Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
In 2017, the NCAA implemented a new early signing process. Previously, high school seniors could not sign their national letter of intent until February, at which point the student would be committed to attending the school, pending the student’s academic eligibility to be accepted into the school. With the new early signing process, high school seniors have a brief period in December to sign their national letter of intent, committing themselves to the school of their choice two months earlier. This was implemented with the goal of benefitting the student-athletes. By enabling students to sign their letter of intent two months earlier, the students have more time to plan for their future and lock in their scholarship.
This also benefits students who decide to wait until February to sign their letter of intent. Assume you are a quarterback who wants to attend Stanford University. Teams generally want to sign a particular amount of students at each position for each class. Typically, teams will want to sign only one quarterback. Stanford may show some interest in you, but may also have an offer out to a quarterback higher on their wish list. With the early signing period, you can see if that other quarterback signs with Stanford. If he does, then you have plenty of time to find a good situation for yourself at a different school. If the other quarterback does not sign with Stanford, it gives you a better opportunity to get that offer from Stanford to be their quarterback. This may benefit the universities as well, but there is no doubt regarding the benefits for the student.
This year’s early signing period begins on December 19, 2018. With this upcoming date, here is everything you need to know about this year’s recruiting process thus far.
Current projected rankings
Based on the verbal commitments that we currently know, Rivals.com, the nation’s premiere high school football ranking site, has ranked the top-15 recruiting classes as follows
1. University of Alabama (two five-star recruits, nineteen four-star recruits)
2. University of Georgia (two five-star recruits, fifteen four-star recruits)
3. Texas A&M University (two five-star recruits, fourteen four-star recruits)
4. Clemson University (two five-star recruits, ten four-star recruits)
5. University of Texas (fifteen four-star recruits)
6. Louisiana State University (three five-star recruits, eight four-star recruits)
7. University of Oregon (fourteen four-star recruits)
8. University of Notre Dame (thirteen four-star recruits)
9. University of Oklahoma (three five-star recruits, eight four-star recruits)
10. University of Michigan (twelve four-star recruits)
11. University of Arkansas (twelve four-star recruits)
12. University of Tennessee (ten four-star recruits)
13. Penn State University (one five-star recruits, twelve four-star recruits)
14. Auburn University (two five-star recruits, eight four-star recruits)
15. Ohio State University (twelve four-star recruits)
For reference, the top 0.01 percent of the class is given a five-star ranking, or about 33 of the 300,000 football-playing seniors across the country. The next 0.13 percent of the class, or about 400 of the 300,000 football-playing seniors across the country, is given a four-star ranking. These prospects are spread throughout 130 Division 1-A schools. This means that, of the approximately 33 players who will garner a five-star ranking this year, 14 of them have already committed to one of Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Clemson, Oklahoma, or LSU. If you’ve ever wondered why the top end of college football seems to remain the same year-in and year-out, these numbers show exactly why that talent disparity occurs.
Part of the big show regarding signing days are hearing the decisions made by various high school seniors. While some verbally commit early in the process, others wait until signing day itself to publicly announce their intentions. Props are usually involved, as well as news cameras and crowds. Here are the biggest names expected to make an announcement regarding their college choice between now and December 19.
Kayvon Thibodeaux - five-star defensive end, Thousand Oaks Christian (CA)
Considering - Alabama, Florida State, Oregon, Florida, LSU
Another five-star prospect considering some blue-blood programs. While it’s hard to turn down an offer from programs like Alabama and LSU, Rivals is currently projecting Thibodeaux to choose Oregon. This would spread the five-star wealth, giving Oregon their first five-star recruit of the season. However, Alabama is making a late push, hoping to re-stock a defensive line that will see multiple high draft picks.
Trey Sanders - five-star running back, IMG Academy (FL)
Considering - Alabama, Texas, Georgia
Sanders has been assumed to choose Alabama for a long time. Texas and Georgia have been making pushes to sway Sanders away from the Crimson Tide, but the odds are in favor of Sanders attending Alabama to replace Damien Harris.
Nokobe Dean - five-star linebacker, Horn Lake (MS)
Considering - Alabama, Georgia, Michigan
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but we have a five-star recruit considering Alabama. Luckily for the rest of college football, Dean is likely looking elsewhere. He’s currently projected to choose the poor, talent-starved school known as Georgia, currently sitting at number two in the projected ranks. The rich keep getting richer.
Evan Neal - five-star offensive tackle, IMG Academy (FL)
Considering - Alabama, Florida State
Sanders’s teammate at IMG Academy, Neal might continue blocking for his backfield buddy in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is the odds-on favorite to land Neal, although there is a chance Neal could break off and block for someone new in Tallahassee.
Trevor Keegan - four-star offensive tackle, Crystal Lake South (IL)
Considering - Michigan, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, Penn State
While the four-star Keegan is seemingly interested in a lot of schools, it really seems like a race between rivals Michigan and Ohio State. It’s unknown how Urban Meyer’s departure may affect his decision, but Rivals has projected a strong swing towards Michigan since the announcement that Meyer was stepping down.
Marcus Stripling - four-star defensive lineman, Houston Mayde Creek (TX)
Considering - Oklahoma, Texas A&M
Stripling is a true coin flip right now, with Rivals giving each of Oklahoma and Texas A&M a 50 percent shot at landing Stripling. While I don’t know why a high-end defensive prospect would leave his home state to play for a Big 12 team, Oklahoma might be able to do just that and lure Stripling away from his hometown and an SEC university.
Noah Cain - four-star running back, IMG Academy (FL)
Considering - LSU, Texas, Penn State, SMU
Cain is one of the recruits whose decision truly seems like it is still up in the air. Penn State is the slight favorite to land him as a replacement for Miles Sanders, but Texas and LSU are close. SMU is a distant fourth, but there’s still a chance. Cain will be one of the more anticipated decisions, because it’s really a three-way coin flip.
Will Putnam - four-star interior offensive lineman, Tampa - Plant (FL)
Considering - Auburn, Clemson, Florida State
Florida State seems to have dropped out of the running in recent weeks, leaving it a two-way race between Auburn and Clemson. Rivals gives the edge to the playoff-bound Clemson, but only slightly.
Cornelius Johnson - four-star wide receiver, Brunswick School (CT)
Considering - Stanford, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan
While it seemed like Johnson was guaranteed to choose Stanford, Johnson now seems to be strongly favoring Michigan. It will be interesting to see if there is another change in the next week, or if Johnson’s seeming decision to attend Michigan holds true.
Langston Anderson - four-star wide receiver, Heritage (TX)
Considering - Baylor, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Washington State
It seems like this one is Baylor’s game to lose. Anderson hasn’t given a public commitment, but all signs are pointing to Anderson becoming a Bear on December 19.
Stephon Wright - four-star defensive end, Cathedral (CA)
Considering - Arizona State, Washington, Oregon, USC
While it seemed that Wright was all but certain to attend USC, Arizona State’s offer has turned Wright’s decision into a coin flip. Arizona State seems to be on the rise, especially with Herm Edwards at the helm and four-star quarterback Jayden Daniels deciding to become a Sun Devil. However, it’s unknown whether that luster can lure Wright away from his hometown Los Angeles.
Cameron Williams - four-star linebacker, Andrean (IN)
Considering - Indiana, Purdue, Arizona
With some prospects, it is very important to stay home. While Arizona seems like the best school of the bunch, Williams looks to be deciding between in-state Indiana and Purdue, with Indiana currently holding the edge. We’ll see on December 19 whether Williams wants to stay home or branch out.
Impact on future seasons
It’s pretty obvious that the talent disparity in college football is going to remain in place for the foreseeable future. The top-7 teams in this year’s playoff rankings are all in the top-15 of this year’s current recruiting class rankings. Teams on the rise include Tennessee and Arkansas, though it’s unknown whether that will be enough to sway the power structure in the SEC. With there being no restrictions on the players you can recruit outside of scholarship limits and academic eligibility, there is nothing in college football to stop the blue-blood programs from hoarding the cream of the crop when it comes to talent. These rankings show just how impressive it is that teams like Washington and Michigan State have challenged for playoff berths in recent seasons, while also showing why it was painfully obvious it was that these teams were overmatched when they stepped on the same field as Clemson and Alabama. If you want to project the playoff teams for the next few years, it looks like it will just be more of the same.
It’s bowl season! Now that the games are more limited, in the TV Guide section of my column, I will walk you through each of the bowl games and outline the various prospects you can watch in those games. That way, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and hit the “Previous Channel” button on your remote to toggle between games chock full of pro prospects. Here is your guide for week one of the bowl season (all times Eastern, Playoff rankings in parentheses).
Saturday, December 15
North Carolina A&T University vs. Alcorn State University, Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, GA - 12:00 PM, ABC
Sorry, nobody to see here. But hey, at least it’s football! Watch the alma mater of Tarik Cohen (NCA&T) square off against the alma mater of the late Steve McNair (Alcorn State). Maybe there will be some cool highlights of Air McNair?
Utah State University vs. University of North Texas, New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, NM – 2:00 PM, ESPN
Unfortunately, nobody on Utah State has legitimate hopes of being drafted this year, but they somehow managed to go on a tear this season and be ranked during the season.
Wait, what’s this? A prospect? Hey, we finally have somebody! While he is likely to go undrafted, EJ Ejiya (senior linebacker, #22) from North Texas will be on somebody’s practice squad next season.
Tulane University vs. University of Louisiana, AutoNation Cure Bowl in Orlando, FL - 2:30 PM, CBS Sports Network
Our first bowl game with real prospects. Tulane has one of the biggest sleepers at the quarterback position in Jonathan Banks (senior quarterback, #1), an athletic, strong-armed passer with a surprising amount of accuracy. Noah Fisher (senior tackle, #57) and Charles Jones (senior tight end, #84) also have hopes of continuing their career in the pros, and Roderic Teamer Jr. (senior safety, #2) is a rare defensive prospect in the AAC that could hear his name called in April. Louisiana is prospect-less, though.
(21) Fresno State University vs. Arizona State University, Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl in Las Vegas, NV - 3:30 PM, ABC
Hey, a ranked team now! Marcus McMaryion (senior quarterback, #6) has some interesting traits behind center, but KeeSean Johnson (senior wide receiver, #3) is the name to watch in this game. A player with his name can only be a wide receiver, and he is living up to his Hall of Fame namesake so far in college. Jeff Allison (junior linebacker, #9) is the leader of the Fresno State defense, and is the only draftable name on that side of the ball.
Arizona State may not have the numbers of other schools, but their top-end talent is up there with anybody. N'Keal Harry (junior wide receiver, #1) is battling for the WR2 ranking after D.K. Metcalf, but has already signed with an agent and will skip this game. Manny Wilkins (senior quarterback, #5) is a late-round possibility at quarterback. Renell Wren (senior defensive tackle, #95) has used a solid senior season to work his way into fourth-round consideration. Casey Tucker (senior tackle, #55), Jay Jay Wilson (senior defensive end, #9), Koron Crump (senior defensive end, #4) are all undrafted training camp bodies, but names to watch nonetheless.
Georgia Southern University vs. Eastern Michigan University, Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama - 5:30 PM, ESPN
Hey, Keith Sweat! Why don’t you tell the readers who they have to watch as prospects in this game?
Middle Tennessee State University vs. Appalachian State University, R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in New Orleans, LA - 9:00 PM, ESPN
Richie James’s alma mater gives us the only prospect to watch here, and that prospect is Walter Brady (senior defensive end, #56).
Tuesday, December 18
University of Alabama-Birmingham vs. Northern Illinois University, Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, FL - 7:00 PM, ESPN
A Tuesday night showdown of two teams that each have some prospects! UAB give us Jamell Garcia-Williams (senior defensive end, #99), a late-round prospect hoping to show what he can do in a national spotlight.
Northern Illinois has a pair of late round prospects that have some intrigue. Max Scharping (senior offensive tackle, #73) has prototypical size (6’6”, 320 pounds) and has absolutely dominated his competition. In 2017, Scharping had a pass block rating of 99.2 on Pro Football Focus, allowing only 5 pressures on 425 pass blocking snaps. The level of competition will drop him down, but if he participates in the Senior Bowl and continues his strong play, he could be a Spring riser. The other prospect is Sutton Smith (junior defensive end, #15), who absolutely does not have prototypical size. He’s listed at 6’0” and 230 pounds, meaning he is likely more around 5’11” and 220 pounds. However, his technique and speed as an edge rusher is intriguing, and he could be a SAM/secondary edge rushing prospect for the 49ers in the sixth or seventh round come April.
Wednesday, December 19
San Diego State University vs. University of Ohio, DXL Frisco Bowl in Frisco, TX - 8:00 PM, ESPN
While Ohio won’t be giving us any prospects to watch, San Diego State at least has a few prospects to watch on defense and special teams. Ronley Lakalaka (senior linebacker, #39) and Parker Baldwin (senior safety, #33) lead a San Diego State defense that should be dominant once they reach Mountain West play, while John Baron II (senior kicker, #29) is one of the best kicker prospects in the nation.
Thursday, December 20
Marshall University vs. University of South Florida, Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, FL - 8:00 PM, ESPN
Marshall has one of my favorite small-school sleepers on the offensive line in Levi Brown (junior interior offensive lineman, #61). Ryan Bee (senior defensive tackle, #91) is another late-round prospect hoping to gain some buzz with a nationally televised bowl game.
The USF Bulls made their way into the AP rankings during the season, but their lack of draft-eligible talent became readily apparent with some late-season losses. Mitchell Wilcox (junior tight end, #89) will likely be a top-five tight end come April, but he’s really the only guy you should be paying attention to for USF.
You can follow Zach on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great draft analysis!