Early National Signing Day 2018: Ranking the Top 25 Recruiting Classes

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVDecember 21, 2018

Early National Signing Day 2018: Ranking the Top 25 Recruiting Classes

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The opening of the early signing period brought dramatic announcements and national letters of intent that will change the college football landscape for the next several seasons. After chasing prospects over the last two years, coaches have seen their labor either pay off or fall flat with their Class of 2019 targets.

    The three-day early signing period opened Wednesday, and we've already witnessed the majority of significant prospects declare their intentions. According to 247Sports, nearly 80 percent prospects from the 2018 class signed their letter of intent in December 2017. That pattern held in 2018, with 88 of 247Sports' composite Top 100 already turning in their letters.

    With so many of the projected key difference-makers signed, we've ranked 2019's 25 best recruiting classes based on top-tier talent, depth of talent acquired and how well the school addressed roster needs.

    Eventually, there will be under-the-radar 2- and 3-star prospects who will outplay their higher-rated counterparts, so it's not a perfect system. More often than not, though, more physically gifted athletes are identified and ranked effectively.

    Let's jump in.

25-21: Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi State

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    25. Wisconsin

    Class size: 19 (two 4-stars, one 5-star)

    Biggest NSD News: Wisconsin restocked its offensive line with 5-star tackle Logan Brown and added 4-star pro-style quarterback Graham Mertz even though conference opponents chased both.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The defense needed a talent infusion, and it added 16 3-stars. The lack of offensive playmakers who can threaten elite Big 10 defenses with speed will continue to limit this team's upside.


    24. Ole Miss

    Class size: 28 (five 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: The early signing period went mostly as expected for Ole Miss. Missing out on 5-star linebacker Nakobe Dean to Georgia despite rostering his brother, Nikolas, was a tough blow.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: This class is nearly complete with 28 committed, and head coach Matt Luke did well to give clarity to his roster. The Rebels failed to flip anyone and had only five 4-star recruits, meaning their depth was good but lacked star power.


    23. Nebraska

    Class size: 25 (six 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Nebraska landed 4-star defensive end Ty Robinson, even though Alabama and Oregon chased him. Robinson headlined an impressive class at the position for the Huskers.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Head coach Scott Frost also added three secondary players—each of whom stand at least 6'2"—and the unit figures to be much more physically intimidating. The offensive playmakers were underwhelming, though, with more running back and athlete commits than pure receiving threats.


    22. Arkansas

    Class size: 27 (eight 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Landing a top-25 recruiting class despite finishing 2-10 is an incredible accomplishment by head coach Chad Morris. The signing of two JUCO offensive tackles—Chibueze Nwanna and Myron Cunningham—will immediately pay dividends.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Morris got his quarterback in 4-star KJ Jefferson despite a push from Georgia. The middle of the defense didn't get much attention, though, with only two tackles signed. 


    21. Mississippi State

    Class size: 22 (seven 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead cleaned up in his school's home state, keeping several key prospects nearby. Dual-threat quarterback Garrett Shrader was a cherry on top, as he's a native of Charlotte, North Carolina.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The Bulldogs beefed up key positions that will allow their passing game and defense to thrive. But their lack of attention to the interior defense could leave them thin in the next few years.     

20-16: USC, South Carolina, Washington, Stanford, Florida

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    20. USC

    Class size: 20 (nine 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: The lack of 5-star prospects overshadows a deep class. Losing Stephon Wright to Arizona State was a considerable whiff against a Pac-12 rival.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will have a lot more talent to work with if he sticks around for the group to mature. The lack of highly touted recruits reflects poorly on the staff's ability to sell the program, though.


    19. South Carolina

    Class size: 19 (one 5-star, four 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Head coach Will Muschamp landed three pivotal pieces in quarterback Ryan Hilinski and defensive ends Zacch Pickens and Joseph Anderson. Pickens is the 18th-best prospect and No. 2 strong-side end in the country.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The Gamecocks had a high average rating for their 19 signings, landing both top-tier talent and needed depth. The lack of offensive playmakers stands out, though, as 3-star receiver Tyquan Johnson only boasts adequate deep speed.


    18. Washington

    Class size: 21 (12 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Asa Turner, a 4-star safety, put off signing his letter of intent until later, hurting an otherwise impressive Washington haul.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The Huskies attacked the trenches with fervor and landed 13 front-seven and offensive linemen commits. Chris Peterson and his staff largely ignored other positions, though, leaving it with a thin playmaker and safety class.


    17. Stanford

    Class size: 20 (eight 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Stanford earned a commitment from 6'3", 214-pound receiver Elijah Higgins in anticipation of JJ Arcega-Whiteside's loss. 

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Their class is full of linemen and cornerbacks, bolstering units that needed talent. They've yet to find a quarterback for the future in this class, though.


    16. Florida

    Class size: 21 (13 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Head coach Dan Mullen raided Lakeland High School for three 4-star players in Keon Zipperer, Deyavie Hammond and Lloyd Summerall, despite in-state competition.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Florida will benefit from this haul's ability to see the field early in their careers. Overall, the class isn't rated as strongly on a per-prospect basis as prior years because of the lack of 5-stars.    

15-11: Tennessee, Florida State, Texas, Auburn, Michigan

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    Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    15. Tennessee

    Class size: 21 (1 5-star, eight 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Tennessee signed everyone it was expected to, including 5-star offensive tackle Wanya Morris. Running back Eric Gray, a 4-star recruit, was a considerable grab Thursday.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: It was important that the Volunteers add defensive line depth, since their starting group is graduating. Savion Williams, JUCO transfer Darel Middleton and Elijah Simmons headline a strong cast. Their class had mostly everything needed to improve the team, though the lack of a star receiver stands out compared to other SEC programs. 


    14. Florida State

    Class size: 19 (one 5-star, nine 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Florida State lost two big recruits in quarterback Sam Howell (UNC) and defensive lineman Derick Hunter (Texas A&M), but both were trending that way for some time.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The Seminoles added speed to their defense with multiple players at almost every position. Their offensive line needed more attention, though Dontae Lucas was a crucial signing at guard.


    13. Texas

    Class size: 22 (13 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Texas snagged 4-star running back Derrian Brown from Georgia despite his 29 other offers. His early commitment held firm.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Head coach Tom Herman added four receivers and four defensive ends. He still needs to bolster the offensive line and get another running back with the few scholarships remaining.


    12. Auburn

    Class size: 17 (1 5-star, 10 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Linebacker and 5-star prospect Owen Pappoe fills Auburn's biggest need and projects as a huge difference-maker early in his career.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Despite uncertainty after a down year, head coach Gus Malzahn overhauled the secondary and landed his quarterback of the future, Bo Nix. They still have a handful of scholarships remaining, which they need to use for the trenches—an area that could be a negative if Auburn's targets don't sign in February.


    11. Michigan

    Class size: 27 (1 5-star, 15 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Michigan re-flipped 5-star safety Daxton Hill, a massive get in a period where they finalized 27 letters of intent.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The offensive line received a needed makeover with multiple 4-star tackles and guards, and running back Zach Charbonnet looks like a future star. Head coach Jim Harbaugh's squad gets dinged for losing 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison to Ohio State and the transfer of defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon (destination undetermined).   

10. Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Class size: 16 (three 5-stars, eight 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Ohio State limited damage despite head coach Urban Meyer's surprising retirement plans. Replacement Ryan Day landed the No. 4 overall prospect, Zach Harrison, amid competition from Michigan and Penn State.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The Buckeyes rank third in 247Sports' average prospect score thanks to Harrison and other 5-star signings Garrett Wilson and Harry Miller. They adopted a quality-over-quantity approach because of the lack of departures, so their smaller class hurts their ranking.

    Instant-impact potential: Harrison will have a huge opportunity as Nick Bosa and Dre'Mont Jones enter the NFL. Cade Stover, a 4-star linebacker, will also have the chance to earn snaps, considering the Buckeyes' struggles at the position the last two years.    

9. Notre Dame

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Class size: 21 (15 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Nabbing 4-star safety Kyle Hamilton was big, as the ball hawk had 35 other offers and was close to 5-star status. He has superstar upside. 

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Notre Dame had one of the country's most well-rounded classes, adding touted talent to every position. Their lone weakness is they failed to add a speedy playmaker, which is one reason they've looked slow in the past.

    Instant-impact potential: Defensive end Nana Osafo-Mensah will push for playing time behind seniors Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, if they return to school. Osafo-Mensah has the athleticism this defense needs on third downs to get after the quarterback.    

8. Penn State

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Class size: 18 (one 5-star, 16 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Penn State added to its running back lineage with elite prospect Noah Cain, even though he was a "Texas lean" Wednesday morning.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Head coach James Franklin has established himself as a formidable recruiter, beating conference rivals for linebacker Brandon Smith, guard Caedan Wallace and defensive end Adisa Isaac at premier positions of need. With scholarships remaining, the Nittany Lions could use more receiving and offensive tackle help.

    Instant-impact potential: Cain and fellow 4-star running back Devyn Ford may both hit the field early in their careers, as Miles Sanders could bolt for the NFL. Safety Tyler Rudolph is another instant-impact possibility if he breaks into nickel formations as a freshman.        

7. Oregon

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    Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press

    Class size: 22 (one 5-star, 11 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: No. 2 overall prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux was a massive signing for head coach Mario Cristobal and the Oregon Ducks. They beat powerhouses Alabama, USC and Florida State for the California product.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The Ducks defense received an injection of talent on each level with Thibodeaux, linebacker Mase Funa and cornerback Mykael Wright. Oregon lost No. 1 JUCO cornerback Elijah Blades to Texas A&M, which is a blow to its young secondary.

    Instant-impact potential: The nation's top-rated JUCO offensive lineman, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, can immediately push for playing time despite an experienced depth chart. Aumavae-Laulu will benefit from Cristobal's reputation as a premier offensive line developer. 

6. Clemson

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    Richard Shiro/Associated Press

    Class size: 27 (two 5-stars, 11 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Clemson had another dominant class, and the surprise addition of offensive tackle Kaleb Boateng reinforced their depth along the line. Pittsburgh and Maryland were in the mix for Boateng.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Head coach Dabo Swinney continues to add prototypical NFL-type size across the board, headlined by a pair of 6'1" corners in Andrew Booth and Sheridan Jones. With so many letters of intent signed, some players will be forced out, so the class will take a hit whether it's in the form of grayshirting or transfers.

    Instant-impact potential: Kane Patterson, a 4-star linebacker, flipped from Ohio State to Clemson and has the opportunity to earn snaps as a freshman. The Tigers are losing four seniors at the position this offseason.   

5. Texas A&M

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    Class size: 25 (two 5-stars, 12 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Head coach Jimbo Fisher had a terrific class thanks to late flips by 4-star JUCO corner Elijah Blades and defensive lineman Derick Hunter.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Texas A&M owned Texas, as its top nine prospects each came from within their state. They largely benefited from flips but lost local product Jeffrey Carter to Alabama.

    Instant-impact potential: Blades and 4-star corner Erick Young both have pathways to playing time as freshmen thanks to the graduation of two seniors in the Aggies secondary, Donovan Wilson and Deshawn Capers-Smith.

4. LSU

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    Class size: 21 (three 5-stars, 10 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: LSU continues to dominate its home turf, landing three 5-stars and three 4-stars from its state.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The Tigers will continue to have a pipeline of talent at both cornerback and running back thanks to the commitments of corner Derek Stingley and tailback John Emery Jr. The class was impressive, but there isn't a transcendent offensive player who can help the team get over the hump in the SEC.

    Instant-impact potential: Guard additions Kardell Thomas and Anthony Bradford could help revamp a porous offensive line in 2019. This team desperately needed the trench assistance.     

3. Oklahoma

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Class size: 22 (two 5-stars, 12 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Head coach Lincoln Riley got what could be his next standout quarterback in 5-star and No. 1 pro-style signal caller Spencer Rattler.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: Oklahoma reloaded its offensive talent with highly ranked receivers and tight end Austin Stogner, but seven 4-star defender signings separate the Sooners from their peers. Their weakness? They only signed one defensive tackle, 3-star Derek Green, meaning it'll be a thin position in 2019.

    Instant-impact potential: EJ Ndoma-Ogar, a 4-star offensive guard, could take over for one of the two departing Sooners guards, Ben Powers and Dru Samia. Defensive ends Joseph Wete, Marcus Stripling and Marcus Hicks will battle for rotational snaps in 2019 as well.

2. Georgia

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    Class size: 21 (five 5-stars, 14 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Georgia leads the country with five 5-star prospects, who are part of an incredible class headlined by No. 1 overall recruit Nolan Smith and No. 14 Nakobe Dean.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: This class has terrific star power, and the Bulldogs boast one of the country's deepest, most explosive rosters. Their lone knock is the possible transfer of quarterback Justin Fields, and their mere two 3-star commitments dropped them below Alabama in the overall accumulation of depth.

    Instant-impact potential: Georgia could lose wide receiver Riley Ridley to the NFL, and it's losing wideouts Terry Godwin and Jayson Stanley. Dominick Blaylock, a 5-star receiver, could earn early snaps with Mecole Hardman and Jeremiah Holloman in three-receiver sets.

1. Alabama

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Class size: 26 (three 5-stars, 22 4-stars)

    Biggest NSD News: Head coach Nick Saban signed 4-star safety Jordan Battle despite competition from Ohio State, giving the Crimson Tide a ridiculous 11 of 247Sports' Top 100 recruits.

    Strengths/Weaknesses: The sheer depth of the Tide's class is unbelievable, as they reclaimed the top spot in recruiting rankings. All but one signee has carried at least a 4-star rating, and the lone 3-star is kicker Will Reichard. Alabama lost elite safety Daxton Hill to Michigan, which is a surprise after Hill had flipped to Alabama, making it the lone disappointment for the Tide.

    Instant-impact potential: Alabama will again lose a number of underclassmen to the NFL, so there may be room for defensive linemen Antonio Alfano, Justin Eboigbe and DJ Dale to see the field early on. Their depth from past years makes it difficult for young players to see meaningful snaps, though.


    All recruiting information provided by 247Sports.