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November 1, 2012

Rankings of Yore: No shortage of heart


MORE FARRELL: Inside the Mind of Mike

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

Heartsick

There are few players over the years that I've enjoyed covering more than Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes running back Marcus Lattimore. Not only was Lattimore amazingly talented coming out of high school, but he was mature for his age, very personable and always had a smile on his face.

Of all the prospects I got to know over the last 12 years, Lattimore is one of the guys with the biggest heart. That's why his injury this past weekend was so hard to see, but it's also why I feel he can and will come back to play football again and be successful despite the gruesome injury everyone saw this past weekend.

Ranked as the No. 1 running back in the country and the No. 10 overall player back in 2010, he reminded me a lot of Marshall Faulk because of his well-rounded game and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as well as always fall forward and gain extra yardage after contact.

And prior to his first injury during his sophomore year, he was on track for that kind of NFL future. Now after a much more serious injury, Lattimore will have to call on that heart to return to the game he loves.

During his senior year, Lattimore visited Auburn, Penn State and Oregon before choosing South Carolina at his church the day before Signing Day on Feb. 2, 2010.

There wasn't much drama to his recruitment as almost everyone knew he would be end up with the Gamecocks, but he never played with schools or led them on and he took every visit very seriously.

Lattimore was ranked ahead of fellow five-stars Michael Dyer and Lache Seastrunk, neither of whom came close to his character and work ethic. No matter what happens regarding his future in football, we will always be proud of this ranking as there is no doubt we got it right.

If Willis McGahee can recover and move on to a successful NFL career after a similarly gruesome injury, our hopes and prayers are that Lattimore can as well.

[ Watch: Looking back: More Lattimore prospect video ]

No Heel

Another running back in that 2010 class was Giovani Bernard from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas. He was ranked at No. 14 in the country and No. 186 overall.

Bernard was uber-talented, but split time with James C. White (Wisconsin) quite a bit because of nagging injuries, especially during his senior season.

Those injury concerns played out a bit as he missed his first season at North Carolina due to a torn ACL but since then he has emerged as one of the best backs in the ACC.

This past weekend he returned a punt for 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left in a 43-35 win over N.C. State. He also rushed for 135 yards and two TDs and had 95 yards receiving.

Bernard had committed to Notre Dame in October of his senior year, but had second thoughts after Charlie Weis was fired. He narrowed his list to UNC and Oregon State, where his older brother Yvenson played. He made his choice to head to North Carolina and play under Butch Davis due to an open depth chart and Davis' tenacity.

Things have worked out on the field for Bernard with more than 1,200 yards last season and an even better year so far in 2012. While UNC's 6-3 record is shy of Notre Dame's perfect season so far and Bernard is not playing under Davis anymore, his talent cannot be questioned and his decision appears to be a good one.

Bernard was ranked behind players such as Mack Brown (Florida), Dontae Williams (Oregon), Eduardo Clements (Miami) and Rajion Neal (Tennessee), who clearly haven't had close to the same impact.

[ Watch: Looking back: UNC RB Giovani Bernard as a prospect ]

Lee-ding the way

It's hard to believe that Marqise Lee from Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra was overshadowed in high school despite being ranked as the nation's No. 3 athlete and No. 36 player overall in the country in 2011.

His own teammate, wide receiver George Farmer, was ranked as the No. 1 player at his position and No. 3 overall. But it is clear that Lee has emerged as a superstar while Farmer remains a player with potential.

This past weekend, Lee had an amazing 16 catches for 345 yards and two scores while racking up 469 all-purpose yards in a loss to Arizona. After catching 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 scores as a freshman last year, he has 76 for 1,129 and 10 scores already this year.

Lee has emerged as one of the top NFL prospects in the country and isn't even draft eligible until after next season. With only 26 five-star prospects in 2011, Lee was one of the guys down the stretch who garnered serious consideration but just fell short.

While 36th in the country is a tremendous ranking and he was ranked behind two other amazing athletes in Oregon stars De'Anthony Thomas and Colt Lyerla, Lee could turn out to be the best overall prospect in the 2011 class not named Jadeveon Clowney.

[ Watch: Looking back: USC WR Marqise Lee as a prospect ]

Keeping up with Jones

Perhaps the only player who can challenge Lee for individual dominance this past weekend is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones who had 13 tackles (12 solo), three sacks, 4.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles in a huge win over the Gators.

Back in 2009, Jones was ranked as a weakside defensive end who could stand up in a 3-4 system and was No. 4 at his position and No. 72 overall. He's certainly living up to that lofty ranking and even exceeding it.

Jones surprised many by signing with USC out of high school over Florida (with Georgia and LSU also in the mix) but after playing late into the season as a true freshman, he suffered a neck injury and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis.

Initially, the USC medical staff would not clear him to play, and it looked, for a moment, like his career might be over.

Jones was granted his transfer release, and after medical testing at Georgia, he was cleared to play and the rest is history. Now he's a Heisman candidate and one of the top NFL prospects at his position.

Jones was ranked behind super-talented end prospects Devon Kennard (USC), Donte Moss (UNC) and Ryne Giddins (USF) in 2009, but has clearly outplayed all of them.

[ Watch: Looking back: Georgia LB Jarvis Jones ]

My Favorite Martin

No one but Boise State wanted running back Doug Martin from Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's back in 2007, who was ranked as a two-star and was considered too slow to be a feature back.

In fact, after running a 4.73-second 40-yard dash at a Nike Camp, most schools wrote him off and the Broncos were his only offer despite impressive stats.

Martin started playing football as a freshman after focusing on basketball, but he was thick and not tall and a step too slow for BCS programs.

Five years later, Martin was a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, measuring in at 5-foot-9 and 223 pounds and running a 4.55 40.

He finished with 3,431 yards and 43 scores at Boise State and now has one of the best nicknames in college football -- the Muscle Hamster.

This past Thursday, he had his breakout NFL game with 135 yards rushing and 79 yards receiving with two touchdowns in a win over the Vikings.

Back in high school, Martin was very interested in Washington and Stanford among others, but neither pulled the trigger.

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Mike Farrell is the national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Click here to follow him on Twitter.



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