Power Ranking Every SEC Team's 2016 Recruiting Class
The faxes have been sent, pen has met paper and the class of 2016 has signed on the dotted line,
National signing day is in the books, and it was a banner year in the SEC. Five programs finished in the final 247Sports top 10, with Alabama making a late charge to finish with the best class in the country for the sixth straight season.
Rankings, however, don't always reflect need.
Our ranking of the top classes in the SEC based on talent acquired, team need and biggest upside are in this slideshow.
14. Missouri Tigers
Missouri took a step back on the field in 2015 after consecutive SEC Championship Game berths in 2013 and 2014, and apparently that trend has bled over to the recruiting trail.
The Tigers' 2016 class was defined more by who got away than who signed as new head coach Barry Odom lost a small village of commitments from the class Gary Pinkel had built, as noted by David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune.
It's not without talent, though.
Natereace Strong is a talented junior college running back who should come right in and challenge for playing time in the inexperienced Tiger backfield. Early enrollee Trey Baldwin—while not a superstar—looks and plays a lot like former Missouri star linebacker Kentrell Brothers. Defensive ends Marvin Terry and Tre Williams should develop into a solid tandem bookending that line for D-Line Zou for the next three or four seasons.
It's not a star-studded class by any means, but that's par for the course in Columbia. If Odom can follow in Pinkel's footsteps, recognize potential and develop players at the same level, Missouri should be just fine.
13. Vanderbilt Commodores
The bad news for Mason, though, is that this class is still going to take awhile to develop, and two straight sub-.500 seasons after making three straight bowls hasn't exactly given Mason the luxury of time in Nashville.
Deuce Wallace is a solid pro-style passer who should be a decent backup to Kyle Shurmur, and Jamauri Wakefield could be a good rotational back behind Ralph Webb right out of the gate. Mason better hope he can coach this talent up, because his honeymoon is over in Nashville, and the Commodores have to get back to bowl games soon.
12. Kentucky Wildcats
It won't draw the headlines of some of the SEC powers, but Kentucky's 2016 recruiting class is well-rounded, has instant impact players, long-term projects and is loaded in the trenches—where games are won and lost.
Head coach Mark Stoops inked 4-star center Drake Jackson as an early enrollee, signed 4-star offensive tackle Landon Young, landed instant-impact junior college defensive tackle Naquez Pringle and 3-star junior college offensive tackle Tate Leavitt.
"Landon may have been the first guy," head coach Mark Stoops said in quotes emailed by Kentucky. "Drake really took a leadership role. I think it starts with those guys. What was nice is they were such high-profile guys in state and they were so solid. I think the guys from Ohio that have been committed for a long time have been extremely solid."
Both quarterbacks enrolled early and give Stoops options. Stephen Johnson II is a junior college, dual-threat quarterback who enrolled early to contend with Drew Barker for the starting spot. Gunnar Hoak also enrolled early and is a 6'4" pro-style gunslinger with a big arm.
On top of that, the class is loaded with linebacker and defensive back talent, which should please the defensive-minded head coach who needs a big year in 2016.
11. Mississippi State Bulldogs
With Ole Miss recruiting its tail off, Mississippi State needed to hit a home run on national signing day.
Instead, it was more like a stand-up double.
They lost the commitment of Starkville, Mississippi, native and 4-star wide receiver A.J. Brown to Ole Miss on Wednesday, which stings quite a bit.
Mullen has made a career out of identifying and coaching up under-recruited players, which will have to happen again. There's potential in 3-star cornerback C.J. Morgan-Walker, 4-star defensive end Marquiss Spencer should make an immediate impact up front, and athlete/receiver Jamal Couch is a 6'5" matchup nightmare who should develop into a star wherever he lines up.
After two seasons of incredible success in Starkville, though, you'd think that the Bulldogs would see an upturn in their recruiting efforts from a star-power perspective. That didn't happen with this class, but that doesn't mean that Mullen can't be successful with it.
10. South Carolina Gamecocks
Recruiting had suffered during the final few years of the Steve Spurrier era at South Carolina, and first-year head coach Will Muschamp fixed that as much as possible in his first two months at the helm.
Muschamp convinced 4-star quarterback Brandon McIlwain to pass up Major League Baseball to play both sports at South Carolina, earned the re-commitment of 4-star wide receiver Bryan Edwards and inked 4-star offensive tackle Javon Kinlaw on Wednesday.
As Matt Connolly of the State noted in mid-January, Muschamp put out the dumpster fire and began the rebuilding process quickly.
It isn't the most spectacular class in the world, but it's effective. In addition to the three headliners, defensive linemen Stephon Taylor and Keir Thomas should play right away, running back and early enrollee CJ Freeman and junior college corner Jamarcus King could too, and McIlwain has plenty of wide receiving help on the way alongside Edwards.
Not bad for the first two months on the job for Coach Boom.
9. Arkansas Razorbacks
One of the best defensive ends in the country developed in Arkansas' backyard, as 5-star stud McTelvin Agim out of Hope, Arkansas, signed with the Hogs and enrolled early. His presence should be felt early up front for the 2016 Razorbacks, as head coach Bret Bielema told reporters.
But this class goes much deeper than its headliner.
Devwah Whaley is a 4-star, 209-pound running back who should vie for playing time right away for the run-centric Hogs, and he's one who's impressed Bielema. Terrance Malone is a massive offensive tackle from junior college who should as well when he gets to campus later this year. Defensive tackle Austin Capps is a 307-pounder who will provide defensive coordinator Robb Smith quality depth in the trenches, which is a must-have for any team looking to win the SEC West.
Arkansas' class won't draw headlines in the SEC, but it is perfect for the hard-nosed approach Bielema takes with his teams.
8. Texas A&M Aggies
There was good news and bad news in College Station, Texas, on Wednesday for head coach Kevin Sumlin.
The good news was that, after losing Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray to transfer in December, the Aggies scrambled and landed with a very underrated quarterback in 3-star pro-style passer Nick Starkel.
The bad news was that they lost stud defensive end Mark Jackson to Oklahoma due in part to the instability in within the program and let Texas dominate national signing day with its late charge.
Justin Madubuike is a solid defensive end who should provide depth behind Myles Garrett as a freshman, Trayveon Williams is a good changeup back who can provide a different dimension alongside Keith Ford and James White right away and Travon Fuller and Charles Oliver are good defensive backs who will blossom into stars.
This is a "good" class for the Aggies, but that isn't good enough to calm the firestorm surrounding the program after two years of anonymity.
7. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee isn't going to be the darling of the recruiting cycle like it was th last couple of seasons, but that doesn't mean that head coach Butch Jones didn't kill it this year.
Jarrett Guarantano is the perfect dual-threat quarterback to pick up where Joshua Dobbs will leave off after this season and should benefit immensely from learning from Dobbs for a full season. He has a big arm, is a long-strider and can have the same kind of impact that Dobbs had on Rocky Top. Jones told reporters it was important to get Guarantano to commit early.
The Vols also did well in the trenches, inking 4-star junior college defensive tackle Alexis Johnson, 4-star offensive tackle Ryan Johnson and underrated 3-star offensive tackle Marcus Tatum. The one issue with this class, though, is that Jones missed on 5-star defensive lineman Derrick Brown, who visited Tennessee last weekend.
It's still a solid class, though.
Carlin Fils-aime is the logical replacement for changeup back Alvin Kamara, Daniel Bituli is a really good linebacker who should evolve into a starter by Year 2 and Jones racked up defensive back talent like 4-star safety Nigel Warrior and 4-star corner Tyler Byrd on national signing day.
6. Florida Gators
Quarterback has been a position of concern in Gainesville ever since Will Grier was suspended in October and subsequently decided to transfer from the program.
No worries. Second-year head coach Jim McElwain nabbed the new quarterback of the future in 4-star early enrollee Feleipe Franks from Crawfordville, Florida. A pro-style passer who can move, Franks can stretch the field deep, push it from sideline to sideline and put stress on opposing defenses vertically.
"We're excited about him and tile that are in here with that class as freshmen," McElwain said of Franks in quotes emailed by Florida. "Here is the great thing, at that position, too, is you're getting an opportunity through these workouts right now to really kind of build a lot of—kind of see the leadership piece of it, too, as to how they go about their daily work. I know this: We are going to be able to complete some routes on air because these guys can throw it now."
He has a talented group of wide receivers coming in with him, including fellow early enrollees Freddie Swain, Joshua Hammond and Dre Massey, along with signing day flip Tyrie Cleveland. Junior college transfer Mark Thompson should provide depth and options for McElwain at running back after Kelvin Taylor jumped to the NFL.
Defensively, it's your run-of-the-mill, standard Florida class. As in, it's phenomenal.
Florida's class won't get a ton of buzz nationally due to Harbaugh-fever and the star power other classes have. Make no mistake, though, it's still a solid class despite the loss of defensive tackle Shavar Manuel to Florida State.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
Kirby Smart's first recruiting class at Georgia is nothing short of a home run considering the condensed timetable Smart had to work with.
The former Alabama defensive coordinator for Alabama kept the commitment of 5-star signal-caller and quarterback Jacob Eason, who enrolled this January. Eason is already being counted on as the man for the Bulldogs.
"[Eason] has acclimated well, doing a good job in the classroom," Smart said in quotes emailed by Georgia. "We’re holding him to a high expectation as a leader on this team.”
Those are just three of the guys already on campus.
Smart inked even more talent on Wednesday, earning the pledge from 5-star athlete and Adoree Jackson clone Mecole Hardman, 4-star defensive end Chauncey Manac and underrated former Alabama commit Tyler Simmons.
4. Auburn Tigers
It's a make-or-break year for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, and he hit a home run on signing day with a class that might be the most effective in the country in terms of solving immediate needs.
John Franklin III is listed as a 3-star athlete, but the former Florida State and junior college quarterback emulated former Tiger Nick Marshall on the Seminole scout team leading up to the 2014 BCS National Championship Game and will get a crack at the starting spot this spring and summer. Behind him, 4-star dual-threat Woody Barrett is the quarterback of the future on the Plains, as Malzahn moves back to an offense that features more of a running threat under center.
Defensively, this class is loaded with tackles Derrick Brown and Antwaun Jackson, end Marlon Davidson and corner John Broussard. This in addition to a defense that includes linemen Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Byron Cowart, as well as freshman All-SEC corner Carlton Davis.
This Auburn class is loaded with talented players who could earn playing time right away and has built championship-level depth that should land the Tigers in SEC West contention.
3. LSU Tigers
Two months ago, LSU head coach Les Miles was nearly fired for not living up to the pressure that consistent recruiting success brings to a program.
That pressure has been ratcheted up yet again, because his haul on signing day in 2016 was one of the best in the country.
It starts with 5-star defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence from Monroe, Louisiana. At 6'3", 305 pounds, he's built like a veteran already and should provide quality depth behind Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux early before taking over the starting role as a sophomore in new coordinator David Aranda's defense. According to Lawrence, Aranda was a big reason why he chose LSU, as he mentioned on ESPN 104.5.
"I think he was the deciding factor" on my decision. On Dave Aranda #LSU."
Lawrence is joined up front in this stellar recruiting class by 4-star tackle Edwin Alexander, who should make life difficult in one-on-one situations for years to come with Lawrence taking up the offensive line's attention.
Saivion Smith, who enrolled early this January, should find his way to the starting lineup as either a nickel or a dime back as a true freshman. The 4-star, 6'1", 175-pounder is the prototypical Tiger defensive back, who's physical at the line of scrimmage, has quick hips and the ball skills of a wide receiver. Kristian Fulton signed on Wednesday and could do the same.
The minor—and they are very minor—issues with this class is the absence of a top-tier quarterback and the loss of 4-star linebacker Erick Fowler to Texas.
LSU had a commitment from Feleipe Franks before he flipped to Florida, lost out on Dwayne Haskins to Ohio State and settled on 3-star dual-threat Lindsey Scott. He's not a bad player to settle on late in the process, but it was clear down the stretch that Miles and Co. were scrambling to find at least one viable quarterback.
2. Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss didn't chime in with the best class in the country according to the rankings, but based on immediate need, depth and upside, it has one of the best in the conference.
Shea Patterson, a 5-star pro-style quarterback from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, headlines the class and is the heir apparent to Chad Kelly after Kelly moves on following the 2016 season. The 6'1", 192-pounder can stretch the field deep, has tremendous pocket presence and doesn't lose accuracy when he takes off velocity. He is, by far, the most talented quarterback head coach Hugh Freeze has had in Oxford, Mississippi, and should put together a Heisman Trophy run before his Rebel career is done.
Greg Little, a 6'5", 305-pound tackle from Allen, Texas, is the best offensive tackle in the country and should be able to step in immediately for departed junior Laremy Tunsil and anchor the left side of the offensive line for the next three or four years. Wide receivers DeKaylin Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Tre Nixon are ultra-talented, and should add depth to a corps that includes Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Damarkus Lodgs, Van Jefferson and hybrid tight end Evan Engram. Benito Jones, a 5-star, 285-pound defensive end from Waynesboro, Mississippi, should be able to step in for Robert Nkemdiche along a defensive line that is still loaded with talent.
On top of that, 4-star safety Deontay Anderson is a ball hawk and skydove his way to a commitment, Charles Wiley is a pass-rushing specialist who should be a star and the Rebel class is loaded on the defensive side of the ball. Freeze told reporters it's one of his better classes at Ole Miss.
Freeze: "We feel like it's, top to bottom, one of the best classes we've signed." Follows by praising Shea Patterson.
Freeze put together a fantastic blend of stars who can help right away and those who can provide depth behind the guys that have helped Ole Miss become a recruiting force for four consecutive seasons.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Another year, another stellar class reeled in by Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
The Crimson Tide closed strong with the commitments from in-state linebackers Ben Davis and Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, as well as 4-star defensive end Terrell Hall, 4-star corner Shyheim Carter and former Florida defensive back commit Aaron Robinson.
This in addition stud corner Nigel Knott, loaded up on defensive line talent with 4-star prospects Raekwon Davis, Kendell Jones and Quinnen Williams and inked 4-star dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts as an early enrollee.
As Aaron Suttles of the Tuscaloosa News points out, what Saban's done in recruiting is noteworthy:
"Nick Saban is not human. To stack these classes on top of each other and have kids not worried about the depth chart is truly mind boggling."
The Tide shot up from eighth in the nation to No. 1, according to 247Sports, and was one of the big winners on Wednesday.
Or, as it's more commonly known around Tuscaloosa, "a normal national signing day."
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.