Ranking the 10 Best Recruiting Classes of the Last Decade

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2017

Ranking the 10 Best Recruiting Classes of the Last Decade

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    After the ink dries on national signing day, college football teams shift their attention to helping the potential-filled recruiting class become a productive piece of their program's history.

    For some fortunate schools, one year brought an unmistakably stellar group of players to campus. We've identified the 10 best classes over the last decade.

    Granted, the 2017 cycle is not included since we quite literally have never seen the incoming freshmen play a down of college football. It's not fair to declare them the greatest haul in history, even if the group ultimately becomes that.

    All classes signed from 2007 through 2016 were eligible for this list. College production and accomplishmentsboth individual and team accoladeswere the main factors. NFL draft selections were also considered, though professional success was not.

10. 2009 Stanford

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    Notable players: Tyler Gaffney, Zach Ertz, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Stepfan Taylor, Levine Toilolo, Ryan Hewitt

    Clemson's group from 2015 might have something to say soon, but Stanford's 2009 class currently holds the final spot. That wasn't expected from a bunch that finished No. 16 nationally.

    Although it's not a glamorous haul, this group was the foundation of the program's rise under now-Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. From 2010 to 2013, the Cardinal won at least 11 games each season and appeared in four straight BCS bowls. They celebrated a Pac-12 title in both 2012 and 2013.

    Eight players earned All-Pac-12 honors during their college careers, and seven more achieved honorable mention status. In other words, conference coaches officially recognized 15 of the 22 players Harbaugh and Co. signed with awards.

    Stepfan Taylor became the school's all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, Tyler Gaffney ran for 2,500 yards and Zach Ertz was a finalist for the John Mackey Award as the best tight end.

    Trent Murphy registered the fifth-most career tackles for loss, Shayne Skov notched the sixth-most career tackles and Ben Gardner was a first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

9. 2010 Auburn

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    Notable players: Cam Newton, Corey Lemonier, Michael Dyer, Shon Coleman, Chad Slade, Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy, Jake Holland, Cody Parkey, Steven Clark, Demetruce McNeal

    Any four-year member of Auburn's 2010 class played in two national championships, experiencing the joy of triumph that season before feeling the agony of defeat in 2013.

    You may have heard of the quarterback who led the Tigers to the crown: Cam Newton. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner set several SEC recordshighlighted by his 4,327 yards of total offensewhile guiding Auburn to conference and national titles.

    Since Newton was a JUCO transfer, he only needed one year before heading to the NFL. Michael Dyer didn't stay on the Plains long either, but he left an unmistakable mark with the national championship MVP and 2,335 rushing yards in two seasons.

    All-conference honorees include Corey Lemonier, Shon Coleman, Brandon Mosley, Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy and Steven Clark, while Chad Slade, Jake Holland, Ryan Smith, Ryan White and LaDarius Owens all occupied key roles on the 2013 squad.

8. 2009 LSU

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    Notable players: Barkevious Mingo, Michael Brockers, Morris Claiborne, Reuben Randle, Kevin Minter, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery, Lamin Barrow

    LSU turned in a terrific class during the 2009 cycle, boasting the No. 3 unit nationally. Oddly enough, only one of the six highest-rated players, Reuben Randle, had a superb college career.

    Granted, being rated between Nos. 62 and 138as was the case for Sam Montgomery, Kevin Minter, Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingodoes not a hidden gem make. Unrated 3-stars Morris Claiborne and Bennie Logan certainly fit that billing, though.

    The seven aforementioned players starred in Baton Rouge before getting selected during the first three rounds of an NFL draft.

    Chris Faulk, Lamin Barrow and Craig Loston all earned All-SEC accolades, while Michael Ford and Russell Shepard were complementary pieces for three-plus years.

    Partly thanks to this group, LSU won the 2011 SEC championship and played in the ensuing national title game. The Tigers registered double-digit victories each season from 2010 to 2013.

7. 2008 Oregon

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    Notable players: Dion Jordan, Darron Thomas, LeGarrette Blount, Josh Kaddu, Kiko Alonso, LaMichael James, John Boyett, Kenjon Barner, Jeremiah Masoli, Hamani Stevens

    With a nod to the Marcus Mariota-led 2011 class, Oregon's 2008 group helped propel the program to its recent level.

    So much for the No. 23 ranking nationally, right?

    Following a 10-3 year capped by a Holiday Bowl victory, Chip Kelly took over as the Ducks head coach and rattled off a 46-7 mark during the next four seasons. Several of the '08 commitsincluding Dion Jordan, Kenjon Barner and Kiko Alonsosaw it through.

    Jeremiah Masoli quarterbacked the 2009 Pac-10 champion team, and then Darron Thomas followed suit in 2010 and 2011. Masoli and Thomas garnered all-conference recognition, and so did LaMichael James, Josh Kaddu, John Boyett, Jordan, Barner and Alonso.

    LeGarrette Blount and Dewitt Stuckey both had one highly productive season, and Nick Cody started 18 games on the offensive line. Hamani Stevens, due to his two-year Mormon mission, was actually a starter on the 2014 national runner-up squad with Mariota.

6. 2007 Florida

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    Notable players: Joe Haden, Carlos Dunlap, Mike Pouncey, Maurkice Pouncey, Major Wright, Aaron Hernandez, Ahmad Black, Chas Henry, Chris Rainey

    Off-field problems alter how we remember Florida's 2007 class, but purely from a football perspective, it had tremendous talent.

    Joe Haden, Mike Pouncey, Maurkice Pouncey, Aaron Hernandez, Ahmad Black and Chas Henry—the 2010 Ray Guy Award winner as the nation's best punterwere All-Americans. It's not a coincidence the program won the 2008 national championship and SEC East Division crowns in 2008 and 2009.

    Additionally, Carlos Dunlap twice earned All-SEC honors, Major Wright was a longtime starter at safety and Chris Rainey turned his versatility into all-conference recognition as a senior. Jaye Howard notched consecutive years with 10 tackles for loss.

    Brandon Hicks, Deonte Thompson, James Wilson, Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens, Lorenzo Edwards and Moses Jenkins all provided complementary impacts of varying degrees.

    Cam Newton also signed with Florida this season, though he didn't make much of an on-field impression before leaving the team. Even without Newton, Urban Meyer found plenty of elite talent.

5. 2011 Florida State

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    Notable players: Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman, Timmy Jernigan, Rashad Greene, Tank Carradine, Bobby Hart, Karlos Williams, Nick O'Leary, Tre' Jackson, Terrance Smith

    Florida State tapered off during Bobby Bowden's final six years. Jimbo Fisher brought the program back with a vengeance after taking over as head coach in 2010, and the 2011 class was instrumental in that.

    The nation's No. 1 haul featured many key components of the Seminoles' national championship in 2013 and three straight ACC titles. Kelvin Benjamin, Timmy Jernigan, Nick O'Leary—who claimed the 2014 Mackey Awardand Tre' Jackson joined FSU's All-American club.

    Conference coaches also selected Devonta Freeman, Rashad Greene, Tank Carradine, Josue Matias, Bobby Hart, Karlos Williams, Terrance Smith and Nile Lawrence-Stample as All-ACC members, whether first- or second-team or honorable mention.

    James Wilder Jr. highlights the remainder with his 22 career touchdowns. Lamarcus Brutus was a productive defender in 2015, and a handful of others managed one decent year as backups.

4. 2009 Alabama

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    Notable players: Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, D.J. Fluker, AJ McCarron, Eddie Lacy, Chance Warmack, Nico Johnson, James Carpenter, Anthony Steen

    There wasn't much middle ground for Alabama's 2011 group. Generally speaking, the players were either leaders in championship runs or made little to zero impact for the Tide.

    AJ McCarron smashed the career records for yards and touchdowns while tossing just 15 interceptions as a three-year starter. Alabama won two national titles with him under center, and the program hoisted three trophies during this class' time.

    Trent Richardson was a Heisman Trophy finalist and All-American. D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Dre Kirkpatrick fit the latter category, and several more—Eddie Lacy, James Carpenter, Anthony Steen and Ed Stinsonmade appearances on All-SEC lists.

    Nico Johnson, Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell and Quinton Dial round out a top-heavy yet impressive class.

3. 2013 Ohio State

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    Notable players: Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, Jalin Marshall, Billy Price, Tyquan Lewis, Darron Lee, Chris Worley

    Think of a popular Ohio State player from a recent season. Congratulations! He was probably from the 2013 cycle.

    No class is ever perfect, but Meyer dominated the recruiting game with this class. Through the 2016 campaign, the Buckeyes have posted a 49-6 record, appeared in two College Football Playoffs and won both a Big Ten and national championship.

    Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Vonn Bell and Billy Price—who, along with J.T. Barrett, still has a year of eligibility remainingwere All-Americans. Barrett, Eli Apple, Darron Lee, Tyquan Lewis and Gareon Conley landed on All-Big Ten teams.

    The list of contributors is plentiful. Jalin Marshall and Chris Worley are recognizable names, while Michael Hill, Marcus Baugh and Dontre Wilson have occupied important roles. Tracy Sprinkle was an opening-day starter in 2016 before an injury ruined his year.

    As many as seven players from Ohio State's 2013 class could start as redshirt seniors this season.

2. 2008 Alabama

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    Notable players: Julio Jones, Mark Barron, Marcell Dareus, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Terrence Cody, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Ingram

    Among the classes from a half-decade ago or later, Alabama's bunch from 2008 has the most recognizable names. It's because you're still hearing them on Sundays in the fall.

    Five players became first-round draft picks, those being Julio Jones, Mark Barron, Marcell Dareus, Dont'a Hightower and Mark Ingram. The only player from that group who wasn't an All-American? Jones, though he still secured first-team All-SEC.

    Courtney Upshaw, Barrett Jones and Robert Lester were also All-American picks, while Terrence Cody starred on a championship team and Brad Smelley was the No. 2 receiver in 2011.

    Two standouts, Ingram (Heisman Trophy) and Barrett Jones (Rimington and Outland Trophies), won national awards.

    The four-year players from this class compiled a 48-6 record with an SEC championship and a pair of national titles. Anyone who stuck around for five yearslike Lester, Michael Williams and Damion Squarecelebrated three FBS crowns.

1. 2013 Alabama

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    Notable players: Derrick Henry, Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, A'Shawn Robinson, ArDarius Stewart, Tim Williams, O.J. Howard, Bradley Bozeman, Eddie Jackson, Anthony Averett

    These guys knew little but winning.

    After the 2013 class arrived, the Crimson Tide secured three SEC championships and appeared in the College Football Playoff during the same three seasons. They claimed the national crown in 2015 and were runners-up in 2016, also appearing in the Sugar Bowl twice.

    Derrick Henry won the 2015 Heisman Trophy. The unit included eight first-team All-SEC honorees, plus several more second-teamers and honorable mentions. Seven players heard their names called during the NFL draft, and a couple more should in 2018.

    Allen earned Bednarik, Nagurski and Lombardi honors in 2016, while Reuben Foster grabbed the Butkus Award and Cam Robinson secured the Outland Trophy. O.J. Howard joined them on an All-American list, following in the footsteps of A'Shawn Robinson and Eddie Jackson in 2015.

    In addition to the well-known talents, special teams ace Cole Mazza was perfect on 583 long- and short-snapping opportunities as a four-year starter, according to the school.

    From the household names to the one rarely ever uttered, Nick Saban and Alabama dominated this class in historic fashion.

    All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.