Surprise — no team got more games out of its 2016 recruiting class than the Florida Gators. Even though many criticized Jim McElwain’s recruiting class, the Gators saw double-digit appearances by 13 of its 25 signees.
However, Alabama and Georgia were close behind Florida’s 166 appearances by 2016 signees with 164 and 162, respectively. On the other end, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt had just 117 appearances combined and played fewer than 30 percent of their total signees.
However, the class of 2016 also produced immediate stars. Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts led the Crimson Tide to the national championship game. South Carolina receiver Bryan Edwards is a star in the making. Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams ran for more than 1,000 yards. More importantly, the class of 2016 produced 4 true freshman quarterbacks — Hurts, Jacob Eason, Jake Bentley, Shea Patterson — who will dominate the conference for years.
SEC Country team experts spent the past month reviewing the 2016 recruiting class to detail how players performed for their respective teams. You can see the data below, but click each team name for a detailed breakdown of its 2016 recruiting class. Below, check out key storylines with a year of hindsight.
|Florida||166||31||64%||No. 12||Jawaan Taylor|
|Alabama||164||32||68.2%||No. 1||Jalen Hurts|
|Georgia||162||41||71.4%||No. 8||Jacob Eason|
|Auburn||123||23||50%||No. 9||Marlon Davidson|
|South Carolina||118||41||45.8%||No. 25||Bryan Edwards|
|Kentucky||113||18||44%||No. 34||Stephen Johnson|
|LSU||108||2||50%||No. 3||Dee Anderson|
|Ole Miss||107||30||48%||No. 5||Myles Hartsfield|
|Tennessee||107||7||59.1%||No. 14||Jonathan Kongbo|
|Missouri||91||13||64.7%||No. 43||Dimetrios Mason|
|Arkansas||85||12||36.4%||No. 23||Sosa Agim|
|Texas A&M||72||16||40%||No. 18||Trayveon Williams|
|Mississippi State||60||10||26.3%||No. 28||Lashard Durr|
|Vanderbilt||57||26||23.8%||No. 53||Sam Loy|
Out of the top 4 schools that produced the most game appearances, all were among the nation’s top-12 recruiting classes: No. 12 Florida, No. 1 Alabama, No. 8 Georgia and No. 9 Auburn. While few of these teams really needed starts from their freshmen and junior college transfers, the top prospects were immediately ready to get on the field.
Many of these players made appearances on special teams, like 5-star linebacker Mack Wilson at Alabama or Tre Threat at Auburn. However, a select few players did crack the starting rotation. Offensive tackle Jonah Williams held down the right side of the line at Alabama, while true freshman Marlon Davidson beat the odds to start at defensive end for Auburn.
South Carolina and Georgia both hired head coaches and instituted drastically new systems on offense and defense. It’s no coincidence that those programs also tied to produce more starts by class of 2016 members out of any SEC teams.
Those schools — along with Alabama as the third-leading team — also featured true freshmen quarterbacks starting at least 12 games. It’s easier for players to get on the field as true freshmen at skill positions. In all, 7 newcomers started games for Georgia and 6 for South Carolina.
Focusing on development
While Alabama is an exception, coaches that were more entrenched with their schools were able to hold off and focus on developing young players. This was especially true at Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. These schools don’t win as many battles on the recruiting trail. It’s extremely beneficial to try and play older players in the long run because age and experience can help mitigate innate physical disadvantages to an extent.
Texas A&M also brought back an upperclassmen-heavy team for the first time in a long while, which allowed the Aggies to redshirt 60 percent of the players in their signing class. That includes top recruits Justin Madubuike, Kellen Diesch and Quartney Davis. All will be expected to contribute as redshirt freshmen this fall. Kevin Sumlin was lucky to be in a place where he didn’t need to rely on immediate help from freshmen.