National Signing Day 2021: Every Top 10 Team's Most Important Recruit
No one prospect will ever single-handedly determine a college football program's future, but a talented player can be the foundation of a successful team.
As the 2020 season finished, the AP Top 10 showed Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Georgia, Cincinnati, Iowa State and Northwestern. Those programs are hoping to keep competing at a high level, and they'll be looking for a key member of the 2021 recruiting cycle to lead that effort.
In most cases—and for good reason—it's a top-rated quarterback. But for programs with an established passer or strong depth at QB, other prime candidates are an offensive skill-position player, a left tackle or a pass-rusher. Along with quarterback, those are the most influential positions on any roster.
While several remaining recruits may select one of the 10 teams, we limited the scope to players who have committed or signed early prior to national signing day next Wednesday.
10. Northwestern Wildcats
While local 4-star linebacker Mac Uihlein is the top-rated addition, Northwestern must have a strong offensive line to atone for its recruiting disadvantages. Four-star Caleb Tiernan will likely be an integral piece of the blocking unit soon.
Depending on the team's plans for Peter Skoronski—who thrived at left tackle as a freshman but could slide inside—Tiernan may begin at right tackle. Eventually, though, he should start on the left side.
It's true Northwestern will likely never be a top destination for elite playmakers. However, two trips to the Big Ten Championship Game in the last three seasons have further validated head coach Pat Fitzgerald's philosophy of building from the inside out.
9. Iowa State Cyclones
As the Cyclones aim to compete for a national title in 2021, Jaylin Noel may offer a boost to the receiving corps.
The 3-star wideout is a quick, versatile target who can turn a short reception into a huge gain. That kind of playmaking is invaluable for an Iowa State program that generally doesn't land a bunch of blue-chip players. In 2020, Noel caught 68 passes for 1,005 yards—a 14.8 yards-per-reception average—and 10 touchdowns.
Noel should hold a backup role in 2021 before replacing Tarique Milton as the Cyclones' slot receiver.
8. Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati is quietly becoming a quality spot for tight ends. After the Green Bay Packers selected Josiah Deguara in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft, Josh Whyle led the Bearcats with 353 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Nevertheless, his future is on the football field. Once committed to hometown Miami, Metayer is the 13th-highest-rated signee in program history. He's a 6'5", 220-pound target who should be a key contributor as early as 2022.
7. Georgia Bulldogs
JT Daniels is the heavy favorite to start for Georgia in 2021, but a strong year will likely mean he'll pursue the NFL. Barring any further changes, the Bulldogs will then have competition between 2020 4-star Carson Beck and 2021 5-star Brock Vandagriff.
Vandagriff is considered the No. 3 quarterback and No. 16 prospect in the cycle. As a senior at Prince Avenue Christian School, he threw for 4,162 yards and 46 touchdowns to seven interceptions and rushed for 503 yards and 17 scores.
While his real opportunity to play is a season away, being an early enrollee will give Vandagriff a valuable chance to challenge Beck (and even Stetson Bennett) on the depth chart.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
Vandagriff backed off a pledge to Oklahoma in January 2020, but the Sooners landed Caleb Williams' commitment six months later. The 5-star prospect is the top quarterback in this cycle.
Like his counterpart, Williams is unlikely to play immediately. Oklahoma returns Spencer Rattler, who just guided the program to a sixth straight Big 12 title while accounting for 3,191 total yards and 34 touchdowns. He's a top Heisman Trophy candidate in 2021.
Rattler will be draft-eligible after the fall and could leave for the NFL, so Williams may start in 2022. The latter part would've been up for debate, but Tanner Mordecai (SMU) and Chandler Morris (TCU) both transferred this offseason.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Based on the offense's problematic shortage of true playmakers in two postseason games, there's an argument for a trio of receivers to share the spotlight. Notre Dame added 4-star wideouts Deion Colzie, Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Jayden Thomas in this class.
But it always comes down to the quarterback. And the Fighting Irish landed an excellent one: Tyler Buchner.
Although the 4-star dual threat couldn't play high school ball in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, his production in 2019 alone is enough for two seasons combined. Buchner amassed 4,474 yards and 53 touchdowns to six interceptions while scampering for 1,610 yards and 28 scores.
Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan will probably be the starter this fall, but Buchner's upside is incredible.
4. Texas A&M Aggies
One thing is certain: The Aggies are thrilled to have both.
Initially, the standout defensive ends will be excellent depth pieces. Texas A&M is returning DeMarvin Leal and Tyree Johnson, who combined for 13 tackles for loss. Michael Clemons could leave for the NFL but otherwise would be a contributor.
After the upcoming season, though, Adeleye and Turner should be flying off the edges of A&M's defensive line.
3. Clemson Tigers
Clemson has become a powerhouse under Dabo Swinney, making six straight College Football Playoff trips while winning the ACC. That success is also evident in the NFL draft, in which the Tigers have 31 selections since this brilliant run began.
Among the NFL-bound players, though, only two played on the offensive line. Jackson Carman should be the third, but he's likely a Day 3 pick like John Simpson and Tremayne Anchrum were in 2020.
That's the long story. The short version is Carman's departure opens a spot for 5-star Tristan Leigh, who could develop into that long-awaited top offensive lineman.
Leigh is expected to challenge Walker Parks for the starting job at left tackle in 2021.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Nobody is shedding a tear for Ohio State regarding its quarterback room, which returns 2020 4-stars C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller III and is bringing in 5-star Kyle McCord. No matter how much anyone is convinced Stroud or Miller or McCord will start, the players have combined for zero career pass attempts in college.
Still, options are good and necessary. And McCord is a heck of a potential third-stringer for the Buckeyes.
In a shortened 2020 season, he threw for 1,582 yards, 21 touchdowns and three interceptions. McCord propelled St. Joseph's Prep to a third straight state championship.
McCord, who enrolled early, will be working to catch Stroud and Miller throughout the spring and summer.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Similar to Texas A&M, it's more fitting to highlight a couple of Alabama players at the same position. For the Crimson Tide, however, the standout duo will be trying to block Turner and Adeleye.
In 2021, the Tide may start Evan Neal at left tackle and either Javion Cohen or Kendall Randolph on the right. But the opportunity for Latham—and especially him, since he enrolled early—or Brockermeyer to secure a first-string role is evident.
No matter what happens this fall, Latham and Brockermeyer could be multiyear starters for the sport's preeminent team.