National Signing Day 2016: 50 facts, notes and things to know about this recruiting class (Part I, Nos. 1-25)
National Signing Day is a little more than a week away. That means schools are scrambling to finalize their 2016 recruiting classes. While star ratings and team rankings will understandably get most of the attention, now is also a good time to get know many of this cycle's most coveted prospects.
To help fans get up to speed on the facts, highlights and anecdotes that have made this group so special, Campus Rush has assembled 50 notes for fans to know. This is Part I of the list. Click here for Part II.
1. Another Bosa is headed to Ohio State
Fans have spent the past three seasons watching Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa dominate opposing offensive linemen while helping the Buckeyes post 38 wins and capture the 2015 national championship. He won't be back in '16 (he declared for the NFL draft), but his brother is headed to Columbus later this year.
Nick Bosa is the No. 1 defensive end and the No. 5 player in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com. He is the most highly regarded prospect in a Buckeyes' recruiting class ranked second in the country. Bosa underwent surgery in November to repair a reported partial ACL tear that cut short his senior season at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High, but if he can get back up to speed quickly, he could help Ohio State's pass rush avoid a drop-off in the wake of his brother's departure.
Last year Larry Blustein, a recruiting analyst with more than 40 years of scouting experience in Florida, said the following to SI.com about Nick Bosa. "His brother was very good, but his brother wasn't like this."
2. Another Ridley is entering college football, too
Remove the "l" from record-setting Alabama freshman receiver Calvin Ridley's name, and you have a four-star wideout in the class of 2016. Unlike his brother, Cavin Ridley will not play for the Crimson Tide, but he will play for a former Alabama coordinator who recently became the head coach of a different SEC program. Cavin committed to Kirby Smart and Georgia earlier this month, less than a week after he withdrew a verbal pledge lasting less than two days to another SEC program (South Carolina).
It once seemed a strong possibility that Ridley would follow his brother to Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide reportedly offered Cavin in November 2014, and he included them in a final two disclosed in late December, prior to his commitment to the Gamecocks. What's more, after Alabama's 38–0 shutout of Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year's Eve, Calvin said to AL.com regarding his brother's recruitment: "He knows he can win championships if he comes here."
Instead, Cavin is expected to help boost a Georgia offense that finished 85th in the nation in points per game (26.3) last season.
3. Rashan Gary leads a really strong group of defensive tackles
Teams hoping to add a game-changer in the trenches have no shortage of options to choose from during this recruiting cycle. Six of the top 21 players in the class, according to Scout.com, are defensive tackles. They are: the uncommitted Rashan Gary (No. 1), Clemson commit Dexter Lawrence (2), Houston commit Ed Oliver (6), uncommitted Derrick Brown (9), Alabama commit Kendell Jones (14) and LSU commit Rashard Lawrence (21). For context, consider that over the last eight years the mean number of defensive tackles in a class's top 21 prospects, per Scout.com, was 2.5.
4. Quarterback Jacob Eason has already developed a passionate following
Eason's recruitment was one of the biggest stories of this cycle. The five-star passer committed to Georgia in July 2014, but late last year it appeared that he might flip to another school. Eason took an official visit to Florida in December, and former Bulldogs coach Mark Richt even traveled to Washington to have breakfast with Eason less than a day after beating Auburn 20–13 on Nov. 14. In the end, after Richt was fired and replaced by Smart, Eason decided to stick with Georgia.
Had the Eason saga ended with him joining another program, a group of Bulldogs fans probably would have felt like they wasted their time traveling to the Pacific Northwest this fall. The Seattle Times documented how some Georgia supporters went to watch Eason, a standout at Lake Stevens (Wash.) High, play in a high school game. A financial adviser from Savannah, Ga., named Cal Batchelor described to the paper in November the motivation behind the cross-country trip.
"We're all alumni," Batchelor said. "We try to go to one away game a year. When Jacob committed to us, and gosh, that's been a couple years, we thought it would be fun because he made such a big commitment to us, to show him our commitment to him."
5. Jalen Hurts impersonated the nation's best quarterback
Earlier this month, while Alabama was getting ready to face Clemson in the national championship game, the Crimson Tide's lone quarterback in their 2016 recruiting class, Hurts, arrived in Tuscaloosa and began participating in practice. It wasn't long before he was helping the team prepare to defend Deshaun Watson, the premier quarterback in the country. Hurts was one of the players the Tide used to simulate Watson; he can be seen here wearing Watson's No. 4 jersey.
Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland described Hurts as "quick and fast just like Deshaun is, so he gave us a great look the whole time he was at practice," according to Yahoo! Sports. The No. 7 quarterback in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com, Hurts is expected to compete with sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett to replace Jake Coker as the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback next fall.
6. Levonta Taylor is supremely confident in his ability
Taylor, the nation's top-rated cornerback prospect, according to Scout.com, thinks he is very good, and he is happy to let you know this. When a fan tweeted in June that "@iamlevonta is another Vernon Hargreaves !", the Florida State-bound Taylor responded by tweeting "I'm better" with a winking emoji. Taylor followed up with another tweet to clarify his comment about how he perceives himself in relation to the Florida junior who was named first-team All-SEC last season. "Vern is real but I'm on a higher level than he was in high school. I can't speak on college yet I have another year of high school left!" Taylor wrote.
Comparisons to Hargreaves aside, this much is clear: Taylor has the potential to develop into a dominant defensive back for the Seminoles. The Ocean Lakes (Va.) High product is listed at 5' 11'' and 183 pounds, reportedly can bench press 305 pounds and squat 415 pounds, was clocked at 4.34 in the 40-yard dash and recorded a vertical leap of 42.2 inches.
7. Isaac Nauta is not an easy man to tackle
Paging all SEC defenders: If you try to tackle Nauta, do not use the same approach as this fellow who got trucked during a U.S. Army All-American Bowl practice. Nauta is a 6' 4,'' 237-pound five-star prospect who describes his game as "just being a physical tight end." This clip makes clear why that description is spot-on.
The IMG (Fla.) Academy star committed to Georgia over Alabama and Michigan during the All-American Bowl earlier this month. (He initially pledged to Florida State but decided to reopen his recruitment this summer.) The No. 1 tight end and No. 30 player in the class of 2016, per Scout.com, Nauta is the most heralded prospect in the Bulldogs' 2016 class other than Eason.
8. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano kept the post office busy
On March 26 of last year, Guarantano announced on Twitter that he would reveal his college decision at Bergen Catholic (N.J.) High on April 15. That left plenty of time for his three finalists—Ohio State, Rutgers and Tennessee—to intensify their pursuits of the four-star quarterback. Guarantano chose Tennessee, but not before receiving more than 100 letters from those three schools two days before his announcement. That's a lot of mail, even if it doesn't come close to the massive pile Quarte Sapp, a four-star linebacker in the class of 2015, once used to fill his bathtub.
As if that wasn't enough drama, Guarantano's mother added to the suspense on the morning of April 15 by decorating the front window of his home with Scarlet Knights, Volunteers and Buckeyes logos. All of the uncertainty leading into his choice may have kept the Ohio State, Rutgers and Tennessee fan bases on edge, but Volunteers supporters were probably happy with the way things turned out.
9. Khaleke Hudson has Odell Beckham Jr.-like catching ability
Hudson made an incredible one-handed catch while leaping over a teammate and then landed in the end zone. It wasn't perfect, as the person he hurdled had to duck, but we'll give Hudson the benefit of the doubt.
A four-star athlete from McKeesport, Pa., Hudson told Scout.com that he has "no preference" about what position he plays in college. He took an official visit to Michigan earlier this month, but Penn State is also in the mix. The program that lands him should probably try him out at receiver—at least when trying to finish drives in the red zone.
10. Elijah Holyfield got creative with his commitment
The abundance of creative announcements over the years has made it tough for recruits to stand out when revealing their commitments. Yet Holyfield deserves credit for thinking outside the box. The son of former heavyweight champion boxer Evander Holyfield made public his pledge to Georgia by using two bulldog puppies that may or may not have been named "Chubb" and "Gurley" after current Georgia tailback Nick Chubb and former back Todd Gurley, now with the Los Angeles Rams. On Sept. 4, Holyfield walked across his high school gym with the two dogs on a leash before slipping on a white Georgia baseball cap.
This was well executed, and Holyfield should be commended for opting against, say, unexpectedly firing off a tweet on a weekday night indicating his choice. He told the the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had been silently committed to the Bulldogs for more than a month.
11. Nigel Knott produced the best off-field highlight catch
A video of Knott making a ridiculous catch went viral last May. Everything about this clip is smooth—the grab, the flip, the landing—and it barely edged out class of 2015 NC State running back recruit Nyheim Hines's spinning catch at the top of SI's Staged Highlight Power Rankings.
Knott provided evidence that the catch wasn't something he could execute only once; he pulled off a similar maneuver in front of a recruiting reporter this summer. A four-star cornerback out of Germantown (Miss.) High, Knott remains uncommitted.
12. Terrell Hall did not appreciate how Maryland initially recruited him
Hall is an uncommitted four-star defensive end who attends St. John's College High in Washington, D.C. In May, when Hall was committed to Ohio State, he made clear that he did not appreciate the way Maryland handled his recruitment. Hall expressed his displeasure in a series of since-deleted tweets over two days that were captured by CollegeSpun.com.
The tweets were sent out less than a week after the Terrapins landed a pledge from four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., who flipped to the Buckeyes last Monday along with four-star linebacker Keandre Jones. Hall reportedly received a scholarship offer from the Terrapins in October 2014.
"Lol Maryland get a couple of commits and think that they gone dominate the big 10" (May 16, 2015)
"It's funny how fans think UMD wanted me from the jump. If anything PSU had me from the jump & I love them for that. OSU is perfect for me" (May 17, 2015)
Hall renounced his pledge to the Buckeyes in August, and Scout.com's Brian Dohn recently explained that he thinks Hall could end up choosing Maryland. Keep in mind, the Terrapins have brought in a new coaching staff led by former Michigan assistant D.J. Durkin.
13. Miles Sanders gives Penn State even more reason for optimism at running back
Saquon Barkley emerged as one of the nation's best offensive players in his debut season at Penn State. He broke the Nittany Lions' freshman rushing record with 1,076 yards, was named second-team All-Big Ten by coaches and media and produced an unforgettable highlight when he leapt over an Illinois defender en route to a touchdown. Barkley looks like he could develop into a star, the kind of player around whom new coordinator Joe Moorhead can build his offense.
But the Nittany Lions are on the verge of adding a running back with more potential than Barkley. Sanders was bumped from a four- to a five-star prospect and is now the top-rated player at his position, according to Scout.com, after shining in practices at the Under Armour All-American Bowl earlier this month and rushing for 1,523 yards with 16 touchdowns on 11.2 yards per carry during his senior season at Woodland Hills (Pa.) High. (Barkley was rated a four-star recruit and ranked 14th among running backs in the class of 2015.)
Scout.com's Brian Dohn explained the recent change in Sanders's star status: "Sanders's combination of running style—he can get to the edge, make defenders miss behind the line of scrimmage and run between the tackles—as well as his ability to break big runs, catch the ball out of the backfield and also be effective as a blocker moved him from a four-star to five-star prospect."
14. Kendell Jones could make Alabama's defensive line even scarier
The Crimson Tide's front seven was fearsome in 2015, and it should wreak havoc again next fall after returning Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and several others. Even better: Although Alabama lost star lineman A'Shawn Robinson, it landed a prospect who can rival him in the intimidation department.
Jones is listed at 6' 4,'' 361 pounds and his Hudl page indicates he can bench press 400 pounds, squat 600 pounds and run the 40 in 4.90 seconds. Nicknamed "Hulk," Jones is the No. 5 defensive tackle and No. 14 player in the class of 2016, per Scout.com.
How big is Jones? Below is footage of him standing next to the top defensive tackle in the class of 2016, the 6' 4,'' 286-pound Rashan Gary.
15. Tren'Davian Dickson and Devin Duvernay could help Baylor fans forget about Corey Coleman
Baylor will enter next season needing to replace a receiver (Coleman) who in 2015 caught 74 passes for a Big 12-leading 1,363 yards and won the Biletnikoff Award. That won't be easy, but two of the Bears' touted recruits look as if they can help. Dickson and Duvernay rank third and fourth, respectively, among players at the position in the class of '16, according to Scout.com.
Dickson initially committed to the Bears in July 2014, but he later reopened his recruitment and pledged to Texas before flipping back to Baylor last November. He set a national record with 39 touchdown receptions as a junior at Navasota (Texas) High and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas as a senior after making 82 catches for 1,525 yards with 24 touchdowns.
If Dickson is known for his stats, Duvernay has earned widespread acclaim for his speed. He sprinted 100 meters in 10.27 seconds last May, one of the fastest times in the country in 2015, and was clocked at 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash at The Opening. Duvernay also has good hands and footwork, both of which helped him amass more than 1,000 rushing yards and nearly 3,000 receiving yards at Sachse (Texas) High.
16. Greg Little could help Ole Miss fans forget about Laremy Tunsil
Ole Miss is faced with a predicament resembling Baylor's, only pertaining to a different position. Whereas the Bears must bid farewell to the best receiver in the country, the Rebels must say goodbye to the best offensive tackle, as Laremy Tunsil declared for the draft in January. Fortunately for Ole Miss, it has a pretty good replacement plan lined up.
Little, the No. 3 player in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com, committed to the Rebels in December. (He initially pledged to Texas A&M in June 2014, but he reopened his recruitment in July.) The Allen (Texas) High star's commitment to Ole Miss gives the program the top-ranked prospects at two of the most important positions: left tackle and quarterback (Shea Patterson). Scout.com notes that Little possesses "the athleticism, the frame and the footwork to become a true college tackle prospect. Has that long-arm looking frame that could handle additional strength easily as he matures."
17. Jawon Pass probably angered some folks in Alabama with his commitment
Pass, a four-star quarterback, committed to Louisville over Alabama and Auburn in July, but not before he pump-faked Crimson Tide supporters. In a ceremony at Carver (Ga.) High, Pass said, "For the next three to four years, I'll be attending the university of …" and then reached for an Alabama baseball cap positioned on the table in front of him. Pass touched the cap, only to pull his hand back and grab a Louisville hat nearby. "Louisville," Pass said, before slipping on the Cardinals cap.
All things considered, it was a harmless ploy, but it likely didn't make Tide fans happy. And the fact that he visited Tuscaloosa less than a week before committing certainly didn't soften the blow. Nor is it probable that Pass's comments at the ceremony sat well with the fans of Alabama's chief rival. "It fit me better, but I felt like Auburn wasn't going to prepare me for the next level," Pass said when asked how he fit in the Tigers' offense, according to AL.com.
18. Naseir Upshur made sure Florida State replaced one blue-chip tight end with another
Five-star tight end Isaac Nauta committed to the Seminoles in December 2014, but he decided to reopen his recruitment over the summer and later pledged to Georgia. Losing Nauta was a significant blow, but Florida State replaced him about a month later with another top-tier talent. Upshur pledged to the Seminoles over Michigan on Sept. 1, less than a month after taking an unofficial visit to Tallahassee.
The No. 1 tight end in the East region and No. 152 player in the class of 2016, per Scout.com, Upshur was named to the Class AAA all-state team as a senior at Imhotep Institute Charter (Pa.) High and was invited to the Under Armour All-American Game. "Upshur is versatile and physical," Scout.com's player evaluation of him notes. "He can split out side or play with his hand on the ground. He fires off the ball well, stays low and is physical as a blocker. He is a good pass catcher, and does not allow the ball to get into his body."
19. Wide receiver Sam Bruce's nickname is appropriate
Let's hope Bruce's nickname sticks in college. The diminutive (5' 7,'' 189 pounds) four-star wideout is known as "Samborghini," presumably because he can do things only supercharged sports cars can (excluding this remarkable flip routine). Check out these highlights of Bruce, as well as this cut he made during St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High's spring game last year.
Bruce, the No. 24 receiver in this class and the nephew of former NFL star Isaac Bruce, is committed to Miami, but the Hurricanes will have to fight to keep him through signing day. Last week, Bruce reportedly conducted an in-home visit with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and tweeted out a graphic featuring Ohio Stadium and him wearing a Buckeyes jersey. He was also seen donning Ohio State gear at the Under Armour All-American Game.
20. Dionte Mullins produced the best all-star game catch
Speaking of receivers from South Florida, Miami commit Mullins made an incredible catch during the Under Armour All-American Game. With just over a minute left before halftime, quarterback Jack Allison, a fellow Hurricanes pledge, launched the ball toward the right side of the end zone, where Mullins was being covered by four-star cornerback Kristian Fulton. As Fulton reached out to defend the throw, Mullins turned and then grabbed the ball with one hand before skipping into the end zone.
"I didn't know I caught it, and I saw the ball in my hands and then I just made sure I ran into the end zone," Mullins told the Miami Herald afterward. "I shocked myself that I caught it."
Mullins, a three-star receiver who attends Gulliver Preparatory School in Miami, was ruled ineligible for his senior season because of academics. The Orlando Sentinel noted that his qualification for admission into Miami "looks to be in serious jeopardy."
21. Prized wideout Drake Davis wound up choosing football
Remember Davis? He created quite a stir in the fall of 2014 when, as a junior at Fork Union Military (Va.) Academy, he decided to play soccer instead of football. This was viewed as big news at a time when high school football participation was dwindling and soccer's popularity in the United States was perceived to be on the rise. But Davis wound up playing football as a senior at IMG (Fla.) Academy and committed to LSU during the Under All-American Game earlier this month. "I'll be returning to the boot baby, LSU," Davis said. "I love football and I love everything about it."
Davis also reportedly said he has talked with Tigers basketball coach Johnny Jones to discuss the possibility of playing hoops in college, too.
22. Ed Oliver is Houston's top recruit in the rankings era
Houston coach Tom Herman's first full recruiting class not only ranks higher than that of any Group of Five school, but also those of many Power Five schools. The class, which as of Monday morning checked in at No. 39 in the FBS, according to Scout.com, is headlined by a five-star talent who was named the Most Valuable Player for one of the teams in the Under Armour All-American Game.
Oliver ranks third among defensive tackles and sixth among all players in the class of 2016. On the surface, it's shocking that a player of his caliber would pick the Cougars—he even said recently that LSU, a program that typically attracts players like Oliver, will always be his "dream school"—but consider the following: Oliver attends Westfield High in Houston, his brother (Marcus) is an offensive lineman for Houston and the Cougars added former Westfield coach Corby Meekins to their staff last year.
This chart shows how Oliver ranks among Houston's top recruits since 2008, the first year of the Scout 300.
23. This class features plenty of standout receivers from California
One of the defining features of the 2015 recruiting class was the abundance of heralded quarterbacks from southern California. The group included UCLA's Josh Rosen, Alabama's Blake Barnett and Arizona State's Brady White, among others. This year the Golden State is remarkably deep at another position: receiver.
The six top-ranked receivers in the state, according to Scout.com, made the latest version of the Scout 300 (including three in the top 60): USC commit Tyler Vaughns (No. 31), UCLA commit Theo Howard (49), Notre Dame commit Javon McKinley (55), Michigan commit Dylan Crawford (134), Texas commit Collin Johnson (192) and uncommitted Damian Alloway (235). Not included on that list is USC commit Michael Pittman (No. 29), who is classified as an athlete by Scout.com but projects to play receiver in college. Dating to 2008, the first year of the Scout 300, California has never produced more than two wideouts ranked in the top 60.
24. Dexter Lawrence was Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's early Christmas present
Clemson is less than a month removed from completing one of the best seasons in program history. However, before the Tigers took on Alabama in the national title game, they scored one of the team's biggest recruiting victories of the last decade. Lawrence committed to Clemson on Dec. 14.
The No. 2 defensive tackle and No. 2 overall player in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com, Lawrence recorded 91 tackles, including 21 for loss and 13 sacks, as a senior at Wake Forest (N.C.) High. He is the lynchpin of a Tigers class that also includes the nation's No. 2 running back (Tavien Feaster) and four-star defensive end Xavier Kelly. The addition of Lawrence is even more important for Clemson considering it is losing two top defensive linemen, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, to the NFL this off-season.
How excited was Swinney after hearing the news of Lawrence's decision? This is the way he described it, via the Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner.
Dabo Swinney on Dexter Lawrence: "Unbelievable talent. The right kind of guy for our culture here. This is Christmas come early."— Aaron Brenner (@Aaron_Brenner) December 14, 2015
25. Shane Buechele hopes to become Texas's long-awaited quarterback of the future
It was impossible to know as much at the time, but the crushing hit Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus laid on Texas quarterback Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game marked the beginning of a sustained stretch of ineptitude at the most important position on the field for the Longhorns. Texas has not fielded a reliable starting quarterback since then—much less one who could even come close to performing as well as McCoy did during his four seasons as the program's starter.
Longhorns fans are hoping Arlington Lamar (Texas) High's Buechele is the signal-caller they've been waiting for. Buechele, the No. 9 quarterback in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com, dazzled at the Elite 11 in Beaverton, Ore.; he won the "Golden Gun" target competition for accuracy, finished second in the showcase rankings and was compared to a Super Bowl-winning NFL passer. "Literally, it's Aaron Rodgers," ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told USA Today's Paul Myerberg of Buechele's mechanics. "It's Drew Brees good."