Football recruiting is an inexact science.
It is nearly impossible to evaluate the motivation, maturity and integrity of 17- and 18-year old kids. However, I personally believe that recruiting rankings are outstanding indicators of how a prospect will turn out.
Yet, there are still plenty of non-believers out there. The Athlon Consensus 100 rankings consistently raise a question that is always a hot-button issue within the walls of the Athlon Sports headquarters: Do recruiting rankings really matter?
In an effort to shed some light on this long-debated argument, I examined the recently completed first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. What better way to truly evaluate talent than with a list of the best players selected by NFL talent gurus and personnel wizards.
Before I dive into the 2012 first round, the full scope of college football recruiting must be understood. Trying to rank American high school football prospects is an expansive enterprise that is extremely time consuming.
Here is an excerpt from a piece I wrote about the 2008 NFL Draft explaining the depth and breadth of prep football rankings:
Using a 3,000-player pool for any given year (25 scholarships x 124 FBS teams = 3,100 prospects), here is how an average recruiting class looks:
Five-Stars: 25-30 per year
Four-Stars: 275-325 per year
Three-Stars: 700-800 per year
Two-Stars: 1,600-1,800 per year
This means that only the top one percent of high school football players receive that coveted fifth star. The top 10 percent get a fourth star. If a prospect is ranked in the Rivals 100 — or the Athlon Consensus 100 — he is ranked in what is roughly the top three percent of high school prospects.
That is rarified air.
Those are just the ones that get evaluated and receive the subsequent star ratings, however. According to MaxPreps.com, there are roughly 15,000 high school football teams in this country. That is approximately 300,000 senior football players in any given year (15,000 teams, 20 seniors per team). Those aforementioned percentages become microscopic when applied to the true player pool.
One-thousandth of one percent of high school senior football players will ever receive a five-star rating. Keep that in mind.
Now that all of that is out of the way, the following is a look at the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft — according to how there were ranked as high school seniors:
Note: For the sake of consistency, star rankings will come from Rivals.com
1. Andrew Luck, QB (2008, AC100) ****
The Houston Stratford quarterback was the No. 4-rated passer in the nation by Athlon Sports and Rivals.com. He was the No. 6-rated player in the state of Texas and was No. 47 in the AC100.
2. Robert Griffin III, QB (2008) ****
The Copperas Cove (Texas) product was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat quarterback and the Lone Star State’s No. 42 player.
3. Trent Richardson, RB (2009, AC100) *****
The Pensacola (Fla.) Escambia tailback was the No. 20-rated player in the nation in the 2009 AC100, the No. 3-rated running back in the nation and the No. 2-rated player in the state of Florida.
4. Matt Kalil, OT (2008, AC100) *****
The big blocker from Anahiem (Calif.) Servite was the No. 2 offensive lineman in the nation back in 2008. He finished as the No. 18-rated player regardless of position nationally and the No. 3 player in the state.
5. Justin Blackmon, WR (2008) ***
A three-star recruit from Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview, Blackmon ranked as the No. 91 wide receiver in the nation and the No. 10 player in the state by Rivals.com.
6. Morris Claiborne, CB (2008) ***
Was ranked as the No. 21 player in the state of Louisiana and the No. 58-rated athlete in the nation by Rivals.com. Claiborne was a three-star player from Shreveport (La.) Fair Park where he played QB.
7. Mark Barron, S (2008, AC100) ****
The Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul safety was the No. 58-rated player in the AC100 and the No. 5 player in the state of Alabama. He was the nation’s No. 6 defensive back in the nation behind names likes Patrick Peterson, Brandon Harris, Rahim Moore, BJ Scott and Dee Finley.
8. Ryan Tannehill, QB (2007) ***
From Big Spring High School, the Aggies quarterback was the No. 23-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the nation and the No. 88-ranked prospect in the state of Texas.
9. Luke Kuechly, LB (2009) ***
This Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier tackler was the No. 44 outside linebacker in the nation and the No. 37 player in Ohio.
10. Stephon Gilmore, CB (2009, AC100) ****
The No. 88 overall prospect in the nation, Gilmore signed with South Carolina from Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe. He was ranked as the fourth-best player in the state and was the No. 16-rated defensive back in the nation.
11. Dontari Poe, DT (2008) **
The lowest-rated prospect in the first round was an unknown coming out of Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale. He was the No. 19-rated player in the state of Tennessee by Rivals.com.
12. Fletcher Cox, DT (2009) ****
The Yazoo City (Miss.) grad missed the AC100 (No. 179) but landed in the Rivals’ version of the Top 100 at No. 94. The recruiting site ranked him as the No. 2 player in the state and the No. 5 weakside defensive end in the nation.
13. Michael Floyd, WR (2008, AC100) *****
This one was pretty unanimous. Floyd was easily the top player in the state, hailing from famed St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall. He was the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation and finished as the No. 13-rated prospect in the entire country regardless of position.
14. Michael Brockers, DT (2009) ****
From Houston (Texas) Chavez, Brockers was ranked as the No. 10-rated strongside defensive end in the nation, the No. 23-rated player in the state of Texas and finished at No. 201 overall.
15. Bruce Irvin, DE (2010, JUCO) ****
Irvin went the junior college route after dropping out of high school before his junior year. He turned into a four-star JUCO talent after excelling at Mt. San Antonio C.C. in Walnut, Calif. He was the No. 6 overall JUCO prospect in the 2010 class.
16. Quinton Coples, DL (2008) ****
After playing at Hargrave Military Academy, Coples finished as the No. 6-rated strongside defensive end in the nation and the No. 4 player in the state of Virginia. He just missed the Rivals100 (No. 105).
17. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (2009, AC100) *****
The Gadsden City (Ala.) star was the No. 1 cornerback in the nation. He was the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama. And he was the No. 10 player in the AC100.
18. Melvin Ingram, DE (2007) ****
Out of Hamlet (N.C.) Richmond County, Ingram was the No. 10-rated player in the Tar Heel State. He was the nation’s No. 21 outside linebacker, listed at 6’2” and only 224 pounds.
19. Shea McClellin, OLB (2007) **
This Maring (Idaho) product was the No. 7-rated player in the state of Idaho and had no national ranking of any kind.
20. Kendall Wright, WR (2008) ***
The Pittsburg (Texas) native was ranked as the No. 64 “athlete” in the nation and was the No. 81 overall player in the state of Texas by Rivals.
21. Chandler Jones, DE (2008) **
The third two-star prospect taken in the first round, Jones was a unranked tight end recruit from Endicott (N.Y.) Union.
22. Brandon Weeden, QB (2002) N/A
We knew Weeden was old but I bet you didn’t know he is older than Rivals.com recruiting rankings? He played baseball from 2002-07 and pre-dates the star system.
23. Riley Reiff, OL (2008) ***
The Parkston (S.D.) product was a three-star strongside defensive end prospect by Rivals.com.
24. David DeCastro, OG (2008) ***
This mauler was the No. 6-rated player in the state of Washington (Bellvue High School). He was rated as the No. 11 center in the nation by Rivals and picked Stanford over Washington, Oregon State and Washington State.
25. Dont’a Hightower, LB (2008) ****
From Lewisburg (Tenn.) Marshall County was ranked as the No. 3 player in the Volunteeer State and the No. 15 player at his position nationally.
26. Whitney Mercilus, DE (2008) ***
Relatively unknown, the nation’s leading sack master (14.5) hails from Akron (Ohio) Garfield High School. He was ranked as the No. 39 prospect in the state of Ohio and the No. 28 weakside defensive end in the nation by Rivals.
27. Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin (2008) ***
Scout rated this Milwaukee (Wis.) Lutheran blocker as the No. 22 offensive guard in the nation. He was the No. 3-rated player in the state of Wisconsin.
28. Nick Perry, DE (2008, AC100) ****
The Detroit MLK pass rusher was the No. 95-rated player in the AC100. He was the No. 5 defensive and the No. 4 player in the state of Michigan.
29. Harrison Smith, S (2007) ****
The Notre Dame safety hails from Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic and was the No. 25-rated “athlete” in the nation and the No. 7-rated player in the state of Tennessee.
30. A.J. Jenkins, WR (2008) ***
The Jacksonville (Fla.) Terry Parker product was the No. 53-rated wide receiver in the nation by Rivals.com.
31. Doug Martin, RB (2007) **
The fourth two-star prospect in this draft came to Boise State as an unranked tailback from Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary’s.
32. David Wilson, RB (2009) ****
The talented tailback from Danville (Va.) George Washington was the No. 4-rated running back in the nation, the No. 40 overall player in the nation and the No. 1 player in the state of Virginia.
Pos. Top 5
State Top 10
% of 1st Rd:
CONCLUSION: On the surface, it appears that a five-star recruit is just as likely to get drafted in the first round as the two-stars, considering that four of each were taken this year. But that isn't using math correctly. There are only 25-30 five-star recruits in any given year while there are roughly 1,600-1,800 two-stars each cycle. Therefore, if you are rated as five-star, you have roughly a 13.3% chance to get drafted in the first round (4/30). But if you are a two-star prospect, you have a 0.2% chance of being drafted in the first round (4/1,800).
A pretty massive difference.
If you are a four-star prospect, you have a 4.3% chance of being drafted in the first round (13/300), and as a three-star recruit, you have a 1.3% chance of going in the first round (10/800). It's safe to say, that the higher-ranked prospects have a dramatically better chance of landing in the first round.
These numbers are not an end-all be-all. There are simply a look at one round of one draft. But as the industry of college football recruiting rankings continue to grow, fans can expect these self-proclaimed talent evaluators to continue getting better at predicting the future.
So as a special service announcement to all the recruiting haters out there, PAY ATTENTION!
Recruiting is the lifeblood of the sport we all love so much.
-By Braden Gall
Other NFL Draft Related Content:
NFL Draft 2012: First-Round Review
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III
2012 NFL Must-See Match Ups
2012 NFL Schedule Highlights
Top 25 Undrafted Free Agents of Last 25 Years
NFL Draft 2012: Grading All 32 NFL Teams