(Note: This article is a response to Justin Hokanson's excellent article on star values in recruiting).
Recruiting is always somewhat hit-and-miss. Some prime-time recruits blossom immediately, while others fail to make an impact. Conversely, some players that are virtually ignored during recruiting can sometimes put up great numbers.
Here are some examples from recent Cal recruiting classes. Part I will discuss the 2002 and 2003 recruiting classes.
Offense: This was not a great class offensively, but then again no one expected it to be. The highest-rated prospect was a four-star kicker.
Hidden Gems: S/Rover Donnie McCleskey (one-star, Chose Cal over Colorado State and Florida). McClesky was recruited as an RB, but became a successful defender, registering over 100 tackles as a Sophomore. The offer from Florida shows that McCleskey had potential, but only three teams recognized it.
Major Busts: None
Players that lived up to the hype: None
Gems: S Tim Mixon (one-star, Scout.com, Cal was only significant offer). Although not a star player, Mixon was developing into a good corner before a string of injuries caused his draft stock to plummet. Was un-drafted and hasn't yet played in the NFL. Played well on special teams as well.
Major Busts: None
Players that lived up the hype: None
Hidden Gems: RB JJ Arington (JC, two-stars by Scout.com, Chose Cal over: Oregon, East Carolina)—Starting HB for one of the best Cal teams in years (2004). Rushed for over 2,000 yards in one season, one of only two Pac-10 players to do so (the other was Marcus Allen), while he gained 100+ yards in every game.
Made the All-American team, along with Adrian Peterson, Cadillac Williams, and Cedric Benson. Is a huge bust in the NFL (even more than Benson) after being picked in the early second round by Arizona, but is still one of the greatest Cal running backs.
Major Busts: None
Players that lived up the hype: QB Aaron Rodgers (JC, four-Star, Cal was only significant offer). Beat USC a triple-OT thriller in his first season at Cal, and later led the Bears to a bowl win over Virginia Tech.
In 2004, had first-and-goal to derail USC's undefeated National Championship season, and tied NCAA record with 23 straight completions. First team Pac-10 in 2004, and honorable-mention All-American.
Most fans know about his fall in the draft and of course, the Favre saga. Could be in the gems section since he only received one offer, but Scout did give him four stars, so they knew that he would at least be a solid player.
Hidden Gems: WR Thomas DeCoud (two-star, Chose Cal over Washington). Wide Receiver? He's a safety right? He was originally recruited as a WR/CB (rivals would probably classify him as an "athlete" now).
Defensive captain in 2007, and racked up over 110 tackles, fourth in the Pac-10. Drafted in third round by Atlanta.
S Matt Giordano (JC, three-star, Cal was only significant offer). All-Pac 10 and honorable-mention all-American in 2004. Another JC gem from Tedford. Currently backing up Bob Sanders in Indianapolis, after going in the third round, Giordano is one of the few former Cal players with a Super Bowl ring.
DE Ryan Riddle (JC, four-star, Cal was only significant offer). How can a four-star player who was offered by USC out of high school be a gem? When he doesn't play football for two years before enrolling at JC.
Riddle set the Cal record for sacks (14.5) and was in the top five in the nation in that category in 2004, when he was an All-American. Was a bust in the NFL, and is playing the Arena league currently.
Players that lived up to the hype: DT Brandon Mebane (four-star, No. 13 DT, Chose Cal over USC, UCLA, among others). Mebane was not a superstar, but did have seven sacks in a year, and was drafted in the third round by Seattle.
Overall, these classes had several gems, and no real busts, because Cal was still was not getting much high-major talent. In 2004 (Part II of this article), that would definitely change.
Please comment with the major surprises and disappointments from your alma mater/ favorite team.