This article is part of our Signing Day Recap series.
This year's February Signing Day came and went without much fanfare as the Early Signing Period continues to take over as the marquee day of the recruiting calendar. More and more commits are signing on the dotted line in December to either put an end to their recruiting process entirely or to check one last box on their way to enrolling early. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, but we don't get the memorable moments at the announcement ceremonies or the wall-to-wall TV coverage the way we used to on the first Wednesday of February. Like it or not, that's just the direction in which recruiting seems to be moving.
Still, Wednesday's Signing Day marked the end of the 2021 recruiting cycle and now that the dust has settled and the ink is dry, we can start analyzing what impact this group will have as early as this fall.
Before we get into winners and losers, let's take a moment to marvel at what Alabama just did.
Nick Saban, at 69 years old, just inked the greatest recruiting class of all time. The 2017 class was special; its four-year players bookended their careers with championships as both freshmen and as seniors. That's storybook stuff. The 2008 class holds a special place in Alabama lore, too, as it was the class regarded as the one that began the dynasty with players like Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Courtney Upshaw, Barrett Jones and so many more. But 2021, on paper, might be even better.
It's a class that has everything. The Tide inked the top two offensive tackles in the nation -- both of whom rank top five overall nationally. Three of the top 15 receivers, including two of the top five, are also in this haul. That might as well be this year's version of signing Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and DeVonta Smith in the same cycle.
Overall, Alabama walks away with five of the 247 Sports Composite Top 50 and 11 from the Top 100. It boggles the mind to think that Alabama has seemingly found another level after a decade-plus of dominance, including a 2020 season that will be considered one of the best of all time. It's been said before that Alabama doesn't rebuild, it reloads. We might have to redefine "reload" after this haul.
Michigan 10th Nationally, 2nd in Big Ten
I've been critical of Michigan's trajectory the last two years. The lack of signature wins paired with some soul-cleaving losses, the Harbaugh drama getting stale and weird, the perception that other B1G teams were either catching up or surpassing The Maize and Blue made me feel like a major recruiting slip-up was next. Well, it's February and I'm eating my words.
Harbaugh, fresh off an extension after coaching this past season in limbo, signed the No.10 class in the country. The class is highlighted by J.J. McCarthy, a five-star pro-style quarterback who ranks second at his position and 24th overall. If McCarthy is a 'hit', then it changes everything about Michigan's ceiling. You cannot win in modern college football without elite quarterback play.
There were several other gems beyond McCarthy, too. Getting Donovan Edwards to stay in-state was a win with some added meaning. Edwards was drawing major interest from SEC programs and losing arguably the best player in Michigan to the SEC would have had recruiting ramifications beyond the scope of just one player. When your home state isn't as talent-rich as, say, Florida, Georgia, California, or Texas, losing the best in-state players stings more. Getting Edwards was a big win.
Michigan showed that it still has plenty to work on in 2020 and it lost some talent to the draft. I don't expect the Wolverines to seriously compete for the Big Ten East title this season, but this is a class that could alter Michigan's fortunes as soon as 2022.
LSU 4th Nationally, 3rd in SEC
Similar to Michigan, LSU had a trying season that was not immune to some coaching questions. To be fair, LSU was not set up for success this season after losing so many starters and ranking 127th in ESPN's returning production metrics. And that was before Ja'Marr Chase opted out for the season. Or Terrace Marshall opting out midseason. Or Arik Gilbert opting out and hitting the portal. Or Myles Brennan getting hurt, leaving LSU to start two different freshmen quarterbacks.
Tough season notwithstanding, there were times where it felt like LSU's losses were inexcusable. The drubbing from Mississippi State was just the tip of the iceberg. The loss at Missouri was a headscratcher and the blowout against Auburn was the nadir. But the famous shoe throw in The Swamp seemed to change everything. LSU went on to beat the Gators, and then Ole Miss in a classic, thereby changing their fortunes and salvaging the year. Without those wins, the mass exodus via the transfer portal would have been a bigger talking point. And now that Coach O and the Tigers found a way to sign a Top 5 class, those departures feel even further removed from relevancy even if the Gilbert transfer will hurt for at least the next two years.
As for the 2021 LSU class itself, it gives the impression that there was nothing wrong in Baton Rouge in 2020. The Tigers inked the top three players in the state, two of whom are five-stars, and added a pair of Top 10 running backs in Armoni Goodwin and Corey Kiner.
After a turbulent year, LSU should be back to competing for an SEC crown as soon as this season, thanks in part to a stellar recruiting class that very well could have been a disaster.
The Big Ten's Middle Class
At this point we expect Ohio State to pull a Top 3 class every year, and the same goes for Michigan falling somewhere in the Top 15 with Wisconsin never far behind. Penn State usually falls in that tier, oftentimes right behind Ohio State, but that was not the case this year. What stood out was the next tier of teams.
Maryland, Nebraska, and Iowa all pulled Top 25 classes despite shaky seasons on the field for all of them but the Hawkeyes. The Terps broke into the Top 20 and even inked a five-star linebacker, Terrence Lewis, out of Miami. Maryland has now signed classes in the top half of the Big 10 three years in a row. Is this the year the Terps get out of the B1G basement?
Nebraska is another program with an impressive haul despite a tumultuous 2020 that resulted in some tough losses on the field and in the transfer portal. The crown jewel is Thomas Fidone, the second-rated tight end in the 2021 cycle. Nebraska also did a strong job of bolstering its linebacking corps and trenches, so even if it wasn't a flashy haul, it was one that can help the Huskers compete.
This may shock you, but the strength of Iowa's class comes through the offensive line, where the Hawkeyes nabbed a pair of four-stars that have already enrolled. Overall, Iowa pulled its best recruiting class in years, ranking 23rd after failing to crack the Top 30 in quite some time.
Honorable Mention: USC
Kudos to Clay Helton and Co. for bouncing back from last year's disastrous recruiting haul that ranked 64th (!) nationally. Maybe he's not a lame duck after all.
Auburn 27th Nationally, 10th in SEC
You can cut Auburn some slack as a late coaching change can always change the fortunes of a given recruiting haul. It's a little tougher when you see Tennessee sitting there at 16 with the circus that has been ongoing in Knoxville. And to add a layer of concern: the knock on Auburn's hire, former Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, is that he would get his lunch eaten on the recruiting trail in the SEC. This cycle doesn't help debunk that notion, even if you're grading on a curve. Harsin can't be fully judged as a recruiter until we see how the 2022 class pans out, but there's no way to look at a 10th place finish in the SEC among classes and feel good about it if you're an Auburn fan.
Washington 35th Nationally, 6th in PAC-12
Washington has been so strong in recruiting in recent years that it's shocking to see the Huskies slip up like this. The Huskies were a fixture in the Top 20 for years and somehow its 2021 class checked in outside the Top 30. The silver lining is Sam Huard, a five-star and top-rated pro-style quarterback in the land. Getting the best player at the most important position can smooth over some deficiencies elsewhere. Huard keeps this class from being a disaster, but it's still concerning for Washington that Oregon continues to widen the recruiting gap in the PAC-12 North and the PAC-12 at large.
Iowa State 59th Nationally, 8th in Big 12
I put Iowa State here fully aware that this could look remarkably stupid in the not-too-distant future. Betting against Matt Campbell is rarely a good idea. But this is an article focused on this recruiting cycle, and Iowa State's haul was noticeably underwhelming. It's fair to point out that Iowa State is never going to pull classes like Texas or Oklahoma, but the 'Clones can aspire to a better class than a Northwestern or a Vanderbilt. Finishing 59th after finishing 42nd in recruiting in 2020 feels like a missed opportunity after a great season. Iowa State has shown it's good enough to compete for Big 12 titles. That in itself is an achievement. But winning in December is a different story, and having the eighth-best class in the Big 12 is not how you would draw up the blueprint to get over that specific hump.
Preston Stone, SMU
Stone is a significant signing for SMU and Group of Five programs in general. A four-star, dual-threat quarterback, a prospect of Stone's caliber would usually end up at not just a Power Five program, but a strong one at that. With Shane Buechele gone, only William Brown stands in the way of Stone winning the job. Stone will get some serious hype in the coming months because he has a plausible path to starting for an SMU offense that is a perennial gold mine for fantasy production.
Tyler Buchner, Notre Dame
Ian Book is gone, leaving Notre Dame with a major opening at quarterback. Phil Jurkovec theoretically would've been the next guy up, but he's long gone, so this is a wide-open competition. As someone who lives in Madison, WI, I am not going to go so far as to say that Jack Coan is the answer at quarterback for the Irish. He adds a veteran presence, but Buchner should be the guy that Irish fans hope wins out. Buchner is the No.3 overall dual-threat quarterback in this class and is already enrolled, which greatly increases his chances of winning the job out of camp. Buchner is on the shortlist of freshman quarterbacks with a chance to make a major impact.
Donovan Edwards, Michigan
Edwards stands out as a potential impact freshman for a number of reasons. For one, his talent is exceptional. That's a given for this piece, of course, but Edwards checking in as the No.3 running back in the nation means that he could have pushed for playing time in almost any backfield regardless of the depth chart. Fortunately, the landing spot couldn't be much more favorable for Edwards, a Michigan native who now heads to Ann Arbor with a legitimate shot at being a major contributor.
Michigan just lost Zach Charbonnet to UCLA via the transfer portal and Chris Evans to the draft, meaning that there are carries aplenty up for grabs. Hassan Haskins should enter the year as the starter and deservedly so -- he just peeled off 6.1 YPC on 61 attempts in 2020 and has the frame to handle a bigger workload. But there will still be carries up for grabs and that's where Edwards comes in. At 5-11, 190 pounds, Edwards has a frame that is ready for the college game and there is still time for him to even more well-suited after going through the conditioning program once he arrives on campus this summer. Again, Haskins shouldn't be written off, but Edwards absolutely stands out as a 2021 running back with instant impact potential.
TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State
Master Teague returning throws some cold water on this, but Henderson is still the top-rated running back in the country and should see the field as a freshman. Teague, though talented, has durability concerns that make it all the more important for Ohio State to have more than one guy ready to roll at a moment's notice. Henderson, for his own part, has drawn Christian McCaffrey comps from recruiting analysts. That's not something that's thrown around lightly, and certainly not thrown onto guys who show anything less than polished skills as both a runner and as a pass-catcher. The prospect profile points to Henderson being too talented to ride the bench all year, so even if it's Teague as the nominal starter, don't be surprised if the freshman turns this into a fairly split workload in the Buckeye backfield.
Devin Neal, Kansas
The top-rated players aren't always the ones to make the instant impact because, generally speaking, the top players go to the best programs that have already recruited four- and five-star studs at that position. That applies to a guy like LJ Johnson of Texas A&M, who likely won't get much run this year behind Isaiah Spiller and Ainias Smith.
With Neal, we have that mix of talent and path to playing time. Neal was a high three-star recruit and No.1 player in the state of Kansas who enters a Jayhawk backfield with little established competition. Pooka Williams is gone and Velton Gardner, while solid, isn't the prohibitive answer in the Kansas backfield. Look for Neal to be a contributor right away given his talent and the team context. This isn't an exact Breece Hall parallel, but there are some similarities as to how things could go right for Neal once he gets his shot and never relinquishes the lead role.
Jacorey Brooks, Alabama
The highest-rated receiver of Alabama's insane recruiting haul, Brooks stands out as the type of player that is too good not to have a role right away. At 6-foot-3 with plenty of speed and ball skills, Brooks adds a big-body element to the Alabama receiving corps. With the Tide replacing DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, there will be upwards of 50 percent of the target share up for grabs. As good as John Metchie is, he can't carry the load the way Smith did. Brooks, who is already enrolled and on campus, should help Alabama's passing attack remain elite in 2021 and beyond.
Xavier Worthy, Michigan
Like Edwards, Worthy heads to Ann Arbor with the chance to contribute right away. Nico Collins is gone, and while Ronnie Bell is a solid option as the No.1, there's room for improvement in terms of Michigan's receiver depth. A California native, Worthy is rated as the No.8 receiver in the class and has game-breaking speed. Per 247, Worthy ran a sub-10.6 in the 100m as a sophomore in high school. There's some concern that Worthy's frame isn't Big 10 ready just yet -- he's listed at just 160 pounds and won't be in Ann Arbor until the summer -- but the number of targets available at Michigan plus Worthy's unique speed threat means that he could be a contributor in 2021.
Destyn Hill, Florida State
Florida State's offense showed flashes under first-year coach Mike Norvell last year but there is still room for improvement. With Tamorrion Terry off to the NFL and Warren Thompson reportedly in the transfer portal, Florida State doesn't have many go-to players in the passing game. Hill can change that. The 6-foot, 200-pound receiver out of New Orleans is the No.19 receiver in the class and possesses a frame that should allow him to see the field early. If Florida State's offense takes a step forward in Year 2 under Norvell, that could set the stage for Hill to be a productive wideout in the ACC as a freshman.