- Clemson landed the best quarterbacks, Michigan got the best wide receivers and Alabama hauled in the best linebackers of any program in the country.
The easiest way to make sense of the results of the 2017 recruiting cycle is to look at the rankings. The programs with the best players are near the top of the page, with low numbers next to their names. But after spending a couple of days taking stock of what happened on National Signing Day, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
SI.com is breaking down the programs that fared particularly well recruiting a specific position group. Signing prospects who can line up all over the field, on both sides of the ball, is a winning strategy, but some programs deserve recognition for how they loaded up at one spot in particular.
Just as Clemson waves farewell to one of the greatest college football players ever (Deshaun Watson), it brings in two really promising prospects who could compete to replace him. Neither Brownsburg (Ind.) High four-star Hunter Johnson nor Grayson (Ga.) High three-star Chase Brice seems likely to lead the Tigers onto the field with the first-team offense in their 2017 opener against Kent State, but Johnson, an early enrollee, has a higher ceiling than Brice and may be pressed into action if he shines in spring workouts and fall camp. Both passers could develop into quality starters within the next couple of years.
It’s also worth mentioning that Clemson has already earned a pledge from the best quarterback (and best prospect overall) in the 2018 class, Cartersville (Ga.) High five-star Trevor Lawrence.
Running back: Florida State
Like the Tigers, the Seminoles are losing their offensive centerpiece (running back Dalvin Cook). Also like the Tigers, the Seminoles are reloading with multiple high-level recruits at that player’s position. Clinton (Miss.) High five-star Cam Akers, Bishop Sullivan Catholic (Va.) High four-star Khalal Laborn and North Fort Meyers (Fla.) High four-star Zaquandre White will compete with returnee Jacques Patrick to shoulder the carry load Cook leaves behind. Akers, a 5’11’’, 212-pound force who played quarterback during his prep career, clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He should contribute right away and could blossom into a star, if not a Cook-level-supernova, by the time he leaves Tallahassee.
Wide receiver: Michigan
The Wolverines might have felt good about their wide receiver haul in 2017 even if they didn’t expand it by two players in the final week of the cycle. First coach Jim Harbaugh got West (Iowa) High four-star Oliver Martin on board Monday (and celebrated Martin’s decision by jumping into a pool). Two days later, on signing day, Clay-Chalkville (Ala.) High four-star Nico Collins spurned two SEC recruiting powers, Alabama and Georgia, for the Wolverines. Collins and Martin joined two higher-rated wide receiver prospects in Michigan’s class: Cass Technical (Mich.) High five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones and Cheshire (Conn.) Academy four-star Tarik Black. The Wolverines also signed Camden (N.J.) High three-star Brad Hawkins.
Tight end: Notre Dame
Even without success on the recruiting trail, the Fighting Irish were set to bolster their tight end rotation for the 2017 season with the return of sophomore Alize Jones, who was ruled academically ineligible last year. Notre Dame's incoming class adds even more talent to the mix. The Fighting Irish landed two tight ends who, like Jones (a five-star out of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas in the class of 2015), were ranked among the best players at the position in high school. Cy-Fair (Texas) High four-star Brock Wright, Scout.com’s No. 3 tight end in the country, and Saint Viator (Ill.) High four-star Cole Kmet, ranked No. 4, will team with Jones to aid Notre Dame’s aerial attack as the Fighting Irish transition to a new starting quarterback following the departure of DeShone Kizer to the NFL.
Offensive line: Georgia
The Bulldogs assembled a remarkable collection of talent to address an area that stunted their growth in year one under new coach Kirby Smart. Their most notable get along the offensive line is from the East Coast, massive (6’6.5", 354 pounds) Poly Prep Country Day (N.Y.) School four-star Isaiah Wilson. But they also picked up two talented local offensive tackles in Pace (Ga.) Academy four-star Andrew Thomas and Brunswick (Ga.) High four-star D’antne Demery, one local guard who was previously committed to Alabama in Cedar Grove (Ga.) High four-star Netori Johnson and another four-star guard from the same high school in Justin Shaffer. The offensive line recruit who could have the best shot at seeing the field early, though, is Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College four-star product D’Marcus Hayes.
Defensive line: USC
The Trojans wouldn’t have been in contention for this spot even a couple of weeks before signing day, but they flipped one of the nation’s best defensive tackles, Central (Ore.) High four-star Marlon Tuipulotu, from Washington in late January and then added an even more highly touted player at that position on signing day when Bingham (Utah) High five-star Jay Tufele picked USC over Utah, BYU, Michigan and Ohio State. Those two recruits were the icing on a defensive line cake that already included one of the top pass rushers on the West Coast, Cathedral (Calif.) High four-star defensive end Hunter Echols, as well as a three-star defensive end with more than 30 reported Power 5 scholarship offers, Cypress Bay (Fla.) High three-star Jacob Lichtenstein, and another three-star defensive tackle, Westview (Ore.) High’s Brandon Pili.
The Crimson Tide did well to pluck Dylan Moses, a five-star prospect who, as a Baton Rouge native who issued a verbal commitment to LSU when he was a freshman in high school, seemed destined to spend his college career with the Tigers (even after transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. last January). Alabama's linebacker haul also includes another esteemed player from LSU's turf, Southern University Laboratory School four-star Chris Allen, plus one other four-star prospect in Central (Ala.) High’s Markail Benton and a five-star who flipped his commitment from Florida State last April, Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High’s Vandarius Cowan.
Secondary: Ohio State
After losing three starting defensive backs with remaining eligibility in consecutive years, the Buckeyes needed an infusion of talent in the back end of their defense. Coach Urban Meyer and his staff made sure they got exactly that by signing two of the nation’s top five prep cornerbacks, South Grand Prairie (Texas) High five-star Jeffrey Okudah and Trinity Christian (Fla.) Academy four-star Shaun Wade; the top junior college cornerback (and top overall juco player), Blinn (Texas) College five-star Kendall Sheffield; the No. 7 safety in the country, IMG (Fla.) Academy four-star Isaiah Pryor; and two other four-star cornerbacks, Colerain (Ohio) High’s Amir Riep and IMG Academy’s Marcus Williamson.