Revisiting the 2016 class: Recruits who had the biggest impacts

ByTom VanHaaren ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

We aren't reranking previous recruiting classes ... yet. But we are going to take a look back at a former class and pinpoint a few prospects who made the biggest impacts for their schools (and, in some cases, the sport).

Recruiting rankings aren't an exact science, and they always lead to major debates about who will pan out or bust. Various factors can influence whether a recruit makes an impact at the school with which he signs, but every year there are a few stars who rise to the top.

Here, we'll take a look at which recruits from the Class of 2016 -- some who were just drafted into the NFL -- made the most of their college careers.

QB Dwayne Haskins

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: 63; fourth at position

School: Ohio State

Status: Drafted 15th overall in the 2019 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins

Haskins was originally committed to Maryland out of high school, but a coaching change led him to open his recruitment, and he eventually signed with Ohio State. Haskins had become one of the best passers in high school and was highly touted coming into his college career.

He sat for a few seasons, appearing in only eight games and attempting 57 passes in the 2017 season. He patiently waited his turn, though, and earned the starting job for the 2018 season. Haskins proceeded to break 28 records at Ohio State and seven Big Ten records, including those for touchdown passes in a season (50) and passing yards in a season (4,831).

QB McKenzie Milton

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: Not ranked; two-star recruit (67th at position)

School: UCF

Status: Senior; recovering from serious leg injury

Despite his two-star status, Milton became a household name at UCF, finding success with the upstart Knights program after being lightly recruited out of Mililani High School in Hawaii (he had only had a few smaller offers, including Hawai'i and UCF).

In the last regular-season game of 2018, Milton suffered a serious injury, which has led to multiple surgeries as he continues to rehabilitate. Milton remains on the roster, but it's unknown if he'll be able to play again.

Milton was a huge part of the 13-0 campaign in 2017 and threw for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns that season while rushing for 613 yards and eight touchdowns. It's hard to argue that many players have had a bigger impact on their team than Milton has had on his.

QB Ian Book

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: Not ranked; three-star recruit (22nd at position)

School: Notre Dame

Status: Senior; starter

Remember, this list is subjective, and it isn't comprehensive, so though other quarterbacks might have outplayed Book, he had a huge impact on Notre Dame's offense last season and has a chance to make an even bigger mark in 2019.

Book was in the recruiting class after Brandon Wimbush, who was an ESPN 300 quarterback and ranked as the No. 4 dual-threat prospect. By all accounts, it was Wimbush who got all the attention, and Book was an afterthought.

He eventually beat Wimbush for the starting job, though, and never looked back. Book was the first FBS quarterback to win his first five starts of a season with a completion percentage better than 70 percent since Russell Wilson did it at Wisconsin in 2011, per Notre Dame.

More importantly, Book won every game in the regular season after being named the starter, losing only in the postseason to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff.

OL Jonah Williams

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: 25; third at position

School: Alabama

Status: Drafted 11th overall in the 2019 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals

Williams was a highly touted and highly ranked recruit out of Folsom, California, and he had quite a few big programs after him in high school. He eventually headed east to play for Nick Saban.

Williams started his freshman season and was one of the top freshmen in the country, despite playing one of the harder positions in terms of adjustments early in a prospect's career. He started every game of his Alabama career, which amounted to 44 games at right and left tackle. His reputation for being an anchor to a talented Alabama offensive line was certainly earned.

DT Quinnen Williams

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: 236; 31st at position

School: Alabama

Status: Drafted third overall in the 2019 NFL draft by the New York Jets

Another Williams from Alabama, this time on the defensive side. Quinnen Williams was committed to Auburn at one point in his recruitment. Then he decommitted and eventually signed with Alabama.

Williams redshirted his freshman season. He then played in every game of his redshirt freshman season and finished fourth on the team in tackles for loss (6.5).

The 2018 season is when he really broke out. He won the Outland Trophy and was named to nearly every All-American list. In that 2018 season, he tallied 70 total tackles, including 18.5 for loss and seven sacks. Williams went pro after only three seasons on campus at Alabama.

TEs T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: Neither ranked; two-star and three-star, respectively

School: Iowa

Statuses: Both drafted in 2019 NFL draft: Hockenson eighth overall by the Detroit Lions, Fant 20th overall by the Denver Broncos

This is a two-for-one because both Hockenson and Fant had outstanding careers at Iowa. Fant was a three-star prospect out of Nebraska, and he had offers from Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa State, among others. Hockenson was only a two-star out of Iowa, and he held some smaller offers, despite his 6-foot-5 frame.

The two became the only tight ends from the same college team drafted in the first round. It also marked the first time two tight ends went in the top 20 since 1992, when Derek Brown and Johnny Mitchell were drafted back-to-back at Nos. 14 and 15.

Hockenson and Fant combined for 1,279 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns this past season and led their team in both categories, making a huge impact on the offense.

DT Ed Oliver

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: Fourth; second at position

School: Houston

Status: Drafted ninth overall in the 2019 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills

Oliver had the opportunity to go to nearly any major program in the country but decided to stay home. He chose Houston over offers from Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas and others. A five-star prospect choosing Houston was going to make an impact no matter what -- on or off the field.

Oliver brought attention that normally wouldn't have been put on a school such as Houston. In his three years, he racked up 193 total tackles, 54 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.

DT Dexter Lawrence

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: Sixth; third at position

School: Clemson

Status: Drafted 17th overall in the 2019 draft by the New York Giants

Lawrence was a five-star out of North Carolina who had his pick of schools to attend. He signed with Clemson after a thorough recruiting process and came in as a 6-foot-5, 335-pound freshman.

He was named ACC defensive rookie of the year by the media and coaches after tallying 79 tackles and seven sacks, setting Clemson's freshman record. He finished his career with 162 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks and was part of an outstanding defensive line unit that won two national championships at Clemson.

LB Devin Bush

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: 181; 12th at position

School: Michigan

Status: Drafted 10th overall in the 2019 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers

Bush is the son of former Florida State star Devin Bush Sr., who had an excellent NFL career. Bush, from Pembroke Pines, Florida, had the chance to follow in his dad's footsteps as a Seminole, but he chose Michigan.

Bush played his freshman season for Michigan but really started to make noise his sophomore season, when he played in all 13 games and had 102 tackles and five sacks. He was a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award and stepped his game up even more in the 2018 season, eventually being named a unanimous All-American.

He was an emotional leader for Michigan's stout defense and was a playmaker from sideline to sideline. He had a huge impact on the success of his unit.

WR N'Keal Harry

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: 22; first at position

School: Arizona State

Status: Drafted 32nd overall in the 2019 NFL draft by the New England Patriots

Harry was a wildly successful receiver in high school and had an excellent frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He was from Chandler, Arizona -- a state that typically doesn't produce a lot of elite recruits -- and was still the No. 1-ranked receiver in the class.

He committed to Arizona State and played his first season on campus. He led all freshman receivers with 58 catches and tied for fourth with five touchdowns. Harry finished his career with 2,889 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Sun Devils and was a steady point in the offense throughout his time in Tempe. He had an all-conference season before he was the last pick in the first round of this year's draft.

LB Paddy Fisher

2016 ESPN 300 ranking: Not ranked; three-star recruit (28th at position)

School: Northwestern

Status: Junior; starter

Fisher wasn't highly recruited out of Katy, Texas, but he has had a big impact on Northwestern's defense. It's easy to overlook a school such as Northwestern, but Fisher has been a rock of stability his entire time on campus.

In 2017, he led all FBS first-year players with 113 tackles and 65 total tackles, and he was named second-team All-Big Ten and Big Ten Freshman Defensive Player of the Year by the Big Ten Network. Fisher followed that season with 116 total tackles in 2018 and is primed to be a top NFL draft pick next year.