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Mind of Mike: Thoughts on National Signing Day

Broderick Jones
Broderick Jones (Rivals.com)

The Mind of Mike is a scary place. Here are random thoughts on National Signing Day from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell.

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It did not come as a big surprise, but it was still important for Georgia to keep five-star offensive lineman Broderick Jones in the fold. With the departure of offensive line coach Sam Pittman to Arkansas, Jones decided to take a step back during the Early Signing Period. While this caused a bit of stress around Athens, the Bulldogs did a fantastic job solidifying Jones over the last month and held off Auburn, Arkansas and Illinois. After keeping Jones, the Bulldogs were also able to keep four-star offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran committed and signed. Van Pran had just taken an official visit to Florida, but never seriously considered signing anywhere else besides Georgia. Three-star Daran Branch decided to join a loaded secondary group at Georgia with his flip from Ole Miss to the Bulldogs. He had been committed to the Rebels since before Matt Luke was fired, and the two maintained contact once he resurfaced in Athens. Branch will add even more depth to a positional group that has a multitude of next-level talent. These decisions led to yet another recruiting title for Kirby Smart and company, and with that will come higher expectations of a national title.

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There was an opportunity for early morning fireworks today with the announcements of four-star teammates Javon Baker and Jamil Burroughs. Both had committed to Alabama before the Early Signing Period, but decided to hold off. And while they saw several schools make a run at them, they did what was expected and signed with the Tide this morning. Beyond that, it wasn’t an eventful day for Nick Saban, as the other big news was losing out on a highly coveted defensive tackle target (below) and somewhat passing on a talented defensive lineman (below as well).

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One of the bigger surprises of the Early Signing Period was when four-star defensive end Reggie Grimes decided to delay his signing with Oklahoma. While this gave him more than a month to test the open recruiting waters, he held true to his word this morning and still signed with the Sooners. South Carolina was thought to be the biggest threat to the Sooners, but they had their own defensive end to worry about in Jordan Burch. Burch, the five-star end from South Carolina, re-affirmed his commitment to the Gamecocks despite a strong run from LSU. South Carolina pulled off a surprise as well by flipping three-star Gilber Edmond from USF. The Gamecocks identified Edmond late in the game but were able to grab his signature this morning after he had committed to the Bulls a couple of weeks ago. While raw, he is an athletic end who has the potential to blossom in Columbia. It was a good day overall for South Carolina as it also held on to defensive lineman Alex Huntley, as expected.

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There are always a couple of recruits who blow up after a huge senior season. One of those in this cycle was three-star defensive back Ennis Rakestraw, who chose between Texas, Alabama and Missouri this morning after not having a Power Five offer seven months ago. The Longhorns were considered the leader as late as Tuesday night, but the Tide were rumored to have swooped in this morning to grab the commitment. However, in the first true surprise of the day, it was Missouri and new coach Eli Drinkwitz that picked up the huge signing in what ended a hectic and extremely gratifying couple of months for Rakestraw.

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Dee Beckwith
Dee Beckwith (Rivals.com)

While it was expected, the addition of three-star athlete Dee Beckwith was still a very nice late addition for Tennessee. Likely a tight end in Knoxville, Beckwith officially chose the Vols over Florida this morning, but he seemed solidly tied to Rocky Top for quite some time now. An impressive athlete with serious upside, he should give the Vols a nice offensive weapon at the position. But bigger news for the Vols came later as former Florida State wideout commit Malachi Wideman chose Tennessee over the Seminoles, Ole Miss and others. Wideman is also an elite basketball player and is one of the best athletes in the 2020 class. Coach Jeremy Pruitt did a great job for the Vols this recruiting cycle as he pushed them to a Top 10 class.

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As an assistant, Sam Pittman has long been known as a superb recruiter of offensive line talent. Now the head man at Arkansas, he used this talent to reel in three-star Marcus Henderson this morning. Choosing the Razorbacks over Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss, Henderson has the talent to give Arkansas depth on the offensive line this fall. But Pittman didn’t stop there. After adding Henderson during the morning, Arkansas then added more talent to its offensive line by picking up four-star Jalen St. John. This addition was more expected, but further shows everyone in the SEC that Pittman will be a serious threat when it comes to recruiting offensive linemen. Arkansas also landed its quarterback of the future in Malik Hornsby and it was a very good day overall for the Hogs.

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Florida State filled a big position of need by beating out Georgia and Virginia Tech for three-star athlete DJ Lundy, who was recruited as a middle linebacker. He is a powerful thumper who the new coaching staff has made a priority since the Early Signing Period. This helped make up for the later (and expected) loss of Wideman as Lundy fills a bigger need on the roster. And as we know, recruiting can move very quickly. Three-star defensive back Sidney Williams was considered a strong Indiana lean until Florida State entered the picture. After taking an official visit over the weekend and then receiving an offer from the Seminoles, Williams signed with Florida State this morning. One reason that Florida State may have moved so quickly with Williams is that they knew they were going to miss out on Donovan Kaufman, who decided to stick with his commitment to Vanderbilt. Kaufman also gave serious consideration to Ole Miss and Baylor, so this was an extremely big recruiting win for the Commodores.

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The addition of three-star running back Darvon Hubbard by Texas A&M likely answered two questions. First, it filled a need at a position the Aggies were actively looking to fill, while it also likely ended their publicized pursuit of five-star back Zachary Evans, who remains uncommitted. After Hubbard, Texas A&M quickly added four-star defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson, one of the biggest wildcards of the day. Having selected the Aggies over both Alabama and LSU, his last visit to College Station seemed to be what put Texas A&M over the top. This is a huge recruiting victory for coach Jimbo Fisher - who is no stranger to those - and a big loss for Alabama, as I hinted above. These are the kind of wins that Fisher needs in the SEC West.

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Once committed to Maryland and then thought to be an NC State lean, four-star defensive back Rashad Battle signed with Pittsburgh this morning after taking an official visit this past weekend. A long, athletic defensive back, he should fit in nicely in coach Pat Narduzzi’s style of defense. Narduzzi has been linked with the open Michigan State job since Mark Dantonio stepped down, but I think he’d be crazy to make a lateral move into a tougher conference and division. Landing players like Battle from the Southeast will push Pitt further up the charts in the ACC.

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Ashaad Clayton
Ashaad Clayton (Sam Spiegelman)

One of the biggest keeps of the day came from Colorado as Mel Tucker was able to keep four-star running back Ashaad Clayton committed and signed. There was plenty of concern in Boulder, especially after a January official visit to Florida, but the relationship that Clayton had built with the staff was enough to keep him a Buffalo. And the other big running back keep of the day was Jahmyr Gibbs sticking with Georgia Tech. This had been trending in this direction for a couple of weeks now, but initially there was plenty to be worried about in Atlanta as Gibbs was taking a long look at several programs, especially Florida and Ohio State. Coach Geoff Collins has done a fantastic job keeping more Georgia talent in-state and adding Gibbs, who is the Yellow Jackets' highest-rated signee since 2004, will only help this along in the future.

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One of the tougher recruits to figure out over the last couple of months has been four-star defensive back Avantae Williams. He continued this pattern until the end as he pulled a surprise earlier today by committing to Miami over Florida. Williams, who had previously been committed to the Canes, was considered a heavy Gators lean as he prepared to make his announcement. This is an important in-state recruiting win for Miami, which had taken several loses in this recruiting cycle to both Florida and Florida State. The hire of Canes legendary safety Ed Reed was a big deal when it came to stealing Williams away from the Gators. However, four-star defensive end Princely Umanmielen was thought to be deciding between Texas and Baylor, so when he committed to Florida this afternoon he allowed the Gators to pull off one of the biggest surprises of the day- this time in their favor. This was a big win for the Gators, who had missed out on a few other targets earlier in the day.

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Three-star defensive tackle Jayson Jones had been committed to Alabama for almost 18 months, so envisioning him anywhere besides Tuscaloosa was pointless. But we all knew that Alabama coveted him as an offensive lineman and the Tide were slowly pushing him out of the class as he insisted on playing defense at the next level. Jones took official visits to Oregon and Baylor in January and earlier today he became a Duck, as Oregon further solidifies an already dominant defense and Mario Cristobal continues to live up to his reputation as an elite recruiter.

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Texas landed a key commitment from four-star DE Alfred Collins as expected and finished the day in the national top 20. It’s a small class for Tom Herman and there were some losses along the way, but Collins is a nice finish.

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A random non-Power Five nugget: Toledo did a great job bringing in the three-star running back duo of Cauren Lynch and Lamy Constant. Coming from Texas and New York, respectively, both are talented backs who would make plenty of Power Five programs happy. Coach Jason Candle remains a name to watch for bigger jobs, and recruiting like this will only enhance that position. Keep an eye on Toledo and these backs over the next few years.