Plenty of SEC players enjoyed NFL riches after spending time on campus as 5-star recruits. Alabama won 4 national championships in 7 years by recruiting a slew of blue-chip players at every position. Those who say stars don’t matter are kidding themselves.
But, of course, college careers don’t always pan out smoothly … even for the Crimson Tide. For all the storybook rises to fame we’ve seen from top recruits in recent years — Jonathan Allen, Vernon Hargreaves and Myles Garrett, among many others — there have been just as many big-time disappointments in the SEC.
The reasons vary; injuries, tragedy, poor decision-making or even simply not developing as expected can all lead to fans labeling a top signee as bust. Whatever the case, SEC Country decided to reflect on some not-so-fondly-remembered recruiting pickups with National Signing Day fast approaching.
Brace yourselves. This will get ugly.
Alabama: OT Tyler Love (2008), CB B.J. Scott (2008), QB Phillip Sims (2010)
Although it goes down as the group that helped launch Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty, the 2008 recruiting class featured 2 high-profile 5-star prospects who never lived up to their billing.
Love, the nation’s No. 1-ranked offensive tackle, played in 13 games as a reserve after injuries derailed his college career — a stress fracture and a chronic neck problem. Scott, another top in-state recruit and the country’s No. 3 cornerback prospect, transferred to South Alabama in 2011 as a redshirt junior, having appeared in 15 games for the Crimson Tide. He amassed 132 tackles and 9 pass deflections over the next 2 years as a starting safety for the Jaguars.
The third and final 5-star in that 2008 class, Julio Jones, turned out a little better. Just a little.
Sims, the country’s top pro-style quarterback in 2010, was named co-starter with AJ McCarron for the 2011 season opener, but he watched his teammate quickly run away with the job. Sims transferred to Virginia in 2012 and threw for 1,263 yards, 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in 12 games with the Cavaliers. Academic ineligibility forced Sims to transfer again, this time to Winston-Salem State.
Tennessee: QB James Banks (2002), RB Bryce Brown (2009), WR Da’Rick Rogers (2010)
How could we forget Brown? After a ridiculous recruitment saga, the No. 2 overall player in the class landed with Tennessee well after signing day — a turn of events many saw as a boon for first-year Vols coach Lane Kiffin. But Brown saw the field as a contributor only in 2009, accounting for 597 total yards and 4 touchdowns. He transferred to Kansas State. Brown played two games for his home-state Wildcats before declaring for the NFL Draft.
The top prospect from the state of Georgia, Rogers drew plenty of fanfare coming out of high school. And he looked the part as a sophomore, as he led the SEC in receptions (67) and receiving yards (1,040) in 2011 along with first-team All-SEC honors. But disciplinary trouble did him in. Tennessee suspended Rogers before the 2012 season — he later admitted to failing 3 drug tests — and he transferred to Tennessee Tech after that. He went undrafted in 2013 and now plays in the CFL.
Banks, a star quarterback named Indiana Mr. Football in 2001, he arrived at Tennessee as a 5-star dual-threat prospect. He played sparingly as a freshman and then moved to receiver as a sophomore, where he made a number of big plays for the Vols in 2003 (42 catches for 621 yards and 6 touchdowns). But Tennessee dismissed Banks after that breakout season for repeated disciplinary offenses, and he resurfaced at D-II Carson Newman.
LSU: WR Xavier Carter (2004), QB Ryan Perrilloux (2005), QB Russell Shepard (2010)
A signing day flip saw Perrilloux, Louisiana’s top prospect and the No. 6 guy in the nation, jump to LSU from Texas at the last minute. But boy, the Tigers might have been better off had he just stuck with the Longhorns.
As a true freshman, he infamously said: “I definitely think I can” win the Heisman Trophy. “My four years at LSU, I’ll try to win four if I can.” But fate had other plans. Perrilloux played behind Matt Flynn during LSU’s national championship season in 2007, completing 68 percent of his passes for 694 yards, 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. When Flynn was injured before the SEC championship game, Perrilloux stepped in and won MVP honors by going 20-of-30 passing against Tennessee.
By May, LSU had kicked him off the team for a number of reported reasons: a failed drug test, skipping classes, missing a team meeting and showing up late for workouts. He spent the remainder of his college days at Jacksonville State.
Carter, a top-20 prospect in his signing class, only made 9 career catches in 2 seasons at LSU. However, the 2-sport star would dominate as a sprinter on the Tigers track team, earning 10 All-America honors between indoor and outdoor competition and 2006 Men’s Track Athlete of the Year (indoor and outdoor). He left college early to pursue a career as a professional sprinter. So, a good signing for LSU; just not for its football team.
Shepard, another high-profile signing day miss, wasn’t a quarterback for the Tigers. The coaching staff moved him to running back and then receiver, where he never became more than a contributing backup (1,286 total yards in 4 seasons). He was the No. 3 overall recruit in the Class of 2009.
Georgia: RB Albert Hollis (2000), DE Brandon Miller (2004), RB Isaiah Crowell (2011)
Hollis might not be the most well-known 5-star back whose career flamed out at Georgia, but when he signed with the Bulldogs, the Sacramento native was an elite prospect (No. 4 RB, No. 25 overall). His undoing was a non-contact knee injury in the spring of 2001. He spent three years rehabbing from that horrible injury — he damaged nerves in his leg — before his first Sanford Stadium carry during the 2004 G-Day spring scrimmage.
Billed as the next great Georgia pass rusher, Miller wasn’t kicked off or plagued by injuries; he simply didn’t develop the way Bulldog coaches expected. He finished his college career with 6 sacks and was not drafted by the NFL.
Crowell, given his high-profile arrival, might be the most disappointing of the group. A 5-star tailback, Crowell stayed in-state on signing day, much to the delight of Bulldogs fans. He displayed great promise as a true freshman: 185 carries for 850 yards and rushing 5 touchdowns, including a 132-yard game against Auburn. Then came Crowell’s arrest for gun possession. Georgia kicked him out of the program, Crowell spent 2 years starting for Alabama State and became the lead tailback for the Cleveland Browns.
Florida: DB Will Hill (2008), DT Gary Brown (2009), DE Ronald Powell (2010)
Let’s start with Hill, the No. 5 overall prospect and top safety in his class. He signed with Florida as a prep stud out of Jersey City imagining a life of fun and partying in the sun. And, as chronicled in Spencer Hall’s opus “THE HAPPY FOOTBALL LIFE OF WILL HILL,” this is indeed what the 5-star safety found.
Unfortunately for Hill, he did not find much success on the football field, showing flashes but overall falling short of expectations in 3 years with the Gators. His apparent love of “sour” might have played a part when Florida suspended him after his junior season (“violating team rules” was the official reason). He went undrafted in 2011 but caught on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. After signing a contract extension, however, the Ravens released Hill less than a year later after learning he’d face a 10-game suspension for failing a drug test.
Brown never saw the field at Florida and was dismissed following an arrest in 2010 on two misdemeanor counts of battery. He was the 2nd-best prospect in Florida’s 9th-ranked 2009 class.
Finally, there’s Powell. A pair of torn ACLs derailed Powell’s college career in 2012, forcing him to accept a medical redshirt. He started 8 games in his final year on campus, recording 4 sacks and 7 tackles for loss, well short of his expectations as a No. 1 overall prospect.
Auburn: OLB LeMarcus Rowell (2001), ATH Trovon Reed (2010), OT Christian Westerman (2011)
Rowell blossomed into a 5-star prospect at Opelika High, located just down the road from Auburn, and at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds he looked every bit the part of an elite defender. But he sat out his true freshman season amid an investigation into his NCAA eligibility, played sparingly in 2002 and then was suspended following an arrest in the summer of 2003. He transferred having played 11 games for the Tigers.
Reed, a top-50 national recruit out of Louisiana, started 2 games in 2011 and caught 21 passes as a wide receiver. But he faded into the rotation after that. It wasn’t until his senior year that Auburn moved Reed to cornerback, where he found more success (3 interceptions and 12 tackles). Though he went undrafted, Reed hung around on NFL rosters/practice squads for the past 2 years. He drew attention after he picked off a Cam Newton pass in the fourth quarter of a Chargers game this fall.
The No. 3 offensive tackle in the country, Arizona product Westerman wasn’t so much an evaluation miss as it was bad timing. After redshirting in 2011, he appeared in 2 games for a Tigers team that went 3-9 in Gene Chizik’s final season as head coach — the same year Gus Malzahn left to coach at Arkansas State. Westerman transferred to Arizona State in early December, and Auburn named Malzahn as Chizik’s successor 2 weeks later. Westerman went on to start 25 games for the Sun Devils and became a 5th-round draft pick in 2016.
Arkansas: QB Mitch Mustain (2006), CB De’Anthony Curtis (2008), CB Darius Winston (2009)
Speaking of Malzahn, we’re about to talk about that fun time when he coached at Arkansas under Houston Nutt. There’s a great al.com piece about that fateful 2006 season: Mustain, the No. 1 QB in the country, had just signed with the Hogs to follow his old high school coach, Malzahn, in the college ranks. But Malzahn’s new-age ideas about offense and the philosophy of the “old guard” under Nutt never quite meshed. But with the likes of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Marcus Monk, it didn’t totally matter: Mustain enjoyed a measure of success and Arkansas won 7 consecutive games with freshman Mustain under center.
Then Mustain — who apparently took a minor shot at Nutt in a book published about Springdale High’s 2005 season — threw a pick on his first attempt against South Carolina. Nutt pulled Mustain for Casey Dick, and the talented freshman never threw another pass for the Razorbacks. Malzahn left for Tulsa and Mustain transferred to Southern Cal, where he never took hold of the starting job.
Curtis, the state of Arkansas’ No. 1 recruit in 2008, bounced from running back to wide receiver to cornerback in an uneventful college career. The same goes for Winston, also a blue-chip cornerback. Both signed under defensive coordinator Willy Robinson — yikes.
South Carolina: RB Demetris Summers (2001), WR O.J. Murdock (2005), WR Shaq Roland (2012)
Summers had it all: Parade All-American, 5 stars and a scholarship offer to play for his in-state Gamecocks. And while he led South Carolina in rushing during 2 unremarkable seasons, even attaining SEC All-Freshman honors in 2003, the team dismissed Summers after he failed a second drug test. He wound up in the CFL a few years later but was out of the league by 2010. Summers was charged with intent to distribute crack cocaine, having a gun illegally and driving under the influence in his hometown of Lexington in 2014.
Roland, Mr. South Carolina Football as a senior, simply never lived up to the hype. He caught 56 passes in 3 years, left the program, and then expressed interest in returning for his final year of eligibility as a grad student.
Murdock might be the saddest story of any here. A 4-star wideout from Tampa, Murdock enrolled at South Carolina along with friend and fellow wideout Kenny McKinley in 2005. While McKinley starred for the Gamecocks, amassing 2,781 career receiving yards, Murdock didn’t stick around and transferred to D-II Fort Hays State in Kansas. He latched on as an undrafted NFL free agent but injured an Achilles tendon in rookie camp.
In 2010, McKinley committed suicide. In 2012, Murdock also committed suicide.
Mississippi State: DB Darren Williams (2002), RB Nick Turner (2002) and DT Quay Evans (2012)
Williams and Turner, both headliners in Jackie Sherrill’s penultimate signing class, couldn’t keep themselves out of trouble. Williams accounted for 7 interceptions in his first 3 years on campus, but he had trouble staying healthy and on the field; he was dismissed before his season for violating team rules. He was shot and killed two years later at the age of 23.
Turner‘s story ends no better. He was arrested for using counterfeit $100 bills as a freshman and then dismissed in 2004, despite rushing for 696 yards and 7 touchdowns the previous season. In 2008, Turner was charged with murder during a drug deal that went bad, and then in 2010 an AJC report revealed that Turner went missing and was presumed dead after trying to buy marijuana from “unknown individuals.”
Evans simply didn’t pan out, playing in 15 games over 2 seasons and then leaving the program in 2013 following a suspension.
Texas A&M: OT Jorrie Adams (2003), WR Thomas Johnson (2012), WR Speedy Noil (2014)
Once thought to be a future cornerstone left tackle, Adams — a top-10 recruit and the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country — was moved to defensive end after enrolling, where he played reasonably well but never really stood out. Texas A&M dismissed him in 2005 in the wake of being arrested on drug-related charges.
The Aggies swiped Noil, the No. 1 wideout and No. 8 overall prospect in 2014, from New Orleans, which was seen as a recruiting coup. But between injury and disciplinary issues, he never lived up to that billing at Texas A&M. Noil caught 88 passes over 3 seasons and declared for the NFL Draft earlier this month.
Johnson, part of Kevin Sumlin’s first signing class, caught 30 passes as a true freshman — but then disappeared for three days in mid-November. Police found him at 3 a.m. after he reportedly walked at least 26 miles. He withdrew from school, and his erratic behavior in the following years led to many speculating whether he was dealing with a mental illness. Johnson was arrested for allegedly killing a jogger in 2015.
Ole Miss: QB Robert Lane (2003), DT Jerrell Powe (2005), WR Patrick Patterson (2009)
David Cutcliffe luring Lane to Oxford was, at the time, seen as a huge swing for the Rebels. But Lane never stuck as a quarterback and moved to tight end, where he caught 47 passes for 517 yards.
Powe‘s college performance wasn’t awful, but given the excitement surrounding him in 2005 — the No. 24 overall player and a top-3 defensive tackle — it wasn’t what Ole Miss expected. Academic struggles delayed his Rebels career until 2008 after stints in prep school and at a junior college. Once at Ole Miss, he had 7 sacks and 24 tackles for loss over 3 seasons, earning a pair of Second Team All-SEC mentions, and became a 6th-round draft pick in 2011.
Patterson, a 4-star wideout who went down as one of Houston Nutt’s most hyped signees, was suspended twice in his first year on campus and then was dismissed in July of 2010. He caught 12 passes for 80 yards in his lone year on campus.
Missouri: QB Chase Patton (2004), TE Andrew Jones (2008), WR Dorial Green-Beckham (2012)
Missouri’s recruiting M.O. under Gary Pinkel was simple: Sign a bunch of 3-stars and develop the heck out of them. Landing a 5-star like Green-Beckham was exceedingly rare.
So it’s a major source of frustration knowing DGB’s potential — he had 893 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore — and seeing the team dismiss him in 2014. Green-Beckham had 3 brushes with the law in 18 months, the last straw coming in an early-morning altercation with a 3 women at an off-campus residence.
The Tennessee Titans took Green-Beckham in the second round of the 2015 Draft and traded him to Philadelphia after 1 season; he caught 36 passes for the Eagles in 2016.
Patton was a great story: a 4-star dual-threat from Columbia who stayed home to the delight of Tigers fans. As Chase Daniel’s primary backup for 3 season, Patton attempted just 31 passes at Mizzou. The cover of an ESPN magazine featuring Daniel and Patton famously read: “Chase Daniel might win the Heisman … His backup could win the Super Bowl.” Patton never made it in the NFL either; he is now a dentist living in Columbia.
Lastly there’s Jones, a top-10 tight end and the state of Missouri’s No. 2 prospect in 2008. He caught 20 passes and saw action in all 14 games as a freshman, but he never developed as expected and played sparingly after that behind Michael Egnew. As a senior, Jones joined the basketball team and averaged 10.8 points per game as a guard.
Kentucky: DT D.J. Stafford (2007), WR Aaron Boyd (2008), QB Morgan Newton (2009)
One of the nation’s top 250 recruits according to Rivals, Stafford — a LaGrange, Ga., native who picked Kentucky over his home state Bulldogs — never made 1 Wildcats practice. The only news story to even mention him after signing day 2007 does so in passing. A 2011 kentucky.com column names Stafford as one of two 4-star Kentucky signees who “never made it to Lexington.” That would add up, as Stafford isn’t listed on the school’s 2007 roster. The exact reason why? It could have been grades, but that isn’t clear. No matter, it was a big whiff.
Boyd and Newton both made it to campus but never earned more than a backup role. Boyd, ranked the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky by Rivals and Scout, caught 30 career passes in 4 years for Kentucky. And Newton, himself the top-ranked recruit from the state of Indiana, went from being named to the Coaches SEC All-Freshman Team in 2009 to a seldom-used backup who threw just 32 passes as a senior. Mike Hartline and Maxwell Smith both earned the starting job over the former 4-star.
Vanderbilt: QB David Koral (2001), TE Jonathan Massey (2006), TE Dillon Van Der Wal (2011)
Very rarely does Vandy pull in a 4-star recruit. But even with a limited selection pool, we managed to find 3 guys who didn’t pan out for the Commodores.
Koral, a 4-star from the Los Angeles area, was a prolific high school passer who never took a snap at Vanderbilt. Coach Woody Widenhofer resigned after the 2001 season, a 2-9 campaign, and Koral transferred to junior college shortly after redshirting as a freshman. He later walked on at Florida State and ultimately ended up at UCLA, where he attempted all of 17 passes.
The tight ends had slightly different stories. Vanderbilt dismissed Massey, a top-10 prospect from the state of Mississippi and the No. 15 recruit at his position, in December of 2006 for violating team rules. After a year in junior college, he caught 16 passes in 39 games for Southern Miss.
Van Der Wal (that’s the most Vandy-sounding name in the world, isn’t it?) was another standout recruit from Southern California who never broke through as a starter for the Commodores. He finished his career with three catches for 28 yards.