Ranking CFB's 10 Biggest Busts from the 2017 Recruiting Class

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2020

Ranking CFB's 10 Biggest Busts from the 2017 Recruiting Class

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    Recruiting is an inexact science, but the 2017 class was loaded, and there were not a ton of misses near the top of the rankings.

    Chase Young, Tua Tagovailoa, Walker Little, Alex Leatherwood, Trey Smith, A.J. Epenesa, Cam Akers, Najee Harris, K'Lavon Chaisson, Baron Browning, Jeff Okudah, Jay Tufele, Shaun Wade, Richard LeCounte, Henry Ruggs III, Marvin Wilson, Jerry Jeudy, Tee Higgins and others highlighted the top of an elite class.

    There were future college superstars and surefire NFL studs of tomorrow up and down the recruiting class, and the 247Sports Composite rankings did a fantastic job with the list.

    But not everybody had a standout career.

    While most of the players' stories aren't written, a few are long shots to live up to their recruiting hype. 

    Even so, some, such as Stanford quarterback Davis Mills, Tennessee receiver DeAngelo Gibbs (who was recruited to play defensive back by Georgia), Alabama's Christopher Allen and Miami's Jaelan Phillips (who was one of the nation's top players when he signed with UCLA) have the eligibility and opportunity to thrive.

    Others, though, have big recruits standing in their way. Some are no longer playing major college football. In a few cases, they aren't playing college football at all.

    Let's take a look at the busts from the 2017 recruiting class, factoring in expectations as a prospect, production (or lack thereof) and the amount of time and opportunity the players have remaining to prove themselves.

10. Micah Clark, Rutgers Offensive Tackle

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    Unfortunately for Micah Clark, his Rutgers career has been a microcosm of the problems under former coach Chris Ash.

    He came in with such promise but hasn't put things together for the Scarlet Knights. 

    Ash was a fantastic assistant coach for Ohio State and known for his recruiting prowess when Rutgers hired him in 2016, but he struggled to run his own program. Clark was the jewel of his 2017 recruiting class as the highest-rated prospect in a group that ranked 42nd nationally.

    The Holmdel, New Jersey, product began his career as a bit of an undersized offensive tackle (6'4", 289 lbs), and he played in nine games as a freshman, mostly on the field-goal unit. That playing time dipped to just three games as a sophomore, and he was eligible for a redshirt.

    Still, with the Scarlet Knights struggling as one of the Power Five's worst programs and despite his 4-star recruiting status and the fact he was the No. 129 overall player and the second-rated prospect in his state, he hasn't cracked the rotation.

    The other two 4-stars in that class (receiver Bo Melton and linebacker Tyshon Fogg) have gone on to have productive careers, but Clark has not. Before the '19 season, he was moved to the defensive line and hoped to earn playing time.

    Instead, he did not see any game action.

    With new coach Greg Schiano back in New Jersey, perhaps Clark will make the most of his opportunity under a fresh set of eyes. But there has been nothing to indicate he'll ever make an impact. If you're moving around this late in your career still trying to find a spot, it's uncertain whether it will ever happen.

    At least Clark has two more years to try to salvage something.

9. Nate McBride, Georgia LB

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    Jake Rowe (247Sports)

    Nate McBride, a 6'2", 230-pound linebacker who was the nation's 163rd-ranked player in 2017, was supposed to be a quality pickup for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's first recruiting class.

    But he hasn't panned out, and with the way UGA has recruited, McBride is running out of eligibility and way down the depth chart.

    He's at least third in line behind Nakobe Dean and Channing Tindall at weak-side linebacker entering his senior season.

    Still, he's a role player who makes plays on special teams and shows no signs of wanting to transfer.

    McBride told DawgNation's Mike Griffith last season: 

    "We're No. 3 in the country, so there's a lot of good players everywhere you look. I'm blessed, and just like my dad told me, it's not when you want to get out there, it's when God wants to get out there. That's the main thing, that's what I've got to keep in my head. Right now, special teams is my main role and that's what I'm going to do with my ability."

    Maybe McBride will never be a major defensive contributor, but attitudes like his are vital parts of quality programs.

8. Brock Wright, Notre Dame TE

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    When Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly went into Cypress, Texas, and beat Alabama, Baylor, Texas and others for the 6'5", 243-pound Brock Wright, it was expected to be a major coup for the Fighting Irish.

    Wright was the nation's second-ranked tight end, No. 9 player in the loaded state of Texas, and the nation's No. 71 recruit.

    Unfortunately for Wright, Notre Dame also inked the No. 3 tight end, Cole Kmet, who spent three years loading up stat sheets and could be a first-round pick in 2020 after coming out a season early. 

    Yes, Wright could break out as a senior, but since Notre Dame already had other good tight ends and brought in elite recruit Michael Mayer, it's unlikely. Wright has just four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown in his career. He is not a great route-runner and isn't a threat in the passing game. 

    After playing 70 snaps with Kmet sidelined during the first two games, Wright had just 78 the rest of the season, per SI.com's Bryan Driskell, who wrote: "Wright has good vertical speed, and during open practices he's shown himself to be effective working the middle of the field, but he struggled to get separation during the season. There is potential for him to become an effective chain-mover and red-zone weapon."

    There's a chance Wright could have a big year with Kmet gone, but he's shown no indication that will happen. With Mayer coming in, the window may have closed.

7. Jordan Anthony, Michigan LB

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    247sports

    Since Jim Harbaugh took over as Michigan's head coach in 2015, the Wolverines have experienced recruiting success all over the country. Every year, they go into the Southeast and pluck a few quality players, head to California and grab some and always thrive in the Midwest.

    In the 2017 class, Harbaugh went into one of the nation's top prep programs in Florida's IMG Academy and nabbed linebacker Jordan Anthony. He (along with Georgia-based defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon) were expected to be defensive cornerstones plucked from the heart of SEC country.

    Neither panned out for Harbaugh.

    Solomon transferred to Tennessee, where he started for the Vols all year as a junior, and Anthony entered the transfer portal in December after he became an afterthought in Don Brown's defense.

    He played just 93 snaps last season, per the Detroit Free Press, and had six tackles. That's a far cry from what was expected from the No. 106 player and eighth-rated outside linebacker in the '17 class. Out of the 21 4- and 5-star players in that Michigan class, nine left the program.

    Throughout his career, Anthony amassed just 15 tackles and a sack for the Wolverines. It's possible he will wind up with two remaining seasons of eligibility wherever he goes, but whatever he does, he won't be the college-ready Big Ten star who had sideline-to-sideline speed he was thought to be.

6. Greg Rogers, Southern Utah DT

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    When Greg Rogers signed with UCLA over Oklahoma, Arizona, Arizona State, USC and others, the Las Vegas product was expected to make a major impact for then-coach Jim Mora Jr. But he never got the opportunity, especially after the 2018 coaching switch to Chip Kelly, so the 6'3", 305-pound interior defender entered transfer portal.

    Considering the Bruins have experienced recruiting difficulty the past few cycles, losing the nation's No. 124 player and the eighth-ranked defensive tackle from 2017 appeared to be a big deal on paper.

    He materialized at Southern Utah in May 2019, so he transferred down a level to the FCS.

    Rogers appeared in just seven games with the Bruins and recorded two tackles for loss. After taking part in 2018's spring practice, he was one of 35 players to leave the program.

    The big defensive tackle played in six games during the '19 season, according to the school's official website, making 11 tackles, including two for a loss. But even if Rogers becomes an All-Conference player on a lower level, it's still not living up to the expectations that come when you're one of the nation's top 150 players and commit to a Pac-12 school.

    It's obvious he hasn't lived up to his ranking, but maybe he'll be a dominant playmaker for Southern Utah as a senior.

5. Maleik Gray, Mississippi Gulf Coast WR/DB

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    Tennessee was having all kinds of trouble developing talent during Butch Jones' last couple of seasons, but the former Volunteers coach was still a quality recruiter in 2017.

    Maleik Gray was expected to be among the success stories. The 6'2", 190-pound defender was recruited as a safety, and he was one of the top players in the state of Tennessee out of LaVergne High School.

    Despite his high ranking, Gray never found a home on the football field. He wasn't fluid enough to play safety, and it didn't work when the Vols moved him to cornerback.

    Gray also played linebacker and wide receiver as new head coach Jeremy Pruitt moved him around to see if the talented player could stick. After playing in just three games for the Vols, he transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he won a JUCO national championship.

    So far, he hasn't resurfaced anywhere else.

    The No. 80 overall player in the 2017 class and the 10th-ranked safety played receiver and defensive back at Mississippi Gulf Coast, but even there, he couldn't find a permanent position.

    We'll see if Gray gets the chance to play Division I football again, but he is a rare case in which a player who has the physique can't carve a niche at any position.

4. Hunter Johnson, Northwestern QB

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    When Hunter Johnson flipped from Tennessee to Clemson early in the 2017 cycle, it was one of the biggest stories of the recruiting season. It became even bigger when a receiver Johnson had developed a relationship with followed suit not long after.

    Thankfully for the Tigers, they went 1-for-2 in stealing star prospects from the Vols. That receiver was Tee Higgins, who became one of college football's brightest stars and recently gave up his senior season to head to the NFL where he is almost certain to be a first-round pick.

    Johnson was the nation's second-ranked pro-style passer and the No. 30 overall player, and he hoped to have a bright future while playing for head coach Dabo Swinney.

    With Kelly Bryant starring for Clemson during Johnson's freshman season, he couldn't crack the starting lineup, though he did complete 21 of 27 passes for 234 yards, a pair of touchdowns and an interception.

    But when Trevor Lawrence arrived in 2018, Bryant was unseated and Johnson moved to third on the depth chart, prompting him to transfer to Northwestern.

    He completed just 46.3 percent of his passes, threw for one touchdown and four interceptions on the year, and lost his starting job a month into the campaign. Though he's got two seasons of eligibility remaining, it doesn't look like he'll be coach Pat Fitzgerald's starting quarterback for 2020.

    Northwestern's play at the position was so bad in 2019, there's a chance Johnson could win the job in the offseason again, but he has shown nothing to make anybody think he'll regain the form that made him one of the most coveted signal-callers in the 2017 class.

3. Levi Draper, Oklahoma LB

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    Collin Kennedy, 247Sports

    One of the players who was supposed to help Lincoln Riley rebuild the Oklahoma Sooners defense was 4-star inside linebacker Levi Draper, the nation's No. 118 player in the 2017 class.

    The 6'3", 222-pound recruit was the No. 5 player at his position and No. 2 overall prospect from the state of Oklahoma. Things haven't gone the way Draper or the Sooners had hoped during his three seasons.

    The redshirt sophomore had just three total tackles in 2019 after playing sparingly and mostly on special teams throughout his career. He doesn't pose any threat of cracking defensive coordinator Alex Grinch's rotation either.

    He chose the Sooners over offers from Oklahoma State, Clemson, Alabama, Florida State and others, and a July 2016 article in The Oklahoman boasted Draper had "sprinter's speed in a linebacker's body."

    According to Sooners Wire's Kegan Reneau, Draper won't ever make an impact on the field for the Sooners, unless he has a change of heart. He entered the transfer portal a day after fellow linebacker Ryan Jones did the same.

    Throughout his time at Oklahoma, Draper had to battle other talented linebackers for playing time and moved inside and outside while trying to find a path to snaps. The only real impact he made was on special teams.

    Draper is fast enough, but can he pick up a defense and find a place where he can reach the field?

2. Tate Martell, Miami QB

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    What happened to Tate Martell?

    One of the biggest offseason stories a year ago occurred when Georgia transfer Justin Fields announced he was heading to Ohio State, leading Martell to make cryptic comments (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) about the upcoming competition—only to transfer days later.

    The former elite quarterback prospect from Las Vegas had been at the center of controversy before when he publicly decommitted from Texas A&M and built up tension with then-Aggies commit Nick Starkel, according to Saturday Down South's Tyler Waddell.

    This was big news because Martell was the nation's No. 56-ranked player and second-rated dual-threat quarterback.

    It was also major news when Martell left Ohio State and resurfaced at Miami, where he received immediate eligibility and entered the race to win the starting job.

    Everybody knows about what happened with Fields and the Buckeyes, as he had a magical sophomore season in which he threw for 41 touchdowns and three interceptions, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and led OSU to the national semifinals.

    Martell, meanwhile, finished third in the Miami quarterback race, losing to Jarren Williams. N'Kosi Perry was the first quarterback to come off the bench this year, while Martell was relegated to a wrinkle who could run the ball in a pinch.

    With offensive coordinator Dan Enos out, Martell gets a fresh slate once again. He still has two years of eligibility remaining, and though he threw just one pass and ran seven times the entire 2019 season, his career isn't over.

    But Martell's only headlines have come via his mouth and not his play. He has to turn things around in a hurry, or he'll be one of the biggest busts in recent memory.

1. Calvin Ashley, Florida A&M OT

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    The Auburn Tigers signed what seemed like a vital offensive cog in the 2017 class when they went to Washington, D.C., and convinced 5-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley to head to the Plains.

    He was supposed to be the guy who replaced Greg Robinson as Auburn's cornerstone blindside protector.

    Instead, Ashley redshirted his first year and played sparingly in 2018 after he battled an undisclosed medical issue. He transferred to Florida Atlantic, where he was expected to be Lane Kiffin's starting right tackle.

    Kiffin made it a habit of rehabilitating careers during his time in Boca Raton, and Ashley had plenty of ability as a 6'7", 330-pound former top-30 player who was the nation's sixth-rated offensive tackle. But, instead, Ashley left Florida Atlantic.

    "Very surprising for us," Kiffin told NBC Sports' John Taylor in August. "Disappointing, but wish him the best of luck."

    Now at his third stop, Ashley became the first 5-star commitment (though it was twice removed) for the FCS Florida A&M program, according to the Tallahassee Democrat's Rory Sharrock.

    At least Ashley seems to have his priorities straight. He told Sharrock he made the moves to be closer to his family. His wife attends Florida State, and he has a young child.

    "I've been thinking about FAMU since I left Auburn," Ashley said. "I went down to Boca Raton, but I was like, This is still too far. My wife and my son—those are the two most important things to me. My parents are three-and-a-half hours away. It's the perfect fit."

    Hopefully for Ashley, he can become a mauler for the Rattlers and wind up turning the heads of NFL scouts. But his career has taken several detours, and he isn't the player he was expected to be.