Wednesday brought the release of what would normally be the definitive final Top247 rankings update of the 2021 recruiting cycle. But given the context of a number of states still planning to play their football seasons after fall postponements caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 Top247 could potentially see some specific movement later in the spring.
Nevertheless, here’s what we believe right now regarding the 2021 recruiting class. The five-star range sat at 12 players following the last Top247 update, which came in mid-November, but we expanded that list of five-stars to the usual 32 with this update. That specific number of 32 reflects how many players are selected in the NFL Draft’s first round. The NFL Draft is largely how the recruiting industry is ultimately graded.
In that five-star range, you will find so-called premium positions in numbers, such as quarterbacks, offensive linemen, and defensive linemen. In fact, those three position groups account for the top seven spots and nine of the top 11.
On top of the pandemic’s impact on certain players’ senior seasons, it also affected the top-tier postseason all-star games, namely the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, the Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando, and the Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii. Those events typically serve as a proving ground for five-star candidates. Without them, all of the other data points got more emphasis, such as the most recent on-field context, overall athletic profile (multi-sport participation, available testing and/or measurements, etc.), and positional value.
With that in mind, here are some more themes that emerged during the past couple of months of work on the 2021 Top247.
THE TOP OF THE CLASS
A uniquely uncertain cycle in light of the pandemic reflects at the top of class as the top two players — defensive ends J.T. Tuimoloau and USC signee Korey Foreman — have not played senior seasons. Leonard Taylor, a Miami defensive tackle signee, sits at No. 3 and rounds out the trio of 100-rated prospects in this class.
Hopefully players such as Tuimoloau and Foreman get to play senior campaigns, but that happening seems rather up in the air at this point in time.
In most years, at least the top player in the class gets a grade higher than 100. The Top247 dates to the 2010 recruiting cycle; seven of the 11 cycles from 2010-20 featured players rated 101 or higher. But given all of the context with this cycle and the players at the top, putting a rating greater than 100 did not feel like the right move. The 2010 (4), 2012 (4), 2016 (1), and 2019 (4) cycles represent the previous cycles with 100’s at the top of the class.
MAJOR OFFENSIVE LINE TALENT
It’s no secret that elite offensive linemen are a premium in the NFL Draft. With that in mind, the 2021 class features six offensive linemen in the top 16 overall and seven in five-star range. This is a position group we will feature more in-depth later this week.
Alabama signee JC Latham (4), Ohio State signee Donovan Jackson (6), and Alabama signee Tommy Brockermeyer (9) all fall within the top 10 with 99 ratings. Georgia signee Amarius Mims (14), Clemson signee Tristan Leigh (15), Wisconsin signee Nolan Rucci (16), and Oregon signee Kingsley Suamataia (31) round out the top-tier offensive line talent as each has earned a 98 rating on 247Sports.
Jackson is the only player of the seven projected to guard instead of tackle. Having said that, we emphasize that Jackson could very well stick at tackle in the long run, especially considering his length (7-foot wingspan). Regardless of position designation, Jackson has proven his status as an elite offensive line prospect. Along those same lines, the chances that all seven of these players are definitely tackles four years from now probably is not a lock, but individually, we like each player as a tackle based on the available data.
DEEP LINEBACKER CLASS
The off-ball linebackers in the top 100 of the Top247 rankings represent another subject we will spotlight more specifically later this week. But for now, this group is worth mentioning because of the depth of top-tier talent, with the majority possessing valuable two-way experience at the high school level that has pointed to NFL Draft success at the position.
Three off-ball linebackers earned five-star grades: Clemson signee Barrett Carter (17), Georgia signee Smael Mondon (19, was previously designated a five-star), and Alabama signee Deontae Lawson (28).
But that’s only the start of the promising linebacker talent in this class. Nine more join that five-star trio to put 12 off-ball linebackers in the top 100 of the Top247 rankings. Georgia signee Xavian Sorey (34), uncommitted Trevin Wallace (35), Clemson signee Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (43), and Maryland signee Terrence Lewis (44) all earned 97 ratings, the highest four-star grade on 247Sports. Five more off-ball linebackers graded in the 95 to 96 range.
The aforementioned Trevin Wallace and Deontae Lawson are included among noteworthy risers following outstanding senior seasons of two-way impact. In Lawson’s case, he also dominated during Alabama-Mississippi All-Star week after a season in which he recorded 101 tackles, six sacks, and three INT’s, plus 543 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. Wallace played a ton of offensive snaps in multiple roles to supplement his defensive efforts, proving a dynamic playmaker regardless of where aligned. His high school finale saw him run 28 times for 382 yards and three touchdowns on 13.6 yards per carry. Both players own the profile of high-level linebackers with early-round NFL Draft futures.
The 2021 receiver class is deep and talented, but a clear-cut No. 2 behind Ohio State signee Emeka Egbuka has been (and probably will continue to be) up for debate. Upon a deep dive at receiver and further review of the class, Alabama signee Jacorey Brooks looked like the safest bet to achieve first-round status in the future. In these rankings, he rises from No. 50 to No. 26 overall. Brooks had a relatively limited sample size as a senior, but it was a good one, as he was the top pass-catcher on IMG Academy’s star-studded roster when healthy. He also owns a 21.98-second 200-meter time and impressive functional athleticism on the field relative to his larger frame.
The need for a second five-star receiver derived from the belief that an NFL Draft first round with only one receiver is not likely given today’s state of the sport. Six receivers went in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and while only two apiece were picked in 2019 and 2018, the average number of first-round receivers since 2009 is 3.75 (45 picked in the last 12 first rounds). Five or more first-round receiver selections have happened four times in the last 12 drafts. The 2008 NFL Draft marked the last time a receiver was not take in the first 32 picks. Additionally, the high four-star receiver range is strong in the 2021 class, and you could debate them and reorder them in myriad ways and be justified.
Moving into the top 100 was Texas A&M signee Bryce Foster, who has long been considered one of the highest-floor offensive lineman in this class. Foster, who moved up from a 93 rating to a 95, played guard and center as a senior to add further positional value and context to an overall resume that included well-known drive-blocking power and elite throws numbers in the shot put and discus. Foster may get on the field early in College Station and strikes us as an offensive lineman who could find himself in the first three rounds of the draft in a few years.
Receiver Shadrach Banks, another Aggie signee, assembled a dominant senior year after missing much of his junior campaign with injuries. He put together a string of big performances in the playoffs to finish with 1,700-plus yards from scrimmage and 21 offensive touchdowns facing elite competition relative to the high school level. Banks, who went from a 92 rating to a 94 and jumped into the top 130 from No. 180, is a unique athlete with the build of a running back or linebacker who strings together moves in the open field with impressive fluidity and couples them with encouraging play speed.
USC quarterback signee Jaxson Dart ascended from a 92 rating to a 94, moving him from the 180’s to No. 107 in the updated Top247. That came after his senior year of almost 5,900 total yards of offense and nearly 80 touchdowns in 14 games. Dart’s insane production lines up with the quarterback tools he shows on tape, including his anticipatory skills, off-schedule playmaking ability, and arm strength.
NEW DEBUTS IN THE TOP247
Virginia defensive tackle signee Bryce Carter technically arrived in the Top247 rankings in December, when he announced that he was reclassifying from 2022 to 2021. Carter is a top 100 prospect at No. 92 overall. Carter is a potentially position- and scheme-versatile defensive lineman with the majority of his experience inside in a four-man front. He plays with encouraging leverage consistency and generally gets off the ball with conviction.
At the back end of the Top247, Georgia Tech tight end signee Leo Blackburn emerged at No. 240 overall. Following a strong senior year that included 51 catches for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns, Blackburn earned top honors from 247Sports during Florida vs. Georgia All-Star week. Blackburn’s tall, long frame and proven playmaking ability suggest a high ceiling for a prospect in the flex tight end mold.
Another Top247 addition was Notre Dame running back signee Audric Estime, who averaged 10.5 yards per carry in a stellar eight-game senior season. Estime, No. 241 overall, ran for 1,857 yards and 22 touchdowns, while catching 14 passes for 190 yards and two TD’s. The context of Estime’s senior performance relative to other running backs in his rankings vicinity compelled his move into the Top247.