Grading the College Careers of the 2009 5-Star Football Recruits

Danny FlynnSenior Analyst IJanuary 4, 2013

Grading the College Careers of the 2009 5-Star Football Recruits

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    Now that the 2012 college football season is winding down and coming to a close, many fans are starting to turn their attention to the recruiting trail to see where many of the top prospects of the 2013 class could potentially be headed.

    As we come closer and closer to National Signing Day, we're bound to see plenty of stories about all of this year's top blue-chip prospects pop up over the next few weeks. 

    What we've learned in the past, though, is that when it comes to high school football prospects, there's definitely no such thing as a "sure thing" no matter how many stars a player may be rated, or how many awards he may win.

    If you want proof of that, all you have to do is go back to four years ago and look at who was rated as the top prospects of the 2009 class. 

    There were some 5-star recruits who definitely lived up to their potential and became impact players at the college level. But there were also players who turned out to be major busts. 

    Here's a look at the studs and duds of the 2009 recruiting class. 

Criteria

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    In order to be included, a player had to be ranked as a 5-star prospect by both of the two most prominent college football recruiting services in the country, Scout and Rivals.

    There were 26 players from the 2009 class that ended up meeting that criteria.

QB Matt Barkley, USC

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    Grade: B

    Pete Carroll was so fond of Matt Barkley, Carroll named Barkley his starting quarterback in 2009 as just a true freshman.

    After showing progress in each of his first two seasons in Los Angeles, Barkley finally put together a huge breakout junior campaign in 2011. He completed 69 percent of his passes for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions, as he led the Trojans to a 10-2 record.

    Following his fantastic performance in 2011, many expected Barkley to turn pro and become a top-10 pick in the 2012 NFL draft. But instead, he decided to return for his senior year and chase a Heisman Trophy and a national championship.

    He entered the 2012 season as college football’s cover boy, being hyped up as the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 draft and the early Heisman favorite. However, it didn’t take long for Barkley and the Trojans to fall out of the spotlight.

    Ultimately, he became the face of a USC team that turned out to be the most disappointing team of 2012.

    Still, even though Matt Barkley didn’t have the type of senior year he was hoping for, he put together a very solid overall career during his four years as a Trojan.

QB Garrett Gilbert, Texas/SMU

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    Grade: D

    Many thought that Garrett Gilbert was destined to follow in the footsteps of Vince Young and Colt McCoy and become the next great quarterback at Texas. However, Gilbert never came close to reaching the same level of success as his predecessors.

    After making a surprise appearance in the 2010 BCS Championship Game for an injured McCoy, a game which Texas lost to Alabama, Gilbert took over the starting job the following season.

    It turned out to be a very rough campaign for both the quarterback and the Longhorns, as they went just 5-7, their worst record of the Mack Brown era.

    Gilbert was unable to turn things around the following year, and he eventually ended up losing his starting job and transferring to SMU.

    In his first year with the Mustangs, he showed some signs of promise late in the season. But overall, he completed just 53 percent of his passes and finished the season with a very pedestrian 15-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

RB Bryce Brown, Tennessee

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    Grade: F

    As far as pure talent and potential is concerned, Bryce Brown is one of the greatest running back prospects to emerge from the high school ranks since the turn of the millennium. However, his recruitment turned out to be a true saga.

    There were plenty of storylines to talk about during Brown’s senior year, including the involvement and presence of his “adviser” Brian Butler, the rumors that he would skip college and play in the CFL, and the fact that he decided to wait over a month after National Signing Day to announce his decision.

    Ultimately, Brown ended up signing with Tennessee to play for Lane Kiffin. During his freshman campaign in Knoxville, the highly touted rusher carried the ball 101 times for 460 yards and scored four touchdowns.

    Following Kiffin’s abrupt departure from Tennessee after just one year, Brown decided to leave as well, eventually ending up at Kansas State. However, he never played a down for the Wildcats, instead choosing to enter his name into the 2012 NFL draft.

    Although the seventh-round pick has a chance to salvage his career and make something of himself with the Philadelphia Eagles, there’s no reason not to call Brown a gigantic recruiting bust, considering the type of star he was built up to be coming out of high school.

RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M

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    Grade: C

    Unfortunately, injuries were a big reason why Christine Michael never came close to reaching his full potential at Texas A&M.

    Michael got Aggies fans excited with an encouraging debut season back in 2009, in which he ran for 844 yards and scored 10 touchdowns as a true freshman. However, injuries would end up hampering him in each of his next two seasons. 

    As a senior in 2012, Michael was expected to finally be the main man in the A&M backfield, following the departure of fellow RB Cyrus Gray. However, Michael only ended up carrying the ball 88 times for 417 yards, although he did score 12 touchdowns.

    Looking back on his time in College Station, Michael definitely showed flashes of the type of star he could have been. But overall, he just never became the type of impact playmaker that many envisioned.

RB Trent Richardson, Alabama

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    Grade: A+

    After waiting his turn behind Heisman winner Mark Ingram for the first two years of his career, Trent Richardson finally got a shot to be Alabama’s featured back in 2011.

    He certainly made the most of the opportunity. The 5’9’’, 230-pound powerhouse rushed for 1,740 yards and scored 24 touchdowns, and he played a key role in the Tide’s run to a BCS championship.

    Richardson received plenty of recognition and praise for his performance.

    He won the Doak Walker Award, he was a unanimous All-American selection, and he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck.

    Following his incredible junior campaign, he made the wise decision to leave school a year early and enter the 2012 draft, where he was picked third overall by the Cleveland Browns.

    Although he may have only been a full-time starter for one year, Richardson will still likely be remembered as one of the greatest backs to ever lace up a pair of cleats in Tuscaloosa.

WR Andre Debose, Florida

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    Grade: C-

    When Andre Debose first arrived at Florida, many Gator fans were hoping that he would become the next Percy Harvin in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. However, Meyer ended up leaving Gainesville after Debose’s freshman year, and the wideout’s never really been able to find a way to properly utilize his talents in the team’s current offense.

    In his three years as a Gator, the explosive receiver has caught just 29 passes and scored just eight touchdowns.

    Although he has one more year left to make something of himself, Debose simply hasn’t become anywhere near the type of difference-maker on offense that Florida fans were hoping he would be.

WR Russell Shepard, LSU

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    Grade: D+

    LSU's 2009 recruiting class was absolutely loaded with blue-chip prospects. However, no recruit in the highly touted group garnered as much hype as Russell Shepard. 

    Shepard was rated the No. 3 overall prospect in the country by ESPN, the No. 4 overall prospect by Scout and the No. 7 overall prospect by Rivals.

    The versatile and explosive playmaker was considered to be one of the premier athletes in the 2009 class, and the type of prospect who could end up playing a variety of different positions at the collegiate level. 

    The Tigers lined him up at quarterback, running back and wide receiver early in his career, but they could never really quote find a way to get the most out of his unique abilities. 

    During his four years in Baton Rouge, Shepard caught just 58 total passes and scored just 10 touchdowns. 

    You could make the argument that the LSU coaching staff could have found better ways to use him. But the bottom line is, Shepard never came close to living up to his high school hype at the college level. 

WR Rueben Randle, LSU

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    Grade: B

    Russell Shepard certainly wasn't the only big recruit in the 2009 class that LSU fans gushed about. The Tiger faithful were also excited to get a look at Rueben Randle, who earned numerous All-American honors during his time at Louisiana's Bastrop High School. 

    Although Randle wasn't an instant star in Baton Rouge, he finally had a breakout campaign as a junior in 2011, as he caught 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns.

    He was one of the team's key offensive weapons during its run to an SEC championship, and he was one of the most feared wide receivers in the country. 

    Randle opted to cash in on his big junior year and he entered the 2012 NFL draft, where he was taken with the last pick in the second round by the New York Giants. 

OG Mason Walters, Texas

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    Grade: B-

    Mason Walters hasn't reached the status of being considered one of the Big 12's true standout offensive linemen just yet. However, Walters has been a solid starter for the Longhorns in the trenches over the last three years, starting 28 straight games since entering the lineup as a redshirt freshman back in 2009. 

    Next season, Walters will be counted on to once again open up sizable holes for the running back trio of Joe Bergeron, Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. 

DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

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    Grade: B+

    It may have taken Sheldon Richardson a few years to get to Missouri, since he failed to qualify academically coming out of high school and had to make a two-year stop at the College of the Sequoias. However, once he finally did arrive, he definitely made his presence felt. 

    After a solid debut campaign in 2011, Richardson took his game to another level this season. The 6'4'', 295-pound tackle was one of the most productive and disruptive defensive lineman in the country.

    He racked up 75 total tackles, including 39 solo stops and 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, seven quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles in 2012. 

    Based on his performance this year, Richardson will likely be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. 

DT William Campbell, Michigan

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    Grade: D

    Over the last decade, there have been plenty of highly touted defensive tackles such as Marques Slocum, Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson and Adam Patterson that have failed to live up to their potential at Michigan. The latest to join that group is William Campbell. 

    Campbell was one of Rich Rodriguez' biggest recruiting prizes, but like Rodriguez, Campbell just couldn't get the job done in Ann Arbor. 

    Although he finished off his college career with a decent senior season, Campbell never came close to becoming the dominant defensive force that he was originally projected to be. 

DT Gary Brown, Florida

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    Grade: F

    Gary Brown was once a promising young defensive tackle recruit loaded with tremendous potential. However, it didn't take long for Brown to throw away his future. 

    After redshirting during his first year in Gainesville, Brown could just never get his act together. He was finally booted from the team after being arrested and charged in February 2010 with two counts of misdemeanor battery, stemming from an altercation at a party. 

    Brown became just another name on the long list of Gator players arrested during the Urban Meyer era. 

DT Jacobbi McDaniel, Florida State

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    Grade: C

    As a freshman in 2009, Jacobbi McDaniel looked like he had the chance to develop into Florida State's next star defensive lineman, as he racked up 25 tackles, including 13 solo stops and four tackles for loss. 

    Unfortunately, injuries have taken their toll on McDaniel, and he was forced to sit out the entire regular season this year.

    The Seminoles have some great returning talent at defensive tackle, such as Tim Jernigan, Demonte McAllister and Eddie Goldman, coming back in 2013.

    Still, if McDaniel can get completely healthy over the offseason, he should be a big factor in the interior rotation next year. 

DE Alex Okafor, Texas

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    Grade: A

    After losing Sam Acho following the 2010 season, Texas needed a new defensive line leader. It was Alex Okafor who proved to be the right man for that role. 

    Okafor switched from defensive tackle back to his more natural position of defensive end and finished off his career with outstanding performances in 2011 and 2012. 

    Over his last two years at Texas, the talented edge-rusher racked up a combined 18.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss. 

DE Devon Kennard, USC

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    Grade: B-

    Devon Kennard has lined up all over the USC defense during his college career, making starts at both defensive end and middle linebacker for the Trojans. 

    Kennard's best season came in 2010, when he racked up 72 total tackles, including 29 solo stops and seven tackles for loss. He also had two sacks and an interception. 

    Although he missed the entire 2012 season with a pectoral injury, Kennard should return and be one of USC's key defensive playmakers up front once again next season. 

DE Donte Paige-Moss, North Carolina

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    Grade: C-

    Unfortunately for Donte Paige-Moss, he was always overshadowed by a fellow defensive end during his time at North Carolina. 

    In 2009, it was Robert Quinn, and in 2010 and 2011, it was Quinton Coples who received much of the spotlight. 

    Paige-Moss ended up having a mediocre career with the Tar Heels, finishing with 11 sacks in three years. He never came close to reaching his potential before making the unwise decision to leave early for the NFL. Paige-Moss went undrafted and is currently employed in the CFL.

    It also doesn't help that the thing that Tar Heels fans remember the former All-American recruit most for are the critical tweets that he sent out after the 2011 Independence Bowl, in which he criticized both his coaches and the fans. 

LB Jelani Jenkins, Florida

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    Grade: B

    Following two very impressive seasons to start off his college career, many Gators fans were expecting to see LB Jelani Jenkins become a national star in 2012.

    Unfortunately, Jenkins ended up being hampered by injuries, and missed three games this season. 

    Still, the junior weak-side linebacker has to be considered a success based on what he was able to do in his first two years. 

LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame

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    Grade: A+

    What can you really say about Manti Te'o that hasn't already been said this season?

    With his brilliant performance in 2012, Te'o has become the most talked about defensive player in college football, and he's solidified his place as one of the greatest players in the history of Notre Dame football. 

    The former blue-chip recruit from Hawaii has totaled over 100 tackles in each of his last three seasons, and he's been the true captain, leader and heart of the Irish's stout defense. 

    Somehow, Te'o managed to exceed the sky-high expectations that surrounded him when he first arrived in South Bend.

LB Dorian Bell, Ohio State/Duquesne

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    Grade: C+

    When he first came to Columbus back in 2009, Dorian Bell was expected to one day become Ohio State's next great linebacker. However, that never came to fruition, as Bell chose to transfer to Duquesne in 2011 after being suspended for the season by the Buckeyes. 

    The Pittsburgh native has managed to revive his career in a big way at the NEC school, as he was one of the best linebackers at the FBS level in 2012. Bell led the Dukes with 92 tackles, including 54 solo stops and 11.5 tackles for loss, and he also notched 6.5 sacks, even though he was limited to just eight games of action. 

    Bell may not have become a great player with the Buckeyes, but he deserves a lot of credit for making the most of his second chance at Duquesne. 

LB Nico Johnson, Alabama

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    Grade: B

    Nico Johnson never became a bona fide star at Alabama, as he was constantly overshadowed by fellow linebackers such as Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and C.J. Mosley. However, Johnson was one of the key unsung difference-makers, who really helped make the Tide's dominant defense so great. 

    Johnson has had his best season of his career as a senior this year. He finished the regular season ranked third on the team with 54 tackles, which included 23 solo stops. 

LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State

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    Grade: B-

    Looking back on Vontaze Burfict's career at Arizona State, it really makes you wish that he could have had the right type of leadership and guidance. He clearly needed someone who could teach him how to properly harness all of his energy. 

    Burfict played like an animal, but often times, he played like an uncontrolled animal, who would too often overrun plays or get called for devastating personal foul penalties. 

    Still, when he was playing at his best, which occurred most consistently during his sophomore year in 2010, there were few other linebackers in the country that could compare to Burfict. 

CB Branden Smith, Georgia

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    Grade: C

    Branden Smith ended up getting lost in the shuffle, playing alongside more publicized players such as Brandon Boykin, Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo in Georgia's secondary. 

    Smith didn't have a bad career in Athens by any means, but he just never really came close to becoming the true star cornerback that many thought he would be coming out of Atlanta's Washington High School. 

    The highly athletic corner finished his college career with just four total interceptions. 

CB Darius Winston, Arkansas

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    Grade: D+

    One interception and 35 solo tackles—Darius Winston's final career stats pretty much tell the story of how his time at Arkansas went. 

    Winston was once expected to be one of the premier defensive backs in the SEC. But he just never managed to materialize into much of a playmaker for the Razorbacks. 

CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

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    Grade: B

    During Alabama's BCS championship rin in 2011, Dre Kirkpatrick didn't make nearly as many impact plays as fellow Tide defenders such as Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower or Courtney Upshaw. However, a big reason for that is because quarterbacks were simply afraid to test him. 

    The athletic 6'2'', 190-pound corner proved that he could match up with any receiver put in front of him and lock them down. 

    Kirkpatrick played a key role for Alabama's top-ranked defense during his junior campaign.

    The Cincinnati Bengals liked his performance so much that year that they spent the 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft on the big, talented cover man. 

S Craig Loston, LSU

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    Grade: B-

    Craig Loston really deserves an incomplete grade at this point in his career, because he has the chance to potentially be an All-American-caliber player in 2013. We'll just have to wait and see. 

    After waiting his turn behind Brandon Taylor for the first few years of his career, Loston finally got his chance to be a full-time starter this season.

    The physical hard-hitting strong safety may have been overshadowed by his more heralded fellow defenders such as Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Kevin Minter and Eric Reid, but he still managed to make a major impact in 2012. 

    Loston finished the season ranked fifth on the team with 55 tackles, including 29 solo stops, and he also picked off three passes. 

S T.J. McDonald, USC

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    Grade: B

    USC's defense hasn't exactly been a stellar unit in recent years, but it has at times gotten some stellar play and solid leadership from safety T.J. McDonald. 

    McDonald broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore back in 2010, and since then, he's developed into one of the team's key impact players. 

    In his final season in Los Angeles, McDonald led the Trojans with 110 total tackles, including 54 solo stops and 6.5 tackles for loss, picked off two passes and broke up another three throws.

    While he never became one of the Pac-12's truly elite defenders, the athletic 6'3'', 205-pound free safety definitely provided the Trojans defense with solid play in the secondary over the last three years.