Early Landing Spot Predictions for CFB's Top 10 Recruits for 2020
We're less than a month until 2019's National Signing Day, but it's never too early to look ahead to the 2020 class.
Heck, most coaching staffs who aren't in scramble mode this year are. Many already hosted top-ranked recruits on multiple visits.
Of course, there will be countless changes to the rankings, to offer sheets, injury statuses, commitments and everything else between now and Feb. 6, much less next year's early signing period. But it's always fun to look and see who has a head start on the 2020 haul.
It's always a safe bet these days that Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson and Texas are going to find their way to a top-shelf player, and other programs are proving they've got the pedigree and the recruiting prowess to stay on prospects' minds too.
From top-ranked player Bryan Bresee to defensive back Kelee Ringo, the top 10 prospects according to the 247Sports Composite rankings are loaded. From a diverse group of defenders to a stud running back and a quarterback on everybody's mind, the 2020 class is already full of budding stars.
A couple of guys in the top 10 already have made collegiate pledges. Some are nowhere near naming a top 10, but it's fun to project where they'll wind up.
10. Kelee Ringo
Position: Defensive back
Height/Weight: 6'2", 200 pounds
High School: Saguaro High School, Scottsdale, Arizona
The past two recruiting classes have proved Texas coach Tom Herman knows what he's doing on the recruiting trail, and the youngsters are listening.
At no other position is that more noticeable than defensive backs, where Herman and coordinator Todd Orlando have experienced exceptional success in the 2018 and '19 classes, signing players like Caden Sterns, B.J. Foster, Jalen Green and DeMarvion Overshown in the '18 class.
They followed that group up with Kenyatta Watson II, Tyler Owens and Chris Adimora this year.
Next season, a good bet to be added to the Longhorns' embarrassment of riches in the defensive backfield is Kelee Ringo, a hard-hitting jumbo safety who is athletic enough to play anywhere in the secondary.
Texas still struggled last season against the pass, though it improved as the year progressed. Prospects still see playing time, and there are several connections to Ringo's high school, where Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck used to coach.
Ringo's current position coach, Bryant Westbrook, played cornerback at Texas before getting selected in the first round of the 1997 NFL draft. While USC, Washington, Ohio State, Arizona State and others will be in Ringo's ear, the connections may be tough to pass up.
At any rate, he's a top-tier Texas target, and it's a safe bet to go with the 'Horns at this stage.
9. Elias Ricks
Height/Weight: 6'2", 180 pounds
High School: Mater Dei High School. Santa Ana, California
It was perhaps a bit of a stunner on Christmas Day 2018 when top-ranked cornerback Elias Ricks decided to make a verbal pledge to the LSU Tigers.
Maybe it shouldn't have been.
Coach Ed Orgeron, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and secondary coach Corey Raymond have continued the tradition of DBU in Baton Rouge, and young defenders take notice of that. Sure, Alabama and Nick Saban are the current gold standard at putting defensive backs in the league, but the Tigers do too.
The latest will be Greedy Williams, who'll be a first-round pick this year, and though Mater Dei has recently been a USC pipeline, Ricks sees the opportunity in Baton Rouge to step in and star for a school known for producing top-tier defensive backs.
If he teams with 2019 top-ranked cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who already signed with LSU, it will give the Tigers a formidable duo around which to build the defense. That's big considering stars like Grant Delpit and JaCoby Stevens already roam the secondary.
Ricks' recruitment likely isn't over with teams such as USC, Alabama, Ohio State and others coming after him, but he seems set on the Tigers right now.
He's a tall, rangy cornerback who is as athletic and fluid as any defender in the 2020 class. He's a jewel who is good enough to play right away, even in the strongest secondary.
8. Arik Gilbert
Height/Weight: 6'5", 248 pounds
High School: Marietta High School, Marietta, Georgia
One player who is going to have as many options as he wants is elite Marietta, Georgia, athlete Arik Gilbert, who hails from a powerhouse program that has seen a lot of playmakers go to top-tier programs recently.
The 6'5", 248-pound Gilbert will be recruited as heavily as any of them considering he could project as a tight end, defensive end or even an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Instate Georgia is a major player in this one, as is Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and others.
But one team to watch that hasn't got as much of the early buzz is Tennessee. Though teammate BJ Ojulari could join his brother, Azeez, at Georgia and help pull Gilbert between the hedges, the Vols have a lot of ties to the school.
Former UT running back Derrick Tinsley is a coach on Marietta's staff, and Gilbert's teammates and close friends wide receiver Ramel Keyton (2019 class) and his quarterback Harrison Bailey (2020 class) already have either signed with or pledged to UT.
The Vols will make Gilbert a priority. Of course, a lot of other teams will be doing the same. It's hard to pick against the Bulldogs in this one, just because of how well Kirby Smart has been recruiting lately.
But Tennessee's ties to Marietta will be tough to overcome. The Vols will pull this one off late in the cycle.
7. DJ Uiagalelei
Position: Pro-style quarterback
Height/Weight: 6'4", 240 pounds
High School: St. John Bosco High School, Bellflower, California
Nearly every team in the nation tries to sign a quarterback in each class, especially these days with transfers as prevalent as they've ever been. One guy who is on everybody's radar in the 2020 class is top-ranked quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.
At 6'4", 240 pounds and incredible athleticism, the next great pro-style passer has suitors from across the country, including Alabama, Clemson, USC, Oregon and others. The recent flurry of activity in the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions has him choosing Dabo Swinney's Tigers.
And why not?
Clemson is on top of the world after a 44-16 dismantling of Alabama in the national championship game, and Swinney proved all season that he isn't afraid to pull the trigger on a freshman, making the major move to go with Trevor Lawrence over veteran incumbent Kelly Bryant.
That decision paid off with a national title, and Lawrence suddenly became college football's biggest star, stealing the spotlight from Tua Tagovailoa in the title game and perhaps becoming the 2020 Heisman Trophy front-runner with Oklahoma's Kyler Murray gone to the NFL.
By the time Uiagalelei gets on campus, Lawrence will be a junior and likely in his final season before being a high first-round draft pick if things continue to progress the way they should. That would give Uiagalelei a year to season and learn under perhaps college football's top thrower.
"I want to go to a place that you can compete for a national championship and win a national championship. It's what you want to do," Uiagalelei told GoUpstate.com's Phil Kornblut after watching Clemson beat Alabama in person. "I still like Clemson a lot. That's my top school right now."
6. Paris Johnson Jr.
Position: Offensive tackle
Height/Weight: 6'7", 285 pounds
High School: St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati, Ohio
It's really hard to pull a kid out of Ohio these days if the Buckeyes want him, and that's going to be the case with elite offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr.
The Cincinnati product already pledged to Ohio State and new coach Ryan Day, and even with Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Michigan and others lobbying hard to get him to listen, it seems he's locked in for now.
Johnson committed to OSU when Urban Meyer was the coach, but Day is working hard to continue that relationship. Though there is a new face at the helm of the Buckeyes' offense in Mike Yurcich, it's a big deal to him that offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is being retained, according to Bucknuts' Bill Kurelic.
Johnson also mentioned to Kurelic that he was happy OSU hired a coach with whom he has a relationship, Al Washington, as an assistant.
"I communicate with Coach Day and the staff almost daily," Johnson said. "We are getting to know one another personally. I enjoy learning more about him as a husband and father."
Perhaps Meyer's decision to retire cracked the door open just a bit for other programs in their pursuit of the tall, athletic offensive lineman with a projectable frame to add more weight and improve with a year in the weightroom. But as of now, it would be a surprise if he landed anywhere else.
Johnson is a priority commit for Day, and though they'll have to work hard to keep him in the fold, it's a big deal he's already a pledge and seems interested in sticking with his original decision.
Prediction: Ohio State
5. Julian Fleming
Position: Wide receiver
Height/Weight: 6'3", 210 pounds
High School: Southern Columbia High School, Catawissa, Pennsylvania
One player whose status is up in the air at this point is the uber-athletic Julian Fleming, a big-bodied pass-catcher from Big Ten country who looks like he would stay there if next year's national signing day was tomorrow.
The Penn State Nittany Lions and coach James Franklin have established a strong early relationship with Fleming, and, like many prospects from this region, Ohio State will be a force in the ultimate decision as well.
But Fleming will have options. Alabama is a school he really likes, and it seems to be a Crimson Tide-Nittany Lions battle for the top. But as The Wolverine's Brandon Brown reported, a big reason for that is new Wolverines offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
Gattis was with PSU before heading to Alabama, and now Michigan just hired him away, and Gattis is reportedly working hard to get Fleming to Ann Arbor.
With Penn State hiring a new receivers coach in Gerard Parker, perhaps PSU is a little more behind than you'd think. But Fleming has reportedly visited Happy Valley many times, and the home-state pull will be strong.
Fleming told 247Sports' Sam Webb in January that education is a priority for him, so you'd think Penn State and Michigan will be near the top of his list. We'll go with the slight upset here, thanks to the long-standing relationship with Gattis.
4. Sav'ell Smalls
Position: Outside linebacker
Height/Weight: 6'3", 227 pounds
High School: Garfield High School, Seattle, Washington
One of two formidable forces on the second level of the defense hails from Seattle, Washington, a place you don't necessarily associate with football stars.
That would be speedy, hard-hitting outside linebacker Sav'ell Smalls, who is already a well-known name among recruiting circles.
Smalls' Crystal Ball projections are all over the place, with Florida State leading the votes in front of Alabama and Washington. All of those schools have to feel good about their early standing with the playmaker, who doesn't seem close to a decision.
Chris Petersen's Huskies are right next-door, which should help them in convincing Smalls to stay home. Alabama and Florida State, of course, are on the other side of the country.
But there's one dark horse nearby that would allow Smalls to get away from home while not going too far away. That would be Mario Cristobal's Oregon Ducks, who joined the heavy hitters in the recruiting world in the 2019 class.
Cristobal's team already hosted Smalls, and the visit got glowing reviews. He took in Oregon's 31-29 win over Arizona State in November and raved about it to the Oregonian's Andrew Nemec.
"It was definitely my best game experience, school experience all around," Smalls said. "That atmosphere was rocking."
There are still miles to go in this recruitment, and it's anybody's guess where he'll end up. But Cristobal's recruiting acumen coupled with the proximity to home is going to get the slight edge here over Petersen or a cross-country decision.
3. Justin Flowe
Position: Inside linebacker
Height/Weight: 6'2", 225 pounds
High School: Upland High School, Upland, California
The other big-name linebacker in the top 10 is California defender Justin Flowe, who is what every team is looking for to boost their defense.
If USC has a massive rebound year in 2019, the Trojans may be hard to beat, but until coach Clay Helton can prove he has a future in L.A., it's hard to place Flowe in a Trojans uniform. So, just where will he go?
Considering Alabama isn't the destination prediction on anybody in this top-10 list and Nick Saban's Crimson Tide always seem to get at least one (and usually several more) high-profile recruits in their perennial top-ranked classes, let's put Flowe in crimson.
Alabama assistant Jeff Banks told the Seattle Times' Jon Wilner in early January that the weakened Pac-12 has provided opportunities for teams like the Crimson Tide to win battles for players who used to stay out West. A couple of the players mentioned in the article were Sav'ell Smalls and Flowe.
"It's a little weaker, a little more (opportunity) for national people to come in and take guys," Banks said of the Pac-12.
So, while Flowe would have perhaps been a USC lock 10 years ago, he could go elsewhere this year, and Alabama is being talked about as much as anybody. With defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi leaving to go to the NFL's Cleveland Browns, it's uncertain who will recruit California for the Tide.
But Alabama recruits itself as long as Saban is there, and the way the Tide have churned out linebackers in recent years leads you to believe they'll keep landing the big ones, especially when you consider that opportunity abounds given how much that unit struggled in '19.
Flowe could be a major boost.
2. Zachary Evans
Position: Running back
Height/Weight: 6'0", 205 pounds
High School: North Shore High School, Houston, Texas
There are going to be several good, old fashioned recruiting battles in the Lone Star State now that Tom Herman is at Texas and Jimbo Fisher signed his big contract with the Texas A&M Aggies.
Both coaches are experiencing immense success in the 2019 cycle, with the Aggies (3rd) and Longhorns (8th) firmly in the top 10. Surprisingly, Herman got a lot of his recruiting victories in this class outside of the state, while Fisher has thrived within state borders.
Is that a trend, or is it just something that transpired this year? The state certainly has enough quality playmakers to outfit both programs and many more with elite players.
The best in the state in the 2020 cycle is running back Zachary Evans, a sturdy 6'0", 205-pound powerhouse who will be able to go anywhere he wants. The Longhorns and the Aggies are among the favorites.
Evans' top 11 are Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Penn State, Texas, Texas A&M and Washington, so don't look for him to make a decision anytime soon. But with the Longhorns needing a premiere back and A&M losing Trayveon Williams, openings abound.
"I like Jimbo Fisher. I mean…it's just him," Evans told GigEm247's Damon Sayles. "I like the running backs coach [Jay Graham] and the O-line coach [Jim Turner]. Everybody knows I'm big on the O-line. I've been talking to them plenty."
It's a crapshoot to guess where a player who has 11 schools on his list is going, but it's just hard to envision Evans leaving Texas with two elite recruiters trying to sway him to them and at positions of need.
The guess is Fisher wins this battle.
Prediction: Texas A&M
1. Bryan Bresee
Position: Strong-side defensive end
Height/Weight: 6'5", 290 pounds
High School: Damascus High School, Damascus, Maryland
The top-ranked-player-in-the nation honor currently goes to Maryland defensive end Bryan Bresee, and the 6'5", 290-pound defensive end doesn't seem like the type of player who'll wait around until the last minute to make a decision.
He has mentioned multiple times that he wants to be an early enrollee, and so he's all business when it comes to the recruiting process. The star playmaker already has named a top six, and it includes Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State and Michigan.
Out of all those, it really could be anybody, but the top three seem like Georgia, Penn State and Ohio State, reading the tea leaves of his interviews. Though it would be a bit of an upset, this feels like a recruiting battle Kirby Smart can win at Georgia.
Bresee may actually favor Ohio State right now, but if so, it's a narrow lead. He talked to DawgNation's Jeff Sentell about his relationship with Buckeyes commit Zach Harrison, but he also has a strong bond with 5-star UGA signees Nolan Smith and Travon Walker.
The trio would be a force for the Bulldogs if Bresee decided to head south.
"I still feel the same way about Georgia," Bresee told Sentell. "You know? Especially with Nolan and Travon. They are getting a lot of really good recruits and I love coach [Tray] Scott and coach [Kirby] Smart."
If he hits it off with Ohio State's defensive coordinator, the Buckeyes will be a threat too, and you can never count out Alabama. It's going to be a hard-fought recruiting grind to get Bresee's name on the dotted line.
But Smart has won a lot of these wars recently.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.