Star watch: How top NFL draft prospects ranked as recruits

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When the census takers visit Oklahoma this year, they should ask an extra question: How did a state that contains a little more than one percent of the U.S. population produce three likely first-round draft picks from the same high school graduating class?

We expect California (33 first-rounders since 2000), Florida (47) and Texas (30) to produce top-shelf players, but Oklahoma? The Sooner state has a rich gridiron history and some great high school programs, but Oklahoma's population (3.6 million) is about a fifth of Florida's, a seventh of Texas' and a 10th of California's. From 2000-09, only five first-rounders played for Oklahoma high schools. Yet this year, two players who attended high school in Oklahoma (quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy) will probably be top three picks, while another (tight end Jermaine Gresham) should go later in the first round. It shouldn't surprise anyone that these three all played together at Oklahoma; the Sooners almost always get the top recruits in their state. But to see such a small state produce three first-rounders in the same year? That's nothing short of amazing.

Less amazing is the fact that recruiting analysts pegged McCoy and Gresham as future stars in high school. Bradford wasn't accurately projected, but despite that oversight, the recruitniks have gotten more accurate in each of the three years I have gone back to look at how potential first-rounders were ranked as recruits coming out of high school. Of the players NFL writer Don Banks projected as first-rounders in his latest Mock Draft, eight earned five-star (can't-miss) rankings from or Fourteen more earned four-star rankings. The recruitniks missed on late-bloomers such as TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes and Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty, but so did most college coaches.

Class: 2006Hometown: Oklahoma City, Okla.Rivals: Three-starScout: Four-star

Just imagine the numbers Bradford would have put up had he signed with the first coach to offer him a scholarship. Though Bradford is an Oklahoma legacy -- his father played for the Sooners -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach actually beat Oklahoma coaches to the punch, offering Bradford in February 2005. Bradford got the offer he wanted in May, and he quickly committed to the Sooners.

Class: 2005Hometown: Portland, Ore.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Suh seriously considered Mississippi State, where his sister, Ngum, played soccer, but in the end, his choice came down to Cal and Nebraska. The 6-foot-4, 278-pound high schooler grew into a 6-4, 300-pound wrecking machine. Suh was one of the most sought-after recruits on the west coast, but in hindsight, it's amazing so many elite schools didn't bother recruiting him.

Class: 2006Hometown: Oklahoma City, Okla.Rivals: Five-starScout: Five-star

Everyone wanted McCoy, and the tackle made official visits to Miami, LSU and Notre Dame before narrowing his options to Oklahoma and USC. The Sooners were thrilled McCoy decided to stay close to home.

Class: 2006Hometown: Longview, TexasRivals: Three-starScout: Three-star

Coaches liked Williams a lot more than the recruiting services, and the 6-5, 290-pounder had plenty of opportunities coming out of high school. Williams visited LSU and Oklahoma State before he picked Oklahoma.

Class: 2006Hometown: HoustonRivals: Three-starScout: Four-star

Okung's high school team wasn't good his senior year, but it didn't stop schools from jumping into the fray to recruit him. He visited Nebraska and flirted with LSU before eventually picking the Cowboys.

Class: 2006Hometown: Woodstock, Ill.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Just about everyone in the Big Ten wanted Bulaga, who was a 6-5, 270-pound tackle/tight end at Marian Central Catholic High. It's a good rule of thumb that when a lineman has a frame that can accommodate 300 pounds and he catches 35 passes for 665 yards and 10 touchdowns as a part-time tight end, he's going to be a great one.

Class: 2007Hometown: Fairburn, Ga.Rivals: Five-starScout: Five-star

Berry's skills were apparent to everyone from college coaches to recruiting analysts. The only question was which position he would play, because he had the speed of a corner and the Swiss Army Knife utility to play either safety spot. Berry visited Auburn, but he eventually chose Tennessee, where his father, James, was a star.

Class: 2007Hometown: Deerfield Beach, Fla.Rivals: Two-star (high school); Four-star (junior college)Scout: No rank (high school); Four-star (junior college)

This back-flipping freak of nature didn't start playing football until his junior year at Deerfield Beach High. The son of Hatian immigrants signed with Central Florida out of high school, but he failed to qualify academically. Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU recruited Pierre-Paul out of Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, but all said he would need another semester of community college before he could transfer. USF officials told Pierre-Paul he could qualify and transfer if he passed a heavy courseload. Unfortunately for Big East quarterbacks, that's exactly what he did.

Class: 2005Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.Rivals: Three-starScout: Three-star ranked 34 defensive tackles ahead of Williams in 2005. Only one of those (Suh) will be drafted above the East High graduate, who chose Tennessee over Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Class: 2006Hometown: Lake Butler, Fla.Rivals: Five-starScout: Five-star

I was in the gym at Union County High when Spiller announced where he would attend school. The students, mostly Florida and Florida State fans, had spent the morning razzing one another about how Spiller would put their team over the top in the rivalry. When he donned a Clemson hat, there was an audible gasp. Spiller's mother, who didn't know which school he would choose, cried. The choice worked out pretty well for Spiller, who almost transferred to Florida after his freshman season but stuck around to put together a fantastic career at Clemson.

Class: 2007Hometown: Lufkin, TexasRivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Bryant was considered the best receiver in Texas in his class, but colleges weren't sure if he'd be academically eligible. Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech stuck out the recruitment, and the Cowboys landed Bryant.

Class: 2006Hometown: DallasRivals: Five-starScout: Five-star

As a junior at Woodrow Wilson High in 2005, Kindle had been outside of the state of Texas just once. Before he committed to the Longhorns, Kindle planned to visit some of the schools recruiting him, which included USC and most of the Big 12 -- just to make sure he wasn't missing anything. Before he made the trip, Kindle changed his mind and committed to Texas. "He said 'Coach, I'll have my whole life to do some traveling,'" Wilson coach Bobby Estes told in April 2005.

Class: 2007Hometown: Fort Washington, Md.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Haden played quarterback at Friendly High, but he projected as a receiver in college. He would have been a good one, too, but the Gators badly needed help in the secondary when Haden arrived on campus. He started immediately at cornerback and only got better in his three years in Gainesville.

Class: 2007Hometown: Coatesville, Pa.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Morgan was considered one of the best players in Pennsylvania, but he passed on an offer from Penn State -- as well as offers from Ohio State, Miami and Boston College -- to play for the Yellow Jackets. He joined a fantastic Georgia Tech class that produced 11 starters for the 2009 ACC champion.

Class: 2007Hometown: Decatur, Ala.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

McClain didn't pick a side in the Alabama-Auburn rivalry until he committed to the Crimson Tide before his senior season in 2006. Even after Alabama fired coach Mike Shula, McClain never wavered. He wound up becoming the best player on a national title team.

Class: 2006Hometown: DetroitRivals: Five-starScout: Five-star

Graham might have stopped a few hearts in Ann Arbor in November 2005 when he scheduled an official visit to Penn State, but he quickly changed his mind and never made the trip to State College. Like Kindle in the same class, Graham was a high school linebacker. Unlike Kindle, who didn't put his hand on the ground regularly until his senior season, Graham moved to the line as a freshman.

Class: 2007Hometown: Westlake Village, Calif.Rivals: Five-starScout: Five-star

Back when I covered Tennessee, the father of Volunteers quarterback Casey Clausen told me his youngest son would be pursued by just about everyone. Jim Clausen was absolutely correct. Jimmy Clausen was the top-ranked prospect in the class of 2007.

Class: 2005Hometown: Piscataway, N.J.Rivals: Two-starScout: Two-star

Wilson wasn't getting much interest as a high schooler, so his brother made a tape and sent it to 50 schools. Boise State, Richmond and Delaware offered scholarships. Later, hometown Rutgers also offered, but Wilson already had fallen in love with the coaching staff at Boise State.

Class: 2006Hometown: Jasper, TexasRivals: Two-starScout: Two-star

Weatherspoon wasn't huge, and he didn't run a blazing 40-yard dash as a high schooler, but he did dominate opposing offenses. Fortunately for an ascendant Missouri program, coaches from high-profile programs got too wrapped up in the measurables and forgot that they were recruiting football players and not sprinters. Weatherspoon originally committed to Houston, but he wound up choosing the Tigers over the Cougars, TCU, Iowa State and Memphis.

Class: 2007Hometown: Orange, TexasRivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Thomas was one of those classic Texas recruits who committed almost a year before he signed with the Longhorns. Though the quiet Thomas didn't create much drama during the recruiting process, he impressed his future teammates almost immediately when he arrived in Austin. It's a testament to the depth in Mack Brown's program that Thomas redshirted in 2007 and only played two seasons for the Longhorns.

Class: 2006Hometown: Ardmore, Okla.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Just imagine the joy in the Oklahoma football office on National Signing Day in 2006. On that Wednesday, the Sooners learned they had landed McCoy and Gresham, the 6-7 former basketball player who was considered the nation's top tight end after catching 67 passes for 1,170 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior at Ardmore High.

Class: 2006Hometown: Lebanon, Pa.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Odrick came close to committing to Georgia during an official visit in November 2005, but he held back. Eventually, Odrick chose the Nittany Lions over the Bulldogs as well as Florida, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Class: 2007Hometown: Piscataway, N.J.Rivals: Four-starScout: Five-star

It came down to Ohio State and Rutgers for Davis, who even in high school was knocked for relying too much on his size and natural strength and not working hard enough on his technique. Davis chose to stay close to home, marking the first time in a long time that the top-ranked player in New Jersey had picked the Scarlet Knights.

Class: 2006Hometown: Macon, Ga.Rivals: Four-star (prep school, 2007)Scout: Three-star (prep school, 2007)

Jackson was a star tailback at Westside High, and he received scholarship offers from Alabama-Birmingham, Central Michigan, Tulane and other non-BCS programs. He elected to play a postgraduate year at Fork Union Military Academy, and he originally committed to Vanderbilt before a visit to Tuscaloosa changed his mind.

Class: 2006Hometown: Dublin, Ga.Rivals: Three-starScout: Three-star

The 6-4, 210-pound Thomas might have had more options coming out of high school had he been willing to play tight end, but he insisted that he wanted to play receiver. South Carolina jumped in with a late offer, but Thomas stuck with his original decision to sign with Georgia Tech.

Class: 2005Hometown: Anaheim, Calif.Rivals: Two-starScout: Two-star

The massive Samoan attracted interest from Arizona and others, but his grades made signing with a BCS program almost impossible. Iupati planned to attend junior college, and he would have if not for a chance meeting with an Idaho assistant who was visiting a friend at a barbecue thrown for the members of Iupati's older brother's team at Golden West Junior College. Because non-qualifiers aren't eligible for scholarships, Iupati's parents took out a loan so he could pay for his first year at Idaho. He'll be able to pay them back -- plus interest -- when he receives his signing bonus.

Class: 2005Hometown: Pomona, Calif.Rivals: Three-starScout: Four-star

Not every player who signs with the Trojans is a five-star recruit. During Pete Carroll's tenure, USC signed plenty of superstar recruits, but the Trojans also built a juggernaut with players who didn't get a ton of recruiting hype. USC and UCLA each wanted Brown, a 250-pound Diamond Ranch High star who excelled on the offensive and defensive lines and occasionally played tight end.

Class: 2007Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.Rivals: Three-starScout: Two-star

Mathews led the nation with 3,396 rushing yards and scored 44 touchdowns as a senior at West High, but colleges weren't in a hurry to sign him. Arizona State wanted him to play linebacker. Colorado coaches told him they had enough backs in their class. USC called less than a week before National Signing Day and asked Mathews to send a transcript, but he chose to stick with his commitment to Fresno State. Mathews' grades probably scared away many schools; as late as June 2007, he still hadn't qualified academically. An extra history course put Mathews over the top, and the Bulldogs reaped the rewards.

Class: 2007Hometown: Avondale, Ariz.Rivals: Five-starScout: Five-star

Recruiting analysts and college coaches loved the same things in Griffen that NFL scouts love. As a star at Agua Fria High, Griffen was nicknamed "Super Freak." At 6-4 and 265 pounds, he ran an electronically timed 4.56-second 40-yard dash. He played defensive end, but he also played running back, rushing for 22 touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards as a senior. Griffen picked the Trojans over Notre Dame and Michigan.

Class: 2005Hometown: Nanuet, N.Y.Rivals: Two-starScout: Two-star

McCourty and his twin brother, Jason, began the recruiting process as a package deal, but by the time the brothers made their college decisions, they had other options. New Hampshire and Rutgers wanted Devin. Boston College and Rutgers wanted Jason. Devin pulled the trigger first, committing to Rutgers on Dec. 13, 2004. A few days later, Jason followed suit. Jason beat Devin to the NFL, going to the Tennessee Titans in the sixth round last year.

Class: 2007Hometown: Lakeland, Fla.Rivals: Four-starScout: Four-star

Like McCourty, Pouncey is a twin. He and brother Mike signed with Florida in 2007 after helping Lakeland High to a national title as seniors. As late as December, the brothers said they intended to both go pro or both stay in school, but Mike, who started at guard in 2008 and 2009, learned he could improve his draft stock by staying at Florida. Maurkice, who started at guard as a freshman and moved to center as a sophomore, couldn't improve his stock much more.

Class: 2006Hometown: Sugar Land, TexasRivals: Two-starScout: Two-star

Hughes grew up a Texas fan, but as a 6-2, 215-pound defensive end/tailback, he wasn't going to get an offer from the Longhorns. Hughes picked TCU over Iowa State and North Texas, and he grew into one of the nation's most dominant pass rushers.