Every February there’s a frenzy of hype as a fresh new recruiting class for every college football program is announced, with hope springing eternal From Fan Base X that this group of incoming freshman will push Team X over the top. Or keep them there.
Nearly three months later, the drill is repeated at the NFL, with the draft signaling a new day has dawned for woebegone franchises as fans cling to any sliver of hope that this is the draft that will turn things around. (In Cleveland, this is commonly referred to as “our Super Bowl”.)
Does one in any way, shape or form relate to the other, though? Not particularly, but the numbers are nonetheless (mildly) intriguing.
Counting last night’s opening segment, there have been 128 players selected during the first round of the NFL draft the past four years. Interestingly, there have been nearly as many two-star-or-lower players* selected in the first round between 2009 and 2012 (20) as there have been five-star prospects (23). The latter’s numbers are somewhat skewed, however, as there were just 120 recruits given four-star ratings between 2006-09. For comparison, there were more than 900 recruits — may be more than 1,000; I didn’t go beyond the Rivals250 — who received a four-star rating during the same time frame.
Continuing down that same path, where the NFL really finds the bulk of its players, however, is in the other two ratings slots.
In those four years, nearly 40 percent of the first-round selections (51) came into the collegiate ranks as four-star recruits. Three-star recruits have a significant impact as well, with 33 of those players over the four years taken in the first round. All told, nearly 66 percent of the players taken in the first round since 2009 have been three- or four-star recruits.
If you’re looking to become the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, however, the brighter the hue of the blue-chip player coming into college, the better the odds are that recruit will hear his name called first by the commissioner. Of the eight No. 1 overall picks since 2005, six have either been four-star — Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, 2012; Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, 2008; LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, 2007; North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, 2006 — or five-star — Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, 2011; Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, 2009 — prospects in their respective recruiting classes.
The only No. 1 overall pick who fell outside that rarefied star air? Utah quarterback Alex Smith, who parlayed a two-star entry into college football into being the first pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2005 NFL draft.
(Writer’s note: Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was a three-star prospect and the top pick of the 2010 draft)
Below is a year-by-year breakdown of the first round of the NFL draft:
5-star — 4
4-star — 13
3-star — 10
2-star — 4
5-star — 7
4-star — 11
3-star — 11
2-star — 3
5-star — 6
4-star — 15
3-star — 6
2-star — 5
5-star — 6
4-star — 12
3-star — 6
2-star — 7
(*Brandon Weeden, selected by the Cleveland Browns at No. 22 overall, was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2002 and played professional baseball through 2006. He enrolled at Oklahoma State in 2007 as a “no-star recruit”.)