- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Now that the fax machines have quit churning, who in the SEC fared the best on signing day and who best filled their needs?
Let’s take a team-by-team look:
Alabama: The Crimson Tide lost three starting linebackers and three starting defensive backs, so they needed to retool their defense. They were also looking for playmakers at the receiver position. Junior college cornerbacks Travell Dixon and Deion Belue are already enrolled in school, as are ESPNU 150 receivers Chris Black and Amari Cooper. The Crimson Tide went into LSU’s backyard and signed Landon Collins, the top-rated safety in America, and receiver Eddie Williams of Panama City, Fla., was ESPN’s No. 2-rated athlete nationally. ESPN grade: A
Arkansas: Losing three talented senior receivers, including the record-setting Jarius Wright, meant the Hogs were in the market for big-time receivers. They lost out to Missouri on Dorial Green-Beckham but landed two of the top pass-catchers in the country in D’Arthur Cowan of Olive Branch, Miss., and Keon Hatcher of Owasso, Okla. The Hogs were also able to beef up their defensive front seven with linebacker Otha Peters of Covington, La., and tackle Darius Philon of Mobile, Ala. Peters was originally committed to Tennessee and Philon to Alabama. ESPN grade: C+
Auburn: The Tigers were looking for help across the board on defense, but were last in the SEC a year ago in passing defense. So picking up ESPNU 150 cornerback Joshua Holsey of Fairburn, Ga., and cornerback T.J. Davis of Tallahassee, Fla., was a big lick for Auburn and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. The same goes for ESPNU 150 athlete Ricardo Louis of Miami Beach, Fla., and top 30 receiver Ja'Quay Williams of Tyrone, Ga., both of whom should add firepower to an Auburn passing game that was anemic this past season. ESPN grade: B
Florida: The Gators needed more quality and depth along both lines of scrimmage, and coach Will Muschamp must feel like they were able to accomplish that with his first full recruiting class. D.J. Humphries of Charlotte, N.C., is the No. 1-rated offensive tackle in the country by ESPN. Jessamen Dunker of Boynton Beach, Fla., and Dante Phillips of Venice, Fla., are also ESPNU 150 offensive linemen. Matt Jones of Seffner, Fla., is a bigger running back who should help the Gators get some of the tough yards they weren’t able to get this past season. ESPN grade: A
Georgia: Looking to beef up a defense that figures to lose a bunch of players following next season, the Bulldogs stocked up on potential playmakers on that side of the ball. ESPNU 150 outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons didn’t sign until late, but he’s a perfect fit in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense and one of those guys who can go get the quarterback. ESPNU 150 running back Keith Marshall of Raleigh, N.C., is one of the more explosive players in this class. He’s already enrolled in school and should push Isaiah Crowell immediately. ESPN grade: A-
Kentucky: The Wildcats have been pushing to make up ground on the rest of the SEC on their lines of scrimmage and stocked up on offensive and defensive linemen in this class. Defensive tackle Thomas Chapman of Louisville, Ky., should fit nicely in the middle of Rick Minter’s defense. The Wildcats were also in desperate need of playmakers on offense and hope receiver DeMarcus Sweat of Stone Mountain, Ga., and athlete/receiver Fred Tiller of Homerville, Ga., can help fill that void. ESPN grade: C+
LSU: LSU returns a ton of young talent on defense next season, but the Tigers are losing all three of their starting linebackers. They made that a priority in this class and picked up at least five players projected to play linebacker at the college level. Leading the way was ESPNU 150 outside linebacker Kwon Alexander of Oxford, Ala. He picked LSU over Auburn. Ronnie Feist of Edgard, La., was another ESPNU 150 linebacker to sign with the Tigers, while quarterback Jeremy Liggins of Oxford, Miss., was a nice late pickup. ESPN grade: B+
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs took aim at defensive linemen and signed as many as eight in this class. One of the top ones is junior college defensive end Denico Autry, who’s already in school and will go through spring practice. They also picked up two of the top defensive tackles in-state in Quay Evans of Morton, Miss., and Nick James of Long Beach, Miss. ESPN grade: C+
Missouri: With all the strong defenses in the SEC, Missouri knew it needed a few more playmakers as the Tigers jump into league play next season. They added one of the premier ones in the country on signing day in Green-Beckham, who’s rated by ESPN as the No. 1 receiver in the country and the No. 3 prospect overall. It was a huge statement for the Tigers to keep such a coveted prospect at home. ESPN grade: B-
Ole Miss: It didn’t take first-year coach Hugh Freeze long to realize how much help the Rebels needed on defense, which made the addition of safety Trae Elston of Oxford, Ala., so big. And up front on defense, the Rebels probably won’t wait long to see what ESPNU 150 tackle Issac Gross of Batesville, Miss., and ESPNU 150 end Channing Ward of Aberdeen, Miss., can do. Both are big-time talents. ESPN grade: C+
South Carolina: The Head Ball Coach still likes to throw the ball around the park some, even if the Gamecocks have become more of a running team the past couple of seasons. That said, South Carolina landed one of the more impressive receiver classes in the country, and it’s a class headlined by ESPNU 150 receiver Shaq Roland of Lexington, S.C. With Alshon Jeffery turning pro early, Roland was a must-get for the Gamecocks and could make a big impact next season. ESPN grade: B+
Tennessee: The Vols wanted to add more firepower on offense, which made getting top junior college receiver Cordarrelle Patterson on signing day a coup. He should fit in nicely next season with a healthy Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers. ESPNU 150 receivers Drae Bowles of Jackson, Tenn., and Alton Howard of Orlando, Fla., are a pair of high school signees who should also help Tennessee make more plays down the field than it did a season ago. ESPN grade: B-
Texas A&M: First-year coach Kevin Sumlin scored a huge victory in-state by landing ESPNU 150 receiver Thomas Johnson of Dallas. Johnson is ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 receiver prospect in the country, and he will figure prominently in Sumlin’s offense. The same goes for undersized running back Trey Williams of Houston. He’s a blur in the open field. The Aggies also addressed a big defensive need with ESPNU 150 outside linebacker Jordan Richmond of Denton, Texas. ESPN grade: B+
Vanderbilt: It was James Franklin’s first full recruiting class, and he responded by putting together the highest-ranked class in Vanderbilt history. More importantly, the Commodores filled some huge needs on defense with four-star end Stephen Weatherly of Atlanta and four-star linebackers Darreon Herring of Stone Mountain, Ga., and Jacob Sealand of Tucker, Ga. The Commodores are losing several key seniors on defense, so it was critical that they replenished on that side of the ball. ESPN grade: B-
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