Now that the dust has settled on another national signing day, let’s take a look at some of the strongest players who enrolled early and could make an impact during spring football practices.
The Buzz: Filling Dalvin Cook’s shoes will be a difficult task for Florida State, one made a whole lot easier when the Seminoles landed Akers, the best running back recruit in the nation. He is the highest-ranked offensive recruit the Seminoles signed in school history. The extra time on campus will help as Akers looks to team with Jacques Patrick this spring to give FSU a perfect one-two punch in the backfield.
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Buzz: Alabama returns four of its top running backs from last season, led by Damien Harris (1,037 yards) and Bo Scarbrough (812 yards). Now throw in Harris, who is perhaps the most talented of the group and averaged more than 2,000 yards the past three seasons, and you have yourself the recipe for another SEC championship and a return trip back to the national title game.
Anthony Hines III, LB, Texas A&M
The Buzz: Hines put up astronomical numbers in high school, including more than 644 total tackles — 450 of those coming in his junior and senior seasons. He’ll join a Texas A&M program looking to show improvement on the defensive side of the football following the 2016 season, during which the Aggies ranked 10th overall in the SEC in total defense. Texas A&M also has to deal with the departure of Myles Garrett.
Hunter Johnson, QB, Clemson
The Buzz: Deshaun Watson’s departure leaves a huge hole at the quarterback position for Dabo Swinney. The Tigers head into spring practice with a competition to replace Watson and that could be good news for Johnson, the second-best overall QB in the 2017 class.
Richard LeCounte III, S, Georgia
The Buzz: LeCounte is the crown jewel of Kirby Smart’s first full class at Georgia. The talented playmakers joins a team that finished last season ranked second in the SEC in passing defense after the Bulldogs allowed just 185 yards per game with 15 interceptions. He’s young and raw, but he has the luxury of developing behind veteran Dominick Sanders in the secondary.
Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
The Buzz: Alabama has a history of starting true freshmen on the offensive line and the Tide could look to do the same sort of thing with Leatherwood. Cam Robinson’s departure could force some movement up front, leaving a spot open for the top offensive lineman in the 2017 class.
Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
The Buzz: Ohio State added nine early enrollees, including Okudah, who was the top-ranked player in the Buckeyes’ 2017 recruiting class. His speed and quickness make him an attractive option in a secondary, where Urban Meyer and his staff must make up for the departures of three starters in Gareon Conley, Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
The Buzz: Michigan loses four of its top five receivers from last season, making the addition of Peoples-Jones huge for Jim Harbaugh. The five-star receiver will look to add depth to a position group that must replace Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, who were targeted 164 times last season for the Wolverines.
Jaelan Phillips, DE, UCLA
The Buzz: UCLA finished fifth in total defense in the Pac-12 for the second consecutive season under Jim Mora Jr. and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. The addition of Phillips provides the Bruins with an athletic threat on the front line, a spot where he combined for 229 total tackles and 34.5 total sacks during the past two seasons in high school.
Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma
The Buzz: The departures of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon leave Oklahoma looking to make up nearly three-quarters of its rushing production from 2016. Sermon will look to throw his name into the mix as a starter this spring, competing with returnees like Abdul Adams (283 yards) as the Sooners hope to win their third Big 12 title in the past three seasons.