College football’s 2021 recruiting class will be the most unique in the modern history of the talent chase because on both sides of the equation -- the players’ and the coaches’ -- there’s a leap of faith like never before as a result of the social restrictions triggered by COVID-19, Sports Illustrated’s director of recruiting John Garcia Jr. said today as Sports Illustrated unveiled its watch list of 1,000 high school senior football players for the 2020 SI All-American team.
“The in-person evaluation opportunities that usually take place in the spring and summer went away, as did the official and unofficial campus visits that go so far in shaping a prospect’s decision on college,” he said.
But rather than slow the recruiting process, the inverse has happened.
“More than 700 of the 1,000-plus high school seniors on our SIAA watch list have already committed verbally to a college -- in many cases without having set foot on the campus. What we’re seeing is unprecedented,” Garcia said.
He cautioned that the avalanche of early verbals could trigger an equally unprecedented number of de-commits as the first signing period in December draws closer.
“If the nation turns the corner on the pandemic and these student-athletes can start taking visits then we’re going to see preferences changing,” Garcia said. “And even absent a turnaround with COVID-19, the simple fact is it’s five months before the first signing period -- five months for competing coaches to continue making a pitch.”
As for the SI All-American watch list, Garcia believes it represents the widest, most in-depth public analysis of any recruiting class ever.
“We have scouting analysis and video highlights for all 1,000 candidates, broken down by state,” he said. The list also is broken down by verbal commitments and top targets for each of the 65 Power 5 schools (as well as Notre Dame and BYU).
Garcia’s observations about this recruiting cycle and the SI All-American candidates include:
- “The quarterback talent coming out of Texas in this recruiting cycle is head turning. California is often thought of as the quarterback state, but Texas is Quarterback Central for the 2021 recruiting cycle. We have 17 QBs from the state on our SI All-American watch list. Their verbal commitments so far speak to the excellence of the talent, with Garrett Nussmeir going to LSU, Dematrius Davis to Auburn, Jalen Milroe to Texas, Eli Stowers to Texas A&M, and it just keeps going.”
- “There are two significant storylines coming out of Georgia right now with this class of high school seniors. First is the volume of talent. Traditionally, the big three states in every recruiting cycle are Florida, Texas, and California. Georgia is now No. 3 ahead of California. The second trend with Georgia is the amount of talent in the secondary -- the group is loaded and, generally speaking, they’re big physically, which matches the trend we’re seeing in the NFL with DBs who are 6-feet or taller.”
- North Carolina checking in as a top-five talent-producing state this cycle is significant and has area programs benefiting, but none more so than the University of North Carolina. Mack Brown’s staff has secured the state’s top prospects, headlined by quarterback Drake Maye and defensive end Keeshawn Silver.
- “The DMV -- D.C., Maryland, and Virginia -- puts an exclamation point on how bountiful the region has become. In all, nearly 70 players from the area are SI All-American candidates. It features elite prospects and major volume. The DMV is now a must-recruit area for playoff-caliber college programs -- a point illustrated by the fact LSU, which is a school you’d think just needs to focus on its backyard and Texas, is now putting notable time and effort here.”
- “Florida is especially known for producing skill-position players and this recruiting cycle is no exception -- particularly so when you look at the receivers. I truly believe the quality of the receiving corps in Florida this year could match up with the entire rest of the nation combined.”
- Alabama is always a state that offers both elite prospects and major depth. And this group will bring instant impact potential at the college level, even in a conference as stout as the SEC. The quality and quantity of players on the defensive side really stand out, with prospects like Tennessee verbal commit Dylan Brooks (DE, Roanoke/Handey High) and uncommitted guys like Ga’Quincy McKinstry (CB, Pinson/Pinson Valley High) and Jeremiah Williams (LB/DE, Birmingham/Ramsay High).”
- “California always produces a huge amount of football talent and this year is no different. But in this recruiting cycle, which is uncharacteristically heavy on early verbal commitments, there are a couple of interesting footnotes in the state. The first is that five of the most highly sought California prospects -- Korey Foreman, Ethan Calvert, Ceyair Wright, Jonathan Flowe and Brock Bowers -- remain uncommitted. The second is that Miller Moss and Jacob Garcia, who are two of the best quarterback prospects in the state and the nation, are both verbally committed to USC.”
- “Michigan produces significant numbers of Power 5-caliber football prospects every year, but this particular crop stands out because the top of the class -- roughly the 10 guys most-coveted by college recruiters at this stage -- appear to be truly elite on a national scale. And a side note to it all that might concern Wolverines fans is that most of those at the top are leaving, or strongly looking to leave, the state.”
The 10 states with the most candidates for the SI All-American team are Florida (142), Texas (129), Georgia (84), California (79), North Carolina (55), Alabama (44), Ohio (37), Virginia (31), Michigan (30) and Maryland (28).
Thursday, July 16, Sports Illustrated will reveal its No. 1-ranked overall player, and on Friday, July 17, will unveil the first (quarterbacks) of its positional top 10 lists that will roll out over the summer. SI will announce its Preseason Top 99 (the SI99) on August 24.
The evaluation process will continue throughout the season “until the list of 1,000 contenders coalesces around just 25 young men who can say proudly they are the best of the best -- they are Sports Illustrated All-Americans,” Garcia said.
The candidates will be narrowed to 250 finalists in October and 99 finalists in November, and will culminate with 25 first-team Sports Illustrated All-Americans saluted at SI’s annual Sportsperson of the Year banquet in New York in December.