Wednesday May 7th, 2014

A two-star prospect in the class of 2010, Dylan Thompson will be South Carolina's starting QB this fall.
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Recruiting rankings matter. Despite what your favorite coach says -- and he is probably lying when he says it -- the evaluation and ranking of high schoolers by the three recruiting sites that have figured out how to make money on the Internet is a fairly good predictor of future success.

While the rankings prove mostly accurate on the macro level, they still occasionally misfire on the micro level. This will happen when the employees of those sites must evaluate several thousand high school players each year. Sometimes they miss. Sometimes they don't see future greatness. The All Two-Star (And Fewer) Team celebrates those players who fell through the recruiting cracks and refused to be ignored.

Still, judging by the challenges populating this year's team, those misfires are becoming fewer and farther between. Each position used to be fairly easy to fill. That isn't the case anymore. When I put out the call for nominations for this year's team, readers tossed out players such as Nebraska tailback Ameer Abdullah and Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond. Perfect, I thought. Those are star players who were overlooked in high school. But neither the readers nor I remembered their actual rankings. When Abdullah signed, had him rated as a three-star prospect. When Drummond signed, both and assigned him three stars. We can't have three-star glory boys on this team.

More coverage: Post-spring Power Rankings l Way-too-early Heisman Watch

Meanwhile, I hate to say that I screwed up last year by putting Penn State tight end Kyle Carter on the team. While did rank Carter a two-star in the class of 2011, listed him as a three-star. So, while Carter still was underrated, he wasn't completely overlooked. The entry of into the market has made things even more difficult. Fewer players are slipping by unnoticed, though things may get easier in the next few years. At least one site seems to be adjusting its definitions and grading prospects on a tougher scale.

The number of players awarded three stars or more by rose dramatically between 2009 (1,731) and '10 (2,000). Since '10 is when this season's fifth-year seniors signed, it means the current crop of late bloomers was generally rated higher than its predecessors. That figure dropped in '11 (to 1,919) and '12 (1,865). It plummeted to 1,660 players in '13 and dropped again to 1,556 in the class of '14. With nearly 25 percent more of the college football universe from which to choose, selecting the All Two-Star (And Fewer) Team in '17 should be a breeze.


QB Dylan Thompson, R-Sr., South Carolina

Class: 2010
Hometown: Boiling Springs, S.C.
High school: Boiling Springs rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: N/A

Thanks to the fearless style of his predecessor, Thompson might be the most experienced first-year starting quarterback in the country. Because of injuries to previous starter Connor Shaw, Thompson has already beaten the Gamecocks' chief rival on the road as a starter (Clemson in 2012) and thrown the game-winning pass in a New Year's Day bowl game (the Outback Bowl against Michigan). Neither Shaw nor Thompson was a highly ranked prospect when both players signed with South Carolina in '10, but Shaw at least had a third star. Thompson had contact with NC State and Duke, but he held no major offers when he attended a Gamecocks' camp in June '09. Coach Steve Spurrier liked what he saw and offered Thompson, who accepted immediately. Thompson has waited patiently for his turn to start, and judging from this photo, he won't let anything get in his way as he tries to make the most of his final season in college.

STAPLES: Steve Spurrier relishing role as he nears a decade at South Carolina

RB Paul James, R-Jr., Rutgers

Class: 2011
Hometown: Glassboro, N.J.
High school: Glassboro rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars

Sometimes, a guy just flies under the radar. James averaged 10 yards a carry as a senior in high school and started four years on a team that won three state titles. But he had zero scholarship offers on National Signing Day 2011. Rutgers offered James a walk-on spot, and he took it. He redshirted in '11 and played sparingly in '12, but he broke out in '13. If not for injuries that caused him to miss four games, James could have been in the postseason awards mix. In nine games, he scored nine rushing touchdowns and averaged 9.7 yards a carry. If he can stay healthy -- he was injured again this spring -- he could be one of the Big Ten's best backs in the Scarlet Knights' debut season in their new league.

RB Travis Greene, R-So., Bowling Green

Class: 2011
Hometown: Miami
High school: Monsignor Pace rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

Greene and Pace teammate Anthon Samuel pledged in 10th grade to attend the same college, and they did. Samuel started his first two seasons at tailback for the Falcons, but he decided in January 2013 to leave Bowling Green. (He has since transferred to Florida International.) Greene stayed in Ohio, and he was shifted from receiver to tailback with the hope that he might help replace his friend's production. He did more than that, carrying 279 times for a single-season school-record 1,594 rushing yards last fall.

RICKMAN: Dino Babers and the reinvention of Bowling Green's offense

FB/TE Dan Vitale, Jr., Northwestern

Class: 2012
Hometown: Wheaton, Ill.
High school: Wheaton Warrenville South rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

The Wildcats beat out Central Michigan for Vitale, who now plays the best-named position in college football: Superback. That basically means he can play fullback, tight end, H-back -- pretty much whatever Northwestern needs. Vitale can block linebackers, safeties and defensive ends, and he allows an offense to show multiple looks during the same pre-snap sequence. That makes him extremely valuable.

WR Titus Davis, Sr., Central Michigan

Class: 2011
Hometown: Wheaton, Ill.
High school: Wheaton Warrenville South rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

The Chippewas didn't get Vitale out of Wheaton Warrenville South, but they landed teammate Davis a year earlier. Davis chose Central Michigan over Toledo, and the Chippewas got a receiver who would catch 61 passes for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. Davis led the pass-happy MAC in yards per catch (18.2).

WR J.J. Worton, R-Sr., UCF

Class: 2010
Hometown: Homestead, Fla.
High school: South Dade rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars rank: N/A

Worton played seven different positions as a senior at South Dade High, but his accomplishments in talent-rich Dade County didn't produce many scholarship offers. He took an official visit to Cincinnati, but he wound up deciding to become a late addition to UCF's class. Last year, he did this.

OT Jack Conklin, R-So., Michigan State

Class: 2012
Hometown: Plainwell, Mich.
High school: Plainwell rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars

The coaching staff that unearthed future first-round NFL draft pick Darqueze Dennard in rural Georgia also found a gem closer to home. Conklin originally planned to attend Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia after graduating from Plainwell High to raise his recruiting profile. As it turned out, he didn't need to leave the state. Michigan State coaches offered Conklin a grayshirt, but he decided to pay for his first semester and walk on prior to the 2012 season. He tore up the Spartan Dawgs defense as a scout-teamer, and coaches placed him on scholarship in January '12. By August, Conklin was the starting left tackle for the eventual Big Ten champs.

STAPLES: After smelling the roses, Michigan State looks to continue its climb

OG Jarvis Harrison, R-Sr., Texas A&M

Class: 2010
Hometown: Navasota, Texas
High school: Navasota rank: Two stars rank: Zero stars rank: N/A

Harrison was the final addition to what might go down as the most talented offensive line signing class in college football history. One member (Luke Joeckel) played left tackle for the Aggies and was the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Another (Jake Matthews) played left tackle for the Aggies and is about to become a first-round pick on Thursday night. Still another (Cedric Ogbuehi) is about to play left tackle for Texas A&M and -- barring injury -- will be a first-round selection in '15. Harrison has remained at guard, and he likely has an NFL future as well. Harrison was underrated (and under-recruited) because he needed extra time to earn a standardized test score high enough to qualify to accept a football scholarship. He didn't do that until about two weeks after National Signing Day '10. When Harrison did, however, then-Aggies coach Mike Sherman had a scholarship offer waiting.

C B.J. Finney, R-Sr., Kansas State

Class: 2010
Hometown: Andale, Kan.
High school: Andale rank: Two stars rank: Zero stars rank: N/A

Meet your offensive captain. Former walk-on Finney makes his third appearance on the All Two-Star (And Fewer) Team, and he's coming off a season in which he was voted first-team All-Big 12 by the coaches and media. Finney will likely be a candidate for the Rimington Trophy this season.

OG Kyle Costigan, R-Sr., Wisconsin

Class: 2010
Hometown: Muskego, Wis.
High school: Muskego rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: N/A

The Badgers beat out Northern Illinois and Illinois State for Costigan, who has proven to be one of the toughest players in college football. Against Nebraska in 2012, Costigan dislocated his right kneecap. That's an incredibly painful injury that almost always causes further damage to the ligaments, tendons and cartilage within the joint. Costigan missed exactly one play. That injury led to a series of issues, including microfracture surgery following the '12 season. Costigan's knee will never be the same, but he still hates coming off the field. He's in line to start at guard for the Badgers this fall, even though he plays in nearly constant pain.

OT Eric LeFeld, R-Sr., Cincinnati

Class: 2010
Hometown: Coldwater, Ohio
High school: Coldwater rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: N/A

When LeFeld committed to then-Bearcats coach Brian Kelly in June 2009, he was a 6-foot-6, 230-pound defensive end. Butch Jones moved LeFeld to offensive tackle, and LeFeld started seven games as a redshirt freshman. He switched to left tackle in '12 and has held that spot ever since. LeFeld earned unanimous first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors in '13.

Kansas State's Ryan Mueller (44) was named first-team All-Big 12 after tallying 11.5 sacks last season.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images


DE Ryan Mueller, R-Sr., Kansas State

Class: 2010
Hometown: Leawood, Kan.
High school: St. Thomas Aquinas rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars rank: N/A

Mueller couldn't get an offer from Missouri State or Pittsburg State, but Kansas State assistant Joe Bob Clements wanted him in Manhattan. Maybe Clements, who has since become the defensive line coach at Oklahoma State, saw a little of himself in Mueller. Clements, also a defensive end, walked on at Kansas State in 1994 and earned a scholarship in '96. Mueller walked on in 2010 and earned a scholarship in '12. Last season, Mueller was named first-team All-Big 12 by the coaches and media after tying the school record with 11.5 sacks.

DT David Parry, R-Sr., Stanford

Class: 2010
Hometown: Marion, Iowa
High school: Linn-Marr rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars rank: N/A

After he chose his school, Parry said the same thing a lot of recruited walk-ons say. "During the whole process, I was always waiting for a bigger offer to come," he told Parry could have signed with Navy or Northern Iowa, but he wound up choosing between walk-on spots at Iowa or Stanford. He picked the Cardinal, and now he's a key cog in one of the nation's premier defenses.

STAPLES: How top 2014 NFL draft prospects ranked as high school recruits

DE Luther Maddy, Sr., Virginia Tech

Class: 2011
Hometown: Delray Beach, Fla.
High school: Atlantic rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

Maddy is actually a defensive tackle, but we're going to run a 3-4 here on the All Two-Star (And Fewer) Team, and he's athletic enough to play as an odd-front defensive end. Maddy decommitted from Marshall in November 2010 as more schools began to express interest. He visited Western Michigan in January '11, but he remained open until a visit to Blacksburg on the weekend before National Signing Day. Virginia Tech coaches offered Maddy on the trip, and he accepted. Now, he's one of the ACC's best interior linemen. Last year, Maddy made 55 tackles. Of those, 13.5 went for a loss.

Buck/Leo/Boss/OLB/DE Kyler Fackrell, R-Jr., Utah State

Class: 2011
Hometown: Mesa, Ariz.
High school: Mesa rank: Zero stars rank: Two stars rank: Zero stars

Whatever your chosen name for a linebacker/defensive end hybrid, that's Fackrell. He played volleyball and basketball in addition to football in high school. On the gridiron, he played quarterback, receiver, linebacker and safety. Take that kind of athleticism and pack it into a 6-5, 245-pound frame, and the result is a future NFL player. Still, most college coaches didn't project Fackrell as a hybrid who could lead his team in tackles for loss and forced fumbles -- as he did last season. Utah State was the only FBS school to offer Fackrell a scholarship.

LB Bryce Hager, R-Sr., Baylor

Class: 2010
Hometown: Austin, Texas
High school: Westlake rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: N/A

Former two-star prospect Bryce Hager led the Big 12 in tackles per game in the 2012 season.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Hager, whose father Britt was an All-America linebacker at Texas and played nine seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, is a volume tackler just like his old man. Bryce led the Big 12 in tackles per game in 2012, and he racked up 71 last year despite being limited to nine games because of an abdominal tear and an adductor tear suffered against Kansas State in October. The younger Hager split time between running back and linebacker until his senior season of high school, when he played mostly linebacker. That's when his recruitment picked up. Air Force offered the summer before his senior campaign, and Baylor, Colorado and Texas A&M stayed in touch throughout the fall of '09. Hager wound up receiving offers from Baylor and Colorado and decided to sign with the Bears.

LB Joe Schmidt, R-Jr., Notre Dame

Class: 2011
Hometown: Orange, Calif.
High school: Mater Dei rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars rank: Zero stars

Though Schmidt walked on, Notre Dame actually had to recruit him. USC also offered a walk-on spot to Schmidt, who as a senior at Mater Dei was named MVP of a team that also included future Trojans signees Max Wittek and Victor Blackwell. Schmidt chose to go to South Bend and earned a scholarship shortly before the 2013 season. Now, he's a starter. In fact, coach Kelly said Schmidt is one of the Fighting Irish's most important starters after the spring game last month. "Joe Schmidt is the leader on our defense," Kelly told reporters. "You know, there's no one probably that has the kind of leadership and understanding of our defense that Joe has right now. Right now he can't come off the field. His knowledge base in terms of getting people lined up and having them execute what we do defensively, he's absolutely integral to what we're doing."

LB Scooby Wright, So., Arizona

Class: 2013
Hometown: Windsor, Calif.
High school: Cardinal Newman rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

Other Pac-12 schools didn't show much early interest in Wright, but Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona staff were determined to land a player they figured would have more options as the summer of 2012 wore on. That's why, when Wright arrived for an unofficial visit in June '12, the entire Wildcats staff greeted him. "I was in shock," Wright told the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press-Democrat. "I even met the kicking coach." Wright committed to Arizona on that visit, and he made an immediate impact once he enrolled. He won a starting job in preseason camp last fall and made 83 tackles in his first season for the Wildcats.

CB D'Joun Smith, Sr., Florida Atlantic

Class: 2011
Hometown: Miami
High school: American rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

Smith, known in high school as D.J. Frye-Smith, only got one offer, but that offer was extended by a legend. Everyone had overlooked Smith until he took an official visit to Florida Atlantic late in the recruiting process. There, then-Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger said he had a scholarship waiting for Smith. Smith accepted immediately, and he has been a critical part of FAU's defense since he set foot on campus. Last year, Smith had 20 passes defended, second nationally.

S Dante Barnett, R-Jr., Kansas State

Class: 2011
Hometown: Tulsa, Okla.
High school: Booker T. Washington rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

The Wildcats hosted two players from Tulsa's Booker T. Washington High on the same weekend in January 2011. One was receiver Tyler Lockett, who had been committed since the previous April. The other was Barnett, who had also received interest from Utah and Weber State, but didn't have many other options. Barnett committed shortly after his visit, and the Wildcats have reaped the benefits of the Tulsa duo ever since. Lockett led Kansas State in receiving and kick return yards in '13. Barnett made 75 tackles, intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles.

S Cedric Thompson, Sr., Minnesota

Class: 2011
Hometown: Bombay Beach, Calif.
High school: Calipatria rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: Two stars

Thompson's life story would make a great movie. In fact, he has already been featured in a documentary about his hometown, a near-vacant beach town in the middle of a desert. There's too much to cover here, so read Joe Christensen's terrific story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Thompson was a star running back at Calipatria High who was committed to Portland State until the Golden Gophers came in with a late offer. He accepted, and now he's a starter in what should be an excellent secondary at Minnesota.

CB Byron Jones, R-Sr., Connecticut

Class: 2010
Hometown: Bristol, Conn.
High school: St. Paul's rank: Two stars rank: Two stars rank: N/A

Jones got his first offer from Connecticut in June 2009 and quickly committed. He has been busy since. Jones, who led the Huskies in interceptions as a junior, is pursuing a double major in economics and political science. If he decides not to run for office, the 6-1, 196-pounder will probably play in the NFL.

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