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November 28, 2012

Rankings of Yore: Clowney remains head of class


MORE RANKINGS OF YORE: Nov. 16 | Nov. 9 | Nov. 1

Each week, Rivals.com's national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell will take a look at what we got right -- and what we got wrong -- in our past player evaluations. We call it Rankings of Yore.

No Clowning Around

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney entered the college game with a great deal of hype, and it is safe to say that he has not disappointed as he finishes up his sophomore season at South Carolina.

Saturday night against Clemson, Clowney once again showed the country of what he is capable. While playing with a sprained foot and a bruised knee, Clowney led the Gamecocks' defense with seven tackles and a very impressive 4.5 sacks. Two of the sacks also came when it really mattered, during Clemson's final two possessions in the 27-17 South Carolina win.

His 4.5 sack performance gave him a total of 13, which set the South Carolina single-season record. For those who had the privilege of seeing him in action at the high school level, his high-level of performance at South Carolina is not a surprise. His potential coming out of Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe was off the charts, which is why he was ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the country and is tops on my list of high school talent I've seen in more than a decade of scouting.

Clowney held this ranking from the start and never truly came close to giving up the title, a bell-to-bell ranking that was pretty much a consensus in the industry. Other top recruits who tried to push along the way included Curtis Grant, Cyrus Kouandjio and De'Anthony Thomas, but none really came close.

Clowney finished his junior season in high school with 144 tackles and 23 sacks, but the offers began rolling in long before that. From the start, Clowney claimed South Carolina as a favorite and while his recruiting process dragged itself out until after National Signing Day in 2011, it was no real surprise that he ended up playing for the Gamecocks. The top two competitors for Clowney at the end were Alabama and Clemson which makes his performance against the Tigers on Saturday an even more bitter pill to swallow for the fans at Death Valley.

However, Clemson fans knew from Day One he was not going to be a Tiger, with Alabama thought to be the only true threat. Clowney did take his last visit to Clemson before his decision, but most felt it was out of respect for the in-state program and coaches. Clowney's size and especially his quickness off the ball are unmatched at the high school level and we may never see another talent like him again.

This year's No. 1, Georgia defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, falls well short of Clowney's talent level coming out of high school and next year's No. 1, defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, has a chance to push Clowney, but is not on the same pace heading out of his junior season. We could be comparing defensive ends to Clowney for many years to come.

[ Watch: Looking back: More Clowney prospect video ]

What a Heel

While often not mentioned as one of the top quarterbacks in the country, Bryn Renner of North Carolina is piecing together a very impressive career with the Tar Heels. On Saturday, the redshirt junior finished off his 2012 season by completing 28 of 39 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns during a 45-38 shootout victory over Maryland.

His performance on Saturday once against etched his name in the North Carolina record books. His five-touchdown effort tied the single-game school record, which he had also accomplished earlier this season against Louisville. He also established a single-season school record of 28 touchdown passes, which surpassed his record of 26 set during the 2011 season.

A Class of 2009 four-star prospect out of West Springfield, Va., Renner quickly became a priority for college coaches after a junior season that saw him pass for 2,749 yards and 32 touchdowns. Offers began to roll in during the winter after that junior season, with the Tar Heels being joined by Virginia Tech, Maryland, Michigan State, West Virginia and Wake Forest. While he was very likely to receive more offers, Renner decided to end his recruiting process in late March of 2008 with a commitment to the Tar Heels.

Ranked as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback in the country, No. 111 overall recruit and the No. 6 player in Virginia, Renner had the opportunity to compete in the Elite 11 finals that summer with other top quarterbacks such as Tajh Boyd, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Eugene Smith and Zach Mettenberger. Renner's national ranking placed him behind Boyd, Murray, and also Matt Barkley and Garrett Gilbert.

[ Watch: Looking back: Bryn Renner prospect video ]

Chronicles of Riddick

Playing in the most important game of his football career to this point, senior running back Theo Riddick was called upon time and again by the Notre Dame coaching staff, and time and again he produced in the clutch. Riddick finished the day with 20 carries for 146 yards and one touchdown, and chipped in with three receptions for 33 yards, as the Fighting Irish defeated USC and punched their ticket to the BCS National Championship game.

It has been an interesting road for Riddick since he made his way to South Bend from Somerville (N.J.) Immaculata. Riddick began his playing career as a running back and on special teams during his freshman season, then was moved to wide receiver in 2010, only to be moved back to running back at the end of the 2011 season after Jonas Gray sustained an injury. His senior season has seen him back at his natural running back position, where he has also been able to showcase his pass receiving skills. He leads Notre Dame in rushing with 904 yards and five touchdowns, while also being the third-leading receiver on the team with 35 receptions for 364 yards and one touchdown.

Riddick was a four-star prospect in the Class of 2009, and was ranked No. 4 in New Jersey, No. 242 nationally and No. 10 as an all-purpose back. With his level of play this season, it is easy to say that his career may have been even more productive if he stayed at running back throughout his four years in South Bend.

However, because of the flip-flopping, it is hard to really compare the end product with some of the backs in his class. Riddick was ranked just behind backs such as Rex Burkhead (Nebraska) and Mike Gillislee (Florida), and just ahead of other productive backs such as Ray Graham (Pitt) and Tavon Austin (West Virginia).

[ Watch: Looking back: Theo Riddick prospect video ]

Sooner than later

Once Landry Jones decided to officially return for his senior season at Oklahoma, everyone knew that he was capable of producing some absurd numbers this fall for the Sooners. Saturday was a perfect example of this, as Jones completed 46 of 71 passes for 500 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-48 victory over rival Oklahoma State.

Saturday's performance also helped Jones to once again rewrite the record books. Both his completion and attempt numbers from this game broke his own school records, while his 16,124 yards make him the Big 12 career yardage leader over Graham Harrell and moves him into third all-time in NCAA history.

Making his way out of Artesia, N.M., Jones was a four-star pro-style quarterback and the No. 1 player coming out of his state. On top of that he was also No. 6 at his position and No. 188 overall nationally. Jones was part of a very interesting group of pro-style quarterbacks in the Class of 2008. Ranked in front of him were a couple of very familiar names such as Andrew Luck and Blaine Gabbert, plus others who fizzled such as Star Jackson and Dayne Crist.

At Artesia High School, Jones finished his junior season with 3,432 yards and 45 touchdowns, and then followed that up with 3,850 yards and 44 touchdowns during his senior season. Jones actually leapt onto the Oklahoma recruiting radar after a summer camp performance in Norman before his junior season even began. Jones' first offers came from Virginia, Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico State, and while the Sooners did not offer Jones until March after his junior season, a commitment came less than a month later.

[ Watch: Looking back: Landry Jones prospect video ]

Level the field

Talent was never an issue for cornerback Janoris Jenkins, however everything else in his life seemed to constantly slow down his progress. On Sunday, the St. Louis Rams rookie showed everyone in the NFL the ability and potential that he has shown since he was dominating the high school level at Pahokee High School in Florida.

Jenkins returned two interceptions for touchdowns, helping the Rams to a much-needed 31-17 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

Jenkins' returns of 36 and 39 yards not only helped the Rams win the game, but historically it put his accomplishment in the record books. No NFL rookie had returned two interceptions for a touchdown since 1960, and he's also the first Rams rookie to accomplish the feat.

The second-round draft pick, who was inactive as recently as two weeks ago against San Francisco for violating team rules, has had a rocky road to the NFL. Even though he has obvious first-round talent, he slipped to the second-round of the draft after a series of bad decisions. He was booted from the Florida Gators following a pair of marijuana-related incidents, which led him to finish his college playing days at North Alabama. His time at Florida, while rocky, also showed his potential. He was named Freshman All-American in 2008 as the Gators won the National Championship and finished his time there by starting 36 of his 40 games.

Coming out of high school, Jenkins was a four-star prospect, ranked No. 51 nationally, No. 8 in Florida and as the No. 6 cornerback in the country in the class of 2008. The No. 1 cornerback in that class was Patrick Johnson, who is now better known as Patrick Peterson, while a few of the other cornerbacks ranked in front of him had similar off-the-field problems, such as Alonzo Lawrence at Alabama and Boubacar Cissoko at Michigan. Jenkins committed to Florida early but did take a visit to Auburn during the process and flirted with the Tigers a bit. One of his lead recruiters at Auburn was none other than current Gators head coach Will Muschamp.

[ Watch: Looking back: Janoris Jenkins prospect video ]

Dez-zling talent

Similar to Janoris Jenkins, another player who has had to deal with plenty of off-the-field issues recently is Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys.

Because of these issues, Bryant dropped to the end of the first round of the 2010 draft, and after a couple of up-and-down seasons, he may finally be finding his stride.

During a loss to Washington on Thanksgiving, Bryant had eight receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns, which combined with his 12-reception, 145-yard, one-touchdown performance the week before, has people believing that Bryant is now here to stay.

On pace for his first 1,000-yard season in the NFL, Bryant's future has been a question mark for a few years now. He lost a majority of his final college season at Oklahoma State when he was suspended by the NCAA for lying about a dinner with former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders. He was also questioned about missing team meetings and somehow bringing the wrong shoes to his Pro Day in Stillwater.

After getting drafted with the 24th pick of the first round, his rookie season was rather uneventful with only 561 yards receiving. Then more trouble occurred in early 2011 as he was kicked out of an upscale Texas mall for wearing his pants too low, and soon after it was discovered that he had almost $1 million in unpaid bills from jewelry and game tickets.

Another uneventful season followed, which was diminished by an arrest last summer when he allegedly struck his mother in the face. Those charges might be dismissed, but the damage has obviously already been done.

But nobody will question Bryant's talent on the field. A four-star recruit out of Lufkin, Texas, in the class of 2007, Bryant totaled more than 2,000 yards receiving and 26 touchdowns during his last two seasons in high school. Bryant held many impressive offers, but at the end it came down to the Cowboys and Texas Tech, with Oklahoma State picking up the commitment a few days before National Signing Day. LSU was long considered the favorite for Bryant but the Tigers backed off due to academics. Bryant was the No. 9 ranked wide receiver in the country in the Class of 2007, as well as the No. 7 player in Texas and the No. 54 player nationally. Everyone knew he had five-star talent at the time but academics and other issues held us back from pushing him higher in the rankings.

Bryant was part of what turned out to be an extremely disappointing group of receivers, with Arrelious Benn being the only receiver ranked in front of him who has made any kind of impression on the NFL to this point. That class had five different five-star receivers - Ronald Johnson, Terrance Toliver, Chris Culliver, Dwight Jones and Benn -- but Bryant clearly had the most upside and the most baggage. That still remains the case all these years later.

[ Watch: Looking back: Dez Bryant prospect video ]

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Mike Farrell is the national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Click here to follow him on Twitter.



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