Athlon ranks the best overall recruiting classes of the last decade.
The "modern" recruiting era is tied directly to the online recruiting websites.
Rivals and Scout began the explosion around 2001 and ESPN and 247Sports have powerfully entered the market since. The rankings databases only go back 10 or 11 years, so it is difficult to evaluate historic recruiting classes. But since the turn of the millennium, fans and analysts alike have a tremendous amount of data to evaluate recruiting rankings, talent development and scouting evaluations.
Here are the top 10 recruiting classes of the modern era:
Note: All team ranks by 247Sports Composite
1. Alabama, 2008
Rank: 3rd (33 signees)
Key Players: Mark Barron, Julio Jones, Terrence Cody, Marcell Dareus, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Ingram, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Damion Square, Michael Williams, Robert Lester, Brad Smelley
Nick Saban began his domination of the recruiting trail back in 2008 when he signed a top three class in his first full cycle. This monstrous haul was a huge part of the 2009 national championship run and obviously featured upperclass stars in the ’11 and ’12 title runs. This group includes five first-round picks and countless other draft selections. It’s hard to argue with a group that won three BCS titles as the best collection of talent ever signed in the modern era.
2. USC, 2003
Rank: 2nd (26 signees)
Key Players: Reggie Bush, Sam Baker, Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Ryan Kalil, Terrell Thomas, Steve Smith, LenDale White, Fili Moala, John David Booty, Eric Wright, Brandon Ting, Ryan Ting, Drean Rucker, Chauncey Washington
Much like the ’08 Alabama group, this team experienced three national championship runs. Only two ended in victory — lost to Texas in 2005, but more on that in a second — but this class was the foundation of USC's Pac-10 dynasty. Reggie Bush won the Heisman Trophy and is one of four first-round picks from this class. This class began USC's dominance in what is now the Pac-12.
3. Florida, 2006
Rank: 2nd (24 signees)
Key Players: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Maurice Hurt, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon James, Marcus Gilbert, Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders, Dustin Doe, AJ Jones, Carl Johnson
At one point or another, 16 of the 24 recruits in this class went on to start a game for the Gators. But this class was led at the top by elite superstars Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Jermaine Cunningham and Spikes were second-rounders while Maurice Hurt and Riley Cooper went later in the draft. Tebow alone makes this class a gem for Florida and it led directly to two BCS national championships.
4. Alabama, 2009
Rank: 2nd (28 signees)
Key Players: AJ McCarron, Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, James Carpenter, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Eddie Lacy, Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson, Ed Stinson, Anthony Steen, Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Tana Patrick
This group was a big part of three national championships at the Capstone and played a much bigger role in the 2011-12 titles than the '08 haul. This class produced six first-round picks among those who were taken in the NFL Draft. An interesting thing to note about this class is the offensive line. It was the best OL in the nation in 2012 and three-fifths of the starters signed in this class.
5. Texas, 2002
Rank: 1st (26 signees)
Key Players: Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Rod Wright, Brian Robison, Aaron Ross, Chase Pittman, Justin Blalock, Aaron Harris, David Thomas, Selvin Young
This group was the core of the 2005 national championship run led by superstar quarterback and five-star recruit Vince Young. He was the gem of the nation’s No. 1 class that eventually featured numerous NFL Draft picks. Ross, Studdard, Wright, Robison, Pittman, Thomas and Blalock were all huge pieces to Mack Brown’s championship puzzle and several of them made a mark in the NFL too.
6. Oklahoma, 2006
Rank: 8th (28 signees)
Key Players: Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams, Demarco Murray, Jeremy Beal, Quinton Carter, Chris Brown, Dominique Franks, Mossis Madu, Tim Johnson, Brandon Caleb, Malcolm Williams, Chase Beeler
All four Sooners who went in first round of the 2010 NFL Draft signed with Bob Stoops in this class and all four NFL draft picks from Oklahoma in the '11 draft came from this class too. Sam Bradford set all types of records, won the Heisman Trophy and led this team to the 2008 BCS National Championship Game. Even a guy who ended up transferring (Beeler) went on to star at his second school (Stanford).
7. Ohio State, 2002
Rank: 4th (24 signees)
Key Players: A.J. Hawk, Santonio Holmes, Nick Mangold, Troy Smith, Maurice Clarett, Bobby Carpenter, Mike D’Andrea, Doug Datish, Quinn Pitcock, Nate Salley, Roy Hall
This class was a big part of the 2002 national championship run as freshmen, with Maurice Clarett playing the biggest role. This group features elite offensive firepower and Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led his team to the national title game in 2006. This group provided four first-round picks in the 2006 NFL Draft and included six other picks from the 2005-07 drafts as well. This group won three Big Ten titles in five years.
8. Florida State, 2011
Rank: 2nd (29 signees)
Key Players: Kelvin Benjamin, Nick O'Leary, Timmy Jernigan, Terrance Smith, Tank Carradine, Rashad Greene, Karlos Williams, Bobby Hart, Devonta Freeman, Josue Matias, Tre Jackson, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Nick Waisome
This group already has proven itself, as one of the deepest hauls in history led directly to a BCS national championship. This group, ranked No. 1 in the nation by Athlon Sports in 2011, featured over a dozen starters on the '13 title team and has already delivered three ACC titles as well. This class produced three draft picks last year, including first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin, with more to come this May.
9. Alabama, 2010
Rank: 5th (25 signees)
Key Players: C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner, Blake Sims, Brandon Ivory, Jalston Fowler, Arie Kouandjio, Chad Lindsay, Austin Shepherd, DeAndrew White, Adrian Hubbard, Brian Vogler, Nick Perry, Jarrick Williams, Deion Belue
This unit featured six offensive starters on the ’14 SEC championship and playoff squad while both Mosley and Milliner were stars for the ’12 BCS title team and first-round picks. This group has star power at the top and tremendous depth that produced two BCS titles and nearly made a third trip to the title game.
10. LSU, 2009
Rank: 1st (25 signees)
Key Players: Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne, Kevin Minter, Rueben Randle, Chris Faulk, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Davenport, Bennie Logan, Michael Ford, Craig Loston, Josh Downs, Stavion Lowe, Lamin Barrow, Russell Shepard
This group was the foundation of the 13-0 regular season run to the title game in 2011. And had it finished the job against Alabama, it might be considered the better group. The potential of this class is astounding. It features three first-round picks in Morris Claiborne, Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo and three others were selected in ’14 NFL Draft as well. The star power is obvious but the supporting cast is impressive in its own right.
Best of the Rest:
11. Oregon, 2008
Rank: 23rd (24 signees)
Key Players: LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Darron Thomas, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, Nick Cody, Hamani Stevens, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Kaddu, DeWitt Stuckey, Jeremiah Masoli
12. LSU, 2004
Rank: 3rd (25 signees)
Key Players: Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Jacob Hester, Early Doucet, Chevis Jackson, Herman Johnson, Quinn Johnson, Craig Steltz, Claude Wroten, Tremaine Johnson, Curtis Taylor, Brett Helms, Lavelle Hawkins
13. Michigan State, 2010
Rank: 21st (22 signees)
Key Players: Max Bullough, William Gholston, Kurtis Drummond, Darqueze Dennard, Le'Veon Bell, Jeremy Langford, Marcus Rush, Isaiah Lewis, Nick Hill, Keith Mumphrey, Tony Lippett
14. Auburn, 2010
Rank: 6th (32 signees)
Key Players: Cam Newton, Jake Holland, Jonathon Mincy, Chad Slade, Michael Dyer, Chris Davis, Corey Lemonier, Ryan Smith, LaDarius Owens, Jeffrey Whitaker, Trovon Reed, Shon Coleman
15. Oregon, 2011
Rank: 11th (26 signees)
Key Players: Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jake Fisher, Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena, Tyson Coleman, Christian French, Colt Lyerla, Tacoi Sumler, Anthony Wallace, Devon Blackmon
16. Stanford, 2009
Rank: 18th (23 signees)
Key Players: Shayne Skov, Stepfan Taylor, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Tyler Gaffney, Zach Ertz, Khalil Wilkes, Levine Toilolo, Josh Mauro, Taysom Hill
17. Ohio State, 2013
Rank: 2nd (26 signees)
Key Players: Joey Bosa, Vonn Bell, Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple, Ezekiel Elliott, Dontre Wilson, J.T. Barrett, Darron Lee
18. Notre Dame, 2009
Rank: 15th (21 signees)
Key Players: Manti Te'o, Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Zeke Motta, Chris Watt, Alex Bullard, Jake Golic, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Tyler Stockton
19. Alabama, 2012
Rank: 1st (25 signees)
Key Players: Amari Cooper, Landon Collins, T.J. Yeldon, Reggie Ragland, Kenyan Drake, Denzel Devall, Eddie Williams, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Anderson, Geno Smith
20. Florida, 2007
Rank: 1st (29 signees)
Key Players: Ahmad Black, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Chas Henry, Aaron Hernandez, Cam Newton, Chris Rainey, Maurkice Pouncey, Michael Pouncey, Major Wright, John Brantley
21. Georgia, 2009
Rank: 5th (21 signees)
Key Players: Aaron Murray, Arthur Lynch, Branden Smith, Shawn Williams, Chris Burnette, Marlon Brown, Austin Long, Dallas Lee, Kwame Geathers, Orson Charles, Rantavious Wooten, Zach Mettenberger, Abry Jones
22. Florida State, 2012
Rank: 3rd (19 signees)
Key Players: Jameis Winston, Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby, Reggie Northrup, Robert Aguayo, Chris Casher
23. Texas, 2005
Rank: 13th (15 signees)
Key Players: Colt McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Roddrick Muckelroy, Henry Melton, Jermichael Finley, Quan Cosby, Chris Brown, Aaron Lewis, Roy Miller
24. USC, 2005
Rank: 1st (19 signees)
Key Players: Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Ellison, Charles Brown, Patrick Turner, Kyle Moore, Kaluka Maiava, Will Harris, Cary Harris
25. Notre Dame, 2008
Rank: 1st (23 signees)
Key Players: Kyle Rudolph, Michael Floyd, Braxton Cave, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jamoris Slaughter, Mike Golic, Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, John Goodman, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, Steven Filer, Sean Cwynar, Dayne Crist, Ethan Johnson
26. LSU, 2003
Rank: 3rd (28 signees)
Key Players: LaRon Landry, Will Arnold, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis, Matt Flynn, Alley Broussard, Anthony Hill, JaMarcus Russell, Jonathon Zenon, Justin Vincent
27. Wisconsin, 2009
Rank: 44th (21 signees)
Key Players: Montee Ball, Chris Borland, Travis Frederick, Jacob Pedersen, Ryan Groy, Dezmen Southward, Jordan Kohout, David Gilbert, Tyler Dippell, Conor O'Neill, Pat Muldoon
28. Georgia, 2006
Rank: 3rd (26 signees)
Key Players: Knowshon Moreno, Matthew Stafford, Geno Atkins, Shaun Chapas, Akeem Dent, Kris Durham, Akeem Hebron, Reshad Jones, Asher Allen, Kiante Tripp, Clifton Geathers, Prince Miller
29. Mississippi State, 2009
Rank: 20th (32 signees)
Key Players: Fletcher Cox, Gabe Jackson, Chad Bumphis, LaDarius Perkins, Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay, Josh Boyd, Tyler Russell, Cameron Lawrence
30. Ohio State, 2008
Rank: 8th (20 signees)
Key Players: Mike Adams, Terrelle Pryor, Travis Howard, DeVier Posey, Michael Brewster, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel, Etienne Sabino, J.B. Shurgarts, Andrew Sweat