National signing day delivered its usual doses of drama Wednesday, when the three-day early signing period began.
Four-star cornerback Omarion Cooper put a Michigan cap on his table at Lehigh Acres before sticking with his commitment by signing with Florida State. The Gators sweated out a ceremony for three-star safety Dakota Mitchell, who stuck with Florida instead of flipping to Texas A&M or Alabama.
USF added a quintet of Power Five transfers — including former Miami starting quarterback Jarren Williams — and beat Georgia and Tennessee for three-star receiver Jimmy Horn. Seminoles legend Deion Sanders got a four-star defensive back, De’Jahn Warren, to flip from Georgia to join him at Division I-AA Jackson State.
The real drama, however, will play out in the coming months and years as coaches and players sort through the long-term effects of an unprecedented, unpredictable, pandemic-altered recruiting cycle.
“There’s going to be some give and take,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “That’s why I think there will be some volatility in this class when they get to college.”
The volatility comes from a unique convergence of circumstances.
Because of the pandemic, college coaches couldn’t evaluate prospects in person, either during spring practice, summer camps or fall games. They couldn’t even get updated height/weight measurements themselves. Some states, like Illinois and North Carolina, didn’t have football seasons, giving recruiters even fewer chances to see a player’s abilities.
“You probably have less information within your evaluation of them than you normally would,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said.
A lot less information.
Coaches couldn’t stop by high schools to learn more about a player’s character by talking to his teachers or counselors. Prospects couldn’t take official visits to campus, so some were signing with schools they’ve never seen in person and coaches their families haven’t met.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’m having to ask for commitments from young men and their families who have never been able to shake my hand, to be able to see and meet the coaches in person, and were never been able to see the campus or visit and walk through your facilities in person,” USF coach Jeff Scott said.
The NCAA is adding to the complexity.
Every player got an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, which could lead to a roster crunch (and attrition) in 2022 or ’23.
Then there’s the change Florida State coach Mike Norvell called “one of the interesting dynamics of this recruiting cycle.”
The NCAA is expected to change its rules to give every first-time transfer immediate eligibility. That will make it easier to leave if he or the school made a wrong decision because of the pandemic-related recruiting restrictions.
Add it all up, and a recruiting process that is always unpredictable looks like a bigger crapshoot than usual. With less information, teams will miss on players who bloomed too late or peaked too early.
“I think we’ll look back in a few years at the ’21 and ’22 class, and I think there will be some outliers in both extremes of guys that were overlooked or maybe the opposite,” Diaz said.
Or maybe there will be fewer misses because coaches spent more time breaking down a player’s film instead of worrying about his measurable or gushing over pad-less performances from summer camps.
The same uncertainty holds true for the players themselves. With no official visits, will prospects have buyers’ remorse when they see the campus and facilities up close?
“Maybe on the flip side, maybe they will have made more decisions for the right reasons and not just something that looks god for a 48-hour weekend, but something that feels maybe more real than that,” Diaz said. “Who knows?”
This much is clear: The drama with this recruiting class isn’t over yet.