If Peter King picked the first round correctly in his Mock Draft last week, nearly half of this year's newest crop of millionaires will have played high above recruitniks' predictions. Fifteen of the 32 players in King's Mock rated three stars or fewer out of high school, meaning evaluators felt they would, at best, be solid contributors at the FBS level.
So how did the recruitniks misjudge so many players so badly? They didn't. They misjudged a few players, which is to be expected when trying to project how 17-year-olds will fare as 20-year-olds. After last year's draft, writer Matt Hinton broke down the numbers, and they backed up the star ranking system's relative reliability as a predictor of success in college and beyond.
If 15 of 32 earning three stars or fewer sounds like a lot, consider the fact that from 2003-08, Rivals.com ranked 208 players as five-stars, 1,807 players as four-stars and 13,862 as a three-star or lower. In other words, two- and three-star players made up 87.3 percent of the players Rivals ranked during that period. Meanwhile, four- and five-stars -- of which King's Mock included 17 -- made up only 12.7 percent of the players ranked during that period. So, if the numbers hold, 53 percent of the first-rounders will come from the top eighth of the recruits.
That said, the stories always seem to be better when the player claws his way out of relative obscurity.
Hometown: HoustonClass: 2008Rivals.com rank: Four-star
In June 2007, the Houston Stratford High star narrowed his choices to Purdue, Northwestern, Stanford, Virginia and Rice. Sound as if Luck was under-recruited? He wasn't. Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M wanted him, too. He just happened to be an Elite 11 quarterback who wanted to play at an elite academic school. Luck's commitment legitimized the recruiting chops of then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, who at the time had yet to coach a game on The Farm. Of course, Harbaugh had to first be talked out of chasing Terrelle Pryor and Landry Jones before turning his attention to Luck and one other Texas quarterback.
Hometown: Copperas Cove, TexasClass: 2008Rivals.com rank: Four-star
Meet the other quarterback Harbaugh ultimately considered for the 2008 class. (Think the coach knew what he was doing?) But another rising star coach already had Griffin in his sights. In September 2007, Griffin committed to Houston coach Art Briles. After Briles left the Cougars a few months later to take over at Baylor, Griffin followed, committing in December 2007. Tennessee also recruited Griffin, and that sound you hear is palms slapping foreheads across the Volunteer State as fans imagine what might have happened had RG3 gone to Knoxville. Here's an even more interesting alternate history: Griffin had some contact with LSU, but the Tigers backed off after taking a commitment from Aldine, Texas, quarterback Darron Thomas. Thomas wound up going to Oregon -- which had also recruited Griffin -- after LSU decided to take Jordan Jefferson. Imagine Griffin at either place. He might have matched up with Cam Newton in the BCS title game after the 2010 season, or he might have given LSU a far more dynamic offense against Alabama in the BCS title game after the 2011 season.
Hometown: Corona, Calif.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Five-star
Any school in the nation would have loved to take Kalil, but only one school had a chance. After watching his older brother, Ryan, dominate at USC, Kalil planned to be a Trojan as soon as coach Pete Carroll offered. Carroll offered in October of Kalil's junior year, and Kalil committed on the spot.
Hometown: Pensacola, Fla.Class: 2009Rivals.com rank: Five-star
Then-Florida coach Urban Meyer -- whose team had just won a national title -- spent six hours at Richardson's home the week before National Signing Day in an attempt to sway the Sunshine State's top-rated player to flip from Alabama. But despite the best efforts of Meyer and LSU's Les Miles, Richardson donned a houndstooth hat on Signing Day and pledged to roll with the Tide. Two national titles later, he's the most coveted back in the NFL draft. (Crazy side note: Richardson was the No. 2 back in the 2009 class behind Bryce Brown, who left Tennessee and then Kansas State and who will spend the weekend hoping to hear his name called in any round.)
Hometown: Shreveport, La.Class: 2009Rivals.com rank: Three-star
The man with a Quiet Storm DJ's name wasn't a big name in recruiting circles. A high school option quarterback who thought he'd play receiver in college, Claiborne didn't have a lot of schools projecting him as a cornerback. Not that he would have minded; Claiborne didn't really care what position he played if it got him to one of the schools he liked. Nebraska and Texas A&M joined the ranks of Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech in pursuit of Claiborne, but Claiborne committed quickly when LSU offered in November of his senior season.
Hometown: Ardmore, Okla.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Blackmon grew up a Texas fan, but he probably had no chance to play at Texas. The Longhorns know most of their targets by February of a prospect's junior year, and Blackmon didn't turn heads until his senior season. That year, Blackmon caught 14 touchdown passes and also scored six special teams touchdowns and four touchdowns on interceptions. That piqued the interest of a few Big 12 schools. In the end, Blackmon chose Oklahoma State over Missouri and Colorado.
Hometown: Rock Hill, S.C.Class: 2009Rivals.com ranking: Four-star
Gilmore's commitment on Oct. 14, 2008 marked a turning point for the Gamecocks. They had struggled to land the Palmetto State's best prospects, who tended to go either to Clemson or outside the state's borders. When Gilmore picked South Carolina over Alabama, it signaled the start of a new era in South Carolina recruiting. A few months later, the Gamecocks would turn receiver Alshon Jeffery. In 2010, they grabbed tailback Marcus Lattimore, the state's top prospect. In 2011, Gilmore helped South Carolina recruit former South Pointe High teammate Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney was the nation's top-ranked recruit.
Hometown: Big Spring, TexasClass: 2007Rivals.com ranking: Three-star
Tannehill's father, Tim, played at Texas Tech, but the Red Raiders didn't recruit the 6-foot-4 quarterback out of Big Spring High. Instead, Tannehill decided between TCU and Texas A&M. Once he got to College Station, he played receiver until the middle of the 2011 season, when coach Mike Sherman benched Jerrod Johnson in favor of Tannehill. Even if he had never moved back to quarterback, Tannehill probably would have his name called in this draft. But that call might not have come so early.
Hometown: Yazoo City, Miss.Class: 2009Rivals.com ranking: Four-star
Three years and 50 pounds ago, Cox ran the anchor leg of the 4 X 100 relay for Yazoo City High. That's not so out-of-the-ordinary in SEC country. Some of the league's best defensive tackles left high school as tall, lean athletes. What made them special is that they didn't lose speed as they put on weight. Mississippi State coaches projected Cox correctly, but so did another staff known for putting defenders in the NFL. After Sylvester Croom and his staff were fired in Starkville, Cox gave serious thought to flipping on his commitment. Alabama coaches had never stopped recruiting Cox, and they convinced him to make an official visit to Tuscaloosa in January 2009. The visit didn't sway Cox, and he opted to stick with Mississippi State. Once in Starkville, the 245-pounder began eating. Hamburger steak smothered in gravy was his favorite. "I would load it down a little bit," Cox said in a 2010 interview. "Then I'd go back, get some more, load it down a little bit. In between, I would drink some milk." The gravy-soaked hamburger and milk did Cox's body good enough to become a first-rounder.
Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.Class: 2008Rivals.com ranking: Five-star
College coaches flocked to Cretin-Derham Hall to see Floyd, then a 6-foot-3 star with room to grow. Floyd also checked out Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin before finally deciding on Notre Dame, where he thought he would rack up catches and yards in coach Charlie Weis' offense. He was half right. He spent his final two seasons playing for Brian Kelly.
Hometown: CincinnatiClass: 2009Rivals.com ranking: Three-star
Like Luck, Kuechly chose his finalists based on U.S. News and World Report rankings instead of Associated Press poll rankings. Boston College, Duke, Stanford and Virginia got official visits. Boston College felt most comfortable to Kuechly, who attended St. Xavier, a Jesuit high school. There was a brief anxious moment when BC unexpectedly fired Jeff Jagodzinski, but when Kuechly found out defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani would be elevated to head coach, he kept the Eagles out front. Kuechly committed in January 2009. He began tackling everything in sight soon after.
Hometown: Hamlet, N.C.Class: 2007Rivals.com rank: Four-star
The Butch Davis staff had just taken over at North Carolina in early 2007, and the Tar Heels made one last run at Ingram, then a 224-pound linebacker. Ingram took an official visit to Chapel Hill, but he remained solid to South Carolina. Fifty pounds later, Ingram turned into a stud defensive end/touchdown machine.
Hometown: Bellevue, Wash.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Oregon State, Washington and Washington State wanted DeCastro, but he committed to the Cardinal in May 2007. Still, he wanted to make sure he had made the correct choice. So he visited Washington in December 2007. The fact that the hometown team couldn't sway him only served to reinforce DeCastro's belief that something special was going on down at Stanford. He was correct. His class changed the program.
Hometown: Mobile, Ala.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Four-star
The biggest question surrounding Barron in high school was what position he would play in college. He starred at tailback at St. Paul's, but he also wowed recruiters as a receiver, safety and linebacker. LSU coaches told Barron to pick a position. Alabama coaches said they saw him as a safety. Ultimately, Barron chose Alabama. He took a late visit to Auburn, but the Tigers didn't really have a chance to flip Barron, who would be joined in Tuscaloosa a year later by St. Paul's quarterback AJ McCarron.
Hometown: Kinston, N.C.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Four-star
Coples enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., for his senior year to help shore up his academics. The plan worked. Coples qualified, and he chose North Carolina over Florida State, N.C. State and Tennessee.
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Two-star
Wooddale High coach Cedric Miller discovered Poe playing the bass drum in the school's band and asked the jumbo percussionist tojoin the football team. Though Poe developed into a dominant high school player, his grades scared off elite schools. His options were Memphis or ... Memphis. Now, Poe will have to prove he isn't just a combine wonder after failing to dominate in Conference USA.
Hometown: Eufaula, Ala.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Four-star
Like Cox and Ingram, Upshaw is another weight-gainer who didn't lose a step. Upshaw left Eufaula High at 220 pounds and finished his college career as a 265-pound quarterback-seeking monster. Upshaw had offers from Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and others, but he never seriously considered any school besides Alabama.
Hometown: Parkston, S.D.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Iowa and Nebraska each wanted Reiff, and they both got him. But Iowa got him first and last. Reiff committed to the Hawkeyes in April 2007, but by the fall, he wondered if he had made his choice too early. So he visited Nebraska for the Cornhuskers' game against USC and decided he wanted to play in Lincoln. Nebraska fired Bill Callahan's staff six weeks later, and Reiff reconsidered. In December, he committed to Iowa again.
Hometown: Pittsburg, TexasClass: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Like most top prospects in Texas, Wright committed early. In March of his junior year, he chose Texas A&M. But that commitment wouldn't last. Wright, who played quarterback and starred on the basketball team at Pittsburg High, decommitted in May. He opened his options to schools that wanted him as a receiver, and despite interest from Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arkansas, his only official visit was to Baylor.
Hometown: Akron, OhioClass: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Mercilus liked three schools: Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State. The problem? He only had an offer from one of them. After a December 2007 official visit to Champaign, Mercilus chose the Illini. At the time, Illinois was about to play in the Rose Bowl. Mercilus never got close to Pasadena, but his breakout season as a redshirt junior may have vaulted him into the first round.
Hometown: Gadsden, Ala.Class: 2009Rivals.com rank: Five-star
Texas doesn't often venture outside the Lone Star State for players. Nor do the Longhorns typically leave scholarships open for anyone. But Texas wanted Kirkpatrick badly. That was a testament to how good the class of 2009's top-ranked cornerback was at Gadsden City High. Kirkpatrick took official visits to Texas and Florida, but in the end, he elected to stay close to home and win two national titles at Alabama.
Hometown: Los AngelesClass: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Martin always wanted to go to Stanford, but he wasn't sure his grades and test scores would make the cut at the (academically) highest ranked school in the FBS. So Martin originally committed to another classroom powerhouse. In June 2007, he pledged to UCLA. But in January 2008, Stanford coaches informed Martin that he had made it through the admissions gauntlet. He immediately accepted their scholarship offer.
* Projected trade with Detroit
Hometown: Lewisburg, Tenn.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Four-star
The jumbo linebacker was a perfect fit for Nick Saban's defense, and Hightower committed to the Crimson Tide in November 2007. His other finalist? Vanderbilt. Still, Hightower's commitment didn't deter Tennessee from trying to convince him to remain in his home state. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, Hightower wasn't interested.
Hometown: Waukesha, Wis.Class: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
As a svelte -- for a Wisconsin offensive lineman -- 279-pound high school junior, Zeitler narrowed his options to two schools. He could stay close to home and play for the Badgers, or he could go to Michigan. Zeitler stayed in America's Dairy Land and won two Big Ten titles.
Hometown: HoustonClass: 2009Rivals.com rank: Four-star
Even when Houston and Texas A&M were the main schools pursuing him before his junior season began, Brockers was hoping for an offer from LSU. He got it, and he jumped on it. Brockers committed to the Tigers in February of his junior year, becoming the first commitment in a class that included Claiborne, defensive end Sam Montgomery and receiver Rueben Randle.
Hometown: Bastrop, La.Class: 2009Rivals.com rank: Five-star
Randle didn't choose the Tigers nearly as early as future teammate Brockers. The nation's No. 2-rated prospect milked the recruiting process until the very end, choosing LSU on National Signing Day. Randle also took official visits to Alabama and Oklahoma and considered Tennessee and Auburn, but in the end, the pull of his home state team was too strong.
* Projected trade with New England
Hometown: Edmond, Okla.Class: 2002Rivals.com rank: Zero stars
Don't blame the recruitniks for this oversight. Star rankings were in their infancy when Weeden graduated from Santa Fe High. (For perspective: Facebook wouldn't launch for two more years.) Football coaches shied away from Weeden because of his success on the mound. The New York Yankees picked the right-handed pitcher in the second round of the 2002 draft. After an injury-plagued minor league career, Weeden decided to give football another shot. Now, he'll take the Chris Weinke career path and enter a league where most of the five-year veterans are younger than him.
Hometown: Huber Heights, OhioClass: 2008Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Under Mark Dantonio, the Spartans have had a good eye for diamonds in the rough. Michigan State offered Worthy at a camp before his senior season, and the Spartans recruited Worthy hard even though other schools at that level remained cool on the 290-pounder. Meanwhile, Worthy supplemented his football training with martial arts and yoga workouts. That helped create a 300-pounder who moved better than any 300-pounder should move.
* Projected trade with Baltimore
Hometown: Tracy, Calif.Class: 2007Rivals.com rank: Two-star (Out of junior college in 2009)
After a career as a two-way lineman at West High, Silatolu remained close to home and went to San Joaquin Delta College. From there, he signed with Nevada in 2009, but he failed to qualify academically to play in Reno. After a year off from football, Silatolu wound up at Division II Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas. He dominated at left tackle there, and now he is one of the 2012 draft's most intriguing prospects.
Hometown: Joliet, Ill.Class: 2007Rivals.com rank: Three-star
Fleener didn't draw major interest until his senior season. That might have something to do with the fact that Fleener caught more passes (four) in Joliet Catholic's first game in 2006 than he did in his entire junior season. Fleener entertained offers from Arizona State and Nebraska, but, like Martin, he held out hope for admission to Stanford. When he got that in January 2007, he committed soon after.
Hometown: DetroitClass: 2008Rivals.com rank: Four-star
One of the best players in years to emerge from Detroit's public school system -- playing nine different defensive positions at various times, he led King High to the first state title captured by a Detroit public -- Perry was a high-priority target for Michigan and Michigan State. He took official visits to both -- as well as Miami -- but ultimately decided he wanted to play for Pete Carroll at USC. It marked the second time in two years that Carroll had swiped one of Michigan's best players from under the noses of the Wolverines and Spartans. In 2007, Carroll grabbed Muskegon receiver Ronald Johnson.
Hometown: Knoxville, Tenn.Class: 2007Rivals.com rank: Four-star
Smith had his share of SEC offers, including Alabama, Auburn and hometown Tennessee, but a September 2006 official visit to South Bend made the Fighting Irish the team to beat. Smith ultimately chose between Notre Dame and his hometown Volunteers, and he picked the Irish. It would be the first of two consecutive years in which a metro Knoxville player who could have helped the Vols went north. In 2008, Alcoa, Tenn., receiver Randall Cobb signed with Kentucky. Cobb went to the Packers in the second round of last year's draft.