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  • The best player landed during the 2016 recruiting cycle was a transfer who had to sit out the '16 season, but the No. 1 team at the time held onto the top spot. Three years later, who brought in the 10 best classes?
By Andy Staples
February 28, 2019

As I promised Monday, I am now back on schedule with my annual re-ranks of past recruiting classes. Today, we’ll examine the classes of 2016—when the best individual player was a transfer from another school who had to sit out the ’16 season. The original rankings come from the 247Sports Composite, and as you’ll see, they weren’t too far off the first time around.

1. Alabama

Original rank: 1
Record since 2016: 41–3
Conference titles: 2
College Football Playoff appearances: 3
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 3
National titles: 1

Major contributors: LB Mack Wilson, OT Jonah Williams, LB Terrell Lewis, DT Raekwon Davis, CB Trevon Diggs, CB Shyheim Carter, DT Quinnen Williams, QB Jalen Hurts, RB Josh Jacobs, TE Irv Smith.

It’s crazy to think now that Nick Saban was initially upset because the Tide “only” signed Davis and Quinnen Williams on the defensive line; Williams was the nation’s best defensive player in 2018. Jonah Williams was a three-year starter on the offensive line, and he’s a likely first-rounder in April. Jacobs came on late, but his versatility made Alabama’s offense even more dangerous. Smith, meanwhile, gave Alabama a supersized athlete catching passes. Hurts may be moving on to Oklahoma because Tua Tagovailoa is just that good, but Alabama went 25–2 in games Hurts started. And if you want to take that 25th away because Tagovailoa relieved him in the national title game against Georgia following the ’17 season, then feel free to add it back for Hurts bringing back the Tide after replacing an injured Tagovailoa in the ’18 SEC title game.

2. Ohio State

Original rank: 4
Record since 2016: 37–5
Conference titles: 2
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 3
National titles: 0

Major contributors: DE Nick Bosa, DE Jonathan Cooper, WR Austin Mack, QB Dwayne Haskins, WR Binjimen Victor, C Michael Jordan, OG Malcolm Pridgeon, TE Luke Farrell, LB Tuf Borland, S Jordan Fuller, P Drue Chrisman.

This class includes a Heisman Trophy finalist (Haskins) who shattered Big Ten passing records, and it may wind up containing a No. 1 pick in the NFL draft (Bosa). It also includes some critical role players and a specialist (Chrisman) who was truly special at times in ’18.

3. Oklahoma

Original rank: 19
Record since 2016: 35–4
Conference titles: 3
College Football Playoff appearances: 2
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 3
National titles: 0

Major contributors: LB Caleb Kelly, S Jordan Parker, DE Amani Bledsoe, CB Parnell Motley, OG Ben Powers, LB Emmanuel Beal.

I know what you’re thinking. Five starters from a defense that wasn’t all that good and one starter from an offensive line that was very good? THAT gets Oklahoma the No. 3 spot?

No. The Sooners are here because one of the scholarships intended for this class was used on a transfer from Texas A&M who wasn’t officially part of the signing class and grew into the best player in America in ’18. Quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy with one of the most dominant individual performances the sport has ever seen, and even if Oklahoma hadn’t brought in a single other player in ’16, Murray’s presence would be enough to get it on this list.

4. Clemson

Original rank: 11
Record since 2016: 41–3
Conference titles: 3
College Football Playoff appearances: 3
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 3
National titles: 2

Major contributors: DT Dexter Lawrence, RB Tavien Feaster, LB Tre Lamar, CB Trayvon Mullen, OG John Simpson, OG Sean Pollard, DT Nyles Pinckney, S Isaiah Simmons, OT Tremayne Anchrum, S K’Von Wallace.

It speaks to how well Clemson has recruited that this excellent group could go down, relatively speaking, as a bridge class. The 2015 class was an all-timer, which is why I ranked it No. 1 when I re-ranked that class earlier this week. The 2017 class brought other key pieces (WR Tee Higgins, WR Amari Rodgers, CB A.J. Terrell, RB Travis Etienne), and the 2018 class (QB Trevor Lawrence, WR Justyn Ross) put the Tigers over the top. That said, most programs would be thrilled with just getting a class like this one every few years. Lawrence was a force in the middle of the defensive line. Pollard and Simpson were part of a group that allowed Clemson to dominate the national title game against Alabama. Pinckney will help replace the starting defensive line group next year (probably with little drop-off). LB/S hybrid Simmons, meanwhile, should be the first player off Clemson’s bus next year. The 6'2", 230-pounder’s presence just screams “You don’t have anything like this on your team, and we have guys at other positions that will make you feel the same way.”

5. Notre Dame

Original rank: 15
Record since 2016: 26–12
Conference titles: Not applicable
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 1
National titles: 0

Major contributors: OT Liam Eichenberg, WR Chase Claypool, DE Khalid Kareem, CB Troy Pride, DE Julian Okwara, CB Julian Love, S Jalen Elliott, DB Devin Studstill, QB Ian Book.

The DBs in this class got thrown into the fire as freshmen and endured a miserable year. But it made them stronger. Julian Love turned into one of the nation’s best breaker-uppers. Eichenberg, meanwhile, replaced first-rounder Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and the offense kept humming. But the biggest find in this class probably was the California quarterback that then-Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford ID’d while working at Boise State. The Irish only offered Book after they missed out on a few higher-rated quarterbacks, but they’re certainly glad now that all those other guys said no thanks.

6. Michigan

Original rank: 8
Record since 2016: 28–11
Conference titles: 0
College Football Playoff appearances: 0
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 2
National titles: 0

Major contributors: DE Rashan Gary, G Ben Bredeson, CB David Long, OG Michael Onwenu, CB Lavert Hill, LB Devin Bush Jr., RB Chris Evans, K Quinn Nordin, S Josh Metellus.

This seemed like the class that might allow Michigan to compete for Big Ten titles again, and for most of this season, it looked like it would. Then the Ohio State game happened. And that’s part of the reason why Ohio State’s class is ranked higher here. But if Jim Harbaugh can find a way to keep bringing in hauls of this quality, the Wolverines have to eventually break through. Don’t they?

7. LSU

Original rank: 2
Record since 2016: 27–11
Conference titles: 0
College Football Playoff appearances: 0
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 1
National titles: 0

Major contributors: CB Kristian Fulton, DE Rashard Lawrence, LB Michael Divinity, LB Devin White, CB Greedy Williams, C Lloyd Cushenberry, DE Glen Logan.

You can look at this either as the last Les Miles recruiting class at LSU or the first class after a full cycle with Ed Orgeron on the staff. (Spoiler alert: It’s both!) This group included two future NFL corners (Fulton and Williams), an anchor for the defensive line (Lawrence) and the future soul of the defense (White). This class even produced an eventual Alabama starter. (CB Saivion Smith, who transferred to junior college and then signed with the Tide.) Meanwhile, Cushenberry became the steadying force on the offensive line. You’ll notice there is no quarterback listed among the contributors. LSU’s current staff is grateful Ohio State signed Haskins in this class, because his ascension forced Joe Burrow to look for another school.

8. Georgia

Original rank: 6
Record since 2016: 32–7
Conference titles: 1
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 2
National titles: 0

Major contributors: QB Jacob Eason, WR Mecole Hardman, TE Isaac Nauta, DT Julian Rochester, OG Ben Cleveland, RB Elijah Holyfield, WR Riley Ridley, WR Javon Wims, RB Brian Herrien.

The craziest thing about Kirby Smart’s first class at Georgia is that most of the biggest contributors to this point won’t be playing for the program as seniors. Eason transferred after class of 2017 signee Jake Fromm took his job. Wims was a junior college transfer who has moved on to the NFL. Hardman, Ridley, Nauta and Holyfield turned pro after their junior seasons. (It’s quite possible Holyfield left because of worries his workload would decrease in Athens next season.) But that shouldn’t be cause for alarm. It’s a sign that Georgia has recruited so well that it can afford to lose players like these and keep rolling. Expect the Bulldogs’ next two classes to rank much higher on this list.

9. Florida

Original rank: 12
Record since 2016: 23–14
Conference titles: 0
College Football Playoff appearances: 0
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 1
National titles: 0

Major contributors: WR Tyrie Cleveland, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, QB Feleipe Franks, WR Freddie Swain, LB David Reese, RB Lamical Perine, LB Vosean Joseph, DE Jachai Polite, OG Jawaan Taylor, K Eddy Pineiro.

Jim McElwain’s staff wasn’t equipped to compete year-in and year-out in the recruiting badlands of the SEC, but the group did put together a nice class in its first full recruiting cycle. It took the arrival of new coach Dan Mullen to properly equip Franks at quarterback. He’s playing like a different person now. But McElwain’s staff did flip him from LSU before playing him too early because they didn’t have better options. Polite had to play out of position at first to get on the field, but once he slimmed down and began playing defensive end he became one of the nation’s top pass rushers. Guys like Reese, Perine, Joseph and Taylor helped Mullen and the staff flip the fortunes of the program down the stretch this past season. Pineiro only spent two seasons in Gainesville, but the juco transfer was a revelation, and flipping him from Alabama was one of the McElwain staff’s biggest recruiting wins.

10. Washington

Original rank: 29
Record since 2016: 32–9
Conference titles: 2
College Football Playoff appearances: 1
New Year’s Six bowl appearances: 3
National titles: 0

Major contributors: CB Byron Murphy, G Luke Wattenberg, S Taylor Rapp, C Nick Harris, WR Aaron Fuller, DT Levi Onwuzurike.

This small (20 signees) class had an excellent hit rate, including two three-and-done DBs (Murphy and Rapp). Rapp played immediately and helped the Huskies win two Pac-12 titles, while Murphy redshirted as a freshman and then grew into possibly the nation’s top corner his redshirt sophomore season. Linebacker Brandon Wellington, another 2016 signee, looks headed for that major contributors list after recovering from a torn ACL suffered in ’17 and starting the Pac-12 title game and the Rose Bowl. No less an authority than departing star Ben Burr-Kirven believes Wellington is going to have “a huge year” in ’19.

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