The stars seem to be getting more accurate.
For the second consecutive year, we looked back at the top NFL draft prospects through the eyes of college football recruiting services. Rivals.com's top-ranked quarterback (Matthew Stafford), top-ranked running back (Beanie Wells) and top-ranked player (Percy Harvin) from the class of 2006 are expected to be chosen in Saturday's first round, and so are the top-ranked quarterback (Mark Sanchez), linebacker (Rey Maualuga) and offensive tackle (Eugene Monroe) from 2005.
As recruits, last year's first-rounders averaged a star rating of 3.42 (out of five) and included five five-star prospects. This year, the players selected in the mock first round by SI.com NFL writer Don Banks boasted an average star rating of 3.59. The group included seven five-stars, four of whom are projected to go in the top six.
Even though the Rivals rankings should get more accurate as recruiting coverage becomes more refined, the recruiting gurus still will miss players such as Clay Matthews, who walked on at USC and blossomed into a star, but those misses will become more rare as the years pass.
Here's how this year's projected first round picks ranked coming out of high school:
1. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia2006 Rivals ranking: Five-star (No. 1 quarterback, No. 6 overall recruit)
Though dual-threat wonder Tim Tebow outshined Stafford in his own conference, the latter always seemed to be the nation's best pro prospect. His freakish arm strength and ability to make throws no one else could was plenty evident even when he was the quarterback at Highland Park (Dallas, Texas) High.
2. Jason Smith, OT, Baylor2004 Rivals ranking: Two-star
Almost everyone whiffed on the offensive guard from W.T. White (Dallas, Texas) High. Kansas and Minnesota also showed interest, but Smith stuck with Baylor, where he started eight games at tight end as a redshirt freshman. He moved to right tackle as a sophomore and left tackle as a junior.
3. Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia2005 Rivals ranking: Five-star (No. 1 offensive tackle, No. 3 overall)
Everyone wanted the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder from Plainfield, N.J. Monroe wound up deciding between Maryland and Virginia.
4. Mark Sanchez, QB, USC2005 Rivals ranking: Five-star (No. 1 pro-style quarterback, No. 7 overall)
Sanchez already had committed to USC when he blew away the field at the 2004 Elite 11 camp. Fellow campers that year included Chase Daniel, Ryan Perrilloux and Jonathan Crompton.
5. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech2006 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 16 athlete)
Oklahoma and Texas A&M also wanted the football/basketball star from Skyline (Dallas, Texas) High. Unfortunately for the Sooners and Aggies, they couldn't compete against the one-two recruiting punch of Mike Leach and Bob Knight. Crabtree realized quickly his future was on the gridiron.
6. Andre Smith, OT, Alabama2006 Rivals ranking: Five-star (No. 1 offensive tackle, No. 2 overall)
Four days before National Signing Day, fans at Florida's O'Connell Center chanted the name of official visitor Smith, who also was considering Alabama, LSU and USC. The giant from Birmingham caused a lot of angst in his home state, but worry turned to joy when he slipped a houndstooth hat on his head on Signing Day.
7. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri2006 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 24 receiver)
Maclin called himself a "soft verbal" when he committed to Oklahoma in August 2005. The speedy receiver from St. Louis changed his mind a few months later, and his choice set the stage for Missouri's rise.
8. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest2004 Rivals ranking: Two-star
Curry, from Fayetteville, N.C., hoped for offers from other ACC schools, but they never came. So Curry went to Wake Forest, put on 35 pounds of muscle and turned into one of the nation's best linebackers.
9. B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College2004 Rivals ranking: Two-star
Raji, from Washington Township, N.J., flew under the radar until his senior season because he didn't go to the usual combines and camps the previous summer. That was lucky for B.C. and Rutgers, which discovered him first and wound up being his finalists.
10. Brian Orakpo, DE, Texas2004 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 12 weakside defensive end)
A trip to a Nike camp in College Station in May 2003 put Orakpo on the recruiting map, but the Houston native held out for an offer from Texas. When he got it that June, he jumped on it.
11. Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee2004 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 10 inside linebacker)
Ayers, the No. 2-ranked player in South Carolina in 2004, knew he would play in the SEC, but he didn't decide where until the day before Signing Day. That's when he chose Tennessee over Florida and South Carolina.
12. Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU2004 Rivals ranking: Three-star (No. 14 strongside defensive end)
A late-January visit to Miami forced Jackson to rethink his commitment to LSU, but in the end, Jackson decided to head to Baton Rouge. The choice netted him a national-title ring.
13. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss2005 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 7 offensive tackle)
Author Michael Lewis made quite a leap when he chose Oher as the focus of The Blind Side. Even at offensive tackle, it's tough to predict whether a high-schooler will become a first-rounder. Lewis nailed this one.
14. Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State2005 Rivals ranking: Three-star (No. 61 cornerback)
Jenkins, from Piscataway, N.J., also received offers from Rutgers, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. The fact that the Hokies and Buckeyes wanted him should have been the tip-off that Jenkins was no three-star.
15. Brian Cushing, LB, USC2005 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 5 outside linebacker)
It came down to USC, Boston College, Florida and Miami for the Bulldog of Bergen, N.J. Cushing chose Troy, where he would join Sanchez and Maualuga in the class of 2005.
16. Beanie Wells, RB, Ohio State2006 Rivals ranking: Five-star (No. 1 running back, No. 3 overall recruit)
If not for the distance, Wells might have chosen USC, where he would have taken his place among a legendary collection of backs. Of course, the Akron native had a fair program in his own backyard, and he helped the Buckeyes to two BCS title-game appearances.
17. Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State2006 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 4 pro-style quarterback)
Freeman wasn't even considering Kansas State until the Wildcats hired Ron Prince, who had been trying to convince the Grandview, Mo., native to come to Virginia. Shortly after Prince was hired, Freeman decommitted from Nebraska and set a course for the Little Apple.
18. Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State2006 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 7 weakside defensive end)
Practically every school on the eastern seaboard wanted Maybin, a 6-3, 211-pounder from Ellicot City, Md. In October 2005, Penn State coach Joe Paterno canceled all official visits the weekend of the Ohio State game so his players could concentrate. Maybin watched the Nittany Lions' upset win anyway, and he came away impressed.
19. Clay Matthews, LB, USC2004 Rivals ranking: Zero-star (Walk-on)
Matthews, whose father, Clay, was an All-America linebacker at USC, received only one scholarship offer. From Idaho. So he walked on where his father and uncle (offensive lineman Bruce Matthews) starred, earned a scholarship and played his way into the first round.
20. Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss2005 Rivals ranking (prep school): Three-star
While at Hargrave Military Academy in 2004, Jerry played alongside 2008 first-rounder Branden Albert and current Alabama linebacker Brandon Fanney. Expect Jerry to be joined in the NFL next year by brother John, an Ole Miss offensive lineman.
21. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia2006 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 10 running back)
Even though Moreno is from New Jersey, two of the SEC's biggest rivals wound up vying for his services. He chose Georgia over Florida, then burst on the national stage as a redshirt freshman by gaining 188 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 2007 win against the Gators in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
22. Percy Harvin, WR, Florida2006 Rivals ranking: Five-star (No. 1 overall recruit)
Though Tebow gets most of the credit for Florida's high-powered offense, Harvin was the X factor defenses couldn't contain. Durability issues have hurt Harvin's draft stock, but his 11.6-yard average from scrimmage -- with many of those touches coming as straight handoffs from the tailback spot -- made him college football's most dangerous weapon.
23. Darius Butler, CB, UConn2004 Rivals ranking: Two-star
This diamond in the rough started for four seasons after redshirting in 2004. Judging by this YouTube clip, he should have gotten some playing time alongside A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet.
24. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State2004 Rivals ranking: Two-star
A knee injury suffered during Pettigrew's junior season at Tyler (Texas) Lee High threw college coaches off his scent, but he drew plenty of interest going into his senior season.
25. Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers2006 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 22 receiver)
Britt appeared set to sign with Illinois, but the speedster from Bayonne, N.J., decided on Signing Day he wanted to play closer to home.
26. Rey Maualuga, LB, USC2005 Rivals ranking: Five-star (No. 1 inside linebacker, No. 5 overall)
The rich got richer in January 2005. During the broadcast of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, this Eureka, Calif., star picked defending national champ USC over Oregon.
27. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland2005 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 12 receiver)
This speedy receiver from Owing Mills, Md., considered heading south to Alabama, but just before his senior season at McDonogh High, he decided to stay home and play for the Terrapins.
28. Eben Britton, OT, Arizona2005 Rivals ranking: Four-star (No. 16 offensive tackle)
Much of the Pac-10 offered this giant from Burbank, Calif., but he considered Arizona a perfect fit.
29. Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina2006 Rivals ranking: Four star (No. 31 receiver)
Nicks caught passes at Independence (Charlotte, N.C.) High, from Joe Cox, Stafford's likely successor at Georgia. Few schools knew about him because, as a junior, he played in the shadow of future Bulldog Mohamed Massaquoi. After Nicks racked up 1,524 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior, several schools probably wished they had noticed Nicks as early as the Tar Heels did.
30. Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois2006 Rivals ranking: Three-star
Davis, from Dunbar High in Washington, had a tough time choosing between Illinois and Maryland. In the end, the brother of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis picked the Illini because he felt he had a better chance to play early. He was correct; Davis was named a freshman All-America in 2006.
31. Donald Brown, RB, UConn2005 Rivals ranking: Three-star
UConn's program has begun to produce NFL talent, but in 2005, Storrs wasn't a sexy destination in the eyes of recruiting analysts. Brown, who gained 2,036 yards and scored 27 touchdowns as a senior at Catholic (Red Bank, N.J.) High, never stopped finding the end zone.
32. Max Unger, C, Oregon2004 Rivals ranking: Three-star
The two Oregon schools were the only programs to offer Unger, then a 6-5, 280-pounder from Kamuela, Hawaii. The Ducks were the lucky winners of a brainy, athletic lineman. Unger started at left tackle as a freshman and sophomore and moved to center in 2007.