Early National Signing Day 2021: Ranking Top 25 Recruiting Classes

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2021

Early National Signing Day 2021: Ranking Top 25 Recruiting Classes

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    Daylen Everette picking Georgia adds to an already elite class.
    Daylen Everette picking Georgia adds to an already elite class.Credit: 247Sports

    Who said Early Signing Period doesn't have its own spectacular storylines?

    There was plenty of panic-inducing drama as the nation's top-ranked prospect Travis Hunter spurned Florida State and signed with Deion Sanders' Jackson State Tigers. Michigan flipped receiver Amorion Walker from Notre Dame and Keon Sabb from Clemson, plus added Darrius Clemons and Derrick Moore to cement a huge rally.

    First-year coaches Steve Sarkisian of Texas and Josh Heupel at Tennessee had big final days to pull top-20 classes, and Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia loaded up on stars late to finish ahead of Sark's Longhorns, Penn State and Ohio State.

    With the advent of the NIL and the out-of-control transfer portal, there were even some beautiful soundbites from Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney on opposite ends of the spectrum.

    Fisher told ESPN's Paul Finebaum: "There was a lot of NIL deals going on before all this was going on. They just weren't legal. No one told nobody." Meanwhile, Swinney said of the portal, "There's so much tampering going on and so many adults manipulating young people."

    It's a new era of college football, and those who don't adapt are going to get left behind. Let's take a look at which teams weathered the choppy waters best (so far) in the early signing period.  

25-21: Iowa, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Indiana

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    Oklahoma State's Talyn Shettron
    Oklahoma State's Talyn ShettronCredit: 247Sports

    25. Iowa Hawkeyes

    Class size: 17 (all signed)

    Impact player: Xavier Nwankpa, 4-star safety — Des Moines, Iowa (Southeast Polk HS)

    One thing to know: Nwankpa is a borderline 5-star talent with the ability to step right onto the field and continue to fortify a Hawkeyes secondary that looks loaded for the future. Coach Kirk Ferentz added five defenders in the early signing period, and this class is heavy on that side of the ball. The stars, though, are Nwankpa and fellow top-100 player DL Aaron Graves.


    24. Mississippi State Bulldogs

    Class size: 22 (18 signed)

    Impact player: Percy Lewis, 3-star offensive tackle — Perkinston, Mississippi (Gulf Coast CC)

    One thing to know: Silky-smooth receiver Marquez Dortch is going to have opportunities to step into Mike Leach's offense and shine, but the Bulldogs have a glaring need at offensive tackle if Charles Cross and Scott Lashley head to the NFL. The 6'8", 360-pound Lewis could solve that issue quickly. This is a typical MSU class: nothing flashy, but a bunch of developmental guys who will turn into pro prospects.


    23. Oklahoma State Cowboys

    Class size: 17 (all signed)

    Impact player: Talyn Shettron, 4-star wide receiver — Edmond, Oklahoma (Santa Fe HS)

    One thing to know: Shettron looks like the next great Cowboys pass-catcher in Mike Gundy's offense, and he will be beloved in Stillwater after flipping from Oklahoma. With OSU looking to reload on offense, the Cowboys did a great job. All six 4-star prospects are on that side of the ball in RBs Ollie Gordon and CJ Brown, OT Tyrone Webber, WR Braylin Presley and QB Garret Rangel.


    22. South Carolina Gamecocks

    Class size: 21 (20 signed)

    Impact player: Keenan Nelson Jr., 4-star safety — Philadelphia (St. Joseph's Prep School)

    One thing to know: There is no bigger need on the Gamecocks than quarterback, and head coach Shane Beamer addressed that in a huge way when he went out and got Spencer Rattler and tight end Austin Stogner to transfer from Oklahoma. A program that already looked on solid footing got better. They also loaded up on defensive backs in this class, and nobody is better than Nelson, a hard-hitting safety from Philly who shows Beamer's recruiting prowess.


    21. Indiana Hoosiers

    Class size: 19 (18 signed)

    Impact player: Dasan McCullough, 4-star edge — Bloomington, Indiana (Bloomington South HS)

    One thing to know: Much like what happened at Stanford, coach Tom Allen endured a miserable year at Indiana, going 2-10 and winless in the Big Ten only to see oft-injured star quarterback Michael Penix Jr. enter the portal. Thankfully for the Hoosiers, they crafted a terrific class, highlighted by top-50 prospect McCullough, a do-it-all hybrid defensive end/linebacker from their own backyard. Running back Gi'Bran Payne can be an explosive difference-maker, too.

20-16: Michigan State, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Stanford

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    Stanford's David Bailey
    Stanford's David BaileyCredit: 247Sports

    20. Michigan State Spartans

    Class size: 22 (all signed)

    Impact player: Dillon Tatum, 4-star athlete — West Bloomfield, Michigan (West Bloomfield HS)

    One thing to know: Tatum hails from the same high school as Michigan running back Donovan Edwards. He desperately needs to make an impact in the defensive backfield early. The Spartans ranked dead-last nationally in pass defense, but pledges from safety Jaden Mangham and cornerback Caleb Coley should help. DL Alex VanSumeren will get on the field and after quarterbacks right away, too.


    19. Arkansas Razorbacks

    Class size: 21 (20 signed)

    Impact player: Isaiah Sategna, 4-star wide receiver — Fayetteville, Arkansas (Fayetteville HS)

    One thing to know: How cool is it that Sategna grew up in the shadow of Razorback Stadium and now has a golden opportunity to step into the massive cleats of Treylon Burks? The 5'11", 170-pound pass-catcher is good enough to do just that. The Hogs have 10 commits from Arkansas. (Oh, and one from Australia in Max Fletcher, who actually isn't the school's first punter from Down Under. Sam Irwin-Hill is an Aussie who punted in 2013-14.)


    18. Auburn Tigers

    Class size: 18 (17 signed)

    Impact player: Robert Woodyard, 4-star linebacker — Mobile, Alabama (Williamson HS)

    One thing to know: There's no question Woodyard will be a point of pride for Tigers fans since he flipped from Alabama, but this class will be known for the defensive backfield. JUCO prospects Keionte Scott and Marquise Gilbert are ready to play right away. Four-stars JaDarian Rhym and Austin Ausberry have bright futures, too, as the Tigers gear up to stop the Crimson Tide's speedy receivers.


    17. LSU Tigers

    Class size: 13 (all signed)

    Impact player: Will Campbell, 5-star offensive tackle — Monroe, Louisiana (Neville HS)

    One thing to know: This class fell apart when the Tigers parted ways with Ed Orgeron, but Brian Kelly slowly built back a strong group that is short on numbers but long on talent. Campbell is elite and can help shore up the O-line early, while fellow 5-star quarterback Walker Howard is the signal-caller of the future. Hanging on to defenders Laterrance Welch and DeMario Tolan was huge, too.


    16. Stanford Cardinal

    Class size: 22 (20 signed)

    Impact player: David Bailey, 4-star edge — Santa Ana, California (Mater Dei HS)

    One thing to know: Despite an atrocious 3-9 season, the Cardinal pieced together their best class in years and the top class in the Pac-12, thanks to the tumult surrounding Oregon and USC. Most importantly, they signed at least one player at each position on both sides of the ball. Bailey is the star, a top-100 player who can help an awful defense get better in a hurry.

15-11: Clemson, Florida State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri

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    Cade Klubnik may be good enough to start right away for Clemson, even at QB.
    Cade Klubnik may be good enough to start right away for Clemson, even at QB.Credit: 247Sports

    15. Clemson Tigers

    Class size: 13 (12 signed)

    Impact player: Jeadyn Lukus, 4-star cornerback — Mauldin, South Carolina (Mauldin HS)

    One thing to know: If things stay the way they are, this will be the first time in five years coach Dabo Swinney's Tigers don't finish with the ACC's top class. But 5-star quarterback Cade Klubnik is a future star who can push D.J. Uiagalelei, which he desperately needs after an uneven 2021 season.


    14. Florida State Seminoles

    Class size: 15 (14 signed)

    Impact player: Azareyeh Thomas, 4-star athlete — Niceville, Florida (Niceville HS)

    One thing to know: It's so hard to overlook the biggest flop in the early signing period, as the Seminoles were devastated to learn the nation's top-ranked player (Travis Hunter) flipped to FBS Jackson State. They also lost defensive tackle Tyre West, and legacy recruit Marvin Jones Jr. chose Georgia. Don't forget, though, they have the versatile Thomas, who can play on either side of the ball, and elite safety Sam McCall.


    13. Oklahoma Sooners

    Class size: 15 (14 signed)

    Impact player: Jayden Gibson, 4-star wide receiver — Winter Garden, Florida (West Orange HS)

    One thing to know: Perhaps some of the biggest news of a tumultuous cycle that saw the Sooners lose a ton of recruits but pick up some late was the recommitment of Kobie McKinzie, an elite linebacker from Texas who initially decommitted but bought in to new coach Brent Venables' initial days in Norman. Getting quarterback Nick Evers to flip from Florida was big, too.


    12. Tennessee Volunteers

    Class size: 20 (all signed)

    Impact player: Justin Williams, 4-star running back — Dallas, Georgia (East Paulding HS)

    One thing to know: A frenetic finish for Josh Heupel gave him the second-highest rated recruiting class of any first-year coach. Getting guys like Williams, 4-star defensive tackle Tyre West and 4-star edge-rusher James Pearce was huge. The Vols also signed Christian Harrison, the son of former Patriots All-Pro Rodney Harrison.


    11. Missouri Tigers

    Class size: 16 (15 signed)

    Impact player: Luther Burden, 5-star wide receiver — East St. Louis, Illinois (East St. Louis HS)

    One thing to know: Burden is the highest-rated player ever to commit to Mizzou, and coach Eli Drinkwitz did a fantastic job selling local products on staying home when many have been heading to Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame and other places recently. Nine commits hail from Missouri or border states Illinois and Kansas.

10. Kentucky Wildcats

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    Kiyaunta Goodwin
    Kiyaunta GoodwinCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 20 (all signed)

    Impact player: Kiyaunta Goodwin, 5-star offensive tackle— Charlestown, Indiana (Charlestown HS)


    What to know

    Without a doubt, the biggest surprise in the top 10 rankings are the Kentucky Wildcats. Coach Mark Stoops has slowly built this program toward the land of respectability, and while they don't have a great record against ranked opponents in his tenure, he's done a great job.

    This isn't basketball, after all.

    Prospects are taking notice, and it certainly wasn't lip service when Stoops said this year's class was the best the program has ever signed.

    The star of the show is Goodwin, a 6'8", 340-pound physically fantastic-looking prospect who has the game to match. Many of the top teams in the country came after him, and Kentucky had to sweat it out, but he officially chose the Wildcats over Michigan State on Thursday to end the concerns.

    He will help anchor an offensive line that has become a team strength in recent years.

    The Wildcats also dipped into hated rival Tennessee to pull three 4-star prospects in twins Keaten and Destin Wade as well as speedy Nashville wide receiver Barion Brown. This is the type of class Kentucky needed to continue the positive momentum.

9. Michigan Wolverines

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    Will Johnson
    Will JohnsonCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 23 (22 signed) 

    Impact player: Will Johnson, 5-star cornerback — Grosse Point, Michigan (Grosse Point South HS) 


    What to know

    Few coaches had a bigger volume-related impact on the first day of early signing period than Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who is parlaying a revival season and College Football Playoff appearance into another elite recruiting class.

    The Wolverines received five new pledges on Wednesday, including four who flipped from other programs. Amorion Walker (Notre Dame), Keon Sabb (Clemson), Alex Orji (Virginia Tech) and Derrick Moore (Oklahoma) rounded out a terrific final day.

    Another major pull was wide receiver Darrius Clemons, who gives Harbaugh another weapon on the perimeter.

    But the biggest commitment of the class was a home-grown elite cornerback who can step right in and shut down one side of the field from day one. At 6'3", 190 pounds, Johnson has an NFL body and the skill set to match. There are a lot of potentially terrific players heading to Ann Arbor, but he's the best.

    The Wolverines also did a great job recruiting linebackers and offensive tackles, too. It's obvious this program is back on an upward trajectory.

8. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    George Pettaway
    George PettawayCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 17 (all signed) 

    Impact player: George Pettaway, 4-star running back — Suffolk, Virginia (Nansemond-Suffolk Academy)


    What to know:

    Considering just how well Mack Brown has brought in players in his second stint in Chapel Hill, it doesn't ring hollow when he told reporters on Wednesday this year's group was "possibly the best recruiting class in our school's history," according to the Times-News' Adam Smith.

    There are so many options when it comes to the biggest impact player, especially with a group that includes the nation's top-ranked offensive tackle, Zach Rice, and second-ranked defensive tackle Travis Shaw. With starters leaving at both positions, it wouldn't be a shocker to see them carve a path to a starting role.

    But starting right away along the lines of scrimmage is notoriously difficult, so perhaps the biggest quick impacts will come from running backs George Pettaway and Omarion Hampton.

    It's huge news Pettaway will be able to go through spring drills. He is adept at catching the ball out of the backfield and is a one-cut-and-go speed-burner. He's going to be a weapon Brown integrates into the rotation, if not the starting lineup.

    Hampton is the big, bruising back the Tar Heels need after Javonte Williams left for the NFL after the 2020 season. Both of those guys have bright futures.

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Jaylen Sneed
    Jaylen SneedCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 21 (all signed) 

    Impact player: Jaylen Sneed, 5-star linebacker — Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (Hilton Head HS)


    What to know:

    The Fighting Irish had some recruiting losses down the stretch, including losing cornerback Devin Moore to the Florida Gators on the first day of the early session, but don't discredit the work new head coach Marcus Freeman did.

    He's known as being an elite recruiter, and though Brian Kelly left for LSU so quickly, the Notre Dame skipper did a good job keeping things together and solidifying a top-10 class.

    The strength of the haul is the linebacking corps, which is the Irish's best in the modern era. Not only do they have speed and versatility from a guy like Nolan Ziegler but also a legit middle linebacker in Joshua Burnham.

    Sitting as the jewel of it all is Sneed, a jackrabbit-fast hybrid linebacker who is a sideline-to-sideline guy and a cookie-cutter SEC-type every-down linebacker Notre Dame normally doesn't pull from the South. But Freeman was a big reason Sneed decided to go to South Bend, and the team will be rewarded with an elite skill set.

    The Irish needed a lot of defensive help, and they got it. The last SEC-caliber defender they got from the South who shocked everybody he left was Kyle Hamilton, and that worked out well. Expect Sneed to lead a nasty defensively fueled class in the future.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Drew Allar
    Drew AllarCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 24 (23 signed)

    Impact player: Drew Allar, 5-star quarterback — Medina, Ohio (Medina HS)


    What to know:

    Penn State needs all the help it can get on offense, even with quarterback Sean Clifford announcing this week he will return next season for a final year in Happy Valley.

    This may be a gamble to put out there, but even if Clifford starts the year under center, he's going to have to be a whole lot more dynamic to hold off incoming Drew Allar, a 6'4.5", 228-pound strong-armed star-in-the-making from Medina, Ohio. 

    These 7-5 seasons aren't going to cut it, and while Clifford is a nice security blanket, Allar is the perfect quarterback for offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich's system. Look for him to get a chance to shine; after all, this is the No. 3-ranked overall player, according to 247Sports.

    Two other strong bets for '22 reps are running back Nicholas Singleton and receiver Kaden Saunders, both top-60 players in the nation who happen to play positions of need for the Nittany Lions. They may see the field quicker than Allar, but that trio should have a lot of fans excited for the future.

    There aren't many teams who can put a group of three offensive skill-position prospects like this out there.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    C.J. Hicks
    C.J. HicksCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 18 (17 signed)

    Impact player: C.J. Hicks, 5-star linebacker — Dayton, Ohio (Archbishop Alter HS)


    What to know:

    The Ohio State Buckeyes are still elite when it comes to recruiting, and coach Ryan Day got an early start to this group. Though there was some movement from a class that looked a year ago like nobody would beat it for the No. 1 spot, it's still dynamic.

    Nine top-100 prospects highlight a class that is among the nation's best, and six of those are defensive players, meeting a major need for a Buckeyes team that had an extremely uneven and tumultuous year on that side of the ball.

    The Buckeyes needed to get better on the back end and did so with commitments from 5-star safety Sonny Styles and 4-star cornerback Jyaire Brown, but the best playmaker who is going to get the quickest shot is on the second level.

    Ohio State desperately needs impact linebackers, and they got one with 6'3", 215-pound Cincinnati product C.J. Hicks, who has a college-ready body, can chase down running backs and looks like he could have the same first-year impact on defense that running back TreVeyon Henderson did on offense this year.

    The Buckeyes are reloading (even if this haul is a little offense-heavy), and this class will help.

4. Texas Longhorns

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    Kelvin Banks
    Kelvin BanksCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 27 (26 signed)

    Impact player: Kelvin Banks, 5-star offensive lineman — Humble, Texas (Summer Creek HS)


    What to know:

    After a forgettable first season in Austin, it's obvious it's going to take Steve Sarkisian time to build the type of program he wants, and while the brass are impatient down there, a recruiting class of this ilk will buy him time and goodwill.

    It all starts on the offensive front, and Sark and OL coach Kyle Flood pieced together arguably the nation's top class in that area, buoyed by the pledge of 5-star offensive tackle Banks over the final weekend before the early signing period following a decommitment from Oregon.

    Getting Neto Umeozulu, Malik Agbo and Cameron Williams as late snags gives them a great nucleus. Five-star offensive lineman Devon Campbell is still out there, too, and 100 percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball projections point to the 'Horns.

    Texas also got a lot better late by flipping Terrance Brooks from Ohio State and Ethan Burke from Michigan, and while the holes on defense are too great to fix in one class, this is an incredible start.

    Don't forget: He may not be included in the recruiting rankings, but getting elite quarterback (and former UT commit) Quinn Ewers in the portal gives Longhorns fans plenty of hope that things can be a whole lot better in 2022 and beyond.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Malaki Starks
    Malaki StarksCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 26 (23 signed)

    Impact player: Malaki Starks, 5-star athlete — Jefferson, Georgia (Jefferson HS)


    What to know:

    On paper, coach Kirby Smart has put together arguably the best defensive backfield class ever. 

    Bolstered this past week by a commitment from 5-star cornerback Daylen Everette, the Dawgs already had a backfield class that included Jaheim Singletary and Starks, who projects as a safety, and top-100 player Julian Humphrey.

    They are loaded on the back end, and even though they are losing some playmakers from that area, they seem to be getting more talented. Starks especially looks like a guy who can step right in and maybe fill Lewis Cine's shoes as an elite safety.

    The biggest news for the Bulldogs, though, is maybe they've finally found their quarterback of the future in gunslinger Gunner Stockton. There are a lot of things to like about a class that is deep and loaded, and it looks like Smart's Dawgs will be playoff contenders for years to come.

    With several recruits yet to decide, UGA is right in the mix for the top class. Regardless, the Bulldogs have another strong haul that will help keep them at the top.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Emmanuel Henderson
    Emmanuel HendersonCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 21 (all signed)

    Impact player: Emmanuel Henderson, 5-star running back — Hartford, Alabama (Geneva County HS)


    What to know:

    After last year's national championship run and subsequent top-ranked recruiting class, the Crimson Tide aren't slowing down anytime soon. They're in the College Football Playoff once again, just saw Bryce Young win the Heisman and are in the mix for the top class again.

    They probably don't have the horses to unseat Texas A&M above them, but Alabama has plenty of positives in this class. This one's heavy (as always) on quality.

    Despite losing out on Domani Jackson, who is staying home to play for USC, the Tide are loaded once again. Players like edge-rusher Jeremiah Alexander and quarterback Ty Simpson provide the 5-star power and have bright futures. Blazing speed in the receiver commits will help, too.

    But the guy who can make the biggest impact in 2022 is running back Emmanuel Henderson, an explosive player who will help the Tide after the loss of Brian Robinson Jr. He will team with Trey Sanders, Roydell Williams and Jase McClellan to make up for those lost yards next year.

    Henderson may be just too talented to keep off the field, and coach Nick Saban is going to play whoever gives his team the best chance to win.

1. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy
    Gabriel Brownlow-DindyCredit: 247Sports

    Class size: 26 (25 signed)

    Impact player: Evan Stewart, 5-star wide receiver — Frisco, Texas (Liberty HS)


    What to know:

    No team is better at the very top of the class or has more elite room to grow because of interested players still in the mix who aren't making early signing period decisions than the Texas A&M Aggies.

    Jimbo Fisher's team knocked off Alabama this year, even though it wound up being the transitional year expected following the loss of quarterback Kellen Mond. But all the talent they're bringing into College Station will help the youth movement.

    Remarkably, the Aggies have four commitments (three signed) in the top 20 overall players, and while 5-star defensive tackle (and second-ranked overall player) Walter Nolen didn't sign, he seems solid at the moment. Pair him with Anthony Lucas and Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, whom they flipped from Oklahoma, and that's an elite tandem.

    Quarterback Conner Weigman could find himself in the mix to start, but the biggest win who could help right away in '22 is silky-smooth receiver Evan Stewart, who was long thought to be a Longhorns lean. Speaking of Texas, he's a Xavier Worthy clone who will give the Aggies downfield integrity right away.

    This class is perfectly built, and there are other major targets still yet to pull the trigger (like Omari Abor, Shemar Stewart, Harold Perkins, Denver Harris and others).


    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports Reference. Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite rankings unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.