Five former 5-star recruits ready for breakout seasons

Steve Palazzolo takes a look at some of the most highly-touted recruits ready to make a statement in their third year of collegiate play.

| 10 months ago
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Five former 5-star recruits ready for breakout seasons

Recruiting rankings are either really good or way off depending on who you ask, and there’s a bit of truth in both perspectives. One thing that is true is not every five-star recruit lives up to his enormous expectations and many of them develop at different rates. Whether it’s a matter of adjusting to the college game, re-shaping the body, or scheme usage, five-star players are susceptible to slow starts to their college career.

However, the talent that landed them the coveted five star in high school is often still there, and those players are on the brink of breaking out at any time. Using the 247 Sports Composite rankings from 2014, we dove into their list of 33 five-star prospects who may not have lived up to the hype just yet, but are primed to take the next step as they head into their third year in college.

1. Chad Thomas, DE, Miami

At 6-foot-6 265 pounds, Thomas is not the ideal build to be playing on the interior of the defensive line, but that’s exactly what he did in Miami’s old system. He lined up at four or five-technique (head up or outside shoulder of offensive tackle) on 169 of his 570 snaps, and he played defensive tackle on a four-man defensive line on 93 snaps. That’s a big chunk of his time playing on the inside where he had to deal with more double teams and run-blocking guards. Enter new defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, and we may be seeing much more production from Thomas. He already posted a solid pass rushing grade last season, finishing with two sacks, three QB hits, and 22 hurries on 326 rushes, but those numbers should improve as he plays more of a traditional pass-rushing defensive end role and he won’t get pushed around in the running game nearly as often as he did last season. Look for Thomas to take a big step as a pass rusher and improve his negative run-stopping grade from his first two years.

2. Tre’ Williams, LB, Auburn

After two seasons as a backup, Williams is slated to start this season as a true junior. Last year he did see the field for 371 snaps, finishing with a strong 75.2 grade against the run. He could stand to do a better job of using his hands to defeat blocks from fullbacks and second-level offensive linemen, but he’s a patient run defender who is in the right place more often than not and he finishes plays as a sure tackler (Missed only three of 46 attempts last season). Williams finished with a run stop percentage of 10.3 percent, good for 45th out of 204 qualifiers at inside linebacker. While Williams may not be a great option to man up in coverage, he can pack a punch and do some damage on underneath routes – he has chance to have a big season for the Tigers.

3. Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama

Cracking the Alabama defensive line rotation as a young player is no easy task and that’s a big reason for Hand’s limited two-year snap total of 260. Last season, he made the most of his 181 snaps as he graded positively against the run while adding four sacks, two QB hits, and five hurries on only 121 rushes. Hand saw his most extensive playing time against Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern, though he did see the field 37 times during the College Football Playoff and graded well in both games. With DEs A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed moving on to the NFL, Hand will have plenty of opportunities to live up to his five-star hype.

4. Rashaan Evans, OLB, Alabama

Given Alabama’s penchant for finding five-star talent, it’s no surprise to see them with another name on this list. Evans has been used as a pass rushing outside linebacker in his two years at Alabama, producing whenever given the opportunity. He’s only rushed the passer 98 times the last two seasons but he’s delivered with six sacks, four QB hits, and 11 hurries. Like teammate, Tim Williams, Evans brings a different look to the Alabama outside linebacking corps as he’s more explosive than the longer, heavier run-first players that head coach Nick Saban usually prefers. Williams broke out last season after being given an opportunity to rush the passer in passing situations and Evans is primed to make a similar jump this season. We already know that Williams will pair with Ryan Anderson to form a lethal edge rushing duo, but Evans will get his fair share of opportunities and the pressures should add up here in his junior season.

5. Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia

It’s Carter’s time to shine after outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins have moved on to the NFL. The former five-star has had his opportunities the last two seasons, starting out slow as a true freshman in 2014 before showing improvement as a sophomore. Carter was better against the run last season, grading above-average compared to a slightly-below average true freshman season while his pass rushing has settled in right around average through two years. He long build is similar to Floyd’s and Georgia is hoping that this is the year he takes a Floyd-like jump and realizes his potential. Carter is now the starter heading into his junior season and Georgia’s defense has a lot of pass rushing production to replace on the edge.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • robert mcdowell

    FYI, Rashaan Evans has been moved indside to Will where he looks to see most of the time in Nickle and Dime, and potential to earn time in Base as well