How many five-star LBs lived up to the hype in the last 10 years?


SDS will be taking a look around the country, as well as the SEC, at five-star prospects according to Here are the linebackers.

Previous five-star articles:

There are currently five five-star linebackers in Reuben Foster, Alex Anzalone, Jaylon Smith, Matthew Thomas and Mike Mitchell.

And over the course of the last decade, there have been 32 five-star linebackers. Let’s see who lived up to all that hype.

2003 – 3 LBs

Ernie Sims, FSU: Sims was the top overall player in the country ahead of Reggie Bush in 2003, and the Tallahassee native chose to play for the hometown Noles. And he lived up to the five-star hype in a major way, playing in 38 consecutive games. Sims looked like he had layers of muscle as a 19-year-old. He was a first-team All-American in 2004, and he was chosen in the ‘06 draft as a first-rounder with the Lions. He currently plays for the Cowboys.

Wesley Jefferson, Maryland: Jefferson redshirted his first year on campus and never really turned out to be the player everyone thought. Jefferson gave up football and enrolled in the Maryland State Police Training Academy before his senior season. He was a five-star bust as a player.

LaMarr Woodley, Michigan: Woodley played both defensive end and linebacker in college for Lloyd Carr and became an All-Big Ten player of the year as well as an All-American. Woodley totaled 30.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in his sophomore and junior year. He was a second-round pick with the Steelers in ’07 where he still plays.

LBs ranked lower: Patrick Willis, Jon Beason and Paul Posluszny

2004 – 6 LBs

Keith Rivers, USC: Rivers was one of the most highly touted linebackers out of high school, and he ended up signing with USC. He amassed 240 total tackles, including 18.5 for losses. Rivers became an All-American at USC and was a first-rounder with the Bengals in ‘08. He currently plays for the Giants. Rivers may be labeled an NFL bust, but he lived up to the hype in college.

Dan Connor, Penn State: Connor played four years for Penn State and was an All-American his junior and senior season for Joe Paterno. He left PSU as the all-time leading tackler in Nittany Lion history, and he became third-round pick for the Panthers. He now plays for the Cowboys.

Brian Toal, Boston College: Toal was the Big East’s rookie of the year, but injuries eventually took their toll on Toal. He missed most of the ‘07 and ‘08 seasons, and he never completely lived up to his potential. He went undrafted in 2009 and last suited up for the Jets in ‘11.

Willie Williams, Miami: Williams had the potential to be an All-World linebacker, but his troubled past got the best of him. He ended up getting into Miami but transferred to West Los Angeles CC then onto Louisville. At the Ville, he was arrested once more and eventually landed at NAIA school Union College. What a bust!

Kyle Williams, Iowa: Williams was never cleared to play at Iowa because of grades, and he sat out a year before playing for Purdue. However, in three separate incidents between November of ‘05 and February of ‘06, Williams attacked and/or battered and/or attempted to rape three different women in two states. How about a re-ranking of zero stars?

Chris Patterson, Oklahoma: Patterson signed at OU with Adrian Peterson in ‘04, but he never made it on campus. He struggled with academics and failed to qualify. Patterson bounced around schools and eventually signed with Kansas State and only made 18 tackles during his injury-plagued career. What a bust!

LBs ranked lower: Lawrence Timmons, Dannell Ellerbe, Jerod Mayo, Tamba Hali, David Harris and Anthony Spencer

2005 – 3 LBs

Rey Maualuga, USC: Maualuga is an All-American incarnate, landing on the prestigious team three years in a row. In addition, he was the Bednarick Award winner in ‘08, along with being the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and the Rose Bowl MVP. He was a second-round pick in ‘09 with the Bengals where he still plays. Maualuga is one of the best linebackers ever in college football.

Tray Blackmon, Auburn: Blackmon and Maualuga couldn’t have had more opposite careers. Blackmon battled injuries and suspensions throughout his career. He was all sizzle and no steak, and his career ended when he failed to enroll in classes and turned his attention to the CFL. He went undrafted and played some in the CFL for Calgary. Blackmon was a bust.

Ryan Reynolds, Oklahoma: Reynolds was a solid player for the Sooners at linebacker, but injuries marred what should have been a great career. He did total 188 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in his four-year career, but the five-star hype was never warranted. Again, it was mostly due to injuries.

LBs ranked lower: Clay Matthews , Brian Cushing, Travis Beckum, Sean Lee, Pat Angerer, Aaron Curry, James Laurinaitis and Curtis Lofton

2006 – 4 LBs

Sergio Kindle, Texas: Kindle was a four-year player who appeared in 46 career games, and he was a potent linebacker/defensive end hybrid for the Longhorns. Kindle became the first-ever player to be named on Butkus and Hendricks Award watch list at the same time. He tallied 176 tackles, 16 sacks and 43 tackles for loss in his four-year career. Kindle became a second-round pick for the Ravens, where he played in 2012.

Brandon Graham, Michigan: Graham went to Michigan under Lloyd Carr but was unfortunately unlucky enough to play in the Rich Rod era. Graham was an elite talent for the Wolverines who moved to defensive end, and he lived up to the hype. He posted 138 tackles, 56 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks. Graham finished his career second in both sacks and tackles for loss for Michigan. He was a first-round pick with the Eagles, where he still plays today.

Allen Bradford, USC: Bradford switched to running back upon entering USC. He finished his career with 1,585 yards rushing and16 touchdowns in 52 games played. He was a sixth-round pick with the Bucs but last played for the Seahawks in 2011.

Brandon Spikes, Florida: Spikes played all four years at Florida despite having an opportunity to leave after his junior season. He was a finalist for the Bednarik, Butkus, All-SEC and All-American awards his senior year. He totaled 307 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Spikes was a second-round pick with the Patriots in ’10, where he still plays.

LBs ranked lower: Navorro Bowman, Bruce Carter, Kelvin Sheppard, Akeem Dent, Sean Weatherspoon and Daryl Washington

2007 – 2 LBs

Chris Donald, Tennessee: Donald is the epitome of a bust as a linebacker. He couldn’t cut it with the Vols and transferred to little brother UT-Chattanooga, looking to contribute. He had a solid career for the Mocs, but he was a five-star bust.

Chris Galippo, USC: Galippo had one good year with the Trojans as a sophomore, but over the long haul of his four-year career, he underachieved. He battled injuries and eventually lost his starting job to Devon Kenard. He had a solid career, but he was a five-star bust.

LBs ranked lower: Rolando McClain, Casey Matthews, Austin Box, Von Miller, Lavonte David, Akeem Ayers, Martez Wilson, JK Wright and Rennie Curran

2008 – 2 LBs

Nigel Bradham, FSU: Bradham had a very good career for Florida State. He started from day one, he racked up an impressive 305 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in four years. The Bills picked him in the fourth-round of the ‘12 draft, where he currently plays. Bradham had an impressive career overall.

Arthur Brown, Miami: Brown has had a Jekyll and Hyde career. At Miami he was a bust, making only 17 tackles in two seasons. But after his transfer to Kansas State, he tallied two straight 100-tackle seasons, 17 tackles for loss and three sacks. He made a strong rebound for the Wildcats, and eventually you could argue that he lived up to his five-star hype.

LBs ranked lower: Aldon Smith, Nick Perry, Bruce Taylor, Ryan Baker, Lerentee McCray, Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower and Sean Spence

2009 – 5 LBs

Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State: The former USC commit switched to ASU on signing day, and he played with a mean streak throughout his career. Burfict was a sophomore All-American, but he underachieved as a junior. He left ASU early for the NFL Draft where he went undrafted in ‘12 but signed with the Bengals. Burfict had enormous upside, but he didn’t live up to the hype and never became the player everyone though he could be. He also had character issues to combat.

Manti Te’o, Notre Dame: Te’o was one of the top prospects in the ‘09 class from Hawaii, and he’ll be known more for being duped by a guy posing as a fake girlfriend than his play on the field, unfortunately. But he had a very strong career at UND, racking up 437 tackles, 34 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also tallied seven INTs as a junior and should be a first- or second-round pick in 2013. Amidst all the Catfish talk, Te’o lived up to the five-star hype.

Jelani Jenkins, Florida: Jenkins entered UF as a stellar athlete with speed to burn as an outside linebacker. Jenkins totaled 180 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks in three seasons. He left Florida a year early and opted for the NFL Draft this spring. Jenkins has a world of potential, but staying in school for his senior season may have been the best decision he could have made. Jenkins, however, made the opposite.

Nico Johnson, Alabama: Johnson just ended his career with his third national championship in four seasons, and he was an impact player for the Tide. He totaled 162 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Maybe he didn’t live up to the five-star studded hype, but he was a solid player throughout his career.

Dorian Bell, Ohio State: Bell was a tremendous all-around athlete heading to OSU, and he redshirted his first season. His freshman season only saw him make nine tackles, and he was suspended for the entire ‘11 season. He transferred to Duquesne and was a bust for OSU.

LBs ranked lower: Luke Kuechly, Jarvis Jones, Kevin Minter, Jon Bostic, Kyle Van Noy and Trent Murphy

2010 – 2 LBs

Jordan Hicks, Texas: Hicks had a strong sophomore season, but his freshman and junior season were lacking. Hicks has tallied 89 tackles, seven tackles for loss and only two sacks in three seasons. He has underwhelmed thus far.

Christian Jones, FSU: Christian Jones is a physical specimen for FSU and has played very well in his three-year career. Jones has racked up 167 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and six sacks in three seasons, and he’s returning for another year at FSU.

LBs ranked lower: CJ Mosley, Alec Ogletree and Anthony Barr

2011 – 5 LBs

Curtis Grant, Ohio State: Grant hasn’t played much for Ohio State in the first two years, and he’s made only 10 total tackles in two seasons.

CJ Johnson, Ole Miss: Johnson switched to a defensive end upon arriving at Ole Miss. He’s made a strong impact the last two seasons, racking up 87 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He’s going to be a player in 2013.

Tony Steward, Clemson: Steward has torn both ACLs in the last three years, and he has yet to really make an impact for Clemson, as he has notched only 23 total tackles in two seasons.

Kris Frost, Auburn: Frost has yet to really make an impact at Auburn after two years, but he should make a splash in 2013 for Gus Malzahn.

Stephone Anthony, Clemson: Anthony has been a good player for the last couple of years for the Tigers. He’s totaled 94 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

LBs ranked lower: James Vaughters, Denzel Nkemdiche, Lamar Dawson, AJ Johnson and Trey DePriest

2012 – 0 LBs

No five-star LBs

LBs ranked lower: Denzel Devall, Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires, Reggie Ragland, Jabari Ruffin, Noor Davis and Antonio Morrison

Lived up to the hype

  • Ernie Sims, FSU
  • LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
  • Keith Rivers, USC
  • Dan Connor, Penn State
  • Rey Maualuga, USC
  • Sergio Kindle, Texas
  • Brandon Spikes, Florida
  • Nigel Bradham, FSU
  • Manti Te’o, Notre Dame

Switched positions and still lived up to the hype

  • Brandon Graham, Michigan (DE)

Good careers but mixed reviews

  • Ryan Reynolds, Oklahoma
  • Allen Bradford, USC (RB)
  • Arthur Brown, Miami and Kansas State
  • Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
  • Jelani Jenkins, Florida
  • Nico Johnson, Alabama


  • Wesley Jefferson, Maryland
  • Brian Toal, Boston College
  • Willie Williams, Miami
  • Kyle Williams, Iowa
  • Chris Patterson, Oklahoma
  • Tray Blackmon, Auburn
  • Chris Donald, Tennessee
  • Chris Galippo, USC
  • Dorian Bell, Ohio State


  • Jordan Hicks, Texas
  • Christian Jones, FSU
  • Curtis Grant, Ohio State
  • CJ Johnson, Ole Miss
  • Tony Steward, Clemson
  • Kris Frost, Auburn
  • Stephone Anthony, Clemson

Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports



You must be logged in to post a comment. Please sign in or register

  • UGA has done just fine at the LB position over the last 10 years without a single 5 Star guy. And Bama can have this one…give me that 3 star guy with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Ryne Rankin will work just fine. No room for Divas in the front seven.

  • Chris Donald was arguably the most overrated recruit ever. You look at his highlight film and he looks like a college kid playing against Pee Wee players. In fact, he probably was, thus the reason he looked good on film. Such a bust.

  • One Alabama LB that barely missed the 10-year requirements for the list is DeMeco Ryans. Ryans came to Alabama in 2002 as a 3-star recruit. Ryans was one the leaders of the 2005 squad that helped turn the program around. Overlooked once again, Ryans was drafted by the Texans with the 33rd overall pick. He would go on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Continue scrolling for more articles.