Ranking College Football's Best Recruiting Classes Since 2010

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2021

Ranking College Football's Best Recruiting Classes Since 2010

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    College football recruiting—much like college football—has been dominated in the past decade by Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide, with Clemson and Ohio State not far behind.

    There's a direct correlation between the best players' commitments to the top programs and those programs' winning championships. College football has become a monopoly, and the rich are getting richer.

    Looking back at the recruiting classes of the past 10 years, the hue is decidedly crimson, followed by deep orange with flecks of scarlet, gray and a few other colors.

    Factoring in national championships, conference championships, wins and star power (national titles and elite players carry the most weight), Bleacher Report ranked the 12 best recruiting classes in the nation dating back to 2010.

    This isn't just about the highest-rated. That distinction belongs to the 2010 Florida Gators class, according to 247Sports. But while there were some good players in that group, they largely flamed out, never won a title and didn't possess a ton of stars.

    If you're not a fan of Saban and Co., you may want to look away. But the Tide aren't the only representatives on this list.

12. 2017 Georgia Bulldogs

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    An argument could be made that the 2018 Georgia recruiting class was the best the program has ever signed. However, it's not fair to the Bulldogs to pick a group that featured excellent players who've made a name for themselves somewhere other than Athens.

    Justin Fields was part of the '18 haul and left for Ohio State where he became one of college football's biggest stars. Linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. is on his way to doing the same at Florida, and the same goes for Otis Reese at Ole Miss.

    Instead, we'll focus on the class before that one. It provided the young nucleus for the Dawgs' 2017 run to the national championship game and reintroduced Georgia under new coach Kirby Smart as a recruiting force.

    This class provided catalysts who did it in red and black, going 44-9 during their careers.

    Quarterback Jake Fromm started as a true freshman when Jacob Eason went down and led the Dawgs to the title game. He enjoyed another strong couple of seasons before heading to the NFL.

    That class also included NFL star running back D'Andre Swift, a key change-of-pace guy behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel before becoming a star himself between the hedges.

    NFL offensive linemen Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson were part of that class and became road-graders for the Dawgs. All-SEC safety Richard LeCounte III was a 2017 recruit, as was Monty Rice.

    The class was top-heavy, but a lot of players in it helped Smart build his program.

11. 2016 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Over the past four years, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have gone 43-8 and made it to the College Football Playoff twice.

    While they lost both games they played, there's no question coach Brian Kelly has brought back one of the sport's storied programs from many years wandering in the wilderness.

    Much of the credit can be given to the Irish's 2016 recruiting class, which remarkably ranked just 15th nationally that year. Looking back, that was a major disservice to a class that helped bring South Bend to the front of recruits' minds again.

    Ian Book headlines the group, but he was far from an elite prospect. The El Dorado Hills, California, signal-caller was just a 3-star prospect overlooked by a lot of top programs. But he developed into a star and a winner in his time as the starter.

    The class goes beyond Book. Elite pass-catcher Chase Claypool is now starring for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Other NFL players like safeties Julian Love and Jalen Elliott, cornerback Troy Pride Jr., defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, and running back Tony Jones Jr. were 2017 recruits too.

    That's not to mention important cogs in this year's playoff run like offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg, receiver Javon McKinley and defensive end Daelin Hayes.

    If you want a class that got Notre Dame "back," this one is it. Say what you want about whether they belonged in the playoffs or not, but you can't deny those wins.

10. 2017 Oklahoma Sooners

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Few teams have won at the clip of the Oklahoma Sooners in the past four years. They've dominated the Big 12 as Lincoln Riley calls the shots. While the defense has presented issues at times, an explosive offense guarantees they'll be in the conversation every year.

    Riley has plucked his star quarterbacks from elsewhere (Baker Mayfield from Texas Tech, Kyler Murray from Texas A&M and Jalen Hurts from Alabama), but that doesn't mean the Sooners fall flat in recruiting.

    There are several 2017 classes on this list, and this group provided the nucleus for Murray's and Hurts' runs to the College Football Playoff.

    That group of recruits finished their time at Oklahoma with a 45-8 record, winning the conference four times and making it to the playoff three times.

    Star offensive playmakers like CeeDee Lamb and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown make the class top-heavy and signaled the beginning of an unreal run of wide receiver recruiting.

    Running back Kennedy Brooks and tight end Grant Calcaterra highlighted that class, as well as Charleston Rambo, who did a good job at OU before heading to Miami to finish his college career.

    Elite offensive lineman Creed Humphrey and NFL linebacker Kenneth Murray were 2017 recruits too. There are plenty of other playmakers up and down the class, which ranked eighth nationally.

    And if you like players who made an impact elsewhere, Ohio State star running back Trey Sermon and Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robison, who thrived for the Owls when Lane Kiffin was the coach, originally were part of the class.

9. 2011 Florida State Seminoles

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Florida State would have never won the national title without quarterback Jameis Winston, who came in the 2012 class a year later, but he needed to buy a steak dinner for everybody in the group ahead of him.

    That bunch of Seminoles provided the nucleus for the 2013 national championship team and put Jimbo Fisher's name on the hot list. He probably owes a part of that fat Texas A&M paycheck to the '11 class.

    The 'Noles were trying to stay on top of the world after Bobby Bowden's departure. A class that ranked second nationally helped them get back to the top and beat Auburn for the title.

    Players like running back James Wilder and versatile playmaker Karlos Williams weren't even the stars of that class.

    Receiver Kelvin Benjamin, running back Devonta Freeman and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan all had brilliant careers in Tallahassee before heading off to the NFL, and all were important pieces of the puzzle as FSU won a national championship.

    Others who played well and went to the NFL include defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample, tight end Nick O'Leary, linebacker Terrance Smith, defensive end Tank Carradine, offensive lineman Bobby Hart, receiver Rashad Greene, receiver Nick Waisome and others.

    This class was loaded. They won a title and went 48-7, and when they left, the Seminoles took a major step back.

    By the way, Jake Coker—who won a national championship as Alabama's quarterback—was also part of this class.

8. 2015 Clemson Tigers

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Clemson Tigers have been right behind Alabama in college football supremacy over the past decade. While their star players have been spread out over several classes, they do have some highlight groups.

    This won't be the last class recruited by Dabo Swinney on this list, and the 2020 group could make this list in a couple of years with all the true freshman stars who stepped onto the field for the playoff team this year.

    But the two Clemson classes here are a little bit of a throwback—the ones who really got this big orange rocket launched.

    It's a shame Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson's classes weren't loaded with all-star, difference-making players, but a bunch of groups are.

    One of those is the 2015 class that kicked everything off in a big way. The defensive linemen recruited by coordinator Brent Venables in that class were the foundation for two titles, and the class played for three championships and went 55-4.

    The only thing keeping this group from ranking higher is high-impact pros, but there's still time for that. Defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Albert Huggins, defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt and receivers Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud were in the class.

    So were linebacker Chad Smith, cornerback Mark Fields and safety Tanner Muse.

7. 2014 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    If you've got Bama fatigue, you're not alone. The way Nick Saban has built his dynasty is impressive, and much of the rest of college football is playing for second.

    The talent Saban stockpiled was especially amazing during the run of 2012-14 (all three classes are represented on this list).

    The players in the '14 haul were impressive, winning 53 games against just five losses and taking home two titles. There were more talented classes, but this one went down a winner.

    At the top of this group was offensive tackle Cam Robinson, a major recruiting victory for Saban in Louisiana who had a terrific career.

    Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand took a while to develop but had a nice close to his time in Tuscaloosa. Another star player was Marlon Humphrey, one of the best defensive backs in the NFL who is roaming the secondary for the Baltimore Ravens.

    Rashaan Evans starred for the Tide and now helps anchor a Tennessee Titans defense, and elite punter JK Scott is booming kicks for Green Bay. Jarran Reed and Cam Sims have had nice NFL careers too.

    Bo Scarbrough hasn't had the pro career some predicted, but he was excellent at times with the Tide in helping them to national championships.

    Other NFL players in that group were cornerback Tony Brown, linebackers Shaun Dion Hamilton and Christian Miller, and offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher.

6. 2016 Clemson Tigers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    You can't talk about the 2015 Clemson recruiting class without an even bigger nod to the '16 group.

    Here's the thing about coach Dabo Swinney's classes: From top to bottom, they aren't as loaded with elite talent as some classes from other teams. But they fit Swinney's system, there's plenty of talent and they jelled well.

    That was the case for this group, which wound up 55-4 over the course of their careers. Like the class before them, they were a part of three national championship games, winning two.

    There was a smidge more talent in this class than the '15 group, which is why they rank a little higher.

    Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was near the top of this class in recruiting rankings. He was an instant-impact star and a massive, quick and talented playmaker who helped Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and others anchor that defensive front once he got to town.

    The best player in the class was a 3-star prospect. That would be Isaiah Simmons, a versatile defender who played linebacker and defensive back and wound up a first-round pick in last year's draft by the Arizona Cardinals.

    K'Von Wallace (fourth round by Philadelphia in 2020), Trayvon Mullen (2019 second-round pick of the Raiders), John Simpson (fourth round by Las Vegas last year) and Tremayne Anchrum (seventh round by the Los Angeles Rams in 2020) were all drafted in the last two seasons.

    As well, Cornell Powell and Nyles Pinckney were key cogs for the Tigers this year. This was a deep, quality class that had plenty of strong players.

5. 2017 LSU Tigers

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    It took getting an all-world quarterback via transfer from Ohio State to make everything tick, but LSU's magical run to the 2019 national championship began with a loaded '17 recruiting class.

    The title wouldn't have happened without Joe Burrow, who won the 2019 Heisman Trophy and became the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. However, coach Ed Orgeron's recruiting prowess shined in that '17 class, and it had a major impact on the title team.

    The class wound up ranked seventh, but it was so much better than that.

    A 39-12 record isn't the greatest, but the title and the star power are why the class is ranked where it is.

    Receiver Justin Jefferson and linebacker Patrick Queen are candidates for NFL rookie of the year honors after outstanding first seasons for Minnesota and Baltimore, respectively. Kansas City running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks like a solid NFL player too.

    All those guys were stars for LSU during its title run.

    That class also featured K'Lavon Chaisson, who the Jaguars selected in the first round of the 2020 draft, as well as Cleveland rookie linebacker Jacob Phillips and safety Grant Delpit, the latter of whom won the Thorpe Award roaming the backfield for the Bayou Bengals. Both left early for the NFL too.

    Offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles is also in the league.

    Defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin figures to be a high-round selection this year, and while Todd Harris is coming back to Baton Rouge, he'll be in the pros before long. At the top of the group was safety JaCoby Stevens, who has been a stalwart on the LSU defense.

    From top to bottom, the class was stacked.

4. 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Get ready to roll several times with the Tide.

    The 2008 recruiting class, which was Nick Saban's first highly ranked group that featured so many elite players, fell out of the range for this slideshow. However, the 2012 group was the first of several unbelievable classes in a row that produced championships and elite playmakers.

    You could just list Crimson Tide classes over the years in this article—they've been that dominant.

    The '12 haul went 50-6 and won two national championships, shredding teams left and right and solidifying the dynasty in Title Town.

    There was even a little national signing day drama when Landon Collins' mom wanted him to choose LSU and was visibly disappointed when he put on the Alabama hat and signed paperwork with Saban. He wound up becoming a secondary star for Bama. But he wasn't the only great player in that class.

    T.J. Yeldon was an important piece of the puzzle back when Alabama beat teams into submission with the run and playing defense, and he blossomed into a star, though his pro career hasn't been special. Linebacker Reggie Ragland turned into an All-American and has enjoyed a long NFL career.

    Amari Cooper was the Tide's best receiver since Julio Jones and began the pipeline of Sunshine State receivers that has brought Alabama so much glory. Other NFL players like Ryan Anderson and Kenyan Drake were a part of that class too.

    Alabama is used to winning big every year, and this class helped announce to the world that the Tide were here to stay.

3. 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Just how good was the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes national championship team? The Buckeyes won the title with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones.

    That's stout.

    Many of the top players on that team were part of Urban Meyer's best class in Columbus. It was an exceptional group that tied for second all-time in school history with 49 wins, a .891 winning percentage and nine NFL draft picks, according to 247Sports' Steve Helwagen.

    The top of that group, which ranked second nationally, was elite, and they have a national title to show for their troubles.

    The class is led by Ezekiel Elliott, one of the best running backs to play college football in the past 20 years. He didn't win a Heisman Trophy, but he could not be stopped in that '14 playoff run or in the 2015 season before becoming a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys.

    Everybody knows about All-American defensive end Joey Bosa, who terrorized quarterbacks while at Ohio State. Billy Price was a first-round draft pick as a center after being considered a defensive tackle coming out of high school.

    Vonn Bell was a star after picking the Buckeyes over Tennessee and Georgia, and he wound up a second-round pick. After playing four seasons for New Orleans, he signed a three-year contract with Cincinnati. Cornerback Eli Apple has enjoyed a quality NFL career, too, and Gareon Conley is in the Texans secondary.

    Tyquan Lewis, Darron Lee, Jalin Marshall and others were a part of that class. So was J.T. Barrett, who hasn't made much impact in the NFL but was a standout winner of a quarterback for Meyer during his days as a Buckeye.

2. 2013 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Hal Yeager/Associated Press

    Some classes took home more hardware than Nick Saban's 2013 group, but it may have the most sheer talent that thrived long-term.

    That's why they're higher on the list than their teammates from the '14 and '12 classes. Those other two groups won a pair of titles, but the players in this group were simply better. They went 51-6 and played for two championships.

    Heisman Trophy winner and NFL All-Pro superstar Derrick Henry, who now shreds defenses for the Tennessee Titans, headlines this group. He was a factor in the backfield for the Crimson Tide from the moment he stepped onto campus, and few backs have been able to match his size-speed combo.

    That class had playmakers from top to bottom. They fortified Alabama's elite defense during that era, led by defensive lineman Jonathan Allen—one of college football's best defensive linemen in the past two decades—and linebacker Reuben Foster.

    They are now teammates for the Washington Football Team.

    Tight end O.J. Howard has also experienced success with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a standout career in Tuscaloosa where he truly shined in the College Football Playoff.

    Eddie Jackson is an All-Pro safety who is starring in the NFL, and A'Shawn Robinson has seen success on the next level too after a big career for the Tide.

    While Alvin Kamara shined for Tennessee before becoming one of the NFL's most dynamic running backs in New Orleans, he originally signed with the Tide. Yes, Kamara and Henry were in the same Saban-recruited class.

    That's just plain nasty, and it's one of the best classes of talent ever.

1. 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Many times, the group that's freshest on your mind in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football seems like the best.

    In this case, what just went down with the Alabama Crimson Tide truly was the best. Not only was the 2017 group of recruits the best of the past decade, but they were also the best ever.

    That class went 51-4 over four years and won two national championships. On top of that, it had layers of unbelievable talent.

    Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith may go down as the best college wide receiver of all time. He's up there with names like Randy Moss, Julio Jones and Desmond Howard. He saved his top moments for the biggest games, torching Georgia for the game-winner in the 2017 title game and dominating Ohio State this year.

    Mac Jones, who finished third in the 2020 Heisman voting, was way down the list of talent in that year's class, but he blossomed after Tua Tagovailoa went to the NFL a year early. Tagovailoa was part of that class too, and he finished second to Kyler Murray in 2018 Heisman Trophy voting.

    2020 first-round receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III were a part of the '17 haul of prospects for Saban, as were first-round draft pick offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr. and second-rounder Xavier McKinney. All of those guys left a year early.

    Standout running back Najee Harris, who won this year's Doak Walker Award, was the top-ranked player to commit to the Tide that year, and there are still more stars in that group.

    Alex Leatherwood will be a first-round pick as an offensive tackle, linebacker Dylan Moses will get selected and so will defensive lineman LaBryan Ray if he elects to leave. The stars go on and on.

    The class has the individual and team hardware to be ranked as the best of the best.