Remembering the Top 25 NFL Prospects as College Football Recruits
Among the best things about covering college football recruiting is that it's awesome to see the future stars of the NFL at the early stages of their development.
Sure, not every recruit makes it to the pros, but just about every NFL player started off as a college prospect.
This May, the NFL will welcome a new crop of rookies to the league, with many of them being familiar faces to recruiting fans. Using the Big Board from B/R's very own Matt Miller, it's going to be neat to quickly look back and remember the top 25 players on his board as college football recruits.
Note: All recruiting information is from 247Sports.
25. Aaron Donald, DT
A stud defensive tackle from Pitt, Aaron Donald was once an enigmatic 3-star defensive line prospect from Penn Hills High School in 2010.
Not known currently for his imposing size, Donald was just 6'0" and 270 pounds as a recruit. He's now a 6'1", 288-pound ball of terror in the trenches, as the former Panther has used the same exceptional first-step quickness, motor and explosiveness he had in high school to become a top-flight NFL prospect.
24. Odell Beckham Jr., WR
A 4-star recruit in the class of 2011, Odell Beckham Jr. was a stud at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans. He was 5'10" and 170 pounds, and he displayed solid athleticism and receiving skills.
As a prospect, Beckham also did damage as a running back and as a returner on special teams. Beckham is now 5'11" and 193 pounds and is coming off a season in which he had more than 1,000 yards receiving for LSU.
23. Zack Martin, OL
Zack Martin is listed as an offensive lineman because the blocker from Notre Dame has the ability and versatility to play both tackle and guard at 6'4" and 305 pounds.
Martin is a virtual lock to hear his name called in the opening round of the draft, but he was once a 4-star offensive lineman from Bishop Chatard in Indianapolis who was 6'4" and 290 pounds.
From the class of 2009, Martin's solid size, quick feet and above-average strength allowed him to dominate prep defensive linemen.
22. Jason Verrett, CB
An outstanding cornerback prospect, Jason Verrett is a former unheralded 3-star JUCO defensive back prospect from Santa Rosa JC in California.
Before he arrived at TCU, Verrett was an athletic 5'10", 180-pounder in the class of 2011 who played bigger than his listed size. He didn't have a ton of strength, but his short-area quickness, good speed and solid vision were apparent.
21. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT
An elite 5-star left tackle in 2011, Cyrus Kouandjio was a wanted man on the recruiting trail. He initially committed to Auburn on national signing day, but after never faxing his national letter of intent, Kouandjio ultimately decided to sign with Alabama.
At 6'7" and 315 pounds, he was a raw athlete from powerhouse DeMatha Catholic in Maryland with huge upside. Kouandjio was light on his feet, agile and was just figuring out how to put all his talent together.
He went on to have a great career for the Crimson Tide and now is going to hear his name called early in the draft in May.
20. Taylor Lewan, OT
Taylor Lewan was a 6'8", 285-pound 4-star offensive tackle prospect in 2009 who signed with Michigan.
Obviously, like today, his size is what initially stood out to observers.
However, the Arizona native had solid movement skills and a passion for the game. Lewan was tough, and he understood how to use his length to his advantage in the trenches.
19. Calvin Pryor, S
Among the recruits former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong plucked from Florida, Calvin Pryor did not arrive with much fanfare. He was a 3-star safety in the 2011 class who came from Port St. Joe in the Sunshine State.
Pryor was a 6'1", 190-pounder who could play receiver, cornerback, running back and impact on special teams. His versatility made him an interesting prospect, but he did flash great instincts, speed and natural athletic ability.
Today, he's a 6'2", 210-pound safety with an all-around skill set that features range and big-hitting ability.
18. Darqueze Dennard, CB
Darqueze Dennard was a similar player in high school to what he's become at Michigan State. A 3-star cornerback recruit in 2010 from Twiggs County High School in Georgia, Dennard had good cover skills on the perimeter.
At 5'11" and 175 pounds, he possessed natural instincts, toughness and above-average short-area quickness. The only knock on Dennard was his questionable speed. Well, all he did for the Spartans was work himself into becoming the best cornerback in the Big Ten.
17. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S
Alabama knew what it was getting when it signed 5-star free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2011. From Orlando, Fla., Clinton-Dix was king fish at powerhouse Dr. Phillips High School.
He routinely stood out against great competition due to being a smart player who combined athleticism with instincts. He possessed outstanding range, transition quickness and solid ball skills. Clinton-Dix also had a long and lanky frame in those days, as he weighed 190 pounds.
The strength and conditioning program in Tuscaloosa helped him get to be nearly 6'2" and 208 pounds. Clinton-Dix is a great example of a 5-star recruit fulfilling expectations.
16. C.J. Mosley, LB
While 'Bama knew Clinton-Dix would likely not be a bust, it likely had no idea C.J. Mosley would turn out to be as good as he is now.
Sure, the 4-star linebacker in the 2010 recruiting class wasn't exactly chopped liver, but Mosley performed like a 5-star talent during his tenure in Tuscaloosa. As a prospect, he was a 6'2", 234-pound inside linebacker from Theodore High School in Alabama.
Mosley displayed good vision, didn't back down from offensive linemen challenging him on the second level and his speed and range were evident even back then.
15. Eric Ebron, TE
At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Eric Ebron was a 3-star tight end in 2011. He wasn't an elite prospect, nor did he hear his name mentioned often during top tight ends discussions.
The concern with Ebron was that he was a 'tweener. He already looked to be getting too heavy to play receiver, but he wasn't big enough to play tight end on every down. However, he was a good athlete who had solid ball skills and showed a knack for separating from linebackers in the seams.
Now, Ebron is a 6'4", 235-pound dynamic tight end and sheer weapon in the passing game.
14. Dee Ford, DE/OLB
Among the best pure pass-rushers in this year's draft is Auburn's Dee Ford. Ford came to the Plains in 2009 as a little-known 3-star defensive end from the Odenville section of Alabama, but he left Auburn as one of its best defensive players in recent history.
Ford's ability to run by offensive tackles at the snap was apparent in high school, as he used his good quickness and speed to make plays from the edge. He also seemed like a recruit who wanted to get better with his technique.
13. Derek Carr, QB
Although he signed with Fresno State in 2009 from Bakersfield High School in California, Derek Carr is originally from Sugar Land, Texas.
A 4-star prospect, Carr's quick release was his best attribute in high school, as it is now. He was 6'3" and 190 pounds, showed adequate athleticism and also was an accurate passer. It's a little confusing as to why bigger schools weren't in on him.
Today, Carr is a 6'3", 215-pound quarterback with a compact stroke, high character and great confidence.
12. Mike Evans, WR
Mike Evans signed with Texas A&M as a 3-star receiver in the class of 2012. The feeling back then was that the 6'5" receiver wasn't explosive enough and basketball may be what he ultimately decides to focus on.
However, he possessed terrific hands, ball skills and strength and was competitive. Evans added bulk to his 6'5", 180-pound frame, as he now weighs 225 pounds. He may not be initially explosive, but he has enough speed to do some damage in the open field.
11. Johnny Manziel, QB
Johnny Manziel was actually headed to Oregon during the 2011 recruiting cycle, but he flipped to Texas A&M in September of 2010.
From Tivy High School in Texas, Manziel was a 6'1", 195-pound 3-star dual-threat quarterback who had great athleticism—but he was short.
That was the problem.
Other than that, the tape showed a kid who was competitive, a bit reckless and confident. Manziel wasn't too mechanically sound, but he had a knack for making plays. He's gotten better at going through his progressions and is more patient in the pocket, but he's not too different today than he was in high school.
10. Justin Gilbert, CB
A 3-star athlete from Texas in 2010, Justin Gilbert was an interesting recruit for Oklahoma State. He projected as a possibility at several positions, as he was 6'0" and 180 pounds.
Gilbert worked as a quarterback for Huntsville High School, but his fantastic athleticism and agility led many to believe he would change positions in college. Cornerback ended up being his position in Stillwater, where his solid instincts and the cover skills he developed helped him excel in the Big 12.
9. Kony Ealy, DE
At 6'5" and 230 pounds, Kony Ealy was a 4-star linebacker in 2010 from Missouri who stayed in his native state to play for the Tigers. Ealy was already big for a 'backer, so it was easy to see that he was on pace to get moved to defensive end.
He was tough versus blockers at the point of attack, plus he had solid speed to pursue the ball. Ealy also flashed good pass-rush ability here and there, as well as adequate strength.
Now, he's a monster 6'5", 275-pound defensive end who can play on either side of the defensive front.
8. Blake Bortles, QB
Blake Bortles is a good example of how evaluating quarterbacks even at the high school level is tricky. He was a 3-star prospect from Florida in the 2010 class who was 6'4" and 230 pounds.
He didn't have the best mechanics, nor did he seem to be consistent with his accuracy, which hurt his stock. However, it wasn't hard to see a big passer with a strong arm and deceptive mobility.
Although Bortles still has a ways to good in terms of development, it's nice to see that he's starting put everything together.
7. Anthony Barr, DE/OLB
In 2010, UCLA signed a 6'4", 225-pound athletic freak named Anthony Barr. From Loyola High School in Los Angeles, Barr actually was a running back in high school.
He had good speed, showed solid quickness to dart through holes and had the strength to break tackles on the second level. The Bruins initially tried to convert him into a fullback-tight end hybrid player, but that was unsuccessful.
Barr went on to bulk up to 260 pounds while becoming one of the most feared pass-rushers in the country.
6. Khalil Mack, OLB
Not much was known about Khalil Mack coming out of high school, as he was only a 2-star linebacker who signed with Buffalo in 2009.
Little to no attention was given to the Bulls' recruiting class from a national perspective. Plus, Mack wasn't a highly regarded prospect anyway. However, he was a linebacker from Fort Pierce Westwood High School in Florida who was 6'3" and 220 pounds.
Mack is an excellent example of a late-bloomer who was overlooked on the recruiting trail.
5. Jake Matthews, OT
Jake Matthews was an elite 4-star offensive tackle in 2010 from Elkins High School in Texas. At 6'5" and 285 pounds, he displayed advanced technique, solid athleticism and the ability to play several positions in the offensive trenches.
Matthews is now 6'5" and 305 pounds, and he's proven at Texas A&M that he can play at a high level as a left and right tackle.
4. Greg Robinson, OT
Auburn got a great one in Greg Robinson in 2011. From Thibodaux High School in Louisiana, he actually was thought of more as a guard prospect than a left tackle.
Robinson, who was part of a great offensive line class Auburn signed that year, stood around 6'5" and weighed 296 pounds as a recruit.
He had good athleticism and quick feet, plus he displayed powerful strength.
However, he lacked polished and refined technique, which was his main weakness. He still has some more refining to do, but Robinson may actually be the best player in the draft.
3. Sammy Watkins, WR
Sammy Watkins was actually more of a quicker-than-fast athlete in the 2011 class. That's amazing when you consider the former Clemson receiver's long-speed is now one of his best assets.
Watkins was a 5-star prospect, though, who was 6'1" and 180 pounds. He terrorized secondaries at South Fort Myers High School in Florida while also playing a little defensive back here and there.
He was exceptional with the ball in his hands, as he had the best run-after-catch skills of any receiver in the class of 2011.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE
Alabama and Clemson were in on him, but he ultimately signed with South Carolina a few weeks after delaying his decision on national signing day.
Some say Clowney was ready for the NFL coming out of high school, as he was utterly dominant.
At 6'5" and 255 pounds, from South Pointe High School in South Carolina, Clowney routinely blew by offensive tackles and had adequate strength to hold his own versus then run. His highlights were essentially surreal and made him an instant legend.
He may be the best recruit of all time.
Chad Simmons of Scout.com (subscription required) had this to say about Clowney in February of 2011: "Clowney is a special player that does not come along every year... Some of the plays he makes are amazing and not seen very often. Not only is he is a special end, but he is a special athlete."
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB
A 4-star quarterback from Miami, Teddy Bridgewater was the leader of a talented team for powerhouse Northwestern High School.
He originally committed to Miami but wound up signing with Louisville in 2011.
Bridgewater wasn't considered the best quarterback in the country, but he was a talented passer who was 6'2" and 180 pounds, which was a minor issue. He had a lanky frame that was thought to be too light to be able to withstand the punishment from hits in college. Yet he is now 6'3" and weighs more than 200 pounds.
Bridgewater has a chance to to the No. 1 overall pick thanks to a terrific career at Louisville, which began with him being a skinny quarterback recruit from Miami who had an "it" factor.
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