Friday April 25th, 2008

This week, I took a trip down memory lane, examining the and evaluations of all the players included the mock draft SI NFL writer Peter King included in this week's Monday Morning Quarterback. By and large, the recruitniks recognized special talent with as much accuracy as college coaches and as NFL scouts, who, despite all their accumulated wisdom, never will live down the fact that they allowed former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to make the following statement: "With the third pick, the Cincinnati Bengals select Akili Smith, quarterback, Oregon."

While recruitniks have their own Waterloos (Willie Williams, Xavier Lee), they identified plenty of this year's potential first-rounders before many of those players were old enough to drive. Of the 31 players King believes will go in the first round, eight received a five-star (can't miss) rating by at least one of the services and five (USC linebacker Keith Rivers, Oregon tailback Jonathan Stewart, Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey, Cal receiver DeSean Jackson and Michigan quarterback Chad Henne) received five-star rankings from both services. Twelve more players received a four-star (likely college star) ranking from at least one service. If an NFL team's scouting department correctly evaluated 20 of 31 picks, that team would dominate.

1. Miami -- Jake Long, OT, Michigan: 2003 Rivals 4-star, Scout 4-star

Just about everyone in the Big Ten -- except Ohio State -- wanted Long, who drew attention in 2002 as a 6-foot-6, 295-pound junior at East High in Lapeer, Mich.

2. St. Louis -- Chris Long, DE, Virginia: 2004 Rivals 4-star, Scout 3-star

Long might have been more hyped had he not chosen Virginia so early in the recruiting process. Still, some realized the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree.

3. Atlanta -- Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College: 2003 Rivals 3-star, Scout 3-star

Quarterbacks can be tough to project up a level. Case in point: Ryan was ranked far behind future Miami quarterback Kyle Wright . Of course, JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn also were ranked behind Wright.

4. Oakland -- Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU: 2004 Rivals 4-star, Scout 5-star

About a year before Signing Day 2004, Dorsey wasn't a lock to qualify academically. That cut down on his offers, but then-LSU coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who recruited Ascension Parish, offered early and stuck with Dorsey.

5. Kansas City -- Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State: 2004 Rivals 2-star, Scout 2-star

Only two of the players in Clady's signing class received three-star rankings. The rest received two, including Clady and America's Sweetheart, tailback Ian Johnson. It's a testament to the talent evaluation prowess of former Broncos coach Dan Hawkins and his staff that many of these players helped stun Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

6. New York Jets -- Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas: 2005 Rivals 5-star, Scout 4-star

McFadden received a scholarship offer from then-Arkansas coach Houston Nutt after reportedly running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash at an Arkansas football camp as a 15-year-old high school sophomore. The rest of the SEC noticed, but McFadden chose to stay in his home state.

7. New England -- Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State: 2003 4-star Rivals, 3-star scout

This ranking is a bit puzzling. Recruitniks and NFL scouts usually are drawn to freakish athleticism like sportswriters to a buffet, but somehow the recruiting folks failed to pick up the scent here. Gholston, the most freakish athlete in this draft, didn't get much buzz until just before his senior season in high school.

8. Baltimore -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State: 2004 Rivals NR, Scout NR

Rodgers-Cromartie's bio claims he received a four-star ranking from Rivals, but no record of that rating appears in the Rivals database. It's amazing any college noticed Rodgers-Cromartie, considering he played for four different high schools and spent his senior season strictly as a receiver.

9. Cincinnati -- Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC: 2003 Rivals 4-star, Scout 4-star

Want to hear something scary? Ellis, one of the nation's top interior linemen in 2003, seriously considered LSU. That's right. He and Dorsey could have played together for at least three years.

10. New Orleans -- Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida: 2003 Rivals 3-star; Scout 3-star

Like Hawkins and successor Chris Peterson at Boise State, USF coach Jim Leavitt and his staff have excelled at finding under-recruited gems. Jenkins got more attention than most Bulls recruits of the day -- he had offers from Nebraska and Clemson -- but Florida's "big three" never offered. Leavitt did.

11. Buffalo -- Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State: 2006 (JUCO) Rivals 4-star, Scout 3-star

Thomas considered Junior College University -- Kansas State -- but dropped the Wildcats after Bill Snyder retired. The Spartans reaped the rewards.

12. Denver -- Keith Rivers, LB, USC: 2004 Rivals 5-star, Scout 5-star

It's been a good year for the Lake Mary (Fla.) High football program. In January, a slow, undersized offensive lineman from the class of 1996 began writing for In April, the best player in the program's history will be an NFL first-rounder. It's amazing to think that in 2004, the big debate in Florida was whether Rivers or Willie Williams was the Sunshine State's best defender.

13. Carolina -- Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon: 2005 Rivals 5-star, Scout 5-star

Recruitniks were all over Stewart before college coaches were even allowed to send him a letter. As a high school sophomore, he rushed for 1,524 yards and 15 touchdowns -- in five games.

14. Chicago -- Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt: 2006 (JUCO) Rivals 4-star, Scout 4-star

When hunting JUCO players, it's good to get in early. Pitt coaches recognized "Baby Shaq" (6-6, 340) could be something special before their colleagues, and that helped the Panthers beat out Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia.

15. Detroit -- Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida: 2004 Rivals 5-star, Scout 5-star

Harvey's sky-high rankings were almost entirely projections. He didn't play organized football until his junior year of high school, but the former basketball player's athleticism was off the meter.

16. Arizona -- Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy: 2004 Rivals NR, Scout 2-star

Academic issues in high school kept McKelvin off the recruiting radar. Otherwise, he might have been a four-star Georgia signee.

17. Kansas City -- Limas Sweed, WR, Texas: 2003 Rivals 4-star, Scout 4-star

Entering his senior year at Brenham (Texas) High, Sweed was considered the best receiver in the Lone Star State. After performing at such a high level in a talent-rich state, Sweed was a near-lock to succeed at higher levels of football.

18. Houston -- Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt: 2003 Rivals 2-star, Scout 2-star

The smart guys never get the hype. This late bloomer was the vice president of Glynn (La.) Catholic's National Honor Society.

19. Philadelphia -- DeSean Jackson, WR, Cal: 2005 Rivals 5-star, Scout 5-star

Jackson began his junior season at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly -- also the alma mater of Snoop Dogg and Carl "Apollo Creed" Weathers -- as a reliable second option. By the end of that season, he was considered the best receiver in California.

20. Baltimore (trade with Tampa Bay) -- Chad Henne, QB, Michigan: 2004 Rivals 5-star, Scout 5-star

Henne came from the same high school (Wilson in West Lawn, Pa.) that produced Kerry Collins. By January of his junior year, any program that ran a pro-style offense wanted him.

21. Washington -- Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson: 2005 Rivals 3-star, Scout 4-star

Merling, a combo TE/DE in high school, drew attention from home state Clemson and South Carolina before moving to Memphis for his senior year, but the top-tier teams didn't recruit him. One coach recognized Merling's athletic ability, though. Former Winthrop hoops coach Gregg Marshall offered Merling a scholarship.

22. Dallas -- Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois: 2005 Rivals 4-star, Scout 5-star

Mendenhall committed to former Illini coach Ron Turner, but the Skokie, Ill., star wound up becoming the crown jewel of Ron Zook's first recruiting class. Other schools wanted Mendenhall, but he wanted to play with his brother, Walter, in Champaign.

23. Pittsburgh -- Branden Albert, OL, Virginia: 2004 Rivals 2-star; Scout 1-star

Albert was a 6-7, 330-pound high school basketball star who didn't begin playing football until his junior year of high school. He turned down a hoops scholarship to Niagara to play for the Cavaliers.

24. Tennessee -- Jerod Mayo, LB, Tennessee: 2004 Rivals 4-star, Scout 3-star

Mayo, from Hampton, Va., drew interest from plenty of schools, including childhood favorite Virginia Tech. In the end, Mayo chose the Volunteers over the Hokies.

25. Seattle -- Kentwan Balmer, DE, North Carolina: 2004 Rivals 3-star, Scout 2-star

Even though Balmer didn't get much publicity from recruitniks, North Carolina coaches saw something special in him when he came to Chapel Hill for a camp in 2003. They offered him on the spot, and he accepted.

26. Carolina (trade with Jacksonville) -- Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville: 2004 Rivals 4-star, Scout 4-star

Brohm turned down Tennessee, Notre Dame and Nebraska to go to the school where his father and brothers played. His brother, Jeff, served on Bobby Petrino's Louisville staff, and remains at Louisville as Steve Kragthorpe's quarterbacks coach.

27. San Diego -- Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas: 2005 Rivals 4-star, Scout 3-star

Coming from the same Tulsa, Okla., high school that produced Saints receiver Robert Meachem, Jones received offers from Tennessee and Texas A&M. Instead, he chose Arkansas, where he entered in the same class as McFadden.

28. Dallas -- Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas: 2004 Rivals 2-star, Scout 2-star

The recruiting analysts -- and plenty of college coaches -- whiffed on Talib, who also had offers from Arizona, Baylor and Wyoming. That's how Mark Mangino built an Orange Bowl champ at Kansas -- finding excellent players other schools didn't want.

29. San Francisco -- Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College, 2003 Rivals 3-star, Scout 4-star

The Haiti native wanted to play at Miami, but the Hurricanes didn't offer. Instead, Cherlius picked Boston College over Iowa, South Carolina and Pitt.

30. Green Bay -- Dustin Keller, TE, Purdue: 2003 Rivals 2-star, Scout 2-star

Keller was set to go to Toledo until a week before Signing Day, when the hometown Boilermakers finally offered a scholarship. This happens quite often; when a coach misses on some targets, he will offer a local star who, while good, wouldn't typically be recruited at that level. Those players often wind up succeeding in college.

31. New York Giants -- Tyrell Johnson, S, Arkansas State: Rivals NR, Scout NR

Johnson's mother, Patricia, ran track at Arkansas and his father, Alvin Robertson, was a two-time NBA all-star. Despite that bloodline, the biggest school to show interest in Johnson was Tulsa.

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