Top-rated football recruits offer wide range of production
AUG 15, 2013 9:32p ET
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.
Video: Clowney ready to dominate in 2013
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.