Ranking the 10 Best Recruiting Classes of the Past Decade

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2015

Ranking the 10 Best Recruiting Classes of the Past Decade

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    College football teams are putting the final touches on their 2015 recruiting classes, hoping that, in four years, the group they put together will make the 2019 version of this list.

    The 10 groups that follow are the best recruiting classes of the decade, dating back to 2005. It only counted classes with completed four-year cycles—i.e., whose true seniors played have played their final games—so it chose only from a six-year stretch. The 2012, 2013 and 2014 classes are still writing the brunt of their legacies.

    Narrowing down and ranking the list took several factors into account. First was how the team performed in the four years after signing day, even if a few players stayed longer or shorter. And next was the personal achievements of the individual players.

    For personal achievements, where they were selected in the NFL draft was considered, since that is largely a product of college performance. How they have performed since arriving in the NFL was not considered, since that has little to do with college performance.

    Sound off below, and let us know whom you think we missed.

10. Texas A&M, 2010

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Key Players

    • OL Jarvis Harrison
    • DB Toney Hurd Jr.
    • OL Luke Joeckel
    • WR Malcome Kennedy
    • RB Ben Malena
    • OL Jake Matthews
    • DE Damontre Moore
    • OL Cedric Ogbuehi

    Honors and Awards

    • 2012 Outland Trophy (Joeckel) 

    Blocking is the real key to Kevin Sumlin's offense, and in 2010 his Aggies signed one of the best offensive line classes ever. Luke Joeckel won the Outland Trophy in 2012, Jake Matthews followed his lead by becoming a top-10 NFL draft pick and Cedric Ogbuehi and Jarvis Harrison were still going strong as of this season. Malcome Kennedy and Ben Malena were steady weapons for Johnny Manziel, and across the line Damontre Moore was an All-American. This class, more than anything else, eased Texas A&M's transition to the SEC.

9. USC, 2005

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • OT Charles Brown
    • LB Brian Cushing
    • LB Kevin Ellison
    • LB Kaluka Maiava
    • LB Rey Maualuga
    • QB Mark Sanchez
    • WR Patrick Turner

    Honors and Awards

    • 4 Pac-12 Championships (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)
    • 2008 Bednarik Award (Maualaga)
    • 2008 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (Maualaga)

    The last few years of the USC dynasty featured one of the baddest linebacking groups of all time. Clay Matthews came from a different class, but Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga were All-Americans in their own right, and Kaluka Maiava was pretty good, too. Mark Sanchez became a top-five NFL draft pick after succeeding Matt Leinart and helping his recruiting class reach four straight Rose Bowls.

8. Ohio State, 2011

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • DT Michael Bennett
    • DB Jeremy Cash*
    • LB Curtis Grant
    • CB Doran Grant
    • TE Jeff Heuerman
    • QB Braxton Miller
    • LB Ryan Shazier
    • WR Devin Smith

    Honors and Awards

    • 1 CFP National Championship (2015)
    • 1 Big Ten Championship (2014)
    • 2012 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (Miller)
    • 2013 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (Miller)

    Underclassmen played a key role in Ohio State's CFP National Championship, but seniors Michael Bennett, Jeff Heuerman, Doran Grant and Devin Smith were the leaders of their respective units. And if you like irony, consider that the Buckeyes just won the national title without their two best players from this class: quarterback Braxton Miller, who missed the entire season with a shoulder injury, and linebacker Ryan Shazier, a first-round NFL draft pick in 2014.

    *Transferred to Duke

7. LSU, 2009

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    Key Players

    • LB Lamin Barrow
    • DT Michael Brockers
    • DB Morris Claiborne
    • DT Bennie Logan
    • DB Craig Loston
    • DE Barkevious Mingo
    • LB Kevin Minter
    • DE Sam Montgomery
    • WR Rueben Randle
    • QB/WR Russell Shepard

    Honors and Awards

    • 1 SEC Championship (2011)
    • 2011 Thorpe Award (Claiborne)
    • 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year (Claiborne)

    Russell Shepard was the No. 3 overall player in the 2009 class, and although he never really panned out, LSU's defensive signees carried his weight. Morris Claiborne won the Thorpe Award in 2011, the same year the Tigers started 13-0 and made the BCS National Championship Game, and six of his classmates (Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan, Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Rueben Randle) joined him in becoming top-100 NFL draft picks.

6. Oklahoma, 2006

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Key Players

    • QB Sam Bradford
    • DB Quinton Carter
    • TE Jermaine Gresham
    • DT Gerald McCoy
    • RB DeMarco Murray
    • OT Trent Williams

    Honors and Awards

    • 3 Big 12 Championships (2006, 2007, 2008)
    • 2007 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year (McCoy)
    • 2008 Heisman Trophy (Bradford)
    • 2008 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (Bradford)

    For proof of this class's dominance, look no further than the 2010 NFL draft in which Sam Bradford went No. 1 overall, Gerald McCoy went No. 3, Trent Williams went No. 4 and Jermaine Gresham went No. 21. If not for Bradford's injury in 2009, these Sooners might have won four straight conference titles. DeMarco Murray stayed a year longer than his classmates after redshirting behind Adrian Peterson, and now he's Oklahoma's all-time leader in all-purpose yards.

5. Florida, 2007

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Key Players

    • DE Carlos Dunlap
    • DB Joe Haden
    • TE Aaron Hernandez
    • QB Cam Newton*
    • OL Maurkice Pouncey
    • OL Mike Pouncey
    • RB Chris Rainey
    • DB Major Wright

    Honors and Awards

    • 1 BCS National Championship (2009)
    • 1 SEC Championship (2008)
    • 2009 Mackey Award (Hernandez)
    • 2010 Heisman Trophy (Newton)
    • 2010 Maxwell Award (Newton)
    • 2010 Walter Camp Award (Newton)
    • 2010 SEC Offensive Player of the Year (Newton)

    Even if you don't count Cam Newton, who transferred following a 2008 arrest and eventually won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn, this Gators class is pretty stacked. Mike and Maurkice Pouncey were All-American linemen, Joe Haden was an All-American cornerback and Aaron Hernandez won the Mackey Award in 2009. Newton and Hernandez ensure this class will be known for its off-field issues as much as its on-field successes; but the former doesn't nullify the latter.

    *Transferred to Auburn

4. Florida State, 2011

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Key Players

    • WR Kelvin Benjamin
    • DE Tank Carradine
    • RB Devonta Freeman
    • WR Rashad Greene
    • DT Timmy Jernigan
    • OG Tre Jackson
    • OG Josue Matias
    • TE Nick O'Leary
    • LB Terrance Smith
    • RB James Wilder Jr.
    • RB Karlos Williams

    Honors and Awards

    • 1 BCS National Championship (2014)
    • 3 ACC Championships (2012, 2013, 2014)
    • 2014 Mackey Award (O'Leary)

    The longest winning streak of the decade belongs to Florida State (29), thanks in large part to its 2011 class. Running backs Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams and pass-catchers Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary gave quarterback Jameis Winston all the weapons he needed to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy. That same year, Timmy Jernigan anchored a defense that finished No. 1 on the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, and Florida State finished 14-0 and won the BCS National Championship.

3. Florida, 2006

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Key Players

    • WR Riley Cooper
    • DE Jermaine Cunningham
    • OT Marcus Gilbert
    • WR Percy Harvin
    • RB Brandon James
    • LB Brandon Spikes
    • QB Tim Tebow

    Honors and Awards

    • 2 BCS National Championships (2007, 2009)
    • 2 SEC Championships (2006, 2008)
    • 2006 SEC Freshman of the Year (Harvin)
    • 2007 Heisman Trophy (Tebow)
    • 2007 Maxwell Award (Tebow)
    • 2008 Maxwell Award (Tebow)
    • 2008 SEC Offensive Player of the Year (Tebow)
    • 2009 SEC Offensive Player of the Year (Tebow)

    Tim Tebow led the most successful era in Florida history, three times finishing in the Top Five of the Heisman voting. He was flanked by a pair of future starting NFL receivers, Percy Harvin and Riley Cooper, as well as two-time All-Americans Brandon James (as a return specialist) and Brandon Spikes. The 2006 Gators won their first BCS National Championship as true freshmen and their second as true juniors.

2. Alabama, 2009

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    Butch Dill/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • OT James Carpenter
    • OT D.J. Fluker
    • LB Nico Johnson
    • CB Dre Kirkpatrick
    • RB Eddie Lacy
    • QB AJ McCarron
    • RB Trent Richardson
    • OG Anthony Steen
    • DE Ed Stinson
    • OG Chance Warmack 

    Honors and Awards

    • 3 BCS National Championships (2010, 2012, 2013)
    • 2 SEC Championships (2009, 2012)
    • 2011 Doak Walker Award (Richardson)
    • 2011 SEC Offensive Player of the Year (Richardson)
    • 2013 Maxwell Award (McCarron)

    The most successful (but not the best) class of the modern era, Alabama's 2009 signees won three national titles in four years. Trent Richardson won a Doak Walker Award, AJ McCarron won a Maxwell Award, and James Carpenter, D.J. Fluker, Dre Kirkpatrick and Chance Warmack all joined Richardson as Top 25 NFL draft picks.

1. Alabama, 2008

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Key Players

    • DB Mark Barron
    • DT Terrence Cody
    • DT Marcel Dareus
    • LB Dont'a Hightower
    • RB Mark Ingram
    • OC Barrett Jones
    • WR Julio Jones
    • LB Courtney Upshaw

    Honors and Awards

    • 2 BCS National Championships (2010, 2012)
    • 2 SEC Championships (2009, 2012)
    • 2008 SEC Freshman of the Year (J. Jones)
    • 2009 Heisman Trophy (Ingram)
    • 2009 SEC Offensive Player of the Year (Ingram)
    • 2011 Outland Trophy (B. Jones)

    Nick Saban signed this monster on the heels of a 7-6 season, springboarding Alabama's modern dynasty. Mark Ingram won a Heisman Trophy, Barrett Jones is one of the most decorated interior linemen in college football history, Dont'a Hightower was a consensus All-American and Mark Barron, Marcel Dareus and Julio Jones all became top-10 NFL draft picks.

    "I guess that class is the one that's closest to my heart," Saban told Michael Casagrande of AL.com, "because those guys bought in when they just believed that we were going to be able to be successful and they could make a great contribution to helping us."

    The impact of this group can still be felt.

    Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.

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