8 SEC players from 2014 class who outperformed their recruiting rankings
As much as it pains Alabama fans to hear his name again, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is an excellent example of a player from the 2014 class who outperformed his recruiting ranking.
Among 247Sports’ 247 Top Football Recruits of 2014, Watson ranked No. 81, and all he did since that ranking was become a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and a national championship-winning QB before declaring for the NFL Draft.
But Watson, whom CBS Sports projects to go in the first round on April 27, is clearly not the only member of his class do more than what was expected of him. Here are eight SEC standouts, and Watson’s classmates, who vastly outperformed their recruiting rankings — including one entered the league as a 4-star.
Derek Barnett, Tennessee: As the top-ranked recruit of the 2014 class, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett certainly lived up to that billing, parlaying his successful career in College Station to possibly become the top pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
Barnett, a 4-star but still ranked just No. 208 in that class, also is projected to be taken in the first-round. Considering what he accomplished, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Barnett, the 6-3, 265-pound defensive end, broke Reggie White’s school record for sacks in the Volunteers’ victory over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
It was the 33rd career sack for Barnett, whose totals over his three seasons in Knoxville were 10, 10 and 13, which led the SEC in 2016. Barnett also ended the season with 19 tackles for loss, sharing the conference lead with Alabama’s Ryan Anderson, according to cfbstats.com.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State: Dan Mullen has joked about holding off UT-Chattanooga to get Fitzgerald, a 3-star prospect so lightly regarded he didn’t receive a national ranking. Fitzgerald was ranked the No. 40 dual-threat in the class and No. 139 player in the state of Georgia. He’s quickly become one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the SEC.
Dominick Sanders, Georgia: Sanders has risen from the No. 807 prospect in the class to earn various All-SEC honors. There’s more to come, too, as the safety recently announced he was returning for his senior season.
Quincy Wilson, Florida: Wilson wasn’t as lightly regarded as Sanders, but the fellow 3-star prospect was ranked No. 371 overall coming out of South Florida. In three quick years, Wilson blossomed into an early-round NFL Draft prospect.
Garrett Johnson, Kentucky: Johnson, a 3-star prospect, was the No. 697-ranked player in the class, but he has emerged as a go-to target for the Wildcats. He led Kentucky with 39 receptions and 5 touchdown catches in 2016.
Ish Witter, Missouri: The Tigers’ leading rusher in 2015 and second-leading rusher this season, Witter arrived as an unheralded, undersized 3-star prospect. He was ranked No. 863 overall and No. 134 in the state of Florida.
He wasn’t the only overlooked Tiger in that class. Walter Brady, who had 7.0 sacks as a freshman in 2015 before being dismissed before the 2016 seasons, was just a 2-star prospect who didn’t even receive a national ranking.
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina: All Samuel did this season was replace Pharoh Cooper and lead the Gamecocks in receptions (59) and yards (783). Samuel is another 3-star with a national ranking of No. 820 who clearly surpassed expectations.
Khari Blasingame, Vanderbilt: Blasingame was a 3-star safety in high school, but he wasn’t considered among the top 1,000 players in the country. A position change clearly suited him, and this season, he became the Commodores’ second-leading rusher behind Ralph Webb.