Despite all the time, money and energy put into scouting high school football players across the nation, the art of picking the best of the best is less science and more theory, leading to some misses here and there. Recruiting analysts can be influenced by scholarship offers, size and speed, and camp performances without factoring in determination and love for the game. Another factor that often limits highly regarded players, which is out of their respective hands, is injuries.
All highly recruited players are the top performers in their area with few having little resistance on the field against players of their caliber making for lopsided highlight reels and stat lines sometimes leading to troubles once in college. Other very talented players just have the unfortunate path of overcoming injuries at the collegiate level for the opportunity to let their abilities shine.
The following is a list of the top five recruits in the nation, per Rivals, from 2010-14 with a breakdown of how their collegiate careers played out for better or for worse.
DE Ronald Powell, 6-4, 230, Rancho Verde (Calif.) – Florida
OT Seantrel Henderson, 6-8, 300, Cretin-Derham Hall (Minn.) – Miami
WR Kyle Prater, 6-5, 205, Proviso West (Ill.) – USC
DT Sharrif Floyd, 6-3, 310, George Washington (Pa.) – Florida
SS Keenan Allen, 6-3, 195, Northern Guilford (N.C) – California
The Bust(s) - Seantrel Henderson and Kyle Prater
Henderson started as a true freshman but seemingly kept getting into trouble and 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.
Kyle Prater was set up in a great situation at USC but Pete Carroll left. Then head coach Lane Kiffin and Prater did not seem get along. After playing in 10 games with one reception for six yards, Parter left for Northwestern. His senior season was his best and only real season of production, pulling in 51 passes for 535 yards with two scores.
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 – LB Curtis Grant
Injuries played a part in Grant’s “bust” label but he did post productive junior and senior campaigns tallying 58 and 64 stops respectively, along with a total of 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks for his career.
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
Dorial Green-Beckham “DGB” had all the potential in the world but off-the-field problems stunted his productivity. Green-Beckham had an average freshman season, pulling in 28 receptions for 395 yards with five scores. He broke through as a sophomore, recording 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns. DGB transferred to Oklahoma after being kicked dismissed from Missouri, sat out 2014, and then decided to declare early for the draft.
Johnathan Gray had four productive years at Texas, rushing for 2,610 career yards with 17 scores but never gained more than 780 yards in a single season.
Humphries is a borderline bust depending on how one wants to look at it. He was a first-team SEC All-Freshman but injuries shorten his sophomore and junior years before becoming an early draft entry in 2015. The Gator never earned All-SEC nor All-American honors.
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 with no busts! The 2013 season turned out to be a banner year for recruiting analysts. The only borderline player on the list heading into the 2016 season was Carl Lawson. And he bounced back from injuries to have a standout junior season with 30 total tackles that included a team-high 13.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks.
Jaylon Smith earned second team All-American honors in 2014, won the Butkus Award, and earned consensus All-American honors during his junior season. He suffered a serious injury in the Fiesta Bowl, tearing his ACL and LCL, but still decided to enter the draft, was taken in the second round (No. 34 overall by Dallas), and spent all of this past season on the reserve/non-football injury list. The hope is that he will be able to return to the field in 2017.
Laquon Treadwell was the No. 1 wide receiver in his class shinning with his pass-catching abilities and devastating blocking and was SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013. He was putting together a big sophomore season before breaking his leg in the ninth game. He returned for a terrific junior year with 82 receptions for 1,153 yards with 11 touchdowns and was a first-round pick (No. 23 overall) of the Minnesota Vikings last year.
Vernon Hargreaves III was all-everything during his college career, becoming a three-time All-SEC performer, first-team All-American as a sophomore, and was a consensus All-American during his junior year. He finished with 10 career interceptions, 27 passes defended and 121 career tackles for the Gators. Hargraves declared for the NFL at the end of his junior season and was taken by Tampa Bay with the 11th overall pick last April.
Robert Nkemdiche was a beast in the trenches for Ole Miss. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound, tackle was one of the rare players that could rush the passer from the inside and stop the run. Nkemdiche posted 81 career tackles, 16 tackles for a loss and six sacks. A highly publicized off-field incident resulted in Nkemdiche getting charged with drug possession and suspended for his final college game, as he declared early for the draft. Even with the character questions, Nkemdiche still went in the first round, selected by Arizona with the 29th overall pick.
DE Da’Shawn Hand, Woodbridge (Va.) – Alabama
DE Myles Garrett, Arlington Martin (Texas) – Texas A&M
DB Jabrill Peppers, Paramus Cathlolic (N.J.) – Michigan
RB Leonard Fournette, St. Augustine (La.) – LSU
DB Quin Blanding, Bayside (Va.) – Virginia
Bust in the Making – Da’Shawn Hand
The top player out of the 2014 class has yet to live up to the billing. Da’Shawn Hand has battled some nagging injuries and has failed to rise above the role of a key contributor off the second-string unit for the Crimson Tide. Hand played in nine games during his freshman season, collecting seven tackles and two sacks. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound, end had better stats in 2015 with 6.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two quarterback hurries. His junior season was supposed to be the breakout year after being named to the Lombardi Award Preseason Watch List but he wound up with just 19 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks for the SEC champions and College Football Playoff runner-up.
Myles Garrett proved to be a high-caliber player throughout his three seasons with the Aggies. In 2014, Garrett broke the SEC record for sacks by a freshman while earning freshman All-American status with 11.5 sacks, along with 14 tackles for a loss and nine quarterback hurries. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound, playmaker upped his game in 2015 to lead the SEC 12.5 sacks, adding 19.5 tackles for a loss and forced five fumbles. He was a finalist for several honors, including the Rotary Lombardi Award, Ted Hendricks Award and Bednarik Award. His junior season was slowed by injuries but he still wound up with 15 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
Jabrill Peppers turned into a true collegiate star during his junior season thanks to his versatility and ability to impact all three phases of the game. He rushed for 181 yards on 27 carries with three scores and made a huge impact on special teams with 21 punt returns for 310 yards with a touchdowns and also accrued 260 yards on 10 kickoff returns. Peppers was a safety, rover and linebacker rolled into one. He was third on the team in 2016 with 72 tackles and topped the Wolverines with 16 tackles for a loss. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound playmaking machine finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Unfortunately, Peppers missed the Orange Bowl, his final collegiate game, with a hamstring injury.
Leonard Fournette arguably was the best of his fellow five-star peers in this class. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound running back is a rare mix of speed and power that burst ont o the scene for LSU as a true freshman with 1,034 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 187 carries. Fournette ended his sophomore season third in the nation in total rushing yards with 1,953 behind Heisman winner Derrick Henry (2,219) and runner-up Christian McCaffrey (2,019) with fewer attempts than either Henry or McCaffrey. Fournette’s junior season was limited by leg injuries, but he still managed to run for 843 yards and eight scores on 129 carries.
Quin Blanding has been one of those standout performers on a bad team who gets no national recognition. Blanding started all 12 games at safety during his true freshman season, setting school records along the way. He led all freshmen with 123 tackles, which was good for second overall in the ACC, and collected three interceptions. The All-ACC performer had 115 stops in 2015 and 123 during his junior campaign, to give him 358 career tackles, the most for a Cavaliers’ defensive back and ninth in program history. But Blanding will have the opportunity to climb even higher on that list and claim other records and accolades during his senior season this fall.
— 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.