When it comes to overall talent in college football, there is no argument that the Southeastern Conference has the most. On that, there is no way to deny. And the 2019 class of recent signees will just make the rich a lot richer.
In a recent online report, the SEC has a stranglehold with 19 of the 33 five star athletes in the 247 composites signed during the 2019 cycle. Can you believe that? Of the 33 five star players across the nation, 19 of them selected SEC teams for their future homes. I can believe that as an SEC fan, but I wonder what was in the minds of the other 14 five star athletes that selected other schools outside the SEC.
Yes, I know Alabama got blistered by Clemson in the National Championship game. Yes, I know Clemson is not a part of the SEC. It is in the ACC. So the ACC would like for everyone to believe it is the strongest conference in the country when it comes to college football, but it is not. Clemson is the best team in the nation. After the Tigers, the ACC is lacking.
Of the 19 five star players who signed with the SEC, 10 are expected to make an immediate impact for their teams. Let’s take a look at those incoming athletes.
At the top of the list for making an impact is Nolan Smith, DE/OLB, who signed with the Georgia Bulldogs. Nolan is a terror off the edge and will cause many problems for offensive tackles around the league. He ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash at the Opening. He is 6-3 and weighs 227 pounds. Though he projects better as an outside linebacker, it will not matter to SEC quarterbacks when Nolan gets into the backfield where he was positioned before the snap. He draws comparisons to Chicago Bears All-Pro Khalil Mack.
Alabama signed Antonio Alfano, a defensive end from Colonia, New Jersey. He is the headliner of the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class. He finished as 247’s top prospect after outstanding performances in the postseason all-star games. He might be even better than Georgia’s Nolan. We will just have to wait to see which of these two athletes makes the first step toward a starting role.
Derek Stingley is the most recent top defensive back to sign with LSU. Stingley has the talent to eventually become an NFL first round pick. He may even be a Top 10 pick after he goes through the next three seasons with the Tigers. The youngster is a native of Baton Rouge and has been an LSU commit for a long time. He graduated early with hopes of breaking into the Tigers’ starting rotation.
Finally, an offensive player is among the top players to sign with an SEC team. Trey Sanders from IMG in Florida was the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation and has signed with Alabama. He has no lack of confidence in his talent as he said on signing day he would win the Heisman Trophy as a true freshman.
Offensive tackle Evan Neal also from IMG and also an Alabama signee will make a play to gain a starting role on the Crimson Tide’s line early. Alabama has to replace at least two starters on the line. He is ranked as the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation.
South Carolina picked up Zacch Pickens, a defensive lineman from Anderson, South Carolina. Will Muschamp had to battle Clemson for the star player and won. Pickens signed early and enrolled at South Carolina so he could battle for a starting position as a freshman, Incidentally, Pickens played at T.L. Hanna High of Radio fame. He is the No. 8 player in the 247 composites.
Things are looking up for Tennessee and its coach Jeremy Pruitt after the coach stocked up late on some very good talent. Among that talent is Darnell Wright, an offensive tackle. The two biggest problems Tennessee had on offense last season were opening running lanes for backs and protecting its quarterback. Wright has the right stuff to help the Vols correct some of the problems. He is the No. 2 tackle and No. 10 player overall in the 247 composites.
LSU signed its featured back of the future in John Emery, Jr. The former Georgia commit reneged on his promise and chose to stay in state at LSU. He signed early, but did not graduate early. He may be a little behind when he gets to Baton Rouge this summer, but do not expect him to be behind long.
Jimbo Fisher found the prize in his Cracker Jack box when he signed a player to fill an immediate need in College Station. The Texas A&M coach picked up five star defensive tackle Demarvin Leal. The 6-4, 289-pound Leal will fill a hole on the line which is depleted by the departures of starters Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke.
Auburn signed the top dual threat quarterback in the nation according to 247 composites in Bo Nix. With Jarrett Stidham leaving for the NFL, Nix has an opportunity to step into the starting role for the Tigers. He will compete with Malik Willis and Joey Gatewood for that starting role, but when it comes to pure raw talent, Nix has it and can use it to step ahead of the line.
Well, there you have the SEC’s Top 10 incoming athletes. All 10 are ready to make their marks with their teams and in the conference. Expect them to do just that.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.