Just like the NFL scouts who evaluate draft picks, the folks who rank football recruits have their moments of prescience and their moments of lunacy. For example, no recruitnik looks back fondly at 2005. Future stars such as Eugene Monroe (Rivals.com's No. 3 overall player), Rey Maualuga (No. 5) and Mark Sanchez (No. 7) were listed alongside busts such as defensive end Melvin Alaeze (No. 4), receiver Fred Rouse (No. 6) and quarterback Ryan Perrilloux (No. 16).
That won't be the case when recruitniks look back on their performance in 2008. Five of Rivals.com's top 15 prospects (No. 4 Julio Jones, No. 5 Patrick Peterson, No. 9 A.J. Green, No. 14 Blaine Gabbert and No. 15 Tyron Smith) appeared in
So how did the other potential 2011 first-rounders rank as recruits? Some, such as Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, were pegged as future stars from the beginning. Others, such as Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, were considered projects. One prospect, Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins, wasn't rated at all. But don't blame the recruitniks for missing a future star. Watkins didn't even play high school football. Read on to find out why. (
As strange as it may sound now, Newton was considered a slightly under-the-radar four-star guy when he committed to Florida in September 2006. This probably was because some schools didn't see Newton, then 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, as a quarterback. By National Signing Day 2007, Rivals gave Newton a fifth star. After he washed out of Florida and went to Blinn Junior College in Texas, Newton was a five-star recruit all over again. A massive scandal, a Heisman Trophy and a national title later, Newton is a five-star NFL prospect.
Dareus wasn't hotly pursued until late in the recruiting process because schools were waiting on him to make a qualifying test score. Talent certainly wasn't the issue, especially when Dareus' spectacular senior film began making the rounds. Alabama fans certainly got excited about Dareus after he signed.
Remember the wide-open offense Bill Callahan wanted to run at Nebraska? Gabbert was committed to the Cornhuskers to run that offense. Gabbert dominated at the Elite 11 Camp in 2007, and he was considered the nation's best pro-style quarterback prospect. But when it became apparent Callahan was on the way out at Nebraska, Gabbert reopened his recruitment. In November 2007, he committed to Missouri, where he became the heir apparent to Chase Daniel.
In 2007, the debate raged as to whether Green or Julio Jones was the nation's best receiver prospect. From 2008-10, the debate raged as to whether Green or Jones was the SEC's best receiver. Now, the debate rages as to whether Green or Jones is the best receiver in the 2011 draft. Some things never change.
Florida, Oklahoma and Texas Tech also recruited Miller hard, but he wound up choosing the Aggies. Location played a role, as did one longtime friendship. High school teammate Garrick Williams -- who had teamed with Miller since sixth grade and who still plays for the Aggies -- also was headed to College Station. Had Miller opted to go to Florida or Oklahoma, the results could have been terrifying. At Florida, Miller would have played opposite Carlos Dunlap. At Oklahoma, he would have played opposite Jeremy Beal.
Every major program in the country wanted Quinn, who narrowed his list to North Carolina, Alabama and Auburn. On National Signing Day in 2008, Quinn chose the Tar Heels. During his press conference, he said he had leaned toward Auburn the previous night. North Carolina defensive line coach John Blake was a major factor in the recruitment of Quinn, who was declared ineligible by the NCAA in 2010 for taking improper benefits from an agent and then lying to NCAA investigators. Blake, who once worked for late agent Gary Wichard, resigned amid the agent scandal.
The recruiting gurus nailed it with Peterson, who was the nation's top defensive back in the class of 2008. Peterson originally committed to Miami, and as late as early November 2007, he was adamant in interviews that he still planned to go to Miami. But after official visits to Florida, Georgia, LSU, Florida State and North Carolina, Peterson had plenty of options when he arrived in San Antonio for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He wound up choosing LSU. Earlier this year, former Texas A&M assistant Van Malone told ESPN that famed recruiting middleman Will Lyles had tried to shop Peterson to that school. Peterson has denied this and said Lyles had no influence on his school choice.
Schools recruited two-way standout Fairley as a tight end or offensive tackle coming out of Williamson High, the same school that produced former LSU quarterback and No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell. One coach who wanted Fairley badly was offensive line guru Rick Trickett, who recruited Fairley hard at West Virginia and continued his pursuit after moving to Florida State. The NCAA Clearinghouse ruled in August 2007 that Fairley couldn't enroll at Auburn, so he went to Copiah-Lincoln Junior College in Wesson, Miss. Fairley redshirted his first season at the JUCO, and he had an unspectacular second year after moving to defensive tackle. He was still a bit of a project when he arrived at Auburn in 2009. Fairley bloomed in 2010 and destroyed SEC offensive lines. He opened 2011 by dominating the BCS title game.
Jones was famously tight-lipped about his recruitment, but he caused a stir wherever he went. The nation's top-ranked receiver by Rivals and Scout, Jones took official visits to Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech before announcing on National Signing Day that he would play for the Crimson Tide. Before he even set foot on Alabama's campus, Jones received 17 write-in votes in the election for Alabama's student body president.
When Nebraska entered the fray, only Fresno State, UTEP and UNLV had offered Amukamara, who also was a star tailback in high school. Colorado and Oregon State jumped in with late offers, but Amukamara's choice came down to Fresno State or Nebraska. After an official visit to Nebraska in November 2006, he was sold.
Jordan, the son of former Brown University and NFL tight end Steve Jordan, played basketball for most of his youth, but he developed into a star on both sides of the line at Chandler High. He also had offers from Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State, but the final choice came down to Cal and Arizona. Jordan told Rivals.com that in the end he had to decide whether he wanted to stay home or leave the nest. Wanderlust won; the Golden Bears weren't disappointed.
Most players who go to prep school need academic improvement. Not Castonzo, who scored 35 out of a possible 36 on the ACT in high school in Illinois. But the only schools interested in Castonzo out of high school were Princeton, Yale and Holy Cross. Castonzo thought he could be an FBS player, so he went to Fork Union Military Academy for a postgrad season. It worked. He landed offers from BC, Duke, Virginia and Vanderbilt. He chose Boston College, where he became the first true freshman to start at tackle in 10 years. He wound up setting a school record with 54 starts and earned a degree in biochemistry.
Liuget could have gone just about anywhere. By the time he committed to Illinois in October 2007, he had 35 scholarship offers. But the recruitment didn't end there. Liuget also took official visits to Florida State, LSU, Miami and Rutgers before signing with the Illini on National Signing Day.
Ingram seemed to be headed somewhere in the Big Ten before Alabama swooped into his recruitment in November 2007. He had already taken an official visit to Wisconsin and had scheduled visits to Michigan State and Iowa when Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban -- who knew Ingram's father, Mark, from Saban's days at Michigan State -- offered Ingram a scholarship. Ingram checked out the Spartans and Hawkeyes as well as Arizona State, but he picked Alabama the day before National Signing Day. That made some waves in Big Ten country, but Ingram remained a bit under-the-radar nationally. In fact, Rivals.com ranked him as no better than the No. 13 signee in Alabama's 2008 class. News of Ingram's commitment was quickly overshadowed a day later when Jones signed with the Tide. Ingram didn't stay in that shadow for long.
Kerrigan went to camps at Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State between his junior and senior seasons, but none of those schools came through with a scholarship offer. Instead, he chose Purdue over Indiana, Cincinnati, Ball State and Northern Illinois. He wound up setting a Big Ten record and tying the FBS record for career fumbles forced (14), and he finished his career tied for second on Purdue's alltime sack list (33.5).
Want to know another reason Tim Brewster deserved to be fired at Minnesota? When Brewster took over after Glen Mason was fired, Watt was committed to the Golden Gophers. But Brewster's staff didn't pursue the 6-5, 220-pound tight end/defensive end. Instead, Watt signed with Central Michigan. He started at tight end for the Chippewas as a freshman, but after coaches told him they planned to move him to offensive tackle, Watt decided to leave Central Michigan and walk on at Wisconsin. Watt attended a community college and delivered pizzas in his hometown to sock away money to pay for his tuition at Wisconsin. He walked on in Madison in 2008 and grew into a 6-6, 290-pound monster who terrorized Big Ten quarterbacks for two seasons.
Smith's college options might have been completely different had he not made a critical decision following his sophomore year at Washington High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Smith's mother decided to move to Atlanta and gave her 6-5, 235-pound son the option of coming along to Georgia or moving in with his father in suburban Kansas City. Had his mother not decided to move, Smith might have wound up in the Big Ten. Had he decided to go with her, Smith might have wound up in the ACC or SEC. Instead, he went to Raytown, where he impressed coaches from Missouri, Kansas State and Nebraska. Smith committed to the Tigers in October 2007 after he watched Missouri thump Nebraska en route to a Big 12 north title.
Naturally, Pouncey and his twin brother, Maurkice, were a package deal after leading Lakeland High to a
Rivals.com considered Bowers the No. 2 recruit in the nation behind current Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Coaches from around the country coveted Bowers, but they never had a chance. Even as a sophomore in high school, Bowers made it known that he planned to play at Clemson. Bowers announced his commitment in November of his junior season -- when he was already 6-4 and 267 pounds. Bowers never wavered. He never took another official visit, and he enrolled at Clemson in January 2008.
A 6-7, 268-pound offensive lineman who grows up in Wisconsin probably only wants to attend one school. "I committed. They offered," Carimi told a writer from Rivals site BadgerBlitz.com as soon as he answered the phone on June 28, 2005. It probably happened in that order for Carimi, a lifelong Wisconsin fan. Carimi's only other offer was from Indiana, but he was on the verge of a Nebraska offer when Wisconsin pulled the trigger following a camp between Carimi's junior and senior years of high school. After he got the offer, Carimi never looked at another school.
Solder was a 6-8, 245-pound tight end/linebacker in high school, but he spent most of his summers playing travel basketball. Solder probably could have played hoops in the Ivy League or Division II, but college football coaches got very interested his senior year. He also received offers from Nebraska, Iowa State, Colorado State and Wyoming, but elected to play closest to home.
It's tough to rank a player if he spent high school playing rugby and hockey. That's why there is no ranking for Watkins, who might have the best back story in the draft. After high school, Watkins joined his local fire department. After a few years there, Watkins decided he needed more education to make himself a better firefighter. So he enrolled in the fire sciences program at Butte Community College in Oroville, Calif. It didn't take long for the Butte football coaches to find out they had an athletic 300-pounder walking around campus. They convinced Watkins to try football, and he blossomed quickly as an offensive tackle because he had no bad habits to break and because, as Watkins said, moving backward in pass protection isn't all that different from skating backward in hockey. Baylor, Arkansas and Cal all offered the newest star at the JUCO that produced Aaron Rodgers, but Watkins went with the Bears, who had recruited him first.
Wilkerson signed with the Owls out of high school in 2007, but he wound up attending Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. At Hargrave, Wilkerson drew more interest, but he wound up picking the Owls again after also considering offers from Marshall and Western Kentucky.
Had Dalton played at a more pass-happy high school, he might have had more colleges after him. Katy, a power in Texas 5A football, was a run-first program when Dalton took over as the starting quarterback. Coaches relied on Dalton's arm quite a bit more his senior season, but most of the recruiting of quarterbacks is done before the senior season begins. Dalton's first offer came from UTEP. His second -- and final -- offer came from TCU in October 2005. Dalton committed a little more than two weeks later.
Smith played alongside USC signees Allen Bradford and Shareece Wright at Colton, but he originally planned to attend another Pac-10 school. Smith had offers from Nebraska, Boise State, UNLV and others, but he committed to Washington State in January 2006. When he committed, Smith still had a visit scheduled to Colorado, where Coach Dan Hawkins had just come from Boise State. Smith committed to the Buffaloes on Jan. 27, 2006 and signed with Colorado the following week.
The state of Missouri isn't usually as top-heavy as it was in 2006. That year, Rivals ranked Clayborn the state's second-best recruit behind current Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and ahead of current Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin. If Clayborn gets picked here, all three will have been first-rounders. Clayborn could have played alongside Freeman at Kansas State or alongside Maclin at Missouri, but he chose Iowa from a final group that also included Nebraska and Texas Tech.
As late as March 2005, recruiting services still occasionally listed Locker as a QB/S. When he hit the camp circuit following his junior year, that changed. Locker drew interest from schools in every section of the country as he marched to the Elite 11 Camp in July. To many, he was a right-handed version of another star dual-threat quarterback in the same class named Tim Tebow.
Locker committed to Washington in July 2005, but the Huskies still weren't sure Locker wouldn't pull a Grady Sizemore. Sizemore, now a Cleveland Indians outfielder, signed with Washington in 2000 to play football but ended up signing a baseball contract. In May 2006, Locker -- a speedy outfielder and the owner of a 94 mph fastball -- announced he intended to play football at Washington and that he would not sign if picked in the Major League Baseball draft. The Angels took him in the 40th round anyway, and they took him again in the 10th round in 2009. Locker signed with the club the second time. The Angels own his baseball rights until 2015, but Locker is set on playing football.
Sherrod had his pick of schools, but he decided to go to college a half-hour from his home to play alongside his brother, Dezmond. Had Dezmond not played for the Bulldogs, Derek might have explored his options more. Those options included Ole Miss, Florida, Miami and Notre Dame.
In his first trip through the recruiting process, Taylor narrowed his choices to Penn State, Maryland and Virginia Tech. Taylor's family served lasagna when Joe Paterno visited his house, and Taylor wound up signing with the Nittany Lions. In 2008, Taylor was dismissed from Penn State. Though the school never announced a reason for the dismissal, Taylor had been suspended following a 2007 brawl that got him charged with assault. Taylor had offers from Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Maryland, but he chose Baylor because of defensive coordinator Brian Norwood, who had been a Penn State assistant when Taylor was in State College.
Iowa State was the first school to offer Cannon a scholarship, but he decided to wait for more. Several schools were waiting on a standardized test score before offering Cannon, who was hoping for an offer from Texas A&M that never came. In December 2005, TCU offered Cannon. He quickly canceled his official visit to Iowa State and committed to the Horned Frogs. Little did Andy Dalton know it, but he had just gotten his collegiate blindside protector.
The son of former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward had plenty of options. Pittsburgh, Heyward's father's alma mater, expressed interest early. So did Duke. But as the recruiting process moved forward, it became obvious Heyward was going to sign with a blue-chip program. He narrowed his options to Ohio State, Florida, Georgia and LSU, and he announced on Jan. 31, 2007 that he would sign with the Buckeyes.