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NSD Roundtable: Biggest surprises, must-gets, teams to watch

This is the final weekend before the late signing period on Wednesday. In today’s roundtable, the team of Rivals analysts answer some pertinent questions as the 2021 recruiting class wraps up.


RELATED: Five teams in the spotlight heading into NSD 2021

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2022 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

COVERAGE: Rivals Transfer Tracker | Rivals Camp Series



1. Which prospect could pull off the biggest surprise next week?

J.T. Tuimoloau
J.T. Tuimoloau

Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Analyst: It's hard to get a read on J.T. Tuimoloau. Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State are the big players for him right now and everybody seems to have a different opinion about where he's headed. Some are definitively saying Ohio State will get him but others say Alabama and Oregon are in the best position. Wherever he picks, it will surely surprise many.

Adam Gorney, National Recruiting Analyst: When Avante Dickerson decommitted from Minnesota it looked like Nebraska was the school he would pick and that made sense. The four-star cornerback is from Omaha (Neb.) Westside so he lives only about an hour from the Lincoln campus. He had been committed for a long time to the Gophers but backed off right before signing day and that usually means another school is ready to get his new pledge. But Dickerson has a good relationship with the Oregon coaches and it’s very possible that the Ducks can dip into the Midwest for the four-star and beat out Nebraska for him.

Josh Helmholdt, Midwest Recruiting Analyst: Area schools Minnesota and Nebraska are in-play for four-star Minneapolis defensive end Davon Townley, who plans to announced his decision and sign on Feb. 3. However, Townley's mother recently moved to Florida so the "close to home" factor is not as strongly in-play here. Penn State has felt like the team to beat since Townley decided not to sign in December, but a late offer from Washington has shaken this recruitment up. If he ends up with the Huskies, that would certainly be a surprise no one saw coming as of a week ago.

Chad Simmons, Southeast Recruiting Analyst: Raesjon Davis is one I am watching. He is outside my area, but he is one I have expected to be part of the USC class. Even when he was still committed to LSU, the Trojans seemed to have momentum. The California linebacker visited Ohio State last weekend, and the Buckeyes have a chance. I still think he stays home, and it seems that is what the buzz is, but you cannot count out Ryan Day.

Sam Spiegelman, South-Central Recruiting Analyst: At one point, Keon Coleman was pledged to Kansas, which was a bit of a surprise after the Sooners made a run at the dual-sport standout. After the Early Signing Period, the three-star receiver named Florida A&M, Grambling State, Jackson State, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Texas, USC and Virginia Tech as finalists. There have been a plethora of suitors and Coleman's directions could go in a number of ways come Feb. 3.

2.  Which uncommitted prospect is a must-get for one team next week?

LJ Johnson
LJ Johnson (

Friedman: Now that they missed out on Rivals250 defensive lineman George Rooks, landing four-star Davon Townley is a very high priority for Penn State. The Nittany Lions had been in a great spot for Rooks but couldn't close the deal, losing him to Michigan. Townley is looking at a lot of schools but Penn State is right at the top with Washington and a few other schools in the race.

Gorney: So much has been going right for USC over the last few weeks whether it was landing five-star defensive end Korey Foreman or five-star cornerback Domani Jackson in the 2022 class and now a strong finish by landing four-star linebacker Raesjon Davis is a necessity. Especially since a late visit to Ohio State by the former LSU commit has him very intrigued about the Buckeyes. USC has done a good job keeping top talent home in the 2021 class unlike some previous recruiting cycles and Davis is now becoming a battleground recruit in the final days.

Helmholdt: Rivals100 running back LJ Johnson is important for both Texas and Texas A&M in a year where there just is not a lot of top-end running back talent, but I think the Longhorns need him even more with new head coach Steve Sarkisian. While wide receiver Devonta Smith won the Heisman and quarterback Mac Jones won the Davey O'Brien playing in Sarkisian's offense at Alabama this past season, running back Najee Harris won the Doak Walker and rushed for at least 1,200 yards in his two seasons under Sarkisian. That offense was predicated on a run-pass balance, and you can expect Sarkisian strives for that in Austin as well. Texas did get a letter of intent from four-star running back Jonathon Brooks last month, but seeing the Longhorns put out feelers with other running backs in case they do not land Johnson underscores just how important it is they get another back in this class.

Simmons: Terrion Arnold for Georgia. It is simple — Kirby Smart needs defensive backs. After losing numerous potential starters to the NFL Draft and the transfer portal, Georgia is in desperate need for more names in the defensive back room. Arnold is down to Alabama, Florida and Georgia, and it looks to be a battle between Smart, and his former boss, Nick Saban.

Spiegelman: Both Texas and Texas A&M are in the midst of hot swings on the recruiting trail, but only one of the in-state schools can sign LJ Johnson, the nation's No. 2 back. Johnson elected not to sign in December despite graduating at the mid-year mark. He's visited both Austin and College Station and will represent either a colossal early victory for first-year Horns coach Steve Sarkisian or continued momentum in the Houston area by Jimbo Fisher's Aggies

3. Which team could make the most noise to close out this recruiting cycle?

Raesjon Davis
Raesjon Davis (Nick Lucero/

Friedman: Ohio State could potentially land Tuimoloau, beating Alabama and Oregon, and Rivals100 linebacker Raesjon Davis, a former LSU commit. Davis just took a visit to Columbus to get a closer look at the campus and environment and gave the visit position reviews. USC is the leader for Davis but the Buckeyes have pulled off surprises before. Ryan Day and his staff would certainly cause the most noise to close out this cycle if they finished with those two recruits.

Gorney: JT Tuimoloau probably won’t decide until long after signing day (maybe not until he can take visits and that could mean April) and Raesjon Davis is now seriously thinking about Ohio State after his recent visit to Columbus so the Buckeyes could be very active in and around signing day with those two prospects and possibly some others. Ohio State already has the second-best class in the country and probably cannot overtake Alabama for the top spot but if the Buckeyes end up with Tuimoloau and Davis, wow, that’s a strong finish.

Helmholdt: Texas A&M is best-positioned to make the most noise next week considering how many top prospects they are still involved with, but they also have a chance to strike out. They are in tough battles for Rivals100 running back LJ Johnson, four-star wide receiver Brian Thomas and four-star defensive tackle Tywone Malone, just to name a few.

Simmons: Due to the firing of Gus Malzahn the week or the Early Signing Period, numerous Auburn commits, and some top targets held off from signing early. At least a half a dozen players are in play for Auburn, which is a high number for Signing Day in February. Three of the top priorities are commitment Tarvarish Dawson and linebacker Trevin Wallace and cornerback Dontae Balfour. If all goes the Tigers was well for Bryan Harsin, Auburn could be the school all are talking about late next week.

Spiegelman: LSU scored the nation's No. 1 player in Maason Smith in December, and while there is no victory bigger than that for Coach O, the Tigers did lose a handful of players at the buzzer, including Rivals100 prospects Keanu Koht and JoJo Earle to rival Alabama. The Tigers remain in a good spot with some elite prospects down the stretch, including RIvals250 wide receiver Brian Thomas, another Crimson Tide target, and Logan Diggs, a Notre Dame pledge that also held off on signing until February.