The nature of this article is simple. All too often, unheralded recruits that grade lower than highly-touted prospects end up having better college careers. Does this mean that too much stock is put into recruiting grades? Not necessarily.
Highly graded recruits do have to earn those grades. Much like preseason polls, grades are merely a projection of how a player should perform based on their talent (size and athleticism) and past performance (high school). In many ways, recruiting grades are the college equivalent of the NFL Scouting Combine. Sometimes highly graded prospects work out; sometimes they bust. It's a regular occurrence.
Just to put things into perspective, here are the top-rated recruits from each of the Sooners' recruiting classes dating back to 2006 (excluding 2012):
- 2011: Brandon Williams, Running Back, Grade 82
- 2010: Tony Jefferson, Athlete, Grade 84
- 2009: Jamarkus McFarland, Defensive Tackle, Grade 83
- 2008: Jermie Calhoun, Running Back, Grade 90
- 2007: Austin Box, Safety, Grade 82
- 2006: DeMarco Murray, Running Back, Grade 92
Of the players listed, Tony Jefferson is the only one that has the chance of being named the best player from his recruiting class. DeMarco Murray was great, but he was in a class with Gerald McCoy, Jermaine Gresham and Sam Bradford—all rated lower.
Here is a list of five recent Sooner recruits that didn't garner too much respect or attention coming out of high school. These five guys were all close to the bottom of each Sooner recruiting class in terms of grades, but they certainly didn't let that stand in their way of having fantastic college careers.
Recruit Grade (ESPN): 76
Position Rank (ESPN): 22
Let's start with the 2006 recruiting class—a class that was absolutely loaded with talent. I could easily use three or four guys from this class, but I'm sticking with just two, the first of which is offensive tackle Trent Williams.
Williams, who was actually recruited as a guard rather than a tackle, received the fourth-worst recruiting grade (76) in the Sooners' 2006 class. The Sooners had three offensive linemen that graded better than Williams in the same class: Cory Brandon (79), Chad Roark (78) and Curtis Bailey (78).
Needless to say, Williams outperformed all of them. As a freshman, Williams became the starter mid-season at right tackle after Branndon Braxton went down with a broken leg. After six games of incredible play, Williams was named to the Freshman All-America second team. Williams started just six games his sophomore year as well before really coming into his own as a junior.
Williams started every game his junior season and recorded a career-high 131 knockdowns. He was impressive enough to earn All-Big 12 first team honors from the coaches. As a senior, Williams once again led the team in knockdowns, this time with 97.
Williams earned first team All-American honors and was named Big 12 Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year. As a whole, Williams started 38 games for the Sooners in four seasons. He went on to be selected No. 4 overall in the 2010 draft to the Washington Redskins.
Not too shabby for the No. 22 guard in the nation coming out of high school.
Recruit Grade (ESPN): 75
Position Rank (ESPN): 86
After Travis Lewis graduated in the spring, we can all officially say that he has become one of the most beloved linebackers in Oklahoma football history. This is a huge feat considering the talent that the Sooners have had at the linebacker position over the years.
Like Williams, Lewis found a permanent position upon arriving at Oklahoma. However, Williams' switch from guard to tackle wasn't nearly as extreme as Lewis', who was originally recruited, graded and scouted as both a linebacker and a running back. According to ESPN, he was only the No. 86 running back in his class.
Can you imagine a 6'2", 227-pound Lewis in the backfield? It's interesting to think about, to say the least. Still, there's no arguing the switch to linebacker now. Lewis has left a legacy that will forever last at Oklahoma.
Lewis was a leader both on and off the field for the Sooners the past four seasons. Here is a list of his accomplishments while wearing crimson and cream:
- 451 total tackles (led team all four seasons—only Sooner to ever do that)
- 54 career starts
- Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year (2008)
- Freshman All-American (2008)
- All-Big 12 first team (2008 and 2009)
Recruit Grade (ESPN): 77
Position Rank (ESPN): 58
To think that Ryan Broyles was once deemed as only the No. 58 wide receiver in his 2007 recruiting class is now laughable. To be fair, Broyles did come from a fairly strong class of wide receivers. Here are a few notables from the group:
- Golden Tate—No. 2, Grade 85; Now with the Seattle Seahawks
- Arrelious Benn—No. 3, Grade 84; Now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Greg Little—No. 5, Grade 84; Now with the Cleveland Browns
- Dez Bryant—No. 7, Grade 83; Now with the Dallas Cowboys
- Torrey Smith—No. 54, Grade 77; Now with the Baltimore Ravens
These are literally the only guys listed ahead of Broyles in his class that have done much of anything. Still, who would have expected a 5'10" slot receiver to become the all-time FBS receptions leader? Broyles not only turned out better than expected, he shattered any sort of expectations anyone may have had about him.
After redshirting in 2007, Broyles made an immediate impact as a redshirt freshman in 2008 catching 46 passes for 687 yards and six touchdowns. He never looked back. Broyles finished his career with 349 receptions for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Along with his eye-dropping stats, Broyles also received consensus All-American honors twice (2010-11) and first-team All-Big 12 honors twice (2010-11).
Recruit Grade (ESPN): 75
Position Rank (ESPN): 58
Demontre Hurst is the only current Sooner on this list. Normally, I'd feel odd talking about that a player that hasn't graduated in this sort of fashion, but Hurst has done enough in three years to make the list.
According to ESPN, Hurst was the No. 58 cornerback in his class. Defensive backs that were ranked or graded better than Hurst that also committed to Oklahoma that year include: Gabe Lynn, Kevin Brent, Javon Harris and Marcus Trice. Lynn and Harris are starters, yes, but they haven't quite lived up to their potential. Hurst, on the other hand, has been important since he stepped foot on the field.
After playing a significant role on special teams as a freshman, Hurst moved into the starting lineup as a cornerback during his sophomore season. He has recorded 119 tackles in just three seasons and has been named to the Academic All-Big 12 first-team once, as well as second-team All-Big 12 once.
Hurst, who is now the No. 1 cornerback for the Sooners after Jamell Fleming's departure, is going to be a vocal leader for a secondary that really needs to come together this season. This should be a piece of cake. Hurst has the experience—starter in 27 games, played in 40—and talent to really solidify his already great college career.
Recruit Grade (ESPN): 79
Position Rank (ESPN): 16
I couldn't leave him off the list, despite the fact that he graded higher than all the other players and actually has a decent position rank at No. 16. Still, Sam Bradford went far and beyond any sort of expectations that his scouting report could describe.
After redshirting in 2006, Bradford was in a heated competition for the starting quarterback job in 2007 with Keith Nichol and Joey Halzle. Halzle seemed to have the upper-hand due to his junior-college experience, but Nichol provided something that Oklahoma quarterbacks hadn't seen in awhile: scrambling.
So, who was Sam Bradford and how did he win the starting job? Apparently, the coaches saw something that the rest of the country would witness for the next two seasons: Sam Bradford was great. Not even just great but really great. He was super accurate, had poise in the pocket, had prototypical NFL-size, a big arm, etc.
In his first few games as a starter, Bradford completed 22 straight passes. How in the world was this guy ONLY the No. 16 quarterback in the country?
After playing in just 31 games—two full seasons, three games as a junior—Bradford was able to throw for 8,403 yards, 88 touchdowns to only 16 interceptions, all while maintaining a 175.6 passer rating, the best by any Oklahoma quarterback.
He was a Heisman Trophy winner, but he was so much more decorated than just that (albeit, of course, that was the biggest one). Please go here to see all of Bradford's honors and awards, because, frankly, there are too many to type out.