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).


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


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 and their career


2002: Lorenzo Booker, RB, Florida State


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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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Clowney ready to dominate in 2013</A>

2011: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina


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


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


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.