Maryland Coach DJ Durkin, standing, confers with recruiting director Marcus Berry, left, and director of player personnel Dave Mencarini in their “war room” on Wednesday. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

Byron Cowart, who was once considered the top recruit in the country in 2015 but never started a game as a defensive end during a disappointing career at Auburn, signed with Maryland on Wednesday.

Cowart was the most intriguing player signed by Maryland on Wednesday, the first of three days of college football’s new early signing period. Maryland is expected to sign 22 players. [See the full list below.] As of Wednesday morning, the Terrapins’ recruiting class was rated 20th in the country, and fourth in the Big Ten, in composite rankings compiled by 247sports.com.

Though Maryland locked up most of its class on Wednesday, it is hopeful to land several more top prospects during the regular period in February. That includes four-star H.D. Woodson cornerback Noah Bokyin, who is committed to the Terrapins but also is weighing an offer from Notre Dame. The Terrapins are also in the running to land Boykin’s high school teammate, Mychale Salahuddin, a four-star running back who decommitted from Southern California last week and visited Maryland last weekend.

The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Cowart is expected to immediately bolster Maryland’s maligned defensive line, which struggled immensely during a 4-8 finish in 2017. Cowart, who left Auburn’s program in September and enrolled at Hillsborough Community College in Florida shortly after, will be immediately eligible next season. Cowart will enroll early and join the team for winter workouts in January.

That’s good news for Maryland Coach DJ Durkin, because he desperately needs pass-rushing help as he begins his third offseason in College Park. Maryland registered just 16 sacks this past season, which ranked 120th nationally and last among all Power Five conference teams. The lack of pass rush was one of the primary struggles of a defense that finished last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (37.1) and second-to-last in total defense (419.4 yards) allowed per game.

“Byron is a tremendous player, a tremendous talent. I think everyone can see that,” Durkin said. “I think his maturity level, what he’s all about, would impress anyone. You come away impressed. He’s very engaging and mature. I think he’ll come in here and do a great job.”

Maryland still has not announced the plans of senior linebacker Jesse Aniebonam, who would be eligible for a medical redshirt after suffering a fractured-ankle in the season opening win over Texas. In 2016, Aniebonam led the team with nine sacks and led all Big Ten outside linebackers with 30 quarterback pressures; in his absence in 2017, Maryland was led with 3.5 sacks by senior Jermaine Carter Jr., the team’s middle linebacker.

There is plenty of other promising help on the way — Maryland has two massive twin tackles in Brandon and Breyon Gaddy who redshirted this season and should be physically ready to help shore up the interior line next season, as well as former St. John’s College High School defensive tackle Cam Spence, a former four-star recruit who was among the highest rated-players to sign in 2016. Maryland also has a crop of incoming defensive end and outside linebacker prospects in the 2018 class, including Good Counsel’s Tyler Baylor.

But Cowart should add another dimension, especially if he can live up to the potential that made him ESPN’s top overall prospect in 2015. The Seffner, Fla., native chose Auburn over Florida in a national signing day extravaganza that year. But he never developed for the Tigers and played in just 14 career games. Early in his career, he lost his primary recruiter, former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who left to become South Carolina’s head coach in 2016. Cowart moved from defensive end to defensive tackle before last season, but it had little effect.

He finished his career there with 15 tackles, including just 1.5 for loss. He cited a lack of playing time and his mother’s health issues as the reason he asked for his release from the school in September, according to AL.com. In that report, he expressed optimism that he could put together a productive career.

“I’ll see what options I have and what the NCAA allows me to do,” he said. “This isn’t over for me and this definitely is not the end of my college career. . . . I can guarantee you football is not over for me. I still love the game, I love everything about football.”

Maryland Class of 2018 signees


DeMatha’s Austin Fontaine (No. 79). (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

Austin Fontaine

Position: Defensive tackle

High School: DeMatha

Height, weight: 6-3, 309

Rank: Four stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Fontaine here

Jaelyn Duncan

Position: Offensive tackle

High School: St. Frances Academy (Baltimore)

Height, weight: 6-6, 300

Rank: Four stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Duncan here

Evan Gregory

Position: Offensive guard

High School: DeMatha

Height, weight: 6-4, 285

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Gregory here

Darryl Jones

Position: Wide receiver

High School: Princess Anne (Virginia Beach)

Height, weight: 6-2, 180

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Jones here

TJ Bradley

Position: Offensive tackle

High School: Lackawanna Community College (Scranton, Pa.)

Height, weight: 6-8, 290

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Bradley here

Tyler Baylor

Position: Defensive end

High School: Good Counsel

Height, weight: 6-4, 220

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Baylor here

Chigoziem Okonkwo

Position: Tight end

High School: Hillgrove High School (Powder Springs, Ga.)

Height, weight: 6-3, 224

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Okonkwo here

Tyler DeSue

Position: Quarterback

High School: Bishop Sullivan (Virginia Beach)

Height, weight: 6-1, 185

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of DeSue here

Durell Nchami

Position: Outside linebacker

High School: Paint Branch

Height, weight: 6-3, 217

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Nchami here

Vincent Flythe

Position: Cornerback

High School: H.D. Woodson

Height, weight: 5-11, 175

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Flythe here

Jalen Alexander

Position: Defensive tackle

High School: Western Branch (Chesapeake, Va.)

Height, weight: 6-4, 288

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Alexander here

Dontay Demus Jr.

Position: Wide receiver

High School: Friendship Collegiate

Height, weight: 6-4, 205

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Demus Jr. here

Spencer Anderson

Position: Offensive tackle

High School: Bishop McNamara

Height, weight: 6-5, 270

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Anderson here

Fa’Najae Gotay

Position: Outside linebacker

High School: North Fort Meyers (Fort Meyers, Fla.)

Height, weight: 6-0, 205

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Gotay here

Jordan Mosley

Position: Outside linebacker

High School: Haverford (Havertown, Pa,)

Height, weight: 6-1, 214

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Mosley here

Raymond Boone

Position: Athlete

High School: Eleanor Roosevelt

Height, weight: 5-11, 199

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Boone here

Chance Campbell

Position: Outside linebacker

High School: Calvert Hall (Towson, Md.)

Height, weight: 6-2, 222

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Campbell here

Brian Cobbs

Position: Wide receiver

High School: Hayfield

Height, weight: 6-2, 200

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Cobbs here

Joseph Petrino

Position: Kicker

High School: Richmond Hill (Richmond, Ga.)

Height, weight: 5-11, 165

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Petrino here

Jeshaun Jones

Position: Wide receiver

High School: South Fort Meyers (Fort Meyers, Fla.)

Height, weight: 6-1, 176

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Jones here

Nihym Anderson

Position: Linebacker

High School: Vineland, N.J.

Height, weight: 6-2, 227

Rank: Three stars by 247sports.com

Video highlights of Anderson here

Read more:

From a German factory to Michigan: Meet an unlikely target of early signing day.

This researcher just solved college football’s biggest mystery. She can predict where high school players will commit.

Terps’ Moore to skip senior season to enter NFL draft

‘There’s nothing like Friday’: A coach, a quarterback, a community and a run to the state title game

2017 All-Met players of the year: The D.C. area’s best fall sports athletes