SEC football: 10 3-stars who vastly outperformed their recruiting rankings
When it comes to recruiting talk, all the attention goes to the 5-star studs. The “can’t-miss” athletes hog the headlines, and deservedly so. And when they don’t get all the attention, it’s the 4-star recruits that come into focus. Those are generally thought to be the heart and soul of any high-profile program.
But what about those 3-star athletes, the ones who are usually overlooked and largely forgotten about? They are anything but throwaway recruits, as history repeats year in and year out.
There's roughly 29 5-Star recruits per class & 300K 3 star & Below. DUH there r going to be more former 3* & below on #Probowl Rosters!
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) December 21, 2016
History has shown that more often than most would imagine, those 3-star recruits blossom into full-fledged stars, both at the collegiate level and on into the NFL.
So here’s a look at 10 of those 3-star recruits who refused to toil in the shadows of their more honored teammates and moved, or are moving, to the front of the line. These 10 were among SEC recruiting classes from 2015 through 2018.
We’ll call it the Nick Fitzgerald All-Star Team, after the Mississippi State quarterback who didn’t allow his 3-star status to label him or deter him from greatness. Note that these are all 3-star recruits, as we tip our hats to Kentucky 2-star linebacker Josh Allen, a potential first-round pick.
QB Chad Kelly (Ole Miss)
A transfer from Clemson, Kelly led the SEC in passing both in 2015 (4,042 yards, 31 TDs) and 2016 (306.4-yard average per game) before being selected by the Denver Broncos with the final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He is currently a free agent.
QB Jordan Ta’amu (Ole Miss, Sr.)
He led the SEC in passing this season with 3,918 yards and threw for 19 touchdowns. Over his two-year career at Ole Miss, Ta’amu threw for a total of 5,600 yards and 30 touchdowns.
K Eddy Pineiro (Florida)
Had 38 field goals and scored 170 points over the 2016 and 2017 seasons at Florida. He left school after his junior year to go pro and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders in May 2018.
S Justin Evans (Texas A&M)
A vicious tackler, Evans was third on the Aggies in tackles (78) in 2015 and second (87) in 2016 before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who selected him in the second round as the 50th overall pick in 2017. In his second season with the Bucs, Evans has already recorded 125 tackles and picked off 4 passes.
WR Damion Ratley (Texas A&M)
Second on the team in receiving in 2017 with 694 yards and 6 touchdowns on 30 receptions, Ratley was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. In his first season with the Browns, Ratley has seen action in 11 games, starting three, and has 13 receptions for 144 yards.
P Braden Mann (Texas A&M, Jr.)
He led the nation in punting with a 51.15-yard average over 47 punts this season and was recently voted unanimously for All-American. With the Gator Bowl remaining, Mann is on pace to set the all-time NCAA record, currently held by LSU’s Chad Kessler, who averaged 50.3 yards in 1997. He has 14 punts of at least 60 yards this season, also a single-season all-time record.
RB Benny Snell (Kentucky, Jr.)
Second in the SEC in rushing this season with 1,305 yards and 14 touchdowns, Snell was third last season (1,333 yards, 19 TDs). He has opted to forego his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. He needs to rush for 107 yards in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day against Penn State to become Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher.
RB Rico Dowdle (South Carolina, Jr.)
He led the Gamecocks in rushing two of the last three seasons, totaling 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns, far exceeding the expectations of a 3-star recruit. And he still has another year of eligibility left.
LB De’Jon Harris (Arkansas, Jr.)
He led the SEC with 118 tackles this season after finishing third (115) in the conference a year ago. Over parts of three seasons, Harris has piled up 270 total tackles, including 19.5 for loss. He has 6.5 sacks and another year of eligibility, announcing recently that he will return to the Razorbacks for his senior year.
LB Cale Garrett (Missouri, Jr.)
Among the conference’s top six in tackles each of the last two seasons with more than 100 in both, Garrett has worked himself into one of the tops at his position. And he has a year of eligibility to hone those skills and let NFL scouts get an even better look at him.