No matter which school Rashan Gary signs with, he’ll have some big expectations to live up to.
Gary, a defensive tackle from Paramus Catholic (N.J.), is the No. 1 recruit in the country according to ESPN, Rivals, Scout and 247Sports. That kind of unanimity atop the rankings is fairly unusual and suggests that Gary could indeed become a star at the college level.
There are no sure things in recruiting, but the players at the very top of the rankings often go on to distinguished college careers — with NFL success a distinct possibility as well. Here’s a list of players who were No. 1 in recruiting rankings in each of the past 10 years — and what happened next:
2015: Byron Cowart, DL, Auburn (ESPN, Rivals); Kahlil McKenzie, DL, Tennessee (Scout); Trent Thompson, DL, Georgia (247Sports).
Even the best recruits have a hard time making an immediate impact, which makes sense since they often sign with top programs that have a lot of depth. Of this group, only Thompson made any starts this past season, but it’s still a trio worth keeping an eye on.
2014: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (ESPN, Scout); Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M (247Sports); Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama (Rivals).
Fournette finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy vote in 2015 and has rushed for 2,987 yards in two seasons at LSU. Garrett, meanwhile, already has 24 sacks for the Aggies. Hand hasn’t been as big a factor, but he’s part of an Alabama defensive front that helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship.
2013: Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Mississippi (ESPN, Rivals, Scout, 247Sports).
By now, you’re noticing a trend with these No. 1-ranked players: They often end up in the Southeastern Conference, and a lot of them are defensive linemen. Nkemdiche was a second-team All-American this year and has declared for the NFL draft. His college career ended on a sour note when he was suspended for the Sugar Bowl following an incident in Atlanta when he fell from a hotel window and was charged with possession of marijuana.
2012: Mario Edwards, DL, Florida State (ESPN, 247Sports); Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri (Rivals, Scout).
Edwards played three years for the Seminoles before heading to the NFL, and the Oakland Raiders drafted him in the second round last year. He admitted that his college career would have been more impressive if he’d controlled his weight better.
Green-Beckham was dismissed from Missouri after several run-ins with the police during his two years at the school. He enrolled at Oklahoma but had to sit out because of transfer rules, and he went to the NFL having never played for the Sooners. The Tennessee Titans drafted him in the second round, and he caught 32 passes as a rookie this season.
2011: Jadeveon Clowney, DL, South Carolina (ESPN, Rivals, Scout, 247Sports).
The No. 1 college recruit eventually became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Clowney was taken first overall by the Houston Texans after three seasons at South Carolina. He had 13 sacks as a sophomore, and although his numbers dipped the following season, he’d already established himself as a top pro prospect.
2010: Ronald Powell, DL, Florida (ESPN, Rivals, 247Sports); Seantrel Henderson, OL, Miami (Scout).
Powell missed the entire 2012 season for the Gators because of a severe knee injury. Drafted in the fifth round in 2014 by the New Orleans Saints, he has struggled to make any impact in the pros. Henderson was drafted even lower that year, in the seventh round by Buffalo after he acknowledged that marijuana use led to him being suspended several times at Miami. Henderson started all 16 games for the Bills as a rookie, but he had to deal with concussion and illness issues this season.
2009: Bryce Brown, RB, Tennessee (Rivals, Scout); Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California (ESPN).
Brown’s recruitment was a bit of a soap opera. He signed with Tennessee in mid-March, well after signing day, and played only one season for the Volunteers before transferring to Kansas State. He’s played four seasons in the NFL for Philadelphia, Buffalo and Seattle. Barkley threw for over 12,000 yards in four seasons at USC, making 47 starts, but he’s appeared in only four games in the NFL.
2008: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State (Rivals, Scout); Da’Quan Bowers, DL, Clemson (ESPN).
After three productive seasons with the Buckeyes, Pryor’s college career concluded in messy fashion when he left Ohio State after an investigation into the memorabilia-for-cash scandal that cost coach Jim Tressel his job. He’s started 12 NFL games for Oakland and Cleveland in five years.
Bowers led the nation in sacks in 2010 and then moved on to the NFL. He was picked in the second round by Tampa Bay, slipping because of concerns about his right knee. He’s still with the Buccaneers but has started only 10 games for them.
2007: Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame (Rivals); Everson Griffen, DL, USC (Scout); Joe McKnight, RB, USC (ESPN).
Clausen never led Notre Dame to much success as a team, but he did throw for 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions as a junior. He was drafted in the second round by the Carolina Panthers a few months later. McKnight and Griffen both played three seasons at USC before turning pro. They were taken 12 picks apart in the fourth round in 2010, and Griffen has become a quality pass rusher for the Minnesota Vikings, posting 22 ½ sacks over the past two seasons.
2006: Percy Harvin, WR, Florida (Rivals); Myron Rolle, DB, Florida State (ESPN); Beanie Wells, RB, Ohio State (Scout).
Harvin helped the Gators win two national championships in three seasons before heading to the NFL, and Wells was tremendous as well, rushing for nearly 3,400 yards in three years with the Buckeyes.
But the most unique path of any top-ranked recruit may belong to Rolle, who was a third-team All-American as a junior. He left the Seminoles not for the NFL draft, but for Oxford University after being named a Rhodes Scholar. Rolle earned a master’s degree in medical anthropology, and although he never did play a game in the NFL, he was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2010 and was picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012.