A Guide to College Football Recruiting for 2021 Class

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2020

A Guide to College Football Recruiting for 2021 Class

0 of 8

    Top prospect J.T. Tuimoloau
    Top prospect J.T. TuimoloauCredit: 247Sports

    No matter how much things have changed in college football for 2020, one thing remains the same: Programs are still in a frenzy to land the nation's top prospects.

    During the coronavirus pandemic, coaches have adapted to virtual recruiting, utilizing tools such as Zoom and Skype.

    Some programs—Miami, Tennessee and North Carolina—thrived early. Others—Alabama and Oregon—took a little longer to find their form but have come on in a hurry. And then there are the elite programs—Ohio State and Clemson—whose work on the 2021 class are paying major dividends.

    A lot of top prospects are off the board, but, just like always, there are still major battles to be waged. Though we haven't seen it yet, some predicted in the spring there would be a wave of decommitments because of all the early movement.

    "Prospects are scrambling to secure spots in classes, even if they have never visited those campuses," Bud Elliott of 247Sports wrote then.

    Could that still be coming? What are the major storylines you've missed if you're just now catching up, and what's left to come? Let's take a look at our recruiting guide as a very different season kicks into high gear.

It's Not How You Start but How You Finish

1 of 8

    Kent Gidley/Associated Press

    Several times throughout Nick Saban's historic run at Alabama, you've read the article. It normally comes in the summer, and it is a massive overreaction. It asks if the Crimson Tide legacy is losing its luster, and it cites a slow recruiting start from the best ever at getting prospects to commit.

    "There certainly were whispers early in the recruiting cycle," AL.com's Michael Casagrande wrote. "What's up with Alabama?"

    It's probably a good thing Saban can't comment on recruits, or else we'd get one of those entertaining, profanity-laced tirades on the topic with an unopened 20-ounce soda sitting on the podium by his side.

    After the ho-hum start, the Tide have surged to the top of the 247Sports composite rankings, grabbing four 5-star prospects since May 8. Their top seven prospects have all pledged in that time.

    Tommy Brockermeyer and JC Latham are a duo of elite offensive tackles who could be path-pavers for the dynasty for the next four or five years, and Michigan defensive tackle Damon Payne is a plug-and-play guy, too.

    Receiver Jacorey Brooks could follow in the footsteps of great UA receivers from Florida: Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley and Jerry Jeudy.

    'Bama continued its incredible run in July and August, flipping quarterback Jalen Milroe from Texas and landing another Lone Star State product in Kendrick Blackshire along with dynamic Maryland defensive end Monkell Goodwine.

    The players keep coming for Saban, who isn't done in this class. The rich are definitely getting richer.

No Games? No Problem

2 of 8

    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Ohio State will not play football this fall, but that hasn't stopped the Buckeyes from cleaning up on the recruiting trail.

    For the longest time, they held the nation's top-ranked class, loaded with the kind of difference-making players who can carry a program. They've since been overtaken by Alabama coach Nick Saban's recruiting juggernaut, but that in no way diminishes how they've cleaned up during this cycle.

    Strong-side defensive end Jack Sawyer is the nation's No. 3 prospect and looks like a player who could follow the same path as the Bosa brothers and Chase Young and be yet another elite pass-rusher.

    Then there is the elite offensive trio of running back TreVeyon Henderson, pro-style passer Kyle McCord and offensive guard Donovan Jackson, who hail from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas, proving the OSU brand is alive and well across the nation.

    All of them are 5-star prospects and among the top 25 players in the country in the 2021 class.

    With just 19 commitments and room for the class to grow, the Buckeyes have plenty of strong prospects who could help them overtake the Crimson Tide for the recruiting title.

    The only title they care about, though, is a national championship, and coach Ryan Day seems poised to bring another one to Columbus the way he is recruiting.

    Ohio State is the front-runner, per the 247Sports crystal ball, for the nation's No. 8 player, receiver Emeka Egbuka, as well as the nation's second-ranked prospect, defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, who could wind up as the top-ranked player in the country.

    The Buckeyes obviously don't need to play football this fall to remain attractive to the best high schoolers in the country.

Other Usual Suspects Still Crushing It

3 of 8

    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    It's no big surprise Alabama and Ohio State are crushing it in recruiting this year, and there's a reason why the teams at the top are staying there. The healthiest programs are the ones that keep fighting to the front of the group.

    That is happening again in this cycle.

    A year after piecing together a dynamic class full of players who stepped right into the rotation Saturday night against Wake Forest—such as defensive linemen Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy—Clemson is back at it.

    Coach Dabo Swinney has the nation's No. 5 class, featuring 5-star all-purpose back Will Shipley and 13 4-star prospects, led by the top inside linebacker in the class (Jeremiah Trotter Jr.), the top tight end in Tennessee prospect Jake Briningstool and others.

    That class could be even better had the nation's top-ranked prospect, defensive end Korey Foreman, not decommitted. Even though Swinney normally has a rule about not recruiting kids who back off their pledges, the Tigers have still hotly pursued the Corona, California, prospect.

    Then there's Oregon, which dominated the Pac-12 in recruiting (and on the field) a season ago. Coach Mario Cristobal's prowess is on display, and he is building a dynasty in Nike country. The Ducks are all the way up to third nationally.

    Ed Orgeron may have a tough job to repeat after last year with all the players he must replace, but LSU is getting more and more elite players. And though Georgia got off to a slow start, Kirby Smart has the Bulldogs back in the top 10 and positioned nicely for some of the top remaining prospects.

    Those two SEC programs are battling for a couple of elite defensive linemen who could turn a very good class into a great one. (More on that later.) But it should be no surprise that teams in the top 10 look like they belong because they consistently recruit at such a high level.

    This is shaping up to be Dan Mullen's best class at Florida, too, with 13 4-star commits already.

The Race for Korey Foreman

4 of 8

    Korey Foreman, the nation's top-ranked prospect
    Korey Foreman, the nation's top-ranked prospectCredit: 247Sports

    Speaking of Korey Foreman, the 6'4", 265-pound phenom deserves his own slide.

    He has elite potential, a thick lower body and powerful hands that, combined with a lightning-quick first step, have him coveted by the nation's top teams. He truly can pick anywhere he wants to go, and it's the usual suspects battling for his signature.

    Clemson already has been mentioned, and the Tigers are going to be in the mix for his pledge until the end. With the way USC coach Clay Helton is recruiting this year, the Trojans are in the fray to get him, too.

    That would basically mean staying home for Foreman, who is from the Los Angeles suburb of Corona. In nearby Thousand Oaks, the Trojans lost out on elite pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux a couple of cycles ago, and Helton needs to avoid another such letdown. It would be a huge coup to keep him.

    But look out for Georgia and perhaps even LSU. Alabama is trying with Foreman, too, but the reason why the defending champion Bayou Bengals and Kirby Smart's Bulldogs are right there and perhaps even surging is because of Foreman's relationship with elite defensive tackle Maason Smith.

    "I didn't want to leave Georgia. The only reason was because I was with Maason. I just like hanging out with the dude. He's just like me and I'm just like him," Foreman told Rivals.com's Adam Gorney.

    The two star recruits have hit it off, and Smith's top two have been LSU and UGA for a long time.

    Anything can happen between now and December, and who knows what twists and turns there will be in a recruitment that already has included one decommitment. But Foreman is so good that most of the top teams in the nation will try to convince him to spend the next four years with them.

    He doesn't seem close to making a decision.

Upstarts Piecing Together Program-Changing Classes

5 of 8

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    If there was one team that embraced quarantine-era recruiting, it was Tennessee.

    Coach Jeremy Pruitt made some noise, though things have tapered off. Tennessee has 26 commitments and the nation's sixth-rated class.

    That haul is led by elite playmakers such as 5-star linebacker Terrence Lewis, Alabama defensive end Dylan Brooks and former prep teammates in linebacker Aaron Willis and defensive tackle KaTron Evans.

    The Vols are well on their way to their best class of the Pruitt era even though there's bound to be some attrition. They are still in the mix for some more electric players, too.

    But they aren't the only ones.

    Coach Manny Diaz is a Miami native who has done an exceptional job on the transfer market and won a few recruiting battles, too, but the 2021 haul looks like the kind of class that can get the Hurricanes back to being The U.

    The nation's ninth-rated class is headlined by 5-star locals in defensive tackle Leonard Taylor and athlete James Williams, who decided to stay home rather than go to Georgia. When you throw in receivers Romello Brinson and Jacolby George, it's been a good year for the Canes.

    Diaz's top six prospects are all from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, too.

    Finally, it's worth mentioning 12th-rated North Carolina and the job coach Mack Brown continues to do. It's a banner year for Carolina, and 10 of its 11 4- and 5-star prospects are from the state.

Nation's No. 2 Offensive Lineman to Come Off the Board October 14

6 of 8

    It's an SEC battle for Amarius Mims.
    It's an SEC battle for Amarius Mims.Credit: 247Sports

    One of the biggest recruiting battles remaining has an SEC flavor to it.

    With Alabama already having landed the nation's top offensive tackle in Tommy Brockermeyer, several other SEC programs are scrambling to try to find the blind-side blocker to protect their quarterbacks for the next four years. The main focus is on 6'7", 315-pound Cochran, Georgia, prospect Amarius Mims.

    It would be ridiculous if the Crimson Tide got Mims to go along with Brockermeyer and JC Latham, but they are right there in the heat of the race with the O-lineman expected to announce his decision on his October 14 birthday, according to Rivals.com's Chad Simmons.

    Perhaps the most likely destinations for Mims, however, are Georgia and Tennessee.

    The Bulldogs have long been considered the favorite and remain that way with 100 percent of the 247Sports crystal ball picks going that way. But Jeremy Pruitt and Co. cannot be counted out.

    According to 247Sports' Ryan Callahan, colleague Steve Wiltfong said recently Tennessee has "done a really great job with Mims" in recent months.

    Auburn has made Mims a priority, too, and the Tigers have pulled too many recruiting rabbits out of their hats in recent years to count coach Gus Malzahn's program out in this one.

    But it's difficult to imagine Mims anywhere but Athens. If Georgia doesn't earn his signature, it's going to be a major battle all the way until the signing is official.

    Whichever team lands Mims will get someone who is going to compete for reps right away and has high-draft-pick upside.

Another Gunslinger Will Play for Lincoln Riley

7 of 8

    Credit: 247Sports

    Maybe you've heard this one before: Lincoln Riley knows quarterbacks.

    That was evident when, as the offensive coordinator and then head coach for Oklahoma, he helped turn Baker Mayfield into an elite collegian who became the top overall pick in the NFL draft.

    Once Mayfield left, Kyler Murray (who had transferred from Texas A&M) followed in his footsteps as the Heisman Trophy winner and top pick.

    Then Alabama's Jalen Hurts transferred and enjoyed a remarkable 2019 season that didn't end until a College Football Playoff semifinal loss to LSU.

    If one half of football is any indication, redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler is a star in the making who has the next couple of seasons in Norman on lockdown. But what about after that?

    Don't worry, Sooners fans. A Russell Westbrook clone is coming.

    That would be elite dual-threat signal-caller Caleb Williams from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. He is the nation's top-rated quarterback and is going to Oklahoma to be the next in a long line of quarterbacks for Riley to mold.

    When Bogart, Georgia, quarterback Brock Vandagriff flipped from the Sooners to the home-state Georgia Bulldogs, OU went after Williams, who is the better prospect, according to 247Sports. The 6'1", 210-pounder pledged to OU over LSU and Maryland, and he'll have a support system with him.

    His family is expected to move to Norman when Williams begins his college career, and they want other elite prospects there, too, according to his father, Carl.

    "We had our own process and wanted to make a move that we see as the move," Carl Williams told the Washington Post's Jake Lourim. "I don't know how you get more invested than moving to the place. Anything we can to help him get to the next level, we're going to do."

    Riley has yet another massive building block for the future.

Rebound Haul Shaping Up for USC

8 of 8

    Orlando Ramirez/Associated Press

    One of the remarkable stories of last year's recruiting class is that you had to click "Load More" at the bottom of the 247Sports composite team rankings to find the USC Trojans.

    They didn't land one of the nation's top 50 classes, and with all the question marks surrounding coach Clay Helton following yet another mediocre season, the Trojans wound up 64th.

    For a program with the tradition and recruiting pedigree of USC, that was unacceptable.

    The good news was it was a small class of just 12 prospects with just two 4-stars. The better news for the Trojans is it seems to have been a one-year anomaly.

    USC is back, at least in living rooms, and with the Pac-12 not participating in fall football, its momentum may not be affected by what happens on the field.

    So far, Helton and Co. have the No. 11 class in the nation with 18 commitments, including 13 4-star prospects, led by Valdosta, Georgia, quarterback Jake Garcia, the heir to Kedon Slovis behind center.

    Though it looks like USC went into SEC country to get Garcia, he is from Harbor City, California, and told 247Sports' Chris Trevino the program "felt like home."

    Throw in USC's second-best commitment, another quarterback in Miller Moss, and the Trojans look like they're in great hands at the position for the future. Quaydarius Davis is an elite receiver who should be catching passes from one of them, so that's a big get, too.

    The other side of the ball features quality prospects such as linebackers Julien Simon and Ma'a Gaoteote, cornerback Prophet Brown and defensive tackle Jay Toia.

    There are still major battles left to be waged, such as the one for Korey Foreman, but this is shaping up to be a strong comeback for Helton.

       

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com and Sports Reference, and recruiting rankings per 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.