The vast majority of college football programs across the country are in a bind as National Signing Day (Feb. 3) quickly approaches. In the unusual recruiting cycle for the 2021 class, coaches were limited on game tape available and with in-person contact putting the focus on what was accomplished, by and large, on the gridiron in 2019.
In addition to a vast majority of players committing during springtime 2020 and seeing those players signing early in December, another factor changes the landscape — the number of total 4-star players. The 2020 haul had 18 more players listed in the top tier as compared to the 368 this time around. With all the factors dictating a top class, the pickings are slim among identified difference-makers for coaches seeking to climb up the national recruiting rankings.
Of the 15 publicly uncommitted recruits listed as 5- and 4-stars in the 2021 class, there are only five available in the top 100. For those looking for big fireworks on NSD in the form of flips, there are only 14 verbally committed players in the top 368 unsigned.
With the small grouping of players accessible to help a team strive for conference championships, a greater focus is placed on where the remaining top eight recruits may sign on Wednesday.
Note: Ranking is according to 247Sports Composite. This article will be updated as decisions are announced.
DE J.T. Tuimoloau (No. 3)
5-Star, Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, Wash.)
On Dec. 16, Tuimoloau said his top five schools were USC, Oregon, Alabama, Ohio State, and Washington. Of those, only Alabama is above the typical recruiting barrier of 25 with 26 commits entering National Signing Day. Since official visits cannot be taken, guesswork would have Tuimoloau staying on the West Coast, although Ohio State did land former teammate and 4-star receiver Gee Scott Jr. last year. The easy guess is Tuimololau follows another Eastside Catholic product, 2020 4-star running back Sam Adams II, to Washington, but Oregon and USC are pushing on the national landscape.
Update: Tuimoloau is not expected to sign until later, perhaps as late as April, according to reports.
RB LJ Johnson (No. 45)
4-Star, Cy-Fair (Cypress, Texas)
Johnson has stuck to his final four of Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas, and LSU since Sept. 1. One-time thought to be a heavy lean to the Longhorns, how will Steve Sarkisian's hire after Tom Herman's dismissal change his perception? LSU is loaded at running back and already has two 4-stars in this year's class. Oklahoma has two promising underclassmen in Marcus Major and Seth McGowan. Texas and Texas A&M need Johnson the most.
Decision: Johnson stayed in the Lone Star State, but opted to sign with Texas A&M over the Longhorns.
OLB Raesjon Davis (No. 48)
4-Star, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
On Jan. 17, Davis listed his top five of LSU, USC, Ohio State, Oregon, and Vanderbilt. Seeing LSU on the list was a surprise after being committed to the Tigers from the start of 2020 until late December. On Jan. 23, 5-star Class of 2022 teammate Domani Jackson verbally committed to USC. The Trojans are getting back to their old ways of keeping the top local kids home.
Decision: Davis' commitment helped the Trojans' class move up into the top 10 overall on National Signing Day.
DB Terrion Arnold (No. 50)
4-Star, John Paul II (Tallahassee, Fla.)
With 47 offers to pour through, Arnold made it easy for the football fans, announcing on Jan. 8 his three favorites as Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Seeing the Tallahassee native skip out on Florida State, Florida fans are hoping he stays in-state with the Gators.
Decision: Arnold spurned both Sunshine State programs to add to the Crimson Tide's impressive haul.
DT Tywone Malone (No. 62)
4-Star, Bergen Catholic (Oradell, N.J.)
The rush is on for a difference-maker like Malone in the defensive trenches. At the 30-offer mark, the New Jersey talent revealed his top six on Oct. 5 to be: USC, Rutgers, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida State, and Texas A&M. If seeking to play early, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Florida State are in the running. Bergen Catholic has a recent history of putting players at Big Ten programs, including Rutgers, Michigan, Maryland, and Nebraska, Malone may wind up elsewhere. Josh Heupel's recent hire could make it too hard for him to sell Malone on the Volunteers' future, even if it gives him a chance to play in the SEC.
Prediction: Florida State
Decision: Malone wound up in the SEC, but at Ole Miss.
WR Brian Thomas Jr. (No. 88)
4-Star, Walker (La.)
Since May, there hasn't been much new information about Thomas' recruiting. That aligns with his previous announcement of Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia, and LSU atop his list. Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron remains committed to the offensive attack that brought home a national championship in 2019. So expect LSU to add another in-state product to their top-five recruiting class.
Update: As of Wednesday night, Thomas had yet to announce his decision.
WR Destyn Hill (No. 113)
4-Star, Edna Karr (New Orleans)
Louisiana kids go out of state all the time, but it is hard to see a team other than LSU or Alabama being the draw for a 4star of Hill's caliber. Florida State is thought to be in the running, along with Oklahoma and Florida. The Crimson Tide and Tigers are loaded with top receivers, perhaps the Seminoles can sneak in?
Decision: Hill passed on the SEC to sign with Florida State.
CB Avante Dickerson (No. 122)
4-Star, Westside (Omaha, Neb.)
On Jan. 24, the recruiting world was shocked when Dickerson decommitted from Minnesota. Dickerson has plenty of options with 24 reported offers on the table. There is always the pressure to stay home, which Cornhusker fans would love. There also are offers from Oregon, Arkansas, Georgia, Baylor, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, and USC to consider. Teammate and 3-star safety Koby Bretz is headed to Nebraska, but the buzz is Dickerson will not join him.
Decision: As predicted, Dickerson is heading west to join the Ducks.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.
(Top photo by @RyanWrightRNG.