published Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Class of '09: Touted football signing class makes presence felt in NFL

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) hands the ball to running back Bryce Brown.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) hands the ball to running back Bryce Brown.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

RECRUITING REWIND

The top 12 college football signees in 2009 according to Rivals.com:

1. RB Bryce Brown Tennessee

2. WR Rueben Randle LSU

3. OT D.J. Fluker Alabama

4. DT Sheldon Richardson Missouri

5. QB Matt Barkley Southern Cal

6. RB Trent Richardson Alabama

7. QB Russell Shepard LSU

8. DE Devon Kennard Southern Cal

9. LB Vontaze Burfict Arizona State

10. LB Jelani Jenkins Florida

11. CB Dre Kirkpatrick Alabama

12. LB Manti Te'o Notre Dame

Bryce Brown rushed for 16 yards in his final college football season at Kansas State.

Former Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict was synonymous with personal-foul penalties and fighting in the locker room, while former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o had a girlfriend who never existed.

There is no shortage of unique tales involving the elite prospects in college football's 2009 signing class, yet they all seem to be finding their way to the NFL. Brown, Burfict, former LSU receiver Rueben Randle and former Alabama tailback Trent Richardson are preparing for their second professional seasons, while Te'o, former Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, former Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and former Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley eagerly await next week's draft.

"It's all about talent," NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper said. "Some of those kids like Bryce Brown had great talent, and he wasn't rated that highly for no reason. Matt Barkley was considered the No. 1 player going into this past season, and obviously things went awry and he had the shoulder injury.

"Burfict was a top-15 guy on the big board at one point, and we know why he plummeted, but he ended up being a heck of a player for the Bengals. All of those kids had ability and were highly regarded."

After a disappointing junior season and botched performances at last year's NFL combine and his pro day, Burfict was passed over last April in all seven rounds. He signed a free-agent contract with Cincinnati and then went out and amassed 127 tackles as a rookie.

The top six Rivals.com prospects nationally in the 2009 class were Brown, Randle, Fluker, Sheldon Richardson, Barkley and Trent Richardson, who was the No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft and rushed for 950 yards for the Cleveland Browns. Randle went to the New York Giants as the final pick of the second round, and he wound up with 19 receptions for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

Brown, who rushed for 460 yards and 4.6 yards a carry as a Tennessee freshman in 2009, was a surprise seventh-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. He transferred from Knoxville and sat out at Kansas State in 2010, and his 2011 season with the Wildcats consisted of just three carries before he quit.

In his NFL debut season, Brown rushed 115 times for 564 yards (4.9 a carry) and four touchdowns.

"He's got to shore up the ball security, but he's got the ability to run the football," Kiper said. "As a late-round pick, he was a nice selection."

Kiper has Fluker going 12th to Miami next week, Sheldon Richardson 14th to Carolina, Te'o 20th to Chicago and Barkley 33rd to Jacksonville, which would be the first pick of the second round. Former Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins is being pegged as a fourth- or fifth-round selection, while former LSU receiver Russell Shepard may be the lone elite '09 prospect who may not get drafted.

Another top-10 prospect from the '09 class, USC defensive end Devon Kennard, will be a fifth-year senior for the Trojans this fall after sitting out last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

"Some kids have a path to the NFL that is a lot different than others," Kiper said. "They may hit some bumps in the road, but if you can play and have the talent, you've got a chance. Bryce Brown proved that."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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