5-star DBs in the last decade: stars, busts and in between
As we examine the 5-star recruits over the last decade, read about each position:
There are six five-star defensive back prospects in the 2015 recruiting class, matching the total from last year’s class and tying for the second-most five-star recruits in any one class during the last decade.
There have been 43 five-star defensive backs in the last 10 recruiting classes, 21 of which began their careers in the SEC. The success of these 43 cornerbacks and safeties varied, as some went on to have illustrious careers in college and the NFL, while others faded into anonymity.
NOTE: Player ratings based on 247Sports recruiting rankings.
2005 – 5 DBs
Demetrice Morley, Tennessee: Morley broke into the Tennessee starting lineup as a sophomore in 2006, recording 51 tackles and two interceptions, but he was dismissed from the team prior to the 2007 season due to academic troubles. He returned to Tennessee in 2008 after a year at Pellissippi State Technical Community College, but was dismissed again by head coach Lane Kiffin prior to his senior season in 2009 due to behavioral issues and missed meetings and workouts. He went on to play in the Canadian Football League until he was released by the Toronto Argonauts in May 2014.
Justin King, Penn State: King saw time on both offense and defense as a freshman at Penn State in 2005, then assumed a starting cornerback role beginning in 2006. He maintained his starting job for two years, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2006 and first-team all-conference honors in 2007. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft and spent six seasons in the NFL.
Jamario O’Neal, Ohio State: O’Neal played in at least nine games in all four of his seasons at Ohio State from 2005-08, but he was never able to develop into the dominant cover corner many thought he’d be when he was recruited out of high school. He recorded just 49 tackles, one interception and four passes defended in 46 career games and never went on to have a career in professional football.
Derek Pegues, Mississippi State: Pegues was a high school All-American who signed with Mississippi State and head coach Sly Croom. He earned playing time in 11 games as a freshman, although he did not make a start that year. Pegues went on to start every game for MSU during his final three years in Starkville, twice earning All-SEC honors. He went undrafted in 2009 but spent some time with the NFL’s Chicago Bears before signing with the Canadian Football League.
Kenny Phillips, Miami (Fla.): Phillips wasted no time making an impact at Miami, earning freshman All-ACC honors in 2005 upon finishing third on the team with 67 tackles. He asserted himself as the star of the defense beginning with his sophomore year in 2006, and in two years from 2006-07 he recorded 137 tackles, 11 pass breakups, six interceptions and three forced fumbles. He was twice named a first-team All-ACC performer and a second-team All-American, and he left school before his senior season to enter the NFL. Phillips was a first round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and just completed his seventh year in the league.
Notable DBs: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
2006 – 2 DBs
Myron Rolle, Florida State: Rolle was as intelligent as he was talented during his career at Florida State, earning himself opportunities both as an athlete and as a student once his Seminoles career came to an end. In three years from 2006-08, Rolle developed into one of the finest defensive backs in the nation from his safety position. He earned a starting job for all three years, recording 206 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and four passes defended in that time. He was touted as a sure-fire NFL prospect, but upon being offered a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study for free at Oxford University in England, Rolle opted to pursue the scholarship during the 2009-10 academic year. After earning a Master of Science in medical anthropology, Rolle entered the NFL Draft in 2010 and was a sixth-round pick. He spent three years in the NFL and is now enrolled in medical school at Florida State.
Antwine Perez, USC/Maryland: Perez began his career at USC in 2006, spending the season as a backup primarily contributing on special teams. He transferred to Maryland after the 2006 season to earn more playing time and be closer to home, and after sitting out a year due to the transfer he broke into the lineup in 2008, appearing in all 13 games including two starts. Perez never earned all-conference honors, but was slated as a promising draft prospect following his third collegiate season in 2009. Many thought Perez would have been a mid-round selection in 2010, but he instead opted to return to school. Following a mediocre 2010 season Perez went undrafted in 2011, ending his football career.
Notable DBs: Shareece Wright, USC; Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State
2007 – 3 DBs
Eric Berry, Tennessee: Berry was as dynamic a playmaker as Tennessee has had at any position in recent memory, flying all over the field as a star safety from 2007-09. He recorded at least 72 tackles to go along with multiple interceptions in each of his three seasons in Knoxville, closing his college career with 245 tackles, 14 interceptions, 31 passes defended, two forced fumbles and three career touchdowns. He was twice named a first-team All-SEC selection and was twice named a unanimous All-American. As a sophomore in 2008 he was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, and he went on to be the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. He was a three-time Pro Bowler during his NFL career and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2013. His 2014 season, and perhaps his pro career, were cut short in 2014 when Berry was diagnosed Hodgkin lymphoma in November.
Ronald Johnson, USC: Johnson played both cornerback and wide receiver in high school, and upon arriving at USC in 2007 he was moved permanently to wideout following the departures of Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett. In his final three collegiate seasons from 2008-10, Johnson caught 131 passes for 1,640 yards and 19 touchdowns. His crowning achievement as a collegian was his two-touchdown performance in the 2009 Rose Bowl, although he never earned all-conference honors while at USC. Johnson did record five tackles during his career, all on special teams, and he’s spent four years in the NFL after being taken in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Eugene Clifford, Ohio State: Clifford played in four games as a freshman at Ohio State in 2007, but was suspended at the end of the season for violating team rules and was later arrested on misdemeanor charges prior to the start of the 2008 season. The arrest forced him to transfer to Tennessee State, where he immediately earned a starting role and was twice named an All-Ohio Valley Conference performer. Clifford went undrafted in 2011 but spent time on the Baltimore Ravens roster in 2011.
Notable DBs: Chris Culliver, South Carolina; Major Wright, Florida; Earl Thomas, Texas
2008 – 4 DBs
Will Hill, Florida: Hill made an immediate impact on Florida’s 2008 BCS national championship team, recording 48 tackles, two interceptions and three passes defended on his way to earning freshman All-SEC honors. Hill remained a starter in Florida’s secondary in 2009-10, recording 96 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, four passes defended and a forced fumble in that time. He went undrafted in 2012 but never quit on his dream of playing in the NFL, eventually earning himself a spot on the New York Giants following a half a season with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. Hill remains in the NFL as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
Patrick Peterson, LSU: Peterson was among the best players at any position in the SEC during his career at LSU from 2008-10, and he now stars as one of the premier cornerbacks in the NFL as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. The 2007 USA Today High School Defensive Player of the Year broke into LSU’s starting lineup before the end of his freshman season in 2008, and asserted himself as a dominant corner in 2009 following an impressive outing against Georgia’s A.J. Green (now with the Cincinnati Bengals). By his junior season in 2010 Peterson was awarded the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back, and the Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player. He was also named a first-team All-SEC performer and a unanimous All-American before being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Peterson also returned kickoffs and punts in college, returning two for touchdowns in 2010 as the SEC’s Special Teams Player of the Year. He’s been a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time first-team All-Pro during his four-year NFL career.
Brandon Harris, Miami (Fla.): Harris broke into Miami’s staring lineup as a cornerback for the Hurricanes’ final six games in 2008, and by 2009 the full-time starter earned first-team All-ACC honors and was named a second-team All-American. He earned all-conference and All-America honors again as a junior in 2010, and when all was said and done he started 32 of his 39 career games as a collegiate, recording 133 tackles, four interceptions and 32 passes defended. He was taken in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and has spent four years starring in the NFL.
B.J. Scott, Alabama/South Alabama: Scott followed an unusual path throughout his college career, playing three seasons in a five-year span without ever playing in consecutive seasons. He saw time at wide receiver as a true freshman at Alabama in 2008 catching two passes for seven yards in nine games. He redshirted in 2009 and returned as a cornerback in the Crimson Tide lineup in 2010, recording six tackles, an interception and a pass defended that season. He sat out the 2011 season upon transferring to South Alabama, and in 2012 he recorded 84 tackles, two interceptions, five passes defended and two forced fumbles as the leader of the Jaguars defense.
Notable DBs: Mark Barron, Alabama; Brandon Boykin, Georgia
2009 – 5 DBs
Craig Loston, LSU: Loston arrived at LSU as a touted safety recruit expected to bolster the Tigers secondary. An injury early in his freshman season in 2009 forced him to take a redshirt that year, and he spent the 2010-11 seasons as a backup before breaking into the starting lineup in 2012. In two seasons as a starter, Loston recorded 112 tackles, five interceptions, six passes defended and a touchdown before going undrafted in 2014. He signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars following the draft and spent the 2014 season as a member of the Jags roster.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama: Kirkpatrick earned limited playing time in 12 games as a freshman on Alabama’s 2009 BCS national championship team, and eventually earned a starting role prior to the 2010 season. In two seasons as a starter, Kirkpatrick was twice named a second-team All-SEC performer upon recording 83 tackles, three interceptions, 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. He was also a member of Alabama’s 2011 national title team, and in 2012 he was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, a team for whom he still starts.
Branden Smith, Georgia: Smith began to emerge as one of Georgia’s top backups as a freshman in 2009, and in 2010 he started in all nine games in which he appeared, recording 17 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups. He only started 16 of the 28 games in which he appeared in 2011-12, recording 49 tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups in that time. He also spent time as a scat back and dual-threat quarterback on offense during his career, amassing 426 yards from scrimmage to go along with three touchdowns during his four years in Athens.
Greg Reid, Florida State: There was never a reason to question Reid’s talent during his time at Florida State, but off-field issues limited the star defensive back during his college days. He appeared in all 13 of FSU’s games as a freshman in 2009, leading the NCAA in punt return average by season’s end, and he was named the Defensive MVP of the 2010 Chick Fil A Bowl, which FSU won 26-17 over South Carolina. However, by 2012 he was dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules, and he ultimately finished his career at Valdosta State. Reid went undrafted in 2013 but spent part of the 2014 NFL season with the St. Louis Rams.
Darius Winston, Arkansas: Winston played in more than 30 games during his Arkansas career, but he never lived up to his billing as one of the top defensive backs in the class of 2009. In four years in Fayetteville, he recorded just 52 total tackles (13 per season), one interception and three passes defended. He never went on to have a pro football career.
Notable DBs: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina; DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina
2010 – 4 DBs
Dee Milliner, Alabama: Milliner earned playing time during his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa from 2010-11, but didn’t break into the starting lineup full-time until his junior season in 2012. However, by the end of his junior season Milliner was regarded as one of the top corners in all of college football, earning unanimous first-team All-American honors in addition to being named a finalist for the Thorpe Award. He went on to be a top 10 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, for whom he still plays.
Josh Shaw, Florida/USC: Shaw began his college career as a Florida Gator, where he redshirted in 2010 and recorded 22 tackles in 10 games as a reserve in 2011. He transferred to USC following the 2011 season, and recorded 97 tackles (including 7.5 for loss), six interceptions, 15 passes defended and a touchdown in his first two seasons as a Trojan in 2012-13. He missed most of the 2014 season while serving a suspension following a bizarre incident late in the preseason, and will be eligible to be drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft this April.
Keenan Allen, California: Allen played both receiver and defensive back in high school, and played primarily wide receiver while in school at Cal. For his career (from 2010-12), he recorded just seven total tackles in addition to catching 205 passes for 2,570 yards and 17 touchdowns. Allen was named a first-team All-Pac 12 performer in 2011, and was eventually taken in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. He was named the NFL’s 2013 Rookie of the Year by a number of major outlets.
Matt Elam, Florida: Elam saw limited playing time as a true freshman in 2010, but had his breakout season as a full-time starter in 2011, recording 78 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions, nine passes defended and two forced fumbles. He improved on those numbers as a junior in 2012, logging 100 tackles, 12.5 for loss, eight passes defended, two more picks and two more forced fumbles. He was rewarded for his stellar 2012 season by earning first-team All-SEC and All-America honors at season’s end. He passed on his senior year at Florida and left for the NFL a year early, where he was taken with the last pick of the first round of the 2013 draft.
Notable DBs: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU; Eric Reid, LSU
2011 – 1 DB
HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama: Clinton-Dix played in 13 games as a freshman in 2011, and started 10 games for Alabama in 2012, recording five interceptions and nine passes defended that season. He started all 11 games he played in 2012, recording two more interceptions and four pass breakups in addition to a career-high 51 tackles. Clinton-Dix was as dominant as any cover corner in the nation that season, earning first-team All-SEC and consensus All-America honors at season’s end. He went on to be selected by the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Notable DBs: Gerod Holliman, Louisville; Jabari Gorman, Florida; Damian Swann, Georgia
2012 – 4 DBs
Shaq Thompson, Washington: Thompson burst on the scene for Washington as a freshman in 2012, recording 74 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.o sacks, three interceptions and six passes defended in 13 games while earning second-team freshman All-America honors. However, that was only the start of Thompson’s illustrious career, as he went on to record two more 70-tackle seasons in 2013-14, logging 4.o tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, four passes defended, two forced fumbles and two touchdowns in that time. He was named a first-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Pac 12 performer in 2014, and was awarded the 2014 Hornung Award, given annually to the nation’s most versatile college football player. Thompson has already declared himself eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft, cementing his departure from Washington.
Landon Collins, Alabama: Collins closed the book on his Alabama career in 2014 as one of the nation’s most talented safeties, electing to pass on his senior season in 2015 in favor of entering the NFL Draft a year early. Collins came off the bench as a true freshman in 2012, seeing playing time in all 14 of Alabama’s games but recording just 17 tackles and a blocked punt. Alabama went on to win the BCS national title that year, and Collins was elevated to the starting lineup beginning the next season. He recorded 69 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and two interceptions as a sophomore, then improved on those numbers as a junior in 2014, logging 90 tackles and three interceptions. Collins was a first-team All-SEC performer in 2014 and was a unanimous All-America selection. He’s projected to be a first round pick in April’s draft.
Tracy Howard, Miami (Fla.): Howard just completed his third season at Miami, where he’s been a contributor on the defense since his freshman season. His best season came as a sophomore in 2013, when he recorded career-highs with 35 tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown. Last season he logged just 20 tackles and one interception. He is expected to return to Miami for his senior season in 2015.
Ronald Darby, Florida State: Darby wasted no time before making his impact felt on the FSU defense, logging 22 tackles, eight passes defended and a forced fumble as a freshman in 2012. He was rewarded for a strong freshman campaign by earning freshman All-America honors in addition to the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Darby went on to haul in two interceptions in 2013 and recorded a career-high 37 tackles in 2014 despite failing to record an interception. He was a member of FSU’s 2013 national title team, and has declared himself eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft, closing the book on his college career.
Notable DBs: Brian Poole, Florida; Geno Smith, Alabama; DeVante Harris, Texas A&M
2013 – 9 DBs
Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: Hargreaves made an immediate impact on the Gators secondary upon arriving in Gainesville, recording 38 tackles, three interceptions and 11 passes defended as a freshman in 2013. He was rewarded for his stellar rookie season by earning All-SEC honors as a true freshman. He was once again named a first-team All-SEC performer as a sophomore in 2014 after logging 50 tackles, three interceptions and 13 passes defended.
Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: Ramsey started at cornerback for every game of his freshman season in 2013, becoming the first Florida State freshman to start even one game at cornerback since Deion Sanders did so in 1985. He closed the season with 49 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. Ramsey improved on those numbers in 2014, registering 76 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: The younger brother of former Virginia Tech and current NFL stars Kyle and Corey Fuller, Kendall Fuller continued his family’s legacy in Blacksburg with a stellar freshman season in 2013. He logged 54 tackles and six interceptions upon starting 12 of the Hokies 13 games, earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors as a result. He started for the Hokies again in 2014, recording 50 tackles, two more picks and his first career touchdown on his way to first-team All-ACC honors.
MacKensie Alexander, Clemson: Alexander redshirted in 2013, but made his collegiate debut count in 2014. The redshirt freshman logged 21 tackles (including two for loss) and six passes defended, earning second-team freshman All-America honors as a result.
Su’a Cravens, USC: Cravens lived up to his five-star billing as a true freshman in 2013, recording 52 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He earned first-team freshman All-America honors as a result, and returned as a starting safety for the Trojans in 2014. His 2014 season was even better than his rookie campaign, as he registered a whopping 68 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, three interceptions (including a pick-six), nine pass breakups and five sacks. He was rewarded for his super sophomore season as a first-team All-Pac 12 honoree.
Vonn Bell, Ohio State: Bell made his presence known as a freshman at Ohio State in 2013, registering 19 tackles in 14 games as a reserve member of the OSU defense. He burst on the scene in 2014, recording 77 tackles and six interceptions as one of the most versatile playmakers at the defensive back position in the nation. He was recognized as an All-Big Ten honorable mention, and played a vital role in the Buckeyes 2014 College Football Playoff National Championship victory.
Max Redfield, Notre Dame: Redfield eased his way into the Notre Dame lineup as a freshman in 2013, recording just 11 tackles in 12 games, but he showed dramatic improvements as a sophomore in 2014. Redfield recorded 68 tackles and his first career interception last season, and is expected to be a starter on the Fighting Irish defense when the 2015 season begins.
Leon McQuay III, USC: McQuay shared playing time in the USC secondary as a freshman in 2013, but he made the most of his opportunities when he did see the field. He logged 19 tackles, four pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble as a freshman, and upon breaking into the starting lineup in 2014 he improved his numbers by a significant margin. As a sophomore aiming to compensate for the loss of Shaw to suspension at the beginning of the season, McQuay logged 36 tackles, two interceptions, four more passes defended and another forced fumble. He is expected to maintain a starting role again in 2015.
Tony Conner, Ole Miss: Conner was a member of Ole Miss’ touted 2013 recruiting class, recognized as one of the best in school history. He hasn’t had to carry a heavy workload through his first two collegiate seasons thanks to the depth in the Ole Miss secondary, but that didn’t stop him from posting productive numbers as a versatile safety capable of playing deep in coverage or near the line of scrimmage. For his career, Conner has recorded back to back 60-tackle seasons (135 total in 26 games), as well as 14 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, eight pass breakups and seven quarterback hurries. Conner will be looked to as the anchor of the Rebels secondary in 2015 following the departures of seniors Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt.
Notable DBs: Tre’Davious White, LSU; Chase Abbington, Missouri
2014 — 6 DBs
Adoree’ Jackson, USC: Played wide receiver and returned kicks as a true freshman, hauling in 10 receptions for 138 yards and three touchdowns. He also averaged 29.7 yards per return on 23 kickoff returns, including two return touchdowns.
Tony Brown, Alabama: Brown recorded eight tackles as a true freshman on Alabama’s defense, seeing limited playing time and earning two starts.
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama: Humphrey redshirted during the 2014 season.
Jalen Tabor, Florida: Tabor logged 28 tackles, two sacks and an interception as a true freshman in Florida’s talent-laden secondary, earning playing time alongside fellow touted defensive back prospects Hargreaves and Brian Poole.
Quin Blanding, Virginia: Blanding was far and away the most dynamic of the 2014 five-star defensive back prospects during their collective true freshmen seasons, recording a whopping 123 tackles and three interceptions for a Virginia defense that ranked 74th in the nation against the pass. He was named a freshman All-American and Scout.com named him the 2014 National Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Jamal Adams, LSU: Adams broke into the LSU lineup as a true freshman, registering 56 tackles and a sack for the season. He is expected to see more playing time in 2015 following the departures of Ronald Martin and cornerback Jalen Collins.
Notable DBs: Todd Kelly Jr., Tennessee; Damon Webb, Ohio State
LIVED UP TO THE HYPE
- Justin King, Penn State
- Kenny Phillips, Miami
- Myron Rolle, Florida State
- Eric Berry, Tennessee
- Will Hill, Florida
- Patrick Peterson, LSU
- Brandon Harris, Miami
- Craig Loston, LSU
- Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
- Dee Milliner, Alabama
- Keenan Allen, California
- Matt Elam, Florida
- HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama
- Shaq Thompson, Washington
- Landon Collins, Alabama
- Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
- Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
- Su’A Cravens, USC
- Quin Blanding, Virginia
- Derek Pegues, Mississippi State
- Ronald Johnson, USC
- B.J. Scott, Alabama/South Alabama
- Branden Smith, Georgia
- Ronald Darby, Florida State
- Demetrice Morley, Tennessee
- Jamario O’Neal, Ohio State
- Antwine Perez, USC/Maryland
- Eugene Clifford, Ohio State
- Greg Reid, Florida State
- Darius Winston, Arkansas
- Josh Shaw, Florida/USC
- Tracy Howard, Miami
- Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
- MacKensie Alexander, Clemson
- Vonn Bell, Ohio State
- Max Redfield, Notre Dame
- Leon McQuay III, USC
- Tony Conner, Ole Miss
- Adoree’ Jackson, USC
- Tony Brown, Alabama
- Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
- Jalen Tabor, Florida
- Jamal Adams, LSU