Who would have thought that a scientist and engineer best known for inventing the telephone in 1876 would have multiple applications to the college football world nearly 140 years later? But thanks to Alexander Graham Bell, coaches have been able to ditch telegraphs and smoke signals in exchange for a direct phone call to a wanted recruit expediting the process significantly. For some recruits, the thought in hindsight could be they wish they never took at least one phone call to a given program.
Another scientific application more times than not wrongly credited to the Scottish inventor is the Bell Curve. The Bell Curve, or the Gaussian function named after mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, has multiple applications but can be used to find a “norm” or median average along with the outliers. In the world of college football, 5-star recruits represent the outliers of a large sample size numbering in the hundreds of thousands every year. Recruiting services typically award 5-star status to about 30 players every year. The number of programs able to land these top recruits are limited when taking into consideration there were 127 FBS teams during the 2015 season.
A 5- star “bust” can come in many forms - be it over-hyped, injury, bad coaching, or just plain bad luck. The bell curve within can root out which top prospects were worth their rankings* and which ones have fallen flat, at least for now, and remember, this is picking apart the players that are supposed to be the best of the best in each given recruiting class.
Class of 2009
RB Bryce Brown, Wichita East (Kan.) – Tennessee
WR Rueben Randle, Bastrop (La.) – LSU
OT D.J. Fluker, Foley (Ala.) – Alabama
DT Sheldon Richardson, Gateway (Mo.) – Missouri
QB Matt Barkley, Mater Dei (Calif.) – USC
The Bust – Bryce Brown
On the collegiate level, Brown was as big of a dud as there is or ever will be, especially as the No. 1 overall player in his class. After back-to-back seasons at Wichita East High School with more than 1,800 yards rushing, Brown decided to attend Tennessee. He was a backup in 2009 and then transferred to Kansas State to follow his brother, Arthur, who left Miami for the Wildcats, in the spring of 2010. Bryce Brown sat out 2010 and was then held out in '11 after just two games due to allegations that he received improper benefits. Brown's collegiate production consisted of 460 yards rushing and three touchdowns for Tennessee and a grand total of 16 yards on three carries in two games for Kansas State.
A seventh-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012, Brown has found some success in the NFL. In four seasons with the Eagles, Bills and this season the Seahawks, Brown has rushed for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns in 42 games.
Class of 2010
DE Ronald Powell, Rancho Verde (Calif.) – Florida
OT Seantrel Henderson, Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) – Miami
WR Kyle Prater, Proviso West (Ill.) – USC
DT Sharrif Floyd, George Washington (Pa.) – Florida
SS Keenan Allen, Northern Guilford (N.C.) – California
The Bust(s) - Seantrel Henderson and Kyle Prater
Henderson never lived up to the hype. He started for the Hurricanes as a true freshman but seemingly kept getting into trouble or never pushed himself to reach his potential. He was a two-time All-ACC honorable mention as a junior and senior but never was all-conference much less an All-American.
One can flip a coin on the disappointment from a given fan base between Henderson and Prater. Prater was set up in a great situation at USC but Pete Carroll left and new head coach Lane Kiffin and Prater did not seem to be on the same page. After playing in 10 games with one reception for six yards, Prater left the Trojans for Northwestern. His senior season was his best and only real season of production, when he caught 51 passes for 535 yards with two scores.
Class of 2011
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Pointe (S.C) – South Carolina
LB Curtis Grant, Hermitage (Va.) – Ohio State
WR George Farmer, Junipero Serra (Calif.) – USC
OL Cyrus Kouandjio, Hyattsville DeMatha (Md.) – Alabama
RB De’Anthony Thomas, Crenshaw (Calif.) – Oregon
The Bust – Curtis Grant
Injuries played a part in Grant’s “bust” label, but he fell far short of fulfilling the expectations that were assigned to him based on his superlative high school career. Grant had productive junior and senior campaign for the Buckeyes, tallying 58 and 64 stops respectively. He finished his time at Ohio State with a mere 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
Class of 2012
WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Hillcrest (Mo.) – Missouri
OL D.J. Humphries, Mallard Creek (N.C.) – Florida
DT Mario Edwards Jr., Denton Ryan (Texas) – Florida State
DB Shaq Thompson, Grant Union (Calif.) – Washington
RB Johnathan Gray, Aledo (Texas) – Texas
The Bust – Dorial Green-Beckham
Another coin could be flipped from this group between “DGB” and Johnathan Gray. Gray had a productive four years at Texas, rushing for 2,610 career yards with 17 scores but never rushed for more than 780 yards in a season.
Green-Beckham had the talent but numerous off-the-field problems derailed his own career. He transferred to Oklahoma after being dismissed from the Missouri program in 2013, sat out in ‘14, and then entered the NFL. Green-Beckham had a solid freshman season for the Tigers with 28 receptions for 395 yards and five scores. As a sophomore, he showed glimpses of his all-around talent, catching 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 scores. Still so much more was expected of the tall, athletically gifted target, so it’s certainly understandable to label him a bust. Tennessee took DGB in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft and while once again he showed flashes as a rookie, he is very much a work in progress.
Humphries is a borderline bust and argument could certainly be made to put him with Green-Beckham and Gray. Humphries was named to the SEC All-Freshman first team, but then injuries plagued his sophomore and junior seasons. He declared early for the NFL draft and was the Arizona Cardinals’ first-round pick (No. 24 overall).
Class of 2013
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Grayson (Ga.) – Ole Miss
CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Wharton (Fla.) – Florida
LB Jaylon Smith, Bishop Luers (Ind.) – Notre Dame
DE Carl Lawson, Milton (Ga.) – Auburn
WR Laquon Treadwell, Crete-Monee (Ill.) – Ole Miss
Finally a year without any busts! Jaylon Smith lived up to the attention, earning second team All-American honors in 2014 before becoming a consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner this past season. Unfortunately, Smith tore his ACL and LCL in the Fiesta Bowl, which will probably impact his position for the upcoming NFL draft.
Laquon Treadwell lived up to the No. 1 wide receiver status not only with his pass-catching abilities, but he also was a willing and aggressive blocker in the run game. He was having a breakout sophomore season in 2014 until he broke his leg and dislocated his ankle against Auburn in early November. He bounced back in a big way, tallying 82 receptions for 1,153 yards with 11 touchdowns this past season.
If anyone is on the bust edge here it is Carl Lawson, but it’s because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He tore his ACL in 2014 and then suffered through hip injuries in this past season. He played in 11 games as a true freshman, finishing with 20 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. He sat out in 2014, and recorded 17 tackles, three tackles for a loss, and one sack in seven games as a sophomore, which would have been his true junior season. The talent and want-to is there, but will injuries prevent him from ever being an All-SEC performer?
Vernon Hargreaves III might be the best of the bunch. Hargreaves was a three-time All-SEC performer, named a first team All-American as a sophomore, and was a consensus All-American during his junior year. He finished his Florida tenure 10 interceptions, 27 passes defended and 121 total tackles. He declared he was leaving early for the NFL at the end of this past season.
While Hargreaves is arguably the best of the bunch Robert Nkemdiche might be the most physically talented of the lot. Not only does he have the size (6-4, 300), but he’s also just as strong and quick, which helps him make plays, especially against the run. He registered 81 career tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, and six sacks. He didn’t get to play in the Sugar Bowl, as he was suspended due to an off-the-field incident, but it was clear pretty much from the start of the season that Nkemdiche would be leaving early for the NFL.
*Top five for each year according to Rivals.com rankings.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.