The nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, check!
Oregon’s highest overall rated player, check!
Highest rated Duck defensive end in history, check!
Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux ended Oregon's three-year drought of signing a five-star player. The defensive weapon was wanted by everyone, and passed up Alabama, Florida State and Florida to sign the dotted line with Oregon and coach Mario Cristobal.
Cristobal called the defensive weapon a “game changer” and there is no doubt Thibodeaux will compete for a starting job from day one. Listed at 6-foot-5, 234 pounds, he’s an elite pass rusher with scary speed and agility that creates major issues for offensive lines.
Landing the nation’s No. 1 recruit is unchartered territory for the Ducks. To put this in perspective, I researched ESPN’s No.1 recruits from the last five years to see where they went, where they are and if they lived up to expectations.
What I found is five athletes that have five very different futures and one common thread; the pressure and hype that arises with being the highest-touted players in the nation. Like it or not, Thibodeaux is now in this elite club of players who you may or may not have heard of. Whether he busts or excels is yet to be seen.
2014: Running back Leonard Fournette, signed with LSU
A name you definitely know and a tale of success.
Leonard Fournette signed with LSU with near-unprecedented hype in 2014. During his three seasons as a Tiger, he set school single-season records with 1,953 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. As a sophomore, he led the country with 162.8 rushing yards per game and was compared to all-time great Herschel Walker.
In his three seasons at LSU, he totaled 3,830 rushing yards and 40 rushing touchdowns. But his football career didn’t end there.
Fournette was the first running back drafted in the 2017 NFL draft. He was selected by Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 4 overall pick. His contact? Four-year, $27 million, with a $18 million signing bonus.
In his rookie season, Fournette helped the Jaguars clinch the AFC South, rushing for 1,040 yards, 302 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns.
Injuries and getting into a fistfight that led to suspension, have hampered his second NFL season. He’s played in six games and rushed for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Although there has been a noticeable decline in his productivity this season, as a once No. 1 recruit in the nation, Fournette has lived up to expectations.
2015: Defensive end Byron Cowart, signed with Auburn
Labeled the biggest five-star bust in college football.
Expected to make an immediate impact as a freshman in 2015, Byron Cowart played sparingly and finished with just six tackles and no sacks in five games with the Tigers. Hopes that he would improve as a sophomore were shut down quickly. As a junior, Cowart was beat out by a true freshman and left after three games to go home to Seffner, Fla., and take classes at a local junior college.
In 26 games at Auburn, he made just 15 tackles and no sacks.
Cowart posted on his social media about struggling with the pressure of living up to the No. 1 recruit in the nation title. Ultimately, he was unsure of himself and the longevity of his football career.
He did choose to return to football, enrolling at Maryland, a program that recruited him out of high school. Cowart led the Terps with three sacks and was tied for third on the squad with five tackles for loss. He started all 12 games and recorded interceptions against Rutgers and Michigan State. His modest career at Maryland earned him Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.
2016: Defensive tackle Rashan Gary, signed with Michigan
A projected top NFL draft pick and potential galore.
Rashan Gary is currently in the news for declaring his intention to enter the 2019 NFL Draft. The junior will not play for Michigan in the Peach Bowl vs. No. 10 Florida, according to coach Jim Harbaugh.
The defensive end finished his career at Michigan with 137 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 35 career games. His three years were not jaw-dropping or spectacular, but he was dependable.
However, it’s the combination of his size, speed and athleticism that lands Gary in the first round of 2019 NFL Mock Drafts. Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board projects him going eighth overall, while NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay thinks he will be selected second overall.
"For him, maybe it's more 'what could have been (at Michigan),'” NFL draft analyst Matt Miller said. “I think he got played out of position some as an edge rusher instead of a three-technique. But he's going to test so well. People are going to fall in love with his potential. He'll end up as a top-10 pick as long as everything checks out medically, and it should."
2017: Offensive tackle Trey Smith, signed with Tenneessee
Lived up to the bill, but now out with blood clots in his lungs.
Last season as a freshman, Trey Smith was the only offensive lineman to start every game for Tennessee, playing four different positions and becoming the first Vol true freshman to start at left tackle in more than 30 years. Smith was the only Tenneessee player to earn All-SEC honors in 2017, named second-team by SEC coaches. He also earned a spot on the FWAA Freshman All-America team.
He played and dominated the first seven games of the 2018 season before doctors found blood clots in his lungs for the second time this year. The first time coming in February, which caused him to miss spring football and summer conditioning.
He is expected to make a full recovery with the help of Tennessee physicians and treatment.
2018: Dual threat QB Justin Fields, signed with Georgia
Ohio State’s next starting quarterback?
Justin Fields spent his freshman season playing behind Bulldogs star sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm, who has a 23-4 record as a starter.
As many college football backup quarterbacks do; Fields is exploring his transfer options. Wanting to escape his backup duties, Fields is interested in transferring to Ohio State, as Bulldog quarterback Dwayne Haskins is expected to enter the 2019 NFL draft.
Fields played in 12 games this season, but most of his action came in garbage time. He completed 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
It appears his last game as a Bulldog will be in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day when No. 5 Georgia faces No. 15 Texas.
2019: Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, signed with Oregon