Why 2019 College Football National Signing Day Will Still Have Big Impact

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 5, 2019

Why 2019 College Football National Signing Day Will Still Have Big Impact

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    The last chance for college football programs to add premier recruits is almost here. National signing day 2019 arrives Wednesday, and there are still difference-makers without a firm commitment in place. There's no question that the fallout from NSD 2019 will help decide future conference battles and possibly even championships.

    There are still eight players in 247Sports' top 100 who are either uncommitted or have serious questions about their landing spot. These 4- and 5-star prospects will immediately boost whichever program they decide to join even if there's no path to playing time as freshmen. The expectation for elite recruits is to make their mark within their first three seasons.

    We're going to look at each of the top eight players still available, breaking down their skill sets and how they'd fit into their potential landing spots.

Darnell Wright, OT

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    The highest-rated recruit yet to announce his decision is offensive tackle Darnell Wright. The 10th-best prospect in the nation is considered highly likely to pick Tennessee on Wednesday over Alabama, West Virginia, and North Carolina. The 5-star has a total of 23 offers but has taken only two visits (Tennessee and West Virginia).

    From Huntington, West Virginia, the 6'6", 320-pound tackle has impressive athleticism for his gigantic frame. The No. 2 overall tackle in the 2019 class showed out at the Under Armour All-America Game, earning praise for how well he uses his length to handle speed rushers. His upside will only increase as his body matures and adds more functional strength.

    If Wright chooses the Volunteers as expected, he'll join fellow 5-star tackle Wanya Morris as future bookend tackles on the roster. The Volunteers have added significant talent to the trenches in recent years, and adding Wright would give them one of the most impressive groups of young talent in the country. Wright would need to beat out incumbent Marcus Tatum for the starting job at left tackle in 2019, but head coach Jeremy Pruitt may encourage his own recruit winning the job compared to going with experience.

    Wright has clearer paths to play right away with the Mountaineers. New head coach Neal Brown must replace the 2018 starter at left tackle, Yodny Cajuste. The Mountaineers don't have nearly as much talent across their line as Tennessee in terms of recruiting rankings, making it more likely Wright could start in 2019 comparatively.

George Pickens, WR

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    Jason Caldwell/AUTigers.com

    Despite being committed to Auburn since July 2017, there's still lingering questions about where 5-star receivers George Pickens will choose to play on Wednesday. The Hoover, Alabama, product visited Tennessee this past weekend, and Jake Reuse of UGASports.com speculated that Georgia could flip Pickens. This will be a top storyline of signing day 2019.

    The 6'3½" playmaker is a jump-ball and back-shoulder specialist. His relationship with fellow Auburn commit Bo Nix could pay off significantly on the field if Pickens stays with the Tigers because their bond will be important with Pickens' play style. He's not the type to create separation but rather win 50-50 balls and reward the quarterback for his trust.

    The Tigers should be able to sell immediate playing time easier than their competition. Their depth chart is filled with unproven underclassmen, and losing Jarrett Stidham means the unit is ripe for a full personnel overhaul.

    Georgia's also lost multiple receivers and will be relying on less experienced players. Like Auburn, the Bulldogs don't have a powerful passing game that promises heavy production numbers for Pickens. But at least they have Jake Fromm as a sure-thing for 2019 at quarterback.

    The Volunteers have more veterans on their depth chart than the others but still may promise early playing time for a weapon like Pickens. Marquez Callaway, Josh Palmer and Jauan Jennings appear to be in the way for Pickens to be a possible Day 1 starter, but as mentioned for Darnell Wright, Jeremy Pruitt may be looking for completely fresh talent to see the field.

Jerrion Ealy, RB

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    An elite baseball and football prospect, running back Jerrion Ealy is a tremendously gifted athlete. He could be a first-round draft pick in baseball if he's willing to stick with that sport over football. But he could also opt to play both college baseball and football with his skill set.

    Once committed to Ole Miss, Ealy is projected to choose Clemson after his breakout in the Under Armour All-America Game. The shifty playmaker was the best offensive player on the field, breaking records as he avoided tackle after tackle.

    The potential sleeping giant in this race is Alabama. According to Benjamin Sutton of the Clarion Ledger, Nick Saban personally visited Ealy in recent weeks. There's no doubt Saban pitched a good argument as to why Alabama is the best landing spot for the back.

    Clemson has the best pitch among the two powerhouses in terms of playing early. Though Travis Etienne will receive the bulk of carries in 2019, there's not a clear heir on the roster once he jumps to the NFL. Ealy can either serve as a backup as a freshman or redshirt before taking over the starting job next year.

    Things aren't nearly as decided at Alabama. The Tide landed 5-star Trey Sanders, meaning there'd be another running back committee in 2020 with these two stars if Ealy commits. He might be attracted to that, but it's not as good of a situation for him to produce.

Henry To'oto'o, LB

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    @HenryTootoo1/Twitter

    The most difficult prediction among this group of eight undecided players is linebacker Henry To'oto'o. The California product has warm interest from five programs, and he's taken visits to four: Alabama, Washington, Tennessee and Utah. The 4-star must weight his on-field priorities carefully as he makes this decision.

    To'oto'o is fast for his 6'2", 230-pound frame, allowing him to play either inside or outside linebacker. He could even see snaps as an edge-rusher on third downs thanks to his closing speed. He's ready-made to play as soon as this season if he's in the right situation.

    The Tide are considered the favorites for him, but there's a crowded group of young talent already in place. Though few have seen playing time, Nick Saban already  has two 5-stars and five 4-star linebackers on the roster, and only one will be older than a sophomore this coming season. If To'oto'o doesn't quickly impress, it's feasible he won't see the field for years, if ever, for the Tide. The payoff is he could be fast-tracked for the NFL if he's quickly a stud for them.

    Both Washington and Tennessee appear to have clearer paths to playing time. Because of his speed and size, he's going to have the inside edge on outside linebacker playing time. It's conceivable he'd earn at least rotational snaps for both programs in 2019.

    The two other teams involved, Utah and Oregon, have talented linebacker crews already in place. To'oto'o would be the most dynamic of any on either roster, with the possible exception of Oregon's Troy Dye.

    Oregon, in particular, could amass a great linebacker rotation with Dye, Kaulana Apelu, Justin Hollins and To'oto'o. Utah also boasts a super productive linebacker in Cody Barton, but To'oto'o looks to be a much better overall athlete.

Ishmael Sopsher, DT

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    Sonny Shipp/247Sports

    Finding a true nose tackle with the preferred size to man the middle of a 3-4 front is rare. It usually takes years to develop a quality gap-eater because of the physical demands of the position. 4-star tackle Ishmael Sopsher has been hotly pursued by premier SEC programs because of how well he projects as a role player early in his career.

    The 6'3½", 334-pounder from Louisiana is a surprisingly good athlete for his size. His performances at the Polynesian Bowl, Under Armour All-America Game and 2018 The Opening Finals all cemented him as a standout lineman who projects as a two-down starter in the right role. It makes sense that Alabama and LSU are considered the two most-likely landing spots for him based on his talent and their roster needs.

    Currently, LSU has zero similarly sized defensive tackles. Dare Rosenthal was a 2018 recruit who had the size but was moved to offensive tackle because of injuries. Sopsher could immediately slide into a rotational role and complement the Tigers' plethora of 3-techniques who try to penetrate gaps over eating blocks.

    Alabama, as usual, has a little more depth. Fellow 2019 4-star recruit DJ Dale is 323 pounds, and junior Tevita Musika is a JUCO transfer who weighs 338 pounds. Sopsher would surely be behind Musika this season and would be in a battle with Dale for 2020 snaps.

Kaiir Elam, CB

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    A great athlete blessed with ideal size for cornerback, Kaiir Elam has received as much interest as any recruit in this class. He has a whopping 41 offers from across the country, and it seems he's whittled down his options to Florida, Georgia, Colorado and Miami based on his visits since December. The former two are considered his most-likely choices.

    Elam possesses the measurables, but his physical mindset and willingness to finish plays in the run game are what bodes well for him more than his 4.51 speed and size. He could play either corner or safety because of his aggressiveness and finishing ability, giving great versatility and upside as a contributor. He can continue to fill out his 182-pound frame at either position.

    Both Florida and Georgia are deep with cornerbacks and safeties on their rosters. Unless Elam comes in and blows away his competition, he may not play until 2021 at either corner or safety. That's not a problem as long as Elam is willing to develop in sparse playing time or compete every year, but he could opt for a path of less resistance elsewhere.

    Colorado and Miami also earned visits from him within the last two months. Colorado is deep with upperclassmen but has only one corner recruit this year. He could compete for a starting job as soon as 2020 with the Buffaloes.

    Miami has more young talent than Colorado but is not nearly as deep as Florida or Georgia. Head coach Manny Diaz also may view him as a safety convert, which has the possibility of open starting jobs in 2020. That would also buy Elam one year to add weight for the position switch, if need be.

Charles Moore, DE

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    Andrew Ivins/ 247Sports

    The 69th overall prospect in the country is Louisville, Mississippi, defensive end Charles Moore. The 6'4", 268-pounder has significant SEC interest with offers from Auburn, Florida and LSU. Moore caught my eyes with his impressive performance in the Under Armour All-America Game because of how quick he was for his size.

    His positional versatility and size are going to be difference-making traits as his career develops. He can continue to bulk up and move inside to tackle or stay as a strong-side end who controls the edge with strength and occasional speed rushes. He could develop into a very good player with any of the three programs he's deciding between based on the strengths of each coaching staff and his own talent.

    The clearest pathway to play is likely at Florida. Though the Gators have six strong-side ends on the roster, only Malik Langham and Zachary Carter have similar sizes to Moore's. There's a lot more competition if they want to slide him inside to tackle in the future.

    Both Auburn and LSU have more history playing and developing ends as large as Moore. There's underclassmen competition at each, but Moore should be able to become a rotational player within two years based on how the defensive staffs have staggered playing time in the past.

Mark-Antony Richards, ATH

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    With a final five of Auburn, Florida, Miami, Georgia and Penn State, 4-star athlete Mark-Antony Richards will be the final top-100 overall player who must make his final decision on signing day. Richards can play either running back or receiver thanks to his size and speed combination, but he has more experience with the ball in his hands as a back.

    It's difficult to peg where the 6'1", 195-pounder will land.

    He took his last in-home visit with Georgia, but his brother Ahmmon Richards attended Miami. He's also been considered an Auburn lean for some time. Penn State earned his first official visit, and Florida surprised him by delivering head coach Dan Mullen by helicopter last week.

    Richards will face the most competition at Penn State, Auburn and Georgia if he stays at running back. Each has continued to land top-notch backs and athletes in recent years. He'll have to consider this as he makes his decision.

    Miami and Florida would allow him to stay within his home state but also provide a clearer immediate path to hit the field. But neither has shown the ability to build a consistent offense, though Mullen at least has a history of doing so elsewhere.

         

    Recruit rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.