Nurture or nature. Are NFL stars determined by the time they are in high school or are they built in college? Certainly, every February, and now every December, those who follow college football breathlessly track how many four and five star recruits each program has signed. That analysis is used to determine the value of each recruiting class. How were the recruiting efforts of a coaching staff and what fans might look forward to on the field in the coming years? Do recruiting ratings translate to draft success?
Do Recruiting Ratings Translate To Draft Success?
So, what do those stars mean years later when it comes to the NFL draft? Do the five-star high school stars become the top draft picks in the NFL? Or is it possible that some lower star recruits get coached up in college and become more valuable to the NFL with the proper work at the previous level?
There were 32 players picked in the first round of last week’s NFL draft. Six of them were five-star recruits coming out of high school. Eleven of them were four-star recruits. The middle of the pack got the most run by the NFL teams. Twelve three-star recruits went in the first round of the draft. There were a couple two-star recruits also taken. Yes, we know someone is sitting there doing the math. Hang in there.
They Were A Given
The five-star recruits were the guys you thought they would be, even if they did not go when you thought they might. Of the six former recruits with a five-star rating, four of them were drafted with picks 22 through 32. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen was the first five-star recruit to be taken, when he went tenth to the Arizona Cardinals. His recruit to UCLA was comparatively easy. He was an early commit to then-coach Jim Mora. The two families were neighbors and close friends in Manhattan Beach, and Rosen never wavered through his three years at UCLA.
Derwin James was the #1 safety recruit in the country coming out of high school. He had 10 offers, but they were to big time programs like Clemson, Ohio State, LSU, and Auburn before he signed with Florida State. He lived up to the reputation and was taken seventeenth by the Chargers.
Rashaan Evans, Hayden Hurst, Calvin Ridley, and Sony Michel were all five-star recruits three to four years ago coming out of high school. They also all went in the first round of last week’s draft, albeit in the last 10 picks of the round.
Not As Obvious
But for all the Rosens, Evans and Ridleys, there are players that were not as valued on the college recruiting circuit as they finished high school. Yet, they managed to maximize their collegiate careers and turn it into something last week.
Jaire Alexander; He was a three-star recruit cornerback out of Charlotte, North Carolina in 2015. He had plenty of offers, but not what you expect for a guy who just went 18th in the NFL draft. His offers included Ball State, Elon, Furman, Georgia State, Charleston Southern, James Madison, and of course Louisville, which is where he excelled for three years before turning pro.
Marcus Davenport; A two-star recruit at Stevens High in San Antonio, Texas. Davenport was rated as the 124th weak-side defensive end recruit in the country by Rivals.com as a high school senior.
File photo. UTSA Roadrunners defensive end Marcus Davenport (93) takes down Old Dominion Monarchs wide receiver Zach Pascal. (Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)He had two college offers. He verbally committed to UNLV in December of 2013. In late January of 2014, just before signing day, he changed his mind and took the “other” offer to the University of Texas-San Antonio. All he did in four years was have 95 solo tackles and another 90 assists for the Roadrunners. That converted to going from two-star recruit to the #14 pick of the first round for the New Orleans Saints.
Josh Allen; His story has been told a few times now. He was a two-star recruit in the agricultural community of Reedley, CA, right in the shadow of Fresno State. The two stars were not enough to get him anything more than a walk-on offer from the neighborhood Bulldogs. Allen took his two stars to Reedley Community College in 2014. After one season there, based on his own letter writing campaign, he got two offers. Only Eastern Michigan and Wyoming had scholarships awaiting him. Five thousand career passing yards later in Laramie, we know how this story ends by now.
Baker Mayfield; We all know Mayfield’s story, right? A three-star recruit, by 247Sports, whose only offers were from Florida Atlantic, New Mexico and Rice. He walked on at Texas Tech and in 2013 his star was already on the rise before he got hurt. There was a lot of ugliness regarding his time in Lubbock. He claimed he was not offered a scholarship even after an amazing freshman year. Using rules buried deep in the books to transfer to Oklahoma. Hey what ever happened to that low three-star recruit anyway?
By now, someone has done the math. Six five-star recruits, 11 four-star recruits, 12 three-star recruits, two two-star recruits and zero one-star recruits taken in the first round of the draft. But hey, there were 32 players taken, and that only comes to 31. What gives?
Meet Leighton Vander Esch, a linebacker from Boise State chosen 19th by the Dallas Cowboys and a 0-star “recruit” out of high school in 2014.
Vander Esch played eight-man football at Salmon River Jr-Sr High School in Riggins, Idaho. It is the lowest grade of competitive high school football in Idaho. He was a 6-4, 215 pound inside linebacker who was so far under the radar he had no stars from any recruiting service. As a result he had no major scholarship offers. He went to Boise State as a walk-on and sat as a freshman. Over time he put on 40 pounds and wound up with quite the career. Last season, as a senior, he had 141 total tackles including 13 against Colorado State. Now he will be playing home games for the legendary Cowboys.
Over the next several months, there will be college football writers covering elite recruiting camps. The movements of highly regarded high school players will be monitored as they get ready for the early signing period in December. In the meantime, some former mid-level stars are about to sign some pretty hefty rookie contracts, having made it from three-stars, (or fewer), to first round draft pick in the NFL. It’s a worthy journey to follow.