Counter Intel: Westerville's Kaden Saunders Sides with Penn State, Big-Time Legacy to Pitt, and More From the Tide

By Andrew Ellis on July 26, 2020 at 9:10 am
Westerville wideout Kaden Saunders announced his commitment to Penn State yesterday.
Kaden Saunders via 247 Sports

Counter Intel is the smart Ohio State fan's look at recruiting action taking place within the Big Ten and top national programs.

Westerville Wideout to PSU

It's going to be tough for any wide receiver to find a spot in Brian Hartline's room over the next few years. Just yesterday, the Nittany Lions were the beneficiary when Westerville South's Kaden Saunders – the No. 6 player in Ohio – announced his commitment to Penn State. At 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds, he has some serious speed and is considering playing both football and baseball in State College.

Rated as the No. 170 prospect in the Class of 2022, he holds offers from most of the Midwest powers along with Texas and Stanford. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure where the Buckeyes may stand had they extended an offer as Saunders has grown extremely close with both the Nittany Lions and Fighting Irish, but it perhaps could have made things interesting here. This is a nice pickup for James Franklin and his first pledge for 2022.

Saban Still Rollin' 

We previewed this a bit last week, but Alabama has in fact moved up to No. 2 in the team rankings with last Sunday's addition of four-star guard Terrence Ferguson. The fifth-best player in the state of Georgia and No. 46 overall, this was yet another big-time piece for what's on track to be one of the best offensive line hauls of all time. It was a big blow to Kirby Smart, though perhaps not the biggest one of the week (more on that later). 

Ferguson joins the Brockermeyer twins and five-star tackle JC Latham in the trenches, but the Tide are still looking for even more maulers between now and signing day. The top remaining options include Georgia five-star Amarius Mims and a pair of Buckeye targets in Virginia tackle Tristan Leigh and Kentucky guard Jager Burton. I can't imagine one team signing a trio of five-star tackles, but it wouldn't be the strangest thing we've ever seen on the trail. 

Alabama is also the heavy favorite to land five-star defensive tackle Damon Payne later this afternoon. The Belleville, Michigan defender was a Buckeye target early on, but things faded rather quickly on that front. USC and Kentucky are two other programs in the mix for his pledge. It's worth reiterating that it's almost surely going to be an Ohio State/Alabama battle for the top spot in the final 2021 recruiting rankings. 

Indiana Tackle Spurns B1G, Goes Irish

The Buckeyes have offered nine offensive tackles for the 2022 class, and a good one is already in the fold in four-star West Chester product Tegra Tshabola. It's too early to get a feel for what the board really looks like, but one of Greg Studrawa's early targets announced his commitment to Notre Dame just yesterday.

It was a busy spring for Zionsville, Indiana's Joey Tanona. In a matter of about 48 hours, the 6-foot-5, 280-pounder picked up offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Michigan with LSU following suit a few weeks later. Growing up about two hours south of South Bend and following the Irish, I think most felt this would be the pick after the offer was extended. Tanona is the No. 2 player in Indiana and the first member of Brian Kelly's 2022 class. 

More From the Midwest

The Big Ten saw several other additions over the last week. The Hoosiers headed to SEC land on Thursday to grab a commitment from 2021 Georgia safety Jordan Grier. He hails from the same school in Ellenwood (Cedar Grove) that produced Ohio State defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson. Grier is unranked at the moment and holds offers from Pittsburgh, Kansas State, and a number of MAC programs.

Scott Frost also spent the week securing a commitment from the Peach State as the Huskers added three-star cornerback Malik Williams. At 6-foot and 187 pounds, the Buford defender has some pretty nice offers from Florida State, Florida, and South Carolina. He's commitment No. 14 for Frost's 33rd-ranked 2021 class. Williams is a teammate of three-star tailback – and now fellow Nebraska commit – Gabe Ervin.

Lovie Smith is up to 15 commits after adding a pair this week; including his eighth from the state of Florida. On Friday, the Illini flipped in-state guard Zachary Barlev from Bowling Green. The Plainfield, Illinois lineman is the nation's No. 76 guard prospect. The latest from the Sunshine State also came on Friday when unranked Miami corner Tyler Strain made his intentions known. 

Mike Locksley hit the state of Florida himself just yesterday with the addition of three-star Jacksonville safety Corey Coley Jr. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech were two of the primary contenders for his services. Meanwhile, it's sure looking like Michigan State may be on the verge of landing one-time Rutgers commit Steffan Johnson. A Scarlet Knight since late May, yesterday's decommitment was likely the first step toward the three-star corner ending up a Spartan. His Venice, Florida teammate and fellow defensive back Charles Brantley has been a Michigan State commit since April. 

It's not the most surprising development given the current climate, but Michigan wide receiver commitment Xavier Worthy announced that he'll forego his senior season and arrive in Ann Arbor in January. The California speedster joins a number of other 2021 prospects who are being faced with difficult decisions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Georgia Not on One Five-Star's Mind 

The nation's No. 1 athlete suits up for Plantation, Florida's American Heritage program. And at 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, James Williams is actually still listed as a safety prospect according to some outlets. The one-time Miami commit was a heavy Georgia lean according to the experts, and his crystal ball was 100 percent in favor of the Bulldogs. 

Recruiting is weird sometimes, and things got weird again on Tuesday when – seemingly out of nowhere – Williams committed to the Hurricanes (again). He was reportedly on Georgia's campus just days before the commitment, which makes this whole saga all the more strange. The five-star is the nation's No. 9 overall prospect and commitment No. 19 for the Hurricanes 11th-ranked 2021 class. Needless to say, it wasn't the best week for Kirby Smart and the folks in Athens.

2021 Class Ranking, 7/26
1 OHIO STATE 305.47 94.94
2 ALABAMA 269.32 94.18
3 OREGON 261.79 91.65
4 TENNESSEE 259.27 89.92
5 LSU 258.88 93.46
6 SOUTHERN CAL 255.23 91.26
7 NORTH CAROLINA 249.56 91.12
8 MICHIGAN 249.40 89.48
9 CLEMSON 248.53 94.17
10 FLORIDA 241.86 89.23

Fine Bloodlines for Panthers  

Aaron Donald is arguably the second-best player in the NFL behind only Ted Ginn Jr. The Rams defensive tackle was drafted No. 14 overall out of Pittsburgh back in 2014 and has been to six straight Pro Bowls while being named First-Team All-Pro in each of the last five seasons. 

Pittsburgh four-star Elliot Donald has eerily similar measurables to what his future Hall-of-Fame uncle looked like back in the Class of 2010. The younger Donald measures in at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds and plays multiple spots along the defensive line at Central Catholic High School. While Aaron was merely a three-star, Elliot is listed as the nation's ninth-best tackle and No. 116 overall player. His college destination was never really in doubt, but Donald holds offers from all over the country (including Ohio State). He's now the top-ranked commit in a Pitt class that ranks No. 27 nationally.

Quick Note on Updated Team Rankings 

Kerry Coombs got some fantastic news last Sunday afternoon with the addition of top cornerback target Jordan Hancock. That was commitment No. 19 and pushed the Buckeyes back over the magic 300 score in the team rankings. The quest for the top recruiting class of all time is still going strong for Ryan Day and Co.

Some other noteworthy additions among the top teams included four-star Elk Grove, California cornerback Prophet Brown to USC and Jacksonville wideout Marcus Burke to Florida. The Gators also flipped Ocala center Jake Slaughter from Mike Norvell and the Seminoles. Oregon is up to No. 3 in the rankings thanks in part to the addition of three-star Alabama pass rusher Christian Burkhalter

At first glance, the biggest bit of news may be North Carolina's descent from No. 2 all the way down to No. 7. The reason for this is entirely related to five-star Tony Grimes reclassifying to the Class of 2020. Grimes had been listed as the top cornerback for 2021 before announcing his early arrival in Chapel Hill. Had he remained in the class, Mack Brown would be neck and neck with Mario Cristobal for No. 3 in the team rankings.

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