2015 recruiting classes that overachieved, underachieved

Which of last year's recruiting classes exceeded their initial ranking? Vincent Ronca takes a look at the numbers.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

2015 recruiting classes that overachieved, underachieved


National Signing Day is upon us, on what amounts to the biggest day of the offseason for college teams and fans alike. Recruit after recruit will be announcing which campus they’ll be showcasing their talents on over the next few seasons.

Once the dust settles and the recruiting classes are set, fans will then turn their attention to see where their favorite school’s new class ranks among the rest, and more importantly, if it ranks higher than the class of that rival school down the road.

But just how indicative are these initial class rankings of actual performance on the field?

With a full season of 2015 grades in the books and National Signing Day here, PFF decided to dive into the data to find out. Using PFF player grades for every true freshman in the country this past season, we ranked the top 10 recruiting classes in 2015 based on their actual production thus far. Additionally, we took a look at each team who failed to live up to their original top 10 ranking to see how they fared in our revised list.

[Editor’s note: All rankings of recruits/recruiting classes reference ESPN’s rankings entering the 2015 season.]

Overachievers

  1. Washington (Initial ranking: 28th)

Washington’s 2015 freshman class was headlined by two standouts on offense – running back Myles Gaskin (+26.9) and quarterback Jake Browning (+21.6). Both Gaskin and Browning had outstanding debut campaigns, each grading out as the top freshman at their position. Browning threw for nearly 3,000 yards and put up a QB rating of 91.3 over the course of the season, while Gaskin rushed for over 1,300 yards to go along with 14 rushing touchdowns. Not to be outdone, the Huskies’ defense had a pair of top performers as well. Linebackers Ben Burr-Kirven (+5.8) and Tevis Bartlett (+2.9) each had strong seasons, with Bartlett finishing the year as the highest graded freshman 3-4 outside linebacker in the nation. But it was the impressive seasons by Gaskin and Browning, two impact players at key positions, helped secure the No.1 spot on our list for the Huskies.

Top performer: Myles Gaskin (+26.9)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Jake Browning 846
 Trey Adams 608
 Myles Gaskin 431
 Isaiah Renfro 271
 Chico McClatcher 159
 Ben Burr-Kirven 141
 Jordan Miller 121
 Tevis Bartlett 80
 Quinten Pounds 22
Total 2,679
  1. Alabama (1st)

Alabama’s 2015 recruiting class didn’t quite live up to their initial ranking as the No.1 class in the nation, but in no way did they disappoint. As is often the case with Alabama, the success started on defense. Every freshman defender for the Crimson Tide graded out positively over the course of the season, led by defensive lineman Daron Payne (+8.1) and cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick (+7.2). Fitzpatrick ranked first among all freshmen corners with a coverage grade of +5.5 and gave up only 0.67 yards per cover snap, also tops among his peers. Calvin Ridley (+8.8) was the story on the other side of the ball, leading all freshman receivers with 1,045 receiving yards and earning the second-highest overall grade at his position.

Top performer: Calvin Ridley (+8.8)

 

Player Total Snaps Played
 Calvin Ridley 920
 Minkah Fitzpatrick 724
 Ronnie Harrison 322
 Daron Payne 237
 Hale Hentges 232
 Damien Harris 99
 Dallas Warmack 68
 Daylon Charlot 49
 Lester Cotton 38
 Bo Scarbrough 29
 Shawn Burgess-Becker 1
Total 2,719
  1. Texas A&M (12th)

While the recent quarterback transfers and staff changes have caused some uncertainty surrounding the 2016 season for Texas A&M, the 2015 recruiting class has at least provided stability at some key positions moving forward. Texas A&M’s freshman class produced budding stars on each side of the ball in Christian Kirk (+14.4) and Daylon Mack (+13.4). Both players were highly regarded recruits coming out of high school and both have lived up to the hype thus far. Kirk finished as the highest-graded freshman receiver in the nation and was one of the more explosive players this season, racking up 643 yards after the catch. Mack made his presence felt most versus the run, earning the highest run defense grade in the country among freshman defensive tackles. Other key contributors in A&M’s first-year class were defensive tackle Kingsley Keke (+1.7) and linebacker Richard Moore (+4.1). It took until week 12 for Moore to earn his first start, but it didn’t take long for him to make an impact, finishing the season as the best run stopping freshman linebacker in the country.

Top performer: Christian Kirk (+14.3)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Christian Kirk 807
 Keaton Sutherland 562
 Daylon Mack 388
 Kyler Murray 310
 Richard Moore 257
 Connor Lanfear 133
 Justin Dunning 129
 Kingsley Keke 124
 Jordan Davis 97
 Riley Garner 50
 Kwame Etwi 49
 James Lockhart 37
 DeShawn Capers-Smith 21
 Landis Durham 17
 Dwaine Thomas 16
Total 2,997
  1. Florida State (2nd)

Despite George Campbell, their highest ranked recruit, only seeing 29 snaps all season, the Florida State freshman class still impressed in 2015. Highlighted by running back Jacques Patrick, defensive end Josh Sweat and safety Derwin James, this Seminoles class had 19 different players that saw action this year. Patrick (+4.1) was a solid contributor for the offense, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns on the season. However, the bulk of the production from this class came on the defensive side of the ball. Sweat (+10.6) was a force at defensive end, earning the highest run defense grade among true freshmen at his position, while cornerback Tarvarus McFadden (+1.6) also performed well when called upon. James, however, was the one who stole the show. James (+30.3) performed at a high level across the board, and was particularly effective at rushing the passer, finishing with an outstanding Pass Rush Productivity rating of 25.8 percent. Grading positively in every game this year, James finished the season ranked as not only the best freshman safety in the nation, but as the second-highest graded safety overall, behind only Jeremy Cash of Duke.

Top performer: Derwin James (+30.3)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Derwin James 719
 Josh Sweat 602
 Jacques Patrick 146
 Tarvarus McFadden 65
 Nyqwan Murray 36
 Da’Vante Phillips 33
 Auden Tate 32
 Ethan Frith 29
 George Campbell 29
 Joshua Peters 28
 A.J. Westbrook 26
 Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane 20
 Colton Plante 15
 Marcus Lewis 15
 Calvin Brewton 9
 Cole Minshew 4
 Isaiah Smallwood 3
 Willie Smith 1
 Greg Turnage 1
Total 1,813
  1. LSU (10th)

Success in the SEC usually boils down to having a legitimate defense and a reliable running game. So far it looks like LSU has gotten better in both areas thanks to their 2015 recruiting class. Though his contribution was limited to only 99 snaps, Derrius Guice (+7.8) flashed big play potential when given the chance, leading all freshman running backs with an average of 8.8 yards per carry. Guice’s teammate, and fellow freshman Foster Moreau (+1.3), helped open up some of those running lanes, earning the second-highest run blocking grade among freshman tight ends. On defense, Arden Key (+24.1), Kevin Toliver II (+2.4) and Donte Jackson (+2.0) all saw significant action and performed well in their first season. Toliver II was solid in coverage, allowing only one reception for every 23.4 cover snaps, the best rate among freshman corners. While LSU’s first-year corners were impressive, Key was an absolute stud. He led all freshmen defensive ends in nearly every major statistical category, including total pressures, where he had 27 more than the second place finisher, FSU’s Josh Sweat. Key’s strong finish to the season makes him a player to watch heading into 2016.

Top performer: Arden Key (+24.1)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Maea Teuhema 733
 Kevin Toliver II 640
 Arden Key 593
 Donte Jackson 273
 Bry’Kiethon Mouton 230
 Foster Moreau 214
 Tyron Johnson 213
 Toby Weathersby 176
 Derrius Guice 99
 Nick Brossette 19
 David Ducre 9
 Isaiah Washington 7
 Jazz Ferguson 4
Total 3,210
  1. Auburn (7th)

Just like LSU, the biggest impact from Auburn’s 2015 recruiting class was felt on defense and in the running game. The largest contributor on either side of the ball was cornerback Carlton Davis (+9.3) who played 841 snaps this season. A three-star prospect coming out of high school, Davis exceeded expectations and finished the year as the highest-graded freshman at his position. His three interceptions and six pass break ups also led all first-year corners.  Safety Tim Irvin (+2.8) and lineman Byron Cowart (+2.7) each were solid contributors on the defensive side, too. On offense, running back Kerryon Johnson (+5.0) made an impact in both the running and passing game, while fullback Chandler Cox (+2.3) led all freshman fullbacks in blocking grade.

Top performer: Carlton Davis (+9.3)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Carlton Davis 841
 Chandler Cox 341
 Tim Irvin 230
 Byron Cowart 220
 Kerryon Johnson 178
 Jeff Holland 139
 Jeremiah Dinson 132
 Ryan Davis 50
 Darrell Williams 21
 Jalen Harris 20
 Tucker Brown 11
 Jimmie Stoudemire 1
Total 2,184
  1. Stanford (27th)

It’s easy to get overlooked when you have a star like Christian McCaffrey playing ahead of you, but Stanford fans should be optimistic for what freshman running back Bryce Love displayed in his first year on campus. Love (+6.4) showcased some explosive ability of his own in the 143 snaps he saw in 2015, racking up 65 percent of his yards on runs of 15 yards or more. He also had one of the highest elusive ratings among freshman running backs and averaged 4.3 yards after contact per carry, showing his ability to make defenders miss.  Wide receiver Trenton Irwin (+4.9) had a solid year, securing every catchable pass thrown his way and grading out positively across the board. On defense, Stanford’s freshman class was highlighted by two newcomers in their secondary, Justin Reid (+1.2) and Quenton Meeks (-0.1). Reid was the highest-graded freshman defender for the Cardinal, grading particularly well against the run, while Meeks tied for the lead among freshman corners with three interceptions on the year.

Top performer: Bryce Love (+6.4)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Quenton Meeks 651
 Justin Reid 213
 Bryce Love 143
 Trenton Irwin 118
 Ben Edwards 88
 Mustafa Branch 13
Total 1,226
  1. North Carolina State (33rd)

NC State was one of the more balanced teams in the country according to the PFF rankings, and their 2015 freshmen class certainly reflected that with first-year standouts on both sides of the ball. Nyheim Hines (+3.9) did a little bit of everything for the Wolfpack, spending time at running back, receiver and returning kicks. His 1,220 all-purpose yards was the third-highest total of any freshman in the nation. Running back Reggie Gallaspy II (+4.5) made the most of his 66 carries, averaging nearly 5.0 yards a run and scored four touchdowns on the year. On defense, three first year players stood out for NC State, as Eurndraus Bryant (+5.3), Darian Roseboro (+2.1) and Riley Nicholson (-0.7) all played key roles this season. Nicholson graded as the second best pass rushing freshman linebacker while Roseboro’s four sacks were tied for the most among freshman defensive ends. Bryant also impressed, posting a 9.0 Pass Rush Productivity rating from his defensive tackle position.

Top performer: Eurndraus Bryant (+5.3)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Nyheim Hines 417
 Darian Roseboro 246
 Riley Nicholson 225
 Reggie Gallaspy II 173
 Eurndraus Bryant 106
 James Smith-Williams 42
 Freddie Phillips Jr. 6
Total 1,215
  1. Penn State (14th)

The Nittany Lions had nine different freshmen play at least 100 snaps this season, the most among any team on our list. Linebacker Troy Reeder (-3.7) saw more action than any Penn State freshman, and though he struggled in run defense, he excelled at rushing the passer. Totaling 11 pressures on the season, his pass rush grade was tops among freshmen at his positon. Two first year cornerbacks also performed well, as Amani Oruwariye (+2.5) and John Reid (+2.4) each ranked very high among freshmen corners in regards to their coverage grades. Offensively, Brandon Polk (+3.5) had a solid season, showing his versatility as both a receiver and runner. Without question, though, the star of this Penn State class was running back Saquon Barkley (+18.8). Graded as the second best freshman running back in the nation, Barkley put up more than 1,000 yards on the season. He had an outstanding average of 5.9 yards per carry and forced 60 missed tackles on the year, earning him the highest elusive rating in the nation among freshman running backs with at least 60 carries.

Top performer: Saquon Barkley (+18.8)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Troy Reeder 643
 John Reid 542
 Saquon Barkley 473
 Torrence Brown 261
 Brandon Polk 153
 Jake Cooper 138
 DeAndre Thompkins 101
 Nick Scott 101
 Antoine White 101
 Trace McSorley 91
 Manny Bowen 90
 Mark Allen 81
 Amani Oruwariye 33
 Koa Farmer 25
 Noah Beh 17
 Brendan Brosnan 17
 Johnathan Thomas 17
 Chance Sorrell 13
 Daquan Worley 3
 Steven Gonzalez 1
 Colin Castagna 1
Total 2,902
  1. Georgia (8th)

The Georgia freshmen class only fell slightly in our rankings, securing the 10th and final spot on our list after being ranked eighth overall entering the year. The Bulldogs didn’t get much contribution on offense from first year players outside of wide receiver Terry Godwin, who had a very strong freshman season.  Godwin (+2.3) didn’t drop a single catchable pass thrown his way all year and ended with the sixth-highest receiving grade among freshmen receivers. Defensively, there were several freshman standouts for Georgia, the best of which was defensive tackle Trenton Thompson (+11.3). Thompson was the third-highest graded freshman defensive tackle this season and excelled against the run, leading all first year players at his position with 17 run stops. Linebackers Natrez Patrick (+4.7) and Roquan Smith (+3.5) also made an impact in their first season, each ranking in the top 10 among freshmen at their position in both run defense and overall grade. Cornerback Rico McGraw was another key contributor, playing 417 snaps in 2015 and earning a positive grade in all but two games he played in this season.

Top performer: Trenton Thompson (+11.3)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Terry Godwin 536
 Rico McGraw 417
 Johnathan Abram 322
 Trenton Thompson 264
 Jackson Harris 165
 Natrez Patrick 161
 Juwuan Briscoe 133
 Michael Chigbu 88
 Roquan Smith 78
 DaQuan Hawkins 77
 Michael Barnett 62
 Jonathan Ledbetter 61
 Chauncey Rivers 34
 Jarvis Wilson 28
 Deandre Baker 24
 Jayson Stanley 23
 Kirby Choates 19
 D’Andre Walker 17
 Juwan Taylor 8
 Nick Moore 5
 Shaquery Wilson 4
Total 2,526

 

Underachievers

 

USC

Original rank: 3rd
PFF rank: 27th

Despite contributing over 4,000 snaps in 2015, USC’s freshmen did not perform up to the high expectations that come with being the third ranked recruiting class in the nation. There were some good first year performances to be sure, most notably by running back Ronald Jones II (+11.1) and linebacker Porter Gustin (+5.1). However, the majority of the remaining recruits graded out negatively, including cornerback Iman Marshall (-3.6) and offensive lineman Chuma Edoga (-10.5), who on paper were supposed to be USC’s top recruits in the 2015 class.

Top performer: Ronald Jones II (+11.1)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Iman Marshall 721
 Cameron Smith 510
 Porter Gustin 468
 Marvell Tell III 368
 Tyler Petite 360
 Chuma Edoga 352
 Ronald Jones II 295
 Rasheem Green 286
 Noah Jefferson 223
 Osa Masina 200
 Isaiah Langley 122
 Deontay Burnett 101
 Jacob Daniel 49
 Dominic Davis 42
 Aca’Cedric Ware 20
Total 4,117

 

Clemson

Original rank: 4th
PFF rank: 39th

Obviously, the Clemson Tigers had a remarkably successful season in 2015, eventually losing to Alabama in the college football playoff finale. And though they had a staggering 27 freshmen contribute this season, the majority of those first year players did not grade well. Wide receiver Deon Cain (+0.9) was a solid contributor and Hunter Renfrow (-2.6) finished the season on a high note, but nine out of the 13 offensive freshmen ended with a negative overall grade. Things did look a little better on the other side of the ball, as defensive linemen Christian Wilkins (+5.5) and Austin Bryant (+3.9) each played significant snaps and performed well throughout the year. While there’s certainly something to be said for the sheer number of freshmen who contributed for the Tigers this year, they’ll be hoping to see some improved production out of this class next season.

Top performer: Christian Wilkins (+6.1)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Mitch Hyatt 1067
 Hunter Renfrow 625
 Christian Wilkins 433
 Trevion Thompson 337
 Ray-Ray McCloud 320
 Deon Cain 314
 Jake Fruhmorgen 251
 Austin Bryant 235
 Taylor Hearn 188
 Richard Yeargin 145
 Justin Falcinelli 133
 Garrett Williams 102
 Jalen Williams 102
 Van Smith 98
 C.J. Fuller 91
 Mark Fields 87
 Jabril Robinson 68
 Albert Huggins 64
 Kendall Joseph 63
 Jefferie Gibson 61
 Kelly Bryant 61
 Cannon Smith 35
 Milan Richard 29
 Cameron Scott 13
 J.D. Davis 9
 Judah Davis 6
 Chris Register 4
Total 4,941

 

Tennessee

Original rank: 5th
PFF rank: 58th

Originally ranked as the No.5 class in the nation, Tennessee’s freshmen fell all the way to 58th on our list, the largest drop of any class this year. Offensively, each of their main contributors finished the season with a negative grade, with offensive linemen Chance Hall (-16.6) and Jack Jones (-8.8) struggling most. Though they didn’t see the field much in 2015, quarterback Quinten Dormady (+2.5) and running back John Kelly (+2.4) did look promising in limited action. On the bright side, the Volunteers’ top two defensive recruits, linemen Kahlil McKenzie (+1.8) and Shy Tuttle (+5.8), each had fairly positive first seasons. Though neither made much of an impact rushing the passer, both players graded out very well in run defense with McKenzie earning the fifth-highest run stop percentage among freshmen at his position.

Top performer: Shy Tuttle (+5.8)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Darrin Kirkland Jr. 693
 Chance Hall 580
 Jauan Jennings 333
 Kahlil McKenzie 280
 Jack Jones 240
 Preston Williams 223
 Micah Abernathy 165
 Shy Tuttle 153
 Quinten Dormady 100
 John Kelly 59
 Kyle Phillips 56
 Quay Picou 53
 Stephen Griffin 49
 Austin Smith 45
 Joe Young 25
 Darrell Miller 3
Total 3,057

 

Ohio State

Original rank: 6th
PFF rank: Incomplete

Admittedly, the 2015 Ohio State class is a tough one to evaluate at this point. Of the 27 commits they had in 2015, only 4 saw any action this year and their 89 combined snaps became the lowest total snap count of any freshman class.  The Buckeyes’ depth chart was loaded with upper classmen in 2015, particularly on offense. Given the limited opportunities for Ohio State freshmen this season, we’ll give the 2015 class an “incomplete” for now.

Top performer: Denzel Ward (0.3)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Isaiah Prince 37
 Damon Arnette 29
 Denzel Ward 21
 Jerome Baker 2
Total 89

 

Texas

Original rank: 9th
PFF rank: 40th

There were 16 different freshmen that saw action for the Longhorns in 2015, totaling 5,369 snaps, the most of any freshman class in the nation. When relying on that many first-year players, there will typically be some big successes, as well as some significant struggles. On the positive side of things, left tackle Connor Williams (+11.7) had a very impressive freshman campaign, finishing as the highest-graded freshman tackle in the nation. Williams led his peers in both run block and pass block grade, and didn’t surrender a single sack all season. Patrick Vahe (-21.2) didn’t find quite as much success in his college football debut, earning the lowest grade of any freshmen guard in 2015. Other than Williams, running back Chris Warren III (+2.0) was the best freshman contributor on offense for Texas, averaging 4.0 yards after contact per attempt, the second-highest rate among freshman running backs. On defense, cornerbacks Davante Davis (+3.0) and Holton Hill (+1.8) each had solid first years, however fellow freshman corner Kris Boyd (-7.4) did not fare as well, ending the season with the second-lowest coverage grade in the nation among freshmen at his position. Linebacker Malik Jefferson (-1.3), the top recruit for the Longhorns in 2015, finished strong after a slow start to the season, ending the year ranked second among freshman linebackers in both run stops (23) and total pressures (13).

Top performer: Connor Williams (+11.7)

Player Total Snaps Played
 Connor Williams 778
 Holton Hill 708
 John Burt 705
 Malik Jefferson 645
 Patrick Vahe 585
 Davante Davis 482
 Anthony Wheeler 334
 P.J. Locke III 234
 Kris Boyd 201
 Charles Omenihu 191
 Chris Warren III 176
 Breckyn Hager 136
 DeShon Elliott 85
 Ryan Newsome 45
 DeAndre McNeal 43
 Kirk Johnson 12
 Jay Harper 9
Total 5,369

 



Vinnie joined PFF as an analyst in 2015. College football will be his primary focus throughout the season.

  • utesby5

    I always laugh at nonsense like this. For example, Ohio State had lots of seniors, who will be high NFL draft picks that having an incoming freshman play in their place was highly unlikely.
    Of course they only looked at a certain percentage of top recruiting classes because had they looked at all the recruiting classes they may have found a school other than a P5 school who had an overachieving incoming class…that would not have been the story they wanted to tell.

  • Framoka

    Silly! Many teams redshirted their 2015 stud recruits because they had good depth at those respective positions.

  • crosseyedlemon

    If every college had equal resources (financial and otherwise) to devote to recruiting then you might be able to make some meaningful assessments but that is not the case.

  • Enrique

    Poooooooor Aggy writer is butthurt.

  • bchurchin

    ummmm. would love to see your rating system, and I guess how “freshman all-american” (per ESPN) and “lowest rated freshman guard” (per you) go hand in hand. And then each conference rates this as well. Interesting how you throw on a walk on TE into your assessment, but not the starting Texas punter…

    The conference thought this of those freshmen
    Both Jefferson and Williams, along with Vahe, were previously selected to the ESPN.com True Freshman All-American Team. All three players were named to the honorable mention All-Big 12 team, along with three other true freshmen, CB Davante Davis, P Michael Dickson and CB Holton Hill. Jefferson was selected Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

    Without wasting any more of my time on this, final stat to look at: Malik Jefferson was injured at the end of the year last year, and compiled the majority of his stats at the beginning of the year. Yet…you say he had a “strong finish.”

    These kinds of things don’t bring much validity to an article that cut and pastes a spreadsheet. Just saying.

  • Horns20

    Why is it that Pro Football Focus, who is usually so good at these type of things let a biased writer choose this ranking. Aside from Daylon Mack and Christian Kirk, there were no Freshman who deeply impacted the season. Meanwhile you rank teams like Clemson, Tennessee, and Texas who all had Freshman that dominated, in the bottom half. I don’t understand why Patrick Vahe was rated so low after being voted a Freshman All American, starting every game he wasn’t injured in, and showing improvement against Power 5 schools. Meanwhile you say Jefferson improved yet his best 3 games were arguably weeks 1 (Notre Dame), 2 (Rice), and 6 (OU). Meanwhile you claimed that there were actually Players and Teams that did better than Khalil Mackenzie and Mitch Hyatt? Those are some of the Best players in the nation not just the Best freshman. Article is inconsistent and y’all usually do such a great job with these things, this is just surprising