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The Top 10 Players of the 2021 Recruiting Class

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Who are the best recruits coming to the Mountain West?

NCAA Football: Colorado State at San Diego State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now that all the signings are official and the classes are finalized, it’s time for a countless amount of hype and articles about your favorite team’s recruiting classes. It’s a fun time of year because teams have secured so much talent, and coaches, players, and fans dream of each one of them reaching their potential.

Our aim here at MWCConnection is to discuss how much talent and potential are entering the conference in this recruiting class. This will be accomplished through numerous different posts this month. Some of these posts will be team specific, and others will be looking more from the standpoint of the conference as a whole. Today is a snapshot of the top talent entering the Mountain West in this class. Here is our version of the top 10 players.

How did we come up with this list, you ask? Good question!

Jeremy, Zach, and myself (Mike) put our heads together and spent a few hours spread out over a week or two to arrive at the ten recruits we listed below. It’s important to remember there is no perfect formula for recruiting, but we considered a few different things. Of course, we leaned on the 247 recruiting site and the rankings they provided. This helped to narrow our focus substantially. Then, we considered offer lists, watched highlight films, and stated our cases for players. Other factors, such as position or level of competition also used to an extent, mainly coming into play in “tie-breaker” scenarios. What you see below is the result of that process.

It is crucial to keep in mind this isn’t a prediction on who will make the most significant impact or be the best players in four years. Instead, it is a statement of who are the best recruits entering the Mountain West as freshmen. Recruiting rankings should never be mistaken as an exact science, as each year, some highly-rated players don’t live up to their rating, and players entirely off the radar end up making a bit impact. However, the rankings end up getting it right more often than not.

1) QB Clay Millen (Nevada)

Clay is arguably the best recruit in the Mountain West, easily the best recruit coming to Nevada, and probably the best recruit in the Norvell era. He’s incredibly mobile in the pocket, making him difficult to tackle, and he can extend plays with his legs. Millen has a cannon for an arm, displays great touch on his deep passes, and is extremely accurate. He isn’t afraid to staying in the pocket and taking a hit, he steps into his throws and adjusts his passes based on need. Clay is talented enough to play right away and may see some time next year even though he will be backing up Carson Strong.

2) DB Noah Avinger (San Diego State)

Noah is an incredible talent at cornerback. He plays tight coverage and has great closing speed as he times his strides perfectly to make a play on the ball. Avinger excels at tracking the ball in the air and moving into position in the path of the ball while moving receivers out of position at the same time. He sees the field with ease, allowing him to flock to the ball as he reacts to plays. Noah should play right away and has the potential to become an all-conference CB during his time in college.

3) WR Eric McAllister (Boise State)

Eric is one of the best signees in the entire conference, putting up ridiculous numbers in high school. He has the size and speed combination to be a go-to wide receiver and knows how to use those traits to be a big-play threat. McAlister can beat defenders on short passes with his wide catch radius and then make players miss with his change of direction ability. He can also routinely beat double teams and simply out jumps defenders on throws; there is no easy way to defend him. Eric should be able to play from the get-go and has the potential to become an elite receiver.

4) DE Nick Dimitris (UNLV)

Nick is one of the most talented recruits in the entire conference this year. He is disruptive at the line of scrimmage, pressing the quarterback and altering or tipping passes. Dimitris displays an array of pass moves and really has no trouble getting past blockers or pushing them back into the runner or QB to alter the play. He is disciplined and active in run-defense and plays through the whistle. Nick continues the recent run of talented pass-rushers UNLV has been able to recruit and is skilled enough to see the field right away.

5) OL Josh Simmons (San Diego State)

Josh is an incredible local talent San Diego State was able to convince to stay home. He has massive size while maintaining his mobility, as he was athletic enough to play on defense as well. Simmons overpowers defenders while run-blocking, moving them completely out of the way or simply knocking them down. He immediately gets into the proper position after the snap, staying low in his stance and displaying sound footwork in pass protection. Josh is talented enough to stay at a guard spot next year, something that is rare for an offensive lineman.

6) RB Jordan Hornbeak (Fresno State)

Jordan is one of, if not the, best running back in the conference. He is shifty and quick coming out of the backfield and isn’t hard to bring down. Hornbeak displays impressive vision and regularly is able to bounce outside to evade tackles. Often he can simply outrun defenders because he is so fast. Jordan should play right away next fall.

7) DB Jalen Williams (Fresno State)

Jalen looks great at cornerback going forward. He plays tight coverage and clearly knows how to defend receivers. Williams is able to follow the ball in the air and get a hand on the ball more often than not thanks to his great positioning. He can also make an impact on special teams and clearly has a high football IQ. Jalen’s combination of intelligence and skills should make him a strong player going forward.

8) LB Rejhan Tatum (Boise State)

Rejhan is a monster of a player at linebacker. He is fast, physical, and technical when it comes to stopping the run and one of his subtle traits is how he doesn’t over pursue plays. Tatum has an exceptional burst when flocking to the ball, making an open space instantly disappear. Those traits carry over to short pass coverage as well where he can pick up players out of the backfield. Rejhan is another player who will likely see the field right away and make an impact doing so.

9) QB Jaylen Henderson (Fresno State)

Jaylen is an athletic left quarterback with a big arm. He has plenty of touch on his deep balls and is accurate throwing on the run. Speaking of running, Henderson is incredibly mobile, slipping away from defenders with ease, and is a legit threat on the ground. He makes quick decisions in the pocket and knows when to wait for open receivers versus when to tuck it and run. Jaylen is the starting QB of the future for the Bulldogs and the only question is how soon the future will begin.

10) DB CJ Baskerville (San Diego State)

CJ is one of the best gets in this class. He is a difference-maker as both a receiver and a defensive back. Baskerville diagnoses plays easily and uses his athleticism to beat offensive players to the ball, disrupting the play. He moves fluidly side to side as well as forward and backward, and that is on full display as he plays against the run. CJ, along with Noah, should form one of the best secondary duos in the conference in the years to come.

Recruits also considered: Jai Jones (Boise State), Deamikkio Nathan (UNLV), Ross Masseuli (SDSU), Kam Blanton (UNLV), Anthony Rosas (UNLV), Taylen Green (Boise State), and Jordon Vaughn (Wyoming).

As many of you may know by now, I like to also break lists like these down into tiers. Tiers can be helpful to provide a different angle to look at things. If one made an argument for flipping some of the spots on this list but kept them within the same tier, I wouldn’t put up much of a debate.

Tiers:

Tier 1: Millen, Avinger, McAllister, Dimitris

Tier 2: Simmons

Tier 3: Hornbeak, Williams

Tier 4: Tatum, Henderson

Tier 5: Baskerville, Jones, Nathan, Masseuli, Blanton, Rosas, Green, Vaughn.

Notes:

  • This list includes recruits from five different schools, with Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada San Diego State, and UNLV securing nearly all the top talent in the conference this year. The Bulldogs and Aztecs all had three apiece, with the Broncos having two make the cut, and the Rebels having one player.
  • This list is pretty balanced, with five defensive recruits and five offensive recruits. Position wise, the list contains three defensive backs, two quarterbacks, and then a running back, wide receiver, offensive lineman, linebacker and defensive end.
  • Obviously, Clay Millen’s signing day surprise changed the list at the last minute.
  • As shown in the tier rankings, there is a clear divide between the top four and everyone else. The top consensus top seven or eight players were agreed upon pretty easily. On the lower half of the list, there is not much separation between the players at number nine and ten, and the “also considered” list and arguments can be made for any in that group to be in or out of the top ten.

Your turn: Do you agree or disagree with the players on this list? Who else belongs on this list? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Coming Tomorrow: The 2019 MWC All-Recruit Teams. We will roll out our first team, second team, and the JUCO/Grad Transfer team.

Follow @Mike_SBN for all MWC recruiting news and updates. Jeremy Rodrigues and Zach Ballard also contributed extensively to this article.