With college football spring practices upon us and a new season in the forefront, the 2021 recruits are now starting their journey.
As with every recruiting class, there are some prospects who will make an immediate impact and become stars right away, while for others, it might take a little more time to develop. Given the varying speeds of development, we wanted to look at 2021 signees who have the most potential to make an impact over the course of their entire career, not just immediately in their first season.
Factoring in what these prospects did during the course of their high school careers and where they signed, here is a look at the player with the most potential for each team in the top-25 of the 2021 class rankings.
This is a good example of making an impact over the course of the entire career rather than immediately. Alabama will probably have immediate help from the wide receivers Agiye Hall, Jacorey Brooks, JoJo Earle and Christian Leary, or cornerback Ga’Quincy McKinstry. But Brockermeyer, who was a five-star and the No. 1-ranked tackle in the class, could help maintain the excellent offensive line play at Alabama and continue the process of putting players in the NFL. J.C. Latham, who was a five-star and the No. 2 tackle in the class, could also be listed, as both are outstanding linemen and have a chance to have excellent careers at Alabama, but Brockermeyer seems like a throwback, prototypical Texas high school lineman that will anchor of the future offensive line.
Scouting report: The son of a former college football All-American offensive lineman at Texas, Brockermeyer comes from good bloodlines and is a sound technician for this stage. He also possesses a big frame with excellent functional strength. As importantly, he is a flexible big man with good feet. On top of all that, he has a tenacious style of play. — Craig Haubert
Sawyer is the No. 1-ranked player overall, but he has room to grow on the field and physically. He’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, and he enrolled early at Ohio State. With defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s success at the position, there is reason to believe Sawyer is going to be another great defensive end for the Buckeyes. Nick and Joey Bosa and Chase Young were all first-round NFL draft picks, and Sawyer is hoping to see the same success.
Scouting report: The No. 1 player in the 2021 ESPN 300, Sawyer is an explosive presence off the edge. A prospect with nice frame, he added needed mass to his frame over course of his final year of high school. He flashes impressive power, is active with his hands and moves well, allowing him to not only develop into an elite pass rusher, but also be a well-rounded three-down player. — Haubert
Georgia has needed stability at quarterback, and the coaches have found something in transfer JT Daniels. They’ll need consistency after Daniels leaves, though, and Vandagriff has a chance to provide just that. He’s a 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback out of Bogart, Georgia. He initially committed to Oklahoma, which should say something about his talent if Lincoln Riley is after him, and eventually signed with in-state Georgia. Vandagriff has the ability to take Georgia’s offense to another level and give them the production and stability to match the defense going forward.
Scouting report: Vandagriff, who played for his father in high school, is a physically gifted and highly competitive quarterback. He possesses excellent arm strength and is capable of making throws to all three levels — and with good accuracy. He can not only extend plays with his feet, but also be a threat to run as well. — Haubert
Shipley has a little bit of everything with speed, ability to impact the pass game and run game, and he’s coming in at a time when Clemson could use the help with Travis Etienne leaving for the NFL. Shipley is the No. 2 running back in the class and could be an explosive weapon in the future. He had 2,040 rush yards in the 2019 season with 30 rushing touchdowns, and he also had 582 receiving yards with eight touchdowns. He has the potential to be the next big name for Clemson.
Scouting report: Shipley can be a versatile weapon. His blend of speed and power can allow him to generate big plays and also means he has the potential to carry the load when needed. He can also be a dangerous as a receiving target, whether out of the backfield or lined up at receiver, with strong ball skills. — Haubert
Thompson is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound quarterback out of Gilbert, Arizona, and was the No. 67-ranked recruit overall in the 2021 class. He’s in an interesting situation at Oregon, where the previous starter, Tyler Shough, just transferred to Texas Tech, leaving the Ducks in a quarterback battle. Thompson might not win the competition this season with Boston College transfer Anthony Brown also on the roster, but regardless, he has an opportunity to be a great quarterback in Joe Moorhead’s offense throughout the rest of his time at Oregon. The coaches have built a really good, young defensive foundation and they are trying to duplicate that on offense. That foundation could start with Thompson.
Scouting report: A tall, well-built passer, Thompson not only possesses good arm strength, but also displays good rhythm and timing. An accurate player as well, Thompson has shown growth over his high school career with still promising upside ahead. — Haubert
Nussmeier is a coach’s son and the No. 63-ranked recruit in the class. He’s a 6-foot-2, 185-pound quarterback out of Flower Mound, Texas, and had offers from many top programs. The LSU coaches have slowly been building up the quarterback room, and Nussmeier is a strong addition. The staff added Max Johnson, an ESPN 300 prospect, in the 2020 class and still have Myles Brennan and TJ Finley on the roster. Nussmeier threw for 2,815 yards, completed 213 of 293 passes and had 33 touchdowns to five interceptions during his senior season.
Scouting report: Nussmeier is a crafty quarterback, which isn’t surprising, as his father, Doug, has coached on the offensive side of the ball at the college and professional levels. In addition to bringing some savviness to the position, Nussmeier is an accurate passer with a quick release and good feet. — Haubert
Defensive end was a big focus in this class, and this pick could end up being Tunmise Adeleye, Elijah Jeudy, Marcus Burris or Jahzion Harris, but Turner is a five-star prospect ranked No. 14 overall. He’s a big-bodied recruit who moves really well and could fit into the same mold as current Aggie DeMarvin Leal. Turner totaled 8.5 sacks and 60 total tackles his senior season. He can be a versatile linemen that could end up on a similar track as Leal in terms of potential and final results, as Leal is a future NFL prospect.
Scouting report: Throughout high school, Turner has developed into a disruptive force capable of having an impact similar to former Aggie Myles Garrett. With his combination of size and power, Turner can be utilized at different spots along the defensive line. He not only possesses a strong initial burst, but moves well with a good motor to also make plays in pursuit. — Haubert
USC had an excellent 2021 class, and tight end Michael Trigg could easily fit the bill here too. Dart put up video game numbers in his final season of high school and could end up as a big name for the Trojans. His recruitment took off late, and he benefited from the state of Utah playing high school football in the fall, as he threw for 4,691 yards, 67 touchdowns and only four interceptions his senior season. Yes, those numbers are just for one season. ESPN 300 quarterback Miller Moss is also in this class, so Dart has competition from the start, but given how he finished his high school career, if he can carry that over into college, he could be something special in USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s offense.
Scouting report: Dart made a statement during his senior season with eye-popping numbers and was a late riser in the process, ultimately establishing himself as one of the most promising QB prospects in the 2021 class. A decisive passer with a live arm, Dart displays confidence and ability to read coverage well and deliver the ball with accuracy. — Haubert
QB Jaxson Dart explains why he has chosen to play his college football at USC.
Notre Dame is going to need playmaking receivers, as Ben Skowronek, who led the team in receiving touchdowns with five, and Javon McKinley, who led the team in receiving yards, are both gone. Coach Brian Kelly has mentioned adding in playmakers and more receiving options since losing to Alabama in the College Football Playoff, and Styles will give them an option this season. He is one of the prospects on this list who will get a shot at playing early on in his career and has the opportunity to make an impact throughout his time at Notre Dame. Styles has a few receivers ahead of him, but he’s already on campus and could work his way into the lineup early on.
Scouting report: Styles is a playmaking threat because he can hurt opposing teams in multiple ways. An agile speedster, he can be a vertical threat as well as dangerous after the catch. Styles is also a disciplined route runner at this stage with good awareness, which could get him on the field quickly. Also, look out for him in the return game where he can create problems as well. — Haubert
Florida allowed 257.7 passing yards per game last season, which ranked 100th among all FBS teams. It’s no secret the defense needs help, and Marshall is someone who could make an immediate impact at corner. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound recruit out of Miami, Florida, is the No. 1-ranked corner in the class. The Gators return corner Kaiir Elam, who was excellent last season, but Marshall could help solidify the other side of the defense and give the secondary some needed help throughout his career.
Scouting report: Marshall is a corner with good size and length. He is an instinctive player in coverage with quick feet, but in addition to being able to lockdown receivers, he also demonstrates good toughness as a tackler and can help defend the run. — Haubert
The good news for Miami is the Hurricanes don’t need Williams to start right away. The staff has depth at safety with Bubba Bolden, Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall Jr. all returning, and the Hurricanes get a healthy Avantae Williams back as well. When James Williams arrives on campus, he won’t have to play right away, but his talent and ability will push some of those veterans for playing time anyway, which will only make the whole unit better. Even if Williams doesn’t get significant playing time this season, he should eventually become a main contributor and someone who will give the Miami defense some positional versatility.
Scouting report: Williams is a Swiss army knife defender who can be utilized at all three levels of the defense. Williams has the range to play safety, as well as the size and quickness to rush off the edge, and matches up well with many of today’s big athletic tight ends. He is also not afraid to throw his 6-foot-4, 220-pound body around and can be a big hitter. — Haubert
The Tar Heels signed five-star defensive end Desmond Evans in the 2020 class, and this cycle the staff signed Silver, a five-star defensive end from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Silver will be able to do a little bit of everything up front for North Carolina. He has speed, power and has a shot to play early for the Tar Heels. The defensive coaches are high on Silver and anticipate he will make an impact early on. Even if he doesn’t, the staff is building a really good defensive foundation going forward, especially up front.
Scouting report: Silver can explode off the ball and be a tenacious presence. He has the size, strength and toughness to set the edge and defend the run. His effort and agility can also allow him to be a factor in pursuit, and all those tools can make him a dangerous pass rusher. — Haubert
When Lincoln Riley recruits a quarterback, it carries some weight given what Riley has done with quarterbacks at Oklahoma. Riley relied on transfers early on with the Sooners, but he recruited starting quarterback Spencer Rattler and now signed Williams, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the class. Williams fits exactly what Riley wants in a quarterback and won’t have to come in with pressure to play right away since Rattler is already the starter. That doesn’t mean he won’t compete with Rattler, but he can ease into his college career and eventually take over for the Sooners. If his high school career is any indication of how he’ll do at Oklahoma, Sooners fans are in for a treat.
Scouting report: Williams is a true dual threat who can make plays both with his live arm and on the run. He has the ability to drive the ball with power but is also an accurate passer with the ability to change arm angles. He can be difficult to contain on the move with the ability to extend plays and generate yards on designated runs. Williams has also displayed solid awareness. — Haubert
Joe Milton was the first quarterback recruited by Jim Harbaugh to start a season-opener, and that was in Harbaugh’s sixth season. Milton has now transferred and the Wolverines are still looking for consistency at the position. Cade McNamara battled with Milton last season and is still on the roster, but McCarthy was the No. 25-ranked recruit in the 2021 class. He’s a dual-threat quarterback that fits with the direction Michigan wants its offense to go and has the talent to stabilize the position in the future. He has the opportunity to make the biggest impact of any Michigan signee in this class if he pans out.
Scouting report: McCarthy has drawn high praise from his coach at IMG Academy, who has described McCarthy as a deep thinker with a high football IQ and calming presence to him. His poise and ability to throw a catchable ball are evident on film, and he doesn’t unnecessarily force throws. He also has good feet and vision. McCarthy can navigate the pocket well and keep plays alive. — Haubert
Sanders is one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire class for Texas. He’s a 6-foot-4, 220-pound prospect labeled as an athlete and the No. 13-ranked recruit overall. Steve Sarkisian has said Texas will look at Sanders for both offense and defense, and he legitimately could thrive on either side. He had 1,161 yards on 63 receptions and 16 touchdowns his final season in high school while also playing defensive end. Such versatility is rare, and once he figures out where he can make the biggest impact, he could be a multiyear starter for the Longhorns.
Scouting report: Sanders is a big athlete who brings a lot of value to a roster, as he could contribute at multiple spots on either side of the ball. He combines his size with good strength, quickness and ball skills. — Haubert
Big, hulking offensive linemen are synonymous with Wisconsin, right? The Badgers signed three ESPN 300 offensive linemen in the 2021 class, and Rucci was ranked the highest at No. 36 overall. He’s a 6-foot-7, 290-pound tackle out of Lititz, Pennsylvania, and fits exactly the mold of what a Wisconsin offensive lineman looks like. He had some of the biggest programs in the country after him, and while he has some things to polish up early on in his college career, he has a chance to continue the success Wisconsin has seen along the line throughout his career.
Scouting report: Rucci brings a lot of the physical tools to develop into an outstanding college tackle. He’s tall, he possesses ideal length and is also a flexible big man that can play with leverage. He is effective with his hands with good feet and toughness. With his big frame, Rucci still has nice upside with room to physically develop and should benefit from time in the Badgers’ weight program. — Haubert
Malone is an interesting recruit given his size and athleticism. He’s a 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive tackle from Oradell, New Jersey, who also happens to be a talented baseball player. He hits bombs, but can field and moves really well for his size. He plans on trying to play both football and baseball at Ole Miss. On the football side, he’ll give the defense a big presence up front. He hasn’t reached his potential yet, and if the Ole Miss coaches can bring that out in him and help him reach his ceiling, the Rebels could have something special on their hands.
Scouting report: Big and powerful enough to stuff the run or collapse the pocket, what puts Malone at a higher level is how well he moves for his size. The 310-pounder is agile enough to slip blocks and make plays in the backfield. — Haubert
Maryland had an excellent recruiting class in 2021, especially on the defensive side with five of its six ESPN 300 signees on defense. This choice really could end up being any of the three linebackers signed with five-star Terrence Lewis or Branden Jennings, but Robinson is versatile in what he can do and could make an impact all over the field. He could play defensive end or help at linebacker and give the Terps defense a few different options. He’s a 6-foot-4, 220-pound recruit out of Gaithersburg, Maryland, so given he’s a local prospect, he understands the importance of trying to turn around this program.
Scouting report: Robinson is explosive enough to be a pass rushing threat, strong and long enough to set the edge as run defender and is agile and fast enough to be a factor in coverage. With continued reps and experience at linebacker, Robinson should only continue to improve, which is a little scary because he is really talented already. — Haubert
This class, especially after Jeremy Pruitt’s firing, didn’t end up panning out the way Tennessee had hoped. The new staff is going to need playmakers, and after losing a few top recruits in the class, prospects with versatility would be an added bonus. Having a recruit who could fill holes at different spots is a big help since the schemes might be different and pigeon holing a recruit can wind up as a negative for everyone. Luckily for the new staff, Marley is an athlete and could play wide receiver or safety in the future. He’s a 6-foot-2, 205-pound recruit from Ramseur, North Carolina, and given his potential on both sides, he should wind up making an impact in some way for Tennessee.
Scouting report: Marley is a lengthy prospect with a nice burst who reaches top speed quickly. Also, he possesses good feet and change of direction skills. Whether utilized on offense or defense, he has big, strong hands and excellent ball skills. Likely to at least start his career on defense, Marley has shown he can be a physical player. — Haubert
It’s not every year Cal is ranked this high in the rankings with four ESPN 300 recruits in one class. In fact, Cal had four ESPN 300 recruits in the past five classes combined, which shows how well the coaches did in 2021. Arizona quarterback Kai Millner was a big win for Cal as an ESPN 300 recruit, but Sturdivant is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound wide receiver out of Flower Mound, Texas, who could end up being a big asset to Millner and this offense. He played football and ran track in high school. Cal beat out some big programs to land him, and the work on the recruiting trail should eventually pay off on the field.
Scouting report: A rangy target, Sturdivant displays good agility and awareness as a route runner. He has good hands and naturally extends for the ball. With his length and leaping ability, he can win 50/50 throws and be a red zone weapon. The four-star is also quick and fast enough extend plays after the catch. — Haubert
Arkansas has had some success at wide receiver recently with sophomore Treylon Burks leading the team in receiving yards (820) and touchdowns (seven). The staff is going to have some options returning and will have Oklahoma transfer Jaquayln Crawford eligible as well. Jackson won’t need to make an impact right away, but he has the talent to add to this receiving corps and to eventually make a big impact the way Burks is now. Jackson is a 6-foot-1, 180-pound wideout out of Royse City, Texas, and was the No. 215-ranked recruit overall. The offense is going to be breaking in a new quarterback with previous starter Feleipe Franks on the way out, so adding as many weapons at receiver as possible is a plus for whomever takes over.
Scouting report: A wiry target with a nice blend of speed and quickness, Jackson can be a playmaking target. He possesses the burst to separate from defenders and is elusive enough after the catch to extend plays. He also tracks and adjusts to the ball well. — Haubert
This was an easy choice for the Huskies’ spot, as Huard could be a dominant force at quarterback for Washington. He was the No. 15 recruit overall and the top pocket-passing quarterback in the class. His father is former Washington quarterback Damon Huard and his uncle is former Huskies signal caller Brock Huard. He has the family ties and knows the program well, and he will walk in with every opportunity to have a great career. Huard has currently thrown for 12,704 yards and 145 touchdowns in his high school career and has a chance to break the state career passing record as his team is still playing. Huard only needs 340 yards to pass Brett Rypien.
Scouting report: Huard is a polished and confident pocket passer that makes quick decisions. He can be extremely accurate and is able to throw his receiver open. A lefty, he has good arm strength, as well as a touch on his deep ball. — Haubert
Virginia was able to beat out quite a few big programs like Florida, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Duke, among others, to land Carter. He’s the highest-ranked prospect in this class for Virginia, the No. 11-ranked defensive end in the 2021 class, and is a 6-foot-3, 250-pound recruit out of Chester, Virginia. The defensive line depth could always use help, and Carter will add to that depth quickly.
Scouting report: Carter has powerful lower-body and explosive get-off. He can disrupt plays with his foot quickness and ability to finish. He can also be physical presence at the point of attack with his combination of size and strength. — Haubert
Crowell’s father and uncle both played in the NFL, and now he is starting his journey in hopes to follow in their footsteps. He’s a 6-foot-2, 205-pound receiver out of Kernersville, North Carolina, and was ranked No. 189 overall in the class. He’s the second-highest-ranked recruit in the class for NC State, and despite an ACL injury his junior season in high school, he has an opportunity to bring a few dimensions to the Wolfpack’s offense. He will have plenty of competition in front of him early on, but if he can stay healthy, he has a chance to have an excellent career throughout the next four years.
Scouting report: Crowell exhibits all the tools to be a highly productive receiver at the college level that could contribute early. He possesses nice size and is a polished route runner with good ball skills. He also displays the suddenness and acceleration to create after the catch. — Haubert
Donald is the nephew of current Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, and is Pitt’s highest-ranked commit at No. 83 overall. He’s a 6-foot-2, 245-pound prospect from Central Catholic High School in Pennsylvania. Pitt’s staff has had quite a bit of success with defensive linemen of late, and adding in Donald will eventually help replenish some of the depth and competition along the line. He might not make a huge impact right away, but he has a chance to eventually develop into a consistent contributor for the Panthers.
Scouting report: Donald possesses a quick first-step and good functional strength. He has good flexibility and does a nice job of playing with leverage. He is also active with his hands and can be tough to block. — Haubert