Super Bowl LIV is here.
But before we look ahead at who might be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this season, CFTalk is turning the clock backwards. Way back in some cases. As part of the run-up to the big game, we decided to look at some of the key players in the Super Bowl and how they were regarded as recruits coming out of high school.
On thing is pretty clear in doing so: player development is a major key in both participating teams’ road to South Florida this season.
Kansas City Chiefs
You can start with the AFC champions’ depth chart. Before he was winning an NFL MVP and overtaking the league by storm, Patrick Mahomes was mostly known for having a famous dad who played baseball. He was still slinging the football around like he does now but the threat of going to the majors in baseball contributed at least a little bit in him earning only a three-star ranking according to 247Sports. He wound up re-writing the record books at Texas Tech and turned into a top 10 pick in the draft.
The rest of Kansas City’s offense was similarly undervalued as recruits. TE Travis Kelce was a two-star who wound up at Cincinnati. Speedy WR Tyreek Hill was mostly known for being a track guy and was unranked before winding up at Oklahoma State. All five Chiefs starting offensive linemen were either two or three-star recruits. Mitchell Schwartz led the way by sneaking into the top 50 offensive tackles in his own recruiting class.
Only Sammy Watkins garnered much acclaim from evaluators. He was a five-star, top 20 prospect before committing to Clemson.
Andy Reid’s defense fared a little better as recruits.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones was a five-star who stayed home to play for Mississippi State. The same is true of CB Kendall Fuller before going to Virginia Tech. DT Derrick Nnadi was a four-star who helped Florida State make it to the College Football Playoff. The Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, was considered a four-star before starring at LSU.
There’s a flip side though. Guys like DB Charvarius Ward and DE Tanoh Kpassagnon were unranked. LB’s Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson were three-stars. Pass rusher Frank Clark was a three-star from Ohio that wound up at Michigan.
San Francisco 49ers
The defending NFC champs have a similar roster makeup.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was the No. 67 pro-style QB in high school. He went the FCS route to Eastern Illinois as a two-star as a result. At least he had a ranking. The guy snapping him the ball, center Ben Garland, was unranked before winding up at Air Force.
The story is the same for most of the offense. George Kittle blossomed at Iowa but was seen as a three-star linebacker. Left tackle Joe Staley was a two-star tight end funny enough, while Laken Tomlinson was rated only slightly hire as the No. 29 offensive guard in the country coming out of high school (but only a three-star). WR Emmanuel Sanders wasn’t a top 200 recruit at wide receiver. Speedster Deebo Samuel at least as better known to people outside who didn’t follow South Carolina recruiting. Still, he was also just a three-star.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey at least bucked the trend. He was one of just two four-stars on the offense in high school. The other was backup TE Levine Toilolo, who joined Notre Dame rival Stanford.
Defensively, the 49ers were a little more highly regarded. DT Sheldon Day was a four-star who was No. 11 nationally at his position. Fellow lineman DeForest Buckner was also a four-star who starred at Oregon, playing alongside five-star Arik Armstead. Nick Bosa earned plenty of press with his family name but also lived up to the hype as a five-star during his limited time at Ohio State. Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner were both four-stars while Dre Greenlaw had three.
The San Francisco secondary bucks the trend however. Jimmy Ward was a no-star upon enrolling at Northern Illinois in 2010. Neither did safety Jaquiski Tartt. Ahkello Witherspoon was a two-star corner. Richard Sherman earned three-stars as a wide receiver.
No matter what path players took coming out of high school though, they’re on the big stage now. For one team, that means just 60 minutes separates them from Super Bowl glory no matter what star ranking they had next to their name.