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February 1, 2009

Past vs. Present: Look back at the best

MORE: Counting Down to Signing Day | Announcement Watch | Expert Commit Predictions

We took the best player at each position from the past five recruiting classes and compared them to each other to come up with a master ranking at the position.

Important to note: The players were compared as prospects coming out of high school, not by what they've done – or not done – in college.

Here's the list:

Dual-threat quarterbacks
1. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State, Class of 2008: Rare size and athleticism makes him one of college football's most dynamic players, even as a true freshman. He's the only dual-threat quarterback in our list who was ranked the No. 1 player in the country overall.
2. Russell Shepard, LSU commitment, Class of 2009: Electric moves in the open field and steadily is improving as a passer. He also could also be a receiver, and he's too good not to get on the field somehow.
3. Ryan Perrilloux, LSU, Class of 2005: He guided LSU to a victory in the 2007 SEC title game, setting the stage for the Tigers to win the national championship. But he transferred to Jacksonville State a few months later after being booted off the team for repeated off-field issues.
4. Tim Tebow, Florida, Class of 2007: The left-hander was the first sophomore to win the Heisman, and he led his team to the 2008 national championship.
5. Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech, Class of 2006: He led Virginia Tech to the ACC title and an Orange Bowl win this past season. He's still trying to improve as a passer.
Pro-style quarterback
1. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame, Class of 2007: Clausen was the No. 1 player in his class. He has started in his first two seasons in South Bend, but the team has languished. Insiders say redshirt freshman Dayne Crist could push for playing time in 2009.
2. Matthew Stafford, Georgia, Class of 2006: He started in his three seasons at Georgia and is leaving early for the NFL. He's probably the most gifted thrower in the past five years.
3. Matt Barkley, USC, Class of 2009: He has a laser-like arm, similar to Stafford's, but he's not as mobile or athletic as some would like. For USC fans, it's a mix of Carson Palmer's arm and Matt Leinart's lack of athleticism.
4. Mark Sanchez, USC, Class of 2005: After starting at USC in 2008 as a redshirt junior, he declared for the NFL draft and is expected to be a first-round selection. This was his first season as the full-time starter.
5. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri, Class of 2008: He played some as a true freshman this past season and is the favorite to succeed Chase Daniel at the helm of Mizzou's offense. Gabbert has all the tools.
Running backs
1. Bryce Brown, uncommitted, Class of 2009: He's the top-rated running back of the past five years – and the only running back to be the top-ranked player in his class overall. He combines the best assets of Jonathan Stewart and Chris Wells, and is probably more of a home-run threat and better receiver than both.
2. Chris Wells, Ohio State, Class of 2006: Wells was a major reason the Buckeyes played for the national title in 2007. He has declared for this year's draft and is a sure first-rounder.
3. Joe McKnight, USC, Class of 2007: Tabbed by many as "the next Reggie Bush," McKnight really hasn't lived up to the hype. He's good, but he just hasn't broken out to show he's the best back in his class.
4. Darrell Scott, Colorado, Class of 2008: He was beaten out for the Buffs' starting job by fellow true freshman Rodney Stewart, whose only other offer was from Toledo. But after Stewart got injured, Scott filled in and started looking like a special prospect.
5. Jonathan Stewart, Oregon, Class of 2005: He left Oregon a year early and was a first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2008. He ran for 1,722 yards in '07 and scored 27 career rushing TDs for the Ducks.
All-purpose backs
1. C.J. Spiller, Clemson, Class of 2006: He was ranked No. 8 overall in the country, the highest Rivals.com ever has rated an all-purpose back. He has rushed for 2,335 yards and 20 TDs and has been an excellent return man and solid receiver for the Tigers.
2. Noel Devine, West Virginia, Class of 2007: Devine was the first Internet recruiting phenom; his high school footage started making the rounds on YouTube and Rivals.com after a standout freshman campaign.
3. Antone Smith, Florida State, Class of 2005: A big signing-day story, as he chose FSU over Miami. Smith never lived up to his high school billing, finishing his career with 2,065 rushing yards and 23 TDs.
4. DeSean Hales, Texas, Class of 2008: He is more of a receiver than a runner, and he should bloom into a terrific return guy for the Longhorns. He redshirted this past season.
5. David Oku, Tennessee commitment, Class of 2009: He can do some damage when he gets in the open field. He's a soft commitment to Tennessee and still is taking official visits, with Auburn and Syracuse also in the mix.
Wide receivers
1. Percy Harvin, Florida, Class of 2006: He was Rivals.com's overall No. 1 player in his class. Harvin could have been listed as the top player at any of three positions – wide receiver, athlete or safety – that year. He helped Florida win two national titles in his career and declared early for the '09 draft.
2. Julio Jones, Alabama, Class of 2008: Jones has the combination of size, speed and ability that simply is hard to miss. His standout freshman campaign at Alabama was hardly surprising.
3. Rueben Randle, uncommitted, Class of 2009: A lot like Jones because of his size, speed and athleticism. He even may be a more natural receiver than Jones.
4. Patrick Turner, USC, Class of 2005: Turner had all the things you look for, but he never became the go-to guy for the Trojans.
5. Ronald Johnson, USC, Class of 2007: The Michigan native emerged as the best deep threat for the loaded Trojans this past season, when he had eight TD catches and led the team in yards per catch (17.3 on 33 receptions).
Tight ends
1. Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M, Class of 2006: His was a suspenseful signing-day announcement among A&M, Texas and LSU. He finished with 102 receptions in three seasons and left after his junior year. The second-round pick by Dallas in the 2008 draft has a ton of upside.
2. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame, Class of 2008: He started as a true freshman for the Irish and had 29 catches and two TDs. He had at least one reception in 11 of 13 games.
3. Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma, Class of 2006: In high school, Gresham was a towering presence. But just like now, he spends a lot of his time flexed out.
4. Aron White, Georgia, Class of 2007: Another tight end in his class at Georgia, Bruce Figgins, actually has seen more time to this point in their careers. But White looks as if he's going to become a weapon in the passing game.
5. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech commitment, Class of 2009: A flex-end prospect. This was not a great year for true tight ends.
Offensive tackles
1. Andre Smith, Alabama, Class of 2006: He probably is the best run blocker of the past five years. His performance in that year's U.S. Army game was a thing of beauty. He left Alabama a year early and is expected to go in the top 10 of April's draft.
2. D.J. Fluker, Alabama commitment, Class of 2009: He has a chance to be as good as he wants to be. He's still learning the position.
3. Mike Adams, Ohio State, Class of 2008: Opinions varied widely on Adams as a high schooler, but one week of workouts at the U.S. Army game and it was clear he was a special prospect.
4. Eugene Monroe, Virginia, Class of 2005: Monroe was raw in high school, and maybe that's why it took him a while to get going in Charlottesville. But now he's projected as a first-round pick in this year's draft.
5. Josh Oglesby, Wisconsin, Class of 2007: He had major surgery as a high school senior and has not yet cracked the Wisconsin starting lineup on a regular basis.
Defensive tackles
1. Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma, Class of 2006: Home-state product who recently decided to return to college for his redshirt junior season. He always has been quick off the ball.
2. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri commitment, Class of 2009: He's probably the best athlete of this bunch. Still, there's some question about whether he has a defensive mentality; he played tight end and defensive end and returned kicks in high school.
3. Marcus Forston, Miami, Class of 2008: He may be the best nose tackle prospect in the past five years. He's strong at the point of attack and slips blockers.
4. Marvin Austin, North Carolina, Class of 2007: We knew he was raw coming out of high school in Washington, D.C., but he has shown he can be a special player when he puts his mind to it.
5. DeMarcus Granger, Oklahoma, Class of 2005: That was not a great year for defensive tackles, and Granger is the only guy in this group who was not a national top-10 player as a high school senior. He has battled injuries but has been a good player for the Sooners.
Defensive ends
1. DaQuan Bowers, Clemson, Class of 2008: The closest thing to Reggie White and Bruce Smith we've seen. He has that type of size, yet also has a quick burst off the line.
2. Carlos Dunlap, Florida, Class of 2007: Rivals.com was the only major outlet to pick Dunlap, who led the SEC in sacks as a sophomore, ahead of USC signee Everson Griffen as the nation's top defensive end this year.
3. Melvin Alaeze, Maryland, Class of 2005: Off-field problems and run-ins with the law – he's currently imprisoned for eight years –derailed his career before it really got started.
4. Devon Kennard, USC commitment, Class of 2009: He's a bit on the short side for a defensive end – he's a little less than 6 feet 3 – but he is a baller.
5. Robert Rose, Ohio State, Class of 2006: Rose is the only guy in this group who was not a national top-10 player; he checked in at No. 16 overall. Still, he has been a solid player who likely has an NFL future.
Linebackers
1. Rey Maualuga, USC, Class of 2005: Former NFL player Lemanski Hall watched high school video of Maualuga with me. Hall said it best. "I wouldn't want to play against him four years from now." Maualuga is expected to be a first-round pick in April's draft.
2. Sergio Kindle, Texas, Class of 2006: Highly athletic – he played running back in high school – but also raw. Kindle seems to be reaching his peak at Texas and should be an All-American candidate this fall.
3. Vontaze Burfict, USC commitment, Class of 2009: He could be a signing-day switch to Arizona State. He has terrific speed and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
4. Chris Galippo, USC, Class of 2007: He may be the most-sure tackler of this bunch. Galippo is expected to replace Maualuga in the middle of the USC defense this fall.
5. Nigel Bradham, Florida State, Class of 2008: More of a blitzer, and he really knows how to pursue the ball.
Cornerbacks
1. Eric Berry, Tennessee, Class of 2007: He played quarterback in high school, but he still is Rivals.com highest rated corner prospect ever. He has great ball skills and was an All-American safety as a sophomore for the Vols.
2. Patrick Johnson, LSU, Class of 2008: He now goes by Patrick Patterson. He started four games for LSU as a true freshman in 2008, and has great ball skills combined with a great understanding of the game.
3. Dre Kirkpatrick, uncommitted, Class of 2009: He has long arms and a lanky build combined with great ball skills. He could be a safety or a corner; it just depends on what position gets him on the field the fastest.
4. Justin King, Penn State, Class of 2005: He was a three-year starter at corner for Penn State and elected to leave early for the NFL draft in 2007.
5. A.J. Wallace, Penn State, Class of 2006: He has played extensively at Penn State, but has had some off-field issues. He'll be the only returning starter in the secondary for the Nittany Lions this fall.
Safeties
1. Kenneth Phillips, Miami, Class of 2005: He is the highest-rated safety in the past five years. He was a first-round pick by the New York Giants in 2008 after leaving school a year early.
2. Reshad Jones, Georgia, Class of 2006: He started this season for Georgia and looks like he could have an NFL future.
3. Craig Loston, LSU commitment, Class of 2009: He can hit you and cause the fumble or just make the interception. He could prove to be a turnover-producing machine.
4. Aaron Williams, Texas, Class of 2008: He has the build of a safety but actually played corner and nickel for Texas as a true freshman this past season.
5. Jerimy Finch, Florida, Class of 2007: He played some as a true freshman at Florida before breaking his leg and deciding to return home and play at Indiana.



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