There have been 20 No. 1 prospects in Rivals history that have signed with a school and it’s been an interesting list. As part of our weeklong celebration of the Rivals Rankings turning 20 years old, today we make an attempt at ranking the No. 1 recruits in order from 1-20 based on how we viewed them as high school prospects:
1. JADEVEON CLOWNEY (2011)
Clowney was so good at the Shrine Bowl that it looked like he was jumping offsides on almost every play. He was that quick off the snap and dominated on the high school level like no one I’ve ever seen. He then went to South Carolina and did as he pleased there as well (remember his highlight-reel hit on Michigan in the Outback Bowl?) finishing with 129 tackles and 24 in three seasons.
And even more could have been done in Columbia but there seemed to be some early NFL prep knowing he was going to be a top pick. Clowney was the top pick in the 2014 draft and even though he’s bounced around to different teams in recent years, he’s still an incredibly talented defensive lineman who has 236 tackles and 32 sacks so far in his career.
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2. TREVOR LAWRENCE (2018)
If we’re being honest, there never really was much of a debate about whether Lawrence or Justin Fields would end up No. 1 in the class because Lawrence was just that good and that special. Think of any positive adjective for a quarterback and that is Lawrence – composed, courageous, smart, skilled – he just has everything.
And that’s what he showed at Clemson, throwing for more than 10,000 yards with 90 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions in three seasons. He also won a national title and three ACC championships.
To top it all off, Lawrence was the No. 1 pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in last month’s NFL Draft.
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3. ADRIAN PETERSON (2004)
Peterson never disappointed along the way, had a phenomenal three years at Oklahoma, was the seventh overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and has had a tremendous NFL career as well. The stats are just amazing as Peterson rushed for 4,041 yards and 41 touchdowns for the Sooners and has 14,820 yards and 118 rushing TDs in a pro career that has spanned more than a decade.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and the league’s most valuable player in 2012, there is no question that Peterson has backed up his No. 1 ranking from way back in 2004.
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VINCE YOUNG (2002)
The first No. 1 in Rivals history for the inaugural 2002 rankings, Young went to Texas and had an historic career where he famously led the Longhorns to the national championship in a victory over USC in what is one of the best title games in college football history. Young finished his Texas career with 6,040 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and 28 interceptions and then was the third overall pick by the Tennessee Titans in the 2006 draft.
Young won the offensive rookie of the year and ended up being a two-time Pro Bowler although he did not meet lofty expectations through his NFL career, finishing with 8,964 career passing yards but also 46 touchdowns and 51 interceptions.
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PERCY HARVIN (2006)
Harvin, who was once committed to Florida State, was the true offensive weapon in every sense of the word. He excelled at Florida, finishing with 1,929 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns to go with 1,852 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs in three seasons.
He was the No. 22 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and went on to have an action-packed career where he won a Super Bowl, went to the Pro Bowl and won Rookie of the Year. Harvin posted impressive stats on offense and special teams and his athletic ability was rarely matched but it also felt more was in store for Harvin.
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DEREK STINGLEY JR. (2019)
Stingley is the only cornerback in 20 years of Rivals rankings to finish No. 1 overall and he’s certainly backed that rating up over two seasons at LSU. As a freshman, Stingley led the SEC with six interceptions and 21 passes defended. He had no interceptions as a sophomore but mainly because not many teams wanted to challenge him.
Long, athletic and physical, Stingley is almost sure to leave LSU after this upcoming season and very well could be an early first-round NFL Draft pick.
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7. TERRELLE PRYOR (2008)
One of the most highly-recruited prospects ever from Western Pennsylvania, Pryor picked Ohio State in a well-publicized recruitment. He threw for more than 6,000 yards with 57 touchdowns and 26 interceptions but his college career was cut short because Pryor was involved in a scandal regarding the selling of memorabilia.
He was taken in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft by the Oakland Raiders. His pro career started at quarterback but then he moved to receiver as Pryor was always an exceptional athlete and even a star basketball player. Through the 2019 season, Pryor had totaled 1,563 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
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NAJEE HARRIS (2017)
The biggest debate in the 2017 class was whether Harris or Cam Akers should be the No. 1 running back and we sided with Harris, who certainly developed phenomenally well at Alabama. After biding his time and waiting his turn (there were also rumors he was considering a transfer but decided to stick it out), Harris finished his college career with 3,843 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns along with 80 catches and 11 more scores.
He picked Alabama over Michigan in a painstaking final decision during Army All-American Bowl week. Harris was taken 24th overall in last month’s NFL Draft.
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9. RASHAN GARY (2016)
Gary was not a lock for the No. 1 spot until late when he showed his versatility and athleticism by dominating at defensive tackle and defensive end at the Under Armour Game. What especially speaks to his ability to move is that he was the No. 12 overall pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 NFL Draft and now plays a hybrid linebacker role at 6-foot-5 and 277 pounds.
Gary has 55 tackles and seven sacks so far in his pro career. In three years at Michigan, the five-star totaled 119 tackles but only 9.5 sacks, something that was discussed often during the pre-draft process.
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ERNIE SIMS (2003)
Florida State beat out Auburn and Georgia and his college career had bright spots but not as many as expected for the No. 1 prospect. Sims did show his potential during his sophomore season, when he had 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
He was not the biggest linebacker – and could have even played running back – but Sims covered so much ground and was so physical he ended up being the ninth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
The former Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian star ended his pro career with 623 tackles.
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11. MAASON SMITH (2021)
Korey Foreman had been No. 1 in the country and there was some discussion about JC Latham and others, but Smith’s senior season went really well. He’s a massive prospect at a premium position and so he finished in the top spot last recruiting cycle.
Reports out of LSU spring practice is that the 6-foot-6, 312-pound defensive lineman – who picked the Tigers over Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Miami – is already very impressive and could see significant early playing time in Baton Rouge.
12. ROBERT NKEMDICHE (2013)
Nkemdiche held off Vernon Hargreaves III, Jaylon Smith and a host of others who are now premium players in the NFL to hold onto the top spot but there was always a concern that the five-star defensive end did not have an elite motor.
He finished with 81 tackles and only six sacks through three seasons in Oxford and then left early and was taken with the No. 29 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. But Nkemdiche’s pro career didn’t last long as he was in the league from just 2016-2019 and dealt with a knee injury as well.
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BRYAN BRESEE (2020)
In the spring before his senior season, Bresee committed to Clemson over Ohio State, Penn State and others. He held off quarterbacks Bryce Young and D.J. Uiagalelei and fellow Clemson defensive end signee Myles Murphy to claim the top spot in 2020.
His first season with the Tigers went really well (although Murphy had better stats) as Bresee finished with 33 tackles and four sacks along with an impressive 11 pass breakups. At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, all signs point to Bresee being one of the more dominant defensive linemen in college football this upcoming season.
DA’SHAWN HAND (2014)
There was some serious debate on this one, especially after the Under Armour Game when Myles Garrett dominated. The 2014 class had some other high-level prospects in it as well, but Hand stayed No. 1 at the end. At Alabama, Hand finished with 71 tackles and nine sacks in four years and then was a fourth-round selection by the Detroit Lions.
One wonders if Hand would have had a more illustrious college career if he picked Michigan, his other finalist, since it was a surprise the Wolverines lost out in his recruitment. Hand has been marred by injuries early in his pro career as he’s registered 52 tackles and three sacks.
JIMMY CLAUSEN (2007)
Clausen went undefeated at Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian and threw for more than 10,000 yards in high school and then went to Notre Dame where he had a strong career. With the Irish, Clausen threw for 8,148 yards with 60 touchdowns and 27 interceptions and was pegged as a possible first-round NFL Draft pick.
However, Clausen slid into the second round and was picked by the Carolina Panthers. He didn’t catch on there and was traded to Chicago and then Baltimore, with his NFL career lasting only about five seasons. Clausen threw for 2,520 yards with seven TDs and 14 interceptions in his pro career.
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16. DORIAL GREEN-BECKHAM (2012)
Missouri beat out Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas and it looked like the Tigers were going to have a program-changer at receiver in Green-Beckham, who had excellent size and speed and impressed at the Army All-American Bowl as well. In two seasons, Green-Beckham totaled 87 catches for 1,278 yards and 17 touchdowns but off-the-field issues derailed him.
He then transferred to Oklahoma but had to sit out a season and then left for the NFL. An early second-round pick, Green-Beckham played just one season with the Tennessee Titans and then was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he lasted one year as well. He has not been in the league since as more off-the-field issues occurred.
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RONALD POWELL (2010)
Powell was a dominant two-way standout in high school and then at the Army All-American Bowl he had a fantastic showing all week to move him to No. 1 in the 2010 class. He picked Florida over USC as the Urban Meyer drama played out.
He looked headed toward a strong college career but two knee injuries dramatically stymied him. Powell still was drafted in the fifth round by the New Orleans Saints but never made an impact in the NFL. He finished his pro career with just two tackles.
BYRON COWART (2015)
If Josh Rosen played at the Under Armour Game, he probably would have finished in the top spot but Cowart dominated the week, did so well at so many events and looked poised for a huge career at Auburn.
But Cowart inexplicably never clicked at Auburn and then attended community college before transferring to Maryland. He shined for one year in College Park and got some traction before becoming a fifth-round pick of the New England Patriots. Cowart has 29 tackles and a sack so far in the pros.
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BRYCE BROWN (2009)
Brown’s recruitment is one for the books as it included NCAA violations, hangers-on, a threat to play in the CFL and charge for recruiting information on his own website, maybe all precursors to what would happen throughout his career.
A Miami decommitment, Brown ended up at Tennessee but then transferred to Kansas State when Lane Kiffin left Knoxville. He finished with just 476 rushing yards and three TDs in his college career.
Despite that, Brown was drafted in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles but only lasted a few years in the NFL. He finished his pro career with 1,076 rushing yards and seven scores.
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DERRICK WILLIAMS (2005)
Williams was supposed to be an all-around home-run threat in Penn State’s offense and while he showed flashes of being a phenomenal athlete and playmaker it never really clicked for him with the Nittany Lions.
A broken arm in his freshman year did not help but the next two seasons, Williams didn’t dominate, either. He was still a third-round selection by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL Draft but after 2012, Williams was already out of the league. The former five-star had nine receptions for 82 yards in the NFL.
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