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Revisiting College Football's Stacked 2014 Recruiting Class Taking over the NFL

David Kenyon

College football recruiting is an inexact science. Thousands of high school players aspire to reach the next level each year, and analysts all over the country have the complicated job of tracking, evaluating, projecting and ranking these prospects.

It's a challenging task. Ofteneither for personal or on-field reasons alikeeven the players who are exceptionally talented don't match their upside.

But sometimes, analysts crush this process.

One of the prime examples is a 2014 cycle that has provided a remarkable wave of star power to the NFL. The class, per 247Sports' composite rankings, boasted 5-stars in defensive end Myles Garrett (No. 2 overall), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (11) and safety Jamal Adams (32), each of whom has already earned All-Pro honors.

Among the 33 players who earned a 5-star billing, nearly half of them have developed into key players.

Running backs Leonard Fournette (1), Dalvin Cook (13), Joe Mixon (19) and Nick Chubb (33) all finished in the top 10 in rushing yards last season. Sony Michel (20) has two 900-yard seasons and scored the only touchdown in Super Bowl LIII.

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Athlete-turned-Pittsburgh Steelers-wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster (21) racked up the league's fifth-most receiving yards in 2018. Offensive tackle Cam Robinson (4) has notched 31 starts with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson (7) has opened 39 games.

Defensive end Lorenzo Carter (18) earned a first-string role alongside Jabrill Peppers (3) for the New York Giants in 2019. Miami Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan (22) has 177 tackles in 29 games (28 starts), and San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas (26) has 46 appearances.

Quarterback Kyle Allen (8), despite his struggles in college, even replaced injured Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton last season.

And, again, that's only the 5-stars. The next group is composed of top-100 prospects.

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (91) has back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and is the only NFL running back with two years of 100-plus receptions. Quarterback Deshaun Watson (42) has secured two straight AFC South titles for the Houston Texans.

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Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (53) earned All-Pro honors as a rookie on special teams and collected an NFL-best 104 solo tackles in 2019.

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore (55) won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 and is a fixture in the New Orleans Saints defense. Indianapolis Colts left guard Quenton Nelson (61) is a two-time All-Pro, and teammate Braden Smith (63) has 29 starts.

Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (97) has made 27 starts for the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman (34), Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel (56) and Green Bay Packers receiver Allen Lazard (78) are valuable complementary pieces.

Ultimately, about 25 percent of top-100 players became NFL starters within three years of draft eligibility. Plus, of the 84 individual All-Pros over the last two seasons, only the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes have more repeat honorees than 2014.

Focusing only on top prospects, that's an exceptional hit rate.

While that group of 100 players is an arbitrary cutoff, classes should be judged by the top players. Still, it'd be hasty not to mention the others who have emerged.

And, as always, there are some underdog success stories—the conversation must begin with Patrick Mahomes (398).

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The league MVP in 2018, he joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in the same season. Mahomes followed up the historic campaign by winning MVP honors in Super Bowl LIV.

Mahomes garnered All-Pro recognition in 2018 with Chiefs teammate Tyreek Hill (No. 3 JUCO) and Leighton Vander Esch. A zero-star recruit, Vander Esch was a true diamond in the rough.

Then in 2019, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin (4-star, 168) and Saints special-teamer J.T. Gray (3-star, 632) secured All-Pro status. Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (4-star, 131) earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, too.

Notable 4-stars are Isaiah Wynn (110), Sam Hubbard (192), Derek Barnett (209), Mike Gesicki (223), Terry McLaurin (248), Poona Ford (256), Mason Rudolph (269), Drue Tranquill (289), Chase Winovich (299), Fred Warner (318) and Frank Ragnow (324).

As for 3-stars, Colts safety Malik Hooker (360) and Broncos defensive end Bradley Chubb (734) have excelled when healthy. Dalton Risner (509), Marlon Mack (752), Deebo Samuel (838) and Elgton Jenkins (1,663) are rising stars.

This recruiting cycle looks nothing short of special.

Mahomes, Watson and McCaffrey are superstars, and Nelson performs at that level. Garrett, Cook, Adams, Humphrey, Godwin, Smith-Schuster and Fournette are excellent players. Many others, from Andrews to Barnett to Hooker, are rising stars.

And since these players are preparing for only their second, third or fourth NFL seasons, college football's memorable 2014 class is just getting started.

          

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

   
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