And, as times goes on and metrics become more advanced, star rankings and evaluations can be expressed in numbers that go two or three decimal places deep.
When compiling my list of the best LSU classes since the year 2000, I intentionally opted to use none of them. Instead I’m going by a combined feel of impact pre-campus (weight carried by your commitment and ability to convince others to come aboard), while on campus (how you performed while in Baton Rouge) and, where applicable, post-campus (how you carried the torch into the NFL).
Without further ado, my selections for the top four classes from the past 15 years, a stretch that most certainly includes the Golden Era of LSU football.
NO. 1 – THE 2001 CLASS
It gets easier to recruit once the train is rolling and you’ve established momentum as a program. What’s truly difficult is starting that ‘mo in the first place, waking a program from a lull. That’s exactly what Nick Saban and his staff did with LSU’s Class of 2001, a table-setter for the program’s first national championship (2003) in 45 years.
Perusing the names below, which are the highlights of the class, a few things are obvious. First, what an unbelievable haul of offensive linemen. The Tigers nabbed four starters up front in this class, including a few that went on to successful, long-term NFL careers. Second, Saban began the culture of making sure the best local kids stayed. Clayton and Spears were legendary prep players from Baton Rouge and locking down both was a turning point for in-state recruiting.
KEY PLAYERS: RB Joseph Addai (Houston, TX), WR Michael Clayton (Baton Rouge), DB Travis Daniels (Hollywood, FL), DE Marquise Hill (New Orleans), OL Nate Livings (Lake Charles), OL Rudy Niswanger (Monroe), DE Melvin Oliver (Opelika, AL), DE Marcus Spears (Baton Rouge), OL Andrew Whitworth (West Monroe), OL Ben Wilkerson (Hemphill, TX)
For grins, want to know the only quarterback taken in the class? That would be Rick Clausen from Taft, CA, who ironically came back to beat LSU in Tiger Stadium as a member of the Tennessee Volunteers in 2005.
NO. 2 – THE 2009 CLASS
Anywhere in this range of years for LSU, you could throw a rock and hit a superstar (and he usually played defensive back). In 2008 the Tigers signed Patrick Peterson. In 2010 LSU landed Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid. But, it was the 2009 class that grew into the core of arguably the best, most talented LSU football team ever – the 2011 squad. Even Scout’s Jamie Newberg agreed the ’09 haul for the Bayou Bengals was special on a national level.
There’s defensive line talent for days in this class, from Mingo and Montgomery on the outside to Brockers and Logan on the inside. A certain Mr. Hicks that now plays for the New Orleans Saints even makes an appearance, although he never actually suited up for LSU and was actually at the heart of a recruiting violation that sent assistant D.J. McCarthy packing. Then a couple of current pros named Claiborne, Minter and Randle show up as well. Just a loaded class, at once top-heavy and deep.
KEY PLAYERS: LB Lamin Barrow (Marrero), DT Michael Brockers (Houston, TX), CB Morris Claiborne (Shreveport), couple of north Louisiana prospects who came in as big-timers in DT Chris Davenport (Mansfield) and DT Josh Downs (Bastrop), OL Chris Faulk (Slidell), RB Michael Ford (Leesville), DL Akiem Hicks (transfer from Sacramento City CC), DT Bennie Logan (Coushatta), S Craig Loston (Houston, TX), DE Barkevious Mingo (West Monroe), LB Kevin Minter (Suwanee, GA), DE Sam Montgomery (Greendwood, SC), WR Rueben Randle (Bastrop)
NO. 3 – THE 2011 CLASS
The Fam. A class so strong, it got its own nickname. By the time Les Miles, Frank Wilson & Co. reeled in this bunch, LSU was already in high cotton. The program was coming off a successful 11-2 season in 2010 and was pointed downhill at a title run in 2011 with youngsters like Mathieu, Reid and Spencer Ware returning after promising freshman campaigns. Adding this class was the final element needed to push the Tigers over the top, toward what became an undefeated regular season that featured wins versus Oregon and at West Virginia.
Maybe the biggest historical note on The Fam is it was the first full class Wilson got his hands on. Formerly at Ole Miss and Tennessee, LSU’s current recruiting guru had his hooks in players like Landry and Johnson, helping those five-stars become Tigers when both had options aplenty. You’ll also notice this guy named Beckham, who at the time was viewed as an athlete that could play on either side of the ball. Then there’s Mettenberger, who posted one of the best seasons for a quarterback in LSU history in 2013, as well as a double-dose of Collinses, both of whom project as high draft picks this spring.
KEY PLAYERS: WR Odell Beckham Jr. (New Orleans), CB Jalen Collins (Olive Branch, MS), OL La’el Collins (Baton Rouge), RB Kenny Hilliard (Patterson), DT Anthony Johnson (New Orleans), WR Jarvis Landry (Lutcher), RB Terrence Magee (Franklinton), S Ronald Martin (White Castle), QB Zach Mettenberger (transfer from Georgia, Butler CC, KS), DE Jermauria Rasco (Shreveport), OL Trai Turner (New Orleans)
Side Note: This class also originally included RB Jeremy Hill from Baton Rouge. A legal situation delayed his entry until 2012, but there’s no doubt the Cincinnati Bengals rookie standout most closely identifies himself with this crop of players.
NO. 4 – THE 2014 CLASS
Saving the most recent LSU class for last on this list. The odd thing about the Tigers’ 2014 class is that in the eyes of many who follow recruiting for the purple and gold, it will be viewed as – at least – a mild disappointment. Dreams of 5-for-5 on Under Amour-game announcements faded into a reality of 2-for-5 as Tony Brown chose Alabama, Gerald Willis chose Florida (for a year) and Speedy Noil opted for Texas A&M. Maybe the biggest fish that got away, though, was stud offensive tackle Cameron Robinson from West Monroe.
Here’s the rub: Despite 2-for-5 and despite some notable in-state misses, this was a powerful class that made an immediate impact for an LSU team in 2014 that was decimated by two straight years of mass NFL exodus by underclassmen. Fournette is possibly the most significant LSU signee ever. Adams continues to live up to his label as the next Eric Berry. Dupre is one of the top receivers the Tigers have landed in years. Godchaux came out of nowhere to become LSU’s best defensive tackle in his freshman season. And then there are a few blue chippers we don’t even know about yet, namely Garrett, Harris and Valentine. Come back in a few years, and this class may be bumped up a notch or two.
KEY PLAYERS: S Jamal Adams (Carrollton, TX), S John Battle (Hallandale, FL), OL Garrett Brumfield (Baton Rouge), OL Willliam Clapp (New Orleans), WR Malachi Dupre (New Orleans), RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans), LB Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, IL), DT Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine), QB Brandon Harris (Bossier City), DT Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, TX), CB Edward Paris (Arlington, TX), WR Trey Quinn (Lake Charles), DT Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, FL), RB Darrel Williams (Marrero)