National Signing Day Preview

Rob Willette

National Signing Day may have lost some panache given how intense the recruiting coverage is these days, but it still offers an opportunity to welcome the next wave of collegiate stars.  While most have made their college decision known, a few marquee talents still remain on the market, and the threat of a Signing Day flip always lurks.  Below we will take a look at a few skill position players yet to sign who could start making noise in the devy community early in their careers.

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WR Joseph Lewis

Key Players: USC and Nebraska

Prior to losing some shine of his star late in the process, Lewis was a five star prospect according to several services.  He never quite dazzled me as you’d expect a five star prospect to do, and I feel 247 Sports’ final ranking of him at 14 amongst receivers is most appropriate.  However, there is no denying he has an ample toolkit.  At 6’1”, 204 pounds, he is physically ready to make the next step and he offers quite a bit of upside as someone who can work in the intermediate game and make plays after the catch.  He looks like a heavy USC lean, and while they return a talented trio of 2016 recruits, both Juju Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers move on, offering playing time opportunity for several new faces.  Should he end up a Trojan, Lewis is the type who can flash early in his career.

WR Henry Ruggs

Key Players: Alabama and Florida State

Once viewed to be a virtual lock to Alabama, Florida State has a lot of momentum in nabbing Henry Ruggs on Signing Day.  An explosive athlete – as evidenced by his social media dunks – Ruggs is relatively new to football yet has become a big play machine with his run after the catch ability.  His postseason performance was so impressive 247 Sports dubbed him their top receiver in the 2017 cycle.  While I am not quite so bullish on him, he’s a unique talent who should be able to get open at will at the college level.  There’s opportunity at both Alabama and Florida State despite talent-laden rosters.  He’s the player I will be watching closest on Signing Day.

RB Cordarrian Richardson

Key Players: Ole Miss

After parting ways with Clemson in December, the future was murky for Cordarrian Richardson.  All signs now point to him landing in Oxford, and he’d be a huge get for an Ole Miss program which has taken a beating on the recruiting trail this year, largely due to an ongoing NCAA investigation.  The Rebels have not been known for producing high-end backs in the Hugh Freeze Era, though Richardson may be the best talent they have added should he select their program.  He’s a thickly built, bulldozing runner with enough athleticism to be more than a plodder.  He has the body to play right away and the depth chart at Ole Miss is anything but intimidating.

WR DeVonta Smith

Key Players: Alabama, Florida State, LSU

Of all the players on this list, the decision Smith is set to make seems to be the murkiest.  While the Crystal Ball heavily favors Alabama, there has been a recent pick for LSU, and Florida State received one of his late visits.  At only 160 pounds, I don’t see Smith being ready to play right away, and it is a major reason as to why I have serious questions long-term; he’s just incredibly slight.  He’s got phenomenal ball skills and is an effortless mover.  The upside is high, he just has a long way to get there.

WR Jeff Thomas

Key Players: Miami, Oregon

There are plenty of talents with elite quicks at the receiver position this year, and perhaps none can match Jeff Thomas.  At 5’10”, 175, Thomas is obviously on the smaller side but has incredible long speed and can toy with defenders in open space.  Miami has looked like the leader for a long time, though Oregon lurks and has made a late push.  I would expect him to be a Hurricane, and join the program with an opportunity to immediately earn playing time behind Ahmmon Richards and Lawrence Cager.

Best Recruiting Classes For Devy Talent

1. Alabama Crimson Tide: No upset here.  The overall class is absurdly stacked and the skill positions are no exceptions.  Najee Harris headlines the class and many have dubbed him one of the better running back prospects in recent memory.  Fellow running back recruit Brian Robinson could headline the recruiting class of many other programs.  He’s extremely talented in his own right.

Even if the Tide miss out on the aforementioned Ruggs and Smith, they still welcome five star receiver Jerry Jeudy and four star talent Tyrell Shavers, whom I feel is one of the more overlooked prospects in this class.  Throw in quarterback Tuo Tagovailoa – a composite five star prospect – and you have the deepest devy class in college football and the one which offers the most intrigue.

2. Florida State Seminoles: The Seminoles welcome my number overall incoming freshman: running back Cam Akers.  The high school quarterback is really as bulletproof as a running back prospect can be and it would be an upset did he not have an extremely productive career in Tallahassee.  As an early enrollee, he figures to play early and could easily become the Seminoles’ starter before long.

While Akers carries this class, there are two other ball carriers worthy of your attention: Khalan Laborn and Zaquandre White.  Laborn carries a five star composite ranking, and while I am not as high on him as the consensus, he offers a unique skill-set to the Seminoles backfield and can thrive in tandem with Akers.  Out wide, D.J. Matthews can terrorize defenses with his short-area quickness and the nagging ability to always get open.  If they can add Smith and Ruggs, this class could surpass Alabama’s.

3. Oklahoma Sooners: While the Sooners lack a readymade star, they have a surfeit of depth as they attempt to replace Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, and Dede Westbrook.  My favorite prospect of the bunch is CeeDee Lamb, a lanky yet silky smooth receiver who has such immense physical talent I am confused as to how he did not get more publicity on the All-Star circuit.  He does not seem likely to star early, but I am bullish on his long-term appeal.

In the backfield, the bruising Trey Sermon figures to assume the Perine role as a bulldozer who is far from just a two-down back.  Fellow four star running back Kennedy Brooks relies more on his feet and ability to make people miss.  Toss in four star receivers Marquise Brown and Charleston Rambo, along with four star quarterback Chris Robison, and the Sooners have done an excellent job of restocking the cupboard.

4. Clemson Tigers: Clemson has brought in a small class, yet it is stacked with elite talent capable of contributing early.  The headliner of the class is Tee Higgins, a tall receiver who is unstoppable at the catch point.  While he is not a burner and lacks great bulk at this juncture, his ceiling is absurd.

Fellow receiver Amari Rodgers is a unique cat.  Despite being only maybe 5’10”, he is filled out at 220 pounds and plays fearlessly, running over people and going after jump balls as though he is 6’5”.  I expect him to be a supercharge Artavis Scott.  Running back Travis Etienne was an excellent late addition to the class and adds even more speed to a backfield which is not exactly hurting for it.  Five star quarterback Hunter Johnson is far from a footnote on this class, as he is already enrolled and could challenge to start as a true freshman as Deshaun Watson’s heir apparent.

5. Michigan Wolverines: I am adding Michigan with the expectation they land receiver Nico Collins, a big, rangy receiver who looks like a strong Michigan lean.  He’d complement Donovan Peoples-Jones, my favorite receiver in the class (and many others’).  DPJ is a well-built, physical receiver who has very few flaws in his game.  He’s a top athlete and proved it by winning the Nike Football Rating at 2015’s The Opening.  He’s enrolled and it is not far-fetched to see him pacing the Wolverines in yardage during his true freshman season.

The Wolverines have attacked the receiver position during the past two recruiting cycles, and also added Tarik Black in 2017.  He’s another big-bodied (6’4, 208) receiver who is capable of working after the catch or making plays in traffic.  I prefer him to many other highly rated receivers.  Throw in four stars at quarterback (Dylan McCaffrey) and running back (O’Maury Samuels) and this is a very good class for Michigan.

Top 15 Incoming Devy Freshmen

  1. RB Cam Akers, Florida State Seminoles
  2. RB Najee Harris, Alabama Crimson Tide
  3. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan Wolverines
  4. WR Tee Higgins, Clemson Tigers
  5. RB Ty Chandler, Tennessee Volunteers
  6. RB DeAndre Swift, Georgia Bulldogs
  7. RB Stephen Carr, USC Trojans
  8. WR Jhamon Ausbon, Texas A&M Aggies
  9. RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State Buckeyes
  10. WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma Sooners
  11. RB Salvon Ahmed, Washington Huskies
  12. WR Jalen Reagor, TCU Horned Frogs
  13. RB Eno Benjamin, Arizona State Sun Devils
  14. RB Brian Robinson, Alabama Crimson Tide
  15. WR Tyjon Lindsey, Nebraska Cornhuskers


rob willette