Ranking the No. 1 college football recruits in the ESPN era

Editor's note: This story was originally published in June 2020. It has been updated with NFL statistics and the inclusion of recruits from the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Evaluating college football prospects has proved to be an inexact science. It's extremely difficult to predict how 18-year-old high school players will adjust to all the unknown variables at the college level.

But No. 1 talent level on tape will stand out to even the most inexperienced scout in the room. Each of the players listed here dominated the high school landscape and had the physical skills and transferable talent to project highly as college prospects.

We ranked our former No. 1 prospects dating back to the 2006 recruiting cycle, the first year ESPN began ranking recruits. (We omitted quarterback Malachi Nelson, the top-rated prospect in the Class of 2023, as his freshman season at Southern California has yet to begin.)

Some maximized the elite potential they showed. Others failed to meet the lofty expectations set by the ESPN No. 1 overall ranking -- whether the talent bar was simply set too high, they didn't have the right circumstances or the lack of intangibles was simply too hard to mask when the competition stepped up. While some lacked that "it" factor, others possessed it to the highest degree. In the case of Myron Rolle, those attributes led to an even more impactful career off the field.

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE

South Carolina | Class of 2011

Clowney came out of South Pointe High in South Carolina as a 6-foot-6, 240-pound defensive end with an otherworldly first step and the ability to be a dominant edge rusher. After choosing South Carolina over Clemson and Alabama, Clowney was an impact player for the Gamecocks, earning SEC Freshman of the Year and All-SEC second-team honors in 2011.