Former five-star recruits who needed big college seasons
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
At the beginning of the college football season I identified some former five-stars that needed a big season to live up to that hype. Here’s how they did.
Jordan Anthony - Michigan
The skinny: Anthony considered Michigan, Penn State, Maryland, Auburn and Oklahoma, but after his first visit to Ann Arbor the Wolverines were considered the heavy favorite. He ended his process with a commitment to Michigan in December.
Anthony redshirted in 2017 and then only played in four games at linebacker in 2018. While he showed improvement during the offseason, he was never able to carry that over to the season. Totaling only 11 tackles in the minimal time he saw the field, Anthony entered his name into the transfer portal in early December with the hopes of revitalizing his playing career.
Farrell’s take: This is puzzling in many ways because Anthony was not only a standout linebacker but he was also a very good running back in high school. Now we didn’t expect him to switch sides of the ball to offense, but we did expect his athleticism would overcome his lack of size. I expected the next Jabrill Peppers or Devin Bush at Michigan and that never happened.
Baron Browning - Ohio State
The skinny: Browning was heavily considering Ohio State, Florida State, Alabama, TCU and UCLA, but after an official visit to Columbus for the Buckeyes’ game against Michigan - and a follow-up in-home visit from coach Urban Meyer - he committed to Ohio State.
After seeing minimal playing time during his first two seasons, Browning finally began to reach his potential this fall with 43 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks. He recently decided to return for his final collegiate season in 2020, when he will the opportunity to further improve his level of play.
Farrell’s take: Browning is coming along and that’s good to see and I think he has a monster season next year as he got stronger as the season progressed. He makes a lot of plays in the backfield and he has really learned the speed of the game from a diagnostic level. He was a big, physical linebacker who could run out of high school with an amazing ceiling and we are finally seeing that.
Ben Davis - Alabama
The skinny: With both of his parents being Alabama alumni, and with his dad having played for the Tide, everyone assumed that Davis would follow suit. While he did eventually commit to Alabama, several schools, mainly Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame, put up a serious fight.
Surprisingly, Davis began the 2019 season without making much of an on-field contribution during his time in Tuscaloosa. There were a few signs of hope after a promising summer camp performance, but Davis again failed to make his mark, finishing with only four tackles, one sack and one pass breakup in the five games he saw playing time.
Farrell’s take: This is the most puzzling of them all because Davis had size, instincts, speed, power and great bloodlines and has been an amazing bust. There’s really no need to go into this much more. He should have been an SEC star and he’s been a career depth guy at best.
Trevon Grimes - Florida
The skinny: While he also considered Florida, Miami, Florida State, Alabama and Georgia, Grimes was considered an Ohio State lean since the start of his process. He finally put an end to any speculation with a commitment to Ohio State in late August.
Grimes totaled only three receptions for 20 yards in 2017 before returning to the Sunshine State to deal with family issues. In December, he decided to leave Ohio State and transfer to Florida.
After totaling 26 receptions for 364 yards and two touchdowns during his first season in Gainesville, Grimes’ level of production saw a small bump this fall with 33 receptions for 491 yards and three touchdowns. He will return to Gainesville for his senior season.
Farrell’s take: Grimes is coming around but is clearly far from living up to his five-star potential. This is a bit surprising because he had it all – size, hands and downfield speed – coming out of high school. Can a lot of this be placed on the shoulders or average to poor quarterback play at Florida? Sure, but that’s not enough of an excuse. We’ll see how he does next season.
Hunter Johnson - Northwestern
The skinny: Johnson initially was an early commitment to Tennessee, but then flipped to Clemson at the end of his junior season after taking a visit to Death Valley. With the Tigers, Johnson got caught up in a numbers game. After redshirting in 2017 and watching Kelly Bryant lead the offense the arrival of Trevor Lawrence on campus in 2018 led to his transfer.
Finding a new program closer to home, Northwestern, Johnson won the starting job over T.J. Green but then struggled immensely. Dealing with some family issues, along with some difficulties grasping the playbook, Johnson only completed 50 of 108 passes for 432 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. The redshirt sophomore will have to battle for the starting job during the spring and summer.
Farrell’s take: Johnson has been a major disappointment. I can see the issue at Clemson with a mega talent like Lawrence coming on board, but there’s no excuse for the play at Northwestern. This kid looked great in high school and had a ton of tools, but we don’t see that now.
Keandre Jones - Maryland
The skinny: Jones initially committed to home-state Maryland, but after taking an official visit to Ohio State in January he flipped to the Buckeyes. In a situation very similar to Rahshaun Smith’s, Jones never met expectations in Columbus. After totaling only 29 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 16 career games, he made the decision to transfer to Maryland. Jones shined this fall with 73 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Farrell’s take: I’m not saying Jones has taken that final step to be a five-star performer, but at least we saw some of what we saw out of high school this season. He was always an active tackler with good sideline-to-sideline speed and solid instincts coming out of high school, so the delay in his development has been puzzling.
Tyler Shelvin - LSU
The skinny: Shelvin avoided any recruiting drama by committing early to in-state LSU. While Nebraska was the most persistent with its efforts to try and flip him, but in reality he was always solid with the Tigers.
After redshirting in 2017 and then playing in only four games in 2018 due to injuries, this became an important season for Shelvin. Some injuries on the defensive line in Baton Rouge this fall pushed Shelvin into the spotlight and he responded in a very positive manner. With 39 tackles and three tackles for a loss, he has established himself as a vital part of the defensive line rotation for the Tigers.
Farrell’s take: Shelvin had a big year as a run-stuffer and pocket-crusher this past season and he will be back for more next year. He’s not a great pursuit guy, but NFL teams looking for a big body who can take up blockers and clog the middle will be very interested in Shelvin especially after another season. He likely won’t live up to his five-star status, but he could come close.
Rahshaun Smith - Maryland
The skinny: Smith initially became an early commitment to Clemson, but then backed off and took a closer look at LSU, Oregon and Auburn. However, he then re-committed to the Tigers a few days before National Signing Day.
Smith was never able to reach his potential at Clemson, totaling 28 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 17 career games. He made the decision to transfer after the 2018 season and found a new home in his home-state, Maryland, where started this season for the Terps. Smith never fully hit his stride at Maryland, totaling only 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and one sack in the 10 games he played.
Farrell’s take: This is puzzling but Smith has been a massive bust and there’s no way we could have foreseen that. He was big and mobile coming out of high school and he could play outside or inside and rush the passer. This is a great example of a physical specimen just not picking up the college game as expected.
Aubrey Solomon - Tennessee
The skinny: Solomon initially committed to Michigan, but then re-opened his recruitment during the summer leading into his senior season. After taking closer looks at Georgia, Alabama and USC he re-committed to the Wolverines on National Signing Day. Solomon showed a great of promise as a true freshman, totaling 18 tackles in 13 games. However, a knee injury last season limited him to only six tackles in five games.
In December, he decided to transfer, landing in Tennessee, where after finally gaining immediate eligibility, he finished with 28 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks and one fumble recovery in 11 games. He will be expected to have a bigger season in 2020.
Farrell’s take: Solomon still has a chance to live up to massive expectations but he’s still far away. This was an athletic defensive tackle who was great in pursuit and could run plays down to the outside and we’ve seen small flashes of that, but not enough. Next year will be a huge year for him as he should be an impact player for the Vols.
Levonta Taylor - Florida State
The skinny: Taylor had offers from many of the top programs in the country, but after spending three days in Tallahassee during the spring he committed to the Seminoles a few days later.
In his first two seasons Taylor saw plenty of playing time, but 2018 was hampered by injuries. An offseason move to strong safety, where he earned the starting job, had some predicting a big season. However, that never fully materialized. Limited to nine games due to an injury, Taylor finished with 37 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, one sack and three pass breakups.
Farrell’s take: Taylor never lived up to the hype as a cornerback and wasn’t overly effective as a safety as well. He was solid but certainly not a five-star college football player which is surprising. He had length despite being a tad shorter than you’d want and he played bigger receivers well in high school. A lot of things didn’t work out at Florida State over the last couple of years and Taylor is one of them.