Posted by Bryan Fischer
When I saw my colleague Jeff Borzello rank the decade's top basketball recruiting classes, I thought it was such a good idea I decided to steal follow his lead and do the same on the football side.
Little did I know what a tough job it was, first sorting through each class and then deciding where to rank each one. It's much easier on the basketball side from a sheer numbers standpoint too, an issue when you're talking about several thousand more players on the football field versus on the court. It's a fun experiment and a good chance to see just how far recruits from each year panned out however.
There's no set formula for determining where each class ranks, it's too hard to compare one class with a great college player like Tim Tebow with one that has several players who developed into great players later in their careers. So, after looking up and down plenty of recruiting lists, are the decade's top recruiting classes by year. Feel free to disagree and complain in the comments.
Top Players: Reggie Bush, Ernie Sims, Greg Olsen, LaMar Woodley, Chris Leak, Steve Smith, Vernon Davis, Dennis Dixon, Michael Griffin, Sedrick Ellis, JaMarcus Russell, LaRon Landy and Sam Baker among others.
The class of 2003 laid the foundation for four national titles at two different schools (LSU and USC). The headliner looking back is Bush who, though his many records have an * next to them, was among the most electrifying players on the field. Leak and Caldwell led Florida to a national title and Dixon was on his way with Oregon until injuring his knee. LSU also grabbed first-round picks JaMarcus Russell, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and LaRon Landry.
Top Players: Terrelle Pryor, DaQuan Bowers, Blaine Gabbert, Julio Jones, Patrick Peterson, Tyron Smith, Marcus Fortson, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, Terrence Cody, Michael Floyd, Andrew Luck, Jeff Fuller and Corey Liuget among others.
A loaded class at quarterback and wide receiver, 2008 was one of the deepest classes in recent memory and several players are only now wrapping up their college careers. Pryor was the top player coming out of high school and though some people question how he went out, he was nevertheless 31-4 as a starter. It's hard to argue against one of the top NFL prospects in a long time with Luck and Ingram has a Heisman Trophy and national title to his name. With a strong push from some seniors this season, this class could move into the top spot.
Top players: Percy Harvin, Andre Smith, Beanie Wells, Brandon Spikes, Gerald McCoy, Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford, C.J. Spiller, DeMarco Murray, Jake Locker and Knowshon Moreno among others.
This class is littered with first-round draft picks and big-time college stars. Stafford the top pick in the draft and Harvin helped Tebow win two national championships before both left with plenty of records at Florida. This also was one of the more balanced classes with plenty of talent at multiple positions.
Top players: Eric Berry, Noel Devine, Ryan Mallet, Carlos Dunlap, Marvin Austin, Joe Haden, Dez Bryant, Tyrod Taylor, Rolando McClain, Lee Ziemba, Brian Price, Aaron Hernandez, Steven Garcia, Brian Bulaga and Joe McKnight among others.
Call this the class of misfits for their share of off-the-field issues but there's no denying this was a group of talented players. The top two guys, Jimmy Clausen and McKnight, failed to live up to expectations placed on them but still put together solid careers in college. Price, Austin, Dunlap and others are part of a great defensive line and Berry was one of the top safeties in the last several years.
Top players: Rueben Randle, Russell Shepard, Garrett Gilbert, Matt Barkley, Trent Richardson, Christine Michael, Cliff Harris, Devon Kennard, Vontaze Burfict, Shane Skov, Aaron Murrary, Dre Kirkpatrick, Manti Teo and Alshon Jeffrey among others.
This is still a class that's a work in progress but you can recognize several of these names on all-conference and all-America lists. There's some great running backs in Richardson and Michael among others and Murray and Barkley have been good, young signal-callers. Some elite linebackers in 2009 as well in Teo, Burfict and even Skov at Stanford.
Top players: Derrick Williams, Eugene Monroe, Mark Sanchez, Rey Maualuga, Jonathan Stewart, Darren McFadden, DeSean Jackson, Brian Cushing, Jamal Charles, Malcolm Kelly, Michael Oher, Doug Worthington, Ndamukong Suh, Colt McCoy and Mario Maningham among others.
Look up and down the top 100 recruiting lists and there were a lot of busts but this year still produced a lot of talent that had success. USC grabbed Sanchez, Cushing and Maualuga among others and they led the Trojans to the best four year winning percentage out this group of recruits (just six losses). Texas also found the winningest Division I quarterback in McCoy and Nebraska got one of the most dominant defensive linemen in years in Suh.
Top players: Vince Young, Haloti Ngata, Marcus Vick, Winston Justice, Tamba Hali, Tony Ugoh, Leonard Washington, Reggie McNeal, Eric Winston, Aaron Ross, Maurice Clarrett, A.J. Hawk and Troy Smith among others.
Not a deep group but a collection of college stars that proved they could beat top teams by themselves. Young is the big name after leading Texas to BCS Championship and upsetting USC in a magical run to the title. Clarrett, Hawk and Smith won a title early on and helped the Buckeyes to years of dominance in the regular season later on.
Top players: Jadeveon Clowney, Curtis Grant, Cyrus Kouandjio, Karlos Williams, Charone Peake, Malcolm Brown, James Wilder, Tony Steward, Stephon Tuitt, Colt Lyerla, Aaron Lynch, Nick O'Leary, Jeff Driskel, Savon Huggins, Ray Drew, Brett Hundley and Jaxon Shipley among others.
The players from the 2011 group haven't taken a snap in college yet but read the fall camp reports and you can see why they're higher than other classes. It wasn't a great year for quarterbacks but there were a ton of defensive linemen that will have an impact early, topped by one of the most dominant players in the country (and athletic freak) in Clowney. Lyerla and O'Leary will play early at tight end and Shipley should have fans in Austin thinking he's a mirror image of his older brother.
Top players: Adrian Peterson, Ted Ginn, Calvin Johnson, Early Doucet, Keith Rivers, Chad Henne, Fred Davis, Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, Dwayne Jarrett, Glen Dorsey and Michael Bumpus among others.
Peterson burst onto the scene as a freshman and established himself as a top tier running back. Johnson is one of the most athletic wide receivers in the game (some would call him a freak of nature) and he developed in a run-based college offense no less. Doucet and Dorsey had fun in the SEC and Henne was a successful quarterback at Michigan.
Top players: Ronald Powell, Seantrel Henderson, Kennan Allen, Robert Woods, DaRick Rodgers, Marcus Lattimore, Jackson Jeffcoat, Michael Dyer, Jake Heaps, Tony Jefferson, Sharrif Floyd and Jake Matthews among others.
Also a work in progress, were not a ton of impact players outside of Lattimore, Dyer, Heaps and Woods. The two players at the top, Powell and Henderson, have loads of talent but will need battle others to stay on the field. There's time for this group to rise up the list but for now, they're at the bottom.