December 15, 2012

Rankings of Yore: Wilson on upswing

MORE RANKINGS OF YORE: Dec. 6 | Nov. 28 | Nov. 16

Each week, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell will take a look at what we got right -- and what we got wrong -- in our past player evaluations. We call it Rankings of Yore.

Giant contributions

Running back David Wilson of the New York Giants has had his ups and downs during his rookie season in the NFL, but Sunday against the New Orleans Saints will definitely be remembered as an up. Wilson scored three touchdowns, including one on a kick return, and totaled 327 all-purpose yards to help the Giants to an important 52-27 victory.

The 327 all-purpose yards were a team record, and Wilson became the first player in NFL history to total at least 200 return yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game. All of this comes after a tough start to the season for the 32nd overall pick in the first round of the 2012 draft. Wilson fumbled during his first NFL game, which led to getting thrown in the doghouse, but with Ahmad Bradshaw battling injuries and Andre Brown out for the rest of the year, he made the best of his new opportunity.

Coming from Virginia Tech, Wilson had three very productive years with the Hokies. Before declaring for the NFL after his junior season, Wilson rushed for 1,709 yards and was named the 2011 ACC Offensive Player of the Year.

Offers began to pile up for Wilson, who came out of Danville (Ga.) George Washington, with Virginia Tech, Michigan, Clemson, North Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland joining the party by the spring of 2008. After the conclusion of his junior year, Wilson took unofficial visits during the summer to Auburn and Virginia Tech. His trip to Blacksburg soon resulted in his commitment to the Hokies.

The Class of 2009 running back graduated as the No. 40 overall player nationally, the No. 4 overall running back and the No. 1 player in Virginia. Nationally, Wilson was ranked just ahead of Aaron Murray and Shayne Skov. Among running backs, he finished behind only Bryce Brown, Trent Richardson and Christine Michael.

[ Watch: Looking back: David Wilson prospect video ]

Peterson matches his billing

Since Adrian Peterson joined the Minnesota Vikings in 2007, he has been known as one of the more dynamic running backs and overall players in the league. Sadly, there was a chance that this would come to a sudden end last season when on Dec. 26 Peterson tore his ACL and MCL against the Washington Redskins. Miraculously, though, Peterson has returned better than ever, and he leads the NFL with 1,600 rushing yards. On Sunday, he helped the Vikings to an important win against the Chicago Bears with 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Peterson took the NFL by storm in 2007 by winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award after rushing for 1,341 yards. He has continued his domination, as he recently became the sixth-fastest player in league history to reach the 8,000-rushing-yard mark.

Peterson entered the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 draft. While playing his college ball at Oklahoma, he quickly made a name for himself and finished his freshman season in 2004 with 1,925 yards. This performance helped him finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Matt Leinart. The 2008 season saw Peterson battle an injury, but he rushed for 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns. The injury bug again hit Peterson in 2009 when he broke his collarbone during the middle of the season, but he finished with 1,112 yards, which gave him 4,045 for his Oklahoma career.

Peterson obviously did not disappoint at Oklahoma, even after coming in as the No. 1-ranked player in the country in the Class of 2004. Early in the process, Peterson had a top five of Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, LSU and Miami, but schools were dropped and added as the process progressed. He took all five of his official visits during the fall and winter to Oklahoma, Arkansas, UCLA, USC and Miami. By the end of December, word began to leak that the Sooners were the clear favorite. Peterson made it public during the Army All-American Game in early January.

Ranked as the top player in the country in his class, Peterson was just ahead of players including Theodore Ginn Jr., Early Doucet, Rhett Bomar and Keith Rivers. In the running back group, the only other players ranked in the top 10 to make their marks in the NFL are Marshawn Lynch and Andre Brown. Lynch was ranked No. 2, and Brown was No. 10.

While Texas was in the mix early, Peterson wanted to choose a school where he could be a difference maker on a national title team. While he never accomplished the national title goal and it stung to watch the Longhorns win it all in 2005, his other goals were met. He is still considered the biggest recruit for Bob Stoops in his career at OU and one of the biggest steals out of Texas in recruiting history.

[ Watch: Looking back: Adrian Peterson prospect video ]

Knowshon knows what to do

The NFL career of running back Knowshon Moreno had not gone according to his script, but with an injury to starter Willis McGahee a few weeks ago, Moreno has become the primary running back for the Denver Broncos. Moreno is making the most of his opportunity. On Dec. 6, he rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown, while adding four receptions for 48 yards, during a 26-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

His 119 yards came on a career-high 32 carries. During the last three games, he has averaged 91 yards on 24 carries. These are not jaw-dropping numbers, but they may be a sign of redemption for a player who was the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Moreno rushed for 779 yards and five touchdowns during the 2010 season, but he lost the starting job before the 2011 season to McGahee, who helped the Broncos become the leading rushing offense in the league. However, now as the main man in the backfield for the remainder of the season, Moreno has handled the pressure to this point.

At Georgia, after a redshirt season in 2006, Moreno rushed for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007, which led him to be named SEC Freshman of the Year. He followed with 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2008, when he finished second in the Doak Walker Award voting behind Shonn Greene and was first-team All-SEC. Shortly after the 2008 season, Moreno declared for the draft.

Coming out of Middletown (N.J.) South, Moreno never seemed in a rush with the recruiting process, but he picked up early offers from top programs including Oklahoma, Michigan and Virginia Tech. Georgia jumped into the picture during the summer, and Moreno took an official to Athens in September. That visit quickly put the Bulldogs in the driver's seat. One more official visit followed to Florida, while another was canceled to Virginia Tech late in the process, and Moreno picked the Bulldogs a few days before National Signing Day.

Moreno was ranked as the No. 73 player nationally, the No. 10 overall running back and the No. 3 player in New Jersey in the Class of 2006. The only running backs who were ranked ahead of him who have made an imprint in the NFL are LeSean McCoy, Benjamin Tate and Chris Wells, while in New Jersey he was ranked behind only Myron Rolle and Antwine Perez, neither of whom met expectations.

[ Watch: Looking back: Knowshon prospect video ]

Smith continues to bag sacks

In only his second season in the NFL, Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers has an opportunity to put his name in the record books. After picking up two sacks during a 27-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Smith is on his way to breaking the single-season record for sacks.

The No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Smith made an immediate impact in the league by finishing with 37 tackles and 14 sacks. Through the first 13 games of this season, Smith has totaled an amazing 19.5 sacks. He has improved as the season has progressed because he has 15 of those sacks in the last seven games. With three games remaining and the 11-year-old record of 22.5 sacks set by Michael Strahan in sight, everyone's attention will be on Smith.

After redshirting during his freshman season at Missouri, Smith took the Big 12 by storm during the 2009 season with 60 tackles and 11 sacks, which earned him Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. After totaling 48 tackles and six sacks in nine games during the 2010 season, Smith declared for the draft.

A high-three-star recruit from Raytown, Mo., Smith picked up early offers from the Tigers, Nebraska and Kansas State and maintained that top three throughout his recruiting process. After taking visits throughout the summer to each of the three schools, Smith decided to stay home and committed to Missouri during October of his senior season.

Smith was ranked as the No. 27 strongside defensive end in the country and the No. 5 player in Missouri for the Class of 2008. It's an understatement to say that Smith deserved to be ranked higher than he was nationally, especially in a group that did not turn out to be impressive aside from fellow Missouri commitment Blaine Gabbert, who was No. 1 in the state that year. Players ranked in front of Smith nationally who have made their marks in the NFL include Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and DaQuan Bowers, but there are clearly more busts than booms ahead of the rush end who received only local offers during the recruiting process.

[ Watch: Looking back: Aldon Smith prospect video ]

Foles' future looks bright

Quarterback Nick Foles likely did not expect to make much of an impression during his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles, knowing that he would be playing behind Michael Vick. However, just as every backup quarterback should be, Foles was ready for his opportunity when Vick went down with an injury. Last Sunday, Foles led the Eagles to a surprising 23-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ending an eight-game losing streak while completing 32 of 51 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. However, Thursday night he struggled in a 34-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Overall, the future looks bright for Foles with the Eagles.

Foles was selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft and saw his first action in Week 10 after Vick sustained a concussion. During the week leading up to the game against Tampa Bay, it was announced that Foles would remain the starter for the rest of the year, regardless of Vick's health.

Foles was drafted out of Arizona after he began his college career at Michigan State. A Class of 2007 low-three-star, pro-style quarterback coming out of Austin (Texas) Westlake, the same school that produced Drew Brees, Foles made a name for himself at the scholastic level. A two-year starter at Westlake, Foles passed for 5,658 yards and 56 touchdowns, breaking both school records previously held by Brees.

As the recruiting process began to take off for Foles during the spring of 2006, a few schools such as Ole Miss and Arizona State began to stand out. Instead of dragging the process out, he ended it with a commitment to the Sun Devils in May. But as National Signing Day approached, Foles pulled off an unexpected late move and de-committed from Arizona State after new coach Dennis Erickson signed another quarterback. One of the first schools that contacted Foles after his de-commitment was Michigan State. He committed soon after taking a visit with his family to East Lansing, almost two weeks after National Signing Day.

His stay at East Lansing was short. After a year there, he transferred to Arizona. After redshirting in 2008, Foles saw his first action in 2009 and finished the season with 2,486 yards and 19 touchdowns. His junior season was a fight through a knee injury, but he finished with 3,191 yards and 20 touchdowns. Foles' game hit another level during his final season in Tucson, when he completed 387 of 560 passes for 4,334 yards and 28 touchdowns and he led the Pac-12 in total offense per game.

Ranked as the No. 30 pro-style quarterback in the country coming out of high school, Foles was actually one spot in front of another familiar name, Kellen Moore, who had a great career at Boise State. In a quarterback group littered with players who did not meet expectations, it is reasonable to say that Foles should have been ranked higher in the Class of 2007.



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