Re-Ranking the Top 25 Players from the Class of 2014

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2017

Re-Ranking the Top 25 Players from the Class of 2014

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    The 2014 recruiting class was initially thought to be one of the most talented since the science of recruiting became such big business.

    Though the jury is still out on the class in its entirety, the early returns are that it is living up to those immense expectations.

    College studs such as newly minted national champion Clemson quarterback Deshuan Watson and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett are poised to make their millions in the NFL. So are elite running backs Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and Leonard Fournette (LSU).

    Other, less-heralded recruits like Tennessee's Derek Barnett and Ohio State's Malik Hooker made names for themselves at the collegiate level, too. They'll translate nicely in the NFL.

    The class from '14 is top-heavy and features strong talent all the way through. You know when guys like Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Clemson receiver Artavis Scott, Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer and former Alabama (and current Seattle) defensive lineman Jarran Reed didn't make the list, it's loaded.

    So, who did? Let's re-rank the top 25 of the class of 2014 based heavily on collegiate production, also giving some weight to pro prospects, peak ceiling of production and consistency of performance.

25. Brad Kaaya, Miami Quarterback

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    2014 Class Ranking: 264th 

    What He's Done: There were many other quarterbacks rated ahead of Brad Kaaya in the 2014 class, but then-Miami coach Al Golden secured his commitment, and the 6'4", 215-pound signal-caller went on to be a three-year starter in Coral Gables, Florida.

    He improved each year, finishing with 9,968 passing yards, 69 touchdowns and 24 interceptions to lead the Hurricanes through a rough patch as a program.

    Why He's Here: Several players put up bigger numbers, but few were as important to their teams as Kaaya. Though he should have stayed a fourth year under coach Mark Richt, Kaaya has the skill set that could translate well at the next level, though he'll need to add weight and improve in the mental aspects of the game to excel. 

24. Teez Tabor, Florida Cornerback

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    2014 Class Ranking: 41st

    What He's Done: The 6'2", 195-pound defensive back was an anchor for a Florida secondary that carried the team to the past two SEC East titles, but Jalen "Teez" Tabor didn't have the kind of junior finale he would have liked.

    Tabor still finished his career with 104 tackles, including 11 for a loss and eight interceptions. He was a star from the moment he stepped on campus.

    Why He's Here: His consistency puts him ahead of a player like Ohio State's Lattimore, who could be drafted higher, but Tabor is the perfect blend of size and speed.

    He has the ability to step up and be a force in the run game, and he's not out of his element in man coverage, either. If he keeps his head on straight off the field, his NFL career could be more decorated than the one in Gainesville.

23. Malik Hooker, Ohio State Safety

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    2014 Class Ranking: 258th

    What He's Done: Ohio State has been so deep in the secondary during Malik Hooker's tenure that he and teammate Marshon Lattimore didn't really get the chance to shine until 2016.

    When he got the chance, he made the most of it, turning in an All-American campaign that saw him record 74 tackles, intercept seven passes and return three for touchdowns.

    Why He's Here: To penalize Hooker for consistency when he hasn't had any opportunities would be criminal, but the bottom line is his one season body of work doesn't warrant a higher ranking. He's one of the top talents on this entire list, however, and he'll be a superstar in the NFL after getting drafted high. Once the ball is in his hands, the former high school receiver has a nose for the end zone. He has All-Pro potential.

22. Quinton Flowers, South Florida Quarterback

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    2014 Class Ranking: 82nd

    What He's Done: The biggest recruit for new South Florida head coach Charlie Strong came when dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers decided to come back for his senior season with the Bulls. Though he's consistently been a force throughout his career, 2016 was his breakout campaign. The 6'0", 210-pound quarterback finished with 2,807 passing yards, added 1,530 on the ground and racked up 42 total touchdowns.

    Why He's Here: Flowers was a coup for the Bulls and then-head coach Willie Taggart when he pledged out of Miami's Jackson High School. Though Scout had him listed as a dynamic wide receiver, Flowers wanted to play behind center, and Taggart gave him that chance. He's consistently proved it was the right call as he's arguably the nation's top returning dual-threat athlete.

21. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama Cornerback

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    2014 Class Ranking: 30th

    What He's Done: Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey's college production would have been much greater had he returned for his senior season, but a player of his ilk has to see next-level dollar signs. So, Humphrey declared for the draft after just two seasons on the field.

    In those two years, the son of former UA running back Bobby Humphrey finished with 81 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss to go along with five interceptions and 13 passes defended.

    Why He's Here: Though Alabama's secondary hasn't been its strongest point, the tall, rangy cornerback became a dynamic prospect over the past couple of seasons after redshirting his first year in Tuscaloosa. Now, he'll almost certainly be a first-round NFL prospect after only two seasons on the field where he improved each year despite two different defensive coordinators.

20. Nick Chubb, Georgia Running Back

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    2014 Class Ranking: 53rd

    What He's Done: Georgia running back Nick Chubb burst onto the scene with one of the best freshman seasons in college football history for a rusher. His sophomore season was off to the same sort of start before he tore knee ligaments in the Tennessee game, and he's been trying to regain form ever since. After a pedestrian (for him) junior season, Chubb should be back to his old self in 2017.

    Why He's Here: Chubb's story is unfinished, and that's huge news for the Bulldogs. He's rushed for 3,424 yards and 29 touchdowns on a 6.4 average so far in his time in Athens. The 5'10", 228-pound stud worked his tail off to get back in '16, and though he wasn't himself, he still ran for more than 1,100 yards. The longer removed from his injury, the better he'll get. So, there's still time for him to shoot even further up this list.

19. Cam Robinson, Alabama Offensive Tackle

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    2014 Class Ranking: 2nd

    What He's Done: When Cam Robinson committed to Alabama over home state LSU, it sent shockwaves through the college football universe. He immediately started for head coach Nick Saban, and it looked early on like he'd live up to that lofty ranking. But his lack of balance and run blocking led to inconsistency, and he'll have to improve that on the next level.

    Why He's Here: Just because Robinson didn't live up to the expectations of the nation's second-ranked player, there's no shame in his game. He's blessed with immense size and an ideal frame for an NFL tackle at 6'6", 322 pounds.

    He's thick without being fat, and he's athletic enough for his size. Though speed-rushers gave him issues at times in college, he still was a consistent force along the front of college football's elite team. He'll thrive in the NFL, even if it's on the right side.

18. Royce Freeman, Oregon Running Back

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    2014 Class Ranking: 35th

    What He's Done: When Royce Freeman is healthy and on the field for Oregon, there are fewer more impactful running backs in college football.

    After a 1,365-yard freshman performance that saw him score 19 touchdowns, he one-upped himself as a sophomore with more than 2,100 all-purpose yards and 19 more touchdowns. Injuries limited him in '16, but he was still effective before missing a portion of the season.

    Why He's Here: Freeman elected to return to Oregon for his senior year. Fully healthy and in Willie Taggart's offense, there's no reason why Freeman won't compete for the Heisman Trophy. He's that good. The Imperial, California, native has been productive and prolific, and, like Chubb, he'll have the opportunity to add to his resume later this year.

17. KD Cannon, Baylor Wide Receiver

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    2014 Class Ranking: 44th

    What He's Done: When it comes to production, few can match that of Baylor dynamo KD Cannon, who lived up to his elevated ranking with an exceptional three-year college career, playing for Art Briles and Jim Grobe.

    He broke out with a 1,030-yard performance as a freshman and took a tiny sophomore slump. But he regained his form last year with 1,215 yards and 13 scores.

    Why He's Here: At 6'0", 180 pounds, Cannon may wind up a niche player at the next level. But he's got blazing speed and can be a mismatch for teams in the mold of New England's Brandin Cooks. Cannon proved in '16 he wasn't a system player, and he'll show that at the next level, too.

16. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech Quarterback

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    2014 Class Ranking: 273rd

    What He's Done: Coming out of Whitehouse, Texas, there was some belief that Patrick Mahomes could run the wide-open, gun-slinging offense of Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech. Boy, could he ever.

    The past two years, Mahomes has put up PlayStation numbers, throwing for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2015 and improving those last year with 5,052 yards and 41 scores.

    Why He's Here: The argument could be made that Mahomes is a system quarterback, but you'd have a hard time convincing anybody who has seen him play. He can fling the ball all around the field and also ran for 285 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's probably heard everything from he's a project to he has small hands, but Mahomes produces. Those numbers don't lie.

15. Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State Linebacker

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    2014 Class Ranking: 50th

    What He's Done: Raekwon McMillan's recruitment was one of the most hotly contested in the country before he elected to head north from his home in Hinesville, Georgia. Throughout his three-year career in Columbus, Ohio, he's proved why. After registering 54 tackles and an interception in part-time play as a freshman, he's eclipsed 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons as a stabilizing force for the Buckeyes.

    Why He's Here: Though he probably projects more as a strong-side linebacker on the next level due to not being the best run defender, McMillan has the size and speed to play that position well after adapting to it.

    He proved in the Big Ten that he can be a versatile, even elite, player, and he did so from the beginning of his career. With NFL talent coming and going from Ohio State over the past three years, a constant was McMillan in the middle of it all. He'll make a pro team very happy.

14. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma Running Back

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    2014 Class Ranking: N/R

    What He's Done: Samaje Perine came from nowhere in 2014 with 1,713 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns for head coach Bob Stoops' Sooners. Even though his production tailed off in each of the past two seasons—due, in part, to injuries last year and the emergence of Joe Mixon as a backfield mate—he still finished with more than 1,000 yards in all three seasons before leaving early. 

    Why He's Here: You'd have a difficult time looking up Samaje Perine's 2014 Scout recruiting profile. The Pflugerville, Texas, prospect was a little-known fullback who wasn't expected by analysts to do much. All he did was become one of the most productive running backs in the country during his time at Oklahoma. Though he's again being under-appreciated as an NFL prospect, it's going to be interesting to see how his pro career pans out.

13. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC Wide Receiver

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    2014 Class Ranking: 10th

    What He's Done: The reason why JuJu Smith-Schuster is rated ahead of KD Cannon on this list is due to his projection at the next level. Though he didn't quite put up Cannon's numbers in college, he was still a star for USC, finishing with 213 catches for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns in his career. He found the end zone often and became one of the Pac-12's biggest weapons.

    Why He's Here: Everybody knows about LSU stud Jamal Adams, who was the nation's top-ranked safety, according to Scout in 2014. But right behind him was Smith-Schuster, who proved his ball skills were too good to leave on defense. Once the elite prospect moved over, he was almost an immediate success, and he'll be a force in the NFL at 6'2", 220 pounds.

12. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan Safety/Linebacker

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    2014 Class Ranking: 3rd

    What He's Done: Everybody in the country wanted Jabrill Peppers when he came out of Paramus, New Jersey, as the third-ranked player overall and the top cornerback.

    Over his three-year career at Michigan, he proved why. Though he was often a man without a defined position, he was all over the field. As a junior, he wound up with 66 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, three sacks and an interception. He also returned kicks, punts and a played a little offense.

    Why He's Here: There are questions about where Peppers will play at the next level, but there are very few questions that he will play somewhere. He'll likely excel, too. Though he was often a man without a defined position, he was all over the field for the Wolverines, and he finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist as a junior. An argument could be made he belongs higher on the list, but the uncertainty docks him a bit.

11. Solomon Thomas, Stanford Defensive End

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    2014 Class Ranking: 20th

    What He's Done: When Solomon Thomas left Coppell, Texas, for Palo Alto, California, in 2014, he was far from an unknown commodity. The nation's fourth-ranked defensive end was expected to make an impact for head coach David Shaw's team, and he did. After a redshirt year, he was a pass-rushing force, netting 24.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks in two years.

    Why He's Here: At 6'3", 273 pounds, there are questions about Thomas' height projected at the next level. That's ridiculous when you've proved you can play at the high level he has. He may be a tweener, but he's going to find a fit on an NFL defense and be a star. He's too talented, works too hard and is too productive for that not to happen.

    Thomas plays with a high IQ, and even though players such as Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett get more headlines, Thomas has the ability to put up big stats, too.

10. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA Defensive End

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    2014 Class Ranking: N/R

    What He's Done: Since arriving at UCLA, Takkarist McKinley has become one of the most fearsome defenders in college football. After seeing his playing time increase in each of the past three seasons, he was a terror off the edge with 10 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss as a senior in 2016. He also had six pass deflections, which is incredible considering he isn't the tallest DE out there.

    Why He's Here: Scout doesn't include junior college players in its overall rankings, but McKinley was expected to be a quality player coming out of Contra Costa College as a strong-side defensive end prospect. At 6'2", 265 pounds, he has proved to be a versatile, dynamic defensive lineman that has the potential to be an elite edge-rusher at the next level. He was a difference-maker on a good UCLA defense, and the Bruins will miss him.

9. Quin Blanding, Virginia Safety

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    2014 Class Ranking: 15th

    What He's Done: You don't hear a lot about Quin Blanding because he plays for such a bad Virginia team, but the Cavaliers safety is one of the best players in college football. He is all over the field, and though it was a surprise that he came back for his senior year, he's got the ability to shoot even higher up the draft next season. He has an eye-popping 356 tackles in three years and six picks. 

    Why He's Here: Blanding can do it all. Most of the headlines center around Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker because those guys left early and are making a splash as they prepare for the NFL. But Blanding is coming back and trying to help head coach Bronco Mendenhall turn things around in Charlottesville. At 6'2", 205 pounds, he has ideal size for the position, and he could play his way into more of a household name this year.

8. Adoree Jackson, USC Defensive Back/Athlete

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    2014 Class Ranking: 6th

    What He's Done: Well, everything. Adoree Jackson played cornerback, returned kicks and punts and got as many touches as he possibly could on offense. He finished his three-year career with 139 tackles, including six for a loss and logged six interceptions. Jackson also had 28 pass defenses, recovered three fumbles, forced three more and scored 10 combined touchdowns on offense and special teams.

    Why He's Here: Another player who lived up to his ranking as well as lived up to the billing of being one of college football's most electrifying athletes is Adoree Jackson. You won't find his complete worth in statistics, much like Peppers. USC coach Clay Helton wanted the ball to get to Jackson because, when that happened, big things often followed. He's the type of player that can do anything he wants in the NFL.

7. Leonard Fournette, LSU Running Back

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    2014 Class Ranking: 1st

    What He's Done: When Leonard Fournette was healthy, he was one of the most productive running backs in all of college football, and he made things happen with the best size-speed combination at the position since Adrian Peterson. He wound up with 3,830 career rushing yards and 40 touchdowns.

    Why He's Here: The word "freak" is thrown around so much these days it's almost become a cliche. But Fournette is definitely that. At 6'0", 240 pounds, he's huge, but he still ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

    His physical prowess has NFL executives salivating, and though he didn't accomplish everything he wanted to in Baton Rouge, his college career was awesome, too. But when the hype surrounding him included predictions for multiple Heismans and an LSU national championship, he didn't follow through with either.

6. Jamal Adams, LSU Safety

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    2014 Class Ranking: 8th

    What He's Done: The second consecutive LSU player on this list was the nation's top-ranked safety and eighth-ranked player overall. He had a lot of hope pinned on his shoulders when he left Texas for the Bayou and DB University and lived up to expectations with 209 career tackles in three years, including 18 for a loss. He also had five interceptions and 14 passes defended.

    Why He's Here: The ball-hawking safety is among the best in the country if not THE best. All he's done since going to LSU is improve each year, become a dominant force and parlayed it into what will be a high draft selection. There are few players who are as strong against the run and the pass as Adams, and he looks like he'll be the next in a long line of great Tigers defensive backs in the NFL. His college days were as good as they come.

5. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M Defensive End

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    2014 Class Ranking: 5th

    What He's Done: Scout got this one exactly right. The service rated Myles Garrett as the nation's fifth-ranked player, and that's where he belongs, even if he may wind up the NFL draft's top overall selection. Garrett dominated lower competition and improved dramatically against SEC teams in his junior season, winding up with 31 career sacks, 141 tackles and an incredible 47 for a loss.

    Why He's Here: Much like Fournette, the word "freak" applies here, too. At 6'5", 270 pounds, he is big enough to excel against the run, but he also runs like a gazelle and can get to the quarterback in any situation. He became one of the most havoc-wreaking players in all of college football, and NFL teams everywhere want him. If his work ethic is where it needs to be, Garrett will be a star.

4. Derek Barnett, Tennessee Defensive End

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    2014 Class Ranking: 279th

    What He's Done: In his final game for Tennessee, Derek Barnett got a sack in the Music City Bowl against Nebraska to break Reggie White's all-time sack record in three seasons. But he isn't just a pass-rusher. He had more sacks (32), tackles for a loss (52) and tackles (198) than Garrett, and he performed better against the better opponents.

    Why He's Here: Some may think this is too high, but Barnett quietly did more than any defensive lineman during the three years he was a college player. No, he isn't as physically gifted as Garrett, and he doesn't look like the prototypical defensive end, but he works hard, has great technique and has always gotten the job done.

    He'll have a long, productive NFL career, and there has never been a better Vols defensive lineman. His career was among the best in SEC history.

3. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford Running Back

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    2014 Class Ranking: 81st

    What He's Done: Though Christian McCaffrey didn't win a Heisman Trophy in his time at Stanford, he arguably should have. When it comes to all-around players, there are few with the credentials of McCaffrey. He finished his college career with 3,922 rushing yards, 1,206 receiving yards, 1,859 return yards and 34 touchdowns.

    Why He's Here: It was disappointing that McCaffrey elected to train for the NFL combine rather than join his teammates in their bowl game, especially considering the son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey is the definition of football player.

    At 6'0", 202 pounds, he isn't an ideal size for a pro running back, and there are questions about whether he can be an every-down back on the next level. But he was one of college football's top playmakers during his time in Palo Alto, California. It would be foolish to doubt his next-tier skills.

2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State Running Back

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    2014 Class Ranking: 16th

    What He's Done: Fournette may be the biggest specimen in the entire draft, but Dalvin Cook could be a better all-around running back. He proved on the collegiate level that he could catch passes and do everything in the run game. He finished with an incredible 4,464 rushing yards, 935 receiving yards and 48 offensive touchdowns.

    Why He's Here: There were times when Cook carried a Florida State offense that was explosive throughout his entire career. Once Jameis Winston left Tallahassee, Cook helped usher in the Deondre Francois era by being a stabilizing, dynamic force who took over some of the Seminoles' biggest games.

    Cook can do everything with the ball in his hands, and he'll have a long career in the NFL. It'll be difficult for Jimbo Fisher to replace him because he's one of the brightest stars in recent years.

1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson Quarterback

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    2014 Class Ranking: 84th

    What He's Done: Drum roll, please. And the top player in our re-ranking of the 2014 class is (as if you couldn't guess) former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Though he was highly recruited as the nation's third-rated passer by Scout, his final ranking seems absurdly low considering his career. He completed more than 67 percent of his passes for 10,168 yards, 90 touchdowns and 32 interceptions.

    Why He's Here: When people look back on head coach Dabo Swinney's time at Clemson, Watson will be known as the catalyst that turned a good program into a great one. He should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2016, but he more importantly led the Tigers to a national championship.

    Watson made that entire offense click, turning Clemson into an unstoppable, high-powered attack. Though he's a controversial NFL prospect, Watson will be a great player at that level, too. He's just a winner, and he proved he can do it at college's highest level.


    All stats gathered on unless otherwise noted. Recruit rankings and information courtesy of unless otherwise noted. 

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report.