Most Underrated 2016 College Football Recruiting Classes
The big winners of national signing day earlier this week were obvious.
Defending national champion Alabama closed extremely hard to put together another consensus No. 1 class. Texas skyrocketed up the rankings with a big Wednesday haul. Michigan nabbed the nation's top player on a day that featured a one-of-a-kind recruiting event with plenty of celebrities.
Other recruiting powerhouses such as Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Georgia and Auburn finished once again with top-10 classes. Florida, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Penn State occupied coveted spots in the overall top 20.
But what about those programs that didn't get much of the spotlight on signing day? Which ones signed a haul that was much better than the rankings indicated?
Here are 10 programs that finished outside the top 20 of 247Sports' composite team rankings with truly underrated recruiting classes, based on the percentage of blue-chip recruits they signed and the needs they filled. True success on the recruiting trail doesn't always come down to who gets the best numbers.
Which 2016 recruiting class outside the top 20 do you believe is the most underrated? Tell us in the comments below.
247Sports composite ranking: 27
Blue-chip signees: 4
Arizona State might have finished outside the top 25 in this cycle, but the Sun Devils' excellent 2016 recruiting class is filled with instant-impact players for a program looking to bounce back from a 6-7 campaign last season.
After seeing Christian Kirk and Kyle Allen leave their home state to join Texas A&M in back-to-back cycles, Arizona State locked down Arizona's No. 1 player in 4-star wide receiver N'keal Harry, an athletic 6'4" target who could become the next Jaelen Strong right away.
Harry's high school teammate, 4-star athlete Chase Lucas, could make a quick impact on either side of the ball for the Sun Devils. Arizona State also picked up a lot of offensive potential in 3-star quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole, whose strong arm and awareness in the pocket make him an ideal fit for the Sun Devils' uptempo offense.
The Sun Devils also loaded up on top JUCO targets, including 4-star defensive end Dougladson Subtyl and 4-star cornerback J'Marcus Rhodes. Arizona State picked up seven transfers from that level, with five of them set to line up for a defense that ranked 113th nationally in 2015.
247Sports composite ranking: 25
Blue-chip signees: 6
This year's Arkansas recruiting class was a snapshot of everything fans have come to expect from the Razorbacks under Bret Bielema—strength in the trenches along with some offensive playmakers who can hammer away at their opponents.
Arkansas had one of its biggest recruiting victories in recent history by getting 5-star defensive lineman McTelvin Agim to stay in-state. Agim is already enrolled at Arkansas and will have an excellent shot at becoming a star for the defense in 2016.
Agim is the star of eight linemen signings the Razorbacks had in this cycle. Arkansas signed a pair of 4-star defensive tackles—Austin Capps and Briston Guidry—while also picking up 4-star offensive guard Jake Heinrich to go along with JUCO signings Terrance Malone and Paul Ramirez. These signees will help continue Arkansas' tradition of powerful, trench-warfare football under Bielema.
But perhaps the biggest instant-impact signing for Arkansas came in the form of 4-star running back Devwah Whaley, who Bielema called the most gifted rusher he had ever recruited. While the Razorbacks missed out on a few blue chips toward the end of the cycle, they still picked up a loaded class that could exceed its modest No. 25 ranking.
247Sports composite ranking: 34
Blue-chip signees: 3
Kentucky might not have made as big of a splash on the 2016 recruiting trail as it did a couple of years ago, but head coach Mark Stoops is quite pleased with the new Wildcats he signed this year.
"I don't know where the numbers stack up. I don't really care," Stoops said, per Darrell Bird of 247Sports. "From my point of view, absolutely top to bottom, I feel like it's the most solid group. I feel like there's elite talent in this group. ... I think there's a nice combination of guys in this group."
While you'll never hear a coach undersell his new signing class, Stoops has a valid point. Kentucky picked up good recruits all across the field, starting with the 4-star offensive line duo of early-enrolling center Drake Jackson and tackle Landon Young. Kash Daniel, a 4-star linebacker and another early enrollee, gives the Wildcats the top three recruits from the state of Kentucky this season.
Kentucky also dipped into the JUCO talent market several times in this class, with 6'6" wide receiver Kayaune Ross leaping off the page of signees. As Bird noted, Kentucky signed 12 offensive players, 12 defensive players and one specialist. That even talent distribution across the field should help the Wildcats take the next step in the SEC East in the coming years.
247Sports composite ranking: 42
Blue-chip signees: 3
For a program that completely changed its coaching staff over the course of the last two months and wasn't able to hold onto its potentially program-changing quarterback, Maryland did well with its 2016 recruiting class.
"In limited time after arriving late in the 2016 recruiting cycle, the Maryland staff added playmakers on both sides of the ball and addressed several positions of need," Ahmed Ghafir of 247Sports wrote. "With two late grabs in fan favorite Tyrrell Pigrome and athlete Tyrek Tisdale, Maryland ended signing day with a solid and perhaps underrated class."
New head coach D.J. Durkin's staff stressed the need for signing strong offensive linemen, and two of its three 4-star signings—Terrance Davis and Richard Merritt—are offensive guards. Four-star wide receiver Tino Ellis is another top local product who decided to stay with the Terps and could play a big role in the offense from day one.
The athletic Pigrome, a player of the year in Alabama, could turn into a breakout star at quarterback with his impressive athleticism and playmaking ability with his feet. Some of the best targets from their own backyard decided to go elsewhere, but the Terps' rebuilding project got off to a good start on signing day.
247Sports composite ranking: 22
Blue-chip signees: 9
The defending Big Ten champions only signed 18 recruits in this year's class, knocking down their overall class ranking a bit. However, half of the signees for the Spartans were rated as 4-stars, and a few of them are already on campus in East Lansing.
Michigan State needed talented receivers who could play immediately for a passing attack that will have a drastically different look in 2016. The Spartans got four of those in this cycle—all of them 4-stars—with Donnie Corley and Cameron Chambers enrolling early. Messiah deWeaver will push for playing time early on, but the 4-star quarterback looks more like a star down the road for MSU.
In addition to the new passing game talent, Michigan State looks like it will continue to stay beastly on the defensive front for seasons to come with the signings of 4-star defensive end Josh King and 4-star defensive tackles Naquan Jones and Mike Panasiuk. Demetric Vance has the look of a future leader in the Spartan secondary as well.
According to Barton Simmons of 247Sports, Michigan State did the best job of any school in the country in addressing needs with its 2016 signing class. This small but strong class probably deserved a much-higher national ranking than No. 22.
247Sports composite ranking: 31
Blue-chip signees: 3
Mississippi State got its big national signing day moment when 5-star defensive end Jeffery Simmons announced a surprise commitment to the Bulldogs over the rival Ole Miss Rebels. And while Simmons' pledge didn't send the Bulldogs to the top half of the recruiting rankings in the cutthroat SEC, they still got the job done this cycle.
"What’s most important to me is that you get the guys that are right for you," head coach Dan Mullen said, per 247Sports. "The guys that are going to fit your program and for us, that want to be developed, that want to be coached, that want to be much better players when they leave than they were when they came."
Mississippi State should continue to have a strong defensive line for years to come with the addition of Simmons, 4-star end Marquiss Spencer and 4-star tackle Kobe Jones. The 3-stars in the class filled many needs for the future, and the Bulldogs also picked up several versatile athletes who could play a number of roles.
While its 2016 cycle featured a decent number of decommitments and a few high-profile misses close to home, Mississippi State addressed its needs and added some real star power on its defensive front. For a program that has done well in turning 3-star-or-below recruits into NFL talent, Mississippi State shouldn't be overlooked.
247Sports composite ranking: 23
Blue-chip signees: 8
Gary Patterson has become an elite coach at TCU by turning in low-stars and no-stars into college stars. And while his 2016 class for the Horned Frogs won't get as much attention as other big finishes in the Lone Star State, it is one of the most impressive from top to bottom.
TCU has eight 4-star recruits coming in this class, led by athlete Sewo Olonilua, who Bleacher Report's Damon Sayles said could play running back, H-back, tight end, wide receiver, inside and outside linebacker at the next level. Olonilua and 4-star receivers Isaiah Graham and Taj Williams are already on campus and will quickly compete for playing time on an offense that needs reinforcements.
The Horned Frogs also picked up 4-star defensive linemen Isaiah Chambers and Ross Blacklock, who have the potential to become stars in Patterson's defense. Offensive tackle Austin Myers will step into an offensive line that must replace a lot of veterans.
"TCU picked up three top-10 overall junior college recruits and may have the Lone Star State's biggest steal in Olonilua (No. 20 in composite state rankings)," Bleacher Report's Tyler Donohue wrote. "With three 4-star linemen and three 4-star wide receivers, this talent collection hits well inside and out."
247Sports composite ranking: 45
Blue-chip signees: 2
It's no secret Texas Tech needs help on the defensive side of the ball, and the Red Raiders hammered that point hard in their 2016 recruiting class. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs now has some of his own recruits to shape into his aggressive, attacking style—14 of the Red Raiders' 24 signees play defense.
"This is [Gibbs'] first class that he’s really been able to put his hands on throughout the entire year," Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury said, per Carlos Silva Jr. of 247Sports. "We brought Coach Gibbs in to improve turnover margin; that improved dramatically. I think as he stacks his classes together, I think you’ll continue to see our defense improve."
Of course, a school known for high-flying offense isn't going to completely ignore the playmakers on the other side of the ball. Texas Tech's two 4-star wide receiver commitments, 6'5" high schooler T.J. Vasher and 6'4" JUCO pickup Derrick Willies, were big-time gets for a vertical passing game that Kingsbury wasn't completely fond of in 2015.
Texas Tech addressed its two biggest problem areas with a full class of players who all had 4- or 3-star ratings. If some of these new Red Raiders can become the catalysts for a defensive resurgence in Lubbock, they'll have a much bigger impact than the class' No. 45 ranking indicates.
247Sports composite ranking: 61
Blue-chip signees: 2
Another class that was ranked low because of the low number of total signings, USF had one of the most talented groups of any team in the Group of Five conferences. All 16 of USF's signings were 3-stars or better, which is quite rare for teams outside of the major power-conference programs.
The Bulls' new crew was led by 4-star wide receiver Darnell Salomon, a Miami product who stayed solid to USF despite late pushes from a number of schools. Four-star safety Craig Watts decided to stay close to home after former commitments to Colorado and Wisconsin and offers from schools such as Miami and North Carolina.
USF also signed three 3-star junior college defensive ends, including Tramal Ivy, who was pursued heavily by both Arkansas and Nebraska. A few more in-state high schoolers have the potential to be future stars on a defense that took a huge step forward in the 2015 season.
Willie Taggart and his staff won a few major recruiting battles with Group of Five programs and got a lot of talent in what was one of the smaller classes in the FBS this cycle. That led to a lot of running off the plug on Wednesday, and it should lead to even more success down the road for the Bulls.
247Sports composite ranking: 29
Blue-chip signees: 7
Washington's class is a small one, but it packs a serious punch out of the Pac-12. Before signing day, a rival Pac-12 recruiter told Jeremy Crabtree of ESPN.com that Washington had "the most underrated class in the country."
"They have done a very good job of filling a lot of their needs, but they’ve also won some significant battles against quality other teams," the coach told Crabtree. "Beating Arizona State...for Byron Murphy was something that caught a lot of people’s attention."
Murphy is a top-100 recruit from Arizona who is one of several highly rated signees at the cornerback spot for the Huskies in the class of 2016. He joined 4-star outside linebackers Camilo Eifler and Brandon Wellington, along with 4-star defensive end Levi Onwuzurike in what is a star-studded defensive class for Washington this year.
On offense, St. John Bosco product Sean McGrew has superb speed at the all-purpose back position and was described by the rival recruiter to Crabtree as "the steal of the class." Chris Petersen and his staff loaded their signing day slots with plenty of talent, and these future Huskies should play huge roles in making Washington a serious contender in the Pac-12 North.
Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.