Grading the SEC teams on football signing day: Who were the recruiting winners and losers?
College football recruiting has been in an NCAA-mandated dead period since March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that didn't slow down SEC programs from owning the recruiting trail.
The SEC had three of the top four classes in the 247Sports Composite at the end of Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period.
Alabama topped the group, followed by Georgia at No. 3 and LSU at No. 4. No. 8 Florida, No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 15 Tennessee weren't far behind in another big-time, talent-adding cycle for the conference.
Here's USA TODAY Sports' breakdown of the early signing period in the Southeastern Conference:
It couldn’t be a signing day without Alabama having a great day, right?
The Crimson Tide hold the nation’s No. 1 class, which was elite going into Wednesday and then got better. Four-star wide receiver JoJo Earle flipped from LSU to Alabama, giving the Crimson Tide four of the top nine wide receivers in the nation.
Four-star defensive end Keanu Koht also spurned LSU for Alabama on signing day when the No. 198 recruit changed his commitment.
No one celebrated the early signing period quite like Lane Kiffin, whose party started Monday when he wore a shirt saying “Merry Flipmas” on it to his press conference.
Kiffin and the Rebels flipped in-state prospect MJ Daniels from Mississippi State — and then Kiffin hopped on Twitter and retweeted Daniels’ MSU commitment announcement from Sept. 19.
The Rebels also snagged four-star cornerback Markevious Brown over Auburn and Ole Miss.
Despite losing a pair of commitments to Alabama, LSU had an outstanding Wednesday.
The Tigers landed top in-state prospect Maason Smith — the No. 2 defensive tackle and No. 18 overall prospect. They picked up four-star Armoni Goodwin, who was an Auburn commit until Nov. 30. He is the No. 5 running back recruit and No. 94 prospect.
Four-star cornerback Damarius McGhee picked LSU after decommitting from Tennessee on Nov. 26.
LSU also flipped a pair of four-star prospects into its class in wide receiver Malik Nabers and linebacker Navonteque Strong. Strong is the No. 19 junior-college prospect nationally and No. 1 JUCO inside linebacker. Both were committed to Mississippi State.
Mike Leach’s first full recruiting class in Starkville was plundered by SEC West foes.
The Bulldogs lost Nabers and Strong to LSU and Daniels to Ole Miss. Strong would have been MSU’s third-highest rated signee, and all three would have been in the top-10 signees. Daniels was an especially wicked loss after he had affirmed his MSU commitment in the days leading to Wednesday.
The Bulldogs still signed a respectable class, but it looked better going into the early signing period.
New Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer didn’t make any noise Wednesday and has a lot of work to do before February’s signing day.
South Carolina only signed eight players in the wake of Will Muschamp’s firing on Nov. 15. The Gamecocks didn’t sign a four-star prospect nor a player ranked in the top 600 recruits in the country.
Instead, South Carolina watched seven recruits who decommitted following Muschamp’s dismissal sign elsewhere. Two landed at Mississippi State, one at Arkansas.
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 1 overall, No. 1 SEC
Top signees: OL JC Latham, No. 1 offensive tackle, No. 2 overall; OL Tommy Brockermeyer, No. 2 offensive tackle, No. 5 overall; OLB Dallas Turner, No. 1 weakside defensive end, No. 8 overall
Biggest miss: Five-star defensive tackle Maason Smith sticking with LSU was as close as the Crimson Tide came to a miss on Wednesday. UA would’ve gladly taken Smith if he wanted to come but has enough on its defensive line to feel good.
Grade — A: It’s one thing to take a commanding early lead in the race for the so-called recruiting national championship, it’s another to complete address team needs while doing so. There is an abundance of offensive line, defensive line and wide receiver talent in this group
— Brett Hudson, The Tuscaloosa News
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 20 overall, No. 8 SEC
Top signees: WR Ketron Jackson, No. 26 receiver, No. 160 overall; ATH AJ Green, No. 7 athlete, No. 181 overall; ATH Raheim Sanders, No. 16 athlete, No. 285 overall
Biggest miss: Four-star cornerback Dreyden Norwood chose Texas A&M over Arkansas, costing the Razorbacks some youth in a secondary that will have two senior starters next season.
Grade — A-: Sam Pittman had been one of the best recruiters in the SEC as an assistant, and he continued that in his first real go-around as a head coach.
— Mikey DiLullo, The Tuscaloosa News
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 40 overall, No. 12 SEC
Top signees: DT Lee Hunter, No. 6 defensive tackle, No. 80 overall; S Ahmari Harvey, No. 14 safety, No. 209 overall; QB Dematrius Davis, No. 8 dual-threat, No. 223 overall
Biggest miss: Four-star offensive guard Jaeden Roberts decommitted from Auburn on signing day, further hurting the program's already-down offensive line recruiting haul.
Grade — C: Auburn did well to sign 12 players, including the top three in its class and two new commits, just four days after firing coach Gus Malzahn. While the class ranking is low nationally, in terms of average player rating it's in the top 20.
— Josh Vitale, The Montgomery Advertiser
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 8 overall, No. 4 SEC
Top signees: CB Jason Marshall, No. 2 cornerback, No. 27 overall; WDE Jeremiah Williams, No. 4 weakside defensive end, No. 24 overall; SDE Tyreak Sapp, No. 8 strongside defensive end, No. 96 overall
Biggest miss: Four-star linebacker Xavian Sorey chose Georgia over Alabama and Florida on Wednesday. He’s from the Sunshine State and visited UF last Saturday for the LSU game.
Grade — A-: Dan Mullen signed his third consecutive class top-10 class, fending off Alabama for two of his top commits. This class keeps the Gators in the upper echelon in the league.
— Zach Abolverdi, The Gainesville Sun
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 3 overall, No. 2 SEC
Top signees: OT Amarius Mims, No. 3 offensive tackle, No. 7 overall; QB Brock Vandagriff, No. 2 dual-threat quarterback, No. 14 overall; LB Smael Mondon, No. 1 outside linebacker, No. 20 overall; Xavian Sorey, No. 2 outside linebacker, No. 29 overall.
Biggest miss: There were higher-rated prospects that UGA didn’t land, but this misfire is more geographical in nature. Four-star wide receiver Deion Colzie is headed north to South Bend, Indiana, and Notre Dame. Colzie played high school football 10 minutes from Sanford Stadium at Athens Academy.
Grade — A-: UGA took care of the meat and potatoes this cycle as Kirby Smart landed another elite class of talented defensive players and offensive linemen. The Bulldogs found their next five-star quarterback in Vandagriff. If the program has learned anything in recent years — there is always room for talented quarterbacks.
— Jeremy Johnson, The Athens-Banner Herald
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 38 overall, No. 11 SEC
Top signees: OL Jager Burton, No. 9 guard, No. 135 overall; WR Dekel Crowdus, No. 51 receiver, No. 300 overall; WR Christian Lewis, No. 60 receiver, No. 362 overall
Biggest miss: Kentucky signed six of the eight top prospects in the Bluegrass State but could not keep four-star South Warren High School safety Jantzen Dunn from signing with Ohio State.
Grade — B-: Kentucky’s overall ranking takes a dip after signing arguably the best class of the Mark Stoops era in 2020, but the group fills several positions of need. Keeping the majority of the Power Five-caliber prospects in the state at home was key.
— Jon Hale, The Louisville Courier-Journal
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 4 overall, No. 3 SEC.
Top signees: DT Maason Smith, No. 2 defensive tackle, No. 18 overall; S Sage Ryan, No. 2 safety, No. 28 overall; S Derrick Davis, Jr., No. 3 safety, No. 58 overall.
Biggest miss: No. 7 cornerback Nathaniel Wiggins, a commitment since Aug. 28 from Atlanta, flipped to Clemson during LSU’s upset of at No. 6 Florida last Saturday night. LSU signed only one other cornerback – No. 14 Damarius McGhee of Pensacola.
Grade — B: LSU has a high ranking, but it has an unbalanced class with a gaping hole, which tends to happen frequently on the bayou. Coach Ed Orgeron’s offensive line in 2020 was bad to average, and he signed exactly one offensive lineman
— Glenn Guilbeau, The Lafayette Daily Advertiser
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 18 overall, No. 7 SEC
Top signees: WR Bralon Brown, No. 29 WR, 172 overall; QB Luke Altmyer, No. 13 pro-style, No. 187 overall; TE Hudson Wolfe, No. 7 TE, No. 216 overall
Biggest miss: In-state four-star wide receiver Antonio Harmon picked Mississippi State over Ole Miss and others, but the Rebels do have three other wide receivers in the class.
Grade — A-: All things considered, it’s hard to find a fault in Lane Kiffin’s first full class as Ole Miss head coach. The Rebels rank in the national top 20, which is impressive in its own right. It’s even more impressive when you factor in that more than half of the class consists of major areas of need.
— Nick Suss, The Clarion-Ledger
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 36 overall, No. 10 SEC
Top signees: QB Sawyer Robertson, No. 10 pro-style, No. 134 overall; WR Theodore Knox, No. 41 wide receiver, No. 251 overall; WR Antonio Harmon, No. 49 wide receiver, No. 297 overall
Biggest miss: Three-star defensive back MJ Daniels, who had been committed to Mississippi State since September, flipped to OIe Miss.
Grade — B: If we could give this an incomplete, we would. Mississippi State could very well vault near the top 30 or sneak inside that mark by securing key recruits by February. Mike Leach left wiggle room for the Bulldogs to go out and get prospects who are on the fence.
— Tyler Horka, The Clarion-Ledger
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 26 overall, No. 9 SEC
Top signees: DE Travion Ford, No. 15 weakside defensive end, No. 208 overall; QB Tyler Macon, No. 15 dual-threat, No. 385 overall; WR Dominic Lovett, No. 65 wide receiver, No. 386 overall
Biggest miss: Jakailin Johnson, a 4-star cornerback from St. Louis and teammate of two long-standing Mizzou signees, committed to Ohio State back in March and stayed true to the Buckeyes. Johnson is the top-rated player in the state of Missouri.
Grade — B+: Eli Drinkwitz has done more to lock down the state of Missouri and the coveted St. Louis area more for the 2021 class than in several recent years. While the top-tier talent isn't necessarily there, depth at a handful of key positions of need was.
— Eric Blum, Columbia Daily Tribune
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 105 overall, No. 14 SEC
Top signees: QB Colten Gauthier, No. 23 pro-style, No. 620 overall; CB Marcellas Dial, No. 7 junior college cornerback, No. 47 junior college overall; RB Caleb McDowell, No. 45 running back, No. 752 overall.
Biggest miss: Wide receiver Derwin Burgess Jr., a 3-star prospect who had been committed to the Gamecocks since June, flipped to Georgia Southern on Wednesday. A loss at one of the team's biggest positions of need.
Grade — D: With new head coach Shane Beamer hired Dec. 6 and with several decommitments after the firing of Will Muschamp, not much was expected of this class. But only signing eight players and with no late additions turned out to be a worst-case scenario
— Eric Boynton, The Spartanburg Herald-Journal
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 15 overall, No. 6 SEC
Top signees: LB Aaron Willis, No. 9 outside linebacker, No. 130 overall; QB Kaidon Salter, No. 6 dual-threat, No. 157 overall; RB Tiyon Evans, No. 1 junior college running back, No. 3 junior college overall
Biggest miss: Tennessee’s key miss came about two months before signing day, when 5-star offensive tackle Amarius Mims committed to Georgia over Tennessee. The No. 1-ranked prospect in the state of Georgia signed with the Bulldogs.
Grade — C: Once ranked as high as No. 2 nationally, this class faded. Tennessee did not announce signings for defensive end Dylan Brooks or wide receiver Jordan Mosley, 4-star prospects who are key pieces of this class, making Tennessee sweat until February.
— Blake Toppmeyer, The Knoxville News Sentinel
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 13 overall, No. 5 SEC
Top signees: DE Shemar Turner, No. 4 strongside defensive end, No. 31 overall; DT Tunmise Adeleye, No. 6 strongside defensive end, No. 37 overall, OT Reuben Fatheree, No. 13 offensive tackle, No. 87 overall
Biggest miss: Five-star offensive guard Donovan Jackson turned down Texas A&M for Ohio State, making it harder for the Aggies to rebuild an offensive line that’s graduating four starters.
Grade — B-: This class may not appear as good as last year’s on paper, but there are numerous pieces to build around in the post-Kellen Mond era. A&M should be able to build on a season that has it in playoff contention.
— Mikey DiLullo, The Tuscaloosa News
247Sports Composite class rank: No. 47 overall, No. 13 SEC
Top signees: DT Marcus Bradley, No. 15 defensive tackle, No. 188 overall; WR Quincy Skinner, No. 79 wide receiver, No. 519 overall; DB John Howse, No. 66 cornerback, No. 792 overall.
Biggest miss: Warren County safety C.J. Taylor, a Mr. Football winner, is committed to Vanderbilt, but he didn’t sign anywhere. Time will tell if he’s having second thoughts.
Grade — C: Vanderbilt’s class isn’t highly rated, per usual. But it did a good job of mostly keeping the class intact between Derek Mason’s firing and Clark Lea’s hiring less than a week before the start of the early signing period.
— Adam Sparks, The Tennessean
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.