Signing Day Recap: Projecting The Impact Freshmen
Signing Day Recap: Projecting The Impact Freshmen

This article is part of our Signing Day Recap series.

Signing Day has come and gone – the ink has dried, the faxes have been sent, and the dust has finally settled. Now we can start taking a closer look at the winners and losers from this cycle and start to hone in on some potential impact freshmen in this class. In this article I'll take stock of the risers and fallers, look at the skill position groups, and identify some of my favorite recruits who could be making fantasy waves as early as this year. 

In last year's piece, we discussed the likes of Breece Hall, Sam Howell, and George Pickens as potential impact players. I also swung and missed pretty hard on the John Emery call, which keeps me humble. 

Anyway, here's my full breakdown of the 2020 recruiting cycle. 

Winners

North Carolina No. 19 Overall

Mack Brown pulled in the No.18 recruiting class by the 247 Sports composite, ranking third in the ACC behind only Clemson and Miami. A lot of North Carolina's recruiting success this cycle came in the early period as the Heels have an impressive 13 early enrollees already getting to work. That's the same number of early enrollees as Alabama, for reference. 

There's a lot to like about this class in how it pertains to sustained winning. Several of its top-rated players are in the trenches on both sides, highlighted by defensive end Desmond Evans (No.43 overall), defensive tackle Kendrick Bingley-Jones (150) and strong-side defensive end Myles Murphy (148), along with a handful of three-stars along the offensive line. North Carolina has now notched back-to-back quality recruiting classes, and with quarterback Sam Howell looking like a star in the making, the Heels may just be the second-best team in the ACC in 2020. 

Georgia Tech No. 26 Overall

Geoff Collins delivered a borderline Top 25 class in his first full cycle at Georgia Tech, a truly impressive feat given the factors working against him. The school is still in Phase 1 in terms of getting out from under the triple option shadow, and being part of a rebuild can be unattractive for recruits, especially blue-chips. And yet Georgia Tech found a way and pulled in a strong class that ranks 26th overall, featuring as many composite four-stars (5) as Wisconsin, Mississippi State, and TCU. Georgia Tech is still a ways away from competing in the ACC, but by the time 2022 rolls around, this could be the class that we look back on as the one that brought Tech back to national relevance. 

Texas A&M No. 6 Overall: This marks back-to-back Top-10 classes for Jimbo Fisher in College Station. In fact, this year's class comes in two spots lower than the 2019 haul. Fisher is recruiting at a level that, in theory, will make the Aggies competitive in the west as soon as this season. It's just tough when having the No.6 class in the nation is the same thing as having the No.3 class in your own division. 

Stanford No. 21 Overall: The Cardinal are coming off their worst season of the David Shaw era by far and yet Stanford still managed to recruit at the same fringe-Top 20 level that has been the norm in recent years. Stanford pulled six four-stars, three of which are on the offensive line. The Cardinal won't stay down for long. 

Colorado No. 35 Overall: Mel Tucker's first full recruiting cycle was a success, checking in nine spots higher than the 2019 class. Colorado is replacing a lot of offensive production from its 2019 roster, so we could start seeing the players Tucker's guys become major contributors this fall. 

Losers

USC No. 55 Overall

Sorry to pile on the #FightOn crowd but what on earth is going on there? It's USC. Having the 55th-rated recruiting class is unacceptable. It's a class that not only lacks star power – just two four-stars – but also sheer volume with just 13 players overall. I understand there can be a numbers crunch with scholarships but this doesn't pass the smell test. The university's tepid support of Clay Helton is clearly getting USC killed on the recruiting trail. It's impossible to sell a program with a lame-duck coach. And poor recruiting can set a program back years even if the school moves on from said lame-duck coach. This is an absolute mess. 

Virginia Tech No. 71 Overall

I'm having a hard time understanding how Virginia Tech's recruiting fell off this hard. Sure Bud Foster retired and Justin Fuente had some public flirtation with the Baylor job, but that doesn't explain how the Hokies fell from 26th overall in the 2019 cycle to 70th now. And that's not even touching on Virginia Tech's attrition via the transfer portal. 

Either way, this is concerning for Justin Fuente and company heading into Year 5. Your program shouldn't be a rudderless ship in Year 5. But that's where the Hokies are right now. They managed to win eight games in 2019 and seem to have found their quarterback of the future in Hendon Hooker, but the longterm health of any program is rooted in recruiting. And when the roots are as poor as this year's class, it's hard to imagine the fruits of this labor being much better.

Arizona No. 64 Overall

The Kevin Sumlin era is not going according to plan. Sumlin's strong suit coming to Arizona was his recruiting ability. Obviously, it's tougher to recruit at U of A than A&M, but this is bordering on inexcusable. 

Arizona's class checked in at 64th in the nation and dead last in the PAC-12. Getting out-recruited by Oregon State and a Washington State team going through a coaching change is #NotAGoodLook. Even with how bad USC's class was, it was still better than Arizona's. I'll leave it at that.

Position by Position Breakdown

Quarterback

Alabama and Clemson pulled the top two recruits at the position with Bryce Young (more on him later) signing with the Tide and DJ Uiagelelei heading to the Tigers. Uiagalelei likely won't be heard from in 2020 but he's been anointed as the heir apparent to Trevor Lawrence. These two are future stars with NFL upside. 

Ohio State also bolstered its quarterback room by inking CJ Stroud, who had a meteoric rise up the 247 Composite Rankings. He'll likely take over as the starter once Justin Fields heads to the NFL. 

Texas went in an interesting direction, signing a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks – Hudson Card and Ja'Quinden Jackson –both of whom rank inside the top 75 in the composite. Their competition once Sam Ehlinger exhausts his eligibility could be a true Loser Leaves Town scenario. 

Tennessee also might've signed its quarterback of the future in Harrison Bailey, who was the No.3 Pro-Style quarterback in the class. 

Running Back

This is a really interesting group. Texas' Bijan Robinson is at the head of the class, ranking 15th overall. Projecting his impact as a freshman is difficult, though, as Texas has a strong running back room as it is. It's a position that'll be even better with a healthy Jordan Whittington, who was a five-star recruit in last year's cycle. Bottom line, there's little reason to doubt Robinson is the best running back in this class. It just might not manifest until 2021 or later. Or maybe he will be too good to keep off the field right away. We'll see.

Next up we have Zachary Evans, the lone uncommitted five-star as of Thursday. To say his recruitment has been a roller coaster would be an understatement. He's been connected to seemingly every big SEC program at one point or another and actually signed his LOI with Georgia in December before requesting his release. The talent is beyond question. We'll just have to see who lands him because whoever gets him will be getting a star... or a headache – maybe even both.

Tank Bigsby not only has a five-star name, he's also got major talent. He is one of the crown jewels of Auburn's class, and some developments on Signing Day not related to recruiting has sent his stock soaring. That is, JaTarvious Whitlow has officially entered the transfer portal and seems to be on the outs with Auburn. Now, D.J. Williams likely has the edge on the No.1 role in the Auburn backfield, but the Tigers are usually comfortable with rotating several running backs. And given that Bigsby is already on campus, he'll have plenty of time to impress the coaching staff before Week 1. 

Looking elsewhere, Miami did well to restock its running back room, nabbing a pair of composite four-stars in Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney Jr. And Stanford also may have gotten its running back of the future in EJ Smith. You may have heard of his dad, Emmitt. 

Wide Receiver

Ohio State really crushed it in terms of restocking its receiver room after the losses of Binjimen Victor and K.J. Hill, landing three Top 10 receivers, two of which are in the Top Five, including No.1 overall receiver Julian Fleming. The Buckeyes have recruited that position at a high level for years now so even with Hill and Victor gone, it'll be tough for Fleming and the other highly rated freshmen to carve out a major role in 2020. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson should garner upwards of 40 percent of the target share right off the bat, and Jameson Williams should be primed for a sophomore breakout as well. There's plenty of reason to be bullish on Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Gee Scott Jr. even if they're likely at least a year away from being major contributors.

Clemson also kept its reputation as being a haven for top-tier receivers, nabbing E.J. Williams out of Central in Phenix City, Alabama – the same alma mater as Justyn Ross. Williams checks in at 6-foot-3, 188 pounds and can add to that frame with some time in the Clemson strength and conditioning program. 

Georgia did well for itself at receiver, too, adding three of the Top 15 wideouts in the class with Marcus Rosemy, Arian Smith, and Jermaine Burton all headed to Athens. 

TCU landed an interesting prospect in Quentin Johnston, the No.14 receiver in the class who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He'll add a big target on the outside for the Horned Frogs. 

Impact Freshmen

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Young was already enrolled at Alabama when the recruiting services put the finishing touches on their final rankings, where he ended up as the composite No.2 overall player (No.1 in 247's rankings) in the country. The rich get richer, huh.

Mac Jones is no slouch, but Young will have a legitimate shot to take the reins for the Tide this season, and being an early enrollee will only help his cause. Young has been a known commodity in the recruiting realm for years and was committed to USC by the time he was getting ready for his junior season at powerhouse Mater Dei. He's a true dual-threat quarterback with a live arm to go with excellent mobility that will make him a future star. 

One knock is his size, checking in at 5-11 and 183 pounds. Tua Tagovailoa wasn't a "big" quarterback, either, but he was listed over 6-foot and well over 200 pounds when he was an incoming freshman. And he wasn't as reliant on his rushing ability as Young.

Rakim Jarrett, WR, Maryland

It's not hard to make the case for Jarrett being a big contributor for the Terps right away. According to 247 Sports' All-Time commit rankings, Jarrett is the fourth-highest rated recruit in program history and the first five-star since the Terrapins signed offensive lineman Damian Prince in 2014. 

Again, he'll be far-and-away the most talented player in the receiving corps and possibly the entire team the second he gets on campus. He might not be an early enrollee, but that's not the end-all-be-all if you're talented like Jarrett. For reference, George Pickens didn't get to Georgia until fall camp and he still found a way to be the team's best receiver by October. 

Maryland's best returning receiver, Jeshaun Jones, didn't even play last year after tearing his ACL in fall camp. Dontay Demus proved to be promising as Maryland's No.1, racking up 625 yards and six touchdowns on 82 targets. Those two stand to open camp with starting jobs, but that still leaves room for Jarrett to get in on three-wide sets. 

It's not the playing time that worries me with Jarrett. It's the quarterback situation. Whether it's Josh Jackson, Tyrrell Pigrome (in the transfer portal) or Tyler DeSue, there needs to be drastic improvement at that position if Jarrett is going to get off the ground in 2020. The Terps completed 50.3 percent of their passes as a team last season; only Northwestern and Arkansas had worse percentages among Power 5 and non-option teams. That's not the company you want to keep. Maybe there's some Dead Cat Bounce possibility with Maryland's 2020 passing game in Year 2 under Mike Locksley. Which is to say, it can't get worse, right?

Jadon Thompson, WR, Cincinnati

One of the Crown Jewels of Cincinnati's impressive recruiting class, which ranks tops among Group of Five schools at 40th overall, Thompson has the look of an immediate contributor if things break right. 

He checks in at 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds, so he'll need to add bulk. Enrolling early would've helped in that endeavor, but he'll still have time over the summer in Cincinnati's strength and conditioning program to get ready for his first collegiate season. And the talent is clearly there already. The tape shows Thompson as a natural at navigating traffic, whether it's in getting himself open or picking up extra yardage after the catch. He also uses his frame and good hands to make the contested catch. 

With Cincinnati having to replace three of its top four pass-catchers, who accounted for 44 percent of the total receiving production, there's a path to an immediate role for Thompson if he can take advantage of the opportunity. 

MarShawn Lloyd, RB, South Carolina

South Carolina hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Mike Davis in 2013. Let that sink in. 

In fact, the Gamecocks haven't had anyone even come close since 2014, when Davis fell just shy with 982 rushing yards. Since then, no South Carolina rusher has even cracked 800 rushing yards. Lloyd might not be a 1,000-yard rusher right away, but there's reason to believe he'll be the one to break that drought during his time in Columbia.

Lloyd hails from football powerhouse DeMatha in Maryland and is already on campus as South Carolina's lone early enrollee at running back. He checks in with a dense build at 5-foot-9 and 211 pounds, which suggests he'll be able to hold up to the rigors of SEC competition. And speaking of competition...

...There isn't much standing in Lloyd's way. South Carolina's top three rushers from 2019 – Tavien Feaster, Rico Dowdle, and Mon Denson – are all gone. Rising sophomores Kevin Harris and Deshaun Fenwick showed some promise in 2019 but their sample sizes – 21 and 22 carries, respectively – are too small to draw any definitive conclusions. 

Lloyd was a huge recruiting win for South Carolina, which won his commitment amid offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Georgia, to name a few. Look for South Carolina to get Lloyd on the field early and lean on him as the team's top running back by midseason. He could be this year's Breece Hall

Marcus Rosemy, WR, Georgia

Georgia prioritized the receiver position in this cycle, inking five wideouts including Rosemy, who is the highest-rated of the group. George Pickens is the only sure thing the team has returning in 2020 given Dominick Blaylock's late-season ACL tear. Demetris Robertson has been a multi-year disappointment at Georgia while Matt Landers and Kearis Jackson are talented but unproven. There's opportunity here for one of Georgia's freshmen receivers to make a splash, and Rosemy is the odds-on favorite in my opinion. 

Rosemy (6-2, 195) has the most complete skill set of the incoming freshmen and could wind up earning a role at the outside spot opposite Pickens. He's got the ideal frame, creates separation off the line, and has the athleticism and long speed to make plays down the field. 

Rosemy also heads to Georgia having played at national powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, so while he'll have some of the growing pains that come with being a freshman, the jump in competition won't be as much of a shock to the system for him as it might be for a player coming from a lower classification of competition in high school. 

Arik Gilbert, TE, LSU

Five-star tight ends are a rarity. In fact, we haven't seen one on the 247 Sports Composite Rankings since Isaac Nauta in 2016. So seeing Gilbert checking in as the composite No.5 overall player in the class is noteworthy. 

It's hard to project exactly how hard the regression monster will hit LSU in 2020. Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, Thaddeus Moss and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are gone. And perhaps most importantly, so too is the architect of LSU's dominant 2019 offense, Joe Brady. 

But Moss' departure for the NFL leaves an open spot at tight end, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Gilbert force his way onto the field early. He checks in at 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds with elite athleticism and 247 Sports' Barton Simmons says that Gilbert is the best tight end recruit since O.J. Howard. That's more than enough for me to buy in on Gilbert.

Now, tight end is always tricky in the college fantasy landscape, so it's possible that Gilbert carries more dynasty/devy value than he does in standard CFF redraft formats. We have to have realistic expectations about Gilbert's 2020 production even with LSU's attrition at some skill position spots. He could be dominant on a per-target basis but still only end up seeing less than 4.0 targets per game. A grand total of 32 tight ends saw more than 4.0 targets per game in 2019, for reference.

Daniyel Ngata, RB, Arizona State

All you needed to do was watch the Sun Bowl to know that Arizona State's next running back wasn't on the 2019 roster. The mix of Demetrious Flowers and A.J. Carter (along with a miscast Kyle Williams moonlighting as a ball carrier) combined for 21 carries for 55 yards against Florida State. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of what Arizona State had behind Eno Benjamin, who is now off to the NFL. 

Enter Ngata, a high four-star recruit who is already on campus and set to participate in spring ball. He's the second-highest rated player in Arizona State's class according to 247 Sports and is billed as one of the top all-purpose backs in the nation. He's not as big as his brother Joseph (6-3, 215), who just finished up a successful freshman year at Clemson as a receiver. We're not worried about Daniel's comparatively small stature though since we're not asking him to catch jump balls in the corner of the end zone. We're asking him to run the dang ball. 

Herm Edwards has already shown that he's not shy about playing true freshmen if they're deserving, and I'm willing to bet that Ngata will fit that bill. 

Ashaad Clayton, RB, Colorado

Clayton sticks out as one of the top talents heading to a non-blueblood program. That's not to say he didn't plenty of interest from the likes of Florida and others in the lead-up to Signing Day. By sticking with his Colorado commitment, Clayton is now firmly on the radar. 

Now, there are some roadblocks to Clayton being the top running back. Junior Alex Fontenot and and sophomore Jaren Mangham are both legitimate options with strong track records, so a role won't be gifted to Clayton. But Clayton's talent alone will make him someone to keep on watch lists and he qualifies as a stash candidate in deeper leagues. 

Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Georgia Tech

A sign that things are different under Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech, Gibbs is the Yellow Jackets' highest-rated recruit in quite some time. It's not just that Gibbs is a big-time recruit by Georgia Tech standards, either. He'd be a quality commit for any program as he checks in as the No.8 running back in the nation and the No.75 player overall according to 247 Sports. And his list of other offers that included Florida and Alabama. 

Georgia Tech may not be a triple-option team anymore, but its offense is still built around running the ball. The Jackets had the 29th-highest run play rate in the nation in 2019. Gibbs can still be a major contributor in the offense even if Jordan Mason is the nominal RB1. 

In terms of Gibbs' tools, the word that comes to mind is explosive. His tape is littered with long runs where defenders with good angles on him end up out of frame as Gibbs waltzes into the end zone. He might be the best player on the team the moment he gets on campus. I expect Georgia Tech to waste no time getting Gibbs involved. 

Maliq Carr, TE, Purdue

Carr has gotten some buzz in the Twittersphere as a potential impact freshman and upon further inspection, I get it. He's the No. 4 tight in the country and checks in at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds with plus-athleticism for that size. Carr also has the added benefit of stepping into a system that makes use of its tight ends. Brycen Hopkins is heading to the NFL after a productive career at Purdue that included him posting 8.7 yards per target on an 18.6 percent target share.  

Jalen Berger, RB, Wisconsin

Jonathan Taylor is gone, leaving upwards of 320 carries up for grabs in Madison. The public seems to have crowned Nakia Watson as the next man up to have one of the most bankable roles in the college fantasy landscape. I'm not sold. Yet. Watson (5-11, 229) is a tank but I'm not sure he has the skill set to be the next big time Wisconsin running back. 

Berger should push Watson right when he gets on campus this summer. He's got a good frame (6-foot, 205) and decent long speed on top of that. If he shows some polish as a pass-catcher, he could carve out a third-down role right away while also challenging Watson for early-down work. Berger's addition to the Wisconsin backfield makes the Badgers' running back competition this summer one of the most impactful job battles in the fantasy landscape.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John McKechnie
John is the 2016 FSWA College Writer of the Year winner. He is a Maryland native and graduate of the University of Georgia. He's been writing for RotoWire since 2014.
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