College football’s National Signing Day is in the books, and most of the incoming classes for the 2014 season are now complete. For rabid fans in SEC country, there aren’t many moments during the year (other than a crisp Fall Saturday) more exciting than finding out which high school stars will don the jerseys of their beloved teams.
Unfortunately, not all of these highly rated blue-chips pan out according to their ratings. Some, whether their particular set of circumstances are fair or not, earn the label of “bust.”
Following are the top five biggest SEC recruiting disappointments of the past several years. They’re not all complete “busts” yet, as a couple still have one last shot at redemption in 2014, but their careers have been largely disappointing at the SEC schools they signed with.
5. Isaiah Crowell; Running Back, Georgia, 2011
Isaiah Crowell was a consensus five-star recruit who was courted heavily by a large number of schools. He chose to stay home and play for the team he grew up cheering for, and Dawg fans couldn’t have been happier.
Things didn’t start out so bad for Crowell in Athens, as he rushed for 850 yards as a freshman in 2011. It all came crashing down shortly thereafter, however, following a felony weapons charge, which was later dropped.
After his arrest, Crowell was dismissed from the team. He then transferred to FCS Alabama State, and has recorded two productive seasons of 800 and 1,100 yards rushing. These stats don’t exactly scream “bust,” but Crowell’s brief career as a Georgia Bulldog is certainly worthy of the label.
Crowell has entered the 2014 NFL draft, and he’ll be eagerly awaiting to hear his name called this May.
4. Andre Debose; Wide Receiver, Florida; 2009
Of the players on this list, Andre Debose is one of two with the chance to play himself off of it, as he will return for a sixth season at Florida in 2014. Thus far, however, his career has been a huge disappointment.
Upon signing with the Gators in 2009, Debose was billed as the next Percy Harvin – a comparison that comes with no shortage of pressure to perform.
As a heralded high school recruit, Debose closely resembled the former Florida and current Seattle Seahawks’ standout in a number of areas. Most notable among them were his blazing speed in the open field and his versatility.
Debose’s career never took off the way Harvin’s did, however. He has a total of only 29 pass receptions five years at Florida, and he’s reached the end zone just eight times. Granted, his career has been riddled with injuries, the latest of which was an ACL tear that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season.
Unfortunately, injuries don’t make a talented recruit immune to being labeled a disappointment. The 2014 season will offer one final chance for this gifted athlete to taste some success at Florida.
3. Russell Shepard; Quarterback, LSU, 2009
Not many players step onto a college practice field with the hype that accompanied Russell Shepard in 2009. His career at LSU wasn’t a total failure, as he did contribute to the Tigers’ SEC Championship season in 2011. He didn’t come anywhere close to living up to the lofty expectations, however, and his career is largely viewed by Tiger fans as a tremendous letdown.
Following a freshman season in which he made a moderate contribution as LSU’s “Wildcat” quarterback, Shepard made the switch to wide receiver. The transition was far from smooth. He experienced difficulties with his route-running and ball security, and he failed to ever get a firm handle on his new position.
The Houston native finished his career with 10 touchdowns, but never lived up to his lofty billing coming out of high school.
Shepard made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2013, and was placed on injured reserve near the end of the season.
2. Phillip Sims; Quarterback, Alabama, 2009
Phillip Sims signed with the Crimson Tide in 2009 as the nation’s No. 1-ranked quarterback.
One would think that playing at Alabama for the great Nick Saban would lend itself to a successful college career, but things didn’t go according to plan for Sims.
He was beaten out for the starting position in 2011 by a skinny redshirt sophomore named AJ McCarron, and the rest is history. Sims never saw significant action at Alabama, other than mop-up duty, as McCarron tightened his grip on the starting job by leading the Tide to the national championship.
Sims transferred to his home state school of Virginia after the 2011 season, where he split time under center with Michael Rocco in 2012. He was declared academically ineligible for the Cavaliers in 2013, and has since transferred to Winston-Salem State.
Like Debose, Sims will have one final chance at gridiron success in 2014. But after coming to Alabama as the top-ranked passer in the country, the Virginia native’s career in Tuscaloosa is certainly worthy of being called a disappointment.
1. Bryce Brown; Running Back, Tennessee, 2009
Bryce Brown was the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in 2009. After a lengthy delay, he ended up signing with Tennessee and newly hired coach Lane Kiffin.
With 460 yards rushing, Brown didn’t have a terrible freshman season for the Vols as a backup to starter Monterrio Hardesty. Following the 2009 season, Kiffin made the move to USC after just one year at Tennessee. After only a single day of spring practice under new coach Derek Dooley, Brown decided to jump ship as well.
Unlike Kiffin’s sudden departure, no couches were burned when Brown left Rocky Top, but Vol fans aren’t likely to ever speak glowingly of his brief stint in Knoxville.
He transferred to Kansas State but, had to sit out a year when Dooley refused to release him from his Tennessee scholarship. In September of 2011, Brown left the Kansas State program with just 16 rushing yards to his credit.
He entered the NFL draft, and was picked in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles. In two seasons, his professional statistics already dwarf his meager collegiate numbers. Brown has been a reliable backup to Eagles starter LeSean McCoy, and he rushed for over 100 yards against the Bears this past December.
But when considering the fact that he was the nation’s top-ranked recruit in 2009, Brown’s collegiate career can easily be described as a “bust” of epic proportions.