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Grading Top 10 2017 College Football Recruiting Classes

Brad ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2017

Grading Top 10 2017 College Football Recruiting Classes

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    Alabama's future running game looks just as strong as the rest of the Nick Saban era, thanks to a commitment from Najee Harris.
    Alabama's future running game looks just as strong as the rest of the Nick Saban era, thanks to a commitment from Najee Harris.Credit:

    National signing day has come and gone, and with the 2017 recruiting cycle in the books, it's time to take a look at the top-ranked hauls and examine the players.

    Rankings don't always equal on-field success, of course, and not all top-10 classes are created equally, either. Just because a team makes it into the upper echelon of the ratings doesn't mean its class is elite. Certain factors such as class size and slim offer sheets can inflate those rankings.

    So, just how good are the top 10 classes, ranked by

    Taking a look at how the teams normally perform during recruiting season, the depth of elite prospects signed and the star power at the very top of the class, let's grade those recruiting hauls.

    With Alabama and Georgia at the top and Michigan and Ohio State not far behind, does that mean those teams will dominate college football for the next few years?

    Are they paper champions, or do they have a real chance to win national championships? Who are the stars at the top of the class? Which teams still need to prove it on the field? Here is a more in-depth glance at the rankings.

10. Florida

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    Five-star lineman Tedarrell Slaton will bolster a Florida line that needs it.
    Five-star lineman Tedarrell Slaton will bolster a Florida line that needs it.Credit:

    Until the final week of the recruiting season, it appeared Florida's recruiting class was going to be a nose-wrinkling haul that wasn't up to the Gators' standards.

    Then, a class-saving signing day happened that took Florida fans from grumbling about head coach Jim McElwain to a national story because of the surging finish.

    The Gators closed with defensive lineman Elijah Conliffe Tuesday and defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton, cornerback Christopher Henderson, defensive back Brian Edwards and receiver James Robinson, ending what had been a frustrating recruiting cycle.

    "I'm not ready to anoint any of these guys as sure-fire, first-round draft picks in three years, but I will say this: Our track record of developing players is pretty good," McElwain said, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson. "We got some pretty good guys, and I'm excited about them."

    Guys like Henderson and wide receiver Daquon Green are difference-makers, and others such as Conliffe and running back Adarius Lemons are better than their ratings.

    There isn't enough top-end star power for the Gators' class to be considered elite, and sitting on the gold mine of talent in the Sunshine State, the lack of stars is surprising.

    But UF got 14 players projected to replenish a defense decimated by defections. It's a little light on impact offensive linemen, running backs and quarterbacks, but it is a solid class.


    Grade: B

9. Texas A&M

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    Hezekiah Jones will try to break into a talented receiver rotation in College Station.
    Hezekiah Jones will try to break into a talented receiver rotation in College Station.Credit:

    Recruiting has never been an issue for Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, especially while with the Aggies.

    The issues have come instead between the lines. That's where the Aggies frontman is 11-9 in November, wilted down the stretch in the past two seasons after strong starts and underachieved on the scoreboard despite all those recruiting wins.

    That's why there's hot-seat talk in Aggieland.

    The Aggies' ninth-ranked class again has plenty of strong players, but it doesn't feature as much star power as it has in recent years. Still, guys like 5-star linebacker Anthony Hines and Florida receiver Jhamon Ausbon give Sumlin a couple of building blocks on either side of the ball.

    Those guys are elite talents who'll play right away.

    There are several complementary players such as receiver Hezekiah Jones, quarterback Kellen Mond and defensive end Jayden Peevy joining the fray as well.

    Most importantly for A&M fans, the Aggies dominated the state title yet again, signing 20 prospects from the Lone Star State to the Longhorns' 13. That's always a point of pride, regardless of whether Texas was in a state of flux with the hire of Tom Herman from Houston.

    The Aggies did another good job in living rooms despite there being too much top-tier talent leaving the state. Had they been able to secure a player such as Baron Browning or Jeffrey Okudah to stick in as a centerpiece, the class would have been dominant.

    As it is, it's just nice.


    Grade: B+

8. Florida State

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    Mississippi prospect Cam Akers may be the next coming of Dalvin Cook.
    Mississippi prospect Cam Akers may be the next coming of Dalvin Cook.Credit:

    One of the most underrated classes in the country hails from Tallahassee, where head coach Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles pulled in another elite haul despite the Scout rankings having them near the bottom of the top 10.

    The group of 22 signees is a bit on the smallish side, but it has everything you'd want in a recruiting class: star power, depth of talent and a mixture of potential immediate-impact guys and high-ceiling recruits.

    With five top-100 commitments, the 'Noles look poised to restock the cupboard for the future. Considering they were already a young team in 2016, that's a major reason for excitement for a team trying to catch Clemson.

    The class starts with jewel centerpiece Cam Akers at running back. Though Najee Harris got most of the headlines, the Alabama signee may not be as good of an all-around back as Akers, who could be the best prospect to come out of Mississippi since Marcus Dupree.

    Despite a forgettable year defensively, coordinator Charles Kelly righted the ship later in the year, and it paid dividends on the recruiting trail. Elite linemen Marvin Wilson at tackle and Joshua Kaindoh at end give FSU a pair of stars to go on an already-loaded line.

    Flipping safety Hamsah Nasirildeen from South Carolina was huge, and the class even has a lot of high-upside, lower-ranked players such as defensive end Tre Lawson and tight end Tre McKitty.

    It's a class that looks good on paper, but it'll look even better in a couple of years.


    Grade: A

7. LSU

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    Could Myles Brennan be the answer to LSU's longtime quarterback problems?
    Could Myles Brennan be the answer to LSU's longtime quarterback problems?Credit:

    Another class that probably should have been ranked higher is LSU's, as new head coach Ed Orgeron proved that he hasn't lost a step when it comes to recruiting.

    Long hailed as one of college football's best prospect collectors, Orgeron brought in a class of 23 players that features six top-100 prospects and 14 4-star players.

    The biggest wins were on defense, where the Tigers brought in defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson, safety Todd Harris, linebacker Tyler Taylor, safety Jacoby Stevens, defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin and others. That may be the second-best defensive class in the country behind Alabama's.

    It only got better when they flipped Jacob Phillips from Oklahoma, too.

    The Tigers thought they had a good chance to pick up Wilson at the end before he signed with Florida State, but that would have been just more eye candy.

    "Obviously, we lost some guys at the end we're very disappointed in, but we feel that we have a great recruiting class," Orgeron said, according to's David Ching.

    Offensively, LSU will try to end its long quarterback struggle with the addition of a pair of 4-star signal-callers in Myles Brennan and Lowell Narcisse.

    The bottom line is there are plenty of nice pieces for coordinators Dave Aranda and Matt Canada to mold. With Orgeron at the helm, recruiting won't be an issue.


    Grade: A-

6. Oklahoma

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    Outside linebacker commit Addison Gumbs is one of a stellar crop of players pulled in by Bob Stoops.
    Outside linebacker commit Addison Gumbs is one of a stellar crop of players pulled in by Bob Stoops.Credit:

    Oklahoma may have beaten LSU in the recruiting rankings, but the Tigers have the stronger class, and the pivot point may have been the flip of Phillips. He's that good and that much of an immediate-impact player.

    Regardless of that disappointment, the Sooners still surged in this recruiting cycle by signing a deep class of quality players.

    Overall, the haul is lacking for star power, with just three top-100 players out of 27, but 19 4-star players make up for it. The final grade will suffer a bit because of the lack of dominant stars, but developmentally, Oklahoma's class is ranked accurately.

    Running back Trey Sermon may be the biggest prize of the group, and with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon exiting, he's got the ability to step in and play right away. Cornerback Justin Broiles (6'0", 175 lbs) and outside linebacker Addison Gumbs (6'4", 215 lbs) are stars-in-the-making, too.

    While the class may lack in no-doubt studs, it fares better than exceptional in the Big 12, where the Sooners dominated the competition. According to SB Nation's Jason Kirk, OU's class finished an average of 35.1 spots above its conference counterparts, according to the site's formula.

    At this point, head coach Bob Stoops expects to compete for national championships, and this class should give him a great opportunity to do so if it performs to expectations.

    This isn't the best class in the country, but it's a really good one nonetheless.


    Grade: B+

5. USC

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    USC's future is in good hands thanks to commitments like 5-star Joseph Lewis.
    USC's future is in good hands thanks to commitments like 5-star Joseph Lewis.Credit:

    Another team that racked up on national signing day was USC, and the recruiting cycle finale propelled the Trojans to one of the nation's best classes.

    Actually, it may be among the top three most balanced.

    The class received that boost when Texas linebacker Levi Jones chose USC early on signing day, and that was followed by Josh Falo, stud receiver Joseph Lewis, 4-star athlete Greg Johnson and elite running back Stephen Carr, who elected to stay with the Trojans despite being courted by other programs.

    Other top-end stars like defensive tackle Jay Tufele and offensive tackle Austin Jackson make this class a home run for head coach Clay Helton, who turned his team around after Sam Darnold took over at quarterback in 2016.

    Now, it looks like the Trojans are primed to compete at the top of the Pac-12 for the immediate future.

    "This is not the first time USC has stolen the show on signing day, but that shouldn't detract from what the program accomplished under a head coach who was the subject of hot seat speculation just a few months ago," Sports Illustrated's Chris Johnson said. "Now Clay Helton will add one of the best recruiting classes in the country to an already loaded roster."

    When you factor in under-the-radar players such as linebacker Tayler Katoa and defensive tackle Brandon Pili, and the class is strong from top to bottom.

    It's the kind of haul that can bring championships back to Los Angeles.


    Grade: A

4. Ohio State

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    Five-star signal-caller Tate Martell may be Urban Meyer's quarterback of the future.
    Five-star signal-caller Tate Martell may be Urban Meyer's quarterback of the future.Credit:

    Midway through this past recruiting cycle, Ohio State looked like it may be on its way to a historic recruiting class.

    While it fell short of those unrealistic expectations, the Buckeyes still wound up with an exceptional class, and head coach Urban Meyer again cemented himself as one of the nation's top recruiters.

    Going into Texas and plucking studs like linebacker Baron Browning and athlete Jeffrey Okudah was a major coup. Getting Tate Martell after he decommitted from Texas A&M gave Meyer his quarterback of the future.

    When you toss in surefire stars like defensive end Chase Young and cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Kendall Sheffield, who will step right in and make an immediate impact after the Buckeyes lost two starting corners, it's a class with top-end talent to make scouts salivate.

    Throughout the small group is a stable of can't-miss talent. Of the 21 commitments, six are 5-stars, 13 are 4-star players and 12 are top-100 players.

    "Urban Meyer has been recruiting off the hook since he got there," analyst Mike Farrell told the Sporting News's Bill Bender. "I think the thing you look at is that three of the five-stars hail from two of the Big Three states in Texas and California as opposed to the Southeast. The national pull at Ohio State has increased since Urban first got there, and that's what really stands out with this class."

    It's a class that stands up on star power against anybody's in the country. It just isn't as big.


    Grade: A+

3. Michigan

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    Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones has the ability to play right away at Michigan.
    Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones has the ability to play right away at Michigan.Credit:

    Ohio State's biggest competition on the field in the Big Ten historically has been Michigan, and it appears the Buckeyes also have a battle on their hands on the recruiting trail with Jim Harbaugh as the head coach of the Wolverines.

    They racked up in recruiting, pulling in a class that ranked third, according to the Scout rankings. Of the 29 players, the Wolverines finished with six top-100 prospects.

    Though that number is fairly small for such a large class, the 20 4-stars prove that the Wolverines' class is as deep as any in the country. That will help outfit a roster that was senior-heavy with players former coach Brady Hoke had recruited to Ann Arbor.

    That group of outgoing players helped Michigan to a return to prominence in 2016, and the team should be set for years to come thanks to players like star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, whom Harbaugh pulled from Georgia. Fellow defender Jordan Anthony is an elite talent, too.

    When you throw in players such as offensive lineman Chuck Filiaga, 5-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, linebacker Drew Singleton, center Cesar Ruiz, defensive end Luiji Vilain and quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, you can see why plenty of folks believe Big Blue are back.

    Harbaugh pulled players from 13 different states and two Canadian provinces. But Farrell told Bender the gap hasn't quite closed yet.

    "When you see Ohio State loading up on 5-stars like this, and Michigan having a really good recruiting class and right behind them in the rankings but with less 5-stars, that gap needs to be closed," Farrell said.

    This is a great class, but it's just one step.


    Grade: A

2. Georgia

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    Head coach Kirby Smart's first full class at Georgia could be special, thanks to players like offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson.
    Head coach Kirby Smart's first full class at Georgia could be special, thanks to players like offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson.Credit:

    Alabama and Ohio State continues to dominate the nation in landing elite players, but one former Crimson Tide assistant is proving he's an emerging force on the recruiting trail that everybody will have to contend with immediately.

    Georgia coach Kirby Smart is sitting on a blue-chip-filled gold mine in the Peach State, and he did an excellent job of keeping those kids home to play for the Bulldogs in 2017, finishing with the nation's second-ranked class only behind his old boss, Nick Saban.

    The Bulldogs always recruited well under Mark Richt (now at Miami), but they took it up a notch this year.

    They got bigger and stronger in the secondary with stars like Richard LeCounte and Deangelo Gibbs. Malik Herring and Robert Beal are going to be forces at defensive end. Jake Fromm looks like he has the chops to be next in line behind Jacob Eason at quarterback.

    Also, Smart addressed a major need along the offensive front with stars such as Isaiah Wilson, D'Marcus Hayes, Andrew Thomas, Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer. Wherever there was a need, Smart didn't just meet it; he pulled star players to plug those gaps.

    Of the 26 players in the class, two were 5-stars, and the team had the most 4-star players in the class with 21. It's the kind of haul that will help it climb to the top of a wide-open SEC East.

    Next stop is Atlanta, but with classes like this, the Bulldogs could eventually set their sights on Alabama. Now, Smart just has to prove he can coach all this talent.


    Grade: A+

1. Alabama

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    Players like stud receiver (and midterm enrollee) Devonta Smith make Alabama's class the best of the best again.
    Players like stud receiver (and midterm enrollee) Devonta Smith make Alabama's class the best of the best again.Credit:

    It's ridiculous the recruiting run that Nick Saban is enjoying in Tuscaloosa.

    Not only do the Crimson Tide win the mythical recruiting championship every year, they've also proved they can take that talent and turn themselves into national champion contenders every season. UA won it all in 2016, and it finished runner-up to Clemson this past January.

    Classes like Saban is used to pulling just continue to pile up, and the '17 class may be one of his best.

    The Tide pulled an incredible six 5-star prospects, including stud running back Najee Harris, receiver Devonta Smith, defensive end Isaiah Buggs, linebacker Dylan Moses, linebacker VanDarius Cowan and offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood.

    Throw in elite defensive lineman LaBryan Ray, receiver Jerry Jeudy, safety Xavier McKinney and others, and the list goes on and on.

    The only real question is can Saban continue to manage all these high-profile kids with massive expectations. Players like Harris and Moses have been talked about ever since they leapt onto the national scene when they arrived in high school.

    The Tide finished with 17 4-star prospects and an eye-popping 13 top-100 players in a 28-man class. That's the definition of recruiting ridiculousness.

    At this point, everybody else in the nation needs to just be waiting on Saban to retire if they want to win a recruiting championship because he's the undisputed king. Will the Tide continue competing for championships?

    If these guys live up to their recruiting rankings, they will.


    Grade: A+


    Recruit rankings and information courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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