Nick Suss, USA TODAY Network
Year after year, no conference recruits football players quite like the SEC. For the Class of 2020, the league proved itself once again.
Six SEC schools rank among the 10 best recruiting classes in the country, according to 247Sports, Rivals.com and ESPN’s class rankings. No SEC school ranks outside of the top 50 in the 247Sports composite rankings, which average all the major recruiting service rankings together. And 15 of the 30 players ranked as five-star prospects in the 247Sports composite rankings who signed with a school picked an SEC school, infusing the league with a glut of top-level talent.
Recruiting rankings are relative in the SEC. A team can put together a class that ranks in the top 25 nationally but in the bottom half of its own conference. So let’s rank the SEC against itself to see which teams came out on top, and which teams will be playing from behind in the talent department.
Here are USA TODAY’s final rankings of the SEC’s recruiting classes:
The three-time defending SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs put together arguably the best class in the country, let alone the SEC. The Bulldogs signed eight players who ranked among the top five players at their position in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, four of whom are five-stars.
High-profile stars on both sides of the ball headline the Bulldogs’ signing class. Cornerback Kelee Ringo is the top-rated cornerback in the country according to 247Sports and ESPN. Offensive tackle Broderick Jones ranks as Rivals.com’s top offensive lineman and ESPN’s No. 1 offensive tackle. ESPN ranks Jalen Carter as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country. And 6-foot-7 athlete Darnell Washington rates as a top-2 athlete or tight end on every major recruiting service.
That doesn’t even include Georgia’s most important recruiting victory: convincing Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Jamie Newman to come to Athens. Newman threw for 26 touchdowns and ran for six more last season at Wake Forest, and his immediate eligibility means this Georgia recruiting class doesn’t just mean a bright future, but a chance to contend for a national title in 2020 even without departed quarterback Jake Fromm.
As usual, Alabama built one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. But the Crimson Tide class might hinge upon one player: quarterback Bryce Young.
Young is the No. 11 player on USA TODAY”s final Chosen 25 for the class. Not only is Young the highest graded quarterback Alabama has ever signed according to the 247Sports composite rankings, he’s the third-highest-graded player the Tide have ever signed, ranking behind offensive tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and Andre Smith. A product of Mater Dei High School, the same school that produced Matt Leinart, Colt Brennan and Matt Barkley, Young arrived at Alabama with the expectations of the Tide’s future pre-stamped on him.
But Young isn’t the only jewel in the Tide’s class. Alabama signed the top two weakside defensive ends in the country, according to 247Sports, a consensus top-five safety in Brian Branch and 247Sports’ No. 1 athlete, Drew Sanders. The Crimson Tide signed 14 players who rank in the top 10 at their position, according to ESPN, and 10 players who rank in Rivals.com’s top 100 players overall.
As if a national championship wasn’t enough, LSU signed a recruiting class ranked among the top five in the country by every major rankings service. The Tigers’ class is strong at the top, with tight end Erik Gilbert (No. 1 TE on Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN), cornerback Elias Ricks (No. 1 CB on Rivals), wide receiver Kayshon Boutte (No. 2 WR on 247Sports) and outside linebacker Phillip Webb (No. 2 OLB on ESPN).
That said, the Tigers’ class is far from top heavy. LSU signed a consensus four- or five-star prospect at every position save for interior offensive line in this class. This includes four-star quarterback Max Johnson, son of Super Bowl winning quarterback Brad Johnson.
LSU missed on a couple of high-profile defensive linemen, particularly Jordan Burch (who re-affirmed his decision to South Carolina on Wednesday) and McKinnley Jackson, who picked South Carolina and Texas A&M, respectively. But the Tigers still signed four defensive tackles and two defensive ends to restock their front after losing so much of it this offseason.
- Texas A&M
Heading into Jimbo Fisher’s third season in College Station, Texas A&M has yet to find the on-field success it expected. But when it comes to recruiting, the Aggies have consistently competed with the top programs in the country.
Texas A&M’s recruiting class ranks No. 6 nationally, according to 247Sports and Rivals.com and No. 7, according to ESPN. In-state signees such as wide receiver Demond Demas and safety Jaylon Jones are the headliners of the class, but the Aggies recruited more nationally this year than in past years, signing 13 players from outside Texas.
One of the Aggies’ biggest victories on Wednesday was the signing of four-star defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson. The top-rated player in Mississippi, Jackson chose Texas A&M over Alabama and LSU.
As far as famous names go, the Aggies’ most noteworthy signee might be wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad III, a four-star prospect and the son of 14-year NFL veteran Muhsin Muhammad II.
Florida was as busy in the transfer market in this recruiting cycle as it was targeting high school and junior college recruits. In addition to the 22 players the Gators signed between December and February, Dan Mullen’s squad also brought in six transfers from other FBS programs in the last year, a handful of whom should be eligible in 2020, depending on NCAA waivers.
Still, Florida’s class is more than its transfers. The Gators signed five-star defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, the No. 1 player in Florida, according to both Rivals.com and 247Sports. In total, Florida signed seven of 247Sports’ top 30 players from Florida and eight of ESPN’s top 30 Floridian recruits. By comparison, Florida State and Miami combined to sign eight players on both of those lists.
The Gators have two more potential additions to their class, as well. Four-star athlete Marc Britt will choose between Florida and Ole Miss on Feb. 20, and three-star receiver Leonard Manuel is a Florida commit but hasn’t made an announcement or submitted a national letter of intent, according to his Twitter account.
Auburn’s signing class lacks some of the top-shelf star power of its SEC rivals, but it makes up for it with consistency across the board. The Tigers signed 16 four-star players representing 10 different positions.
With so much of its defense departing for the NFL this offseason, Auburn is in need of replacements overall, and this class might have them. Nine of Auburn’s defensive signees are rated as four-star prospects in the 247Sports composite rankings, including defensive end Zykeivous Walker, safeties Chris Thompson and Eric Reed, linebacker Wesley Steiner and defensive tackle Jay Hardy.
After a strong finish to 2019, Tennessee football seems to be on an upward recruiting swing, as well. The Volunteers secured their home state, signing six of the top 10 players in Tennessee, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. And the Vols also brought in some key out-of-state players, including quarterback Harrison Bailey from Georgia. Bailey is rated as a five-star prospect by Rivals.com and ranks as the No. 3 pro-style passer on 247Sports.
Tennessee wasn’t particularly active on National Signing Day. After signing 21 players in December and garnering commitments from three Power-5 transfers, the Vols didn’t need to be. But bringing in four-star wide receiver Malachi Wideman, who was previously committed to Florida State, definitely put a bow on Tennessee’s talented class.
- South Carolina
With Clemson turning its attention to national recruiting, Will Muschamp’s South Carolina squad gets to stay home and pick up the best the Palmetto State has to offer. The Gamecocks signed seven of the top-10 players from South Carolina, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, including five-star defensive tackle Jordan Burch and four-star, dual-threat quarterback Luke Doty. Burch re-affirmed his commitment on Wednesday but the school has yet to announce his signing.
South Carolina’s overall class is ranked in the top 20 nationally by 247Sports, Rivals.com and ESPN. In addition to the Gamecocks’ in-state signees, they also brought in consensus four-star running back MarShawn Lloyd from Maryland, as well as linebacker Mohamed Kaba and receiver Mike Wyman, both from North Carolina.
If the best way to build a team is from the inside out, consider Kentucky on the right track. The Wildcats signed six players who rank as four-star prospects in the 247Sports composite rankings, and five of them are offensive or defensive linemen. This includes defensive tackles Justin Rogers (No. 1 player in Michigan, a five-star on Rivals.com) and Josaih Hayes (No. 4 player in Mississippi), both of whom are ranked among the top 250 players nationally according to 247Sports.
Beyond the trenches, Kentucky signed a couple of impressive skill guys: athlete Joel Williams, a four-star prospect, according to ESPN and 247Sports who will play defensive back in Lexington; and three-star all-purpose back Jutahn McClain, after running for 3,701 yards and 46 touchdowns across his last two high school seasons in Fairfield, Ohio.
- Mississippi State
No SEC team is in a weirder position coming out of National Signing Day than Mississippi State. The Bulldogs signed 21 players in December then turned over their entire coaching staff, moving on from Joe Moorhead to Mike Leach.
Leach didn’t (and couldn’t) bring in many players for the Class of 2020, but he did attract a graduate transfer from Stanford’s K.J. Costello. Given Leach’s recent luck with transfer quarterbacks such as Gardner Minshew and Anthony Gordon, Costello might be all Mississippi State needs to transform into a contender this season.
But there’s more to Mississippi State’s class. The additions of four-star junior college transfers Jordan Davis and Malik Heath as well as running back Jo’Quavious Marks and receiver Lideatrick Griffin should fill out a Mississippi State roster that’s a lot closer to being in win-now mode than rebuild mode.
New Arkansas coach Sam Pittman made his biggest recruiting splash in December when he flipped safety Myles Slusher from his long-time Oregon commitment to come to Fayetteville. A four-star prospect according to 247Sports and ESPN, Slusher is one of Arkansas’ biggest recruiting pieces, along with receiver Darin Turner, a four-star on ESPN.com.
Other than those pieces, Arkansas had a tough time in December. The Razorbacks only signed nine players, the fewest of any Power 5 team, during the Early Signing Period. But Arkansas recovered nicely in February, signing nine more prospects to finish off a consensus top-50 class.
This included four-star guard Marcus Henderson out of Memphis and three-star defensive end Andy Boykin from LaGrange, Georgia.
- Ole Miss
Ole Miss’ transition from Matt Luke to Lane Kiffin came with plenty of fanfare. But in December, that fanfare didn’t translate into recruiting victories. Things changed in January when the Rebels inked commitments from four-star defensive end Demon Clowney and four-star running back Henry Parrish.
Beyond that, Ole Miss didn’t have the impressive National Signing Day fans expected. The Rebels missed on a handful of flip opportunities and mostly just fortified the offensive line with a pair of offensive tackle signees.
It’s hard to describe Ole Miss’ signing class as anything but a transition class, with Kiffin and Co. expected to make bigger waves when they have more time to sign future classes. But for now, it’s hard not to be disappointed by Ole Miss’ class, especially seeing how it was outshone by the likes of Arkansas and Mississippi State in the SEC West.
First-year coach Eli Drinkwitz and Missouri built the bulk of their recruiting class in January.
All 11 of the Tigers’ December signees were committed before Drinkwitz was hired, but five of Missouri’s February signees committed to the team in January. This included the surprise signing of three-star cornerback Ennis Rakestraw, who picked Missouri over Alabama and Texas.
On sheer numbers, Missouri didn’t do much to turn over its roster. Nor did it load up on transfers like some other schools in the conference have done. For now, Drinkwitz will have a bit of an uphill climb to turn the program around. But the good news about recruiting classes is there’s always another one just a year away.
Someone has to be at the bottom. This year, it’s Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt struggled to find the highest-rated recruits in the 2020 signing class but did manage to string together a decent enough list of three-stars.. Signing only one player from Tennessee, Vanderbilt mined the Southeast for talent, bringing in four players from Texas and three players from Georgia and Florida.
The Commodores flipped consensus three-star athlete De’Rickey Wright from an Ole Miss commitment and snagged pro-style quarterback Ken Seals out of Texas back in December. On National Signing Day, Vanderbilt held onto a pledge from Rivals.com four-star safety Donovan Kaufman, who was being pursued by Florida State and Ole Miss.