Somewhere Tony Van Zant is shedding a tear.
Until Dorial Green-Beckham signed with Missouri on Wednesday the landing of Van Zant, the Hazelwood (Mo.) Central tailback, was the signature recruiting moment for Tiger fans. Back in 1985, Van Zant was at least the top-rated running back in the country, if not the No. 1 overall prospect. Mizzou and its followers attached their hopes and dreams to the shifty kid from suburban St. Louis.
To say that Van Zant was a bust is an insult to the noun. He was supposed to be the foundation for “Woody’s Wagon,” the name given to the momentum created by hiring former Steelers defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer. Van Zant injured a knee playing in a state high-school all-star game after his senior season. That caused him to miss his entire freshman season at Mizzou in 1986. Later, he injured the other knee. For his career Van Zant ran for a grand total of 214 yards.
Woody’s Wagon ran off the road. Widenhofer was fired after four seasons. Today, Van Zant is a high school coach in Saginaw, Mich. On Wednesday, Green-Beckham, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, inherited part of Van Zant’s legacy when he signed with the Tigers.
There can be a direct line drawn between Van Zant and Green-Beckham. They were both high school All-Americans. Both were Parade Magazine’s national player of the year. Both were known by their initials in the recruiting process – TVZ and DGB. Both were national recruits who stayed home. So which one is he, this DGB?
Is he Dishon Platt or Fred Rouse or is he Percy Harvin or Derrick Williams? Will he ever finish in the top 10 in receiving during his career? CBSSports.com checked the number of receivers ranked in the top 20 among national recruits in the last 10 years (according to Rivals.com). The idea was to determine how valuable highly-rated high school receivers were to teams and how they panned out.
From a group of 200 recruits over those 10 years, only 27 were receivers. That’s 13.5 percent. Of those 27, 14 played on at least one conference-winning team. Seven of those 14 played on at least one national championship team. Only two of those 27 ever finished in the top 10 nationally in receiving yards per game since 2002. (Tennessee’s Robert Meachem in 2006 and USC’s Robert Woods in 2011.)
So which one is Green-Beckham? He was only the third receiver in the last 10 years to be rated No. 1 overall. The other two were Florida’s Harvin (2006) and Penn State’s Williams (2005). Harvin was part of two national championship teams and has had a productive NFL career. Williams was one of the most versatile players in Penn State history becoming the only Joe Paterno player to ever catch, run and return a kick for a touchdown.
Is this a snapshot of Green-Beckham’s career?
Over the last 10 years, the receiver position is tied with running back (27 each) as the second-most abundant position in the top 20. Defensive line is No. 1 (41 players). Going into Wednesday, only 14 schools in the last 10 years have taken top 20-rated receivers. There are the usual suspects – USC leads all with seven in the top 20.
Then there are the all-out busts. Florida State had two of the biggest at the position in the last 10 years. In 2002, Platt was the No. 16 player in the country. He never made it academically at FSU, transferred to South Florida then faded into obscurity. In 2005, receivers ruled. Williams and USC’s Patrick Turner were the top two rated players in the country. There were four wideouts in the top 18 including Cal’s DeSean Jackson.
The fourth wideout in that group, Rouse, went from playing in the Orange Bowl for FSU to transferring to Texas El-Paso to spending a couple of months in jail to Concordia College-Selma.
So which one is DGB? For now the foundation of Missouri’s jump to the SEC. Gary Pinkel’s offense has had stars of several wideouts over the past decades (examples: Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander). But that was in the wide-open Big 12.
If he never catches a ball, Green-Beckham, like Van Zant, has created momentum for Mizzou. Perhaps other players will follow. Perhaps he will be a game breaker. But SEC defenses are tougher. That doesn’t suggest he won’t succeed. Green-Beckham is the third nationally top-rated receiver to sign with an SEC school since 2008. The other two guys didn’t do too bad – Alabama’s Julio Jones (No. 4 overall in 2008) and LSU’s Rueben Randle (No. 2 overall in 2009).
Somewhere Van Zant is shedding a tear because of a career derailed -- and maybe because DGB has a chance to be the TVZ that never was.