The top prospects of the 2007 signing class was a cautionary tale of sorts.
USC was the big winner on National Signing Day that year as the Trojans claiming four of the top 10 prospects in one of the final classes of Pete Carroll’s tenure. The top prospects, though, didn’t pan out. Of Everson Griffen, Joe McKnight, Chris Galippo and Marc Tyler, none of USC’s top four prospects made first-team all-conference.
But USC wasn’t alone. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin played a role in North Carolina landing on probation. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen was not the all-world quarterback he was expected to be for Notre Dame.
The best two prospects in the top 10 even came with caveats. Quarterback Ryan Mallett didn’t become a starter until he transferred from Michigan to Arkansas, where he flourished. And safety Eric Berry was an All-American safety, but he did it for Tennessee teams that struggled during his time in the spotlight.
1. Everson Griffen, DE, Avondale, Ariz. (USC)
Griffen came out of Agua Fria High School as one of the most physically gifted athletes ever to enter the collegiate ranks. Nicknamed “The Freak” after Jevon Kearse, Griffen posted 77 tackles, 16 sacks and 1,251 yards rushing with 22 touchdowns as a senior — at 6-4 and 266 pounds. In 2007, Griffen earned Freshman All-America honors. As a junior, the defensive end earned second-team All-Pac-10 selection. Following a bowl win over Boston College, Griffen announced he would skip his final season at USC. He was selected in the fourth round in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
2. Joe McKnight, RB, River Ridge, La. (USC)
This talented tailback was no stranger to the spotlight, as he led John Curtis High School to three consecutive state titles and an unbeaten 14–0 campaign as a senior. McKnight shunned the home state LSU Tigers for the bright lights of Los Angeles. He produced his only 1,000-yard season in 2009, as a junior, before leaving early for the NFL. The No. 1 running back recruit in the nation finished his USC career with 2,213 yards rushing, ranking him 14th all-time in school history. However, his average of 6.4 yards per carry is second best at USC behind only Reggie Bush. McKnight was a fourth-round of the New York Jets in 2010.
3. Marvin Austin, DT, Washington, D.C. (North Carolina)
The Tar Heels won the National Signing Day battle for Austin over Florida State, USC and Tennessee. As a true freshman, Austin justified his lofty ranking by playing in all 12 games, starting three, and registering 26 tackles and 4.0 sacks. After a second-team All-ACC performance as a junior in 2009 (42 tackles, 4.0 sacks), Austin was poised for a huge senior season. Yet, he and 12 other Tar Heels were suspended for the start of the ’10 while under investigation for receiving improper benefits. Austin was eventually dismissed from the team in October. He was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
4. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Westlake Village, Calif. (Notre Dame)
The younger brother of two SEC quarterbacks, Casey and Rick, Jimmy entered college as the highest-profile signal-caller in the '07 class. Hailing from “Celebrity High,” Clausen did little to dispel his reputation as a showman. His polarizing commitment, in which he picked Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, featured an infamous stretch Hummer limo and a vow to win multiple national championships. After struggling as a freshman, Clausen began to prove the doubters wrong as he finished his collegiate career with back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and an outstanding 28-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2009. Unfortunately for Clausen and head coach Charlie Weis, the only stat that mattered was his 13–12 starting record over his final two years. Weis was fired, and Clausen fell to Carolina in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
5. Ryan Mallett, QB, Texarkana, Texas (Michigan)
Possessing one of the strongest arms in recent history, Mallett signed with the Lloyd Carr-led Michigan Wolverines out of high school. Once spread guru Rich Rodriguez took over for the retiring Carr, Mallett was out the door. He transferred closer to home to play for Arkansas. He sat out the 2008 season before posting two of the best passing seasons in Razorback history. Mallett topped 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns in both campaigns, finishing his two-year stint in Fayetteville with most of Arkansas’ major passing records, including most yards in a season (3,869) and most yards in a career (7,493). He set 16 school records in 2009 and capped his career with a seventh-place finish in the Heisman voting in 2010. He left Arkansas early and was drafted in the third round in 2011 by the New England Patriots.
6. Marc Tyler, RB, Yorba Linda, Calif. (USC)
From the same program as Jimmy Clausen — Oaks Christian — Tyler redshirted in 2007 after breaking his before the CIF playoffs as a senior. He played in eight games in 2008 before missing all but one game of the 2009 season with a toe injury. Tyler rebounded in 2010, starting eight games and leading the team in rushing with 913 yards. He missed two more games as a senior and regressed statistically in 2011. Tyler finished his USC career with 1,751 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
7. Eric Berry, ATH, Fairburn, Ga. (Tennessee)
Berry made an immediate impact, starting every game in 2006 and earning SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. He set the SEC’s all-time record for interception return yards (487) after only two seasons. A two-time consensus All-American, Berry racked up the awards as a junior, being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and earning the Jim Thorpe Award. He was the fifth overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
8. Tray Allen, OL, Grand Prairie, Texas (Texas)
The top prep lineman in the nation finished with 44 games played in his collegiate career but made only six career starts. He appeared in nine games at tackle as a freshman and 11 games at the same position as a sophomore. He played in 11 games at guard in 2009, helping the Horns to an undefeated regular season record and BCS Championship Game berth. After missing the entire 2010 campaign with a foot injury, Allen returned to the field for the final time in 2011. He played in all 13 games last fall, including the only six starts of his career.
9. Chris Galippo, LB, Corona, Calif. (USC)
Galippo’s career got off to a rocky start when he suffered a herniated disk that abruptly ended his freshman season. He was able to redshirt and returned to the field in 2008, playing in 10 games before earning the starting middle linebacker position in 2009. Galippo lost the starting job in ‘10, finishing with only 29 tackles in seven starts. He played in all 12 games as a senior in 2011, racking up 47 total tackles.
10. Terrence Toliver, WR, Hempstead, Texas (LSU)
Toliver earned SEC All-Freshman honors in 2007 after catching 10 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He played but did not catch a pass in the Tigers' National Championship win over Ohio State. He broke through two years later with his best statistical season — 53 receptions, 735 yards and three touchdowns. Toliver ended his four-year career with 126 catches, 1,820 yards and 12 total touchdowns. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Houston Texans following the 2011 NFL Draft.
11. Chad Jones, S, Baton Rouge, La. (LSU)
Jones was a 13th-round pick of the Houston Astros out of high school but opted to attend LSU. While in Baton Rouge, Jones played on the 2007 LSU football national championship team and the 2009 LSU baseball national championship team, becoming one of only two college athletes to accomplish the feat (with teammate Jared Mitchell). Jones, who started 19 games in three seasons, skipped his senior year and was picked by the New York Giants in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and the Milwaukee Brewers in the 50th round of the ’10 MLB Draft
12. Arrelious Benn, WR, Washington, D.C. (Illinois)
Benn’s freakish athletic ability was on full display from Game 1 in his Illinois career. He caught five passes for 74 yards and carried the ball three times in his first game against Missouri. He went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2007 and finished with an Illinois freshman-record 54 catches and 676 yards. As a sophomore, he earned team MVP honors. One year later, Benn ended his three-year career fourth all-time in all-purpose yards (3,613), fifth all-time in receptions (159), sixth all-time in receiving yards (2,221) and sixth in kick return yards (996). Benn was the 39th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
13. Ronald Johnson, ATH, Muskegon, Mich. (USC)
Johnson was listed by some recruiting services as a cornerback but he shined at USC as a wide receiver. His best season came as a senior, when he caught 64 passes for 692 yards and eight scores. He finished his career with 138 catches, 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns. The San Francisco 49ers selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
14. Curtis Brown, CB, Gilmer, Texas (Texas)
Brown was a four-year contributor down for Mack Brown. He played in all 13 games as a true freshman and finished his career by starting 24 of his last 26 games — including all 14 games in the 2009 unbeaten regular season. He finished his career with 52 games played, 28 starts, 120 total tackles and was second-team All-Big 12 as a senior. He was selected in the third round of the 2011 Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
15. Noel Devine, RB, North Fort Myers, Fla. (West Virginia)
The tiny speedster made an immediate impact at West Virginia, rushing for 627 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. He then posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and entered his senior campaign as a Heisman candidate. Injuries, however, derailed his final year, and he finished 64 yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard season. Devine finished his career with 4,317 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns on the ground to go with 98 receptions and 710 yards receiving. He went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft before being signed by the Eagles in July 2011. A month later he signed with the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL before landing in the CFL on the Montreal Alouettes in February 2012.
16. Torrey Davis, DT, Seffner, Fla. (Florida)
The peak of Davis’ Florida career came in the 2009 BCS Championship Game when he made two goal line tackles against Oklahoma. However, his two-year stint in Gainesville was plagued with academic and disciplinary suspensions. He was on probation for knowingly driving on a suspended license when he left the Florida football team, only to be arrested shortly thereafter for the same transgression. He transferred to Jacksonville State and played one season, earning a spot on the OVC All-Newcomer team.
17. Josh Oglesby, OL, Milwaukee, Wisc. (Wisconsin)
Oglesby, one of the highest-rated recruits ever to sign with the Badgers, battled injuries throughout his career. Still, he played in 41 games, starting 28, while paving the way for record-setting tailback Montee Ball. He played a full season in 2011, starting 13 games for the Big Ten champions and earning consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors.
18. Aaron Corp, QB, Villa Park, Calif. (USC)
Corp backed up Mark Sanchez during his first two seasons at USC. Then, after Matt Barkley grabbed the reins of the USC offense as a true freshman in 2009, Corp opted to transfer to Richmond in January 2010. He started the first five games of the 2010 season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. As a senior in 2011, he started 11 games and threw for 2,682 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
19. Caleb King, RB, Norcross, Ga. (Georgia)
King posted a Georgia state record 2,768 yards rushing as a junior and built a legendary prep name for himself in the process. However, he failed to live up to the hype in Athens. He never reached the 20-carry plateau in a game and rushed for at least 100 yards only twice in his career. He was academically ineligible as a senior in 2011 and ended his disappointing career with 1,271 yards and 10 touchdowns.
20. Anthony Davis, OL, Piscataway, N.J. (Rutgers)
Davis, one of the highest-rated recruits ever to sign with Rutgers, enjoyed an outstanding three-year career with the Scarlet Knights. He was a two-time first-team All-Big East, and he earned second-team All-America honors as a junior in 2009. Davis skipped his final season of eligibility and was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 11th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the highest ever for a Scarlet Knight.
21. Ben Martin, DE, Cincinnati (Tennessee)
Martin played in 20 games in his first two seasons as a reserve before breaking into the starting lineup as a junior in 2009. He set career highs that season with 38 tackles, five sacks and six tackles for a loss. He missed the entire 2010 season due to a torn Achilles before returning for his final campaign in 2011, when he started eight games. Martin finished his career with 81 total tackles, six sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
22. Deonte Thompson, WR, Belle Glade, Fla. (Florida)
The in-state speedster redshirted his first season in Gainesville before playing in 52 of his possible 54 career games, making 34 starts along the way. Thompson caught 18 passes for 269 yards and three scores during the Gators’ 2008 National Championship run, but his best season came in 2010 when he posted career bests in receptions (38) and yards (570). He ended his career with 101 receptions for 1,446 and nine touchdowns.
23. Kristofer O’Dowd, OL, Tucson, Ariz. (USC)
O’Dowd became the first true freshman at USC to start at center. The following season, in 2008, he was named first-team All-Pac-10. He missed five games due to a kneecap injury in 2009 before starting all 13 games as a senior in 2010. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals but was cut just before the start of the season.
24. Donovan Warren, CB, Long Beach, Calif. (Michigan)
The godson of former USC great Mark Carrier, Warren surprised fans when he picked Michigan over the Trojans. He started 11 of 13 games in 2007 and was named Big Ten Defensive Freshman of the Year. He posted 52 total tackles in 2008 and then led the team in interceptions (four) in 2009 while recording a career-high 66 total tackles. Warren left college early for the NFL but went undrafted in 2010.
25. Eugene Clifford, S, Cincinnati (Ohio State)
Clifford played in four games as a true freshman in Columbus but was suspended prior to the BCS National Championship Game. He was charged six months later with assault for allegedly punching two men at a bar. This incident led to his departure from the team and a transfer to Tennessee State, where he was a three-year starter and a two-time All-OVC pick. Clifford went undrafted in 2011.
26. Ryan Miller, OL, Littleton, Colo. (Colorado)
The Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year picked the home-state Buffaloes over Miami, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC and Nebraska. His impact in Boulder was felt immediately as he started seven games as a true freshman, earning first-team Freshman All-America honors. He broke his fibula early in 2008 but was granted a medical redshirt and returned to the starting lineup in 2009. He played in all but one of Colorado’s offensive snaps that season and went on to start his final two seasons with the Buffs, as well. Miller was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
27. Tyrod Taylor, Hampton, Va. (Virginia Tech)
It took only two games for Frank Beamer to realize what he had in Taylor, who got his first start in Game 3 of his true freshman season. After earning extended playing time in 2007, Taylor was set to redshirt in 2008, but the decision was quickly reversed, and Taylor played in 12 games, claiming his first of two ACC Championship Game MVP trophies. He continued his development as a junior when he showed marked improvement in his efficiency as a passer, setting career highs in passing yards and touchdowns while leading the Hokies to a 10-win season. Taylor took his game to a championship level as a senior. He claimed ACC Player of the Year honors en route to an unbeaten ACC regular season and title game win. Taylor left campus as Virginia Tech’s career record-setter for total offense (9,213), passing yards (7,017), rushing yards by a quarterback (2,196), wins by a starting quarterback (34) and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (23).
28. Martez Wilson, DE, Chicago (Illinois)
As a true freshman, Wilson played in all 13 games at linebacker and was a Freshman All-American by several outlets. He finished 14th in the Big Ten in tackles (6.6 per game) as a sophomore before suffering a herniated disc in his neck in the 2009 season opener. He redshirted and returned to become a first-team All-Big Ten performer in 2010. The team captain finished his career with 223 total tackles and nine sacks. Wilson was selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints after forgoing his senior season at Illinois.
29. J’Courtney Williams, LB, Danville, Va. (Virginia)
Williams’ career at Virginia ended prematurely. He was redshirted as a freshman and underwent multiple shoulder surgeries. In February 2008, he was placed on probation on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession and later charged with credit card theft and fraud. Virginia announced in early April 2008 that Williams would not return to the team. He intended to transfer to Hampton but never played a game for the Pirates, instead landing at El Camino (Calif.) Community College. He eventually signed with Liberty in 2010 but never played a game for the Flames.
30. Dre Jones, DT, El Paso, Texas (Texas)
Jones was a U.S. Army All-American before he ran into some legal trouble. After he was charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon — he and a teammate were accused of holding up two victims at an Austin apartment complex — Jones was considered a fugitive for a short period of time. He was apprehended and spent his 18th birthday in a Travis County Jail cell. Texas coach Mack Brown suspended Jones immediately, and he never played for the Horns. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony, before returning home in an effort to join UTEP for the 2009 season. But a car accident forced Jones to have knee surgery in October 2008, and the Miners decided not to admit the troubled defensive tackle.
31. John Chiles, WR, Dallas (Texas)
This do-everything dual-threat dynamo began his career under center for the Longhorns. He made his debut as true freshman, carrying 36 times for 191 yards. He played one more season as the backup, change-of-pace quarterback before officially landing at wide receiver in 2009. He made 15 starts over his last two seasons, catching 63 passes for 737 yards and four touchdowns over that span. Chiles finished his Texas career with one 100-yard receiving game. He played in 41 games, 19 at quarterback and 22 at wide receiver, and totaled 543 yards of total offense with eight total touchdowns.
32. James Wilson, OL, St. Augustine, Fla. (Florida)
Wilson has played in 38 games as a Gator, but has managed only six starts due to a rash of injuries. He started one game in 2011, the Gator Bowl win vs. Ohio State. Wilson was granted a sixth season of eligibility and is projected to be a starter at guard in 2012.
33. Justin Trattou, DE, Ramsey, N.J. (Florida)
Trattou broke into the rotation as a reserve defensive linemen in 2007. He made 13 starts as a sophomore on the one-loss 2008 BCS National Championship squad that beat Oklahoma in the title game. He played in every game over the final two seasons of his college career, finishing with 31 career starts, 121 total tackles (26 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks. Trattou went undrafted in 2011 but signed with the New York Giants and appeared in six regular-season games for the eventual Super Bowl champions.
34. Carlos Dunlap, DE, North Charleston, S.C. (Florida)
One of the freakiest athletes ever to play high school football — the 6-6, 290-pounder returned kickoffs at Fort Dorchester — Dunlap was an immediate contributor for the Gators. He played in all 13 games as a freshman before earning his first career start in 2008. Dunlap recorded a team-leading 13.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks on the 2008 National Championship team, and he was named Defensive MVP of the title game. The next season, the talented end helped Florida to an undefeated regular season and berth in the SEC Championship Game with eyes on a second-straight BCS title. But Dunlap was arrested on a DUI charge just days before the SEC title game and missed only the second game of his career. Dunlap finished his career with 14 starts in 40 games played, 84 total tackles, 19.5 sacks and 26 tackles for a loss. He was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
35. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Bristol, Conn. (Florida)
The talented tight end saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman, starting three times and catching nine passes. He vaulted into the Gators' starting lineup as a sophomore and became one of Tim Tebow’s top targets en route to the BCS National Championship. As a junior, he developed into the best tight end in the nation. After leading the team in receptions (68) and finishing second in yards (850), Hernandez became the first SEC player to win the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top tight end. He was an AP first-team All-American and finished his career with 111 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. Reports of failed tests for marijuana pushed Hernandez down draft boards and into the fourth round, where the New England Patriots got one of the steals of the 2010 NFL Draft.
36. Joseph Barksdale, DT, Detroit (LSU)
The transplant from Michigan contributed early for the 2007 BCS National Champions by playing in all 14 games as a true freshman. The following year, Barksdale took a starting spot at offensive tackle as a sophomore and never looked back, finishing with 39 consecutive starts to end his LSU career. He played in all 53 possible games and earned All-SEC second-team honors as a senior. He was a third-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in the 2011 NFL Draft.
37. Marshall Jones, S, Agoura Hills, Calif. (USC)
Jones saw limited action in his first two seasons at USC, playing in 17 games. After being moved from safety to corner in the spring of 2009, Jones lasted four games before suffering a neck injury that ended his season. He retuned to the field for his final two seasons but never became more than a special teamer. He finished his career with 54 total tackles — 35 of which came in 2010 — and only one career interception.
38. John Brown, DT, Lakeland, Fla. (Florida)
One of the nation’s most highly touted defensive tackles never played a down for Florida. He earned a medical redshirt as a freshman due to knee and back injuries and then missed the 2008 season following wrist surgery. He left Florida after one season and enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Community College. He then signed to play at Tennessee but never got his academics in order. Brown landed at Valdosta (Ga.) State in 2010 having never played a down in the SEC.
39. Chris Jacobson, OL, Pittsburgh, Pa (Pittsburgh)
After redshirting in 2007, Jacobson played in three games in 2008 and all 13 in 2009 for the Panthers. By 2010, he had earned a starting spot at left guard, leading the way for standout tailback Dion Lewis. He transitioned to center prior to his senior season in 2011 and was a big part of Ray Graham’s outstanding start to the year. However, against Iowa in the third game of the season, Jacobson injured his left knee and missed the rest of the year. He was granted a medical hardship waiver and will return in 2012 to the Panthers offensive line.
40. Lorenzo Edwards, LB, Orlando, Fla. (Florida)
This Edgewater High School prospect played four undistinguished seasons for the Gators. He played in 45 career games and was a member of the 2008 BCS National Championship squad. Edwards finished with 57 career total tackles — or just over one tackle per game — and was not selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The top prospects of the 2007 signing class was a cautionary tale of sorts.