What makes a 5-star so special?
Every year in the lead up to National Signing Day, SEC teams sink major time and resources into pursuing these elite recruits. The hope is, one day, they might become the next Tim Tebow, Darren McFadden or Patrick Peterson.
Sometimes the prospects live up to their lofty billing; others — whether because of work ethic, injury or coaching — don’t pan out. But their talent is sometimes enough to help change the course of an entire program, and it’s why schools put such an intense press on guys that earn the coveted fifth star.
Retrospective looks at who lived up to the hype and who did not are always entertaining. So in the interest of cooking up more offseason food for thought, SEC Country would like to help alleviate your Monday blues by spotlighting SEC players who cracked the 247Sports Composite’s list of “All Time Top Football Recruits.” (Note: Class of 2015-17 prospects are excluded)
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, Class of 2011 (1.0000 Composite rating)
How he fared:
Historically, South Carolina never has been the place that lands the Clowneys of the world. So former Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier keeping the nation’s consensus top prospect in-state was a tremendous recruiting coup. It’s no coincidence that during Clowney’s three years in Columbia, South Carolina went 33-6, the best stretch in program history.
Sure, his junior year production (three sacks) did not match what was accomplished during the previous two seasons (21 total sacks), but the fearsome pass-rusher’s mere presence forced opposing offenses to restructure game plans around him.
Where is he now: The NFL hasn’t been as kind to Mr. Clowney, who only has 4.5 sacks in 17 games in two seasons with the Houston Texans. Injuries have played a role there.
DE Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, Class of 2013 (1.0000)
How he fared: File Ole Miss under the same category as South Carolina when it comes to signing blue-chippers. The Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class was superb, and Nkemdiche — also a consensus No. 1 prospect — became the headliner in a huge signing day shocker.
As with Clowney and the ‘Cocks, Ole Miss experienced something of a football renaissance during Nkemdiche’s time in Oxford. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound terror never amassed eye-popping stats, but that was also never his role as a 4-3 defensive tackle. He clogged running lanes, drew double-teams and made everyone around him look better.
DE Ronald Powell, Florida, Class of 2010 (0.9999)
How he fared: A native of Moreno Valley, Calif., Powell went cross-country and signed with the Gators as a defensive end before transitioning to strongside linebacker. The returns in his sophomore year were promising: 32 tackles, nine for loss and six sacks as a regular starter on the nation’s No. 6-ranked pass defense.
But a pair of torn ACLs derailed Powell’s college career in 2012, forcing him to accept a medical redshirt. He started eight games in his final year on campus, recording four sacks and seven tackles for loss, but never entirely lived up to his billing.
Where is he now: Powell became a fifth-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints but was cut before the 2015 season. He is currently an unsigned free agent.
According to a recent YouTube video, he is “in the best shape mentally, and physically than (sic) he has ever been, and is now putting his name back on the map for NFL teams.”
QB Brock Berlin, Florida, Class of 2000 (0.9998)
How he fared: The strange saga of Berlin, whose name sounds like it came out of a comic book, is worth re-telling to those unfamiliar. He arrived at Florida a universally-acclaimed high school prospect, perhaps the Jacob Eason of his time, but quickly found himself riding the bench behind Rex Grossman, which is amusing in its own right. He attempted all of 87 passes in two years with the Gators before transferring to hated in-state rival Miami.
Berlin struggled in his first year as a full-time starter for the ‘Canes (12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions), but rebounded as a senior. Most notably, he went 2-0 against Florida and handed his former school its final loss of the Ron Zook era. Ouch.
Where is he now: Berlin went undrafted out of college, bounced around the NFL for a few seasons and last played football professionally in 2009. If anyone knows what he’s up to these days, let us know!
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU, Class of 2014 (0.9996)
How he fared: Hopefully your memory isn’t this bad. Fournette just set LSU single-season rushing records for yards and touchdowns, among several other accolades earned during his stellar sophomore campaign, and enters 2016 second to only Clemson’s Deshaun Watson on the preseason Heisman Trophy odds board.
Thus far, old No. 7 has exceeded even the sky-high expectations set for him out of high school in Louisiana.
Where is he now: Preparing for his final season with the Tigers (let’s not kid ourselves, guys) and emulating LeBron James on Instagram.
OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama, Class of 2011 (0.9993)
How he fared: Kouandjio was one of those rare offensive linemen to see the field as a true freshman, and for good reason. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound left tackle was and remains a physical specimen. His raw talent was enough that he played eight games in 2011 before a knee injury cut his year short.
The following season, Kouandjio helped anchor one of the most dominant college football O-lines in recent memory — Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones and Anthony Steen formed an imposing group — as the Crimson Tide repeated as national champions.
In each of Kouandjio’s three years on campus, Alabama ranked top 25 nationally in rushing offense while collectively allowing fewer than 25 sacks.
Where he is now: Buffalo selected Kouandjio 44th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. He has since played in 13 games but started just two for the Bills.
OT Andre Smith, Alabama, Class of 2006 (0.9993)
How he fared: Smith signed on with ‘Bama in Mike Shula’s last year as coach and immediately saw the field, becoming just the sixth true freshman in school history to start a season opener. He suited up at left tackle in all 13 games, led the offensive line with 62 knockdown blocks and even scored a touchdown in the Independence Bowl.
That dominance continued into Smith’s sophomore and junior seasons. Although he never saw a title during his time in Tuscaloosa, he delivered on his recruiting hype.
Where he is now: Smith became the sixth overall NFL draft pick and started 73 of 82 games played for the Cincinnati Bengals. He signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings in March.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, Class of 2014 (0.9992)
How he fared: A man of many interests and the SEC’s resident freak athlete, Garrett is well on his way to becoming a top-5 pick in next year’s NFL draft. He’s already broken Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record and led the league in that same category last season (12.5 sacks).
There isn’t much standing in Garrett’s way these days, and given the number of inexperienced SEC quarterbacks expected to start in 2016, the rising junior should feast once again this fall.
WR Julio Jones, Alabama, Class of 2008 (0.9992)
How he fared: Back when Nick Saban was a new face around Tuscaloosa, fresh off a 7-6 showing in his first year as Crimson Tide head man, the fiery coach was looking to seriously upgrade the talent on his roster. Priority No. 1 was a 6-foot-4, 210-pound prospect from Foley, Ala., named Quintorris Lopez “Julio” Jones.
Jones was one of three 5-stars and several more 4-stars secured by Alabama in that recruiting class, but it was the soft-spoken receiver who set the tone for his school’s legendary run of dominance from 2008 to the present day. In three seasons, he amassed 179 receptions for 2,653 yards and 17 total touchdowns while also excelling as a perimeter run blocker, and he played in a pivotal role in Alabama’s perfect 2009 season.
Where he is now: Jones’ excellence has only continued with the Atlanta Falcons, a team that bet its future on the receiver by shipping off four draft picks to land him. The gamble paid off in a big way. Jones just posted the second-highest single-season receiving total in NFL history (1,871), finishing just 93 yards short Calvin Johnson’s 2012 record.
RB Bryce Brown, Tennessee, Class of 2009 (0.9991)
How he fared: Brown was a mega-prospect and had the high school production to back that up. In four years at Wichita East (Kan.), the tailback rushed for 7,209 yards, never recorded fewer than 1,400 in a single season and earned a slew of honors. Needless to say, just about every school in the country was clamoring for his services.
However, Brown’s recruitment was anything but straightforward. He originally committed to Miami but did not fill out his letter of intent on signing day, and then proceeded to name five finalists in its aftermath — none of which were Miami.
Eventually, he settled on the Vols. But after spending his freshman year as a backup to Montario Hardesty, logging only 460 yards on 101 carries, Brown transferred to Kansas State. The catch: Tennessee coach Derek Dooley did not grant Brown his release, meaning the running back had to pay to enroll at Kansas State. He touched the ball four times in three games with the Wildcats before jumping ship for the NFL.
Talk about a complicated legacy.
Where he is now: Brown, now 25, signed with the Eagles as a seventh-round draft pick. He has rushed for just more than 1,000 yards across four seasons with three different NFL teams.