Ranking the Best Recruiting Classes of the Last 5 Years
National signing day is typically an exciting moment for college football programs. Every year, fans believe this signing class will be the foundation of a conference or national champion. Analysts often get carried away projecting the freshmen who will thrive right away.
However, none of the celebrations matter in the fall.
Looking back at the last five recruiting cycles—excluding 2020, because the signees have yet to play a game—Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State have landed the five highest-rated classes. Dozens of 5-star prospects have highlighted those hauls.
But which one—based on actual on-field production and not high school ranking—is the best?
Note: Transfers are not included at the second school. For example, Ohio State does not get credit for Justin Fields because he initially enrolled at Georgia.
5. 2018 Ohio State Buckeyes
Class rating: 317.06
Two years ago, Ohio State landed a class with three 5-stars and 20 4-star prospects. But to date, 3-star wide receiver Chris Olave is nearly the only player who has made a substantial impact.
That's about to change.
Potential starters in 2020 include running back Master Teague III—who, in fairness, earned All-Big Ten recognition as a backup—right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, defensive tackles Tommy Togiai and Taron Vincent, linebacker K'Vaughan Pope, cornerback Cameron Brown and safety Josh Proctor. They've all held rotational roles at best.
Some likely backups include tight end Jeremy Ruckert, defensive linemen Tyler Friday, Tyreke Smith and Antwaun Jackson, linebackers Dallas Gant and Teradja Mitchell and defensive backs Tyreke Johnson, Sevyn Banks and Marcus Hooker.
By no means is this an unsuccessful class. But it's fair to say the best is yet to come from Ohio State's 2018 group.
4. 2019 Alabama Crimson Tide
Class rating: 317.50
Despite having only one season, Alabama's 2019 haul featured a handful of true freshmen who vaulted into the lineup.
Left guard Evan Neal started 13 games. Linebackers Shane Lee and Christian Harris collected the second- and fourth-most tackles on the defense, respectively. Nose tackle DJ Dale started 10 games before a lower-body injury ended his season, and safety Jordan Battle notched 30 tackles with four starts.
Defensive linemen Christian Barmore and Byron Young contributed in the rotation, combining for 49 tackles.
The early contributions are especially impressive considering top signee Antonio Alfano transferred and 5-star running back Trey Sanders missed the 2019 season because of a foot injury.
3. 2018 Georgia Bulldogs
Class rating: 323.31
Some good, some bad—a whole bunch of transfers—and lots of upside. This 2018 class from Georgia is a roller-coaster.
Last season, Trey Hill opened all 14 games at center, while nose guard Jordan Davis and linebacker Azeez Ojulari all held starting roles. Defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, linebacker Quay Walker and defensive backs Tyson Campbell and Divaad Wilson also contributed in rotational spots.
Additionally, punter Jake Camarda ranked sixth nationally with a 46.8-yard average per kick. Respect your specialists.
However, five top-100 prospects from the Dawgs' 2018 haul have since transferred: quarterback Justin Fields (Ohio State), offensive tackle Cade Mays (Tennessee), defensive end Brenton Cox (Florida), tight end Luke Ford (Illinois) and linebacker/safety Otis Reese (Mississippi).
Running backs Zamir White and James Cook, offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer and linebacker Channing Tindall are among the players expected to have a larger role in 2020.
2. 2017 Ohio State Buckeyes
Class rating: 312.14
Last season, edge-rusher Chase Young was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. Running back J.K. Dobbins ended sixth in the Heisman race, and Young, right guard Wyatt Davis and cornerback Jeff Okudah each earned first-team Associated Press All-America honors.
Left tackle Thayer Munford, center Josh Myers, cornerback Shaun Wade and kicker Blake Haubeil earned All-Big Ten honors last season. Linebackers Pete Werner and Baron Browning held starting spots, too.
This year, wide receiver Jaylen Harris and defensive back Marcus Williamson might be new starters, while defensive tackle Haskell Garrett could work his way into the rotation. Additionally, cornerback Kendall Sheffield arrived from junior college and had 75 tackles, 17 pass breakups and two interceptions in 2017 and 2018.
1. 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide
Class rating: 323.87
The highest-rated class also boasts the most production.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hardly needs an introduction. As a true freshman, he saved Alabama in the national championship game. He finished second in 2018 Heisman voting and appeared headed for another finalist invite in 2019 prior to his hip injury. Tagovailoa shattered school records and became a top-five NFL draft pick.
Jerry Jeudy won the 2018 Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver. After he secured Associated Press All-America honors that season, the trio of wideout Devonta Smith, right tackle Jedrick Wills and safety Xavier McKinney followed suit in 2019.
Wide receiver Henry Ruggs III became a first-round pick in 2020 with Tagovailoa, Wills and Jeudy. Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, a JUCO transfer, went in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft.
Running back Najee Harris, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and linebacker Dylan Moses have each landed All-SEC recognition, too. Meanwhile, Joseph Bulovas has handled kicking duties for two seasons and will compete to retain the job in 2020.
For good measure, quarterback Mac Jones, running back Brian Robinson and defensive linemen LaBryan Ray and Phidarian Mathis have contributed in the rotation or as injury replacements.
All recruiting information via 247Sports.