Sunday, August 30, 2009

Preview Reviews | by Pat

Every summer we like to take a look back at the top recruits coming out of high school from four years ago, and see how they're doing going into their senior year. With all of the discussions of 5-star versus 3-star, it's fun and sometimes even enlightening to look at how the cream of the crop are doing as they wind down their college careers. It also gives you a few names to look out for in the upcoming season.

This is our fifth annual Top 50 "look back" -- click here for the 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 editions -- so it will be interesting to keep an eye on some of the trends we have seen emerge over the past few years. Are Top 50 offensive linemen still a crapshoot? Will roughly 40% of the 5-star types turn into stars while the other 60% turn into situational players, injury casualties, or complete busts?

Let's review the scoring system at work here, and how we came up with the consensus top 50:

  • Final top 100 lists were gathered from and
  • The rankings were converted into points by giving a recruit (101-x) points, where x represented his ranking. The #1 recruit would therefore receive 100 points, and the #100 recruit would receive 1 point.
  • Players who were not ranked on a list were automatically assigned a 125th place ranking, which converted to negative points.
  • The total points for each recruit were compared, and ties were broken by the highest ranking on any individual list.
  • In the parentheses following each player's name are his individual list rankings (Rivals, Scout).
We also added a color code to the list to classify the booms and the busts. Blue means the guy at the minimum is an all-conference level multi-year contributor, bordering on being one of the better players in college. Yellow (or close to it) means the jury's still out; for whatever reason -- maybe because of an injury, a talented veteran player ahead of him, an academic issue, or time spent at a JUCO -- the guy hasn't made the expected impact yet, but still has some eligibility left to redeem his ranking. Red means the player had his chance, but simply hasn't panned out like one might expect for a Top 50 recruit. Lastly, the higher the ranking, the greater the expectations: two players may have similar statistics, but the higher ranked player may be yellow while the lower ranked one is blue.

#1 Chris Wells, RB - Ohio State (3,1)
Wells started his Buckeye career as the backup to Antonio Pittman, but still played in every game and was the team's second leading rusher. By his sophomore year he was the starter and churned out over 1,600 yards on his way to first team All-Big Ten honors. His junior year he struggled through some injuries that cost him three games, but was still the team's leading rusher and MVP. Declaring early for the draft, the Arizona Cardinals took him in the 1st round with the 31st overall pick.

#2 Andre Smith, OT - Alabama
The 6'4" 330 pound behemoth lived up to his #2 billing by becoming 'Bama's starting left tackle from Day 1 and becoming a multiple year All-American. He wound up starting every single game during his three years on campus save the last one, when he was suspended for dealing with an agent. That error, combined with some rumors about work ethic weren't enough to deter the NFL though as the Bengals made him the #6 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

#3 Gerald McCoy, DT - Oklahoma (4,4)
ND fans remember well the recruiting chase for McCoy, only to fall short to the Sooners. His first year on campus he redshirted, but was an instant impact as a sophomore, starting every game at DT and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. His junior year he was named a 2nd Team AP All-American and briefly considered leaving for the NFL .With two more years of eligibility, it is expected he will have another All-American type season in 2009 and then head off to the pros as a likely 1st round pick.

#4 Percy Harvin, WR - Florida (1,8)
Harvin saw action right away for the Gators despite injuries costing him some playing time in the middle of the season. He was named MVP of the SEC Championship game and won the SEC Freshman of the Year award. Nagging injuries affected him the next two years, but he was still a key player in Florida's title run and was named 2nd Team AP All-American as an all-purpose player. He then declared for the NFL and, despite testing positive for majiuana at the NFL Combine, was a 1st round draftee with the Minnesota Vikings taking him with the #22 overall pick.

#5 Sergio Kindle, LB - Texas (5,6)
Kindle's career at Texas hasn't gone completely to plan with injuries and a DUI suspension costing him a handful of games the past three seasons. He didn't crack the starting lineup until his junior year, where he started 11 games at linebacker and defensive end and wound up being named 2nd Team All-Big 12 by the AP. There are high expectations for his play heading into his final season, but he'll need to avoid the injury bug and any more driving incidents. In addition to his DUI arrest before his sophomore year, Kindle crashed his car into an apartment complex last month.

#6 Vidal Hazelton, WR - Southern Cal to Cincinnati (7,5)
Hazelton played right away for the Trojans, but only caught one pass his freshman year. That all changed in 2007 when he started nine games and led the team in receptions by a receiver. Injuries hit him in 2008 and a published letter from his father criticizing the coaching staff for the way they handled his son's injuries didn't help Vidal's chances of staying near the top of the depth chart. He decided to transfer to Cincinnati where he sat out the 2008 season, roomed with Demetrious Jones, and has two years of eligibility left for the Bearcats.

#7 Sam Young, OT - Notre Dame (11,3)
The first Irish player on the list, and only the fourth overall in the five years we have been doing these Top 50 recaps, Young was an instant starter for ND and was a 1st Team Freshman All-American in 2006. In fact, he has started every single game he's been on campus at both right and left tackle. Now entrenched at right tackle, Young largely has been lumped in with an underachieving offensive line. I went back and forth on giving him a blue or yellow color. The expectations should be high for a Top 10 recruit. Still, it's hard to say the jury is still out on a player that has been on the field for all but a small handful of snaps over his career.

#8 Matthew Stafford, QB - Georgia (6,11)
Stafford broke into the starting lineup his freshman year and never let go, starting the next 34 games. His passing numbers improved every year and he was named 2nd Team All-SEC after his junior year in 2008. Projected as a very high pick, he entered the NFL Draft and wound up the #1 overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

#9 Myron Rolle, S - Florida State (12,7)
Rolle only took two games to become a starter in FSU's defensive backfield and was a 1st Team Freshman All-American. At the end of his junior year, he was named a 3rd Team AP All-American and a Rhodes Scholar. As he graduated from FSU in only 2.5 years, he announced that he would spend his 2009 season studying in Oxford and will return to the States to enter the 2010 NFL Draft.

#10 Mitch Mustain, QB - Arkansas to Southern Cal (10,10)
Mustain started eight games as a freshman for the Razorbacks and won them all, but coaching issues led him to transfer to the Trojans. After sitting out the 2007 season, he was a backup in 2008 and was third on the depth chart for 2009 at the conclusion of spring ball. Mustain still has two years of eligibility left, but with the freshman Matt Barkley getting the starting nod to start the 2009 season, Mustain's chances of becoming a starter are extremely low.

#11 C.J. Spiller, RB - Clemson (8,16)
Spiller nearly cracked the 1,000 yard rushing mark as a freshman and hasn't looked back. Last year he was named 1st Team All-ACC as a kick returner and 2nd Team as a running back. Only 921 yards away from being the ACC's all-time all-purpose yards leader, the extremely fast Spiller is a definite All-American candidate and likely high draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

#12 Brandon Graham, DE - Michigan (15,14)
Although playing in 11 games his freshman year, Graham only had 3 tackles. That number jumped the following years as he started five games in 2007 and then 11 in 2008. Last season he was 2nd in the nation in tackles for loss and 7th in sacks. Voted the team MVP and 2nd Team All-Big Ten following his junior year, Graham is poised for a big year in his final year of eligibilty.

#13 Stafon Johnson, RB - Southern Cal (18,13)
Southern Cal's deep and talented depth chart at running back has limited Johnson to only one career start so far. But that's not to say he hasn't had an impact. In 2007 he was the team's second leading rusher and last season he led the team in rushing and was also the top punt returner. It might be another year of running back by committee, but Johnson is headed towards a high NFL draft pick when he is done. On nearly any other team he would have been a multi-year feature back.

#14 Al Woods, DT - LSU (20,12)
A huge defensive tackle at 6'4" 323 pounds, Woods has been in the DL rotation since his freshman year. However, he has only started two games in the past three seasons. He has one year left and is positioned to finally be a starter so with a strong year he can still turn into an all-conference type player, but it's taken him longer than most LSU fans would have liked to get to this point.

#15 Allen Bradford, LB - Southern Cal (9,28)
Although listed as a linebacker recruit on both Rivals and Scout, Bradford has only played on the offensive side of the ball for the Trojans. As a backup his freshman year, he started a few games at fullback. It was back to backup tailback duties his sophomore year and an injury early in 2008 gave him a medical redshirt. Now a redshirt junior with two years left, Bradford will again provide depth at running back.

#16 Taylor Mays, S - Southern Cal (16,21)
An injury to Josh Pinkard in the 2006 opener gave Mays the opportunity to start in only his second game on campus. He hasn't looked back on his way to 3rd Team AP-All American status in 2007 and Consensus !st Team All-American status in 2008. He turned down a near certain Top 5 pick to return to college ball for one final year, where he will be one of the very best players in the nation.

#17 Micah Johnson, LB - Kentucky (36,9)
Splitting time at middle linebacker his first few seasons, the big 258 pound Johnson took over the starting middle linebacker job in 2008 and had an excellent year, becoming Kentucky's 2nd leading tackler and earning honorable mention All-SEC honors. He briefly considered leaving for the NFL Draft but returned for his senior year, where he will be one of the better, and bigger, linebackers in the SEC.

#18 Stephen Schilling, OT - Michigan (26,19)
Schilling was brought in to be the longterm solution at offensive tackle but got off to a rough start when injury and mono sidelined him for his freshman year. He started nearly every game the next two seasons at right tackle but was inconsistent. He has moved inside to guard for 2009 where he might be more comfortable and effective over the next two seasons.

#19 Eddie Jones, DE - Texas (25,20)
After redshirting his first year, Jones wasn't able to crack the starting lineup his next two seasons in Austin. Shoulder surgery cost him the chance to earn a starting DE spot in spring ball this year, so he will have to win the job in the fall. He still has a few years lef left to make an impact, but if he can't stay healthy he will get passed by younger players.

#20 Brandon Spikes, LB - Florida (13,33)
Contributing right away as a freshman, Spikes entered the starting lineup for good and the honors and awards started flowing in. A 1st Team All-SEC honor his sophomore year was followed by Consensus 1st Team All-American honors last season. Bypassing a chance to enter the NFL Draft early, Spikes returns as one of the best defensive players in college football for the 2009 season.

#21 C.J. Gable, RB - Southern Cal (23,36)
Like teammate Bradford, Gable wasn't listed as a running back recruit by either Rivals (athlete) or Scout (safety). But that's where he has played at SC, becoming the first true freshman to start at running back for the Trojans. An injury in 2007 led to a medical redshirt, but he returned in 2008 to start 11 of 13 games, winding up as the team's 3rd leading rusher. He will be splitting carries once again as well as returning kickoffs.

#22 Michael Goodson, RB - Texas A&M (32,18)
Leading the Aggies in rushing as a freshman, Goodson was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. However, his yardage totals dropped each season the next two years due to injuries and conflict with the coaching staff. Goodson decided to skip his senior year and wound up a 4th round pick of the Carolina Panthers. Goodson is probably one of the harder guys to classify. He's not an obvious pick for blue, but he doesn't really qualify for a red or yellow either as he's already in the NFL.

#23 Tim Tebow, QB - Florida (22,29)
It was hard to dig up any information on Tim Tebow, but apparently he has had a pretty solid career so far. You'd think he would be mentioned in more articles. Anyway, with two national championships and one Heisman Trophy in his first three years, Tebow's resume already can match up with just about any player in college football history and he still has one year left.

#24 Ricky Sapp, DE - Clemson (21,31)
The speedy defensive end was quick to contribute to the Clemson pass rush, finishing second on the team in sacks as a freshman. He was a starter all 2007 and 2008 until tearing his ACL with three games to go in the '08 season. He's currently listed as a co-starter as he recovers from his knee injury.

#25 James Aldridge, RB - Notre Dame (27,34)
Aldridge was slowed by a knee injury his freshman year and only received a handful of carries behind Darius Walker. His sophomore season he only started five of the 11 games, but was ND's leading rusher in a rotation with Armando Allen and Robert Hughes. In 2008 he fell behind Allen and Hughes on the depth chart a bit while still getting nearly 100 carries and 357 yards. Heading into his final season, he has moved to become the starting fullback, although it is possible he will still see carries as a tailback on occasion. In all honestly, he's probably close to getting a red label, but I put him at yellow since he's technically a starter and could wind up being ND's short yardage back.

#26 LeSean McCoy, RB - Pitt (43,22)
"Shady" McCoy's college debut was delayed a year after he wound up going to prep school for a year rather than join the rest of his recruiting class as freshmen in college. When he did show up in 2007, he had an instant impact, leading all freshmen in the nation in rushing, breaking Tony Dorsett's rookie rushing records along the way. In 2008 McCoy finished 10th in the nation in total rushing and then declared for the NFL Draft. The Eagles selected McCoy in the 2nd round with the 53rd overall pick in the draft.

#27 Carl Johnson, OG - Florida (28,39)
A massive guard at 6'6" 348 pounds, Carl Johnson redshirted his first year and was a backup the next season seeing some time at center, guard, and tackle. He did wind up starting 8 games last year at left guard and, despite an off-season arrest for violating a restraining order, is in line to be a starting guard for the Gators with two years of eligibility left.

#28 Robert Rose, DE - Ohio State (17,52)
Rose entered the Buckeye starting lineup his sophomore year, but was sidelined by a shoulder injury. The effects of the injury carried over to his junior year where he played as a backup. After overcoming some last minute academic issues, Rose joined the team this fall and is currently listed as the backup at both defensive end spots.

#29 Antwine Perez, S - Southern Cal to Maryland (29,43)
An early enrollee, Perez contributed early on special teams and as a backup safety for the Trojans, but decided to change schools following the season. After sitting out a year at Maryland, he played from a backup position in 2008, starting only two games. With two years of eligibility left, Perez is still listed as a backup.

#30 DeMarco Murray, RB - Oklahoma (35,37)
Murray sat out his freshman year in 2006 as Oklahoma relied on Adrian Peterson. In his first game in 2007 he had five touchdowns. Despite an injury later in the season he was still named All-Big 12 honorable mention. A spectacular year in 2008 saw him set the Oklahoma single season all-purpose yardage record with 2,127 yards as a rusher, receiver, and returner. He has two years left, but the NFL will definitely be interested following the 2009 season.

#31 Jarred Fayson, WR - Florida to Illinois (47,27)
The fast receiver won a national championship as a freshman but decided to find more playing time elsewhere after not being a feature player in 2007. Now done with his mandatory transfer year off, Fayson will look to be part of an athletic receiving duo with Arrellious Benn.

#32 Joshua Tatum, S - Southern Cal to City College of San Francisco to Missouri (40,41)
Like Perez, Tatum redshirted his freshman year while getting over a knee injury. Like Perez, he decided to leave the Trojans and find playing time elsewhere. He played for two years at City College of San Francisco where he was named a JUCO All-American in 2008. Now at Missouri, Perez may take a medical redshirt year after going through back surgery in the off-season. He would still then have two seasons of eligibility left.

#33 Connor Smith, OG - Ohio State (55,30)
So far Smith has been a career backup for the Buckeyes. He will see some time as the starter in fall camp while the starter Justin Boren nurses a knee injury, but will likely slide back to a reserve role once the season hits.

#34 Jared Odrick, DT - Penn State (31,55)
Seeing playing time right away, Odrick had a positive impact right away on the Penn State defensive line. His sophomore year he was a starter at tackle but was lost for the last few games due to injury. Healthy in 2008, he was named 1st Team All-Big Ten and is in line for even more honors for his fourth and final season.

#35 Deantwan Whitehead, DE - Louisville (52,38)
A promising career was cut short by a spinal condition that forced a premautre retirement from football for Whitehead. The Sporting News Big East Defensive Freshman of the Year, Whitehead was injured during his sophomore year and testing revealed the narrowing of his spinal column

#36 Antonio Logan-El, OT - Penn State to Towson University (58,35)
Logan-El's biggest splash came with an over the top ESPNZone press conference to pick Penn State over Maryland. During his redshirt freshman year, he decided to leave the Nittany Lions without ever having played a down for them. He eventually transferred to Towson University to play. He eventually quit the team there as well and is now presumably out of football.

#37 Jonas Mouton, S - Michigan (45,48)
During his redshirt freshman year, Mouton switched from safety to linebacker. He then played as a backup LB his sophomore year, but only picked up 5 tackles in 9 games. He did crack the starting lineup as the weakside 'backer last year, starting 11. With two more seasons to go, he has plenty of time to live up to his lofty recruiting rank.

#38 Akeem Hebron, LB - Georgia (65,32)
Hebron's career has been one setback after another. He sat on the sidelines his freshman year and was suspended from school for his sophomore year. After playing at Georgia Military College instead, he returned to Georgia as a backup linebacker for 2008 and totalled one tackle. Injuries forced him to miss spring practice and while he's trying to work his way back from his ankle injury is buried on the depth chart.

#39 Deon Beasley, CB - Texas (77,23)
The lone senior in the Longhorns' defensive backfield, Beasley is likely to end his career as a back-up. Although he started nine games last year, it appears that two more talented, younger defensive backs (Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown) have relegated him to the bench. During 2007, Beasley broke up nine passes and intercepted three while starting one game; last year he broke up just six passes with zero interceptions.

#40 Charles Scott, RB - LSU (50,51)
After limited carries his first two season, the 6'0" 230 lb halfback won the starting job in '08, and he wasted no time in demonstrating that he belonged among the elite backs in the SEC. He led the conference in rushing touchdowns (18), and his 1,174 yards were the fifth most in school history.

#41 Marcus Ball, LB/S - Florida State to Pearl River Community College (37,67)
The younger brother of former Georgia Tech signalcaller Reggie Ball is no longer a Seminole. His career started off fairly well, as he played in three of the first four games his freshman year. During his sophomore year, he saw limited playing time, but he also became embroiled in the academic scandal that rocked Tallahassee. Rather than return after his suspension, Ball decided to enroll at a junior college and find another school to finish out his collegiate career. After earning first team All-American at Pearl River Community College, it appears that Ball will end up at Memphis.

#42 Butch Lewis, OT - Southern Cal (44,60)
Many teams, including the Irish, recruited Lewis as a defensive lineman, but the Trojans quickly moved him to offensive tackle, and he redshirted his freshman year. After playing a back-up role in 2007, he assumed the starting right tackle spot the following year. He started the first five games, got hurt, played as a back-up for another five games, and then started the final two contests. Unfortunately for Lewis, it seems as though he will be backing up tackles Charles Brown and Tyron Smith this year.

#43 A.J. Wallace, CB - Penn State (19,37)
The athletic cornerback and returner for the Nittany Lions is entering his senior season in Joe Paterno's doghouse for cutting classes. As a freshman, he played offense, defense, and special teams. The following year he set a school record for kick return yardage. This comes on the heels of Wallace's least productive season in Happy Valley. Last year, however he lost his starting cornerback spot and played more nickel,. On thin ice heading into his last year, Wallace is going to have to avoid trouble and beat out Knowledge Timmons and D'Anton Lynn for a starting job.

#44 Justin Boren, OG - Michigan to Ohio State (64,42)
Boren played as a freshman, and became a starter in his second season, earning Honorable All Big Ten honors. He didn't mix well with new coach Rich Rodriguez and the son of a Michigan alum transferred to Ohio State, where is brother was also playing. He sat out 2008 and is slated to start for the Buckeyes at offensive guard in 2009 with two years left.

#45 J'Marcus Webb, OL - Texas to Navarro Junior College to West Texas A&M (63,44)
The big tackle showed up at Texas and was good enough to earn immediate playing time as a freshman. Unfortunately, he didn't carry that effort over to his academics, and he flunked out. After a stint at Navarro Junior College, Webb picked the University of Arizona in 2008-- but then he failed to qualify for the Wildcats. He then enrolled at Divison II West Texas A&M, where he is a preseason All American pick at tackle.

#46 Maurice Evans, DE - Penn State (46,32)
The former Irish recruit earned some playing time as a freshman before becoming a 1st team All Big Ten selection as a sophomore. Evans was dinged for marijuana possession, suspended for the first three games, and then lost his starting spot to future first round draft pick Aaron Maybin. Things got weirder when Evans announced for the NFL draft despite his horrible junior year and the opportunity to reclaim his starting job. He went undrafted, and now he's trying to hang onto the New York Giants' squad.

#47 Jermaine Gresham, TE - Oklahoma (34,77)
Pass-catching tight ends are in vogue these days, and Gresham certainly fits the bill. The second team AP All-American from Oklahoma caught 66 balls last year for 950 yards and an astonishing 14 touchdowns. That followed a sophomore campaign where he grabbed 37 passes for 518 yards and another 11 scores. This touchdown machine is likely a frontrunner for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end.

#48 Derrick Hill, DT - Cal (48,63)
The big nose tackle's playing time has increased each year, and last year that culminated in earning nine starts. As the nose in Cal's 3-4 defense, he's not going to rack up a ton of tackles, but he's an integral piece of the defense as his two gap play allows the linebackers more freedom to make tackles. For his career, he has posted 58 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss in 27 games.

#49 David Ausberry, WR - Southern Cal (66,46)
The 6'4, 235 lb receiver redshirted his freshman year and showed much promise in 2007 as he caught 26 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. That year he made five starts and appeared in all 13 games. However, his playing time decreased dramatically in 2008 due to the play of Patrick Turner, the transfer of Damien Williams and the emergence of Ronald Johnson. Last year he caught just six passes for 85 yards and a score, and he didn't start any games. That isn't likely to change in 2009, even though Turner has graduated. Still, it would seem that Ausberry will be the third receiver on the field when the Trojans spread it out.

#50 Dorin Dickerson, TE - Pitt (85,36)
It was a 3-way tie for #50 between Dickerson, Auburn WR Tim Hawthorne, and ND transfer Konrad Reuland. His #36 ranking from Scout gave him the edge. Recruited as a wide receiver, Dickerson was switched to linebacker for his sophomore year. He flipped back to offense, now as a tight end, for his junior year where he played in 12 games as a reserve. Heading into his senior year he's still a backup behind Nate Byham.

Conclusions. Finally some Irish players crack the list after a two year absence. However, Sam Young is a green bordering on yellow and James Aldridge is a yellow bordering on red. That brings up the point that is hard to address succinctly in these reviews; the impact of a coaching staff on a player's use, development, and success is incredibly important but hard to quantify.

Some other comments on this year's list...

Yellow 21
Red 12
Kudos to the recruiting services. Either it was a bumper crop year or the services are getting better at what they do as their methods mature. Out of the Top 20, there was only one "bust" and to be fair to Mitch Mustain, it has a lot to do with the fact he's at Southern Cal. At most other schools he would be the starter and have a chance to show what he can do. Moreover, for the first time in five years, more than half of the Top 50 recruits turned out like, well, Top 50 recruits.

And as always, a sizable portion of the so-called "busts" were brought down by issues other than their ability to play football. Even with the most accurate scouting out there, it's still going to be nearly impossible to predict which guys won't bother to go to class or will suffer a bad injury.

Run to the running backs, pass on the receivers. For the second straight year,the Top 50 receivers were more miss than hit. Last year there were 6 receivers on the list and only two had turned out like planned. This year, 4 receivers made the Top 50 list and only one, Harvin, was a bonafide star.

Meanwhile, there are 9 running backs on this year's list and all but ND's Aldridge (and possibly A&M's Goodson) have turned out very strong careers. I have always been a bit skeptical when recruitniks make claims like "this is a great year for receivers" or "not a strong collection of linebackers this season", but you can kind of see it in these reviews. After all, it's not like the receivers will always be so hit or miss. For example, it's already clear the 2008 class won't be full of busts at receivers with Top 50 types like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, DeAndre Brown, DeVier Posey, Michael Floyd, and Jonathan Baldwin already having big impacts.

The Trojans cleaned up. Southern Cal's recruiting perhaps hit its zenith in 2006, landing 9 of the Top 50 players on this list and later picking up an additional one via transfer. That type of Top 50 recruiting will be hard for anyone to match. However, the results once the players got to campus were less than ideal. Heading into their senior year, of the original nine players, more transferred out of the program (3) than are starters (2). Some of these can be attributed to the Trojan yearly success at recruiting even more talent, but some of it is due to the fact this class featured many recruits at the same position including three running backs and three safeties. With only so many starting spots, it's easy to see why some didn't pan out when they were in direct competition with their classmates.

What else did you notice? Admittedly a few players were hard to classify with a blue, yellow, red tag. Any disagreements?