-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
Recruiting rankings are an inexact science, and even the experts will admit that. It is virtually impossible to measure heart, work ethic, mental focus and self-awareness in 17- and 18-year-old kids. Especially, in the face of the most important decision they will ever make.
As National Signing Day looms next Wednesday, Athlon Sports finalized its Athlon Consensus 100 for the Class of 2012 this week. It is the fifth annual conglomerate recruiting top 100 for Athlon, and even as the truest, most accurate recruiting ranking, there are still plenty of names that fall through the cracks.
The "modern recruiting era," aka the internet recruiting service era, dates back just more than a decade of time. There have been countless contributors who have blossomed into All-Americans despite being much-lesser known commodities than the likes of Matt Barkley.
Here are the best two-star prospects of the modern recruiting era (signing class):
1. Case Keenum, QB, Houston
Abilene (Texas) Wylie (2006)
The NCAA’s all-time record-holder for passing yards (19,217), total offense (20,114), 300-yard games (38), 4,000-yard seasons (3), completions (1,546), passing touchdowns (155) and touchdown responsibility (178) had a single offer coming out of high school. After Keenum had won the state title as a junior at Wylie, Art Briles was the only head coach to offer the slender passer a chance to play FBS football. Over 20,000 yards later, Keenum has not only reinvigorated Cougars football but has also helped elevate his program to the Big East Conference.
2. Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State
Rialto (Calif.) Eisenhower (2004)
The big offensive tackle was passed over by local schools USC and UCLA, but Dan Hawkins at Boise State saw something he loved right away. Clady redshirted in his first season in Idaho but started every game for the next three seasons. He was a major part of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma before landing on several All-America teams in 2007. After his redshirt junior season, Clady left for the NFL and was selected with the 12th overall pick by the Denver Broncos. He has blossomed into one of the NFL’s top left tackles.
3. B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
Washington Township (N.J.) Westwood (2004)
The big nose guard had three offers coming out of high school: Boston College, Rutgers and Wisconsin. While the offer sheet was certainly more prestigious than the average two-star prospect’s, it took until October of his final prep season to land the BC scholarship (Rivals.com). During his final season at Chestnut Hill, Raji helped lead a unit that ranked No. 1 in the ACC in rushing defense, total defense and pass efficiency defense. The big nose guard was taken with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and played a major role in the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Championship in 2010.
4. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Pewaukee (Wisc.) High (2007)
Originally committed to Minnesota and signed with Central Michigan, Watt needed two schools and multiple positions to finally land with the Houston Texans. Watt played tight end upon entering college before transferring and walking-on at Wisconsin, where he earned a scholarship with his work ethic and intensity. His switch to the defensive line paid off in droves as he racked up 106 tackles, 36.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks in two seasons. He was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and became the first rookie defensive lineman in NFL history to record a sack and an interception for a touchdown in a playoff game. Watt started all 16 games as a rookie, led Houston in tackles for a loss (13) and helped the Texans to their first postseason berth in franchise history.
5. Mike Iupati, OG, Idaho
Anaheim (Calif.) Western (2005)
Hailing from American Samoa originally, Iupati moved to Southern California and excelled as a defensive tackle at Western High School. He was shown interest from other larger programs — Colorado, Oregon State, Arizona — but due to insufficient academic performance, Iupati was not eligibile to receive a scholarship. So the family of this powerful blocker took out a loan to pay for tuition, room and board at Idaho. Under Robb Akey and behind the leadership of Iupati, Idaho went to only its second bowl in school history in 2009 when the Vandals defeated Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl. Iupati was selected with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the 49ers and was a huge part of the NFC Championship run by San Francisco in 2011.
6. Eric Weddle, SS, Utah
Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Alta Loma (2003)
The California native’s offer sheet included New Mexico State, Wyoming, UNLV and Utah back in 2003. It didn’t take long to realize that the Utes had found a great player in Weddle, as the versatile defensive back started the last nine games as a freshman, garning freshman All-America honors. He was a standout strong safety and return man his second year in Salt Lake City. He was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and claimed Emerald Bowl MVP honors. In 2006, he claimed his second straight MWC Defensive POY award. He started 45 of his 48 career games (21 at corner, 18 at safety and six at nickelback) while finishing with 277 tackles, 10 sacks and an MWC-record 18 interceptions. He also ran the ball 52 times for 259 yards and six touchdowns on offense, completed 2-of-6 passes, punted twice and was a holder on field goals. The do-everything athlete was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the 62nd (second round) pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
7. Jerry Hughes, DE, TCU
Sugar Land (Texas) Austin (2006)
TCU, Iowa State and North Texas were the offers Hughes had to choose from coming out of high school. Gary Patterson knew he had a special player as Hughes was one of only four freshman to see the field in 2006. As a senior in 2009, Hughes led the Mountain West with 11.5 sacks and helped lead a defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in total yards allowed (239.7 ypg). He was a two-time All-America selection and finished with 142 career tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss and 28.5 sacks. The Frogs went 42-10 during Hughes’ time, and the defensive end was selected in the first round by the Colts in the 2010 NFL Draft.
8. Jordan Todman, RB, UConn
Dartmouth (Mass.) High (2008)
With offers from only UConn, Purdue and Northeastern, Todman quickly overachieved in Storrs, Conn. As a freshman, Todman rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. As a sophomore, his first season as the starter, he rushed for 1,188 yards and 14 touchdowns. In Todman’s final season as a Husky he finished second in the nation in rushing at 141.3 yards per game. His 1,695 yards led the Big East and he scored another 14 times as a junior. He skipped his final season in college to test the NFL waters and landed with the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft.
9. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Missouri
Jasper (Texas) High (2006)
Coming out of high school, Weatherspoon was listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He is now a star 6-foot-2, 244-pound outside linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons. His offer sheet included Missouri, Houston, Iowa State, TCU and Tulane. He claimed Special Teamer of the Year honors as a freshman for the Tigers and in only two full seasons as a starter, Westherspoon registered 266 total tackles, nine sacks, four interceptions and 33.5 tackles for a loss. He was a part of the winningest two-year span in Mizzou history (2006-2007) and was drafted by the Falcons with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
10. Owen Marecic, LB/FB, Stanford
Portland (Ore.) Jesuit (2007)
The Marecic family moved all over the country — from New Jersey to Boston to Los Angeles to Oregon — before Owen was recruited by Yale, Army and Stanford. Only the Cardinal and Portland State officially offered the two-way star. In his junior season, Marecic was the lead blocker for the Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. He was also used in short yardage situations on defense as an inside linebacker. Jim Harbaugh then made him a true two-way star as a senior as Marecic was the only FBS player to start on both offense and defense. In a game against Notre Dame, he scored two touchdowns and intercepted a pass in a 26-second span. Marecic was a fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2011 NFL Draft.
11. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy (2007)
Castonzo was the first true freshman to start along the offensive line at BC since 1998, blocked for Matt Ryan and claimed freshman All-America honors in 2007. Became a two-time All-ACC performer and was the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Colts.
12. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
Fayetteville (N.C.) E.E. Smith (2004)
A freshman All-American, Curry eventually earned the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. He was drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.
13. Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville
Huntsville (Ala.) Lee (2003)
How many 15-year-olds decide to play football at Louisville instead of Harvard? But a year later Okoye, at 16 years old, became the youngest player in the NCAA. He finished his college career with 55 tackles and eight sacks as a senior. The All-Big East and All-America selection was the youngest senior in the nation (19) before being selected by the Texans with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
14. Alex Mack, OC, Cal
Santa Barbara (Calif.) San Marcos (2004)
Mack made 39 consecutive starts for the Golden Bears and was a Rimington Trophy finalist for the nation’s top center. He is now a Pro Bowl center for the Cleveland Browns after getting drafted with the 21st overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
15. Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas
Richardson (Texas) Berkner (2004)
Offered by Arizona, Kansas, Baylor, Tulsa and Kansas State. Talib’s risky play paid off in college as his highlight reel play at corner earned him the Jack Tatum Trophy and the Orange Bowl MVP in his final season. He was a consensus All-American and the 20th overall pick by the Tampa Bay Bucs in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Other Top Two-Stars To Consider:
Danario Alexander, WR, Missouri (2006) Martin (Texas) High
Dennis Pitta, TE, BYU (2003) Moorpark (Calif.) High
Tank Carder, LB, TCU (2007) Sweeney (Texas) High
Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State (2005) Piscataway (N.J.) High
Mardy Gilyard, RS, Cincinnati (2005) Palm Coast (Fla.) Flagler Palm Coast