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Commentary: Ranking, recapping top five SEC performances from National Signing Day

Sports+writer%26%23160%3BRyne+Ryskoski+breaks+down+the+winners+of+the+early+signing+period+in+the+SEC.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Sports writer Ryne Ryskoski breaks down the winners of the early signing period in the SEC.

College football’s recent Early Signing Day on Wednesday, Dec. 15 saw several Southeastern Conference teams make big splashes and rise in the team rankings with others coming away disappointed.
Here are the top five winners from the opening of the early signing period, ranked:
No. 1 – Texas A&M
The Aggies vaulted themselves to the No. 1 recruiting class in the country over Alabama and Georgia with a historic day that saw four 247Sports Composite five-star recruits sign with A&M.
Jimbo Fisher flipped former LSU-commit Jake Johnson, the nation’s No. 1 tight end and four-star cornerback Marquis Groves-Killebrew from Georgia. Former LSU quarterback Max Johnson, Jake’s brother, announced on Friday morning that he would be coming to A&M too.
Even with the departure of former defensive coordinator Mike Elko, A&M didn’t lose any defensive commits. Walter Nolen, the No. 2 recruit in the country, and five-star Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, the fourth-ranked defensive lineman in the class, didn’t waver on their commitments to the maroon and white. A&M also has two other top-10 defensive linemen signed in Anthony Lucas and Malick Sylla, and is projected to land the third-ranked defensive lineman and ninth-ranked overall recruit Shemar Stewart who will announce his decision in February.
Five-star receiver Evan Stewart, ranked No. 2 at his position in the 2022 class, backed his commitment by signing on Thursday afternoon. Fisher will have weapons in the seventh-ranked receiver Chris Marshall, four-star running back Le’Veon Moss, two more four-star tight ends and three different four-star offensive linemen. All three of A&M’s tight-end commits are ranked in the top 10 at their position. Of course, there is also the nation’s second-ranked quarterback, five-star Conner Weigman, who committed to the Aggies back in February.
Overall, it was an extremely successful day for A&M and Jimbo Fisher because they were able to retain their commitments with signings while adding onto the class with a few surprising signings that hurt other teams in the SEC. A&M isn’t done either. It’s still on several more recruits that could land the 2022 class amongst the best of all time.
Notables: 5-star Walter Nolen (No. 2 recruit, No. 1 DL), 5-star Evan Stewart (No. 6 recruit, No. 2 WR), 5-star Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy (No. 16 recruit, No. 4 DL), 5-star Conner Weigman (No. 19 recruit, No. 2 QB), 4-star Enai White (No. 37 recruit, No. 3 EDGE)
No. 2 – Alabama
Even with all of the Aggies’ success on the recruiting trail, Alabama is right behind them with a class that tops the Crimson Tide’s 2021 haul, which was the best in the nation.
Like A&M, Alabama focused a decent portion of its efforts on its defensive front. Nick Saban landed five front-seven recruits, all in the top 80, with Jeremiah Alexander as the headliner, who is the No. 8 recruit in the nation and the top-ranked EDGE rusher. He also landed fifth-ranked linebacker Shawn Murphy, ninth-ranked defensive lineman Jaheim Otis, No. 11-defensive lineman Khurtiss Perry and ninth-ranked EDGE rusher Jihaad Campbell.
Offensively, Alabama found its Bryce Young successor with five-star, third-ranked quarterback Ty Simpson. The Crimson Tide also inked the nation’s No. 1 running back in Emmanuel Henderson and Shazz Preston, the third-ranked receiver. They signed a pair of top-10 offensive tackles to shore up the line, and the nation’s second-ranked athlete Isaiah Bond, who is projected to play receiver. Furthermore, they got two other four-star receivers along with the seventh-ranked running back.
Perhaps Alabama’s biggest move, though, came when former five-star cornerback Elias Ricks transferred from LSU to play for the Crimson Tide. Saban doesn’t care for other people’s opinions, but the addition of Ricks, along with the rest of his 2022 class, should field a more consistent defense in the future.
This is how typical Alabama classes are, year in and year out. Its pedigree and expected success are the backbone of its recruiting efforts, and it isn’t shocking when the Crimson Tide have one of the best three classes in the nation every year. There’s a reason they’re in the College Football Playoff every year, and it’s because of days like Early Signing Day.
Notables: 5-star Jeremiah Alexander (No. 8 recruit, No. 1 EDGE), 5-star Ty Simpson (No. 24 recruit, No. 3 QB), 5-star Emmanuel Henderson (No. 30 recruit, No. 1 RB), 4-star Shazz Preston (No. 43 recruit, No. 3 WR), 4-star Tyler Booker (No. 51 recruit, No. 6 OT)
No. 3 – Georgia
The Bulldogs woke up on Early Signing Day with 247Sports’ top-ranked class, but ended the day in third, mostly because of how well Alabama and Texas A&M did. Georgia didn’t necessarily lose many commits and the guys who did sign still create an extremely good class, especially on defense where the Bulldogs make their mark.
Headlining the class is the No. 14 recruit, five-star athlete Malaki Starks who lines up at safety and linebacker. He is also the No. 1 athlete in the 2022 class. Georgia continued in the secondary with a pair of five-star cornerbacks in fifth- and sixth-ranked cornerbacks Jaheim Singletary and Daylon Everette. Everette was previously committed to Clemson.
Second-ranked EDGE rusher and five-star Marvin Jones Jr. signed to the Bulldogs along with five-star defensive lineman Mykel Williams, the fifth-ranked at his position. They also landed four-star Bear Alexander, the sixth-ranked defensive lineman, and fourth-ranked linebacker Jalon Walker to top off their haul of top-ranked defensive front recruiting efforts.
While the best-ranked members of Georgia’s class come from the defensive side of the ball, it still went after some of the top offensive recruits and succeeded. Perhaps the most notable is four-star quarterback Gunnar Stockton, the seventh-ranked signal-caller in the 2022 class. Stockton has the potential to bring some stability to Georgia’s quarterback room in the coming years. There is also four-star Branson Robinson, the No. 3 running back, second-ranked tight end Oscar Delp and a pair of receivers that rank in the top 40 at their position and are both four-star athletes.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart also landed a four-star safety, a four-star EDGE rusher and a four-star offensive tackle. Nothing world-ending occurred to Georgia on National Signing Day and many programs would do anything to have a class like the Bulldogs’ 2022 class. The three aforementioned teams of A&M, Alabama and Georgia ranked first through third in the conference and the country, so the margin of difference between the three is extremely small.
There shouldn’t be any reason why those three teams aren’t going to be in the top four of recruiting rankings for at least the next three years, or until Saban retires. Georgia has CFB Playoff experience, although it didn’t go well, and it can hang its hat on defense, just like Alabama and A&M. It’s not a coincidence these three teams are stout defensively but also strong at recruiting.
Notables: 5-star Malaki Starks (No. 14 recruit, No. 1 ATH), 5-star Jaheim Singletary (No. 21 recruit, No. 5 CB), 5-star Marvin Jones Jr. (No. 22 recruit, No. 2 EDGE), 5-star Mykel Williams (No. 26 recruit, No. 5 DL), 5-star Daylon Everette (No. 29 recruit, No. 6 CB)
No. 4 – Kentucky
The Wildcats did a fantastic job recruiting over the past year and their 9-3 performance in the 2021 regular season was a big part of it. Head coach Mark Stoops remains at Kentucky after signing an extension that keeps him in Lexington, Ky., until 2028, so the improved situation with that program allowed for some great signings that earned the Wildcats the country’s 11th-best recruiting class, and the best-rated class in school history.
Kentucky landed five-star offensive tackle Kiyanta Goodwin, its third-highest ever rated 247Sports recruit and third five-star signing in program history. Goodwin is the fourth-ranked offensive tackle in the class and measures 6-foot-8, 340 lbs.
“No. 1, it’s very rare to see a human being move at that size,” Stoops said. “He is unbelievably athletic for his size. He can move his feet, he can do a lot of things and that’s rare for someone his size.”
The Wildcats also signed four-star offensive tackle Grant Bingham and a pair of playmaking four-star receivers in Barion Brown and Dane Key.
Four-star EDGE rusher Tyreese Fearby comes in as Kentucky’s top defensive recruit and ranks 12th in the class at his position. Stoops also got the nation’s 20th-ranked linebacker in four-star Keaten Wade. Up front there is Deone Walker, a four-star and the 38th-ranked defensive lineman, as well as four-star athlete Alex Afari.
Stoops and his program are on the rise in the SEC and their 2022 haul will likely be a big turning point in Kentucky’s hope to eventually compete with the top teams in the conference. As the realignment of the conference looms, the Wildcats made a statement that they won’t be falling behind any time soon.
Notables: 5-star Kiyanta Goodwin (No. 25 recruit, No. 4 OT), 4-star Barion Brown (No. 145 recruit, No. 22 WR), 4-star Tyreese Fearby (No. 164, No. 12 EDGE), 4-star Keaten Wade (No. 199 recruit, No. 20 LB), 4-star Dane Key (No. 237, No. 39 WR)
No. 5 – Missouri
Missouri comes in at fifth for a class that features a five-star receiver and seven other four-star recruits. The Tigers didn’t have anything unexpected happen with their commitments either, and Eli Drinkwitz established his hold on the state of Missouri’s top recruits.
The Tigers missed out on the top two recruits in the state but landed each of the next four, who all have four-star ratings. Marquis Gracial, the 25th-ranked defensive lineman and 14th-ranked four-star EDGE rusher DJ Wesolak are Drinkwitz’s best defensive recruits along with Isaac Thompson, the 16th-ranked safety.
But the crowned jewel of Missouri’s 2022 class is five-star receiver Luther Burden out of Illinois. Burden is ranked as the third-best recruit in the 2022 class and has battled Evan Stewart as the top receiver in the class over the last few months. Missouri also landed the country’s ninth-best quarterback in four-star Sam Horn, and four-star Tavorus Jones, the 13th-ranked running back in the nation.
Burden, Horn and Jones, all out-of-state recruits, are the three highest-rated members of Drinkwitz’s 2022 class. They form a very intriguing trio of freshmen that could emerge in the next year or two in his dynamic offense, especially Burden and Jones. Those two are likely to get a good amount of playing time in their first year with the upcoming departure of Tyler Badie, the SEC’s leading rusher in 2021.
Drinkwitz had a ways to go when he took over the Missouri program and has shown improvement. However, this class is going to be huge for him and how he wants to progress into a threat. Part of being a threat means consistent successful recruiting and this haul bodes well for the future of the Tigers.
Notables: 5-star Luther Burden (No. 3 recruit, No. 1 WR), 4-star Sam Horn (No. 125 recruit, No. 9 QB), 4-star Tavorus Jones (No. 161 recruit, No. 13 RB), 4-star Marquis Gracial (No. 186 recruit, No. 25 DL), 4-star DJ Wesolak (No. 193 recruit, No. 14 EDGE)

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