As with any recruiting class, there are candidates who catch on immediately and become stars, while others may take a little longer. Given the different rates of development, we wanted to look at the 2021 guys who have the most potential to be a factor throughout their career, not just right away in their first season.
Taking into account what these prospects accomplished in their high school careers and where they signed, here’s a look at the player with the most potential for each team in the top 25 of the 2021 class.
This is a good example of impact over a career, not all at once. Alabama will likely get immediate help from receivers Agiye Hall, Jacorey Brooks, JoJo Earle and Christian Leary or cornerback Ga’Quincy McKinstry. But Brockermeyer, who was a five-star player and a first-round pick, could help Alabama’s offensive line continue to play well and continue the process of bringing players to the NFL. J.C. Latham, a five-star tackle in the class, could also be included, as both are excellent linemen and have a chance at a great career at Alabama, but Brockermeyer looks to be a refined and prototypical Texas high school linebacker who will anchor the future offensive line.
Scout Report: Brockermeier is the son of a former Texas All-American offensive lineman. He has a good bloodline and is a solid technician on this stage. It also has a large frame with excellent functional strength. Just as importantly, he’s a big, flexible guy with good feet. Other than that, he has a tenacious style of play. — Craig Gerlost
Sawyer is the first pick, but he still has room to grow on the field and physically. He’s 5-foot-10, 6-foot-2 and early enrolled at Ohio University. With the success of linebackers coach Larry Johnson at this position, there is reason to believe Sawyer will become another good linebacker for the Buckeyes. Nick, Joey Bosa, and Chase Young were first round NFL draft picks, and Sawyer is hoping for the same success.
Exploration report: Sawyer is the No. 1 player in the ESPN 300 for 2021 and an explosive player from the bench. A prospect with a nice frame, he added the necessary bulk to his frame during his senior year. He shows impressive strength, is active with his hands, and moves well, allowing him to be not only an elite pass rusher, but also a versatile three-down player. — Gerlost
Georgia needed stability at the quarterback position, and the coaches found it with the transfer of JT Daniels. But with Daniels gone, they need consistency, and Vandagriff has a chance to deliver that. He’s a quarterback from Bogart, Georgia, who is 5-foot-6 and weighs 6-foot-4. He originally went to Oklahoma, which should say a lot about his talent with Lincoln Riley on his heels, and eventually signed with Georgia State. Vandagriff has the ability to take Georgia’s offense to another level and give it the production and stability to keep up with the defense in the future.
Quarterback Brock Vandagriff helped Georgia as the No. 3 recruit in 2021. Thanks to 3Step.
Exploration report: Vandagriff, who played for his father in high school, is a physically gifted and highly competitive quarterback. He has excellent arm strength and is able to throw to all three levels – and with good accuracy. Not only can he stretch the game with his feet, but he can also be a running threat. — Gerlost
Shipley has a little bit of everything with his speed, his ability to affect the passing game and the running game, and he comes at a time when Clemson could use some help with Travis Etienne leaving for the NFL. Shipley is the second running back in the class and could be an explosive weapon in the future. In the 2019 season, he accounted for 2,040 yards on the ground with 30 touchdowns on the ground and 582 yards on the ground with eight touchdowns. He has the potential to be the next big name at Clemson.
Exploration report: Shipley can be a versatile weapon. The combination of speed and strength can allow him to make big plays and also means he has the potential to carry the load when needed. He can also be a dangerous target for receivers, both out of the backfield and at the receiver position, with solid ball skills. — Gerlost
Thompson is a 6-foot, 200-pound quarterback from Gilbert, Arizona. He is 67th in the class of 2021. He’s in an interesting situation at Oregon, where the previous starter, Tyler Shaw, just transferred to Texas Tech, leaving the Ducks in a quarterback battle. With the transfer of Anthony Brown from Boston College, Thompson may not win this season, but either way, he has the chance to be a great quarterback in Joe Moorhead’s offense for the rest of his time at Oregon. The coaches have built a very good, young defensive base and are trying to replicate that on offense. That base could start with Thompson.
Reconnaissance report: Thompson is a big, well-built passer who not only has good arm strength, but also good rhythm and timing. Thompson has shown progression as an accurate player during his high school career, with the prospect of progression in the future. — Gerlost
Nussmeyer is the coach’s son and a freshman with number 63. He’s a 6-foot-4 quarterback from Texas Flower Mound who has received offers from many top programs. LSU’s coaches are slowly building the quarterback room, and Nussmeyer is a key addition. The staff has added Max Johnson, an ESPN 300 prospect, to the 2020 class and has Miles Brennan and T.J. Finley still on the list. Nussmeyer threw for 2,815 yards in his senior season, 213 of 293 passes with 33 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Reconnaissance report: Nussmeyer is a smart quarterback, which is not surprising since his father, Doug, coached the offensive side of the ball in college and the pros. Not only does Nussmeier bring a lot of experience to the position, but he is an accurate passer with a quick release and good feet. — Gerlost
The emphasis in this class was on defense and ultimately the best pick could have been Tunmise Adeleye, Elijah Jeudy, Marcus Burris or Jahzion Harris, but Turner is a five-star prospect who finished 14th. He’s a great recruit who moves very well and fits in the same league as current Aggie DeMarvin Leal. Turner averaged 8.5 sacks in his senior season and 60 tackles. He could be a versatile lineman who could walk the same path as Leal in terms of potential and end result, as Leal is a future NFL prospect.
Reconnaissance report: In high school, Turner has grown into a disruptive force that could make a splash like former Aggie Myles Garrett. Turner’s combination of length and strength allows him to be used at a variety of positions on the defensive line. Not only does it have a strong initial burst, but it also moves with a good motor to make plays in pursuit. — Gerlost
USC had an excellent 2021 class, and tight end Michael Trigg would easily fit into the picture as well. Dart had spectacular results in his final high school season and could be a big name for the Trojans. His recruitment came late and he took advantage of Utah State to play high school football in the fall. He threw for 4,691 yards, 67 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his senior season. Yes, these numbers are for one season only. Quarterback Miller Moss (ESPN 300) is also in this class, so Dart has some competition to start, but given the way he finished his high school career, if he can continue that in college, he might be special in the offense of USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.
Reconnaissance report: Dart drew attention with impressive numbers in his senior season. He came on late and eventually emerged as one of the most promising QB candidates in the 2021 class. Dart is a determined passer with a quick hand, who exudes confidence and has the ability to read coverage well and deliver the ball accurately. — Gerlost
QB Jackson Dart explains why he decided to play football at USC.
Notre Dame will need top receivers as Ben Skowronek, who led the team with five touchdown receptions, and Javon McKinley, who led the team in touchdown receptions, are both gone. Coach Brian Kelly talked about adding playmakers and more receiving options after the loss against Alabama in the College Football Playoff, and styles will give them options this season. He is one of the prospects on this roster who has the opportunity to play early in his career and has the ability to make an impact during his time at Notre Dame. Stiles has a couple of receivers ahead of him, but he’s already on campus and could be up early.
Reconnaissance report: This style is a threat to the game, as it can hurt the opponent in a variety of ways. It’s a nimble fastball that can be dangerous both vertically and after the catch. Styles is also a disciplined runner with good awareness that can put him on the field quickly. Also keep an eye on him in the return game where he can cause problems. — Gerlost
Florida allowed 257.7 passing yards per game last season, which ranked 100th among all FBS teams. It’s no secret that the defense needs help, and Marshall is someone who can make an immediate impact at corner. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound rookie from Miami, Fla. The Gators get cornerback Kayyir Elam back, who was excellent last season, but Marshall could help bolster opponents’ defense and be a secondary help throughout his career.
Reconnaissance report: Marshall is a corner with good size and length. He’s an instinctive coverage player with quick feet, but not only can he block receivers, he also shows good toughness as a tackler and can help protect the run. — Gerlost
The good news for Miami is that the Hurricanes don’t have to start Williams right away. The staff is in place with Bubba Bolden, Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall Jr. at safety and the Hurricanes also have a healthy Avant Williams. When James Williams arrives on campus, he won’t have to play right away, but his talent and skills will encourage some of these veterans to play, which will only make the unit better as a whole. Even if Williams doesn’t get much playing time this season, he should become a key component and give Miami’s defense some flexibility at that position.
Reconnaissance report: Williams is a Swiss army knife defender that can be used at all three levels of defense. Williams has the range to play safety, but also the size and speed to rush at the rim, and fits well with most of today’s big, athletic tight ends. He’s also not afraid to throw his 6-foot-4, 220-pound body and can be a big hitter. — Gerlost
The Tar Heels signed five-star defenseman Desmond Evans in the 2020 class, and the team signed Silver, a five-star defenseman from Rocky Mountain in North Carolina, this cycle. The 6-foot-9, 90-pound Silver can do anything North Carolina asks of him. He has speed, strength and a chance to play early for the Tar Heels. Defensive coaches have a high regard for Silver and expect him to play a role early on. Even if he doesn’t, the team is building a very good defensive foundation, especially on offense.
Reconnaissance report: Silver can explode off the ball and become a constant presence. It has the size, strength and resistance to secure the rim and protect the barrel. His effort and agility can also make him a factor in the pursuit, and all of these tools can make him a dangerous pass rusher. — Gerlost
There are five promising quarterbacks in the top 25, but who is the number one? Full ESPN 300
If Lincoln Riley recruits a quarterback, he’s got some upside, given what Riley has done with quarterbacks at Oklahoma. Riley relied on early transfers for the Sooners, but he recruited starting quarterback Spencer Rattler and now he has contracted Williams, the No. 1 quarterback with two threats in the class. Williams fits right in with what Riley wants as a quarterback, and he won’t have to deal with the pressure of having to play right away because Rattler is already the starter. That’s not to say he won’t compete with Rattler, but he could easily tackle his college career and potentially earn a spot with the Sooners. If his high school career is any indication of what he will accomplish at Oklahoma, fans will be excited soon.
Reconnaissance report: Williams is a true dual threat that can be used in both the live game and the run game. He has the ability to run the ball with power, but he is also an accurate passer with the ability to change the angle of his hands. He can be difficult to move, as he is able to extend plays and create yardage on some runs. Williams has also shown a strong conscience. — Gerlost
Joe Milton was the first quarterback Jim Harbaugh signed early in the season, and that was in Harbaugh’s sixth season. Milton has moved on and the Wolverines are still looking for consistency at the position. Cade McNamara struggled against Milton last season and is still on the list, but McCarthy was the 25th recruit in the class of 2021. He’s a two-threat quarterback who fits the direction Michigan wants to go with its offense, and he has the talent to stabilize the position in the future. He has the opportunity to make the biggest impact of any Michigan signees in this class if he decides to drop.
Reconnaissance report: His coach at IMG Academy praised McCarthy, describing him as a deep thinker with a high football IQ and a calming presence. His composure and ability to throw a nice ball are clear on film, and he doesn’t use excessive throwing power. He also has good legs and vision. McCarthy is able to navigate the pocket well and still play. — Gerlost
Sanders is one of the most intriguing Texas candidates in the entire class. He is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound prospect who has been called an athlete and is ranked 13th as a rookie. Steve Sarkisian said Texas will count on Sanders on offense and defense, and he can legitimately thrive on both sides. In his senior season in high school, he amassed 1,161 yards with 63 receptions and 16 touchdowns while also playing linebacker. Such versatility is rare, and once he finds where he can have the most impact, he could become a solid starter for the Longhorns.
Reconnaissance report: Sanders is a great athlete who adds a lot of value to the team because he can contribute at multiple positions on both sides of the ball. He combines his size with good power, speed and ball control. — Gerlost
Great offensive linemen are synonymous with Wisconsin, right? The Badgers have contracted three offensive linemen in the ESPN 300 class of 2021, with Rucci ranked No. 36. He’s from Lititz, Pennsylvania, and is 5’8″ and 5’10”. He fits the profile of Wisconsin’s offensive lineman perfectly. Some of the biggest programs in the country have their sights set on him, and although he still has some progress to make early in his college career, he has a chance to continue the success Wisconsin has had throughout his career.
Reconnaissance report: Rucci brings many physical tools to develop into an excellent academic position. He’s tall, has perfect length, and is a flexible big man who can play with leverage. He is efficient with his hands, with good footwork and toughness. With his big stature, Rucci still has plenty of potential and room to grow physically, and he should benefit from the time he spends in the Badgers’ strength program. — Gerlost
Malone is an interesting recruit given his size and athletic ability. He is a 6-foot-5 defensive tackle from Oradell, New Jersey, and is also a talented baseball player. He hits bombs, but can move well through the field and move his size. He plans to play football and baseball at Ole Miss. Football-wise, he’ll give the defense a big presence to the offense. He hasn’t reached his potential yet, and if Ole Miss’ coaches can take him out of his game and help him reach his peak, the Rebels could have something special on their hands.
Reconnaissance report: Big and powerful enough to stop a run or sink in, taking Malone to a new level in terms of movement for his size. The 310-pounder is nimble enough to slide over blocks and make plays in the backfield. — Gerlost
In 2021. Maryland had a great recruiting class, especially on the defensive side of the ball with five of the six ESPN 300-rated defenses. This pick could really end up being one of three linebackers signing five-star Terrance Lewis or Branden Jennings, but Robinson is versatile in what he can do and can make an impact anywhere on the field. He can play linebacker or help at linebacker, giving the Terps several defensive options. He’s a 6-foot-6, 220-pound recruit from Gaithersburg, Maryland, so given his local perspective, he understands how important it is to try to change this program.
Reconnaissance report: Robinson is explosive enough to be a passing threat, strong and long enough to be a run defender, and agile and fast enough to be a factor in coverage. With regular reps and experience at the linebacker position, Robinson should continue to improve, which is a bit daunting considering the talent he already has. — Gerlost
That class, especially after Jeremy Pruitt was fired, didn’t end the way Tennessee had hoped. The new team needs playmakers, and after losing some of the best recruits in the class, versatile candidates will be an added bonus. Having a rookie to fill in holes in different places is a big help, because the patterns can be different and pigeonholing a rookie can be negative for everyone. Fortunately for the new team, Marley is an athlete and could play wide receiver or safety in the future. He’s a 6-foot-6, 205-pound rookie from Ramser, North Carolina, and given his potential on both sides of the ball, he should make an impact in Tennessee.
Reconnaissance report: Marley is a long prospect with a nice swing that quickly gets to top speed. He also has good feet and the ability to change direction. Both on offense and defense, he has big, strong hands and excellent ball control. Marley has probably shown early in his career on defense that he can be a physical player. — Gerlost
It’s not every year that Cal scores this high with four ESPN 300 recruits in the same class. Cal has had four ESPN 300 recruits in the last five classes combined, which shows how successful the coaches have been in 2021. Arizona quarterback Kai Milner was a great asset for Cal as an ESPN 300, but Sturdivant is a 6-foot, 185-pound receiver out of Flower Mound, Texas, who could be a great asset for Millner and this offense. In high school, he played football and ran. Cal beat out major programs to recruit him, and the work done on the recruiting trail will eventually pay off on the field.
Reconnaissance report: Sturdivant is a running target and shows good agility and awareness as a runaway. He has good hands and naturally reaches for the ball. With his length and rebounding, he can win 50/50 shots and become a weapon in the red zone. The four stars are also quick and play pretty quickly after the catch. — Gerlost
Arkansas has had success in the receiving department lately, with sophomore Treylon Burks leading the team in receptions (820) and touchdowns (seven). The staff goes back to Oklahoma with some options and can transfer Jacailyn Crawford. Jackson doesn’t have to break out right away, but he has the talent to bolster the receiving corps and ultimately have a big impact on Burks’ image. Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound recruit from Royce City, Texas, is ranked 215 on the recruiting list. The offense is moving to a new quarterback, with Feleipe Franks heading home. So adding as many weapons as possible at receiver is a plus for whoever takes over.
Reconnaissance report: Jackson is a tough target with a good combination of speed and quickness and can be an excellent target. He has the power to escape defenders and cannot extend the game after the catch. He also follows the ball well and adjusts. — Gerlost
This was an easy pick for the Huskies, as Huard could be a dominant quarterback for Washington. He was the 15th. Rookie and the best quarterback in this class. His father is former Washington quarterback Damon Huard and his uncle is former Huskies signal-caller Brock Huard. He has family connections, he knows the program well, and he will take any opportunity to impress. Huard has now thrown for 12,704 yards and 145 touchdowns in his high school career, and he has a chance to break the state record for career passing while his team is still in the game. Huard needs only 340 yards to pass Brett Rypien.
Reconnaissance report: Huard is a polished, confident passer who makes quick decisions. He can be very accurate and is able to throw his receivers in the open field. Left handed, he has good arm strength and also a deep touch. — Gerlost
Virginia was able to bypass some major programs like Florida, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Duke, to get Carter. He ranks first in the Virginia class, 11th in the 2021 class in defenders and is a 6-foot-2, 250-pound recruit from Chester, Va. The defensive line still needs help, and Carter will quickly add to that depth.
Reconnaissance report: Carter has a powerful lower body and an explosive body shot. He can disrupt the game with his quick feet and finishing ability. With his combination of size and strength, he can also be a physical presence at the point of attack. — Gerlost
Crowell’s father and uncle both played in the NFL, and now he begins his journey hoping to follow in their footsteps. He is a 6-foot-9 receiver who weighs over 175 pounds from Kernersville, N.C., and is ranked 189th overall. He ranks second in NC State’s recruiting class, and despite an ACL injury during his junior season in high school, he has the ability to add some dimensions to the Wolfpack offense. He will have a lot of competition at first, but if he can stay healthy, he has a chance to have a great career in the next four years.
Reconnaissance report: Crowell has all the makings of a powerful receiver at the college level who could contribute something early on. He has good size and is a refined road runner with good ball skills. It also shows the suddenness and acceleration that occurs after the catch. — Gerlost
Donald is the nephew of current quarterback Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, and Pitt is best ranked at 83. He’s a 6-foot, 230-pound aspirant from Central Catholic High School in Pennsylvania. Pitt’s team has had a lot of success lately with defensive linemen, and adding Donald will help add depth and competition along the line. He may not make a big impact right away, but he has a chance to become a regular player for the Panthers.
Reconnaissance report: Donald has a quick first step and good functional strength. It has good flexibility and plays well with leverage. He is also active with his hands and can be blocked with difficulty. — Gerlost
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