There was a time when high school athletes were basically anonymous unless they were being named in national magazines for their play. Thanks to the internet, those days are long over and we now know what a two star kicker from the middle of South Dakota plans on doing for his college days. Because of the boom in internet recruiting websites, there have been a lot of prep athletes that were hyped up beyond belief.
It’s hard to tell if a high school player is going to pan out, as the jump from high school to FBS level football is a massive one. Then again, there are some players that play up to the level of their hype, making their fanbases incredibly happy. Let’s take a look at some of the prospects that have received the most attention in the internet age and see how they fared in their college (and pro) careers.
We didn’t include some players like Trenton Thompson, Andrew Brown and Rashan Gary, as it is too early to tell how they fared since they still have another full season in college. Here are the 15 best football recruits from high school and what happened after National Signing Day.
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15 Matthew Stafford
Attending Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas, Matthew Stafford stood out as one of the best quarterback prospects that many scouts had seen in quite some time. Stafford was being hailed as a future NFL star while he was still in high school and he attended Georgia, where he would start as a true freshman.
Stafford played for three seasons with the Bulldogs, finishing with a 57.1% completion rate, tossing for 7,731 yards, 51 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. Stafford made the All-SEC second team in his final season and was an named an All-American by Pro Football Weekly. Like some had predicted, Stafford would indeed play in the NFL as the 0-16 Detroit Lions made him the first overall pick in 2009. He's currently a top 15 talent in the league and has passed for over 4,000 yards for five consecutive years.
14 Adrian Peterson
Many USC Trojan fans were hoping that when Adrian Peterson made his decision, he would be making the move from Texas to Southern California. Instead, Peterson ended up committing to the Oklahoma Sooners, where he was immediately drawing comparisons to former Sooners like Marcus Dupree. Peterson made a huge splash in his freshman season, rushing for 1,925 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Peterson would miss games in both his sophomore and junior seasons, but he still rushed for another 2,116 yards and 26 touchdowns in those years. Peterson was a Heisman runner-up in his freshman year, the same year that the Sooners finished the regular season undefeated. Unfortunately for him, Oklahoma would end up losing to USC in the national championship. Don’t worry about him, though, as Peterson ended up being a seventh overall draft pick in 2007 and is still making his mark in the NFL despite personal and injury problems in recent years.
13 Terrelle Pryor
Terrelle Pryor could have selected a career in either basketball or football, but the Pennsylvania native ended up choosing the latter. Pryor had his choice of colleges, and would end up committing to Ohio State. Pryor would see a lot of playing time in his freshman season, appearing in 13 games while throwing for 1,311 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions, adding 631 yards on the ground.
Though Pryor did not win a national title with Ohio State, he would still win a pair of Big Ten titles and the 2010 Rose Bowl against Oregon. Pryor finished his three seasons with 6,177 passing yards, 57 touchdowns, 26 interceptions, 2,164 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Pryor would become a supplemental draft pick by Oakland in 2011 and he has since found his stride as a wide receiver for the Browns.
12 Manti Te’o
Hawaii has produced some impressive recruits over the past decade and the best of the bunch was linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o was a two time state player of the year in Hawaii and the Sporting News named him the High School Athlete of the Year. Te’o would end up choosing Notre Dame, playing for Charlie Weis.
Te’o became a starter almost immediately and would quickly become an impact player for The Fighting Irish. Te’o stuck around as the team transitioned to Brian Kelly and he would end up putting together a senior season in 2012 for the ages. Te’o came in second in the Heisman voting, though his career would end up being shrouded in controversy for the Lennay Kekua story. Te’o lived up to his potential in college, earning several awards including the Maxwell and Walter Camp Award, being named a unanimous All-American in 2012, before getting drafted by the Chargers in the second round in 2013, where he remains. He hasn't been as dominant in the NHL, but he's been a solid starter for San Diego.
11 Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin has always been an interesting character, and that even dates back to his high school days when he was getting in trouble with his coaches. Harvin would still be offered by just about every college in the United States and he would choose the University of Florida. In his three seasons with the Gators, Harvin proved to be very versatile, amassing 1,852 rushing yards and 1,929 receiving yards.
Harvin’s efforts helped Florida win a pair of national championships (2006 and 2008) and made a handful of All-American teams in his career. Harvin would become a first round draft pick in 2009, playing for the Minnesota Vikings. His NFL hasn't been as illustrious as his college career and he has since played with the Seahawks, Jets and is currently signed with the Bills.
10 Myron Rolle
Although there were some scouting services that had Myron Rolle as low as 12th, ESPN had him rated as the top player coming out of high school in 2006. Rolle was always an academic stud in addition to having on-the-field talent and he would commit to Florida State where he played safety. Rolle would start in all three of his seasons in Tallahassee, collecting a total of 206 tackles and an interception.
Rolle wasn’t getting a lot of recognition for his play, but was still considered to be an NFL Draft prospect that was a finalist for the Lott Trophy in 2008. However, Rolle would prove to be more interested in academics, as he was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Rolle would end up being drafted in the sixth round in 2010, though his career was over by 2012.
9 Will Hill
Attending school in Jersey City, New Jersey, Will Hill proved to be a multi-talented athlete that excelled in both track and football, where he played several different positions. Hill had remarkable speed and colleges were lining up to get the athlete’s services since his potential to play multiple positions was vital. Hill chose Florida of the schools that offered, and he was plugged in right away.
Hill would play in 38 games for the Gators, gathering 144 tackles and four interceptions in his three seasons. Hill didn’t quite live up to the hype like some of the players on the list so far and his personal troubles wouldn’t help. Hill ended up going undrafted in 2012, though he made appearances in the NFL with both the Giants and the Ravens. He is now a free agent that is to be suspended for 10 games upon returning to the NFL, if he gets that chance.
8 Jabrill Peppers
Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey has produced a lot of college football talent and that includes Jabrill Peppers from the 2014 recruiting class. Peppers made a lot of Wolverine fans happy when he decided to head to Ann Arbor for college, though he wouldn’t get as much early playing time as some of the other players on the list. Peppers played in just three games during his freshman season, but that would change in his sophomore season.
Peppers finished with 45 tackles (5.5 for a loss) in 2015 and he has built on that through his first 11 games in his junior season with 59 tackles (13 for loss), three sacks and a lot of excitement as a ball carrier. There is talk about Peppers being a Heisman finalist for 2016 and looks to be a first round draft pick if he decides to come out after the season.
7 Julio Jones
Julio Jones didn’t travel far to attend college after going to high school in Foley, Alabama. Jones made his decision to play for the Crimson Tide in February 2008, and was a day one starter in his freshman season. Jones would finish with 924 yards and four touchdowns during his first campaign, earning the conference’s Freshman of the Year award.
By his junior season, Jones was a first-team All-SEC player, and would win a conference championship and BCS title during his time in Tuscaloosa. Jones finished with 2,653 receiving yards, 139 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns at Alabama, becoming the sixth overall pick in 2011. Jones has lived up to the hype in the NFL as well, as he has been among the best receivers in football.
6 Da’Quan Bowers
Da’Quan Bowers was able to do anything in high school in South Carolina, where he was a stud on both offense and defense. His tremendous strength and speed earned him the top spot in the 2008 recruiting class, where he was drawing comparisons to Reggie White. Bowers had his pick of the litter in terms of colleges, choosing Clemson, where he would play for three seasons.
Bowers showed promise in his first two seasons, and had a huge breakout in 2010 as a junior with 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. Bowers became an All-ACC and All-American player. There was talk that he would be the top pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but injuries hurt his draft stock, slipping him to the second round. Bowers played with Tampa Bay for five seasons, never really making his mark, and is currently a free agent.
5 Leonard Fournette
Just like Julio Jones, Leonard Fournette decided to stay in state for college, picking LSU after being compared to running backs like Adrian Peterson. Fournette would have a solid freshman season despite all of the hype, finishing with 1,034 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The next year, though, would bring some Heisman talk as he had 1,953 yards on the ground and 22 touchdowns (in addition to 253 receiving yards and a touchdown).
Fournette is currently in his junior year, but has been dealing with an ankle injury. When he’s at his best, he certainly looks like one of the best recruits of all-time. Many are expecting the New Orleans native to leave after the 2016 season with hopes of being drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
4 Robert Nkemdiche
Back when Robert Nkemdiche decided that he was going to enroll at Ole Miss (after originally picking Clemson), many were saying that it was the biggest recruiting get for the school since Eli Manning. Nkemdiche was the consensus top high school player when he made his choice in 2013, a rare feat only achieved by the top four players on our list.
Nkemdiche played for three seasons with the Rebels, appearing in 29 games and totalling 81 tackles with six sacks. Many thought that Nkemdiche would be a dominant player that would be picking up awards left and right, but that turned out not to be the case. He would actually prove to be a bit of a distraction thanks to off the field troubles, but his raw talent still made him a first round pick by the Cardinals in 2016. He hasn't made a mark yet, but there's still plenty of time for the young DT.
3 Vince Young
High school football was already a big deal in Texas, but due to the fact that Vince Young was always on television and committed to play with the Longhorns, the hype was out of this world in the Lone Star State. Young had gathered just about every award you can get as a prep athlete in Texas and his college career would end up being what Longhorn fans were hoping for.
Young saw some solid playing time in his freshman season, though most of his production was on the ground. Young would breakout in his third year, throwing for 3,036 yards and 26 touchdowns while adding 1,050 rushing yards. That season also resulted in a National Championship for Texas in one of the greatest games ever. Young finished with 6,040 passing yards, 3,127 rushing yards and 81 total touchdowns. Though his NFL career never really panned out, Young is still a Texas legend.
2 Ernie Sims
In a recruiting class that would end up producing Reggie Bush, the title of top prospect actually went to Ernie Sims from Tallahassee, Florida. Sims stayed in town to play for Florida State, getting significant playing time in his first season. Sims was expected to breakout during the 2005 season, though he ran into trouble with the law before the season started.
Still, Sims was being hyped up as a preseason All-American after being named to the All-ACC second team the year before. In his final season, Sims finished with 72 tackles (10 for a loss) and two interceptions. Sims was a solid player, but did not quite live up to the hype that surrounded him. His raw physical tools would still get him drafted ninth overall in 2006 by the Lions. Unfortunately for Sims, he could never consistently put together solid performances and was out of the league after 2013 in an average career.
1 Jadeveon Clowney
No more hype has surrounded a high school athlete quite like Jadeveon Clowney. When the Rock Hill, South Carolina native was ready to make his college decision, every football fan tuned in to see where he would go. Clowney decided to stay in state, attending South Carolina, bringing a lot of excitement for the Gamecocks fans. In his college career, Clowney would not disappoint them.
Clowney was named to the first-team All-ACC squad in both 2012 and 2013, also being named to the first-team All-American teams. Clowney finished his three seasons with 47 tackles for a loss (129 total) and 24 sacks en route to the 2012 Ted Hendricks Award. Clowney has been dealing with injuries, but that didn’t stop him from being named the top overall pick in 2014 by the Houston Texans. Hopefully, he can overcome the injuries and live up to his potential.
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