National Signing Day 2021: Ranking the Top 25 Defensive Prospects

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2021

National Signing Day 2021: Ranking the Top 25 Defensive Prospects

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    The early December signing period has robbed national signing day of some of its past glitz and glamour, but a handful of top-tier recruits are scheduled to make their college choice on Wednesday, which is when the 2021 recruiting cycle comes to a close.

    With 2021's crop of incoming talent nearly sorted, now seems like the perfect time for an overview of the best and brightest set to arrive on campus in the fall.

    B/R college football writer Brad Shepard rolled out his top 25 offensive prospects of the 2021 recruiting class earlier this week, and now it's time for the defensive side of things.

    Prospect are ranked on both their present skills and future projectability, with the goal being to identify the 25 defensive recruits who will make the biggest impact during their time playing on Saturdays.

25-21. Davis Jr., Malone, Trotter Jr., Johnson, Smith

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    Jeremiah Trotter Jr.
    Jeremiah Trotter Jr.Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    25. Derrick Davis Jr., S

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 194 pounds

    Status: Signed with LSU

    College Outlook: Davis has the tackling and pursuit skills to play strong safety or the man-coverage and ball skills to play free safety, giving him a great opportunity to be a true freshman contributor in Baton Rouge. He'll need to get stronger and smoother in his actions, but he has impact potential.

        

    24. Tywone Malone, DT

    Height/Weight: 6'3½", 300 pounds

    Status: Unsigned (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Florida State)

    College Outlook: Ole Miss has secured all five crystal ball predictions for Malone at 247Sports, but the Oradell, New Jersey, native could still be stolen away by another school, with Texas A&M and Florida State the leading secondary suitors. Despite his massive frame, he is also a baseball prospect who intends to play both sports in college.

        

    23. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., ILB

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 210 pounds

    Status: Signed with Clemson

    College Outlook: The son of a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Trotter has the potential to follow in his footsteps. He could wind up being an earlier selection in the NFL draft than his dad, who was a third-round pick out of Stephen F. Austin. His football IQ and tackling ability give him an extremely high floor, and he'll eventually be a staple in the middle of the Clemson defense.

         

    22. Jakailin Johnson, CB

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 175 pounds

    Status: Signed with Ohio State

    College Outlook: Johnson will need to add strength to his 175-pound frame before he can contribute for the Buckeyes, but he could be the next great cornerback in Columbus. He plays with elite speed and can handle man or zone coverage. As long as he develops physically, he checks all of the boxes.

        

    21. Clayton Smith, WDE

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 220 pounds

    Status: Signed with Oklahoma

    College Outlook: A two-way player in high school who also lined up at wide receiver and at tight end, Smith has the elite athleticism to develop into an absolute force off the edge. His skill set is versatile enough that he would fit a number of different defensive looks, both as a linebacker or as a defensive end, and he should be a fun player to develop over the next few years for Lincoln Riley and his staff.

20-16. Davis, Carter, Brooks, Mondon, Marshall

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    Jason Marshall
    Jason MarshallAndrew Ivins/247 Sports

    20. Raesjon Davis, OLB

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 215 pounds

    Status: Unsigned (USC, Oregon, LSU, Ohio State)

    College Outlook: Davis is a standout linebacker for California powerhouse Mater Dei and one of the top remaining unsigned players in the 2021 class. He reopened his recruiting after originally committing to LSU last year, and USC is now viewed as the heavy favorite to keep him in-state. His combination of coverage skills and pass-rushing ability make him one of the most well-rounded linebackers in the class.

         

    19. Barrett Carter, OLB

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 220 pounds

    Status: Signed with Clemson

    College Outlook: Carter is part of another stout recruiting class at Clemson, joining Jeremiah Trotter Jr. as incoming linebackers with tremendous potential. He showed his top-tier athleticism as a senior by also playing running back, and his 4.5 40 speed translates well to in-game production. He's still a bit raw in terms of reading plays, but his physical tools are off the charts.

        

    18. Dylan Brooks, WDE

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 250 pounds

    Status: Signed with Tennessee

    College Outlook: Despite offers from in-state powerhouses Alabama and Auburn, among many others, Brooks chose Tennessee back in April. He is the headliner of a recruiting class that currently ranks 15th in the nation. His strong frame should allow him to make an early impact, and he still has plenty of room to add strength. Speed and instincts are his biggest assets right now, but he'll need to work on finishing plays.

        

    17. Smael Mondon, OLB

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 220 pounds

    Status: Signed with Georgia

    College Outlook: Mondon suffered a knee injury that prematurely ended his senior season, but he remains one of the nation's most explosive defensive prospects. Gabe Brooks of 247Sports gave him a future first-round projection and compared him to Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith. He'll need reps to get comfortable as a full-time linebacker, but he should prove to be worth the wait.

        

    16. Jason Marshall, CB

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 180 pounds

    Status: Signed with Florida

    College Outlook: Marshall is squarely in the running for the title of the top cornerback recruit in the 2021 class, though he checks in at No. 2 at the position in these rankings. With a big 6'2" frame, polished coverage skills and plenty of high-level experience playing in Miami-Dade County, he should see the field early for the Gators.

15-11. Silver, Adeleye, Ryan, McKinstry, Turner

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    Shemar Turner
    Shemar TurnerAndrew Hattersley/247Sports

    15. Keeshawn Silver, SDE

    Height/Weight: 6'6", 275 pounds

    Status: Signed with North Carolina

    College Outlook: With a 6'6" frame and a 7'1" wingspan, Silver is the prototypical edge prospect with elite physical tools who is still a bit rough around the edges. He also has a basketball and track and field background, which speaks to his superior athleticism for a player his size. That should allow him to see the field early for the Tar Heels.

        

    14. Tunmise Adeleye, SDE

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 245 pounds

    Status: Signed with Texas A&M

    College Outlook: While many edge players need to add weight when they arrive on campus, Adeleye has slimmed down after playing around 265 pounds during his junior year. He still needs to add strength to his lower half, but he fits the mold of a versatile defensive lineman who could fit into a number of different schemes. Originally an Ohio State commit, he reopened his recruiting in April, and the Aggies won out over Alabama, Oklahoma and others.

        

    13. Sage Ryan, S

    Height/Weight: 5'11", 193 pounds

    Status: Signed with LSU

    College Outlook: Gabe Brooks of 247Sports called Ryan a "versatile, athletic football player with functional size that could translate to cornerback, safety, nickel, receiver, or even running back." That makes him one of the most compelling prospects in this class. The Tigers have a solid history of properly utilizing this type of player, so he's landed in the right spot.

        

    12. Ga'Quincy McKinstry, CB

    Height/Weight: 6'0½", 180 pounds

    Status: Signed with Alabama

    College Outlook: McKinstry has been compared to former Alabama standout and 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick, and he has the potential to develop into the best cornerback in the nation during his time in Tuscaloosa. He enrolled early and has actually been practicing with Alabama's basketball team after a solid high school career on the hardwood.

        

    11. Shemar Turner, SDE

    Height/Weight: 6'3½", 282 pounds

    Status: Signed with Texas A&M

    College Outlook: With a NFL-ready body and plenty of big-game experience playing at Texas powerhouse DeSoto High School, Turner could be a true freshman starter at Texas A&M. Like many prep players his size, he can play a bit too upright at times, and he has plenty of room to improve his pass-rushing approach, but there's an awful lot to like about his present skill and future upside.

10. Xavian Sorey, OLB

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    Xavian Sorey
    Xavian SoreyGaby Urrutia/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 214 pounds

    Status: Signed with Georgia

         

    College Outlook

    Xavian Sorey uses his long frame well to cover ground and close defensively, and he could fit inside or outside at linebacker for the Georgia Bulldogs.

    He isn't a hard-hitter and hasn't shown much in the way of pass-rushing ability, but he has elite sideline-to-sideline skills and ability to finish plays.

    An above-the-rim athlete on the basketball court and a versatile weapon on the football field at IMG Academy who also spent time at running back and tight end, he brings a unique skill set to the linebacker position and should be an impact contributor in short order.

9. Damon Payne, DT

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    Allen Trieu/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'3½", 297 pounds

    Status: Signed with Alabama

         

    College Outlook

    The Belleville High School football program in Michigan has produced plenty of NFL talent over the years, including defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, defensive end Cullen Jenkins and linebacker Ian Gold.

    Damon Payne could be next.

    After playing both ways throughout his high school career and early on at offseason camps, he has settled in at defensive tackle and should benefit from a more singular focus.

    He's a plus athlete for his size, and while he projects to be plenty big enough to handle the nose tackle spot in the middle of the Alabama defensive line, he should also develop into a disruptive interior pass-rusher.

8. Maason Smith, DT

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 316 pounds

    Status: Signed with LSU

         

    College Outlook

    Perhaps the most college-ready defensive lineman in the 2021 recruiting class, Maason Smith should see significant action as a true freshman for an LSU team looking to rebound.

    With three senior starters up front set to graduate, Smith has a clear path to playing time, and a strong first impression could mean regular snaps as the season unfolds.

    His mature frame is a bit of a double-edged sword, giving him an extremely high floor but limiting his long-term projectability, so the early returns on campus will likely be indicative of what to expect over the next few years.

7. James Williams, S

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 218 pounds

    Status: Signed with Miami

         

    College Outlook

    Andrew Ivins of 247Sports referred to safety James Williams as "a unicorn of a prospect" because of his towering 6'5" frame that looks more at home on the defensive line at the high school level. Williams uses his length well to cover sideline to sideline and hunt interceptions in the secondary.

    He has the physical projectability to eventually slide up a level and play linebacker if he adds mass, but he has been insistent throughout the recruiting process that he would like to remain at safety.

    The Miami Hurricanes have a potentially special player on their hands, and his development will be fun to watch in the coming years.

6. Terrence Lewis, ILB

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 200 pounds

    Status: Signed with Maryland

         

    College Outlook

    How in the world did Maryland land 5-star linebacker recruit Terrence Lewis over his hometown Miami Hurricanes and the Tennessee Volunteers team he originally committed to?

    "I want to play early," Lewis told Glenn Clark Radio earlier this month (via Luke Jackson of PressBox). "I'm trying to get out of here in these three years. I want to be a Freshman All-American, do a lot. I feel like the opportunity to represent Maryland and play for a coach that looks like me, it's going to bring a lot of attention toward us and the school."

    As a junior, Lewis tallied 105 tackles, nine sacks and three interceptions for a 13-2 Miami Northwestern team that won the 5A state championship. His speed, lateral ability, tackling and instincts give him all the tools he needs to be an immediate starter, and the Terrapins program is undoubtedly better with him in the fold.

5. Leonard Taylor, DT

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 265 pounds

    Status: Signed with Miami

         

    College Outlook

    Leonard Taylor will need to tack some additional strength onto his 6'4" frame to reach his full potential, but all signs point to him being one of the nation's top defensive tackles before his time at Miami comes to an end.

    Andrew Ivins of 247Sports compared him to Sheldon Richardson, and he offers a similar combination or run-stuffing and pass-rushing ability from his spot on the inside of the defensive line.

    He's the top prospect in a stacked Miami recruiting class that ranks 11th in the nation, and he's a name to remember for the 2024 NFL draft.

4. Dallas Turner, WDE

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 245 pounds

    Status: Signed with Alabama

         

    College Outlook

    After racking up 15 sacks as a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, defensive end Dallas Turner continued to refine his all-around game working with Hall of Famer pass-rusher Jason Taylor.

    His thick 6'4", 245-pound frame and explosiveness off the edge should help him continue to rack up sacks as a pass-rusher during his college career, but he is also capable of dropping into coverage and even played some safety in 7-on-7 tournaments.

    Andrew Ivins of 247Sports compared him to Clemson standout and 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson, who had a similar build.

3. Jack Sawyer, SDE

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    Bill Kurelic/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 248 pounds

    Status: Signed with Ohio State

         

    College Outlook

    A polished prospect both physically and fundamentally, Jack Sawyer should see significant action as a freshman for an Ohio State team that will be somewhat lacking in star power on defense in 2021.

    A multi-sport athlete who played all over the field in high school and even saw some time under center, Sawyer has the explosiveness to rush the passer and the lateral quickness to chase down ball-carriers.

    For all of his physical tools, his bulldog mentality and mean streak in the trenches allow him to get even more out of his raw ability. He appears to be on a clear path to an early selection in the NFL draft once his time in Columbus comes to an end.

2. J.T. Tuimoloau, SDE

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    Brandon Huffman/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'4½", 277 pounds

    Status: Unsigned (Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, USC, Washington)

         

    College Outlook

    J.T. Tuimoloau announced his final five schools in the middle of December, narrowing the field to Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, USC and Washington.

    Despite the presence of three Pac-12 schools among his finalists, the Buckeyes are the favorites to land him heading into national signing day, with the Crimson Tide also still very much in the mix.

    Whoever reels him in will be getting an elite pass-rusher with the speed, agility and strength to change the complexion of a game. There is every reason to believe he will make an immediate impact as a true freshman and be a starter from the jump wherever he lands.

1. Korey Foreman, SDE

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    Andrew Ivins/247Sports

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 265 pounds

    Status: Signed with USC

         

    College Outlook

    Korey Foreman has trimmed 20 pounds from his frame in the past year, opening the door for him to potentially play some outside linebacker if USC decides he fits better there than at defensive end.

    The Trojans managed to hold off Arizona State, Clemson, Georgia and LSU to keep the Corona, California, native in-state. While it may take him some time to get into the swing of things after missing a good chunk of his junior season with an injury and his entire senior season following the cancellation of prep sports in California, it will be worth the wait.

    There's nothing he doesn't do well on the football field, from first-step quickness off the line and pass-rushing technique to his speed and pursuit ability chasing down ball-carriers.

    Two different 247Sports analysts compared him to Cameron Jordan, who is a six-time Pro Bowler with 94.5 career sacks in 10 NFL seasons.

        

    Recruiting ranking and scouting report information courtesy of 247Sports.