Every year it happens to every team in every recruiting class. There is a player that flies below the radar and turns out to be better than many of the highly rated players ahead of him. Surprise players who seemingly come from nothing and go overlooked without many big time offers keep the hopes of many high school players alive, and they continue to mesmerize fans and analysts about how they could have gone so unnoticed.
This list of the top five steals of the past five seasons is about guys who proved people wrong and excelled way beyond where they were supposed to. I have done my best to compile this list, which involves the recruiting classes from 2008 until 2012 (obviously 2013 players aren’t included because they have not played in a game so far) and includes an honorable mention list of guys who just missed the cut. This was no easy task, and I’m sure that you can come up with some guys who make a good case to be on this list. This list often proves that it is not always the number of stars in high school that determines a good player, but rather the worthiness of stars after college.
Ezekiel Ansah - BYU
You might be asking yourself, how is this guy not No. 1 overall? Well, he was not necessarily recruited to play football, so he doesn’t technically qualify to be on the list, but I had to add him because of his unique story. Ansah never grew up playing football, and the Ghana native first attended BYU to walk on the basketball program. After being cut and then walking on to the track team, Ansah decided to give American football a shot. As a defensive end and outside linebacker, Ansah played three seasons while recording 62 tackles and 4.5 sacks as senior. He was drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft to the Detroit Lions with the fifth overall pick.
Star Lotulelei – Utah
Lotulelei was a three-star prospect coming out of high school in the class of 2010 and chose Utah over BYU, Oregon State and Utah State. In three seasons, the defensive tackle racked up 107 tackles, seven sacks, and four forced fumbles. In 2012, he was named a first-team All-American and was drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft at pick No. 14 by the Carolina Panthers.
Eric Fisher – Central Michigan
The 6’8 offensive tackle was just a two-star recruit out of high school, and his only offer was from the Chippewas. Fisher was a first-team All-American and first-team all-MAC in 2012 as he started 13 games for Central Michigan. In the 2013 NFL Draft, Fisher was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 1 overall pick.
Top Five Steals
5. Todd Gurley – Georgia
Yes, you may be thinking how in the world is Gurley a steal? He was a four-star recruit out of high school and was given the honor of high school player of the year in the state of North Carolina. Yet, Gurley wasn’t as advertised as fellow North Carolinian and current Georgia Bulldog, Keith Marshall, who was the No. 1 running back in the nation. Gurley did not play in the Under Armour or Army All-American game, but rather the Semper Fi All-American game. He is a steal because Georgia literally stole him from the state of North Carolina. The only competition for the Dawgs was from UNC, Duke, and North Carolina State. Many people thought he may take a redshirt in his first season at Georgia, but he proved everyone wrong by being named first-team all-SEC and a freshman all-American after rushing for 1385 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first season at UGA.
4. Justin Blackmon – Oklahoma State
Blackmon was rated as a three-star recruit in the class of 2008 and chose the Cowboys over Northern Iowa, Colorado and Missouri. In just three seasons in Stillwater, Blackmon was a two-time all-American in 2010 and 2011 while compiling 3,564 receiving yards and 40 touchdowns. He was also named the 2010 Big 12 Player of The Year as a sophomore and won the Blietnikoff Award in 2010 and 2011. He was drafted No. 5 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
3. Collin Klein – Kansas State
Collin Klein was a three-star recruit in the class of 2008, and Kansas State was his only major offer. Klein proved doubters about his quarterback play wrong by becoming a two-year starter for the Wildcats and being named a Heisman Trophy finalist, second-team All-American, and Big 12 Offensive Player of The Year in 2012. In two seasons, Klein passed for 4,724 yards and 30 touchdowns, while also rushing for 2,485 yards and 56 touchdowns. He holds the Kansas State record for must rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a career and is tied with Ricky Williams for the most rushing touchdowns in a season in Big 12 history.
2. Luke Kuechly – Boston College
He was Mr. Everything as a linebacker at Boston College and chose them over Illinois, Louisville and Cincinnati in 2009. As just a three-star recruit out of high school in 2009, Kuechly was a three-time All-American (2010,11,12), ACC Defensive Player of The Year in 2011, and a recipient of the Bronko Naguski and Lombardi awards in 2011. He racked up an astounding 532 tackles in just three seasons, with 191 of those coming in his senior year alone. He was drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft as the No. 9 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers.
1. Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M
Who would have thought Manziel would be what he is now? If you said he would be this good, then you are lying. Manziel was a three-star recruit of out high school and chose the Aggies over Stanford, Baylor and Colorado State. As a redshirt freshman last season, Manziel passed for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns en route to a Heisman and Davey O’Brein Trophy. He was named first-team all-American, SEC Male Athlete of The Year and Associated Press College Football Player of The Year. Yes, SEC defensive coordinators, he can leave for the NFL after this upcoming season.
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