I first saw Leonard Williams his junior season of high school. It was a combine event at Tampa (Fla.) Plant high school in the spring of 2011.
I knew right then and there that this Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland prospect had "star" written all over him.
Truth be told, he was eventually a four-star recruit on Scout, ranked as the nation’s No. 13 defensive end in the Class of 2012. He signed with USC and the rest is history.
Now he sits atop the Scout NFL Draft Top 100 as the No. 1-ranked prospect in the 2015 draft class.
With the draft just a few days away I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see how we did evaluating and ranking the Scout NFL Draft Top 100. Looking back, I would give our Scout team a high grade, as Williams is a good indicator of just how well we did with the group overall.
Breaking Down The Numbers
• This draft class is made up of recruits from the classes of 2009 through 2012. Within the Scout rankings, 17 players were former five-star recruits, while 26 were four-stars and 35 were three-stars. This makes up 78% of the top 100.
• Six players were former two-stars while 16 were not ranked at all. Of those 16, seven signed with junior colleges out of high school, meaning this group of kids didn’t have the grades.
• Generally with the Scout rankings, there are 50 five-star players, 275 four-star players, 1000 three-star players and 1,500 two-star players. So if you look at those numbers and percentages we did pretty darn good.
A Look Inside The Top 10
Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is the No. 2 rated draft prospect. He was a three-and-out player just like Williams. I first saw Cooper as a member of the South Florida Express in the spring of 2011 at an IMG 7v7 tournament in Bradenton, Fla. Cooper torched the field for two straight days in one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. No one could cover him. To this day, South Florida Express coach Brett Goetz will tell you Cooper is the best player he’s ever had. Seven former South Florida Express players are NFL players.
Cooper was difficult to measure because there was so little high school film from Miami Northwestern. He missed most of his junior season because of injury. Still, Cooper was rated as a four-star and the No. 12 wide receiver in the nation.
I once saw Dante Fowler play quarterback, fullback, tight end, wide receiver, defensive end and defensive tackle in a single high school game. That athleticism made him one of the most coveted recruits in the class of 2012. Now he enters the 2015 NFL Draft with the same distinction. Fowler checks in at No. 3 in this class, after being a four-star prospect and the No. 10 ranked defensive end coming out of high school.
There’s no question that one of the most intriguing draft prospects is our No. 4-ranked player Randy Gregory. He committed to Purdue but had to go the junior college route out of high school. From Fishers (In.) Hamilton Southeastern, Gregory was a three-star recruit in the 2011 class.
Allen Trieu is now in charge of our rankings at Scout and also a national recruiting analyst who specializes in the Midwest. He remembers Gregory well.
”Randy had a ton of sacks in high school, but in the defense that he played, he was really a 3-4 end, so he was a little bit of a hard projection,” Trieu said. “He also hadn't fully filled out yet. So he was moderately recruited, but had only a handful of offers. Once he got to junior college and got out on the edge, that's when people really realized he was a big-time guy.”
Another interesting draft prospect is No. 5 Danny Shelton. This mammoth nose guard from Auburn, Wa. stayed home and played for the Huskies. Coming out of high school he was another three-star recruit ranked as the No. 32 defensive tackle in the 2011 class. Scout’s Director of Recruiting Brandon Huffman is based in nearby Seattle. He said Shelton didn’t have a great final high school season.
“I saw Shelton a lot in his prep career,” Huffman said. “He was a dominant defensive tackle his sophomore and junior year, though his senior year was a rather forgettable season. He added bad weight and didn’t seem to have that same edge that he did the previous two seasons and looked unmotivated and dropped. The talent was always there, but the drive wasn’t. Off the field, tragedy between his senior year in high school and freshman year at Washington, though, woke him up.”
The next two prospects inside the top 10 at No. 6 and 7 are offensive lineman Brandon Scherff and cornerback Trae Waynes. Scherff is yet another outstanding offensive line prospect from Iowa while Waynes will have a chance to become the second consecutive cornerback from Michigan State to be taken in the first round (Darqueze Dennard last year). Both were three-star recruits in the 2010 class.
“Brandon actually was a quarterback his sophomore year and then got bigger,” Trieu said. “He was a big time track kid, but because of where he played and some late blooming, it took time for schools to hop on board. He did end up with a solid offer list, which included Nebraska, Kansas State and others.
”Trae was skinny in high school but ran 4.3 [forty] at Michigan State's camp,” Trieu said. “That's what led to that offer. He did not have any ‘big’ offers at the time. After that one came, a few others did, but he was never recruited as heavily as his high school teammate Melvin Gordon.”
Jameis Winston is ranked No. 8 overall. He’s the odds on favorite to be taken No. 1 overall by the Buccaneers on April 30th. Winston was a five-star recruit and the No. 2 quarterback in the 2012 class. Scott Kennedy was the Director of Recruiting for Scout who oversaw that year's rankings.
“Winston was easily the most talented thrower in that class,” Kennedy. “We saw him at the Elite 11 and we put him No. 2 behind Gunner Kiel. Why not No. 1? Because there was a thought he was going to play baseball. Part of being a top prospect is the likelihood that you will perform. Winston was never going to be just a football player and I didn't want our No. 1 guy to not even step foot on a college campus. That was a mistake.”
Rounding out the top 10 are two defensive standouts in outside linebacker Vic Beasley and safety Landon Collins. Beasley was a highly coveted three-star while there were many players more coveted in the 2012 than five-star Collins. He may have been the best football player I saw in that class.
What About The Heisman Trophy Winner?
If you follow my draft coverage than you know how I feel about former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. He sits at No. 14 overall in the Scout Top 100 but I firmly believe that he and Winston go one-two in the upcoming draft. Mariota was a good prospect coming out of high school in Hawaii. But he was not quite the prospect that Winston was.
”I didn't see Mariota nearly as much,” Kennedy said. “I saw him at an all-star game where he was beaten out by Johnny Manziel as the starter and Manziel got most of the time. I thought he had an average arm but could run like the wind, and he would fit like a glove in Oregon's system. I didn't think he had an NFL arm. I think he is a very similar player to Teddy Bridgewater and Teddy looks like a future star in the league."
Huffman remembers seeing Mariota early on at a 7v7 event. There he shined as kind of a sleeper before really beginning to make a recruiting name for himself.“The first time I saw Mariota play in person was not the best environment for a quarterback of his skill set,” Huffman said. “All eyes were on what would be his future Oregon teammate in DeAnthony Thomas. They were playing his team, but it was Mariota who caught our attention slinging it all over the field. You could see the arm and vision, though you couldn’t see the dual-threat capabilities. At that point, he’d been nothing but a career backup, but when the small handful of offers came in over the next couple of months, there were some indicators that weekend that he had a chance to be a good college quarterback who just needed some snaps."
What about the other five-stars?
So Winston and Collins are two former five-star inside the top ten. Where did the other 15 guys land? Did they live up to their lofty college expectations?
I think it’s safe to say that no one had more pressure than Dorial Green-Beckham. From Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest, DGB was the top-rated wide receiver in the 2012 class. He stayed home and played for Missouri. When he was there he played well. The progress he made from year one to year two was significant. But Green-Beckham had too many off the field issues and was dismissed from the team. He enrolled at Oklahoma but never played a down. He will get drafted later this week and is currently No. 22 in the Top 100.
"DGB is probably the top receiver I have ever scouted coming out of high school,” said Greg Powers, national recruiting analyst who specializes in the Midlands region. “He had a rawness but as far as size, athletic ability, and pure playmaking skills I have not seen anyone better. He never got to quite realize that high potential. So logically he has to avoid those [off the field] problems, stay on the field and get top-level coaching."
A pair of former five-star linemen check in at No. 17 and 18 respectively in former LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins and former Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown. They both lived up to the hype of being one of the best at their positions coming out of high school and should be selected in the first round on Thursday.
T.J. Clemmings is an interesting player. He signed with Pitt as a five-star defensive end. He will be drafted some time on Thursday (maybe Friday) as a right tackle. Then you have a player like former five-star Shaq Thompson from Washington. This is a young man that played running back and defense. Some teams like him as a weak-side linebacker while others see him as a safety. Clemmings and Thompson check in at No. 23 and 24.
Two spots later you have another former five-star defensive end in Owamagbe Odighizuwa. He would be rated a higher had it not been for some hips issues.
Former five-star recruit Arik Armstead check in at No. 28. This kid was freaky good, even playing basketball at Oregon for two years. What I remember most from a few years ago is that we basically had a consensus that he would be a top ten guy as an offensive tackle. Just look at his size, length, athletic ability and footwork. But he will get strong first round consideration as a defensive lineman.
Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (FSU), outside linebacker Eli Harold (Virginia), inside linebacker Stephone Anthony (Clemson), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma), offensive tackle D.J. Humphries (Florida), quarterback Brett Hundley (UCLA), and running back Duke Johnson (Miami) are all former five-star alum who are considered players that will go in day one or day two of the draft.
The final five-star recruit that I wanted to mention was Mario Edwards. He checks in at No. 91 overall. There’s no doubt that he will play in the NFL. He will most likely be a mid-round selection. Edwards played well in Tallahassee, but not crazy good like we expect from all of these elite players.
Strong Group Of Running Backs
It’s a strong class of running backs, especially the top two players in Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. It’s unfortunate that Gurley is coming off a knee injury. Had he been healthy like Gordon I think he would have been a slam dunk top ten player and arguably this draft’s most talented prospect. What’s interesting about Gurley is that he was a highly sought after four-star recruit and the No. 13 running back in his class. But he came to Athens with another runner that was even more highly touted in Keith Marshall.
Gordon was a three-star and the No. 38 ranked back. He’s rated just ahead of Gurley now. In fact, they are No. 15 and 16 in the Top 100. What’s interesting is that Gordon is from the same high school as Trae Waynes, Kenosha (Wi.) Bradford. Waynes was class of 2010 while Gordon was 2011. But Bradford high school should be proud with two potential first round picks.
Rolling with Rollins
Quinten Rollins is one of the story lines of this draft. He played basketball at Miami (Ohio) before converting to the game of football in 2014. Now he finds himself on the cusp of being one of the top cornerbacks drafted. In fact, some believe he could fall in the later stages of the first round. That’s truly amazing if you think about it. Would you believe Rollins had seven interceptions in his only season on the gridiron last fall? He was so good last fall he earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in the MAC.
It’s easy to say we missed on Rollins but then again so did everyone else because he spent his first three years in college were spent exclusively playing hoops.
The Junior College Trend
For the most part high school players have to go the junior college route because of poor academics. That’s the case with some players in this top 100 like Gregory, Kevin White, Steven Nelson, Paul Dawson, Damarious Randall, Zadarius Smith and Marcus Hardison. These prospects did well to right their ship and put themselves in this position.
The same can be said for wide receiver Jaelen Strong. He had some small school offers from elected to attend Pierce Community College first in hope of enhancing his recruiting stock. It worked, as Strong earned a handful of scholarship offers from coast to coast before selecting Arizona State. The rest is history.
Small School Misses
Of course there were some small school misses like Tre McBride (William and Mary), David Johnson (Northern Iowa), and MyCole Pruitt (Southern Illinois).
Related stories: NFL Rosters Breakdown Series
Part 1 - Daddy, where are NFL players from?
Part 2- Where do student-athletes major in the NFL?
Part 3 - Drafted vs Undrafted Players
Part 4 – Positional Breakdowns of the NFL: Where are they from?
Part 5 - NFL Veterans: Where are they from?
Part 6 – Top NFL Producing High Schools