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Top five junior college hits of last 10 years
Dec 17, 1:19 PM
When coaches dip into the junior colleges for talent, they're not evaluating those players on the same scale as high schoolers.
With more experience, more time to grow into their bodies and less time that they can spend on a four-year school's campus, junior college players are the ultimate mercenaries. Land the right one, and he can make an immediate impact and plug a glaring roster hole. Miss, and the player won't have enough time to turn his career around.
With Junior College Signing Day today — at least for early enrollees — here are five major hits, five of the best junior college players of the last 10 years. As always, there's room for debate. But the five players below were either so blindingly brilliant as individual players or contributed so completely to overwhelming team success — often, both — that their stars shined a bit brighter than others.
5) Nick Fairley, Auburn (via Copiah-Lincoln C.C.)
Cam Newton earned a ton of credit — and rightfully so, but more on that in a minute — for helping to lead Auburn to a BCS National Championship. But it's also pretty safe to say that the Tigers wouldn't have gotten there without the play of Fairley, who racked up 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks at defensive tackle. Fairley was so successful that the Detroit Lions made him the 13th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, just 12 spots behind Newton. That combination of individual and team success is enough to give Fairley the nod here over some very deserving candidates, like Utah's Star Lotulelei, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson, TCU's Jason Verrett, West Virginia's Bruce Irvin and even another Auburn player, quarterback Nick Marshall.
4) Lavonte David, Nebraska (via Fort Scott C.C.)
Fort Scott accumulated a wealth of talent under coach Jeff Sims for the 2008-09, 2009-10 seasons, so much so that they actually were a last-second punt return away from beating a Cam Newton-led Blinn team in the NJCAA National Championship game. David was the leader of that defense, and went on to become one of the top linebackers in Nebraska history. A two-time All-American, David made 285 tackles in two seasons, ranking fourth among Nebraska players, and first among Nebraska two-year players. He was drafted in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has been an impact player ever since, including a first-team All-Pro spot in 2013.
3) Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida (via Fort Scott C.C)
A freak of nature, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Pierre-Paul was known for doing backflips at Fort Scott, where he played a season alongside David. Pierre-Paul spent just one season at the college level, tallying 16.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, strong enough for Pro Football Weekly to tap him as a first-team All-American. Pierre-Paul left early for the NFL Draft and was picked with the 15th selection in the first round. He's been to the Pro Bowl twice in two seasons since, including the 2011 season when he had 16.5 sacks. The scary thing is that Pierre-Paul — who has 9.5 sacks this season — is still somewhat raw and still growing into his potential.
2) Terrence Cody, Alabama (via Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.)
Other players on this list have had better numbers. And still others have had better pro careers. But this list is for impact players at the college level, and Cody was the rock upon which Nick Saban helped to rebuild the Alabama defenses. "Mount Cody" created an immediate impact: in 2007, Alabama allowed 128.4 rushing yards per game. In 2008, that number dropped nearly 50 yards, to 78.8. He continued his strong play in 2009, helping the Crimson Tide to the BCS National Championship. If not for some guy named Ndamukong Suh, Cody probably would have swept through the Lombardi and Nagurski awards. Instead, Cody had to settle for being a two-time All-American and a second-round NFL Draft pick.
1) Cam Newton, Auburn (via Blinn College)
The runaway selection here, Newton swept through college football like a one-year hurricane, capturing the Heisman Trophy and leading Auburn to a BCS National Championship. It was among the most dominant one-year performances seen at the college level, with Newton hitting on 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns to seven interceptions, while also rushing for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns. Not surprisingly, Newton swept the major awards and accumulated 2,263 points in the Heisman Trophy voting, almost 1,200 more than second-place Andrew Luck. Newton has been a two-time Pro Bowl selection in the NFL, but let's not get it twisted: his spot on this list was secured by what he did on college fields. The purpose of a junior college player is to add immediate impact, and over the last 10 years, no JUCO signee had an impact quite like what Newton did.