We marvel every year at how many players slip through the cracks in recruiting only to wind up as first-round NFL draft picks. Often, it's because college coaches and recruiting services simply projected poorly. But in the case of a few likely first-rounders this year, the coaches and recruitniks never stood a chance.
Four players grew up in countries where the people either don't play American football or play only a rudimentary version of it. Meanwhile, two left high school with no football prospects only to decide later that they should try to keep playing. As for the rest, it's just fun to remember a time when they picked their team rather than having their team select them.
I'm using Don Banks' Mock Draft 6.0 for the order, so if you are unhappy with the player your NFL team is allegedly selecting, yell at Don. I only worry about where they play in college.
Hoping to earn a scholarship somewhere, Fisher moved from tight end to the offensive line the summer before his senior year at Stoney Creek High in Rochester Hills, Mich. The reaction was immediate. According to the
This four-star tight end from Chandler, Ariz., didn't pan out. After redshirting, Jordan couldn't crack the depth chart on offense. Fortunately for Jordan, he put on 30 pounds and became a 6-foot-6, 245-pound 3-4 outside linebacker who also can play with his hand on the ground in a 4-3. NFL teams love Jordan's blend of size and speed and his versatility. The athleticism was obvious in high school, but it took Ducks coaches to find Jordan's proper position.
The recruitniks nailed this one. Floyd, from Philadelphia, was considered the nation's top defensive tackle in the class of 2010. He didn't become an immediate star at Florida, but he gradually improved during his first two seasons and proved as a junior why he was ranked so high coming out of high school.
Just imagine a BYU defensive line with Lotulelei on the inside and Ziggy Ansah at end. It might have happened. The Cougars signed Lotulelei -- then a 6-4, 245-pound defensive end -- out of Bingham (Utah) High, but Lotulelei didn't qualify academically and had to attend Snow College in Ephraim, Utah. When Lotulelei left junior college in 2010, BYU elected not to pursue him. Utah beat out Oregon State and Utah State, and Lotulelei developed into an elite tackle.
Joeckel and his twin brother, Matt, committed to the Aggies in April 2010. I know what you're asking if you're an NFL fan who doesn't follow college football.
Not many high school quarterbacks become NFL offensive tackles, but that's the path Johnson took. The 6-6, 202-pound Johnson was the signal-caller at tiny Groveton (Texas) High. He threw 23 touchdown passes as a junior. He played quarterback as a freshman at Kilgore College, but his coach moved him to tight end the following spring. Several schools, including Southern Miss, TCU and Oklahoma, got wind of the 252-pound Johnson's athleticism and offered scholarships. Johnson chose Oklahoma, where he redshirted in 2009. He moved to defensive end in 2010, then right offensive tackle in 2011. In 2012, the 303-pound Johnson started 11 games at left tackle.
Alabama recruits don't always get an automatic star bump when they commit to the Crimson Tide. Former 'Bama defensive tackle Terrence Cody was a two-star recruit coming out of junior college. Warmack, who played for Atlanta's Westlake High, committed to Alabama in May 2008 and still didn't get as much attention as Alabama's other recruits. Whoops. Warmack wound up being one of the best college guards of the past few decades.
Cooper, from Wilmington, N.C., was the object of an intense recruiting battle within the Carolinas. North Carolina, South Carolina, NC State and Wake Forest all wanted the former 287-pounder from Hoggard High. Had schools outside the Carolinas realized how good Cooper would become, they would have tried harder to lure him away.
Unlike Warmack, Milliner had the more typical Nick Saban-era Alabama recruiting experience. The tall (6-2) corner from Millbrook, Ala., was identified early as the top player in Alabama and decided the summer before his senior season that he wanted to play for the Crimson Tide. Every step of the way, he fulfilled his recruiting hype. Milliner played in Alabama's nickel package immediately and went on to play a critical role on two national title teams.
The reach of Rivals.com has expanded in recent years, but its evaluators haven't spent much time in Ghana. That's where the soccer-playing, basketball-loving former BYU track walk-on grew up. Ansah's story is simply incredible -- too incredible to be covered in such a small space. So do yourself a favor and read the feature Jeff Benedict wrote on Ansah for SI in December.
Back in 2009, Smith was better known by the name on his birth certificate: Eugene. And Eugene Smith from Miramar (Fla.) High was a hot name in recruiting circles. After he tore up a Nike camp in April 2008, Smith held a host of offers. But he wanted one from the hometown Miami Hurricanes. The 'Canes, who had signed Jacory Harris, Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith in 2008, weren't sure they could take a quarterback. Michigan talked to Smith after Kevin Newsome decommitted, but the Wolverines wound up signing Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier. In November 2008, Smith and high school teammate Stedman Bailey visited Morgantown. It's unclear whether they were treated to the wonder of Tudor's Biscuit World on the trip, but clearly they were impressed. They announced their commitment to the Mountaineers when they returned home.
Rhodes, from Miami Norland High, was one of those classic South Florida high-schoolers who could probably start for any college team in the country but who didn't get the four- or five-star treatment because of the overwhelming talent level surrounding him. Had Rhodes grown up in another part of the country -- or even another part of Florida -- his talent would have been obvious to anyone with eyes. But in Miami, he was a gem coveted by a few staffs who knew how good he could be. Auburn and West Virginia wanted Rhodes as a receiver. Florida State wanted him as a defensive back, and Rhodes committed to the Seminoles in July 2008.
Mingo was a star before he ever took a collegiate snap. Why? That name. Mingo beat out Nutritious Love, Velvet Milkman and Iris Macadangdang -- all real names of real people -- to win the Name of the Year Tournament in April 2009. Imperial Intergalactic Overlord Mingo hails from West Monroe, La., the same town that produced the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty fame. He was coveted by almost everyone, and he made official visits to Alabama, LSU, Michigan and (randomly) Connecticut before announcing on National Signing Day that he would stay in Louisiana for college.
Richardson became Missouri's first commitment for the class of 2009 in June 2007, but as he shot up the recruiting rankings, he reopened his recruitment to examine some of the schools that jumped in as his profile rose. After considering Florida, Miami, Oklahoma and Minnesota, Richardson decided to stick with his original commitment. Unfortunately for him, he didn't qualify academically. He played at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., for two seasons before re-signing with Missouri.
When Texas leaves the Lone Star State to recruit a player, you know he's good. Then-Longhorns defensive coordinator Will Muschamp loved Jones, but Texas, Georgia, Florida and LSU all finished behind USC for the defensive end from Carver High in Columbus, Ga. Jones played as a freshman for the Trojans, but he suffered a neck injury that team doctors believed would end his career. Jones sought other opinions, and when he was satisfied that continuing to play didn't present a serious injury threat, he opted to attend a school close to home.
Austin, who helped Baltimore's Dunbar High Poets to three Class 1A state titles, received quite a bit of interest throughout 2008 from schools in the market for an electrifying playmaker. Rich Rodriguez, in his first year at Michigan after leaving West Virginia, tried to convince Austin to come to Ann Arbor. Future Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, then Maryland's offensive coordinator, tried to convince Austin to stay close to home. But Austin loved West Virginia from the start, and he committed there in January 2009.
Among the writers who cover Florida State, coach Jimbo Fisher's National Signing Day press conferences have become a consistent source of amusement. They probably cry out for their own drinking game. Fisher declares a signee has one "tremendous" attribute? DRINK. Fisher makes a signee sound like a cross between Deion Sanders and Gandhi? FINISH YOUR DRINK. (Never mind. Don't do that. That's every signee.) Of course, some of those signees occasionally live up to the billing. For example, here's the list Fisher ticked off for Werner when the German who played high school ball in Connecticut signed with the Seminoles. "Played soccer his whole life," Fisher said. "Runs 4.7 or better. Tremendous change of direction. Great hips. Tremendous power. Anytime you go away that far, you should get an impact guy." Florida State got one, beating out Cal and Miami.
Rivals doesn't go to Ghana, and it also doesn't evaluate many prospects who play only one lackluster year of high school ball and have an attendance record so spotty that no four-year school in the country will touch them. After high school, Williams stayed in Jefferson City, Mo., and worked at a factory making radiators for large trucks. After a while, Williams realized he wanted more out of life. He decided football might be his ticket. So he walked on at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. Williams shed 60 pounds and learned the game, and it wasn't long before major schools came calling. In 2010, Williams made official visits to North Carolina, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and USC. He chose the Tar Heels that December.
Carradine, who played at Taft High in Cincinnati, originally committed to Illinois in November 2008. He never made it to Champaign because of academic issues. Instead, Carradine played two seasons at Butler County (Kan.) Community College and drew interest from across the nation. He took an official visit to South Florida, but he wound up signing with the Seminoles.
Eifert had several Big Ten options as well as an offer from Vanderbilt, but the Fort Wayne, Ind., native wanted to play for Notre Dame. His problem was a backlog of tight ends in South Bend. Joseph Fauria and Kyle Rudolph had signed with Notre Dame in 2008, and Fighting Irish coaches weren't sure they needed another tight end. But Eifert didn't give up. He wowed coaches at Notre Dame's camp in June 2008. They offered, and he accepted a few days later.
Ogletree was one of the top safety recruits in the nation, but the Newnan, Ga., native wasn't done growing when he finished his high school career. By the time he reported to Athens, he had bulked up to 225 pounds. At that point, a move to linebacker became a distinct possibility. Ogletree played 12 games at safety as a freshman. The following spring, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham moved Ogletree to linebacker.
Back when Texas was winning double-digit games every year, this is how recruiting worked: A player in the Lone Star State established himself early in high school. Other respected schools such as Oklahoma, Stanford and Florida came calling. Mack Brown offered a scholarship more than 11 months before National Signing Day. Player accepted. That's what happened with Vaccaro, who was every bit as good as the Longhorns' staff thought he was. As for the rest of his signing class ...
It came down to Arizona State and Washington for Tacoma's Trufant. According to a UDUBNation.com update from January 2008, Trufant was supposed to make a second trip to Tempe to see the Sun Devils a few weeks before National Signing Day, but mechanical problems caused his flight to get canceled. The following week, Trufant visited Washington and committed to the Huskies.
Fluker has always been massive. At age 17, he wore size-22 shoes. He was also coveted by every college program that had seen his tape. Fluker played high school ball in Alabama as a freshman and sophomore, then moved to Biloxi, Miss., for his junior season. He moved to Foley, Ala., for the spring semester of his junior year. By then, Fluker had already committed to the Crimson Tide. That didn't stop other schools from trying to land the giant tackle. LSU made a late push, and Fluker almost visited Baton Rouge, but in January 2009 he canceled that visit and reaffirmed his Alabama commitment.
25. Vikings: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Te'o was one of several Mormon recruits I spoke to in January 2009 about the unique issues that face schools and Mormon prospects. At the time, he was considering USC, UCLA and Notre Dame after crossing BYU and Stanford off his list. I did not ask about a girlfriend.
I had just arrived in Nashville on a brisk day in February 2012 to do a story on National Signing Day at Vanderbilt when my phone rang. On the other end was SI.com college basketball writer Luke Winn. Winn told me he was at a gym in New Jersey to do a story on an international basketball team and said he had met a giant Brit who had played basketball at Marist and then quit to become a boxer. Now, the guy said he planned to play offensive line at Florida State. Naturally, Watson's story was too good for Winn to pass up. Despite his lack of football experience, Watson's blend of size and raw athleticism will be too good for an NFL team to pass up.
In November 2009, it seemed Allen would be spending his collegiate afternoons lined up across from Dee Milliner at Alabama's practice. Allen, who starred at safety and receiver for Northern Guilford High in Greensboro, N.C., had just committed to the Crimson Tide, and it seemed Nick Saban had reeled in another five-star. So how did Allen wind up on the other side of the country? His half-brother, quarterback Zach Maynard, was at Buffalo. When Turner Gill left Buffalo for Kansas, Maynard decided to transfer. Cal wanted Maynard, and Cal coaches offered Allen and Maynard a chance to play together. Allen jumped at the chance.
Jones committed to Bruins coach Karl Dorrell in March 2007. When Dorrell got fired that fall, Jones reopened his recruitment. He wound up visiting Colorado, Oregon and Arizona State before deciding to stick with UCLA under new coach Rick Neuheisel. In the end, Jones wound up starring for a third coach, Jim Mora.
29. Patriots: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston
Because of an issue with a transfer from a private school to Elkins High in Fort Bend, Texas, Hayden wasn't allowed to play as a high school senior. He later attended Southeast Prep, a school in Houston designed to help players get their academics in order to continue playing in college. That led to a stint at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas, where Hayden caught the eye of coaches from Houston, Oklahoma State and Arkansas. Hayden chose the Cougars, but the hard part was yet to come. Pick up a copy of last week's SI to read about Hayden's remarkable recovery from a near-death experience in a November 2012 practice to become a top draft prospect.
Taylor starred at Helix, the same San Diego-area high school that produced Reggie Bush and Alex Smith. But Taylor didn't get anywhere near the recruiting attention those other alums got. He remained under the radar throughout his recruitment, which turned out well for the Broncos. They only had to beat Washington State and Colorado State to win his signature.
Patterson comes from Rock Hill, S.C., the border town that recently produced Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore, likely 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and (University of) Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. Worley and Patterson were teammates at Northwestern High, and Patterson had a productive senior year there, but his grades weren't good enough to sign with anyone. Patterson attended North Carolina Tech in 2009, but he didn't play football. In 2010 and 2011, Patterson rewrote the record book at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, drawing interest from schools across the nation. Patterson made official visits to Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee. He chose the Vols in February 2012 and had one fantastic year in Knoxville. It wasn't enough to save Derek Dooley's job, but it should make Patterson a first-rounder.
Coming out of North Miami Beach High, Cyprien had two offers: FIU and Western Michigan. Given the option to freeze in the MAC or play close to home in the Sun Belt, Cyprien chose the Panthers. He then immediately showed the coaches who overlooked him why they made a mistake. Cyprien started seven games as a freshman and became a fixture in the FIU secondary for the following three seasons. This time around, no one is ignoring one of the hardest hitters in the draft.