We’re more than 11 months away from national signing day 2017, but the areas each team needs to address are already evident for the most part.
Maybe your team needs to reload along the offensive line, or perhaps it has a senior quarterback it must replace. Rest assured, every coaching staff has spent plenty of time assessing these expected roster needs well before now.
Today we will peer into the crystal ball and attempt to identify each SEC team’s biggest areas of need in the 2017 recruiting class, starting now with teams from the Eastern Division.
Florida: Defensive line. There is a chance that Florida will lose three key veterans up front: seniors Joey Ivie and Bryan Cox, plus draft-eligible junior nose tackle Caleb Brantley. That will leave a hole on the defensive line -- particularly in the middle, where the Gators could use a big run stuffer -- that Jim McElwain’s staff will need to address in the next class. Sophomore Cece Jefferson has the ability to play inside, which will help, but count on the Gators still signing a few big defensive linemen next February since they did not add a tackle in the most recent class.
Georgia: Offensive tackle/running back. New Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart made it clear on national signing day that offensive tackle is Georgia’s No. 1 need for 2017 and “the most deficient area on our front.” The Bulldogs did not sign a true offensive tackle in this class and the depth chart is hardly stocked with sure things at the position. Among the players on the Bulldogs’ radar for 2017 is in-state tackle D’Antne Demery, the No. 137 overall prospect on ESPN’s Junior 300, and they have also secured a commitment from 360-pound tackle Justin Shaffer.
Running back could also be an area of need next year since Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will both be eligible to enter the draft after this season. The Bulldogs just signed Elijah Holyfield, but the backfield depth chart will become awfully shallow if either or both of the star juniors leave after 2016.
Kentucky: Offensive line. Count on Mark Stoops’ staff making the offensive line a priority in the upcoming class, in no small part because one of the nation’s top tackle prospects is right in the Wildcats’ backyard. Jedrick Willis, the top in-state prospect and No. 85 overall prospect on ESPN’s Junior 300, attends Lexington's Lafayette High School. The U.S. Army All-American will have plentiful college options. It helps that he plays a position where the Wildcats might need immediate assistance.
Missouri: Offensive line. Missouri lost a ton of experience off its 2015 offensive line, but the Tigers signed just three offensive linemen -- junior college tackle Tyler Howell and three-star guards Tre’vour Simms and Trystan Castillo -- in the 2016 class. Count on Barry Odom’s staff looking to address the position more extensively in 2017. Among the players the Tigers have already offered are in-state tackles Larry Boyd and Marquis Hayes.
South Carolina: Linebacker. All three of the Gamecocks’ returning starters at linebacker -- Skai Moore, Jonathan Walton and T.J. Hollomon -- will be seniors in 2016. Although South Carolina will probably get another season out of Bryson Allen-Williams after this fall, Will Muschamp’s staff still needs to reload the depth chart at the position in the next class. They signed a pair of three-star linebackers earlier this month in T.J. Brunson and Robert Tucker, but the Gamecocks probably will not have many proven performers at the position after this season.
Tennessee: Running back. Tennessee’s in-state talent pool for 2017 will be one of the deepest in history. Ten players on ESPN’s Junior 300 hail from the Volunteer State -- and Butch Jones’ program should have a great chance to nab several of them. Of particular interest after the 2016 season will be the running back position. Alvin Kamara will be a senior this fall and Jalen Hurd will be eligible to enter the NFL draft after the season. Although Tennessee did add ESPN 300 running back Carlin Fils-Aime to the roster in the most recent class, two in-state running backs should get plenty of attention from Jones’ staff over the next year: No. 98 overall prospect Ty Chandler and No. 193 Cordarrian Richardson.
Vanderbilt: Running back. Vandy could use more explosive skill players across the offense, but running back might become an especially glaring area of need. Junior Ralph Webb’s decision whether to enter the draft after the season will be the key, as he has been perhaps the only reliable weapon on the Commodores’ offense in either of the past two seasons. He had one of the best all-time seasons by a Vandy running back last fall with 1,152 rushing yards. The Commodores already have a commitment from all-purpose back Lamont Atkins for 2017, but look for Derek Mason’s staff to attempt to add even more firepower at the position.