Top-rated football recruits offer wide range of production

When looking back over the past decade-plus of No. 1-rated high school
football recruits, a certain theme emerges: from Clowney to Beanie, from
Pryor to Brown, there is no definitive trend in their success rates.
There are no promises of stardom, neither collegiate nor professional,
no guarantees of All-America nods (or even consistent playing time).

In
the past five classes alone, we’ve seen a can’t-miss running back play
just 13 career games and a defensive end entering a season with
prognosticators expecting a Heisman run. That’s a large spectrum to work
with.

Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 recruit in the
incoming 2013 class, will face similar expectations in Oxford this
season. So what’s realistic? Well, here’s a look back at the past 11
top-rated high schoolers (as ranked by Scout.com) and their career
highlights:

2002: Lorenzo Booker, RB, Florida State

Once
referred to as the Barry Sanders of his class, Booker never quite set
the college football world on fire. After redshirting his freshman
season — reportedly for needing more time to grasp Jeff Bowden’s
offense — the 5-foot-11, 185-pound running back ended up splitting
carries every single season of his career. Over his five seasons in
Tallahassee, he rushed for 2,389 and 17 total touchdowns while sharing
the load with Greg Jones, Antone Smith and Leon Washington.

That’s
the risk some of the players on this list ran, too: playing time is not
guaranteed at recruiting powerhouses, which is exactly what Florida
State was at the height of Bobby Bowden’s BCS power.

Once his
collegiate career was over, Booker would look back on his recruitment
with some regret, especially after watching the way Southern Cal — a
hometown school for the St. Bonaventure (Calif.) product — utilized
Reggie Bush a few seasons down the line. As the story goes, then-USC
offensive coordinator Norm Chow was once chased off Booker’s high school
campus while trying to keep him in-state. He could have been a part of
Pete Carroll’s early 2000s dynasty. Instead, his college career was
defined by almosts.

2003: Ernie Sims III, RB/LB, Florida State

If high school highlight videos were ever a part of your daily Internet routine in 2003, then Sims’ exploits as a runner
are not a mystery. Sims was a 6-foot tank of a running back/linebacker
combo for North Florida Christian who, like many players on this list,
was a dynamic two-way player at the prep level — in his junior and
senior seasons alone, he racked up 40 rushing touchdowns and more than
300 tackles. The son of a former Bowden player, expectations were high
for Sims in Tallahassee, especially after he received explicit
permission to wear Ron Sellers’ retired No. 34 as soon as he stepped on
campus.

Sims may not have proven to be the best player in his
class — Reggie Bush or Mario Williams likely take that honor — but he
was not a disappointment. In his three seasons with the Seminoles, Sims
played in every game, even earning a nod on ESPN’s First-Team
All-American squad as a sophomore, as FSU won two ACC titles. He went on
to become the ninth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

2004: Jeff Byers, OL, USC

It’s
difficult to judge Byers on his career achievement since injuries
played such a detractive role during his early years in Los Angeles.
After committing to Carroll as the 2004 Gatorade Player of the Year
(he’s still the only lineman to ever win the award), the 6-foot-4,
280-pound center played 13 games as a true freshman for the BCS title
winners. That’s pretty much what is expected of No. 1 recruits:
immediate contributions, successful team results.

But he missed the 2005 season after undergoing hip surgery.

Then he missed the 2006 season after suffering a back sprain in the season opener against Arkansas.

Due
to receiving multiple medical redshirts and waivers, Byers was able to
play three more seasons (2007-09) at USC before entering the NFL as an
undrafted free agent. He is now with the Carolina Panthers, where he was
elevated from the practice squad to the active roster to a starter’s
role in 2012 due to multiple injuries to players listed ahead of him on
the depth chart.

2005: Mark Sanchez, QB, USC

By
the time Sanchez, considered the prototypical NFL QB prospect, arrived
at USC, the Trojans already had Heisman winner Matt Leinart as their
starter and former top recruit John David Booty as a backup. Nothing was
handed to Sanchez, either, no heir-to-the-throne-type ascension.

Sanchez
redshirted his first season on campus and attempted just seven passes
during his redshirt freshman campaign. He entered the 2007 season No. 2
on the depth chart, starting just two games while Booty nursed a broken
finger.

In his lone season as a starter, though, Sanchez posted
impressive passing numbers: 3,207 yards, 34 touchdowns, 10 INT and a
65.8 completion percentage, leading the Trojans to their
third-consecutive Pac-10 title. He entered the NFL Draft after that
season, becoming the fifth overall pick (and first QB taken) in the 2009
NFL Draft. Of course, he went on to find both early success and subsequent infamy with the New York Jets, but he came as close to living up to his billing as any offensive player on this list.

2006: Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Ohio State

When
it comes to production at the college level, only his Buckeye teammate
(Terrelle Pryor, more on him in a minute) left a larger mark among
offensive players on this list. Wells, an Ohio native, was once compared
to All-World running back Adrian Peterson — “cut from the same mold,”
the evaluation read — and, at times, he showed the capability to put up
similar numbers.

Splitting time with Antonio Pittman, Wells
rushed for 576 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. Once given
the starter’s job, he racked up 2,806 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns and a
second-team All-American nod over his next two seasons before entering
the NFL Draft (pick No. 31). He still ranks fourth overall on Ohio
State’s all-time rushing list behind Archie Griffin, Eddie George and
Tim Spencer.

Though he’s dealt with myriad injury issues since
entering the league, even suffering an ankle injury the very day he
signed his first contract, Wells easily takes the cake as the best
college RB on this list.

2007: Everson Griffen, DE, USC

Hyped
as the next great pass rusher, Griffen was even given the unoriginal
“Freak” moniker while attending Arizona’s football camp during his
junior year. When looking at his measurables — 6-foot-4, 265 pounds,
4.55 40-yard dash — the name fit well enough, and the fact that he was
ranked above the likes of Eric Berry and Dez Bryant didn’t raise too
many eyebrows. He certainly possessed the tangibles.

After
becoming the first USC true freshman to start the season opener on the
defensive line in more than 20 years, Griffen played sparingly in his
first two seasons, posting 10 sacks in five starts (though he was the highlight of Carroll’s 2008 April Fool’s prank). He went on to log eight sacks and become a second-team All-Pac 10 performer as a junior before jumping to the NFL.

Griffen has played in every game for the Minnesota Vikings over the past two seasons (12 career sacks).

2008: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State

Perhaps
the most controversial player on this list, there’s no questioning
Pryor’s effectiveness on the playing field. A two-sport star in high
school — he ranked as a top-100 basketball recruit nationally — Pryor
headlined a class that included future NFL stars A.J. Green, Julio
Jones, Patrick Peterson and Andrew Luck.

Pryor became one of the
top dual-threat QBs in the country after taking over the starting role
halfway through his freshman campaign, accounting for 8,365 yards and 76
total touchdowns in just three seasons in Columbus — both totals rank
second on Ohio State’s all-time list, just behind former NFL first-round
pick Art Schlichter. With No. 2 running the show, coach Jim Tressel’s
team went 33-7, captured three straight Big 10 titles and two BCS bowl
wins.

Of course, Pryor’s days as a Buckeye are now associated
with the tattoos and memorabilia “scandal” (insert anti-NCAA comment or
joke here) that vacated the team’s 2010 accomplishments, cost Tressel
his job and eventually sent Pryor to the NFL’s Supplemental Draft. NCAA
rules and regulations aside, Pryor’s career numbers still stack up as
one of the best the school has ever seen.

2009: Bryce Brown, RB, Tennessee

Nothing
seemed to go right for Bryce Brown, the least productive No. 1 recruit
of the past decade. After a contentious recruiting process, Brown, a
6-foot speedster out of Wichita, Kan., eventually chose coach Lane
Kiffin and Tennessee. During his freshman campaign, he backed up
Montario Hardesty and finished with 460 yards and three scores. It
turned out to be the best season of his college career.

Following
Kiffin’s departure, Brown and his brother, Baltimore Ravens linebacker
Arthur Brown, transferred to Kansas State, where the former top-rated
recruit carried the ball just three times before entering the NFL Draft.
His career numbers: 476 yards, 4 total TD.

In better
Brown-related news, hd did enjoy a successful rookie season in the NFL,
backing up Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy and leading the
team in rushing touchdowns in 2012.

2010: Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami

Henderson,
the first of three current college athletes on this list, has yet to
set his Hurricanes legacy in stone. A mountain of a high school recruit
(6-foot-8, 338 pounds), Henderson has been through his share of
obstacles in his three seasons: de-committing from a probation-laden
USC, suspension, surgery, homesickness and family tragedy, to name a
few.

All the same, he started nine games as a true freshman, earning First-Team All-American honors from multiple outlets.

Henderson
elected to return to school after warranting All-ACC honorable mention
honors last season — the NFL Advisory Board reportedly informed him
that he would be a post-third-round selection had he opted to forego his
senior year — and he’ll look to solidify the right tackle spot for a
Miami program coming off probation and looking to contend for its
first-ever ACC title. First-round potential? Still there.

 
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2011: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Entering
the 2013 season as a Heisman favorite, it’s safe to say that one of the
highest-rated and most-anticipated recruits in recent history has lived
up to his promise. Clowney was a nightmare for opposing offenses from
Day One, logging eight sacks as a true freshman before blossoming into
one of the best — if not the very best — players in the entire country
as a sophomore in 2012. His 13 sacks last season ranked third-best in
the country as the 6-foot-6 physical specimen became a First-Team
All-American.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Clowney is
set to become the unanimous No. 1 overall pick in the next season’s NFL
Draft. At a recent fan event, Georgia coach Mark Richt said Clowney
might just be the best player alive … at any level. That may be a bit
far-fetched, but it’s exactly the type of admiration that the South
Carolina defensive end has been garnering since his days at South Pointe High School (S.C.).

2012: Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

With
such a small sample size, casting overarching judgment on Green-Beckham
seems disingenuous at this point. As a 6-foot-6, can’t-miss wide
receiver prospect, Green-Beckham entered the 2012 season with high
hopes: he was presumed to be the top target for an explosive offense
(top-30 scoring in 2011) that returned its play-making QB. Well, things
didn’t exactly work out for Mizzou in Year One of SEC play. Unlike their
fellow newcomers Texas A&M, the Tigers’ offense never got rolling
— that includes just 395 yards and five TDs for their highly-touted
freshman wideout — and the team finished 5-7.

But while
Green-Beckham did not have the immediate success of fellow SEC freshmen
Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon or Amari Cooper, he did improved as the season
progressed: 21 of his 25 catches and four of his five touchdowns came in
the final five games.

Dorial Green-Beckham has a long way to go in order to live up to his billing, but he has plenty of time to work with.