Every season college football fans are on pins and needles in anticipation of the new recruiting class and what that may mean to their beloved team’s future success. Even mentioning the possibility of landing a top-of-the-line, game-changing 5-star recruit and then landing said player... forget about it. The diehards go crazy imagining what this means in terms of conference titles and national championships.
But, does landing a 5-star player always mean said college landed the best player at his position in the nation? Does a 5-star recruit automatically mean All-American success for the player and a national championship for the program?
The following is a list of the top five recruits in the nation (per Rivals) from 2012-16 grading their play on the field during their time in the college ranks.
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
2012 Class Overall Rating: BUST
Bust: Dorial Green-Beckham
“DGB” had all the intangibles but could never string together a truly dominating season. Adding to the bust label was his off-the-field problems. Green-Beckham’s 2012 season was average, securing 28 passes for 395 yards with five touchdowns. He had a nice sophomore year with 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 scores, that is when everything started to unravel. Legal troubles resulted in a transfer to Oklahoma after being dismissed from Missouri. Green-Beckham never saw the field for the Sooners as he wound up declaring early for the NFL draft.
Expecting greatness, Humphries was a bust depending on how one wants to look at his career. 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.
Below Average: Johnathan Gray
The former 5-star was consistent for four years at Texas rushing for 2,610 career yards with 17 scores but he never gained more than 780 yards in a single season.
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
2013 Class Overall Rating: SUCCESS
Success: Vernon Hargreaves III
Being a three-time All-SEC performer, first-team All-American as a sophomore, and earning consensus All-American recognition as a junior makes Hargreaves worthy of the 5-star label. 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 with the 11th overall pick in 2016.
Success: Jaylon Smith
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 torn ACL and MCL 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 in '17 playing in all 16 games for the Cowboys, finishing with 81 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Smith had a standout 2018 season with the Cowboys tallying 121 tackles.
Good: Carl Lawson
The 2013 recruiting class by and large lived up to the hype. The only borderline player on the list heading into the 2016 season was Lawson but he had a standout junior campaign for Auburn, earning first-team All-SEC honors and All-American recognition after totaling 13.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. A fourth-round pick by Cincinnati in the 2017 draft, Lawson’s bad luck with knee injuries followed him into the NFL as he suffered another torn ACL seven games into the '18 campaign.
Success: Laquon Treadwell
Treadwell was the top-rated receiver in his class doing it all as a pass catcher and dominating outside blocker. He was SEC Freshman of the Year in 2013 and was dominating the competition as a sophomore but broke his leg in gruesome fashion after nine games. Upon his return, he showed no ill effects, however, finishing with 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns his junior season. A first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft (23rd overall) by the Minnesota Vikings, he has not come anywhere close to living up to the billing as he's totaled 56 receptions for 517 yards and a single touchdown in 40 career games.
DE Da’Shawn Hand, Woodbridge (Va.) – Alabama
DE Myles Garrett, Arlington Martin (Texas) – Texas A&M
DB Jabrill Peppers, Paramus Catholic (N.J.) – Michigan
RB Leonard Fournette, St. Augustine (La.) – LSU
DB Quin Blanding, Bayside (Va.) – Virginia
2014 Class Overall Rating: SUCCESS
Bust: Da’Shawn Hand
Injuries derailed the first three years of Hand’s career. As the top player in the 2014 class, he fell way short of expectations as a backup on defense with this best season coming in '17 when he received second-team All-SEC recognition after registering 27 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
Success: Myles Garrett
Garrett proved to be a high-caliber player throughout his three seasons with the Aggies. He broke the SEC record for sacks (11.5) by a freshman earning freshman All-American status in 2014. 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 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 taken No. 1 overall by Cleveland in 2017.
Success: Leonard Fournette
Fournette arguably was the best of his fellow 5-star peers in this class. He burst out of the gates with 1,034 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman. The following season he finished third in total rushing yards with 1,953 behind Heisman winner Derrick Henry (2,219) and runner-up Christian McCaffrey (2,019). Fournette’s junior season was limited by leg injuries, but he still managed to run for 843 yards and eight scores. Fournette declared early for the draft and was taken fourth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017.
DE Byron Cowart, Armwood (Fla.) – Auburn (transferred to Maryland)
QB Josh Rosen, St. John Bosco (Calif.) – UCLA
CB Iman Marshall, Long Beach Poly (Calif.) – USC
OT Martez Ivey, Apopka (Fla.) – Florida
SS Derwin James, Haines City (Fla.) – Florida State
2015 Class Overall Rating: AVERAGE
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 after finishing with 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in 26 games. After transferring Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College, Cowart signed with Maryland. His senior season with the Terrapins was a big step forward but not quite to 5-star level ending with 38 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
Success: Josh Rosen
Rosen was successful at UCLA as a passer but the arm talent never pushed the Bruins to the next level of prominence. 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 the Pac-12 in both passing (3,756 yards) and touchdown passes (26), while completing 63 percent of his attempts. Rosen skipped his senior seasona and was taken 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Four games into his rookie season, Rosen was named the Cardinals' starter.
Average: Iman Marshall
Marshall was a four-year starter for USC earning 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 in 2017, but wasn't much of a factor as a senior. He finished his career with 217 tackles, 36 pass breakups, and six interceptions in 50 games.
Success: Derwin James
James may have been the best of the 5-star recruits in the 2015 class. A knee injury took away most of his 2016 season, but he bounced back in a major way, earning 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. James ended that season with 84 tackles, 11 pass breakups and two interceptions, earning first-team All-American honors from the FWAA. James declared early for the 2018 NFL Draft and was taken 17th overall by the Chargers. He rewarded them with a first-team All-Pro season as a rookie.
DT Rashan Gary, Paramus Catholic (N.J.) – Michigan
DT Dexter Lawrence, Wake Forest (N.C.) – Clemson
OT Greg Little, Allen (Texas) – Ole Miss
QB Shea Patterson, IMG Academy (Fla.) – Ole Miss (transferred to Michigan)
QB Jacob Eason, Lake Stevens (Wash.) – Georgia (transferred to Washington)
2016 Class Overall Rating: BELOW AVERAGE
Average: Rashan Gary
Life for the No. 1-rated recruit in the 2016 class started out trending towards a bust. Gary appeared in all 13 games of his true freshman season, recording 23 tackles, including five for a loss, and a sack, but he never dominated as expected. His breakout year came in 2017 when he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after putting together a 62-tackle (11 TFL), five-sack campaign. Much was expected of Gary and the Wolverines in 2018, and even though they won 10 games both failed to live up to the lofty expectations. Gary once again earned All-Big Ten recognition after posting 38 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks but he never came close to being an All-American-caliber player. Gary declared for the 2019 NFL Draft in late November and sat out the Peach Bowl against Florida.
Average: Dexter Lawrence
Lawrence, much like Rashan Gary, was a very good college football player but never seemed to fully maximize his 5-star potential. Lawrence’s career started off in the right direction earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors after breaking Clemson’s freshman record for sacks (5). His sophomore season fell flat but he rebounded to earn first-team All-ACC honors as a junior after recording 44 stops, 7.5 tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks in the regular season. Lawrence was a part of two national championship-winning teams (2016, '18), although he sat out the most recent title run after he was suspended for testing positive for the banned substance Ostarine.
Success: Greg Little
Grading offensive linemen can be tough; Little by many standards can be considered a success as a college player, but maybe not to the level of a 5-star. He played right away for Ole Miss as a true freshman working his way into a starting role at left tackle. Considering his conference, that alone is a success. He continued his progress, earning second-team All-SEC recognition as a sophomore and first team this past season. Little, like many other 5-star recruits from the 2016 class, declared early for the NFL.
Trending Towards Bust: QB Shea Patterson
Patterson has been through the proverbial ringer since leaving Bradenton, Florida, for college. He was expected to redshirt as a true freshman in 2016, but an injury to Chad Kelly with three games left forced Ole Miss' coaching staff to put him in. His first career game against Texas A&M was the stuff 5-stars are made of, as he threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Rebels to a come-from-behind victory. He started off 2017 strong but wasn't able to sustain that momentum and eventually lost the starting job to junior college transfer Jordan Ta'amu. Patterson opted to transfer to Michigan following his sophomore season and was eventually granted a waiver to play immediately. After a rough start, Patterson found his footing and finished the season with 2,600 passing yards and 22 touchdowns to help the Wolverines win 10 games and set the stage for a strong senior campaign.
Bust So Far: QB Jacob Eason
Life for Eason started off promising, as he enrolled early at Georgia and wound up winning the starting job. He finished with 2,430 passing yards and 16 touchdowns, but injured his knee in the 2017 opener and gave way to true freshman Jake Fromm. Fromm never relinquished the spot, as he led the Bulldogs to the SEC title and national championship game. After the season, Eason decided to return to his home state where he is poised to replace Jake Browning as Washington's starter this fall.
Best 2016 5-Stars Outside Top 5
Success: DT Ed Oliver
Westfield (Texas) – Houston
Oliver lived up to his 5-star billing, proving to be a dominant force against American Athletic Conference and pretty much any team he faced. Oliver was the anchor of the Cougars' defense, which enjoyed its greatest success when Oliver was at his best. This past season, Houston was 7-1 in games he played, 1-4 without him. Despite dealing with injuries and some other circumstances, Oliver managed to record 54 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, and three sacks in just eight games. He was so highly regarded that he still earned All-American recognition. Oliver finished his career with the Cougars as a three-time All-American and the 2017 Outland Trophy recipient. Some mock drafts have Oliver as the first defensive lineman that will be taken in late April.
Success: OT Jonah Williams
Folsom (Calif.) – Alabama
The hype on Williams out of high school was well-deserved. The technically sound road-grader was named second-team All-SEC as a true freshman and followed that up with third-team All-American recognition as a sophomore. This past season he took it one step further, becoming a unanimous All-American and the recipient of the SEC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which goes to the conference's top offensive lineman. Williams thrived in Alabama’s run-first approach from 2016-17 and maintained his high level of play through the transition to a pass-heavy attack in 2018 as the blind-side protector for eventual Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa. Williams declared for the NFL draft shortly after the Crimson Tide's national title game loss and he should be one of the first offensive linemen taken.
Success: DT Jeffery Simmons
Noxubee County (Miss.) – Mississippi State
The Bulldogs eased Simmons into his future role as he posted 40 tackles and two forced fumbles in 12 games (three starts) as a true freshman. He followed that up with a breakout sophomore campaign, earning first-team All-SEC honors after racking up 60 tackles (12 TFL) and five sacks. This past season it was more of the same as he was a first-team All-SEC honoree for the second straight season after leading Mississippi State with 17 tackles for a loss. Simmons declared early for the draft, but he will have to overcome some character-related issues which could result in him falling down some teams' boards. He was not invited to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine due to his arrest in 2016 stemming from a physical altercation with a woman.
Moderate: DE Nick Bosa
St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) – Ohio State
Ohio State was a dominant defensive team with Bosa on the field. The big and quick end played as a true freshman, posting 29 tackles and five sacks. He increased that to 34 stops and 8.5 sacks as a sophomore, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors and being named the conference's top defensive lineman. His junior year was cut short by an abdominal injury three games in and he then decided to leave early for the NFL. Bosa is expected to be one of the first players taken in this year's draft and could match or even surpass his brother Joey (third overall in 2016 by the Chargers) in that respect.
Average: LB Mack Wilson
Carver (Ala.) – Alabama
Wilson's career in Tuscaloosa didn't get off to an impressive start. Although he played in 15 games as a true freshman, he recorded just eight tackles. In 2017, he was more involved as he recorded 40 tackles and four interceptions. Things really came together for him as a junior, as he racked up 71 tackles and was named second-team All-SEC. He enjoyed plenty of team success with the Crimson Tide, making three national championship game appearances and winning it in the 2017 season, but Wilson never fully realized his 5-star potential as he decided to forego his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
— 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, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.