10 SEC 4-stars (or lower) who played like 5-stars in 2020
What have we learned about college football? That recruiting matters and matters in a powerful way. You can coach the heck out of Xs and Os, but without the Jimmys and Joes to deliver titles, well, you won’t be winning many titles. That said, even in a massively expanding recruiting information industry, evaluating prospects isn’t perfect. Sometimes, the standout players aren’t necessarily the guys who make the talent scouts drool. Here are 10 such players — SEC standouts in 2020 who played like All-Americans or better, even though many of the recruiting gurus didn’t project them to reach those heights. (Note that all rankings below come from 247sports.com)
DeVonta Smith, Alabama (4-star)
Sure, it’s not like Smith was forgotten. He was the No. 62-ranked player in the nation. But he was also the 9th wide receiver for the class of 2017. There were 4 5-star receivers in the class, and if putting Smith below Tee Higgins or Jerry Jeudy is at least defensible, there were people who thought Donovan Peoples-Jones or USC’s Joseph Lewis were bigger prospects than Smith. Smith’s 117 catches at Alabama in 2020 topped the career totals combined for those two. And that’s the Heisman Trophy and CFP title.
Elijah Moore, Ole Miss (4-star)
Moore was also a 4-star recruit, but he was ranked at 203rd in the nation for the 2018 class, and the No. 38 (!?!) wide receiver in the group. Florida transfer Justin Shorter (who started at Penn State) was the top-rated player at the position, but Moore’s 2020 totals of 86 catches for 1,193 yards easily tops Shorter’s career numbers. Even better, Moore bounced back after a rough end to his 2019 season to post all-world numbers in 2020.
Kyle Pitts, Florida (4-star)
Pitts was somehow the 162nd rated player in the 2018 class. He’s the new prototype for pass-catching tight ends in the SEC, and will certainly be ranked much higher than that come the first day of the NFL Draft. He was the No. 5-rated tight end in his class, but Brevin Jordan, Jeremy Ruckert, Luke Ford and Zack Kuntz have been left behind by the guy who had 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in the shortened 2020 season.
Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M (4-star)
The A&M tight end was the 359th-ranked player in that same 2019 class, the No. 15 tight end. While plenty of the guys ranked ahead of Wydermyer haven’t done much, even in a short 2020 season, he grabbed 46 receptions for 506 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’ll be a big red-zone threat for A&M in 2021.
Darian Kinnard, Kentucky (4-star)
Kinnard was the 314th-rated recruit in 2018, which made him the No. 22 offensive tackle. One of the best-regarded linemen in the SEC, Kinnard was chosen second-team all-league and will return to Kentucky for the 2021 season, where he will anchor the line.
Trajan Jeffcoat, Missouri (3-star)
Jeffcoat is a rare specimen — a guy who was truly under the radar, barely making the top 1,000 players in his high school class (875th) and coming from the backyard of a division rival (South Carolina) to blossom at Missouri. Off the team in 2019, Jeffcoat starred in 2020, earning All-SEC honors with a 6-sack season. His future is bright in his Columbia-to-Columbia career.
Kevin Harris, South Carolina (3-star)
All was far from lost for Carolina, though. Consider Kevin Harris, who was second-team All-SEC despite being the 702nd-ranked player in the 2019 class. The 44th-ranked running back, Harris rushed for 1,138 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2020 and should provide some continuity moving ahead for the Gamecocks.
Mac Jones, Alabama (3-star)
Jones, who was a Kentucky commitment before jumping to Bama, was the 399th player in the 2018 class. He was the 18th-ranked pro-style passer, 3 spots below Kentucky and Vandy QB Danny Clark, who hasn’t seen significant snaps at either school. All Jones did was pass for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns in leading the Tide to the national title.
Kyle Trask, Florida (3-star)
Trask barely registered on the national radar. Remember, he was a career backup in high school. That explains why he was the No. 2,123 player in the 2016 recruiting class and No. 92-ranked pro-style passer. You know the rest of the story.
Grant Morgan, Arkansas (no ranking)
Trask is an obvious overachiever, but Morgan is the best of these stories, frankly — the guy who is so far off the radar that we can’t even explain how underappreciated he was. Morgan doesn’t even have a 247 Composite ranking. The raw 247sports ranking had him as the No. 22-ranked player in Arkansas in his class, behind recruits from UL-Monroe, Idaho and Yale. From there, Morgan ended up with 110 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a pick-6 in 2020. And he’s coming back in 2021.