Ultimate 300: Battles and debates

Updated: January 29, 2014, 10:41 AM ET
ESPN RecruitingNation

Producing the Ultimate ESPN 300 was a challenging, yet very intriguing process. Recruiting, and the evaluation of 18-year-old high school prospects in general, is not an exact science by any means. By going back and recreating an ultimate ESPN 300 list in retrospect, we relived just how those unknown variables, and circumstances in general, can certainly affect a player's college production and success rate.

Some of the decisions on where to rank certain players were quite easy and made sense to all involved. Others sparked intense debate and discussion. Here is a look at some of the biggest battles for position among the Ultimate 300. 

Jadeveon Clowney the best of the best

[+] EnlargeClowney
J. Meric/Getty ImagesJadeveon Clowney at No. 1 in the Ultimate 300 was never in doubt.

This process sparked multiple debates on where to rank prospects and who should be in or left out of this Ultimate 300, but when it came to the top spot there was actually little discussion. Clowney was undoubtedly the top prospect in the 2011 class, and we felt even at the time that he was the best high school prospect we had seen since 2007, when ESPN started ranking recruits. Three seasons later, the outstanding South Carolina defender has lived up to expectations. With a rare blend of size, athleticism and speed, Clowney can be a dominant presence on the field. As a junior, he may not have lived up to the lofty expectations many placed upon him, but he still was an impactful presence and was unquestionably one of the premier players in college football during his career. A potential No. 1 overall pick in this spring's NFL draft, Clowney was SEC Freshman of the Year, a two-time All-American selection, the Hendricks Award winner as a sophomore and finished his career in Columbia, S.C., with 24 career sacks. Clowney was as highly touted a prospect coming out of high school as there has been in recent years, and that initial buzz combined with his ESPN 300 ranking and college performance landed him, deservedly, at the top of ESPN's rankings again.