ACC Spotlight: Winners and losers from 2021 recruiting cycle

Both signing days for the class of 2021 are now complete, and while there may still be a recruitment or two ongoing that involves ACC programs, the script for this class is pretty much complete. We look back over the strangest of recruiting years, and declare winners and losers for the conference.


RELATED: Big Ten winners and losers | SEC storylines | Top QB classes | Top RB classes | Top WR classes | Five programs that improved the most in the team rankings | Five that regressed

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2022 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

COVERAGE: Rivals Transfer Tracker | Rivals Camp Series



Playoff contenders in other Power Five conferences  

Notre Dame isn’t in the ACC this coming season as it was this past fall, so that means the ACC only had one team finish in the top 10 of the team recruiting rankings. This is great news for other powerhouse programs around the country because the ACC clearly didn’t bring in as much talent as the other Power Five conferences. Clemson, predictably, led the way at No. 7 in the team rankings, followed by Miami at No. 12 and North Carolina at No. 15.

This is a really tough break for the ACC, especially when you realize that most of the teams that finished higher in the rankings are consistent College Football Playoff contenders. One recruiting class doesn’t necessarily make or break a conference’s chances at making the playoff, but it certainly makes an impact.


North Carolina defensive coordinator Jay Bateman

Raneiria Dillworth (

The Tar Heels are already set up to be explosive for the next few years on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense is going to be one of the best in the nation if all these highly rated prospects they just signed pan out. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman is going to have a lot of new weapons this fall. He got one early when five-star Tony Grimes reclassified from 2021 to 2020 and suited up this past fall, and the group of defenders heading to Chapel Hill is impressive.

North Carolina signed one of the best groups of linebackers in the nation this year, led by Rivals100 prospect Raneiria Dillworth, Rivals250 prospect Power Echols and four-star Gabe Stephens. Rivals100 defensive end Keeshawn Silver and Rivals250 defensive end Jahvaree Ritzie could be a devastating tandem on the front line. Safety Dontavius Nash, a four-star prospect, and Rivals100 athlete DeAndre Boykins should increase the talent level in the secondary as well.



Clemson’s running back room 

Will Shipley
Will Shipley

Clemson has big shoes to fill in the backfield with ACC record-holder Travis Etienne heading to the NFL Draft. But, as the Tigers do, they are bringing in some of the most talented players in the country to help replace what they’re losing. Will Shipley, the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose back and a top 50 prospect, can do just about everything a running back needs to do in Clemson’s offense. He’s an outstanding receiver out of the backfield and is very dangerous in the open field. As a runner between the tackles, Shipley has improved with each passing year and he’s added plenty of solid muscle to be able to take the pounding college defenses bring.

More the thunder to Shipley’s lightning, Rivals250 running back Phil Mafah is a big, tough runner that does a great job running between the tackles. He is going to be a major asset when the Tigers want to get more physical on the offensive side of the ball. Combining these two with the running backs the Tigers currently have on the roster should really help solidify the position for the next few years.



Miami offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee  

Jake Garcia
Jake Garcia

The Hurricanes are going to cause some problems on offense these next few years and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee shouldn’t have any trouble getting this offense humming. Rivals100 quarterback Jake Garcia is the heir apparent to D’Eriq King and the Canes are hoping the duo of four-star Elijah Arroyo and three-star Kahlil Brantley can help replace what they’re losing in star tight end Brevin Jordan.

Miami is already pretty loaded at receiver and running back, and the Hurricanes are going to have a ridiculous amount of talent at each position once this 2021 class gets on campus. Three Rivals250 wide receivers in Brashard Smith, Jacolby George and Romello Brinson, along with Rivals250 running back Thaddius Franklin will – to Lashlee’s delight – help make Miami’s offense one of the most talented in the nation.



Pittsburgh defensive backs

Pat Narduzzi and his staff recruited a fine group of defensive backs in the 2021 class. It’s a deep group featuring six prospects with very high ceilings. All six of them should be really excited about some of the other defensive recruits in this class, Rivals100 defensive lineman Elliot Donald, Rivals250 defensive lineman Nahki Johnson and Rivals250 edge defender Naquan Brown.

The Panthers and defensive line coach Charlie Partridge have been turning out some of the best defensive linemen in the nation over the last few years and these three could be some of their best. Donald, the nephew of former Pittsburgh great and NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, comes in with very high expectations, and Johnson has been a longtime Pitt commit that has been steadily improving. Brown’s versatility on the defensive front will make him difficult for offensive coordinators to scheme around.




Virginia Tech and Virginia in losing in-state talent

Justin Fuente
Justin Fuente (AP Images)

The Hokies improved their overall team ranking by a significant margin this year compared with the 2020 class, but Justin Fuente and his staff are still having trouble attracting the best players in Virginia. None of the top 15 players in the state signed with Virginia Tech this year. That’s virtually unheard of, and it’s not like the Hokies’ rivals down the street are doing much better.

The Cavaliers only signed two of the top 15 in-state players, but they still had their best recruiting class since 2013. There is plenty of room for Virginia Tech and Virginia to improve in this area, and they need to do so if they hope to make some more noise against top opponents. The state of Virginia is loaded with talent year in and year out, so the coaches need to keep improving in-state recruiting.




Late risers in the rankings

Properly evaluating this recruiting class has been more difficult than any in my career because of the limited opportunities to evaluate prospects. Many of the players that signed in December or this month were still listed with their initial ratings because of pandemic-related issues like season cancellations, travel restrictions or limits on gatherings that forced offseason events to be canceled.

Players not having any new tape from the fall or an opportunity to showcase their development at offseason events made it so there was nothing new to evaluate. Many of those players fall within the ACC footprint and the rankings of a number of ACC teams suffered because of it.

Despite the pandemic and the restrictions that came with it, players continued to work out, improve their skills, and become better prospects, even if scouts weren’t able to properly evaluate how far they’d come as prospective college players. Development by players is something scouts at Rivals and at the college level look for and track throughout a player’s high school career. It’s why every year there are a couple of players that pop up on the national scene in September or October of their senior year. Those players have been grinding to become better prospects. Colleges see that progression and realize they’ve become different prospects than a year earlier, and those players could be key pieces to the future of their team. These players were really dealt a rough hand by the pandemic and there were much fewer late risers as a result.


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