Scouts Inc. breaks down and grades each team in the SEC, including 10 top-25 teams. Some of the grades may surprise you.
LSU went into signing day with the country's top recruiting class and held onto it with a strong finish. The Tigers had a big day, inking raw but very talented defensive end Sam Montgomery (Greenwood, S.C.) and ESPN's No. 1 receiver, Rueben Randle (Bastrop, La.). The Tigers signed 10 ESPNU 150 prospects and addressed areas of need with speed and athleticism. They raided the state of Texas for some of the better prospects in the country, including ESPN's top-rated safety, Craig Loston (Aldine, Texas/Eisenhower), and the No. 1 athlete, Russell Shepard (Houston/Cy-Ridge). Shepard eventually could be the answer at quarterback thanks to his electrifying dual-threat skills, but he could be employed first at any number of skill positions. Joshua Downs (Bastrop, La.), the No. 4 DT in the country, leads the Tigers' in-state recruits. He could develop into a disruptive force in Baton Rouge, and defensive line was a position that needed to be addressed by the Tigers. He's joined by DT Chris Davenport (Mansfield, La.) and ESPNU 150 RB Michael Ford (Leesville, La.), who will be a legit high-carry back for LSU.
Alabama signed an elite class in 2008, and 2009 was just as good, if not a little better. The Crimson Tide signed nine players from the ESPNU 150, up from seven from last year's third-ranked class. Premier corner Dre Kirkpatrick, (Gadsden, Ala.), teammate WR Kendall Kelly (Gadsden, Ala.) and top 10 OLB Tana Patrick (Stevenson, Ala./North Jackson) headline the class. Kirkpatrick gives the Tide three No. 1 positional prospects, joining RB Trent Richardson (Pensacola, Fla./Escambia) and OT D.J. Fluker (Foley, Ala.). Richardson was a significant pickup with the loss of Glenn Coffee to the NFL and should immediately challenge RB Mark Ingram for reps. He has a supreme blend of size, speed and power as a downhill back. The massive Fluker could be inserted into Andre Smith's left tackle spot. Alabama also signed ESPN's No. 4 quarterback prospect A.J. McCarron (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul's Episcopal) to add depth to the position with the graduation of John Parker Wilson. The defense also got a much-needed boost in the middle of their 3-4 defense with top 5 inside 'backers Nico Johnson (Andalusia, Ala.) and Petey Smith (Seffner, Fla./Armwood). The overall top-to-bottom quality in this class is very impressive.
With half of their class listed among the ESPNU 150, the Gators are capitalizing on their second national title in three years. Florida enjoyed a big signing day with the pickup of No. 2 OLB Jelani Jenkins (Wheaton, Md./Good Counsel). However, the defection of our No. 2-rated CB Greg Reid (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes) down the stretch to rival Florida State still stings in Gainesville. The addition of WR Andre Debose (Sanford, Fla./Seminole) couldn't come at a better time as Percy Harvin is heading for the NFL, and DeBose is Harvin-like with his speed and versatility. The Gators added impact defensive players in Gary Brown (Quincy, Fla./West Gadsden), who is quietly among the best DTs in the country, and top-10 linebacker Jon Bostic (Wellington, Fla./Palm Beach Central) could eventually replace some of Brandon Spikes production in the middle. And don't forget about ESPN's No. 2 safety in 2008 Dee Finley (Auburn, Ala./Milford Academy), who officially joined this class after a season in prep school. Speedy athlete Josh Evans (Irvington, N.J.), who could eventually play defensive back, was also a nice pickup on signing day.
Georgia had a big signing day by landing No. 3 WR Marlon Brown (Memphis, Tenn./Harding) and doing a great job of filling needs in this class. The Bulldogs have the daunting task of replacing QB Matthew Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno, but landed one of the more prolific runners in Georgia history with 2009 RB Washaun Ealey (Twin City, Ga./Emanuel County) and signed Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla./Plant) and Zach Mettenberger (Watkinsville, Ga./Oconee County), the Nos. 3 and 9 rated quarterbacks, respectively. Murray is the better athlete and gunslinger, while Mettenberger will remind Georgia fans of David Greene with a stronger arm. The Bulldogs also signed help upfront with No. 5 OT Austin Long (Memphis, Tenn./Briarcrest Christian) and No. 2 OG Chris Burnette (La Grange, Ga./Troup Comprehensive). On the other side of the ball, ESPN 150 CB Branden Smith (Atlanta, Ga./Booker T. Washington) will help make up for the loss of Asher Allen to the NFL.
Landing in-state ESPNU 150 wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey (St. Matthews, S.C./Calhoun County) from USC was a major coup for the Gamecocks and one of the biggest surprises on signing day. South Carolina also bolstered its receiving corps by signing 6-foot-3 WR Lamar Scruggs (Neptune Beach, Fla./Fletcher), who will form a nice tandem with Jeffrey. Explosive RB Jarvis Giles (Tampa, Fla./Gaither) was another big addition, but the Gamecocks failed to land a top-tier quarterback, which we thought was necessary. However, Steve Spurrier did manage to bring in one of the best groups of defensive backs the SEC has seen in recent years. Safeties Stephon Gilmore (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), Devonte Holloman (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), Damario Jeffery (Columbia, S.C.), Chris Payne (Columbia, S.C.) and D.J. Swearinger (Greenwood, S.C.), who are all within the top 15 at the position. Gilmore, Holloman and Jeffery are in the top 6. But don't be surprised if Holloman, Jeffery and Payne switch to OLB.
Tennessee has had its ups and downs in the past, but new coach Lane Kiffin weathered the storm and signed a strong class, despite not signing a quarterback. Kiffin and his veteran recruiting staff had a successful signing day, which featured No. 13 WR Nu'Keese Richardson (Pahokee, Fla.), No. 5 safety Darren Myles (Atlanta/Carver) and No. 12 OLB Jerod Askew (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Frommel Smith). Askew is explosive and could see the field early. However, the decommitment of RB David Oku (Midwest City, Okla./Carl Albert), the loss of No. 8 WR Je'Ron Stokes (Philadelphia/North East) to Michigan and failing to sign in-state WR Marlon Brown (Memphis, Tenn./Harding Academy) will sting. But, we feel the Vols will be near the top of next year's recruiting class after having a full recruiting season under their belt.
No significant news out of Fayetteville on signing day but Bobby Petrino have to be pleased with his top-20 class, despite a lack of success during the season. He has aimed to keep the top in-state prospects within Arkansas' borders, and it showed. The Razorbacks landed three of the state's top-five prospects, led by No. 3 CB Darius Winston (Helena, Ark./West Helena Central) and No. 5 OG Colby Berna (Fayettevill, Ark.). However, the Razorbacks have done well in surrounding areas as well by signing No. 12 CB David Gordon (Tulsa, Okla./East Central), RB Knile Davis (Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall), RB Ronnie Wingo (Saint Louis/Saint Louis University) and USC transfer RB Broderick Green. Gordon will enhance the team's overall speed, while Davis is a sleeper who could develop into a productive, workhorse back.
Mississippi coach Houston Nutt has carried his programs' on-field success over to the recruiting trail in 2009; Ole Miss signed a talented and deep class. There are some questions about how many of these players will actually head to Oxford next fall -- the Rebels oversigned the limit by more than 10 players. The Rebels had a successful signing day with the inking of top-15 WR Pat Patterson (Macon, Miss./Noxubee County) and ESPNU 150 TE Zaccheus Mason (Nashville, Tenn./Christ Presbyterian) on offense. The physically impressive Willie Ferrell (Tallahassee, Fla./Florida A&M U.) could make an impact at inside linebacker. Korvic Neat (Hallandale, Fla.) and Rodney Scott (Cross City, Fla./Dixie County) are explosive Sunshine State products when the ball is in their hands, and they will add dynamic presence to Mississippi's offensive roster in the fall. On defense, Ole Miss added a pair of good-sized, well-rounded safeties in Dele Junaid (Ft. Bend, Texas/Hightower) and Frank Crawford (Miami/Gulliver). They also landed a major pickup down the stretch in the form of ESPNU 150 defensive end Craig Drummond (Chicago/ Morgan Park), who decommitted from Illinois. He has great size, a long wingspan, excellent reach and could help Ole Miss quickly as a run-stopper with his ability to use his hands and create great separation.
Recently hired head coach Dan Mullen inherited a solid class, including one ESPNU 150 prospect from Sylvester Croom, and quickly hit the trail signing some gems of his own. Landing WR Brandon Heavens (Bessemer, Ala./Bessemer Academy) from Auburn on signing day sent a message and added another playmaker to Mullen's spread system. Mullen's biggest recruiting achievement was landing Chad Bumphis (Tupelo, Miss.), the state's top-rated athlete and the No. 120 prospect in the 2009 class. Bumphis could serve as a Percy Harvin-type player in the new coach's system. Fellow top-10 Mississippi athletes LaDarius Perkins (Greenville, Miss./St. Joseph), Dennis Thames (Louisville, Miss.) and Jonathan Banks (Maben, Miss./East Webster) will join Bumphis. Look for the versatile, quick-footed Perkins to serve in a similar role to Bumphis'. Under Armour All-American running back Montrell Conner (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish) is still the Bulldogs' top prospect in a strong class from top to bottom. Mullen made a huge splash on the trail once he officially became a full-time coach in Starkville.
A once top-15 class has imploded after Tommy Tuberville's resignation in December. But new head man Gene Chizik inherited some quality prospects and landed a few of his own. The loss of WR Brandon Heavens (Bessemer, Ala./Bessemer Academy) to Mississippi State is significant, but landing top-25 quarterback Tyrik Rollison (Sulpher Springs, Texas) down the stretch was a great "get" for the program; he could develop into a productive dual-threat at that position. Rollison is an important piece to this class, but whether he qualifies remains a big question. Athlete Travante Stallworth (Leesville, La.) will enhance this roster at a position in need of young depth. Philip Lutzenkirchen (Marietta, Ga./Lassiter) is one of the more athletic pass-catching tight ends in the country. Auburn traditionally has recruited well on defense, and it shows in this class. Terrence Coleman (Mobile, Ala./Williamson) can provide some pressure as a speed rusher. Athlete Izauea Lanier (Gordo, Ala.) was Chizik's first commitment in his return to The Plains. Lanier's is an underrated skill player with the versatility to play both safety and receiver. Also, former Southern Miss commit Jamar Travis (East Brewton, Ala./W.S. Neal) will be a handful in the trenches.
The Wildcats have done a great job of improving their talent base and depth at quarterback by bringing in Morgan Newton (Indianapolis/Carmel) and Ryan Mossakowski (Frisco, Texas/Centennial) in this class. Newton is a replica of former Kentucky QB Andre Woodson, while Mossakowski is a pure pocket passer. The Wildcats have also added a couple of excellent sleepers in the Walker brothers, DT Myron Walker and S Jarvis Walker (Metairie, La./Archbishop Rummel). If 5-foot-11 Myron were a little taller, everyone would have been recruiting him along the defensive line. Kentucky is here to stay as a competitor in the East.
Vanderbilt is on the map now, but the Commodores' recruiting environment possesses more challenges than that of most programs. Coach Bobby Johnson has worked admirably within difficult parameters to put a quality product on the field. RB Eric Samuels (Umatilla, Fla.) is quite the sleeper. He's one of four prospects signed to Vandy from the state of Florida, which gives you an idea of how Vandy has become competitive. OG Wesley Johnson (Nashville, Tenn./Montgomery Bell Academy) should help solidify the offensive line, but keep an eye on WR Brady Brown (Argyle, Texas). He is a tall possession receiver who has great hands and makes plays.