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How Have the Top Five 5-Star College Football Recruits from 2011-15 Performed?

Byron Cowart

Byron Cowart

Every year it happens, a highly regarded player out of the high school football ranks falls short, and in some cases way short, of big expectations placed upon his shoulders as a 5-star recruit. With what seemed at one time a sure shot at collegiate glory and NFL riches ends up becoming an interest piece as to whatever happened to him?

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The following is a list of the top five recruits in the nation, per Rivals, from 2011-15 with a breakdown of how their collegiate career played out, for better or for worse.


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 did manage to put together productive junior and senior campaigns, tallying 58 and 64 stops, respectively. But he finished his Buckeyes career with a total of nine tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks across 46 games.

Although he wasn’t always consistent, Jadeveon Clowney was a stud at the collegiate level, especially when he asserted himself.


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

Green-Beckham (also known as “DGB”) had all the potential in the world but off-the-field problems stunted his productivity. Green-Beckham (right) had an average freshman season, recording 28 catches for 395 yards with five touchdowns. He broke through the following year with 59 grabs for 883 yards and 12 scores but ran into trouble after that. He transferred to Oklahoma after dismissed from Missouri, sat out in 2014 and then decided to declare early for the NFL draft.

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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.

D.J. Humphries is a borderline bust depending on how one wants to look at it. He was a first-team SEC All-Freshman honoree, but injuries shortened his sophomore and junior years before he declared for the 2015 NFL Draft. He ended up as a first-round pick (24th overall) despite never earning All-SEC or 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

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 (right). He bounced back from injuries to have a standout junior season for Auburn, earning first-team All-SEC honors and All-American recognition after totaling 13.5 tackles for a  loss and nine sacks.

College Football Uniforms: Auburn

Jaylon Smith earned second team All-American honors in 2014, won the Butkus Award, and was a consensus All-American as a junior. He suffered a devastating knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl, but was taken in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by Dallas. After missing all of 2016, Smith returned this season and played in all 16 games for the Cowboys, finishing with 81 total tackles and two forced fumbles.

Laquon Treadwell was the No. 1 wide receiver in his class and impressed with his both pass-catching abilities and devastating blocking in the run game to earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors in 2013. Treadwell was putting together a monster sophomore campaign before breaking his leg nine games in. He returned for a terrific junior year with 82 receptions for 1,153 yards with 11 touchdowns and was selected by Minnesota in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft (23rd overall).

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Vernon Hargreaves III was a three-time All-SEC performer, first-team All-American as a sophomore, and earned consensus recognition as a junior. He finished his Gators career with 10 interceptions, 27 passes defended and 121 career tackles. Hargraves declared early for the NFL draft after his junior season and was taken by Tampa Bay at with the 11th overall pick in 2016.

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 had 81 career tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, and six sacks. A highly publicized off-field incident put an unfortunate end to Nkemdiche’s college career, but he still declared early for the draft and was taken by Arizona with the 29th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft.


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

Failed to Live up tp Expectations: Da’Shawn Hand

After battling injuries through the first three years of his career, Hand, the top player out of the 2014 class, did not really live up to the billing when his career came to an end. Hand was a key backup on defense for three years and then earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2017 after registering 27 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks.

Myles Garrett proved to be a high-caliber player throughout his three seasons with the Aggies. He broke the SEC record for sacks by a freshman also earning freshman All-American status in 2014 with 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, and nine quarterback hurries. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound, playmaker upped his game in 2015 leading the SEC in sacks with 12.5 while coming up with 19.5 tackles for a loss, and five forced fumbles finishing the year as a finalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award, Ted Hendricks Award, and Bednarik Award. His junior season was slowed by injuries but he still had 15 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks. He declared early for the draft and was Cleveland’s choice as the first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Jabrill Peppers turned into a true collegiate star during his junior season, as he made an impact in all three phases of the game. He had 181 rushing yards on 27 carries with three touchdowns, returned 31 punts for 310 yards and a core and also recorded 260 yards on 10 kickoff returns. But defense was where he starred, serving as a safety, rover and linebacker rolled into one player for one of the nation’s stingiest units. In 2016, he was third on the Wolverines with 72 tackles, but led the way with 16 tackles for a loss. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting that season, the biggest indication of his value to his team. He was the 25th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft by Cleveland.

Leonard Fournette arguably was the best of his fellow five-star peers in this class. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound running back was a rare mix of speed and power that burst onto 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) even though he had the fewest attempts of the trio. Fournette’s junior season was limited by leg injuries, but he still managed to run for 843 yards and eight scores on 129 carries. The fourth pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, Fournette didn’t disappoint, posting 1,040 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns in 13 games for Jacksonville, who lost to New England in the AFC Championship Game.

Quin Blanding is perhaps the best college football player few knew about during his playing days. Blanding started all 12 games during his true freshman season at safety, the start of what would end up being a record-setting career. In 2014 he led all freshmen with 123 tackles (second in the ACC) with three interceptions. The All-ACC performer then had 115 stops in 2015 and 123 during his junior campaign. This past season, Blanding again was named first-team All-ACC and finished his career with 495 total tackles, placing him tops in the Virginia record book, sixth in ACC history and the most ever in the conference by a defensive back.


DE Byron Cowart, Armwood (Fla.) – Auburn

QB Josh Rosen, St. John Bosco (Calif.) – UCLA

CB Iman Marshall, Long Beach Poly (Calif.) – USC

OT Matez Ivey, Apopka (Fla.) – Florida

SS Derwin James, Haines City (Fla.) – Florida State

Heading Towards Bust: Byron Cowart

A combination of circumstances, including injuries, an emergency appendectomy and a lack of playing time, led to Cowart leaving Auburn just three games into the 2017 season. He ended up at Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College and signed with Maryland as a junior college transfer. Cowart, who will be eligible to play immediately for the Terrapins, finished with 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in 26 games for the Tigers.

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Josh Rosen’s (right) career at UCLA gets mixed reviews, but there’s no argument when it comes to his ability to air it out. Rosen was the first true freshman to open as the Bruins’ starting quarterback and he finished his debut with the most passing yards (3,668) and total touchdowns (23) in program history. He played in just six games as a sophomore because of a shoulder injury, but returned and finished second in 2017 in the Pac-12 in both passing (3,756 yards) and touchdown passes (26), while completing 63 percent of his attempts. He decided to forgo his senior season and is expected to be one of the first players taken in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Iman Marshall has been a three-year starter for USC and will have one more season to leave his mark after deciding to return to school. Marshall earned 2015 Sporting News and USA Today Freshman All-American honors after coming up with 63 tackles and leading the Trojans in interceptions (3) and pass breakups (9). He received honorable mention All-Pac-12 recognition this past season.

Martez Ivey has been on a normal progression track hopeful of all recruits. He started the final eight games of the 2015 season at left guard for the Gators, earning SEC Coaches All-Freshman Team honors. During his sophomore season, he was twice named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, was a second-team All-SEC pick by the coaches, and was a third-team All-SEC pick by Athlon Sports. He repeated his second-team All-SEC recognition this past season, while switching back between left tackle and left guard. Ivey is returning for his senior season to play for new Florida head coach Dan Mullen and in hopes of raising his draft stock.

Of the top five 5-star recruits in the 2015 class, Derwin James (above, right) has arguably been the best. Coming back from a devastating knee injury that wiped out basically his entire 2016 season, James received All-American recognition in ’17. A Freshman All-American in 2016, James seemingly had no ceiling until he tore the LCL in his left knee in the second game of his sophomore year. But James persevered and made an impact across the board this past season, finishing with 84 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions, earning first-team All-American honors from the FWAA. James declared early for the 2018 NFL Draft and is widely expected to be a first-round pick in April.

The Best 5-Stars Outside of the Top 5 from the 2015 Class

CB Kevin Toliver II, Trinity Christian (Fla.) – LSU

SS Minkah Fitzpatrick, St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) – Alabama

WR Christian Kirk, Saguaro (Ariz.) – Texas A&M

RB Derrius Guice, Catholic (La.) – LSU

WR Calvin Ridley, Monarch (Fla.) – Alabama

— 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 and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.