Five recruiting trends developing across the SEC
There are always interesting recruiting trends when one takes a bigger-picture look across the college football landscape rather than just the busy day-to-day recruiting news. Today, we continue the weeklong series breaking down each conference and we move to the SEC:
CLASS OF 2022: Top 100
SABAN GREAT WITH FIVE-STARS
By any measure, Alabama coach Nick Saban has had a Hall of Fame career and he will go down as arguably the best college football coach of all time. SEC championships, national titles and 40 - yes, 40 - five-star draft-eligible prospects during his time in Tuscaloosa.
Not only has Saban and his coaching staffs signed an incredible amount of five-stars but Alabama has developed them as well. Eighteen of the 40 (including players still on the team) went in the first round of the NFL Draft.
That list is: Julio Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Trent Richardson, D.J. Fluker, DeMarcus Milliner, Hasean Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins, Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen, O.J. Howard, Rashaan Evans, Marlon Humphrey, Daron Payne, Calvin Ridley, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jonah Williams, Jedrick Wills and Jerry Jeudy.
Almost all of the five-stars were drafted. And coming up next for the Crimson Tide could be offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, linebacker Dylan Moses and running back Najee Harris, who could be in for a monster season in Tuscaloosa.
Farrell’s take: It’s not only impressive that Saban can recruit so many five-stars but the development of so many as first-round picks is hard to compete against in recruiting. People ask me all the time why would a five-star go to Alabama and wait his turn and I answer with these first-round numbers.
SMART'S INCREDIBLE RUN
Kirby Smart’s first five recruiting classes at Georgia are for the history books as the Bulldogs have not only won three-straight team recruiting titles but, in terms of five-stars, Smart is even outclassing Saban’s first five recruiting classes at Alabama.
From 2016-20, Georgia landed 21 five-star prospects including eight alone in the 2018 class. During Saban’s first five classes with the Crimson Tide, he signed 11 five-stars.
Through his first five classes, Smart landed multiple five-stars in every group - even in his first recruiting class which is nearly unheard of as coach turnover usually leads to a weaker recruiting class. But in that 2016 group, Smart signed three five-stars in Mecole Hardman, Isaac Nauta and Jacob Eason.
So far in 2021, Georgia has one five-star in quarterback Brock Vandagriff, so to keep the streak alive, Smart will have to land another one. History is on his side.
Farrell’s take: Smart’s recruiting ability has been very impressive at Georgia and it’s not like he took over for a slouch as Mark Richt could recruit as well. He stepped into a good situation in a talent-rich state and has made the most of it. But he’s also done a good job pulling elite prospects from Florida and that’s probably been the biggest upgrade. Now the question is will it lead to a national title?
FLORIDA BEING RAIDED
The state of Florida is recruiting ground zero because there are so many elite prospects there every recruiting cycle and with the emergence of Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy in recent years, top programs have targeted the state even more.
But in-state programs that used to have first priority for the state’s best players just have not kept up with other programs in recent recruiting cycles as the best of the best have come into Florida and landed a lot of top prospects.
Alabama has done the best job over the last five recruiting cycles among top-10 prospects in the state of Florida landing 10 of them, including Jerry Jeudy and Dylan Moses. On top of that, it seems like every time the Crimson Tide come into Florida for a top recruit, they develop into an elite college player and then go off to the NFL.
After Alabama, there is a drop-off with Ohio State and Florida State doing the best job with six prospects each out of the top-10 in the state over the last five years. Georgia has done an impressive job with five players and then Florida, Miami and Clemson have landed four each.
Farrell’s take: Smart's ability to hit Florida has been key for his program and Alabama has made a living off of Florida five-stars. This is where the Gators need to step up in a big way. If they want to win an SEC title, they have to get through Georgia and likely Alabama and both have been recruiting the state very well. Dan Mullen, not known as a great recruiter, is doing OK so far at UF, but he needs more prospects like 2020 five-star Gervon Dexter to stay put.
CAN JIMBO WIN AT HOME TO HELP RECRUIITNG?
Another state that has been raided by out-of-state SEC powerhouses in recent years is Texas - but coach Jimbo Fisher has an advantage since he plays in college football’s best conference and he can compel top prospects to stay home to play for the Aggies.
How’s it worked out so far? Mixed results, just like on the field for Texas A&M. In Fisher’s first recruiting class of 2018, the Aggies signed four-stars Jalen Preston and Leon O’Neal but Texas signed six of the top-10 in-state recruits and big fish wide receiver Jaylen Waddle picked Alabama.
In 2019, three of the top-10 went to Texas A&M which was a big win for Fisher but Alabama came in to get another one along with Georgia and LSU as Texas prospects continued the trend of leaving the state for SEC honchos.
The 2020 class was another victory for Texas A&M but mixed as well as five-star receiver Demond Demas and five-star defensive back Jaylon Jones signed with the Aggies but TCU did surprisingly well with getting five-star running back Zachary Evans, the state’s top player along with four-star receiver Quentin Johnson. Alabama made another big impact in the Lone Star State, and Ohio State, Stanford, LSU and Florida won some recruiting battles as well.
Farrell’s take: If there is a sleeping giant in the SEC, it’s Texas A&M. We know Fisher has the coaching chops to win a national title, it's just a question of whether he can step recruiting up a bit. The problem? Not only are SEC programs like Alabama and LSU recruiting Texas well, but Ohio State keeps pulling elite players away and Oklahoma and Texas get their share. The Aggies need to step it up a bit.
LSU IN-STATE DOMINATION CONTINUES
There are expected in-state recruiting advantages across the country - and then there is LSU, which has completely taken over its home state of Louisiana and has done incredibly well there throughout Rivals.com's history dating back to 2002.
Every No. 1 prospect in the state dating back to 2012 has picked LSU. The last one who didn’t was Landon Collins, who selected Alabama over the Tigers and his mother threw a fit on national television over that decision.
In 2020, LSU landed four of the top five players. In 2019, it was eight of the top-10. The 2018 class saw LSU sign Terrace Marshall, Jr., Kelvin Joseph and Ja’Marr Chase. Tyler Shelvin led the way in the 2017 class.
All that information leads back to this: Five-star 2021 DT Maason Smith would be bucking a huge trend if he didn't pick LSU. If history is any indication, Smith will head to Baton Rouge as LSU keeps a tight lock on the top players in its home state.
Farrell’s take: Alabama has been the only true thorn in the side of LSU in-state and now that the Tigers are national champs, they should be able to dominate even more. However, Ed Orgeron is smartly recruiting nationally and could lose an in-state prospect here and there. But as long as he keeps players like Chase and Derek Stingley Jr. at home, things will be just fine.