Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick and is the most accomplished player in football history. Tony Romo was not drafted at all and became a franchise quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith were taken first, second and third overall but busted.
Therefore, if given the hypothetical choice between a top-3 pick or an undrafted free agent, your favorite NFL team’s GM should just throw his hands up and say, “Eh, give me either. They’re both the same.” Right?
Of course not. That would be insane.
In the NFL, we can all understand that not all first-round picks pan out and some undrafted free agents become Pro Bowl caliber players, but somehow a sect of college football fans — though, admittedly, not as many as there were a decade or so ago — will tell you with a straight face that, “Stars don’t matter.”
Part of this is due to the simple nature of college football. In the NFL, a team’s talent is not necessarily a reflection on its head coach, but in college ball, the head coach has to also serve as his own GM and since the vast majority of coaches don’t sign 5-star talent, it becomes easy to convince yourself — and your fan base — that you’re better off with a team full of gritty 2-stars than a lazy 5-star, then point to Wes Welker as the type of guys you’re really after. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, right?
Except any coach would take a 5-star over a 2-star on the whole, and that’s because 5-stars are really, really talented and really, really hard to come by. It’s easy to point to the 5-star busts because there’s a limited number each year (think of them like first-round draft picks) and the 2-star trend-buckers because not many of them become All-America level players. When seven out of 30 5-stars bust, it’s easy to focus on the seven and not the 23; when 20 out of 1,500 2-stars shine, it’s easy to focus on the 20 and not the 1,480.
But you’re a smart college football fan and already know this, right?
Let’s put some numbers behind these words. SB Nation crunched the numbers for the New England Patriots’ and Los Angeles Rams’ starting lineups and found that, yeah, it’s a lot easier to become an elite pro football player if you’re an elite high school football player. Eight of the Pats’ 22 starters were 4- or 5-star recruits, while half of the Rams’ starters were ranked similarly. That means 19 of the 44 starters next Sunday in Atlanta were blue-chip recruits.
Put in graphical terms, it looks like this.
If your team’s head coach was given a hypothetical choice between a gritty 2-star and an entitled 5-star, remind him it’s a lot easier to light a fire under a 5-star than to teach a 2-star to play like a 5-star.