Finding 5-star recruits at certain positions is much easier, and more fruitful, than others.
In the past five classes, for example, there were more than three times the 5-stars at outside linebacker than inside linebacker, 13 to 4, according to the 247 Sports Composite.
The lifeblood of the SEC is on the defensive line, and the clearest example of the value of players at that position is the fact that four of the past five No. 1 players in the country were defensive linemen: Jaelan Phillips at UCLA, Rashan Gary at Michigan, Trenton Thompson at Georgia and Robert Nkemdiche at Ole Miss. LSU’s Leonard Fournette was the exception in 2014.
It’s no coincidence that Alabama’s top-ranked recruiting class in 2017 was highlighted, in part, by LaBryan Ray, a 5-star defensive lineman. Georgia’s current class, which is No. 1 in the SEC, features 5-star Brenton Cox.
Given the track record of the recruits below, there’s no question why defensive line has fared the best in the SEC in the past five years.
The total number of 5-star prospects from 2013 to 2017, as ranked by 247 Sports, per class is by position in parentheses below:
Defensive line (43)
Both by sheer numbers and talent, there’s arguably no position more valuable than defensive line. Since 2013, there have been 10 weak-side defensive end rated as 5-stars, 14 strong-side defensive ends and 19 defensive tackles. It’s what many people believe sets the SEC apart from other Power 5 conferences. Starting with Auburn’s Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams in 2013, Trenton Thompson at Georgia and Terry Beckner Jr. at Missouri in 2015, there is no shortage of talent, especially at defensive tackle.
There were seven defensive tackle 5-stars in 2015 alone. The SEC landed five of them. That was a particularly banner year for strong-side defensive ends, with four, and the SEC landed three of those, including Byron Cowart at Auburn, CeCe Jefferson at Florida and Kyle Phillips at Tennessee.
Defensive backs (24)
Vernon Hargreaves III of Florida was the top-ranked cornerback in 2013, but perhaps no defensive back, whether it be the 14 5-star cornerbacks or 10 5-star safeties, had a better career than Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama, who was the fifth-ranked cornerback in 2015 alone. Fitzpatrick, though, wasn’t the only Crimson Tide player at the top of the heap. Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, who were the second and third-ranked cornerbacks in 2014, lived up to the hype.
Running backs (18)
The SEC reeled in half of the 5-star running backs in 2013 and 2017, including an eventual Heisman Trophy winner, who was initially recruited as a linebacker, at 6-3, 240 pounds, or classified as an athlete by some coaches. Derrick Henry led the Crimson Tide to the 2015 national championship. Kelvin Taylor, meanwhile, had one 1,000-yard season, but by and large didn’t live up to the recruiting hype.
Looking outside the 5-stars, the 2013 class of running backs was an all-timer. Alex Collins (Arkansas) Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn), Alvin Kamara (Alabama/Tennessee) and Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt). If 2013 wasn’t enough for you, how about the group of legendary players in 2014, which featured five 5-stars across America, including Leonard Fournette, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb.
In the most recent national championship, a pair of freshmen 5-stars, D’Andre Swift and Najee Harris, both saw action on the field for Georgia and Alabama, respectively.
Wide receivers (18)
The banner year was 2015. That’s when Christian Kirk at Texas A&M, Calvin Ridley at Alabama and Tyron Johnson at LSU, who later transferred, led a class of five 5-stars. But as deep as 2015 was, 2016 was a drought, as Demetris Robertson, who had a prolonged recruitment, chose Cal over Georgia, among others. Jerry Jeudy at Alabama, meanwhile, was the only 5-star to land at an SEC school, in a class of four.
We’ll include O.J. Howard in this group because he was the only 5-star as a tight end in his 2013 class. Laquon Treadwell was the top player in this group, including being the top overall player from Illinois in ’13. Texas A&M’s Ricky Seals-Jones was ranked the second-best “athlete” in this class, behind Derrick Henry and ahead of ArDarius Stewart. Seals-Jones at 6-5, 235 pounds was expected to be a matchup problem, but outside of a big game against Alabama in 2015, (107 receiving yards) he largely fell below expectations and went undrafted into the NFL.
Offensive line (19)
Tackle is by far the crown jewel position on the offensive line, as there were 15 5-stars at tackle, four at guard and none at center. The rising sophomores, or redshirt freshmen, were by far the best class of the recent bunch. Alex Leatherwood of Alabama and Isaiah Wilson of Georgia led a group of six 5-stars. Martez Ivey of Florida and Cam Robinson of Alabama were other notable 5-stars in 2015 and 2014.
Beginning with Jonathan Allen at Alabama in 2013, and continuing with Mack Wilson at Alabama in 2016, outside linebackers have their share of 5-stars, with 13 since 2013, including three each in 2013, 2015 and 2016. One notable year was 2015, when the SEC didn’t land any of the 5-stars at outside linebacker, and only two of the top 10 overall. Roquan Smith signed with Georgia as a 4-star, which paved the way to his star year in 2017.
Finding a 5-star quarterback is among the toughest of any positions, as there were just
five in the entire country the past two recruiting cycles.
Shea Patterson and Jacob Eason headlined the 2016 class, but both have left the conference.
In 2017, Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama was the only dual threat 5-star, while Davis Mills (Stanford) of Norcross, Ga., was one of two pro-style 5-stars. Jake Fromm of Georgia was a 4-star. Josh Rosen of UCLA and Blake Barnett of Alabama were the lone pro style 5-star prospects in 2015 in a year that also saw Kyler Murray as a dual threat at Texas A&M. In 2014, Deshaun Watson was not a 5-star, but Kyle Allen at Texas A&M was.