Andre Branch, Coty Sensabaugh's rise show recruiting an imperfect process

Andre Branch, a defensive end from Clemson, is one of several area defensive players who is expected to be picked in the NFL draft.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Andre Branch, a defensive end from Clemson, is one of several area defensive players who is expected to be picked in the NFL draft.

— When Coty Sensabaugh committed to Clemson the night before 2007’s national signing day, there were no grand proclamations on Internet message boards, no predictions of stardom or national titles.

Same went for Andre Branch’s pledge two weeks earlier.

In a star-studded 2007 recruiting class, Branch and Sensabaugh were absolute afterthoughts.

In’s five-star rating system, even the lowest-rated prospects receive two stars.

Clemson had three two-star prospects in that class. Branch and Sensabaugh were two of them.

This weekend, they showed that recruiting, if nothing else, is an inexact science.

Clemson had four players taken in the 2012 NFL draft.

Branch and Sensabaugh were two of them.

Branch, a defensive end, was the Tigers’ first selection, going to Jacksonville in the second round, 38th overall. Sensabaugh, a cornerback, followed Saturday; the Tennessee Titans picked him in the fourth round, 115th overall.

“That’s what college football is all about,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Sensabaugh’s rise.

Clemson fans have no reason to feel guilty about overlooking Branch and Sensabaugh; most of college football did, too.

Branch’s only offer out of Richmond’s Varina High School? Clemson. Florida State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia had interest, but didn’t offer.

Clemson wrested Sensabaugh away from FCS power Appalachian State.

Neither attracted much attention in their first several years on campus, but both developed into standout defenders who were key cogs in Clemson’s first ACC championship in 20 years.

Branch filled the void left by Da’Quan Bowers’ early NFL departure and rolled up 10.5 sacks, terrorizing Hokie offensive linemen in the Tigers’ 23-3 win at Blacksburg and 38-10 ACC title game rout.

Sensabaugh didn’t start until his senior season, but developed into a shutdown corner that left opposing quarterbacks hesitant to throw to his side of the field.

While a raft of four-star players in that class of 2007 – cornerback Marcus Gilchrist, defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins, safety DeAndre McDaniel and right tackle Landon Walker – fulfilled their potential, others did not.

Defensive end Kourtnei Brown never became more than a situational player. Linebacker Scotty Cooper’s career ended early due to a neck injury. Wide receiver Markish Jones – who signed national letters of intent binding him to both Clemson and Florida State – wound up at Division II Newberry. Quarterback Willy Korn, the class’s most-hyped player, transferred to Marshall and then Division II North Greenville after injuring his shoulder and losing a starting quarterback battle to Kyle Parker.

This is not meant to vilify college football’s recruiting system, as overhyped as it may be; plenty of prospects carry massive hype onto campus and live up to it. Anyone who watched Sammy Watkins last fall would agree.

The NFL’s draft process is hardly fool-proof either, as Philadelphia Eagles fans who watched workout warrior and first-round pick Mike Mamula crash and burn in the early 1990s can attest to.

Three years ago, former South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop was Mr. Irrelevant, the final pick of the 2009 NFL draft. He’ll enter this fall firmly entrenched as the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting kicker.

Gems can be found anywhere in the process, no matter what fans think of their status and film.

Branch and Sensabaugh’s success shows that sometimes, all a player needs is an opportunity.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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