Lamar Jackson went from unheralded recruit to a Heisman Trophy winner for Louisville
The key to building a college football program is found in recruiting. For programs like Alabama and Ohio State, you can expect a boatload of five- and four-star players to come through the program and live up to the hype they bring from high school. But every so often there are some players that are considered good and exceed expectations.
When it comes to the recruiting class of 2015, there were certainly some surprises that amazed anyone watching. A Heisman Trophy winner being ranked outside the top 50? Top 100? Top 400? It happens with the Class of 2015. The top running back in the bunch starting out on the outside of the top 100? That happened too.
While the emphasis is always on recruiting talent, the difference in college football may be more about what you do with that talent and hoping you get lucky with a player or two along the way.
Let's look back on the recruiting class of 2015 and see how it might be ranked today compared to just a few years ago.
Note: This list references the 247 Sports Composite rankings.
1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
No. 12 Dual QB, No. 409 Nationally
Louisville ended up getting a steal with Jackson flying under the radar. Jackson was the lone Heisman Trophy winner in the recruiting class, and he followed that up with a stellar 2017 season before wrapping up a wildly entertaining career with the Cardinals.
Who was No. 1: Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
2. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
No. 13 RB, No. 119 Nationally
Another player flying relatively under the radar that turned out to be incredibly good was Barkley. Like Jackson at Louisville, Barkley (above, right) became one of the most electrifying players seen in college football and leaves for the NFL as one of the top prospects in the draft pool.
Who was No. 2: Martez Ivey, OT, Florida
3. Derwin James, S, Florida State
No. 1 Safety, No. 5 Nationally
Florida State landed a stud in James, and he did not disappoint. Quickly recognized as one of the top defensive players in college football, James carried on a legacy of solid secondary play in Tallahassee.
Who was No. 3: Byron Cowart, DE, Auburn
4. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
No. 6 CB, No. 30 Nationally
Alabama turned a very good cornerback into one of the best defensive players in the entire game. Fitzpatrick played a big role in anchoring the Alabama pass defense and grew to be arguably the best at the position.
Who was No. 4: Iman Marshall, CB, USC
5. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
No. 5 LB, No. 48 Nationally
Another defensive star in the Class of 2015 that rose to be the best at his position was Smith (right) at Georgia. In a class with four linebackers ahead of him in the recruiting rankings, Smith closed out his run in Athens as the star of a team making a run to an SEC title and an appearance in the national championship game.
Who was No. 5: Derwin James, S, Florida State
6. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
No. 7 APB, No. 119 Nationally
Stanford knew they were getting a terrific all-purpose player, but few would have expected to see Love become the rushing force he turned out to be for the Cardinal with a 2,000-yard season on his way to becoming a Heisman Trophy runner-up. With Love coming back in 2018, he may continue to reshape the way he will be re-ranked in the future.
Who was No. 6: Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
7. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
No. 1 WR, No. 12 Nationally
Alabama landed the top wide receiver in the nation with Ridley, and he lived up to the hype. If the Class of 2015 were to be ranked according to how players turned out, Ridley would absolutely move up a few spots from the original rank to jump into the top 10.
Who was No. 7: CeCe Jefferson, DE, Florida
8. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
No. 1 Pro QB, No. 11 Nationally
The quarterback class of 2015 was headlined by Rosen. Despite some injuries during the last couple of years, the talent was shown off often enough to show just how good Rosen can be.
Who was No. 8: Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
9. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
No. 12 Dual QB, No. 409 Nationally
Another player that would make a massive jump in the re-ranked Class of 2015 would be Darnold. At the time, Darnold wasn't even the highest-rated quarterback signed by USC (hello, Ricky Town), but Darnold outlasted the competition at USC, won a Rose Bowl and led the Trojans to a Pac-12 championship.
Who was No. 9: Kevin Toliver II, CB, LSU
10. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
No. 5 RB, No. 45 Nationally
It was a solid year for running backs, and LSU got their hands on a good one. Guice was one of the top running backs in the SEC and a worthy successor to Leonard Fournette in Baton Rouge.
Who was No. 10: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
The Best of the Rest:
Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
No. 26 RB, No. 305 Nationally
Jake Browning, QB, Washington
No. 5 Pro QB, No. 73 Nationally
Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
No. 2 WR, No. 18 Nationally
Byron Cowart, DE, Auburn
No. 1 DE, No. 3 Nationally
Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
No. 35 RB, No. 406 Nationally
Terry Godwin, ATH, Georgia
No. 1 ATH, No. 27 Nationally
Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
No. 1 RB, No. 31 Nationally
Martez Ivey, OT, Florida
No. 1 OT, No. 2 Nationally
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
No. 4 WR, No. 25 Nationally
CeCe Jefferson, DE, Florida
No. 2 SDE, No. 7 Nationally
Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
No. 4 RB, no. 40 Nationally
Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
No. 2 DT, No. 6 Nationally
Kyler Murray, QB, Texas A&M
No. 1 Dual QB, No. 34 Nationally
LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State
No. 6 RB, No. 60 Nationally
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
No. 21 WR, No. 162 Nationally
Jarrett Stidham, QB, Baylor
No. 1 Dual QB, No. 38 Nationally
Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
No. 1 DT, No. 1 Nationally
Kevin Tolliver II, CB, LSU
No. 2 CB, No. 9 Nationally
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
No. 26 CB, No. 270 Nationally
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.