Looking Back at the Class of 2009: Part One
By Joey Accordino
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Of the 33 five-star prospects in the class of 2009, only two managed to become first round draft picks after three years in college.
In 2009, Rivals.com evaluated thousands of high school football prospects, from Hawaii to Maine, from Florida to Canada. Of those prospects, 33 were deemed worthy of a five-star ranking, the highest honor bestowed upon a high school senior. These athletes are the cream of the crop, future collegiate stars and first-rounders, and for these prospects, leaving school in three years for NFL glory is not an exception; It is an expectation.
Alas, gold stars and all-star game invites do not always equate to gridiron success. Of the 33 players considered to be the most elite in the class of 2009, only two managed to pull off the impressive feat of leaving school in three years to become first round picks: Trent Richardson and Dre Kirkpatrick, both Alabama products. There are far more, including Vontaze Burfict and Garrett Gilbert, that have spectacularly underperformed to this point in their careers. Besides Richardson and Kirkpatrick, 19 other five-stars committed to SEC or ACC schools. Let’s examine their careers so far, “The File,” and their chances of living up to their pre-college hype, “The Future”.
#1—Bryce Brown, RB, Tennessee
The File: The only thing that surpassed Brown’s high school athletic ability was the absurdity of his recruitment. Brown’s handler sold memberships to a website that included Brown highlights, and floated rumors that Bryce was considering playing in the Canadian Football League. Brown finally committed to the University of Tennessee, but only after decommitting from Miami. After sharing time as a freshman at UT, Brown decided to transfer to Kansas State during spring practice. Brown sat out the requisite one year, and proceeded to play in just one game as a redshirt sophomore, tallying a whopping 16 yards. He then declared for the NFL Draft, where he was picked in the 7th round by the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Future: Murky. Brown’s talent is undeniable, and the Eagles have no issue taking a risk on character. But Brown has shown an inability to get along with coaches, which never bodes well. He may never get off the scout team.
#2—Reuben Randle, WR, LSU
The File: Committed to LSU as the No. 2 player in the nation. Randle was an electric playmaker in high schol, and was expected to be an instant impact player in Baton Rouge. Randle did not contribute as expected as a freshman, grabbing just 11 balls for 173 yards, but tripled his production as a sophomore, nabbing 33 catches for 544 yards. He broke out during his junior season, increasing his numbers across the board and snaring eight TD’s. He performed poorly in the National Championship Game, though, and did little to establish himself as elite. He was drafted in the 2nd round by the New York Giants.
The Future: Promising. Randle has shown improvement as a young receiver, and while he may never live up to the hype as the No. 2 overall recruit, he will benefit from playing in a pass-happy offense with a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.
#3—DJ Fluker, OT, Alabama
The File: An absolute wooly mammoth of a man, Fluker established himself as a top five prospect at the US Army All-American Game. Fluker experienced one of the few downsides of signing with Alabama as a freshman, where he redshirted due to the more experienced starters in front of him. As a redshirt freshman, Fluker started nine games and showed why scouts were so high on him, showcasing excellent run blocking ability. He flashed more of the same as a redshirt sophomore, but struggled at times with pass blocking.
The Future: Flashlight in the Eyes Bright. At 6’6”, 340, Fluker was born to be an NFL Right Tackle. His run blocking ability is superb and his pass blocking is improving. He has an excellent chance to be a top-10 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
#4—Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The File: Richardson’s journey has been a winding one. A local product, Richardson disappointed Missouri fans by not academically qualifying out of high school. Richardson headed to junior college, where he seriously considered reneging on his commitment to Missouri in favor of USC. Ultimately he landed in Columbia, where he was a backup on the defensive line as a redshirt sophomore, piling up 8 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
The Future: Intriguing. Richardson possesses the size (slightly less than 300 lbs) and athleticism that made fellow SEC defensive tackle Nick Fairley a terror for opposing offenses. Fairley also proved that the junior college route doesn’t preclude you from being a first-rounder. While nobody is expecting Richardson to amass 24 TFL, 11.5 sacks, and All-America honors like Fairley did his junior season, Richardson’s athleticism makes him a candidate for a breakout year.
#7—Russell Shepard, Athlete, LSU
The File: Shepard’s versatility at the quarterback position made him one of the most coveted recruits in the class of 2009. But his versatility may have been a detriment to his collegiate success. Shepard earned time at multiple positions as a freshman, and began to gain traction as a receiver and part-time running back as a sophomore. He was suspended for the first three games of last season by the NCAA, however, and never regained a significant role in the offense.
The Future: Tenuous. Shepard is clearly a high level athlete, but has yet to separate himself on the field. Shepard should get more pass-catching opportunities this year with classmate Reuben Randle in the NFL and gunslinger Zach Mettenberger as LSU’s new quarterback. Shepard’s senior year will be his last chance to live up to his high school hype.
#10-Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida
The File: Blessed with ideal size and speed, as well as superior football intelligence, Jenkins was an easy choice as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2009 class. He redshirted his first year in Gainesville, but had a strong redshirt freshman year, starting 11 games and piling up 76 tackles. After scoring numerous preseason awards prior to his redshirt sophomore campaign, Jenkins’ numbers leveled off. While solid, Jenkins struggled to make big plays, dropping six potential interceptions.
The Future: Worth Watching. Jenkins may not be the surefire first-rounder that DJ Fluker is, but he could still land there. The Gators have struggled A.T. (After Tebow), but if Jenkins leads a resurgent effort this year, he could hear his name called next April.
Part Two Coming Tomorrow.