We’re more than 11 months away from national signing day 2017, but the areas each team needs to address already are evident for the most part.
Maybe your team needs to reload along the offensive line, or perhaps it has a senior quarterback that 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. We looked at teams from the SEC East earlier. Now we shift to the Western Division:
Alabama: Running back. Although his staff just signed the nation’s No. 1 running back prospect, B.J. Emmons, it’s apparent that Nick Saban wants to replenish the backfield depth chart. The Crimson Tide already has picked up three verbal commitments from 2017 running backs: ESPN Junior 300 honorees Najee Harris and Cam Akers, plus Brian Robinson from Tuscaloosa’s Hillcrest High School. Harris is ESPN’s No. 1 running back prospect for 2017. Among the returning backs on Alabama’s roster are sophomores Damien Harris (ESPN’s No. 2 running back in 2015) and Bo Scarbrough (the No. 2 athlete in 2014).
Arkansas: Offensive line/cornerback. Bret Bielema’s staff needs to get some young bodies on the roster along the offensive line after signing just one high school lineman in this class: four-star guard Jake Heinrich. (The Razorbacks did add a pair of junior college linemen in Terrance Malone and Paul Ramirez-Diaz.) The Hogs will be inexperienced along the offensive line this season and will lose senior tackle Dan Skipper after this fall.
Arkansas did not sign a cornerback in the 2016 class, which will make it more of a pressing need next year. The Hogs already have a commitment from 2017 athlete Jarrod Barnes, who could play cornerback in college.
Auburn: Linebacker. After losing Kris Frost, Cassanova McKinzy and Justin Garrett at the end of the 2015 season, Auburn will lean heavily on junior Tre Williams this fall. They signed just one linebacker -- ESPN 300 honoree Tre Threat -- in the 2016 class, although they have a new defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, who would like to install some 3-4 looks. The Tigers simply need more bodies at the position if they go that route. The state of Alabama features three linebackers who are members of ESPN’s Junior 300, including No. 1 outside linebacker Markail Benton.
LSU: Linebacker/quarterback. The Tigers will lose at least two linebackers -- seniors Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley -- at a position that already lacks depth and experience. Although new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda can use players from other positions in linebacker roles, the last-second flip by Texas signee Erick Fowler makes it even more important that LSU address the linebacker position in 2017.
Likewise, LSU will need to hit a home run at quarterback. Anthony Jennings will be a senior this season, while Brandon Harris and Danny Etling will be juniors. After whiffing on several quarterback prospects for 2016, count on the Tigers filling holes at the position with at least one 2017 signee.
Mississippi State: Offensive line. The Bulldogs lost seniors Rufus Warren and Justin Malone after the 2015 season and will lose center Jamaal Clayborn, right guard Devon Desper and right tackle Justin Senior after 2016. They added four-star tackle Stewart Reese and three-star prospects Greg Eiland and Dareuan Parker in the 2016 class, but 2017 will be a big year for Dan Mullen’s staff to address the line. The Bulldogs already have a commitment from Tommy Champion, who should rank among the nation’s better junior college tackle prospects for 2017.
Ole Miss: Linebacker. Hugh Freeze’s staff hit the offensive side of the ball hard in the 2016 class, using three-quarters of their spots on offensive players. They will probably look to fill holes on the defensive front seven in 2017. One area that will be of major importance is linebacker, which just lost starters C.J. Johnson and Denzel Nkemdiche. The Rebels signed two linebackers in 2016 –-- three-star prospects Donta Evans and Tariquious Tisdale -- and will look to add more in the next class. Among their possible targets is ESPN Junior 300 linebacker Willie Gay of Starkville High School -- from rival Mississippi State’s backyard.
Texas A&M: Defensive line. The Aggies did not sign a defensive tackle in 2016, so that will be an area of obvious need in the next class -- particularly since they just lost Julien Obioha and Alonzo Williams. The good news is that they will have Daylon Mack around through at least 2017, but the interior line still will be important. (Hello, Marvin Wilson!) A&M also will likely lose senior end Daeshon Hall and junior Myles Garrett after this season, so that position also could be important. The Aggies added a pair of four-star ends -- Justin Madubuike and Alton Robinson -- in the 2016 class and could be after more in the next class.