Recruiting is never an exact science – college football fans know all too well that the best recruits don’t always turn out to be the best players. Just how good did the number one recruits from the last decade turn out to be? We took a look back at the top players in each class (according to Rivals.com) and caught up with each one to find out just how accurate these rankings really are.
Rivals typically rates each recruit on a two-star to five-star scale (five stars indicates a future star who can contribute right away, while two-star prospects are considered much more of a gamble). We decided to rate each #1 recruit on a similar scale, with five stars indicating a college and NFL star and two stars indicating an average player or relative bust. Recent recruits still in school will receive an incomplete rating, with a brief breakdown of which direction they’re headed in.
Let’s work our way back in time, starting in 2013 (since it’s a little early to tell how 2014′s #1 recruit, Da’Shawn Hand, is going to do for Alabama).
2013: Robert Nkemdiche, DE – Ole Miss
A consensus #1 prospect across all the major recruiting services, Nkemdiche was originally committed to Clemson, but ultimately flipped to Ole Miss in order to play with his older brother. The highest rated Ole Miss recruit since Eli Manning, Nkemdiche racked up 35 tackles (including two sacks) in 2013. The Rebels took full advantage of Nkemdiche’s versatility – he featured at linebacker and even at running back (where he picked up 21 yards on four carries) over the course of the season. While it’s way too early to reach a verdict on Nkemdiche, the sky is still the limit.
Rating: Incomplete – it definitely doesn’t look like he’ll be a bust, though.
2012: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR – Missouri
Green-Beckham has shown elite potential on the field for Mizzou, but his decision-making off the gridiron is clouding his future. A second-team All-SEC selection in 2013, Green-Beckham has been arrested twice since coming to Columbia on marijuana-related charges. While the second case is still under investigation (and it looks likely that Green-Beckham won’t have to face a jury), he’ll need to keep the headlines focused on his on-field performance if he wants to live up to the ‘next Randy Moss’ tag he earned as a high-schooler.
Rating: Incomplete. Green-Beckham is on track to be one of the nation’s top receivers next year – if he can stay out of trouble.
2011: Jadeveon Clowney, DE – South Carolina
No controversy here – Clowney’s ranking was dead on. A consensus top-5 pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Clowney still projects as a star at the pro level even though his stock has fallen slightly since last summer. A terrifying high school highlight reel made it obvious why he was so highly touted, and he did nothing at South Carolina to indicate that his ranking wasn’t well deserved.
Rating: Trending towards five stars – Clowney will be a top pick in the ’14 draft, and we’d be absolutely shocked if he flames out once he reaches the NFL.
2010: Ronald Powell, DE – Florida
Back in 2011, Powell looked on track to be a dominant DE out of the SEC – his six sacks as a sophomore were a flash of real potential. Unfortunately, a torn ACL suffered in Spring 2012 derailed his ascent, and while he had a respectable comeback season in 2013, he still wasn’t quite the same player he was prior to the injury. Projected as a fifth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Powell will look to make the most of a fresh start at the professional level.
Rating: Trending towards two or three stars. Hard to blame this one on Rivals – ACL injuries are impossible to predict, and can be absolutely devastating for players’ careers.
2009: Bryce Brown, RB – Tennessee
A massively talented prospect who drew comparisons to Adrian Peterson, Brown struggled to overcome a tumultuous recruitment period and difficult college experience. The NCAA launched an investigation into his trainer and handler before he played a down at Tennessee, and although he was cleared to play, the problems didn’t end there. Coach Lane Kiffin abruptly left the school after Brown’s freshman year (where he put up decent stats backing up senior Montario Hardesty), and Brown announced his plans to transfer soon after.
New Vols coach Derek Dooley was unable to prevent Brown from transferring to Kansas State, where he had nearly committed during his original recruiting process. After sitting out the 2010 season, Brown played sparingly for the Wildcats, eventually leaving the team in September 2011 and declaring for the NFL Draft.
Brown was drafted in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles, who went 4-12 in his rookie season. Brown rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns in a two-game span late in the year, but problems holding onto the ball saw him fall back behind LeSean McCoy when McCoy returned from injury. Currently stuck behind McCoy on the Eagles’ depth chart, Brown may need to move elsewhere if he wants to live up to his potential.
Rating: Two stars. Brown never made an impact at the college level, and he could be out of the NFL soon if he doesn’t find a situation where he can showcase his talents.
2008: Terrelle Pryor, QB – Ohio State
A two-sport athlete in high school, Pryor had a very successful college career with the Buckeyes. The MVP of the 2010 Rose Bowl, Pryor’s college achievements were overshadowed by the memorabilia-for-cash scandal that ultimately cost coach Jim Tressel his job. Suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season, Pryor ultimately withdrew from Ohio State and was banned from any contact with the athletic program.
Since the Buckeyes had cut all ties with their former quarterback, he became eligible for the NFL’s 2011 supplemental draft. There, the Oakland Raiders took him in the third round with what turned out to be Al Davis’ last pick as owner. Pryor played sparingly in 2011 and 2012 before winning the starting job over Matt Flynn in early 2013. Pryor started the year strong, but a dip in form and an MCL injury opened the door for undrafted rookie Matt McGloin, who took over the job until Week 17. Pryor was reinstated as starter for Oakland’s season finale, but head coach Dennis Allen reportedly doesn’t see him as the team’s long-term solution at quarterback.
Rating: Three stars. Pryor was a very solid quarterback while still in the Buckeyes’ good graces, and he’ll likely have another chance to catch on in the NFL.
2007: Jimmy Clausen, QB – Notre Dame
Few recruits have ever been as hyped as Clausen, who committed to the Fighting Irish at the College Football Hall of Fame after arriving in a stretch Hummer. Clausen was supposed to take Notre Dame back to the promised land, but instead ended up as one of the most unprecedented disappointments in recruiting history. After a glittering high school career that saw him compared to Joe Namath, Clausen ended up winning just one award with the Irish – a co-MVP nod in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl.
Clausen left Notre Dame after his junior season, and was taken by the Carolina Panthers in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. After a rough start to his NFL career that saw him throw three touchdowns and nine interceptions (to go along with seven fumbles), the Panthers benched Clausen for journeyman backup Matt Moore five games into the 2010 season. Carolina took Cam Newton with the number one draft pick in 2011, and Clausen (currently a member of the Panthers’ practice squad) hasn’t seen the field since.
Rating: One star. In 2009 – the one year Clausen put up decent numbers at Notre Dame – his team went 6-6 and wasn’t invited to a bowl game. Has been a colossal bust in the NFL.
2006: Percy Harvin, WR – Florida
Harvin, a decorated multi-sport athlete in high school, was a highly-prized recruit who originally planned to attend Florida State. A change of heart saw him sign with the Gators, and at Florida he won two NCAA titles while garnering praise for his vision and explosive speed. Nagging injuries prevented Harvin from challenging for individual awards, but that didn’t stop the Minnesota Vikings from taking him in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
A consensus choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Harvin was named to the Pro Bowl in his first NFL season and looked ready to break out as a superstar. A series of illnesses and struggles with migraines prevented Harvin from shining as brightly over the next two seasons, and he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for three draft picks (including a first-rounder) in March of 2013. A hip injury limited him to just one game in the 2013 regular season, but Harvin was able to play a part in Seattle’s Super Bowl win, returning the second-half opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.
Rating: Four stars. Harvin made an immediate impact for Florida, and his 32 TDs for the Gators are nothing to sneeze at. The injuries that limited his numbers and accolades couldn’t have been foreseen during his recruiting process. Still has a very bright future at the pro level.
2005: Derrick Williams, ATH – Penn State
Williams, who excelled at multiple positions in high school, shocked the recruiting world by committing to Penn State during a live ESPN broadcast. The Nittany Lions had ended four of their last five seasons with losing records, and Joe Paterno was under increasing pressure to retire. Williams said he relished the challenge of returning Penn State to its former glory, and his impact was immediate – the Nittany Lions went 11-1 in his freshman year and ended up winning the Orange Bowl.
Penn State was back on the map, but Williams was never able to reach the heights he seemed capable of in high school. An impressive senior season saw him named First Team All-Big 10, but that turned out to be his last major accolade. Williams failed to catch on with the Detroit Lions (who drafted him in the third round in 2009), and short stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts never panned out. Williams currently lives with his wife and two children in Hollidaysburg, PA, where he works in sales for Blair Companies.
Rating: Two stars. While Williams never made an impact in the NFL, he made an immediate difference for the Nittany Lions and had a successful (if inconsistent) college career.
2004: Adrian Peterson, RB – Oklahoma
The only player in the last decade who lived up to his ranking (so far) was 2004′s Adrian Peterson. A six-time Pro Bowler and the 2012 NFL MVP, Peterson nearly won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman at Oklahoma and broke numerous NCAA records despite missing time with injuries and forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
A stellar career with the Minnesota Vikings has seen Peterson develop into one of the best running backs in NFL history, and a place in the NFL Hall of Fame is no doubt on the horizon.
Rating: Five stars. Of all of the top recruits in recent memory, Peterson is the only transcendent talent able to justify the hype he received coming out of high school.
Recruiting and scouting will always be imperfect, but it’s shocking to see just how many top prospects never pan out. For services that routinely charge subscribers over $100 a year, you’d expect the top recruits to be difference-makers, but of the last 10 top prospects, only four (Peterson, Harvin, Pryor and Clowney) were legitimate superstars at the collegiate level. Of those four, only Peterson is a bona-fide NFL star – although Clowney and Harvin could very well join that list in the near future.