National Signing Day 2018: Grading Every Top 25 Team's Recruiting Class
The Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Georgia Bulldogs for the 2018 national championship, but which SEC powerhouse won the recruiting battle?
Now that all the dust from national signing day has settled and we know what the incoming freshman classes look like, we've given recruiting report card grades to every team that appeared in 2017's final AP Top 25 poll.
Be forewarned: We were not afraid to give out failing grades.
Marks are primarily based on where the schools appear in 247Sports' composite team rankings, but how well a team normally fares was also a significant factor. For example, Alabama and UCF aren't exactly on the same level of historical recruiting prowess. Ranking in the top 40 would be an incredible accomplishment for the Knights, while falling outside the top five would be a major disappointment for the Crimson Tide. Those are important details to keep in mind when grading a class.
For the top 10 teams, we've also noted the class' best offensive and defensive player, so you have an early idea who to keep an eye on for the next few years.
No. 25 Memphis-No. 21 South Florida
25. Memphis Tigers: F
We're not exactly starting things with a bang here, but Memphis has the worst recruiting class among the AP Top 25 teams. Per the 247Sports composite rankings, the Tigers are 87th nationally without a single 4-star recruit. This comes after ranking 56th and 61st in the past two seasons, which appeared to be proof that head coach Mike Norvell was laying the groundwork to become an AAC powerhouse.
24. Virginia Tech Hokies: B+
Virginia Tech's recruiting pull waned toward the end of Frank Beamer's decadeslong tenure as head coach, but Justin Fuente has this program's talent level moving back in the right direction. This year's splash is 4-star wide receiver Tre Turner. He could immediately play a big role in the 2018 offense, as the Hokies attempt to fill the giant hole Cam Phillips' graduation left.
23. North Carolina State Wolfpack: A-
Two years ago, NC State's recruiting class ranked 50th. Last year, it was No. 53. So, even though the Wolfpack aren't competing with Clemson, Miami and Florida State for ACC recruiting supremacy, checking in at No. 29 is impressive for Dave Doeren and his staff. With Jaylen Samuels graduating and Nyheim Hines leaving a year early for the NFL draft, 4-star running back Ricky Person could be an immediate playmaker for this team.
22. Boise State Broncos: B
Boise State never finishes in the top 50 nationally, and that will continue for at least one more year. The Broncos landed at No. 54 with just one 4-star recruit: Khalil Shakir. However, that's enough for them to rank No. 1 in the Mountain West Conference for an eighth consecutive year, and 54 is slightly better than they usually do.
21. South Florida Bulls: B+
Something of a combination between NC State and Boise State, South Florida didn't make into the top 50 (No. 61), but it is in better position than usual, despite a complete lack of 4-star commitments. While the Bulls aren't in great shape nationally, they're much better off than AAC foe Memphis.
No. 20 Stanford-No. 16 Washington
20. Stanford Cardinal: D+
Stanford always seems to have a smaller class than most schools, resulting in a much different overall rank than if you slotted teams by the average number of stars per commitment. That's because the Cardinal usually land some can't-miss prospects. Last year, head coach David Shaw signed three of the country's top 15 players and a total of eight in the top 200.
This year? Not so much. Jack West, a 4-star quarterback, was Stanford's top signed recruit heading into national signing day, and he only ranks No. 235 on the 247Sports composite list. The Cardinal did add No. 46 overall recruit, QB Tanner McKee—who will take a two-year LDS mission before joining the program in 2020—but this is still a subpar class, both for Stanford and for a team that almost always competes for a Power Five conference title.
19. Mississippi State Bulldogs: B
Despite going from Dan Mullen to Joe Moorhead at head coach and needing to compete with Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee for local talent, Mississippi State did well, snaring six 4-star recruits. Though this is nowhere close to a top-five SEC class, it's a borderline top-25 national class. That's about what we've come to expect from the Bulldogs.
18. LSU Tigers: C+
LSU operates on a different level from any team we've encountered thus far. The Tigers ranked in the nation's top seven in each of the last five years, including inking the No. 2 class in 2014 and 2016. There's an expectation LSU will sign at least five of the country's top 100 recruits every year.
Thus, at No. 14, it's the highest-ranked class in the back half of the AP Top 25, but it's a disappointment compared to what the Bayou Bengals normally do. That said, there's serious talent here, led by 5-star wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. The Tigers ended up with 12 4-star recruits.
17. Northwestern Wildcats: F
Failing grades rub people the wrong way, but when you rank dead last in your conference in recruiting, sorry, that's what you get. Granted, Evanston, Illinois, hasn't been a popular destination for highly touted recruits, but the Wildcats usually fare a little better than this. Four years ago, they got four top-220 recruits. This year, they entered NSD with just one top-650 recruit and didn't improve upon that.
16. Washington Huskies: A
Chris Petersen has turned Washington into A) an annual threat for the College Football Playoff and B) a place where top-100 recruits want to sign. Hard to believe it was only a decade ago that Tyrone Willingham hit this program like a meteor and left it the laughingstock of the power conferences.
Though the Huskies whiffed on the 5-star talent, they landed 11 4-star recruits, including quarterbacks and top-100 overall prospects Colson Yankoff and Jacob Sirmon. Petersen gets one more year of Jake Browning before he hands the keys to one of those guys.
No. 15 Michigan State-No. 11 Notre Dame
15. Michigan State Spartans: C+
There will be plenty of time before the start of next season to discuss and discover how Michigan State's ongoing scandal will impact the football roster. As far as the recruiting class is constructed, things went about as well as they usually do for the Spartans: no top-100 guys, but a few 4-star players who could develop into team leaders in short order.
14. Oklahoma State Cowboys: B-
Recruiting at Oklahoma State has never been easy. In fact, it's incredible that Mike Gundy has five 10-win seasons in the last seven years while Texas and Oklahoma annually obliterate him on the recruiting trail.
That axiom rings true yet again this year, as the Longhorns and Sooners each have a top-10 class while the Cowboys just barely finished in the top half of the Big 12 standings. And yet, this is better than usual for Oklahoma State. Wide receiver CJ Moore and dual-threat QB Spencer Sanders headline a deep group of guys, several of which will be immediately tasked with helping replace a lot of outgoing talent.
13. Miami Hurricanes: A+
The U is back, baby!
Miami's recruiting class ranked 27th in 2015, 22nd in 2016 and 12th last year before ascending to No. 7 this year. It's the first time the Hurricanes have ranked in the top nine since claiming the No. 1 spot back in 2008. Lorenzo Lingard, a 5-star running back, is their crown jewel, but this group is loaded with 4-star talent that will help Miami remain within shouting distance of Clemson atop the ACC standings.
12. USC Trojans: A+
USC already had a top-15 class heading into NSD, but the Trojans were arguably the biggest winners of the day in adding 5-star CB Olaijah Griffin and top-100 recruits Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Devon Williams and Solomon Tuliaupupu. As a result, they ended up at No. 4, which is a lot closer to what we're used to seeing from this program.
Even by USC standards, this is a damn fine haul. The 5-star quarterback-wide receiver combo of JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown already has a great connection from playing together in high school in Santa Ana, California, and could be special for the next four years. Palaie Gaoteote, a 5-star linebacker, could be their best at the position since the days of Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga.
11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: B+
Fresh off a huge bounce-back season, Notre Dame did its usual recruiting-trail damage. At No. 10 this year, the Fighting Irish have now had 13 consecutive top-20 classes. This one doesn't have any 5-star players, but it does have a quintet of top-100 recruits, including QB of the future, Phil Jurkovec.
No. 10 Auburn Tigers: A-
Number of Commits: 23 (zero 5-star, 16 4-star, seven 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 3 in SEC; No. 12 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 4-star ATH Joey Gatewood
Don't be fooled by the 4-star rating. Gatewood is one of the country's 50 best prospects and an athlete who could become a star at any number of positions. Per MaxPreps, he completed 68.2 percent of his pass attempts over the last two seasons, throwing for 15 touchdowns against three interceptions. He also rushed for 1,861 yards and 27 touchdowns during those two years at Bartram Trail High School. And he had a pair of touchdowns in the Under Armour All-America Game in early January.
I'm not saying he'll be the next Cam Newton for Auburn, but I'm also not saying he won't be.
Top Defensive Player: 4-star DT Coynis Miller
Speaking of the Under Armour All-America Game, Auburn had a defensive star, too. Miller recorded six tackles in it, showing off what he'll bring to the Tigers as a run-stopper.
But could he also be an unstoppable runner for head coach Gus Malzahn? According to SEC Country's Benjamin Wolk, this 300-pounder rushed for at least 16 touchdowns over the last two seasons as a Wildcat quarterback for Jackson-Olin High School.
It has been a few years since Auburn was last shut out of the 5-star market, but the Tigers made up for that goose egg with an avalanche of 4-star talent. It's the ninth straight year that this program has put together a top-12 class, and it should help the Tigers keep pace with their Iron Bowl rivals.
No. 9 TCU Horned Frogs: B+
Number of Commits: 22 (zero 5-star, five 4-star, 17 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 3 in Big 12; No. 23 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 4-star QB Justin Rogers
Rogers suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the first game of his senior year, but he was a special, dual-threat option when healthy. As a junior at Parkway, he threw for 2,646 yards and 26 touchdowns, and rushed for 566 yards and nine scores.
Rogers played in Louisiana, so keeping him away from LSU was quite the achievement for head coach Gary Patterson. This marks the second straight season that one of TCU's top signees has been a dual-threat QB. Rogers and Shawn Robinson will enter quite the offseason battle for Kenny Hill's vacated job.
Top Defensive Player: 4-star S Atanza Vongor
By all accounts, Vongor is a safety with both the vision and tenacity to dole out punishment. Read any scouting report on this dude and you won't get more than two sentences before finding the words "physical," "hitter" or "athleticism"—probably all three. And in a few years when it's time to think about NFL draft evaluations, don't be surprised to find "poor man's Troy Polamalu" in his combine notes.
For a program that has won at least 10 games in 12 of the last 18 years, TCU typically doesn't do that well on the recruiting trail. Of course, the Horned Frogs began that stretch in the WAC before moving to Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference and now the Big 12. Regardless, this might be the best recruiting class this program has ever had.
No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions: A+
Number of Commits: 23 (three 5-star, 12 4-star, eight 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 2 in Big Ten; No. 5 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 5-star WR Justin Shorter
Shorter didn't put up monster high school numbers, but he's ranked as the No. 1 wide receiver in this year's class because of the potential dripping from his 6'4" frame. Scouts and recruiting experts fell head over heels in love with him at The Opening last year. His combination of size, speed and ability to run routes like a pro could make him an instant star in State College.
Top Defensive Player: 5-star DE Micah Parsons
Speaking of instant stars, Parsons should be one for this defense. He may also occasionally be featured in the offense. Per MaxPreps, the American Family Insurance Defensive Player of the Year had 41.5 sacks in three seasons of high school football, but he also rushed for 1,239 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. Odds are, though, he'll focus on tackling opposing ball-carriers. He could immediately start as either a defensive end or a linebacker.
Not only is this a top-five class, but it's also a top-five group for a program that hasn't had a top-10 class since 2006. Even before the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State wasn't bringing in hauls like this. James Franklin turned things around in a hurry for the Nittany Lions, and with 5-star recruits like these, they aren't disappearing anytime soon.
No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers: D+
Number of Commits: 20 (zero 5-star, one 4-star, 19 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 9 in Big Ten; No. 43 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 3-star RB Nakia Watson
I don't know exactly what it takes to become a 4-star recruit, but, apparently, rushing for a combined 3,486 yards and 49 touchdowns in your junior and senior seasons isn't enough. That's what Watson did, according to MaxPreps. For good measure, he also had 327 receiving yards and six more scores as a senior.
Watson joins what is already a loaded backfield, led by early Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor. Give it a few years, though, and this guy could be the next unheralded Wisconsin recruit who becomes a star running back.
Top Defensive Player: 4-star ILB Jack Sanborn
Wisconsin has been a linebacker factory in recent years. T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel both got drafted in 2017. Joe Schobert went the year before that. Chris Borland's name was called in 2014. Chances are, both Garret Dooley and Jack Cichy will get drafted this April. In due time, Sanborn ought to join that club. He's a higher-rated recruit than all of those guys except Biegel.
The grade isn't great, but what else is new for Wisconsin? This program has not had a recruiting class ranked higher than 30th since 2001, which is, oddly enough, the last time it failed to qualify for a bowl game. And yet, the Badgers have averaged one first-round draft pick per year for the past seven seasons. They'll almost inevitably turn several of these 3-star recruits into key NFL prospects.
No. 6 UCF Knights: D
Number of Commits: 19 (zero 5-star, zero 4-star, 18 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 3 in American; No. 69 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 3-star WR Ke'Von Ahmad
UCF didn't even rank in the top 80 heading into NSD, but the Knights were saving their best for last by signing Ahmad on Wednesday and jumping into the top 70.
Per Shannon Green of the Orlando Sentinel, Ahmad accounted for 3,415 receiving yards and 42 touchdowns during his time with Colleyville Heritage. That's a high school near Dallas, Texas, where UCF found this top-500 recruit, which is proof that its sphere of influence on high school football is improving.
Top Defensive Player: 3-star OLB Eriq Gilyard
Without question, the biggest problem UCF needed to address was linebacker. The Knights are losing both Chequan Burkett and Shaquem Griffin, and they'll be losing Pat Jasinski after the 2018 season. That trio combined for 260 tackles last year. So it's no surprise that their top recruit plays that position.
Per Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel, Gilyard was averaging close to 11 tackles per game midway through this past season at Trinity Christian and was filling up the stat sheet with tackles for loss, sacks and fumbles. "He packs a punch, and his big-hit ability is one of the things UCF coaches like about Gilyard," wrote Hays.
On the one hand, this is a rather dreadful recruiting class for a team that spent the past six weeks branding itself as the "real" national champions. On the other hand, it's about par for the course in the American Athletic Conference, and the Knights don't need a ton with so many young, key players returning. Replacing Griffin and Burkett won't be easy, nor will the loss of wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith be treated with a Band-Aid. But there's still a lot of talent on this team from last year.
That said, it is a little weird that this undefeated team didn't even recruit as well as it did the February after its winless season (No. 65 in 2016).
No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes: A
Number of Commits: 26 (three 5-star, 20 4-star, three 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 1 in Big Ten; No. 2 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 4-star RB Jaelen Gill
Ohio State signed the top uncommitted recruit on Wednesday in No. 7 overall player and No. 1 OT Nicholas Petit-Frere. But it's a guy who just barely missed a 5-star grade who might be their top offensive weapon.
Gill is the highest-rated 4-star player, a fraction of a fraction of a point away from that fifth star. Oregon's Royce Freeman was in the same spot four years ago, and he merely ascended to No. 7 on the all-time rushing yards leaderboard. Jarrett Stidham was the cutoff guy in 2015, and he's one of the early candidates for the 2018 Heisman.
There's no guarantee Gill will travel down the same motivated path, but he has the potential to be great. He should fit perfectly into the H-back role that Curtis Samuel played so well for Ohio State a few years ago.
Top Defensive Player: 5-star DT Taron Vincent
At long last, Urban Meyer snared a 5-star defensive tackle. The Buckeyes have had some sensational edge-rushers, linebackers and defensive backs in recent years, but top-notch defensive tackles have been spurning Columbus for more than a decade. Vincent should immediately see significant playing time with Ohio State losing five starters from its defensive front seven. He and Nick Bosa ought to team up nicely in the pass-rushing department.
With only one recruit rated higher than No. 20 in the 247Sports composite rankings, it's a little weird to see Ohio State ranked this well. Typically, to have a top-two class, you need multiple top-15 players. Case in point, Ohio State was No. 2 last year with the players ranked Nos. 7, 8, 11 and 17.
Instead, these Buckeyes have 13 of the nation's top 100 recruits, loading up on the "could be special" players rather than a few "can't miss" guys. Must be nice for Meyer to have the luxury of taking either approach to greatness.
No. 4 Clemson Tigers: A
Number of Commits: 17 (five 5-star, seven 4-star, five 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 1 in ACC; No. 6 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 5-star QB Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence might have been built in a quarterback lab. He's 6'6", which is the ideal height for a gunslinger. He has a cannon for an arm, but he also has the necessary touch to make the short passes. (If you've been paying attention to NFL draft prep, you know this is the huge thing missing from Josh Allen's game.) And while he's perfectly comfortable standing in the pocket, he does have the mobility to make things happen with his feet if plays break down or if head coach Dabo Swinney wants to call his number from time to time.
Per MaxPreps, Lawrence threw 41 touchdowns against just one interception as a senior. We'll need to wait a few months to see if he supplants Kelly Bryant as the Tigers' starting quarterback, but he has the potential to immediately become a star.
Top Defensive Player: 5-star DE Xavier Thomas
With Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Co. all coming back for another year, just about the last thing Clemson needed in this recruiting class was a defensive end. And yet, the Tigers got two of the three best in the nation in Thomas and KJ Henry. Per MaxPreps, Thomas recorded eight sacks as a freshman and nine more as a sophomore. This 6'3", 260-pound edge-rusher might not see the field this season, but he's going to be a major problem for opposing quarterbacks from 2019 through 2021.
It's a small but mighty class for Clemson. Only Georgia (seven) signed more 5-star guys than the Tigers, who are starting to make a serious dent in the arms race. Clemson inked a total of seven 5-star recruits in the last six years prior to putting together what might be its best class ever.
3. Oklahoma Sooners: A-
Number of Commits: 22 (one 5-star, 12 4-star, nine 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 2 in Big 12; No. 8 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 5-star OT Brey Walker
Oklahoma might actually be able to replace quarterback Baker Mayfield with Kyler Murray, but will the Sooners be able to replicate the protection they gave their Heisman winner now that they won't have Orlando "Zeus" Brown at offensive tackle?
Freshmen don't often win starting jobs on the offensive line for power-conference schools, but Walker could be the exception. At 6'7", 320 pounds, he doesn't have the "needs to add size and strength" qualifier that one often finds in a high school O-lineman's scouting report. Look for Bobby Evans to switch from right to left tackle and for Walker to immediately contend for the right tackle gig.
Top Defensive Player: 4-star CB Brendan Radley-Hiles
Radley-Hiles was originally supposed to be the crown jewel of Nebraska's class. He committed to the Cornhuskers last April and even had a weekly diary on Land of 10 for a couple of months. But he decommitted in October and instead landed with the Sooners, where he will attempt to revitalize a secondary that has been struggling the past two seasons. Radley-Hiles intercepted five passes as a senior, which is almost as many as Oklahoma had as an entire team (eight) in 14 games.
The transition at head coach from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley didn't hurt Oklahoma on the field this past season, and it didn't hurt the program in recruiting, either. In fact, the Sooners recruited better this year than they did for most of the 2010s. They loaded up on quality defensive linemen and versatile athletes.
No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs: A+
Number of Commits: 26 (seven 5-star, 15 4-star, four 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 1 in SEC; No. 1 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 5-star QB Justin Fields
For the third straight year, Georgia signed one of the top three quarterbacks in the country. Fields is a dual-threat star who threw for 4,448 yards and rushed for 2,131 over the last two seasons, per 247Sports.
Could he follow in the footsteps of both Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm by becoming the starter as a true freshman? Unless Fromm suffers an injury, that's probably not going to happen. But when Fields does get the chance to play, expect him to dazzle with his mobility.
Top Defensive Player: 5-star OLB Adam Anderson
Anderson is a multisport athlete who can do seemingly anything he puts his mind to, also starring in both basketball and track in high school. The expectation is that he will become an edge-rushing phenom, as he had 23.5 tackles for loss as a senior, per MaxPreps. Don't expect him to waltz in and immediately replace Roquan Smith as Georgia's defensive leader, but he may well be that guy by 2020.
Georgia is no stranger to 5-star talent, but signing seven of the top 25 recruits in the nation is incredible. In addition to Fields and Anderson, head coach Kirby Smart got guard Jamaree Salyer, cornerback Tyson Campbell, running back Zamir White, offensive tackle Cade Mays and defensive end Brenton Cox.
There's a good chance no member of that septet starts in 2018, but that's just a testament to the amount of talent still on this roster. Maybe Georgia won't reach the College Football Playoff every year, but it's not going away anytime soon.
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide: C-
Number of Commits: 19 (two 5-star, 12 4-star, five 3-star)
247Sports Class Rank: No. 2 in SEC; No. 7 Nationally
Top Offensive Player: 4-star WR Jaylen Waddle
It took until almost the very end of NSD for Alabama to finally sign a top-100 recruit on offense, but the Crimson Tide got a special one in Waddle. Per 247Sports, Waddle had 1,382 receiving yards and 26 receiving touchdowns two seasons ago, and he didn't stop there. The multi-purpose athlete also rushed for four touchdowns, had three kick-return touchdowns and had two punt-return touchdowns.
It's a good thing he can do all that, because Nick Saban didn't get his usual haul of talent on offense. Last year, Alabama signed four 5-star offensive weapons. In each of the last 10 years, the Crimson Tide signed at least one top-30 overall recruit on offense. Although, considering how many true freshmen played a key part on offense in their national championship win, they didn't need to add much this year.
Top Defensive Player: 5-star DE Eyabi Anoma
Per Katherine Dunn of the Baltimore Sun, Anoma had 22 sacks as a senior in what was just his second season playing high school football. Dunn also noted he is expected to play outside linebacker for the Crimson Tide instead of weak-side defensive end. Regardless of where he lines up, he's already a menace who is only going to get better as he continues learning the game. Anoma is a unique combination of both demonstrated dominance and untapped potential.
A C-minus is quite the harsh grade for a team that finished at No. 7 in the overall team rankings, but this is far from what we've come to expect of Alabama. The Crimson Tide had the No. 1 class in each of the last seven years and averaged 4.6 5-star players per year during that time. To only sign two such players this year—and to lose a top-50 commitment in Quay Walker as a national signing day flip was a significant step backward for Saban.