attempting to lure wide receiver Trevon Lee away from the Sunshine State but faces serious competition, including Ole Miss, Stanford and Duke. Linebacker Nyles Morgan and cornerback Parrker Westphal are 4-star defenders who still view Vanderbilt as a viable option.
Total Commitments: 16 (five 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Steve Spurrier secured commitments from wide receivers Shaq Davidson and Terry Googer, who fill a need on the Gamecocks depth chart. Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams, a 4-star prospect from Georgia, adds some bite to the defensive front, while backs Darin Smalls and Al Harris help sure up the secondary. Dante Sawyer, a 4-star defensive end from Georgia, announced on his Twitter page on Tuesday afternoon that he is committed to South Carolina over Tennessee and Missouri.
Still Targeting: South Carolina has its sights set on 4-star running back Derrell Scott, who is also considering Oregon, North Carolina State and Tennessee. The team needs to land either D.J. Smith or Wesley Green, talented defensive backs from Georgia.
Total Commitments: 24 (four 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Offensive guard Roderick Taylor is an absolute road grader. He gives the Rebels a top-ranked prospect with the potential to play as a starter from opening day. Markell Pack is a dangerous receiver and will also compete for early playing time. Safety C.J. Hampton and running back D.K. Buford are in-state commits who warrant 4-star status.
Still Targeting: Ole Miss remains in the mix for several front-line defenders. Tackle Elisha Shaw is a favorite to land in Oxford, while 5-star safety Jamal Adams may be more of a long shot. JUCO defensive end D.J. Pettway is a 4-star standout still open to playing at Ole Miss.
Total Commitments: 24 (five 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Running back Stanley Williams is an electric playmaker with the potential to emerge as an impact freshman in the SEC next season. The ball-carrier will be joined on offense by fellow 4-star commit Drew Barker, a top-tier quarterback who elected to stay in his home state. Wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass gives the Wildcats a weapon on the outside edge. Safety Darius West and defensive end Denzel Ware provide options in the team's two-deep.
Still Targeting: Coveted defensive tackle Matt Elam is hearing from programs across the country, but there's still hope the 5-star prospect may ultimately stay home in Kentucky. If the team whiffs on Elam, JUCO defensive tackle Daniel Ross would fill a need.
Total Commitments: 19 (eight 4-stars, one 5-star)
Best of the Bunch: Wide receiver D'haquille Williams will be one of the conference's top newcomers in 2014. He is arguably the most impressive JUCO player in the country and promises to add a new dynamic to the Tigers offense. Auburn will also improve its backfield depth with the addition of 5-star running back Racean Thomas. Cornerback Kalvaraz Bessent gave the program plenty to smile about when he switched his commitment from Alabama earlier this month. Linebacker Tre' Williams chose Auburn over a slew of SEC options.
Still Targeting: Rashaan Evans would be an excellent complement to Williams in the linebacker corps. He is an Auburn native but remains open to rivals like Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss. Receiver Travis Rudolph considers the Tigers among his top choices, and the same can be said for defensive tackle Dontavius Russell.
Total Commitments: 18 (seven 4-stars, two 5-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Florida remains on track to produce an impressive recruiting haul, especially on offense. Quarterback Will Grier spent his high school career carving up defenses in North Carolina and can take a step toward winning the starting job with an impressive spring camp. Wide receiver Ermon Lane and running back Dalvin Cook—both 5-star prospects—also have realistic opportunities to contribute immediately after a lackluster 2013 season in Gainesville. Offensive tackle David Sharpe ranks among the most college-ready linemen in the country, while defensive tackle Khairi Clark is Florida's best incoming defender.
Still Targeting: The Gators are still looking to grab defensive talent and could find it in the form of three 5-star targets. Cornerback Adoree' Jackson, defensive end Lorenzo Carter and safety Jamal Adams are each paramount prospects for the Florida coaching staff.
Total Commitments: 16 (11 4-stars, one 5-star)
Best of the Bunch: The addition of 5-star linebacker Clifton Garrett elevates LSU in our SEC recruiting rankings. The dominant defender is a significant piece of an increasingly impressive class, which jumps from No. 7 to No. 5. Wide receivers Trey Quinn and Tony Upchurch are each 4-star targets who hope to develop chemistry with incoming quarterback Brandon Harris. Running back Darrel Williams stays in Louisiana after initially pledging to Arizona State. Defensive ends Davon Godchaux and Deondre Clark have skills to quickly climb a depth chart.
Still Targeting: Tiger Nation is clearly consumed by the prospect of landing 5-star running back Leonard Fournette, who is listed as the country's top overall player in 247Sports recruiting rankings. Speedy Noil and Malachi Dupre are 5-star wide receivers from the New Orleans area. On defense, LSU is focusing on cornerback Tony Brown and fellow 5-star prospect Gerald Willis, an in-state tackle.
Total Commitments: 16 (11 4-stars, one 5-star)
Best of the Bunch: Nick Chubb ran wild this season, ramping up expectations for his career as a Bulldog. The Georgia running back rushed for nearly 2,700 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior, per MaxPreps. He'll be paired with 5-star Florida prospect Sony Michel in the offensive backfield. Quarterback Jacob Park joins the squad from South Carolina. His young targets will include 4-star tight end Jeb Blazevich and 4-star receiver Shakenneth Williams. Tackle Lamont Gaillard and defensive end Keyon Brown fortify the defensive front. In the past, Georgia's incoming talent level may have been slightly overlooked here in our rankings, but it's impossible to ignore this well-rounded recruiting effort.
Still Targeting: The Bulldogs can bolster an impressive defensive line with the addition of in-sate end Lorenzo Carter, a 5-star prospect still considering Florida and Alabama. Georgia remains in play for 4-star linebacker Rashaan Evans but will struggle to pry the Auburn, Ala. native away from his home state. Gifted athlete Myles Autry starred at Peach State powerhouse Norcross.
Total Commitments: 19 (12 4-stars, two 5-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Myles Garrett is a dominant 5-star defensive end from Arlington. He gives the Aggies a disruptive pass-rusher in a conference loaded with elite quarterback talent. Texas A&M likely loses its Heisman Trophy-winning passer this winter but brings in Arizona product Kyle Allen, who is rated the nation's No. 1 quarterback by 247Sports. He'll be joined in the backfield by 4-star running back Varshaun Nixon. Garrett will work along the defensive front with 4-star linemen Qualen Cunningham and DeShawn Washington
Still Targeting: There's still room for improvement on the Aggies offense, where receivers Speedy Noil and Frank Iheanacho would fit in nicely. Texas A&M is also targeting 5-star defensive backs Tony Brown and Adoree' Jackson.
Total Commitments: 34 (17 4-stars)
Best of the Bunch: Top in-state target Josh Malone and JUCO star Lavon Pearson should carry on the trend of "Wide Receiver U," providing the Vols with skilled targets in the passing game. Tennessee native Jalen Hurd is among the most dynamic athletes in the country. The Vols holds commitments from elite safety prospects Todd Kelly and Cortez McDowell. Linebackers Dillon Bates, Gavin Bryant, Chris Weatherd and Kevin Mouhon are each considered 4-star recruits.
Still Targeting: Tennessee missed on 5-star linebacker Clifton Garrett (Illinois) but has other talented defenders on its radar. The Vols place high value on California cornerback Adoree' Jackson, defensive back D.J. Smith and end Lorenzo Featherston.
Total Commitments: 23 (13 4-stars, four 5-stars)
Best of the Bunch: The Crimson Tide have compiled more talent during the 2014 recruiting cycle than any team in America. Nick Saban secured a commitment from No. 1 defensive end prospect Da'Shawn Hand last month and followed that with the addition of 5-star safety Laurence Jones in early December. Cameron Robinson, the nation's top-ranked offensive tackle, will protect quarterback David Cornwell. Bo Scarbrough is a 5-star athlete, and Louisiana receiver Cameron Sims presents major matchup issues for opposing defenses. Outside linebacker Christian Miller is a menacing pass-rusher.
Still Targeting: The Crimson Tide are under Leonard Fournette's final consideration. The nation's No. 1 running back is expected to pick between Alabama and LSU on Jan. 2. Dominant in-state defensive back Marlon Humphrey may add to Saban's stockpile and 5-star Kentucky defensive tackle Matt Elam remains in the mix.