Grading Last Decade’s No. 1 CFB Recruits
B-: Ernie Sims (2003)
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National Signing Day is this Wednesday. Among those who remain uncommitted is Rivals’ top prospect in the Class of 2013, DE Robert Nkemdiche. How have his predecessors atop the Rivals 100 over the past decade panned out? We grade each of them based on how much each lived up to the expectations of being the top recruit in the nation at the college level.
Sims was such a dominant schoolboy player that he earned his first high school varsity letter as an eighth-grader. Ranked one spot ahead of future USC star RB Reggie Bush by Rivals, Sims would earn Second Team All-ACC honors as a sophomore and play in two Orange Bowls.
Alas, the current Dallas Cowboy wasn’t the dominant linebacker in the mold of either Derrick Brooks or Peter Boulware that Florida State was hoping for. And while not directly responsible for FSU’s descent into mediocrity, Sims was a member of the team when it began.
A: Adrian Peterson (2004)
Before he became Purple Jesus, Peterson was a Sooners Savior. In 2004, A.D. set a freshman record for rushing yards (1,925), earned First Team All-America honors, became the first freshman to finish as the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting and led the Sooners to the BCS title game.
When all was said and done, Peterson would rush for 4,045 yards in just three seasons, good for second all-time in OU history behind Billy Sims. If it weren’t for a high ankle sprain that limited him as a sophomore and a broken collarbone as a junior that caused him to miss seven games, Peterson would have been one of the greatest college football players of all time.
As it turned out, Peterson’s time in Norman was an appetizer for an NFL career which, thus far, has been Hall of Fame worthy.
B-: Derrick Williams (2005)
Williams explained his decision to join a Nittany Lions’ program that had suffered four losing seasons in the previous five years thusly: “I did it because I trusted in [Joe Paterno]. He promised me I could help turn the program around.”
Injuries prevented the Greenbelt, MD, from being the superstar he was in high school, but he did indeed help reverse Penn State’s fortunes dramatically. Williams’ teams went 40–8 in his four seasons in Happy Valley, capturing two Big Ten titles (2005 and 2008) and winning the 2006 Orange Bowl.
In terms of personal accomplishments, Williams bookended his college career that included 4,156 all-purpose yards with All-Big Ten Freshman and First Team All-Big Ten honors. While it was a solid career in Happy Valley, the current NFL free agent never had over 530 yards receiving in any one season.
A-: Percy Harvin (2006)
Similar in stature and playing style to Derrick Williams, Harvin’s career at Florida was a step above.
Like Williams, Harvin was a winner — only winning for Harvin meant two BCS championships in three years. He averaged 11.6 yards from scrimmage every time he touched the ball on offense, scoring 32 TDs in just three seasons in Gainesville.
If a quarterback of lesser caliber than Tim Tebow had been at the helm in 2007 and 2008, Harvin’s stats might have been even more impressive, as it stands to reason that the dynamic Virginia Beach native would have gotten more touches. Nonetheless, he was still wildly explosive with the Gators and his 4.34 40-yard-dash time now on display for the Minnesota Vikings was the definition of “SEC speed.”
B: Jimmy Clausen (2007)
The youngest of three quarterback brothers was touted to be by far the best coming out of Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, CA. And while Clausen’s final numbers (8,148 yards and 60 TDs) were applause-worthy, it feels like he fell short of expectations.
For one, Notre Dame was an unspectacular 16–21 in Clausen’s three seasons. Their best year was a 7–6 campaign in 2008 that ended with a Hawaii Bowl win. And Clausen often wasted the good will generated by his best games with reports of concerning off-the-field behavior (citation of illegal transportation of alcohol in June 2007, bar altercation in November 2009) and trash-talking on it.
If it weren’t for a junior year in which he threw for 3,700 yards and 28 TDs to just four interceptions, this grade would be much lower. Clausen’s pro career has been far more disappointing, as “the next great Notre Dame NFL quarterback” is now riding the pine for the Carolina Panthers.
B+: Terrelle Pryor (2008)
For all the controversy and disappointment that ended his career at Ohio State, the Jeannette, PA, product was 32–4 as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback. His teams won two Big Ten titles and made trips to three straight BCS bowl games — two of which the Buckeyes won.
Other hardware that Pryor collected included 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and three straight Honorable Mention All-Big Ten seasons. After blossoming as a junior, we’ll sadly never know how good the supremely-talented Pryor could have been at OSU if he had stayed in school all four years. It appeared the poor accuracy and bad decision making that held Pryor back from greatness was past him during a superb MVP performance in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
Now an Oakland Raider, the suddenness of Pryor’s departure from the program following revelations of NCAA violations clouded his legacy but didn’t change the fact Pryor won a lot of football games in Columbus.
F: Bryce Brown (2009)
Much of the bluster Lane Kiffin displayed upon arriving on Rocky Top was tied to his inking of Brown, who Rivals called “the top-rated running back of the past five years.” While not engendering Kiffin-esque levels of animosity among Vols fans, Brown’s tenure in Knoxville — and his college career as a whole — was a major disappointment.
Backing up Montario Hardesty, Brown rushed for a modest 460 yards and three touchdowns in his freshman season. Then, on the first day of Tennessee’s 2010 spring practice, Brown announced that he was leaving the program.
Brown redshirted at Kansas State in 2010 and then bolted the team in September 2011 after just three total rushes for the Wildcats. Brown’s final college rushing stats: 104 carries, 476 yards and three touchdowns. Oof.
INC: Ronald Powell (2010)
The second No. 1 overall recruit then-Florida coach Urban Meyer lured to Gainesville, Powell was an All-SEC Freshman performer in 2010 and led the Gators in sacks in 2011 (six) while also registering nine tackles for loss. His prospects were definitely on the up-and-up.
Then the Moreno Valley, CA, native suffered an ACL injury in Florida’s 2012 Spring Game, one that kept him out all of last season. He reinjured the knee in September during his rehab. It remains to be seen if Powell can stay on the field and, if he can, whether he’ll have the same explosiveness as before.
As a result, grading Powell’s college career at this point is impossible.
A: Jadeveon Clowney (2011)
Even though Clowney dominated the competition while he was at South Pointe High School in Rock Hill, SC, no one could have anticipated how much he would impose his will at the college level - and in the sport’s best conference, no less.
Amid comparisons to Lawrence Taylor, Julius Peppers and other pass-rushing demons of yore, Clowney has shown abilities that suggest he might be better than all of them. He’s 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds yet runs like a deer (and can leap like one, too). He’s widely considered college football’s best player and the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.
SEC offenses are probably lamenting the fact that they have to face him for at least one more season - one more year for him to try and outdo his school-record 13 sacks from last fall and now legendary de-cleating of Michigan’s Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl.
By the end of 2013, we fully expect this grade to be an A+.
INC: Dorial Green-Beckham (2012)
A 6-foot-6, 220-pound specimen, Green-Beckham arrived in Columbia last fall as the best wide receiver prospect since Randy Moss. Alas, 2012 was evidence that it will take some time for Green-Beckham to live up to that hype.
As the Tigers struggled to a 5–7 season in their first year in the SEC, Green-Beckham hauled in just 28 catches for 395 yards. Off the field proved to be a struggle, too, as he was arrested (along with two freshman teammates) and suspended for marijuana possession in October.
In Green-Beckham’s defense, he has plenty of time to still live up to all the hype. And “DGB” came on strong late in the season with four TDs in his final three games. Tigers coaches and fans no doubt hope that he can put all of his struggles from last fall behind him in 2013.