Early National Signing Day 2018: Top Recruit Commitments and Reaction

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2017

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 02:  Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers celebrates with the trophy after defeating the Miami Hurricanes 38-3 in the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Christmas came early for a number of college football fans during Wednesday's first-ever early signing period.

In the past, schools had to wait until February to have recruits officially sign their letters of intent. Starting with the 2018 recruiting class, however, the NCAA allowed high school stars to sign on the dotted line as early as Wednesday morning.

A number of blue-chip recruits took advantage, with some of the biggest signings listed below:

1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson); No. 1 OVR, No. 1 Pro-Style QB

2. Justin Fields (Georgia); No. 2 OVR, No. 1 Dual-Threat QB

3. Xavier Thomas (Clemson); No. 3 OVR, No. 1 Strong-Side DE

4. Micah Parsons (Penn State); No. 4 OVR, No. 1 Weak-Side DE

5. Zamir White (Georgia); No. 6 OVR, No. 1 RB

6. Eyabi Anoma (Alabama); No. 7 OVR, No. 2 Weak-Side DE

7. Jackson Carman (Clemson); No. 9 OVR, No. 1 OT

8. Taron Vincent (Ohio State); No. 13 OVR, No. 1 DT

9. Palaie Gaoteote (USC); No. 14 OVR, No. 1 ILB

10. Justin Shorter (Penn State); No. 15 OVR, No. 1 WR

Signing day can be largely a formality for many recruits since they have long since made the decision about where they're going to play.

Micah Parsons was one of the exceptions. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native is the No. 1 weak-side defensive end in the country. The Ohio State Buckeyes were strong contenders for his signature before they had to remove themselves from consideration after self-reporting an NCAA violation, the Lantern's Colin Hass-Hill reported.

Ohio State will still see plenty of Parsons as he signed with the Penn State Nittany Lions. PennLive.com shared his announcement video:

PennLive.com @PennLive

It’s official! Harrisburg’s Micah Parsons has signed with… https://t.co/U6hpt7qWey

Onward State noted Parsons joined what is a strong 2018 class for Penn State:

Onward State @OnwardState

After landing only one five-star recruit in his first four classes, James Franklin already has three in 2018 with Micah Parsons, Justin Shorter, and Ricky Slade.

The early signing day remained a good day for Ohio State despite losing out on Parsons. The Buckeyes signed the No. 1 defensive tackle, Taron Vincent, the son of former NFL cornerback Troy Vincent.

The elder Vincent celebrated his son taking the next step in his football career:

Troy Vincent @TroyVincent23

Congrats to my son Taron for officially becoming an @OhioStateFB Buckeye today — a great milestone in his life’s journey. #GoBucks #NSD18 https://t.co/817kspEwuF

Ohio State has the No. 1-ranked class in college football so far. In addition to Vincent, the Buckeyes signed inside linebacker Teradja Mitchell, wide receivers Kamryn Babb and Cameron Brown and pro-style quarterback Matthew Baldwin.

The reigning national champion Clemson Tigers got Wednesday off to a great start as well by landing quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall recruit in 2018. According to MaxPreps, Lawrence threw for 13,902 yards and 161 touchdowns in his four years at Cartersville High School in Georgia.

Not only is Tigers starting quarterback Kelly Bryant a junior, but true freshman Hunter Johnson was also the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in last year's recruiting class. Between Kelly, Johnson and now Lawrence, Clemson has an embarrassment of riches at quarterback. 

Clemson also signed Xavier Thomas, who's the No. 3 overall player and No. 1 strong-side defensive end. A number of talented stars have suited up in the Tigers' front seven in recent years—Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson, Stephone Anthony and Dexter Lawrence—so Thomas is a natural fit for head coach Dabo Swinney.

In terms of on-field impact, Lawrence and Thomas are likely to be the biggest difference-makers from the Tigers' 2018 class. Symbolically, offensive tackle Jackson Carman may be the most notable addition for Clemson.

Carman, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, is a native of Fairfield, Ohio, thus making him a natural target for Ohio State. Instead, Carman signed with Clemson, and the significance wasn't lost on Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel or ESPN.com's Tom VanHaaren:

Dan Wetzel @DanWetzel

5-star from outside Cincinnati. Ohio St will be (more than) fine. But Clemson going north to land players like this is still a new phenomenon https://t.co/4QPay1k5li

Tom VanHaaren @TomVH

Jackson Carman is only the third prospect from Ohio who was the top prospect in the state to choose a school outside of Ohio State since 2011. The other two weren't really targeted by the Buckeyes (Sean Clifford, Odenigbo).

The recruiting trail can be a ruthless place for coaches. When it came to courting Carman, Swinney apparently wasn't above sowing seeds of doubt about Urban Meyer's long-term future as Ohio State's head coach, per The Athletic's Ari Wasserman:

Ari Wasserman @AriWasserman

Dabo Swinney told Jackson Carman during his recruitment that Urban Meyer is on the back end of his career in terms of years left. “It wasn’t a major factor, but it was an underlying one,” Carman said.

Meyer's past health problems are well-known and played a role in him leaving the Florida Gators in 2009. He's only 53, though, which isn't all that old in coaching terms. For comparison, Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban turned 66 in October.

It doesn't seem likely Meyer will leave Ohio State anytime soon, but that may not stop opposing coaches from mimicking Swinney's tactic.

As good as Wednesday was for Clemson, the Georgia Bulldogs fared just as well. The Bulldogs finished with the No. 3 class in 2017, which was Kirby Smart's first full year on the recruiting trail, and he's carrying that success over into 2018.

Justin Fields, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country, is by far the most intriguing piece of Georgia's 2018 class. Fields' mobility separates him from Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm, two highly prized quarterback recruits the Bulldogs signed in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

In July, Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel wrote Fields was being compared to Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, who won a Heisman Trophy and national championship in his only season with the Auburn Tigers.

Sports Illustrated's Bruce Feldman tweeted that Fields stacks up well with any QB recruit from at least the past few years:

Bruce Feldman @BruceFeldmanCFB

Have spoke to many coaches who say Justin Fields is the most impressive QB prospect they've seen in the past 3 yrs out of HS. He's now officially a #Georgia Bulldog.

Fields' signing seemingly makes the odds of Eason transferring even higher. Eason's high school coach, Tom Tri, called it the "million dollar question" in an interview with 247Sports' Chris Hummer.

Eason already lost the starting job to Fromm, and Fields will provide even more competition starting in 2018. Eason would have two years of eligibility remaining were he to transfer before next season.

A year ago, losing Eason would've potentially presented Georgia with a big problem. Now, his departure would help bring a little more clarity to the quarterback position going forward.

As if signing Fields wasn't enough to get Georgia fans excited, the Bulldogs added running back Zamir White and offensive guard Jamaree Salyer, both of whom are the top players at their respective positions. 

ESPN Stats & Info put Clemson and Georgia's success Wednesday in perspective:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Clemson and Georgia have each signed 3 ESPN 300 players who rank No. 1 at their respective position. In the ESPN 300 era, there has been only 1 team to sign 4 ESPN 300 players who rank No. 1 at their respective position (Ole Miss in 2016).

The Florida State Seminoles were at the opposite end of the spectrum. Hiring Willie Taggart was a solid move for the future of the program, but losing Jimbo Fisher to the Texas A&M Aggies carried a significant short-term hit.

The Seminoles have just two signings so far: 4-star defensive tackle Robert Cooper and 3-star offensive tackle Christian Armstrong. According to SB Nation's Curt Weiler, Florida State made a late effort to sign 4-star dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones, who opted for the Florida Gators instead.

Warchant.com's Ira Schoffel wasn't surprised to see Florida State fall so far after having the No. 6 class in 2017:

Ira Schoffel @IraSchoffel

As I said on Headlines, you had to know FSU was in for a really rough go when Taggart said he was hoping to “salvage” this class. Coaches don’t typically use words like that at introductory press conferences.

Even if Fisher had stayed, he likely would've needed to clean house on his coaching staff after a disappointing 2017 season. His exit cemented the likelihood Florida State could have a lean year or two before it returns to national title contention.

The early signing period is a reminder just how much work Taggart has ahead for himself.


Recruit and team rankings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.