National Signing Day 2017 winners and losers: USC surges, Texas flops
- Breaking down the teams that finished with a flourish and the teams that were left kicking themselves after this year's National Signing Day.
There’s one major problem with identifying who won and who lost on National Signing Day: We don’t really know how good any of these players will be at the college level. Sure, programs that land four- and five-star prospects on the last day of the recruiting cycle seem to position themselves for future on-field success. History suggests that, contrary to whatever Coach X says about the futility of recruiting rankings, stars matter. The recruits rated at the top of their respective classes, on balance, outperform those with only a couple of Power 5 scholarship offers. But the rankings do not have a perfect track record. Blue-chippers have failed to live up to the hype, just as two-stars from small high schools sometimes blossom into stars. It’s important to keep this stuff in mind if you feel the urge to agonize over or celebrate what went down on signing day. Here are five winners and losers from Wednesday:
What didn’t go right for the Trojans on signing day? Plucking Westlake High four-star linebacker Levi Jones from Texas’s back yard marked an early conquest (he gets bonus points for the method of his reveal, a shirt-shedding maneuver completed with a standard baseball cap placement), but USC was just getting started. North Canyon (Ariz.) High five-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson followed suit. Ditto for Bingham (Utah) High five-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele. By the end of the day, the Trojans would add another five-star prospect, Augustus F. Hawkins (Calif.) High wide receiver Joseph Lewis, and two four-stars, Inderkum (Calif.) High tight end Josh Falo and athlete Greg Johnson, Lewis’s teammate at Augustus F. Hawkins. This is not the first time USC has stolen the show on signing day, but that shouldn’t detract from what the program accomplished under a head coach who was the subject of hot seat speculation just a few months ago. Now Clay Helton will add one of the best recruiting classes in the country to an already loaded roster.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh was so thrilled about a commitment from a heralded prospect earlier this week that he jumped in a pool to celebrate it. But the decision of that prospect, West (Iowa) High four-star wide receiver Oliver Martin, was only a prelude to a superlative signing day. Michigan beat out two SEC recruiting heavyweights, Alabama and Georgia, for another pass-catcher, Clay-Chalkville (Ala.) High four-star Nico Collins, to round out an impressive cluster of wide receivers in its 2017 class that also includes Cass Technical (Mich.) High five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones and Cheshire (Conn.) Academy four-star Tarik Black. The Wolverines’ biggest victory of the day, though, came on the other side of the ball. Another top-shelf prospect from the Southeast, Lee County (Ga.) High five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, spurned the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs in favor of the Wolverines. The two additions completed another haul that will help Harbaugh keep Michigan competing at the top of arguably the most challenging division in the Power 5, the Big Ten East.
The Bears would have been winners even if they didn’t land any prospects on signing day. Since the program hired Matt Rhule from Temple in December, a move skeptics questioned because of his lack of recruiting ties to Texas, Baylor has added 26 players to its 2017 class. Two joined the party on Wednesday: England (Ark.) High three-star defensive end Brandon Thompson and East Ascension (La.) High three-star defensive end Justin Harris. Their choices punctuate a rousing pre-signing day stretch for a program with a dismal recruiting situation. The influx of talent may not pay major dividends in 2017. These prospects will need some time to develop, and remember, the Bears struggled to keep their 2016 haul intact. But by signing so many quality players in such a short span, Rhule laid the groundwork for a successful rebuild. For more on Baylor’s recruiting, read Pete Thamel’s feature from Waco.
The disappointment Crimson Tide fans carried into the off-season after their favorite program lost in the national championship game should have evaporated on Wednesday. Alabama provided a reminder of why it has been, and will continue to be, so difficult to beat during coach Nick Saban’s tenure. The Tide hit on three of their top targets to shore up another top-ranked class. Amite (La.) High five-star wide receiver Devonta Smith, Robert E. Lee (Ala.) High four-star wide receiver Henry Ruggs and James Clemens (Ala.) High four-star defensive end LaBryan Ray all announced for Alabama. Losing a heated battle with Michigan for Solomon hurts, but the Tide need not fret over one recruiting miss, particularly after they added a different player at the same position, Neville (La.) High four-star Phidarian Mathis, on Tuesday. Plus, Saban can counter by pointing to his win over the Wolverines in a competition for an even better prospect, Antioch (Calif.) High five-star running back Najee Harris, last month.
As criticism mounted over Florida coach Jim McElwain’s lack of progress on the recruiting trail in recent weeks, the likelihood of a dismaying signing day seemed overwhelmingly high. He and his staff delivered exactly the opposite. The Gators cashed in where analysts thought they’d collapse, triumphed where rivals hoped they’d tumble. American Heritage (Fla.) High five-star offensive/defensive lineman Tedarrell Slaton began the day with his pledge to Florida over SEC East rival Georgia. Slaton’s pick set off a sequence of big gets for the Gators: Clearwater (Fla.) High three-star running back Adarius Lemons, Christopher Columbus (Fla.) High four-star cornerback Christopher Henderson, Miramar (Fla.) High three-star safety Brian Edwards and Lakeland Senior (Fla.) High four-star wide receiver James Robinson. Robinson may have been the most shocking late addition to Florida’s class after reports suggested earlier this week that the program had pulled his scholarship offer (Robinson was cited for marijuana possession on a recent visit to Ohio State), but together these players will provide a late tailwind to a class that seemed to be limping toward the finish line.
Any hope that new Texas coach Tom Herman could immediately restore the Longhorns’ place atop the Lone Star State recruiting pecking order gave way to the realization that it’s going to take a while. First Westlake (Texas) High four-star offensive tackle Stephan Zabie decided to bolt Austin in favor of the West Coast and sign with UCLA. Then came Bishop Dunne Catholic (Texas) four-star cornerback Chevin Calloway’s announcement that he’s headed to Arkansas. The most crushing blow, though, involved one of the best players on the market across the country entering Wednesday. North Shore Senior (Texas) five-star defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson opted for LSU. Signing day wasn’t a complete disaster for Herman. He got a late yes from juco three-star defensive tackle Jamari Chisholm, and Winter Park High three-star wide receiver Jordan Pouncey is a nice pickup out of Florida. But the overall picture is bleak. This was a humbling day for the Longhorns.
The Buckeyes were not considered favorites for the two targets on whom they missed out, so perhaps they don’t belong here. That said, coach Urban Meyer’s recruiting track record demands a rigorous grading curve. His consistent success attracting top-end talent to Columbus makes it difficult to process even minor failures. After watching hated rival Michigan reel in one of the nation’s top defensive tackles in Solomon, Ohio State couldn’t close on two other esteemed players at that position: Episcopal (Tex.) High five-star Marvin Wilson, the nation’s top uncommitted prospect entering Wednesday, picked Florida State, and Tufele picked USC. True, the Buckeyes rebounded by adding a talented in-state offensive lineman, Washington (Ohio) High four-star tackle Thayer Munford, but that’s little consolation for a program that seemingly won every recruiting battle it wanted to while assembling a terrific 2017 class.
This is an unfortunate development for a promising player. Parks put off a planned announcement on Wednesday at his high school, Sebastian River (Fla.), only to later reveal his decision to attend Alabama by tweeting out a video produced by Bleacher Report featuring the Eiffel Tower. The problem was that the Crimson Tide did not have a spot in their 2017 class for Parks. Instead, he is expected to enroll in Tuscaloosa next spring, as a so-called grayshirt. The designation is sometimes used by programs looking to add lesser prospects to their rosters, but Parks, the No. 7 defensive end and No. 68 recruit overall in the class of 2017 according to Scout.com, is a blue-chipper with an offer list full of Power 5 heavyweights. It’s bizarre to see a player of his caliber delay enrollment because a program didn’t have room to fit him in.
This is a debatable choice. Pulling Bishop Dunne High three-star defensive tackle Damion Daniels out of Dallas is no small thing. And getting John Muir (Calif.) High four-star cornerback Elijah Blades on board after he decommitted from Florida is another big move in recruiting crunch time. But the positivity of Daniels’s and Blades’s picks was outweighed by a string of negative headlines: Lewis and Johnson elected to stay home and sign with USC, Cathedral (Calif.) High four-star wide receiver Jamire Calvin flipped to Washington State and Bishop Mora Salesian (Calif.) High four-star defensive back Deommodore Lenoir chose Oregon. This wasn’t a terrible day for the Cornhuskers, and their 2017 class, on the whole, will help coach Mike Riley and his staff build a winner in a weak Big Ten West division. There’s little doubt, for example, that Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High four-star wideout Tyjon Lindsey will give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares throughout his stint in Lincoln. Still, the bitter taste of a somewhat dispiriting signing day will linger into the spring.
Another debatable choice. Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart and his staff had already done great work in this cycle before Wednesday by compiling a class that includes one of the best quarterbacks in the country (Jake Fromm), a group of talented offensive linemen and a collection of promising defensive backs, among other coveted prospects. However, Georgia came away empty-handed on its most highly regarded targets on signing day. Grayson (Ga.) High four-star athlete Jamyest Williams rebuffed a late push from the Bulldogs to stick with South Carolina, Solomon announced he’s leaving the Peach State to play for Michigan, Collins revealed he’ll follow Solomon to Ann Arbor, Crisp County (Ga.) High four-star defensive end Markaviest Bryant decided on Auburn, Slaton made the call for divisional foe Florida and Brookwood (Ga.) High four-star linebacker Leonard Warner III settled on Florida State. For Georgia fans, it was a disheartening day of denials.