Predicting the Destination for the Top 13 Uncommitted Prospects
As we've now entered preparation for Week 1 of the college football season, coaches around the country have set their sights on the gridiron and the team they're fielding for 2021.
But it's difficult not to steal glances at what may be on the horizon, too. Plenty of the top-rated players in the 2022 recruiting class remain uncommitted entering official visit season with a shade over three months remaining until the early signing period.
Right now, 13 of the nation's 20 prospects in the 247Sports Composite rankings are not verbally committed to any team. And while some of the "usual suspects" who contend for the top class each year are in the mix for many, other unexpected programs loom as favorites for some of the best players in the class.
From several stars in the trenches to some talented pass-catchers, there will be major battles waged in living rooms and on official visits around the nation this year. Who will win the biggest prizes with signatures on scholarship papers?
Here are some predictions for where the top uncommitted prospects will sign.
No. 1 Walter Nolen, Defensive Tackle
If you want a recruitment with plenty of twists and turns, it may be wise of you to watch defensive tackle Walter Nolen, the nation's top-ranked player.
Several teams have been in the mix from the beginning and fallen out of the top group, such as Florida and Michigan. For the longest time, the home-state Vols weren't thought to be much of a player for his signature, but coach Josh Heupel's new staff has done a great job of recruiting him.
Then, Nolen moved from Memphis to play for Knoxville's Powell High School, going along with former Vol Marlon Walls, who is his high school position coach. Now, the 6'4", 325-pound disrupter is basically in the shadow of Neyland Stadium.
Last week, he announced Tennessee, Georgia, and Texas A&M as his current top three.
Plenty is up in the air with the Vols, especially the uncertainty of how they'll look on the field in 2021 after going 3-7 last year—their third sub-.500 season in four years. But if they show any signs of life while Nolen has orange influences surrounding him and legendary defensive line coach Rodney Garner as the main recruiter trying to lure Nolen to UT, you've got to like the Vols' chances.
Garner is known for putting players in the NFL, so, right now, Tennessee may get the slight nod, but there are plenty of time remaining in this recruiting battle.
No. 3 Evan Stewart, Wide Receiver
Speaking of some wild and crazy recruitments, the nation's top-rated wide receiver may have some more movement before he signs on the dotted line, too.
That seems to a be a trend this recruiting season, and after prospects were limited on visits last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, you should get used to it being the norm.
Frisco, Texas, pass-catcher Evan Stewart is the nation's No. 3-ranked player, and he was committed to the Texas Longhorns and new coach Steve Sarkisian before opening things up again. Now, the Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide, LSU Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies are some of the teams trying to swoop in.
Sark's Longhorns remain firmly in the picture, and if they progress on the field this year, they'll be in the race for Stewart until the end. But the Gators and coach Dan Mullen recently made an impression on the silky-smooth, 6'0", 175-pound receiver, and they are a legit threat.
Stewart told SI.com's Demetrius Harvey that Florida was "the best of both worlds," providing great athletics and academics.
Even Texas' Fansided page believes Florida is a legitimate concern. Plus, when Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Ed Orgeron are in the picture, you can't count any of them out. This one's far too close to call right now, but the most recent movement has the Gators with the edge.
No. 6 Luther Burden, Wide Receiver
Much like Evan Stewart, the nation's sixth-rated prospect (and No. 2 receiver) Luther Burden thought he had everything figured out in his recruitment not too long ago.
Coming out of the football factory of East St. Louis, the 6'2", 194-pound target was all geared up to go to Oklahoma before having second thoughts and decommitting from the Sooners a couple weeks ago.
Burden's departure marked the third defection of an elite receiver from coach Lincoln Riley's class, joining Talyn Shettron (Oklahoma State) and Jordan Hudson (SMU), who have since found new homes. Burden is still considering the Sooners, but he may be next on the list to head elsewhere.
He recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's David Kvidahl he is "locked in" on football now and not playing basketball anymore, so whatever team gets the star athlete is going to get his full attention. So, who's it going to be?
The Sooners are going to stay in the race, and the Georgia Bulldogs are heavy into things, too. But the sleeper here is Missouri and coach Eli Drinkwitz, who, as Kvidahl mentions, has done a great job of convincing athletes to stay home and play for the Tigers.
Burden can be an instant-impact difference-maker with Connor Bazelak (and eventually Sam Horn) throwing him the ball, so look for Mizzou to close the deal.
No. 7 Zach Rice, Offensive Tackle
One of the biggest targets (literally and figuratively) remaining on the recruiting board this year is 5-star offensive lineman Zach Rice.
The 6'6", 282-pound offensive tackle from Lynchburg, Virginia, has a list of suitors as long as any, and some in his top group include Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Virginia, Notre Dame and North Carolina.
While the home-state Cavaliers should be considered a major threat considering they grabbed a commitment from Rice's teammate, quarterback Davis Lane, they may not be the favorite. The Fighting Irish are deep in this race, too.
But the team to beat may be North Carolina.
Coach Mack Brown not only has dominated recruiting in the Tar Heel State, he also has done a great job in Virginia, and Rice is UNC's top target in that state this year. Brown has the Tar Heels in what looks like a pretty strong position.
Rice unofficially visited Carolina on June 1, the first day recruits could do so, according to the Fayetteville Observer's Chapel Fowler. Tar Heel Blog's Brandon Anderson has watched 5-star defensive tackle commit Travis Shaw blow up Rice's Twitter account recruiting him since his commitment.
Peer pressure can be a big deal, and though Rice doesn't seem close to making a commitment and has no 247Sports Crystal Ball projections, don't bet against Brown.
Prediction: North Carolina
No. 8 Shemar Stewart, Defensive Lineman
While we're on the topic of big-time brawlers in the trenches, go ahead and throw Shemar Stewart into the discussion. He definitely belongs in the conversation.
The Opa Locka, Florida, product is a 6'5", 260-pound lineman who possesses the frame to add weight and still be a disrupter off the edge. He is coveted by some of the nation's top teams, and Georgia, Texas A&M, Miami, Clemson and Ohio State appear to be the top candidates as of now.
Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher still has plenty of Florida connections from his days at Florida State, and UGA coach Kirby Smart has done as good a job as any non-Florida school recruiting the Sunshine State in recent years.
Still, Miami coach Manny Diaz is on the case for the Hurricanes, and he wants to keep Stewart home. According to Cane Warning's Alan Rubenstein, Stewart took four unofficial visits to Coral Gables this summer, and Miami is firmly in the mix.
Plus, there's this: "Miami is close to home," Stewart told On3.com's Hayes Fawcett. "I have a great relationship with most of the guys on staff, as well as a lot of players on the team. It would be great to bring a national championship back to Miami."
Plenty can happen between now and the early signing period, but it sounds like Stewart has a favorite, whether he's admitting it or not.
No. 9 Denver Harris, Cornerback
Denver Harris is a 6'1", 180-pound cornerback from Houston who is rated as the nation's ninth-best prospect, but his ceiling is even higher than that.
Think of what he could become if he's ultimately mentored by DB guru Nick Saban at Alabama.
It's a tantalizing thought for Crimson Tide fans who are used to seeing the nation's top prospects flock to Tuscaloosa. Though Alabama is in the mix for a lot of the top players on this list, it isn't currently the favorite for many of them.
That may change with Harris, who seems to be at the center of an Alabama-Texas battle right now, with Texas A&M and LSU on the outside looking in rounding out his top four. He recently told On3 Sports he may wind up committing on September 22, too.
While the Longhorns could make a major impression on him with a quick start, Alabama is a known commodity that has piled up national championships and churned out NFL defensive backs like no other.
It's hard to see Harris turning his back on the Tide, even if his Crystal Ball projections currently point to the Longhorns. Griffin McVeigh of Longhorns Wire even believes Harris is trending toward the Crimson Tide right now.
No. 10 Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, Defensive Lineman
While Shemar Stewart may be a prime candidate to stick in the Sunshine State and play for the Hurricanes, another elite front-line defender could wind up heading elsewhere for his college days.
Lakeland, Florida, product Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy is a 6'3", 280-pound force of nature who is coveted by everybody in the nation and is currently the nation's 10th-ranked player. Though Lakeland is normally Florida Gators country, coach Dan Mullen's team isn't being mentioned much right now.
Instead, Brownlow-Dindy announced his final two this week to On3Sports' Hayes Fawcett, and they are Oklahoma and Texas A&M. The Sooners are the favorites in the Crystal Ball rankings.
"I see that they are turning things around on the defensive side," Brownlow-Dindy told Fawcett. "That's definitely a big part of my recruitment."
In that same article, Brownlow-Dindy mentions his father took a job recently in College Station, Texas (where Texas A&M, his other finalist is). That cannot be discounted, but it's just hard to see anybody beating OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, D-line coach Calvin Thibodeaux, and head coach Lincoln Riley in this race.
Brownlow-Dindy appears locked-in with the Sooners.
No. 12 Devon Campbell, Interior Offensive Lineman
A lot of the prospects mentioned so far have the Texas Longhorns among their favorites, but there haven't been any predictions for additions to coach Steve Sarkisian's team just yet.
Obviously, when you're in the mix for such a large number of elite prospects, any of them could ultimately choose to head to Austin, especially if the 'Horns look good early in the season.
There won't be any bridesmaids in this slide. Look for Sark to land the nation's top interior lineman in Devon Campbell.
The 6'3", 310-pound Arlington, Texas, native is one of the best interior line prospects to come out of high school in a long time and could be an instant-impact road-grader on the offensive front. USC, LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma are all firmly in the mix for Campbell's pledge, too.
The proximity of Texas has been a big bonus for the 'Horns, which have hosted Campbell a couple of times this summer. The big O-lineman told Orangebloods.com's Jason Suchomel nothing has changed regarding his feelings about Texas. He actually even mentioned Texas taking over the SEC in the article.
"Texas has always been a top school for me. It's going to stay like that," Campbell said. "Texas is still a top school. That’s not going to change. They're going to be up there."
This feels like a big fish Sark is going to land.
No. 14 Harold Perkins, Linebacker
There are always so many elite prospects in the Lone Star State, it's hard to envision Texas and Texas A&M having anything besides a class filled with elite playmakers.
When you throw in two recruiters as strong as Jimbo Fisher and Steve Sarkisian, this is going to be a fun SEC battle in the next few years. They're already duking it out in living rooms.
One of the biggest playmakers left on both boards is 5-star linebacker Harold Perkins of Cypress, Texas.
The 6'2.5", 210-pound linebacker is as good as any player in the class in space, can get after quarterbacks and appears to be a sure tackler. His current focus appears to be on Texas, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida and maybe Oregon, though this feels like it will ultimately be an SEC battle.
The Longhorns and Bayou Bengals will be factors, but Fisher has the Aggies deep in the mix here. Perkins has been to College Station multiple times and he seems like he would fit in perfectly in defensive coordinator Mike Elko's unit.
If the Aggies can make some noise in the SEC West this year, Perkins will likely end up as a big get for them.
Prediction: Texas A&M
No. 15 Jaheim Singletary, Cornerback
Elite defensive back Jaheim Singletary spent a long time committed to play for coach Ryan Day's Ohio State Buckeyes until backing off that pledge and reopening his recruitment.
Now, it's going to be a free-for-all with the Buckeyes still involved along with a plethora of teams like the Miami Hurricanes, Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators.
SI.com's Andrew Lind mentioned when Singletary decommitted that a second visit to Coral Gables may have been what swayed him. The Hurricanes have to be considered a major player in this race right now, if not the hands-down favorite. Ohio State will remain in the mix, too.
But with SEC East rivals Georgia and Florida entering the race heavily, too, Singletary's recruitment is far from over—even if it feels like the Hurricanes are going to be tough to beat.
There is still time for plenty of ups and downs in this recruitment, and Miami coach Manny Diaz has done a terrific job getting Singletary on campus. But what's going to happen if Alabama trounces the Hurricanes next weekend and UGA surges toward the College Football Playoff?
This could be a big year for the Dawgs, and recruits will keep taking notice. We're picking UGA in a mild upset here.
No. 18 Omari Abor, Edge-Rusher
One of the hardest recruitments to predict on this list is that of 6'4", 240-pound edge rusher Omari Abor, who hails from Duncanville, Texas, and is ranked as the nation's No. 18 player.
Just how difficult?
Though the Oklahoma Sooners hold 100 percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball rankings for him, they didn't make his final five schools, which Abor announced to On3Sports.com's Hayes Fawcett last week. Instead, Alabama, Texas, Texas A&M, LSU and Ohio State are the schools he's focused on.
From that list, Alabama and Texas A&M appear to have the edge right now, but a lot can happen between now and national signing day. He'd fit right in no matter where he goes, and it's normally tough to say no to Alabama, or either of the home-state schools.
But the Buckeyes have done a phenomenal job recruiting the Lone Star State recently, and they will be a factor for Abor. Despite that, it wouldn't be a normal recruiting cycle without Nick Saban landing multiple players in the top 20.
This would be a huge pull for the Tide, and they are firmly in the mix right now.
No. 19 Kamari Wilson, Safety
Picking Jaheim Singletary to wind up wearing red and black in Athens may be a bit of a stretch right now, but it's not that big of a leap to see another dynamic Florida defensive back heading Kirby Smart's way.
That would be IMG Academy's Kamari Wilson, who is as good as any defender in the country and is giving the Bulldogs a long, hard look.
The 6'1", 195-pound defensive back has an alpha mentality and would fit right in with Dan Lanning's aggressive defense, and he is just the kind of player who can step right in and start no matter where he goes.
Miami, LSU, Texas A&M and Florida are some of the major players in this battle, and Wilson would be an elite commit for any of those teams. The Gators have done a great job recruiting DBs the past couple of cycles, and you've got to think Ed Orgeron, Corey Raymond and the LSU Tigers are going to get some of these targets.
But 100 percent of the projections on the 247Sports Crystal Ball points to the Bulldogs as the destination, and it feels like they should be the favorite right now.
No. 20 Josh Conerly Jr., Offensive Tackle
There haven't been any Pac-12 destinations on this list so far, and that's because a lot of the recent top prospects from out West have decided to leave the region for college.
The Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans have done a better job in the past couple of seasons keeping some of those players at home. The Washington Huskies, on the other hand, have not.
During the last cycle alone, elite receiver Emeka Egbuka and defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau left Washington to head to Ohio State. Those are battles new Huskies coach Jimmy Lake simply cannot lose if he's going to remain competitive.
The latest recruiting clash is for offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr., the top player in the state and the No. 20 prospect in the nation. The biggest thorn in the Huskies' side for his services may be a Big Ten school, but it's not the Buckeyes.
Michigan is hot and heavy after Conerly, who also likes Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Oregon and Texas. Though his recruitment doesn't seem like it's ending any time soon, Conerly is arguably Lake's top target, and Washington could land him with a rebound year in the Pac-12.
This feels like one the Huskies could get.
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.