The ink is barely dry on the 2016 class, and we are looking ahead to 2017. There are several programs already off to a fast start -- most of them household names, including six that finished in the top 10 for 2016. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Texas is a great example of that from the last recruiting cycle.
Here are 10 teams off to a fast start in 2017 (listed alphabetically):
Alabama’s streak of No. 1 classes came to an end on national signing day, but the 2017 class seems to be shaping up to be Bama's 10th consecutive top-three finish. The Tide’s 2017 class includes six ESPN Junior 300 prospects, including two ranked among the top 15 nationally. The Crimson Tide signed the No. 2 running back in 2015, the No. 1 RB in 2016 and now have commitments from two top-five backs, including top-rated back Najee Harris. Alex Leatherwood, a top-five offensive tackle prospect, is a big early commitment in the offensive trenches, and the class also includes top-10 pocket passer Jake Fromm, a poised and polished quarterback. This early collection of talent is mainly on the offensive side of the ball, but the class does include a pair of defensive commitments including one from ESPN Junior 300 safety Xavier McKinney.
The Tigers closed well on signing day and landed in the top 10 thanks to some key scores like five-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown. The 2017 class is headlined by massive offensive lineman Calvin Ashley out of Florida. Auburn stayed in-state for fellow ESPN Junior 300 prospect Alaric Williams, a good-sized running back with strong downhill qualities. Safety Carlito Gonzalez is a solid pickup in the defensive backfield.
The Bears got passed late for the top 2016 class in the Big 12 but finished second and look poised to compete for the top spot again in that conference. With their explosive offense, Baylor (unsurprisingly) already holds commitments from a pair of ESPN Junior 300 receivers as well as the No. 1-rated dual-threat QB Kellen Mond. Hezekiah Jones is an explosive athlete with good hands and the body control to make plays in traffic. The class also has No. 2 outside linebacker Baron Browning, an active and hard-hitting defender.
The Tigers are coming off a national championship appearance and just signed a top-10 class. Clemson will enter the 2017 season with arguably the best quarterback in college football in Deshaun Watson, but with him also entering his junior season, the Tigers are assembling talented options for the post-Watson era. They hold commitments from two top-10 ESPN Junior 300 quarterbacks in Chase Brice and Hunter Johnson. The Tigers are loading up on the offensive line in the early going as well, with three of their ESPN Junior 300 commitments projected for the trenches. Recent commit Blake Vinson, a powerful and heady but also aggressive blocker, leads that group. Demonstrating their growing national appeal, the Tigers’ three OL commits are out of Florida, New Jersey and Ohio.
Since 2011, the Seminoles have reeled in two No. 1 classes and five top-three finishes overall. The 2017 class includes three EPSN Junior 300 prospects led by No. 6 WR D.J. Matthews, a tall and lean target who needs to fill out his frame but is quick with strong hands and can be a nightmare to handle in space. Top-10 OLB Vandarius Cowan flashes an explosive first step and can be a versatile front-seven defender
The Bulldogs’ 2016 class finished in the top 10, signing several premium offensive prospects. Well, the future in Athens looks very bright on defense as well. The 2017 class is led by one of the top defensive and overall players in country in safety Richard LeCounte III. He’s joined by No. 2 overall OLB and fellow ESPN Junior 300 member Breon Dixon. Instinctive and rangy ESPN Junior 300 linebacker Jaden Hunter is also committed. All three prospects are in-state pledges.
In recent years the Hurricanes have often started fast, but the goal of new head coach Mark Richt will be to make sure they also finish among the top classes as well. All their commitments at this stage hail from in-state, including eight who rank among the ESPN Junior 300. They have a pair of commitments from local running backs, including Robert Burns, the No. 2 overall back. Top-25 WR Kemore Gamble is a tall, lengthy target with excellent hands. Jon Ford gives them a commitment from a strong and tough ESPN Junior 300 defensive lineman.
The Fighting Irish come out of national signing day with a handful of commits for 2017, all of whom are ranked. Included in that group is the top-rated defensive end Robert Beal, a prospect out of Georgia with a supreme blend of length, athleticism and speed. They also hold a pair of commitments from tight ends, including No. 1 TE-Y Brock Wright out of Texas. Their early 2017 haul also includes a pair of commitments from offensive linemen in OT Josh Lugg and guard Dillan Gibbons.
With six straight finishes atop the Big Ten class rankings, the Buckeyes look as though they will once again be very tough to knock off that perch. There are signs that the 2017 class will feature a strong crop of offensive tackles, and Ohio State is already looking to take advantage of that with a pair of ESPN Junior 300 OTs in Jake Moretti and No. 2-ranked OT Josh Myers, a strong and agile OL. They are assembling an excellent collection of defensive backs here in the early going, with commitments from the No. 1- and No. 2-rated cornerbacks and the No. 3-rated safety. In-state ESPN Junior 300 prospect Todd Sibley is an instinctive and quick-footed running back.
The Sooners finished 2016 with a top-25 class, and coming off a college football playoff appearance, they’re off to a fast start for 2017. They have already landed commitments from four ESPN Junior 300 prospects, including top-10 duel-threat QB Chris Robison, a signal-caller who displays nice upside with his live arm and athleticism. They class also includes No. 4 inside linebacker Levi Draper, a rangy and speedy in-state prospect.