2016 NFL Draftees: What They Were Like as Recruits

Apr. 28 -- The NFL Draft begins Thursday and, for Scout's recruiting team, there is nostalgia in seeing kids they have covered, sometimes since early in their high school careers, transition to becoming household names and high draft choices. Here, we remember some of the big names set to be chosen on Thursday as high school prospects just looking for an opportunity...

Jared Goff, quarterback, California 

Projected Draft Range: Top Two

Greg Biggins: It's looking more and more likely California quarterback Jared Goff will be taken with the 1st pick in the 2016 Draft. Although Goff was rated a four-star prospect by Scout and the No. 234 overall recruit in the nation, it's safe to say he greatly exceeded our expectations.

He was a tall, lanky signal-caller who threw with advanced timing and anticipation, showed great touch and was very poised in the pocket. He was a game manager who played with a high football IQ but physically, was just okay athletically and his arm strength was average at best. His deep balls fluttered a bit on him and he wasn't able to throw some of the deeper outs and posts on a line.

I remember watching him at the Elite 11 prior to his senior year, competing against the other top quarterbacks nationally, and thinking,"He should be a solid college quarterback in the right system but his lack of physical tools could hurt him down the road."

Goff committed to Cal, which was one of only three schools who offered him a scholarship. Both of his parents attended Cal and several schools shied away from recruiting him, knowing it was probably a waste of time and he would end up with the Bears. Goff would enroll early at Cal and surprised many by winning the starting job that spring.

So how did Goff go from a quarterback with just okay physical tools to the top player taken in the NFL Draft just three years later? For starters, and this is rare and something I can't remember seeing more than 2-3 times, he made a gigantic leap in arm strength and went from a guy who struggled with the deeper throws to being able to make every throw on a rope. He added over 20 pounds to his frame in his first year of college and the added size and strength paid off in a big way.

He was always accurate and had very good pocket mobility and, combined with his newfound velocity, Goff suddenly rose up the charts. Now, he will likely his hear name called before anyone on Thursday.

Brandon Huffman: For a four-star quarterback coming from Kentfield (Calif.) Marin Catholic, there weren’t a ton of schools that offered Jared Goff.

A big reason for that, though, was it was always going to be tough to get him away from California.

The son of a former Cal All-American baseball player, Goff long dreamed of playing for the Golden Bears, so when then-head coach Jeff Tedford offered him, he didn’t waste a whole lot of time before making a decision. 

Two other schools offered Goff, Boise State and then-head coach Chris Petersen, and Washington State under new coach Mike Leach, but Goff wanted to be a Bear.  Not long after his commitment, he was named MVP of the Oakland Nike Football Training Camp and was selected to the Elite 11 Finals. 

Then Cal went out and had a 3-9 season and Tedford was fired, all while Goff was leading Marin Catholic to a spot in the CIF State D-III title game.

Sonny Dykes was eventually hired by Cal and was able to convince the crown jewel of the 2013 class to stick with the Bears.

And despite some early struggles in their first seasons in Berkeley, both Dykes and Goff benefited tremendously from their partnership.

Laremy Tunsil, offensive tackle, Ole Miss

Projected Draft Range: Top 5-10

Chad Simmons: When college coaches are on the road, many times they stumble upon a new prospect they didn't know about when they are there to see someone already on their radar.  That happened to me with former five-star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

When I was down at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., I was there mainly to see Timmy Jernigan.  The former five-star defensive tackle had a great career at Columbia, he was a star at Florida State, and he was the No. 48 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens.  On a trip where I went to see Jernigan practice, I found one better.

I had heard about Tunsil, and I had seen a little film, but I was not expecting to see what I saw when I met him for the first time.  I got to his high school to watch practice in August 2010, right before he started his sophomore year, and I found out Tunsil wouldn't be there.  Craig Howard was the head coach at Columbia at the time, and he knew I was not only there to see five-star Jernigan, but I really wanted to meet Tunsil for the first time.  The sophomore was out sick, under the weather.

Coach Howard got on the phone and spoke with Laremy's mother. At the end of practice, they showed up so I could meet the big offensive tackle.  He was in shorts, Nike sandals, and a cut-off shirt — he was very impressive on the hoof.  I ended up staying in the area one extra day to see Tunsil in action the following afternoon, and while Jernigan dominated practice at all times, the then-sophomore Tunsil was the only one who could partially slow him down.

Tunsil was quiet off the field, but he made a lot of noise on it.  While he did not talk a lot of trash, he played with an edge, he finish blocks, and he let his play speak for him.  You just cannot draw up offensive tackles that look, bend, and move the way he does.  He was a pleasure to cover and was an easy five-star for me. 

Columbia had back-to-back five-stars.  Jernigan was a top defensive tackle and he is having success in the NFL.  Tunsil was a better prospect, he was better in college at Ole Miss, and he will be a top 10 pick this week. He has a chance to be one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL the next decade. 

Myles Jack, linebacker, UCLA

Projected Draft Range: Top 5-10

Brandon Huffman - The first time I saw Myles Jack play was in the middle of his junior season, when Bellevue was en route to a 3A state title.  The second time I saw him play was in the state quarterfinals, in a star-studded game that had four players who would eventually sign with different Pac-12 schools a few months later.  Yet it was the junior linebacker who we left talking about.

I saw Myles at the U.S. Army Combine in January that next year, and Washington and UCLA were the two schools he talked the most about; the Huskies were the local team and UCLA had just hired the father of one of his brother’s Pop Warner teammates, Jim Mora, as their head coach. Jack and the Moras had a great relationship and it ended up paying off big for the Bruins in June of 2012, when he committed to UCLA..

Still, that wouldn’t end Jack’s recruitment, with schools seeing him in his senior year, and just how versatile he was, and they wanted in.

The opening game of Jack’s senior year, Bellevue was playing Euless (Texas) Trinity in Seattle’s Memorial Stadium.  Jack had a gamebreaking 60-yard touchdown run to give the Wolverines a lead but that wasn’t even his best play (though it would foretell of things to come at UCLA).  

In overtime, Jack came on a blitz and crushed the Trinity quarterback, knocking him out of the game.  The next play, the backup quarterback threw an interception to seal the win for the Wolverines.  

Interestingly enough, while Scout had Jack ranked by far the highest of any recruiting network, as a high four-star prospect, we always felt he was still underrated.  Part of that was a concern about if he could cover.  At Bellevue, he played with his hand down and rushed the passer, including a 20-sack effort his senior year, with a five-sack game.  Getting to the quarterback, using his speed and strength off the edge, wasn’t an issue.

But at UCLA, he’d play outside linebacker, so we wondered just how well he could cover, since we hadn’t seen a lot of that in high school.  Watching Aaron Curry for the Seahawks struggle with that transition, I wondered if Jack would have the same issues.

Now, a big reason why Jack is projected to go very early on Thursday is just how fluid he is and how nimble he is in coverage (watch his effort against Nelson Agholor in the 2014 UCLA-USC game).  That concern kept him from being a five-star at the time, but he showed the capability at UCLA. 

That unique athleticism is one of his best attributes and a reason why he won’t be waiting long to hear his name called on Thursday.

Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Ohio State

Projected Draft Range: Early-mid 1st Round

Derek Young: Elliott played at Burroughs High School in St. Louis and it wasn't a huge school, so he did not play against the biggest schools and he dominated. 

I think competition is what held back some schools offering him. But on his highlight tape it was touchdown after touchdown. He dominated in the hurdles in track, too, just like his mother did.

His parents were Missouri grads and he took a late official visit to Missouri after he committed to Ohio State. It was down to Ohio State and Notre Dame initially, and the Irish wanted him to be a defensive back. Then I believe he was forced to play defensive back at the Army All-American Bowl, so he was definitely someone who wanted to prove he could play running back at the highest level and had a chip on his shoulder. It worked out.

Robert Nkemdiche, defensive tackle, Ole Miss

Projected Draft Range: Mid 1st Round

Chad Simmons: If Robert Nkemdiche was in the class of 2019 or 2020, he would already be a living legend in the world of football recruiting.  It is hard to believe that Nkemdhiche was the No. 1 prospect in the country for 2013, but he did not receive his first offer until the end of his sophomore year in November 2010.  How things have changed so much, so fast in this industry.  After Georgia offered the freak of nature just before Thanksgiving, things took off.

Coming out of middle school, Nkemdiche was 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, and he was mainly a running back.  He played some linebacker too, but he was so big, and so naturally strong for his age, that he was just a big body who nobody could tackle on the middle school level.  He was not an elite athlete everyone was talking about back then because he hadn't been playing football long, but it was the spring of his sophomore year when things quickly changed.  

By that time, Nkemdiche was over 250 pounds, he was pushing 6-feet, 4-inches tall, and he had really developed as a football player.  He was not just a big kid running over everyone due to size, but he had been moved from linebacker down to defensive end, and it was all starting to come together for him on the field.  

When Nkemdiche walked into the University of Georgia for a NIKE Camp the spring of 2011, he instantly created a buzz.  Not all knew who he was then, but by the end of the day, he was already being talked about as the best player in the state of Georgia regardless of class.  That was the moment when I knew he was going to be special.  He was still a sophomore at the time.  

A one-time big body middle schooler who was strong was now a top football player in 2011.  Nkemdiche had become a national name and all eyes were on him each and every second it seemed.  He had the offers you would expect, he was taking visits, and he was dominating on the field.  He was not the easiest to cover in terms of recruiting because he was guarded, but when he talked to me, he was respectful, he was appreciative, and he was one of the best defensive linemen I will ever cover.

By the time his high school career ended, he had been named the No. 1 prospect in the country by Scout, he had led Loganville (Ga.) Grayson to a state title playing both defense and offense, he was an Under Armour All-American, and so much more.  

At the beginning for Nkemdiche, he was a big kid who was a little clumsy that just ran over smaller kids.  He is far from that now.  He was a one-time Clemson commit, then an Ole Miss signee in 2013, and he is about to be a first round pick in the NFL Draft.  He a shade under 300 pounds and he ran the 40 yard dash 4.87 seconds at the NFL Combine.  He recorded sacks, he scored touchdowns out of the offensive backfield, and he was a constant force at Ole Miss for three years. There have been some off the field issues, but he is top five guy when talking pure on-the-field talent.

Laquon Treadwell
, wide receiver, Ole Miss

Projected Draft Range: Mid 1st Round

Allen Trieu: I was up in Niles for a workout with Core 6 Athletes, a training group out of Chicago. I went to see Crete-Monee cornerback Anthony Standifer, a well established Division-1 prospect. Standifer was constantly telling me about a sophomore receiver at his school named Laquon Treadwell, though, and I was eager to see him in person.

They ran routes in a gym, on a basketball floor -- not the best place to evaluate someone. Treadwell was big, but it was hard to tell much else. I went to a game later that season and, watching him out-muscle defenders for the ball and toss them aside in the open field, it was clear this was a physical, talented kid. Michigan and Notre Dame offered very soon after that game. It was a regional recruitment until his junior film really hit the airwaves and then the whole country got involved.

Laquon was a four-star up until his senior season. I went to see him and he was dominant. He was the same way against the best in the country at the Under Armour All-American Game. Ironically, it was his pure speed, a hot topic leading into this draft, which initially kept me from moving him to five stars. After seeing him separate from and make catches over top of the best in the country, it was clear he was an elite guy and we moved him up to a five-star.

He was always very close to his family, his mother and younger brother, who is now a D1 recruit himself, it has been nice to see that continue to this day. He's back home this week and stopped back at Crete-Monee. 

It was not obvious that day in that gym in Niles that I was looking at a future 1st Rounder, but every time I saw Laquon Treadwell after that, it was clear he had stardom written all over him.

A'Shawn Robinson
, defensive tackle, Alabama

Projected Draft Range: Mid 1st Round

Greg Powers: There may not be a more intimidating specimen who I have ever covered in my 12 years in the recruiting business, and Robinson plays just like he looks... MEAN.

In high school Robinson was asked to play on both sides of the football for his Fort Worth (Texas) Arlington Heights team, and the knock on him by some pundits at that time was that he would take plays off or play lazy. I guarantee that none of them would have put that criticism to him in person, as he was just as an intimidating when giving an interview as he was on the field. 

The former No. 1-rated prospect in the Midlands region was just not tested too often against a high level of competition in high school, and for that it was reasoned he could struggle playing and competing at Alabama.

But the simple truth is that Robinson stepped up each and every time that he has been pushed. At The Opening Finals the summer before his senior year, he was the top defensive tackle and silenced his critics. Again, at the Army All-American Bowl after his senior season he was dominant and showed that he could be just as effective playing against elite level competition in a game setting.

For those reasons I think he will rise to the challenge and be an NFL standout.  

I can still vividly recall the time he walked out on the field alongside Ndamukong Suh at The Opening Finals and one of the parents there asked me what NFL team Robinson played for. I responded that he was still in high school. The parent quipped, “He makes Suh look small."

If there was ever a defensive tackle who you could rate just based off of the way that he looks, Robinson would top the charts every time.     

Darron Lee, linebacker, Ohio State

Projected Draft Range: Mid 1st Round

Bill Greene: As a two-time All-American and expected high-draft pick in this Thursday's NFL draft, most people assume Darron Lee was high on Ohio State's recruiting board, but that's not the case.

Lee performed at Ohio State's camp and did not receive an offer, so he returned to the OSU next camp two weeks later, looking to prove to the Buckeye staff he was worthy of being recruited. His second appearance earned him the offer he wanted so badly, 

"Since I was here two weeks ago, Coach Fickell told me I made a real statement by coming back," Lee explained after the camp concluded. "In that staff meeting on Monday, he said he would do everything he can to get me that offer."

As a senior, Lee played quarterback and safety mostly and it was clear he was a great athlete and prospect. Scout's Midwest team, myself along with Dave Berk and Allen Trieu, re-evaluated and we decided to go out on a limb and make him a four-star. We were the only ones to do so and it proved to be a good decision based on the way he played as a Buckeye.

Jack Conklinoffensive tackle, Michigan State

Projected Draft Range: Mid 1st Round

Allen Trieu: This one is a little bit of a different story from the rest. Jack wasn't a five-star recruit. Heck, he wasn't even a two-star recruit. 

His father, Darren Conklin, was also his high school coach, and Coach Conklin contacted me in April of 2011 to get me some information on Jack. He said at the time, that despite no offers, and despite maybe some bias as being his father, he felt his son could play for and contribute at a major college. 

He had already started two years on varsity and was 6-foot-5, 280 pounds. He ran a 5.14 forty (he ran 5.00 at the NFL Combine this year) and carried a 3.5 GPA in the classroom. Everything seemed to check off.

The film, however, was hard to evaluate. It was shot from far away, was a little grainy and it was hard to tell just how good the prospect was. His dad explained that some of their opponents didn't offer great spots to shoot from facilities-wise.

The family visited Colorado and Northwestern, but with no offers. Ball State, Eastern Michigan and others came to the school, but no offers. I saw him at Michigan's camp. He performed well. No offer. Not even from the MAC programs who were there. He skipped the high-exposure camp, Sound Mind Sound Body, to go to Wisconsin, but no offer came from the Badgers.

Early in his senior season, his dad sent me an updated three-game highlight. Not only was the film quality better, but Jack looked better. He was now 6-foot-6 and crushing opponents. Still, no offers came.

In February, Coach Conklin informed me that Jack would be going to Fork Union Military Academy despite preferred walk-on offers from Western Michigan, Michigan and Illinois. Part of that was because Jack was a young senior and wouldn't turn 18 until August. He would have an opportunity to be recruited again by D-1 schools at FUMA and earn a scholarship.

In April, nearly a year after he had first made contact, Coach Conklin told us that Michigan State had offered Jack and he committed to the Spartans, no longer attending Fork Union. They were still figuring out when his scholarship would start, but it was essentially a greyshirt offer.

After seeing his full senior tape, the Spartans knew he was a kid they wanted. It was obvious then that they had a gem, but it still was not obvious we were looking at a future NFL 1st Round draft choice.

As Jack progressed through his Michigan State career and became the outstanding player he is, it served as a great reminder for me to answer every e-mail and watch every film of every kid even if he was only getting preferred walk-on looks.

Plainwell High had some other prospects after Jack and I had a chance to go down and see some games there and see Coach Conklin. That is not a big town and to see a kid from there rise up through an unlikely story and get to where he's about to be has been special.

Eli Apple, cornerback, Ohio State

Projected Draft Range: Mid-late 1st Round

Brian Dohn: The first time I saw Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple, he was a long, skinny kid who ran very well, had great change of direction and went by the name Eli Woodard.

He changed his name to Eli Apple during is senior year of Vorhees (N.J.) Eastern because of his relationship with his father, Timothy Apple, who married Eli's mom when Eli was two. It speaks to the high character and sense of responsibility Eli Apple lives by, and it is something NFL personnel learned about leading up to the draft, where Apple is projected to be taken in the middle of the first round.

Even as a high school sophomore, when I first watched Apple in action at a camp, he was smooth and athletic and he competed hard. He always had an affinity for Ohio State, so it became a pretty easy choice when the Buckeyes offered. He committed in February of his junior year of high school to the Buckeyes and was locked in after that despite offers from across the country.

He redshirted out of high school and was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes. He left for the NFL with two years of college eligibility remaining.

Su'a Cravens, safety, USC

Projected Draft Range: Late 1st-2nd Round

Brandon Huffman: I already had a bit of an idea about Cravens when his older brother, Siaki, was being recruited in the 2008 class.  Their father, Kevin, had mentioned that he had a younger son that was in middle school that would be a guy to watch a few classes later. 

It ended up being just two years after that Cravens first started gathering steam.  I was at the UCLA Elite Camp that summer of 2010, when Cravens, just having finished his freshman year, shined and was offered by then-Bruin coach Rick Neuheisel.  The secret was out before he really had made an impact in high school at Vista Murrieta, where he would transfer for his sophomore year.

Over the next three years, Cravens turned into the top prospect in the West and a five-star lock, and ended up as the No. 1 prospect in the region in the 2013 class and a top 10 player on Scout.  He didn't do many camps, but played 7v7 with his travel team, coached by former Butkus Award winner Chris Claiborne and another former college defensive lineman Lonnie Ford, an assistant coach at Vista Murrieta. And every tournament he played, he shined on both sides of the ball.

But it was on the field during the season where he made a compelling case as the best high school football prospect in California, carrying his team to a CIF title as a junior and to the finals his senior year.

A lifelong USC fan (his cousin Jordan Cameron played tight end for the Trojans), he committed to USC in the summer before his senior year, over offers from across the country.  He ended the year as the No. 1 player in the region, and then, at USC earned Freshman All-American and became a three-year starter for USC.  He's been the backbone of the Trojans' defense the last two years and was a glue guy during two in-season coaching changes for USC.

Kenneth Clark, defensive tackle, UCLA

Projected Draft Range: Late 1st-2nd Round

Greg Biggins: UCLA defensive tackle Kenneth Clark had a great three-year run for the Bruins and shouldn't last past the 2nd round of Thursday's NFL Draft.

In looking back at his recruitment, UCLA definitely benefited by the sanctions and scholarship reductions going on at USC or there is a very good chance Clark would have been a Trojan.

Early on in his recruitment, Clark made no secret that USC was his dream school and childhood favorite. He attended the Trojans' Junior Day hoping for an offer but was told he would need to camp over the summer so the coaches could get a closer look at him.

At the time, USC was in the middle of serving a three-year scholarship reduction where they had 30 scholarships taken away and could only offer 15 per year. Maryland defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow was a big USC lean at the time and was regarded by many as a can't-miss prospect, rated the No. 15 overall player in the nation from Scout.

Both players attended the USC Rising Stars camp and, although the media was barred from attended the camp, we heard from several onlookers that Clark was clearly the top defensive lineman in attendance and had a dominant performance. When Clark left the camp without an offer, he turned his attention to crosstown rival UCLA, who had made Clark a top priority.

Clark's game plan was to go through the process, take all of his visits and then decide closer to Signing Day. After taking a few summer unofficial visits, Clark decided he wanted to stay close to home, play in from of his family, and committed to the Bruins in the summer before his senior year and never looked back. He started as a true freshman for UCLA, out-playing his more heralded 5-star teammate Eddie Vanderdoes and earned All Pac-12 honors following his sophomore and junior seasons.

Sterling Shepard, wide receiver, Oklahoma

Projected Draft Range: 2nd-3rd Round

Greg Powers: The first time I met Sterling Shepard, I was at a 7-on-7 event to scout one of his teammates who just happened to have a famous name: Barry Sanders.

Looking back I am very glad I was there that day to get to meet Shepard, who has easily become one of the guys who I root for every Fall weekend, because he is a great player and a great person off the field.

Shepard has a tremendous story as he got to live out his dream playing for the Sooners, following in his father Derrick Shepard’s OU footsteps (1983-86). Sterling was 6 years old when his father died suddenly of a heart attack while in his first year coaching at the University of Wyoming.

He never journeyed far from the OU program and reported that the coaches there treated him as if he was one of their own sons. He ultimately had the opportunity to receive an offer to play his college ball there just like his dad.

On senior day, former Oklahoma legend Brian Bosworth handed Sterling a Sooners Illustrated magazine that featured his father on the cover. I am proud that I was able to follow and write about Sterling’s recruitment years later in the same magazine and look forward to rooting for him in the NFL.

Jeremy Cash, safety, Duke

Projected Draft Range: 2nd-3rd Round

Bill Greene: Jeremy Cash is projected to be a high pick in this Thursday's NFL draft, and he showed maturity beyond his years as a high school junior. Cash attended the Ohio State summer camp without an offer, looking to impress the coaches.

Before he took the field for camp, Cash met the Ohio State coaching staff wearing a business suit and tie, not the usual shorts and t-shirt.

"I definitely think I surprised a few people at Ohio State by the way I was dressed," Cash said with a laugh. "My intention was to come to see these people and make a good first impression. I was coming here to take care of business. I realize I'm not just representing my school, but also my state and my family. It's just the way my parents have raised me. To earn an offer from a school like Ohio State I had to show them I was serious about my work. I really want Ohio State to know that if they decide to recruit me that I will represent their school in a positive manner."

He eventually earned that offer, signed with Ohio State before transferring to Duke and becoming an All-American safety. 

Keyarris Garrett, wide receiver, Tulsa

Projected Draft Range: 3rd-4th Round

Gabe Brooks: In the fall of 2010, Keyarris Garrett was simply one of several FBS-caliber prospects for one of the most loaded small-school teams in recent Texas high school football history.

Garrett started at receiver for the Daingerfield Tigers, one of Texas' most storied programs and the owner of the most state championships from the mostly rural, but talent-laden East Texas region. Daingerfield's headliner was five-star linebacker Steve Edmond, who wound up at Texas, but DHS also boasted four-star Texas A&M defensive end signee Shayvion Hatten, three-star Baylor defensive end signee Donald Bryant, Texas State cornerback signee David Mims, and quarterback Tyler Boyd, who moved to receiver and finished in FCS-level Stephen F. Austin's top nine in career catches and receiving yards.

Working my first job out of college, I covered plenty of Daingerfield's games during their 2008-10 three-peat in Texas' Class 2A (now 3A), but Garrett was responsible for the most memorable moment of that run.

Going for its third consecutive crown, Daingerfield was locked in a tight battle with fellow small-school powerhouse Cameron Yoe in the 2A Division I state title bout at Vernon Newsom Stadium in Mansfield, Texas. Yoe boasted future Oklahoma receiver Dede Westbrook and erased a 27-13 deficit to tie the game 27-27 with 45 seconds remaining.

But Garrett -- the type of match-up nightmare you can imagine he was at the small high school level -- came up huge in the final half minute of his prep career, streaking down the middle of the field to beat two Cameron Yoe defenders for a game-winning 69-yard touchdown reception with only 26 seconds remaining to secure a 33-27 win and Daingerfield's third consecutive title. Sometimes overshadowed by his more high-profile teammates such as Edmonds, Garrett provided a glimpse in that high school finale of what he'd become at Tulsa, where he  caught 96 passes for 1,588 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior in 2015.

That game remains one of the best I've ever seen of the hundreds I've witnessed over the past decade. As an East Texas native myself, it's always fun to see fellow East Texans make it big from the Piney Woods.


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