SEC Spotlight: Grading the 2023 class
The recruiting event of the season has concluded with the vast majority of 2023 high school players signing their National Letters of Intent. This recruiting cycle was full of intrigue and exciting finishes with last-minute commitments and shocking flips. We grade how each SEC program performed during the Early Signing Period.
CONFERENCE REPORT CARDS: ACC
MORE NSD: The Gorney Awards | Team rankings breakdown | National Signing Day Live | Studio Show | Five teams with work left | Top storylines for Late Signing Period | Grading the new P5 coaching hires | Biggest surprises | Southeast roundtable | Best available offensive players | Best available defensive players
NSD COACH INTERVIEWS: Stanford's Troy Taylor | Rutgers' Greg Schiano | Maryland's Mike Locksley | Florida State's Mike Norvell | USF's Alex Golesh | Michigan State's Mel Tucker | Louisville's Jeff Brohm | Illinois' Bret Bielema | Virginia Tech's Brent Pry | Wisconsin's Luke Fickell | Clemson's Dabo Swinney | Georgia Tech's Brent Key | Cal's Justin Wilcox | Nebraska's Matt Rhule | Indiana's Tom Allen | Penn State's James Franklin | Texas Tech's Joey McGuire | Arizona's Jedd Fisch | Virginia's Tony Elliott | Florida's Billy Napier | Kansas' Lance Leipold | Arizona State's Kenny Dillingham | Vanderbilt's Clark Lea
ALABAMA (No. 1 SEC, No. 1 overall)
After signing the second-ranked 2022 class, Alabama closed strong to put a large gap between itself and the competition in 2023 to regain the nation's top recruiting class. Not only did the Crimson Tide sign the most five-stars (4) but also inked more four-stars (22) than any other program during the Early Signing Period.
The month of December was fantastic for head coach Nick Saban and his staff closing on five-stars Keon Keeley and Desmond Ricks while flipping Kadyn Proctor away from Iowa. The added bonus was getting in-state elite defenders Jaquavious Russaw and James Smith.
ARKANSAS (No. 8 SEC, No. 18 overall)
Some late flips took away from what was a top-15 class for Arkansas, but the Hogs still produced one of the best recruiting hauls in school history in 2023. The Razorbacks brought in 20 players consisting of eight four-stars and 11 three-star prospects. Top to bottom, this class is complete. The only spot that could have been reinforced was at receiver, but the one signed, Davion Dozier, has unlimited potential.
Arkansas has produced some great collegiate tight ends, and this cycle has two next great ones in Shamar Easter and Luke Hasz. At tailback, Isaiah Augustave could have a better college career than high school, which is saying a lot. Augustave is big back with speed. After working out of a Wing-T, it will be fun to watch him exploit SEC defenses in a single-back set. One of the in-state talents to watch going forward is defensive end Quincy Rhodes. Worth noting, Easter has not signed with the Hogs yet.
AUBURN (No. 7 SEC, No. 16 overall)
Considering all that Auburn was able to do in just a few weeks is beyond impressive. The staff that was held over from Bryan Harsin to Hugh Freeze has more than earned its salary, and that starts with coach Cadillac Williams. This 16th-ranked class was all about Williams’ energy and enthusiasm. He kept a solid class together, and even added to it as interim head coach.
The month of December was frantic landing 10 prospects. The highlights were flipping defensive end Keldric Faulk away from Florida State and cornerback Kayin Lee away from Ohio State at the start of the early period.
FLORIDA (No. 5 SEC, No. 12 overall)
The Gators may not have finished where they wanted, but they were in it to the end with several top prospects which should translate well to the 2024 cycle and perhaps in the transfer portal on down the line. This group was on the edge of being a top-five class settling at No. 12 with a lot of great additions. The big win was finding their quarterback of the future in Jaden Rashada, a flip from Miami on Nov. 10.
Billy Napier and his staff went heavy on defense, especially at end and in the secondary. The emphasis to defend the pass and apply pressure on opposing SEC quarterbacks came through in their recruiting efforts. Gavin Hill, Kelby Collins and Sharif Denson are just a few names on defense Florida fans will come to love.
GEORGIA (No. 2 SEC, No. 2 overall)
The Bulldogs were another program that closed strong and put together a highly-ranked class. Five prospects joined in December including five-star ends Samuel M’Pemba and Damon Wilson. A big win was bringing four-star defensive back Daniel Harris back into the fold after he decommitted in mid-November and the Thursday signing of dominating four-star defensive tackle Jordan Hall out of Florida.
The only hole in the class was missing on a quarterback, but that was mitigated with the verbal commitment of 2024 signal caller Ryan Puglisi on Oct. 16. Outside of the five-stars, there are some studs in the group that includes tight end Pearce Spurlin, outside linebacker/end Gabriel Harris, linebacker Troy Bowles and California running back Roderick Robinson II.
KENTUCKY (No. 12 SEC, No. 36 overall)
The Wildcats added 17 prospects in the Early Signing Period. There were some last-minute fireworks, flipping linebacker Jayvant Brown away from Michigan State and end Tavion Gadson away from Florida State.
Mark Stoops went heavier on the offensive side of the ball out of the high school ranks securing five receivers, two tight ends and three offensive linemen. Some names to watch includes Jaremiah Anglin, Grant Godfrey and Koby Keenum.
LSU (No. 3 SEC, No. 6 overall)
LSU filled a lot of holes in this class with six defensive backs, three defensive ends, four offensive linemen, three tight ends and four receivers. If there were any holes for the Tigers, it would be at linebacker, where they only added Christian Brathwaite. Still, this is one of the nation’s best classes, finishing third in the SEC and sixth overall.
The big win for LSU was pulling cornerback Javien Toviano out of Texas. The five-star had his pick of programs and chose to keep LSU's “Defensive Back University” tradition moving forward.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (No. 10 SEC, No. 22 overall)
Given the unfortunate circumstances in Starkville with the passing of head coach Mike Leach, the Bulldogs’ staff pulled off an amazing feat. Nine of the 25 prospects signed joined the class in December which included four-stars Isaac Smith, the highest-ranked player in the class, and Caleb Bryant.
Mississippi State put together a well-rounded class, especially on offense. A future fan favorite will be Creed Whittemore, who started at quarterback and safety for his Buchholz (Fla.) squad but projects as a receiver in college.
MISSOURI (No. 11 SEC, No. 32 overall)
The frustration for the fan base has to be the same with Mizzou’s coaching staff, and that is keeping in-state kids home for college. Of the top 10 in-state prospects, the Tigers signed just three. Oklahoma and Notre Dame swooped in stealing two each. The staff worked hard putting this class together landing at least one prospect from 12 different states.
Missouri had a good showing in December, landing four of its 19 signees highlighted by four-star St. Louis defensive back Marvin Burks.
OLE MISS (No. 14 SEC, No. 51 overall)
Before grading out Ole Miss, a friendly reminder that this is about the Early Signing Period, which does not include additions from the transfer portal. With that, head coach Lane Kiffin is trending more and more to reworking his roster each season through the portal bypassing high school players. One has to wonder how great the Rebels' class could be if the program put more effort into high school prospects. Case and point, of the 12 prospects signed, the class' average star ranking of 3.58 was sixth-best in the SEC.
Two big names to remember from this class are Ayden Williams and Cayden Lee. The receivers have a chance to be All-SEC performers in coach Kiffin’s offense. On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Suntarine Perkins and end Jamarious Brown are elite talents set up for big careers in Oxford.
SOUTH CAROLINA (No. 9 SEC, No. 21 overall)
If South Carolina fans hold true and remain patient, Shane Beamer is going to deliver. In Year 2 under Beamer, the Gamecocks produced an 8-4 record with end of season wins over top-10 teams Tennessee and Clemson. The Gamecocks are producing on the field and looking for high school players to buy in on the recruiting trail. This cycle finished ninth in the SEC with 23 total commitments.
Defenders to watch are ends Zavion Hardy and Monteque Rhames along with tackle Xzavier McLeod. McLeod is that rare tackle already with an SEC body who could get playing time early. Pairing Hardy and Rhames off the edge on passing downs will be fun to watch. Worth noting, Zavion Hardy has not signed with the Gamecocks yet.
TENNESSEE (No. 4 SEC, No. 10 overall)
What a turnaround for the Volunteers in Josh Heupel’s second season. Tennessee posted its first 10-win season since 2007 and recruits are buying in on the future in Knoxville. The Volunteers' top-10 class was fourth-best in the SEC spurred forward by what might be the most important signing out of all 14 SEC squads: five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava. If Iamaleava lives up to his ranking, Tennessee will be back to competing for SEC and national titles.
The Vols built around their quarterback with five offensive linemen signed, two tailbacks and two receivers. While all eyes are on the offense, the Vols signed eight four-star defenders. On paper, this class is solid with playmakers all over.
TEXAS A&M (No. 6 SEC, No. 14 overall)
Grading out the Aggies is all about one’s perspective. Compared to a year ago, Texas A&M has fallen from No. 1 overall to No. 14. If looking at where this class was all the way into the first week of December, the close was unbelievable.
The Aggies were slow to gain traction and only had six commitments going into August. September proved to be important with five-stars TJ Shanahan Jr. and David Hicks Jr. coming aboard. Seven commitments came in December which included four-stars flips Rueben Owens II (Louisville), Marcel Reed (Ole Miss), Jaden Platt (Stanford) and Micah Tease (Arkansas).
VANDERBILT (No. 13 SEC, No. 43 overall)
Going from a two-win season to five in Clark Lea’s second campaign shows a bright future in Nashville. Two of those wins were against SEC East foes Kentucky and Florida late in the season. The Commodores missed out on signing a four-star prospect but, overall, the class was balanced adding depth at key positions.
Vanderbilt has some hidden gems among the 18 three-stars signed. At the top of that board is in-state linebacker Ethan Crisp. Another valued add is Oklahoma defensive tackle De’Marion Thomas. Martel Hight is a great addition of Rome High School in Georgia.