by Braden Gall (follow at @AthlonBraden)
The merits of recruiting rankings are hotly debated in every sports bar and around every water cooler in the nation. But one quick look at the 2011 Athlon Sports All-America team, and it is hard to argue. Not a single member of the 24-man (minus the kicker and punter) squad was a two-star recruit. In fact, 12 of the 24 were four-star recruits, and eight were three-stars with one very late junior college signing. Ten were ranked in the Top 10 nationally at their position, 14 were ranked in the top 10 of their respective states and ten were “national recruits” — meaning they were in the Top 300 nationally regardless of position. Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Sammy Watkins are the three five-star recruits, and with Mark Barron, are the four Athlon Consensus 100 members.
Clearly, the recruiting experts are getting pretty good at their jobs.
2011 Athlon Sports All-America Offense:
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor (2008)
The Class 4A state track champion in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles enrolled early at Baylor and never looked back. The Copperas Cove (Texas) product threw for 3,357 yards and 41 touchdowns to go with 2,161 yards rushing and 32 more scores as a prep football star. He was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and the Lone Star State’s No. 42 player. He picked Baylor over offers from Nebraska, Tennessee, Houston and Kansas. Undoubtedly, the Texases and Oklahomas of the world wanted him as a wide receiver. He went 3-1 against UT and OU over the last two seasons.
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (2009)
Ball came to Wisconsin as the 5A Missouri State Player of the Year after rushing for 8,222 yards and 107 touchdowns at Wentzville (Mo.) Timberland. He was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 33 running back in the nation and was a four-star recruit. Ball was the No. 4 player in the state of Missouri by Athlon Sports and the No. 3 player in the Badgers’ 2009 class, and he picked Wisconsin over offers from Missouri, Stanford, Kansas, Northwestern, Iowa State and Indiana.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback was a known commodity well before he was toting the rock for the Crimson Tide. Richardson was the No. 20-rated player in the nation in the 2009 AC100, the No. 3-rated running back in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state of Florida. He ranked behind only D.J. Fluker and Dre Kirkpatrick in Alabama’s No. 3-rated recruiting class. He was Florida’s Class 5A Mr. Football after 2,090 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior. T-Rich had his pick of any school in the nation and made a splash with his Houndstooth announcement of Alabama over Florida, Florida State and LSU. Imagine what this season would have looked like had landed in Baton Rouge?
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (2008)
Blackmon was a three-star recruit from Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview. He ranked as the No. 91 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 10 player in the state by Rivals.com. His only other offers came from Colorado, Missouri and Northern Iowa. Two Biletnikoff Awards, 244 receptions, 3,378 yards and 37 touchdowns later, and Blackmon has proven he belongs as a two-time All-American.
Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor (2008) National Recruit
The Pittsburg (Texas) native was an all-state football player (at QB), a two-time all-state baseball player and state champion in the long jump and triple jump. He was ranked as the No. 64 “athlete” in the nation and was the No. 81 overall player in the state of Texas — behind Lone Star State ATH recruits Derrick Hall, Adrian Bushell, Lamar Harris, Antoine Hicks and Kellen Theriot by Rivals. Oops. He and RG3 form one of the most successful classes in Baylor history.
Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson (2008) National Recruit
The Fayetteville (N.C.) Terry Sanford product was the No. 6-rated tight end in the nation by Athlon Sports in 2008. He ranked No. 160 nationally regardless of position and was the No. 5 player in the state of North Carolina. Allen helped Clemson finish with the nation’s No. 9 class and No. 2 in the ACC. He selected the Tigers over Florida State, Georgia and North Carolina.
Peter Konz, OC, Wisconsin (2008)
The No. 2 player in the state of Wisconsin in 2008 was this four-star Neenah, Wis., offensive tackle. He was ranked as the No. 30 tackle in the nation by Rivals and chose the Badgers over Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Duke. Wisconsin has led the Big Ten in scoring three years in a row.
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford (2008)
This mauler was the No. 6-rated player in the state of Washington (Bellvue High School). He was rated as the No. 11 center in the nation by Rivals and picked Stanford over Washington, Oregon State and Washington State.
Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin (2008)
Scout rated this Milwaukee (Wis.) Lutheran blocker as the No. 22 offensive guard in the nation. He was the No. 3-rated player in the state of Wisconsin and picked the Badgers over quality offers like Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.
Barrett Jones, OT, Alabama (2008) National Recruit
This Memphis (Tenn.) Evangelical Christian stud was the No. 1 prospect in the state of Tennessee (which included Dont’a Hightower), the No. 17 offensive lineman in the nation and the No. 146-rated player nationally regardless of position. He possessed offers from nearly everyone in the southeast but visited only Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. Jones helped Nick Saban sign the nation’s No. 1 class in 2008.
Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State (2007)
Originally hailing from Claremore (Okla.) Sequoyah High School, Adock led his team to the Class 3A state title as a senior. He landed at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College for two years before signing late with Oklahoma State in 2009. He was highly sought after both as a prep athlete and JUCO prospect as his offer sheet indicates: He picked the Pokes over Alabama, Arkansas and Colorado.
Sammy Watkins, AP, Clemson (2011) AC100
Few players ever enter college with more hype than Watkins. He was the No. 24-rated player in the nation regardless of position, was No. 8 in the state of Florida and was the No. 4 wide receiver in the nation. The Ft. Myers (Fla.) South Ft. Myers product needed only one year to prove that the hype was warranted. Watkins, and a few late additions, gave Clemson the No. 9-rated class in the nation last cycle.
Tyrann Mathieu, PR, LSU (2010) National Recruit
The Honey Badger was the No. 44 defensive back in the nation and the No. 8 player in the state of Louisiana by Athlon Sports. He was the No. 13-rated cornerback in the nation by Rivals. The New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine dynamo was either firmly committed to Frank Wilson and LSU, or schools were scared off by his attitude, because his offer sheet was LSU, Southern Miss, SMU, Tulane, FIU, Miami (Ohio) and Hampton.
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois (2008)
A relatively unknown, the nation’s leading sack master (14.5) hails from Akron (Ohio) Garfield High School. He was ranked as the No. 39 prospect in the state of Ohio and the No. 28 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals. He picked Illinois over Michigan State, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Purdue and Akron.
Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina (2007)
Out of Hamlet (N.C.) Richmond County, Ingram was the No. 10-rated player in the Tar Heel State. He was the nation’s No. 21 outside linebacker and had offers from East Carolina, South Carolina, North Carolina and NC State. The star Gamecock entered college at 6-2, 224 pounds but is now listed at 6-2, 276 pounds.
Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State (2008)
Rivals rated the Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne defensive tackle as the No. 53 player at his position in the nation and the No. 30-rated player in the state of Ohio. Worthy only had offers from Michigan State, Nebraska, Cincinnati, Marshall and Ohio.
Devon Still, DT, Penn State (2007)
There are not too many All-Americans from Wilmington (Del.) Howard, but recruitniks knew all about this one. The four-star Still ranked as the No. 10 strongside defensive end in the nation and the No. 1 player in the state. He selected Penn State over Michigan and Ohio State.
Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama (2008) National Recruit
The Eufaula, Ala., native was the No. 7-rated defensive end in the nation but only the No. 9-rated player in the state of Alabama. He was nationally recruited as the No. 111 player in the nation regardless of position and helped Alabama to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Upshaw, who picked Alabama over Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia, was named the Class 5A Lineman of the Year by the ASWA.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (2009)
This Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier tackler was the No. 44 outside linebacker in the nation and the No. 37 player in Ohio. He had offers from Cincinnati, Duke, Illinois, Louisville, Michigan State, Stanford and Virginia. As a safety, Kuechly posted 277 tackles in his final two seasons — that makes 809 tackles in his last five seasons of football (532 in three years at Boston College).
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska (2008)
David was the least touted of the big names on the famous 2007 championship Miami (Fla.) Northwestern powerhouse team that included Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Brandon Washington, Ben Jones, Jacory Harris and Kendall Thompkins. They signed with Miami and because he was not nearly as highly recruited, David signed with Middle Tennessee State before deciding to enroll at Fort Scott C.C. He signed with the Huskers in the spring of 2010. He was the No. 7-rated JUCO player in the nation and No. 2 JUCO linebacker in the nation by Rivals.com. David has been the best player from that Northwestern team.
Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State (2008) National Recruit
The Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider product enrolled early for the Pokes after being rated the No. 201 player in the nation, the No. 15 safety in the country and the No. 27 player in state of Texas by Rivals.com. He picked the Cowboys over offers from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas State.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama (2008) AC100
The nation’s No. 1 class was buoyed by the presence of the Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety. Barron was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back behind Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley – three of whom are playing in the NFL. He was the nation’s No. 3 safety after being named MVP of the 2007 Class 5A Alabama state title game.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama (2009) AC100
The Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation back in 2009. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100. The five-star U.S. Army All-American, along with fellow AC100 stud Richardson, helped bolster an Alabama class that finished No. 3 nationally. Kirkpatrick had his choice of schools and is technically the highest-rated player on Athlon’s 2011 All-America squad.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU (2008)
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of LA and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Visited no other schools officially, but his short list included Nebraska, Texas A&M, Tulane, Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech. Three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB. He passed for 1,009 yards and 14 TD while rushing for 1,023 yards and 16 TDs in 2008.