What became of the nation’s No. 1 recruits

Feb 09, 2018
  • By Josh Crutchmer
  • Marc Tracy
  • The New York Times
Chris O'Meara/AP
Berkeley Prep high school football player Nicholas Petit-Frere smiles after committing to Ohio State during signing day Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

College football teams locked in their incoming freshman classes Wednesday as National Signing Day unfolded. For some fans, tracking recruiting’s winners and losers can generate as much passion as the actual games in the fall and winter. But how well do precollege rankings, painstakingly calculated by outlets such as Rivals, Max Preps, Scout and 247Sports, translate to on-field success?

A look back at the past 10 years of Rivals’ No. 1 overall recruits, as well as other highlights from each signing day class, shows that the answer is: Not as much as you might think. Several top picks have been relative busts, and only one — defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, now of the Houston Texans — blossomed into a star in college and the NFL.

The list is more proof that projecting high school success into college and beyond is an inexact science; the experts’ top rankings each year overlooked four Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and the supremely talented New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

The results reveal clearer truths about the college game. Six of the last 10 No. 1s were defensive linemen, a nod to the importance of stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. Half came from states in the Southeastern Conference’s footprint, and eight went to teams in that league, which has produced nine of the last 12 national champions.

When the dust settled Wednesday, this year’s top class — depending on one’s opinion — belonged either to Georgia, an SEC team and last season’s national title runner-up, or Ohio State, the one team outside the region that under coach Urban Meyer has consistently recruited at similar levels. This year’s top prospect, the Georgia high school quarterback Trevor Lawrence, already had signed with Clemson, which has made the College Football Playoff the past three years. Recruiting is not a competition for the underdogs.

— 2009

Bryce Brown

Wichita, Kansas (Wichita East H.S.)

Position: RB

Commitment: Tennessee. Played one season as a backup for the Volunteers before transferring to Kansas State and entering the 2012 NFL draft. Played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks from 2012-15.

Class highlights: The top 10 in Bowen’s senior year included the future pros Reuben Randle, Matt Barkley, Trent Richardson and Vontaze Burfict. Linebacker Manti Te’o ranked No. 12.

— 2010

Ronald Powell

Moreno Valley, California (Rancho Verde H.S.)

Position: DE

Commitment: Florida. College career was injury-plagued, including two seasons lost to a torn knee ligament, but New Orleans still drafted him in the fifth round in 2014.

Class highlights: The second-ranked overall player, Seantrel Henderson, has cemented his place as a starting tackle for the Bills. The player ranked as the best athlete in the class, receiver Robert Woods, now plays for the Los Angeles Rams.

— 2011

Jadeveon Clowney

Rock Hill, South Carolina (South Pointe H.S.)

Position: DE

Commitment: South Carolina. Became a two-time All-American at South Carolina and later a two-time Pro Bowl selection at linebacker — including this season — for the Texans.

Class highlights: Odell Beckham Jr., the future star Giants receiver, ranked No. 43. The future Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota did not make the top 250.

— 2012

Dorial Green-Beckham

Springfield, Missouri (Hillcrest H.S.)

Position: WR

Commitment: Missouri. Transferred to Oklahoma after two promising seasons at Missouri were marred by legal troubles. Played for the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles in two seasons, scoring six touchdowns.

Class highlights: The 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston ranked 10th overall in a star-studded class that also included future NFL players D.J. Humphries (No. 2), Stefon Diggs (8) and Todd Gurley (42).

— 2013

Robert Nkemdiche

Loganville, Georgia (Grayson H.S.)

Position: DE

Commitment: Mississippi. Named a second-team All-American as a sophomore — leading a Mississippi unit that ranked first in the nation in scoring defense — before leaving for the NFL draft, where he was taken by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round.

Class highlights: Titans running back Derrick Henry, who won the 2015 Heisman Trophy at Alabama, ranked No. 36. The 2017 Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield, did not make the top 250.

— 2014

Da’Shawn Hand

Woodbridge, Virginia (Woodbridge H.S.)

Position: DE

Commitment: Alabama. Finished his senior season with the Crimson Tide this year, winning his second national title. Hand was named second-team All-SEC as a junior in 2016.

Class highlights: The top 10 included NFL draft picks Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, Leonard Fournette and Joe Mixon.

— 2015

Byron Cowart

Seffner, Florida (Armwood H.S.)

Position: DE

Commitment: Auburn. Had 15 tackles in three seasons with Auburn before transferring to Maryland in 2017. Eligible to play next season for the Terrapins.

Class highlights: Lamar Jackson, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2016, did not make the top 250. Josh Rosen, considered a top NFL draft prospect at quarterback this year, ranked No. 2.

— 2016

Rashan Gary

Paramus, New Jersey (Paramus Catholic H.S.)

Position: DT

Commitment: Michigan. A starter in his first two seasons at Michigan, Gary was named All-Big Ten by the conference’s coaches in 2017.

Class highlights: The lone member of the class of 2016 to earn All-America honors in 2017 was defensive tackle Ed Oliver of Houston.

— 2017

Najee Harris

Antioch, California (Antioch Senior H.S.)

Position: RB

Commitment: Alabama. As a true freshman, Harris led the Crimson Tide in rushing during a 26-23 win over Georgia in the national championship game, including a 35-yard run to set up an Alabama field goal.

Class highlights: Jake Fromm, who quarterbacked Georgia to the national title game, ranked 20th in the class and was named to the Football Writers Association of America’s Freshman All-America team.

— 2018

Trevor Lawrence

Cartersville, Georgia (Cartersville H.S.)

Position: QB

Commitment: Clemson. The only quarterback to top Rivals’ list in the past 10 years, Lawrence averaged 16.6 yards a throw as a high school player, threw 160 touchdown passes and won two state championships.

Class highlights: Two players in this year’s top five, Lawrence and defensive end Xavier Thomas, committed to Clemson, while two others, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and quarterback JT Daniels, committed to Southern California.