Star watch: How top NFL draft prospects ranked as recruits
Despite missing on Sam Bradford, recruitniks continue to get more accurate
Of the likely first-round draft picks, 22 were either four- or five-star recruits
McCoy, Berry were five-star studs; Wilson, Weatherspoon were two-star kids
When the census takers visit Oklahoma this year, they should ask an extra question: How did a state that contains a little more than one percent of the U.S. population produce three likely first-round draft picks from the same high school graduating class?
We expect California (33 first-rounders since 2000), Florida (47) and Texas (30) to produce top-shelf players, but Oklahoma? The Sooner state has a rich gridiron history and some great high school programs, but Oklahoma's population (3.6 million) is about a fifth of Florida's, a seventh of Texas' and a 10th of California's. From 2000-09, only five first-rounders played for Oklahoma high schools. Yet this year, two players who attended high school in Oklahoma (quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy) will probably be top three picks, while another (tight end Jermaine Gresham) should go later in the first round. It shouldn't surprise anyone that these three all played together at Oklahoma; the Sooners almost always get the top recruits in their state. But to see such a small state produce three first-rounders in the same year? That's nothing short of amazing.
Less amazing is the fact that recruiting analysts pegged McCoy and Gresham as future stars in high school. Bradford wasn't accurately projected, but despite that oversight, the recruitniks have gotten more accurate in each of the three years I have gone back to look at how potential first-rounders were ranked as recruits coming out of high school. Of the players SI.com NFL writer Don Banks projected as first-rounders in his latest Mock Draft, eight earned five-star (can't-miss) rankings from Rivals.com or Scout.com. Fourteen more earned four-star rankings. The recruitniks missed on late-bloomers such as TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes and Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty, but so did most college coaches.
1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
Just imagine the numbers Bradford would have put up had he signed with the first coach to offer him a scholarship. Though Bradford is an Oklahoma legacy -- his father played for the Sooners -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach actually beat Oklahoma coaches to the punch, offering Bradford in February 2005. Bradford got the offer he wanted in May, and he quickly committed to the Sooners.
2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
Suh seriously considered Mississippi State, where his sister, Ngum, played soccer, but in the end, his choice came down to Cal and Nebraska. The 6-foot-4, 278-pound high schooler grew into a 6-4, 300-pound wrecking machine. Suh was one of the most sought-after recruits on the west coast, but in hindsight, it's amazing so many elite schools didn't bother recruiting him.
3. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
Everyone wanted McCoy, and the tackle made official visits to Miami, LSU and Notre Dame before narrowing his options to Oklahoma and USC. The Sooners were thrilled McCoy decided to stay close to home.
4. Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma
Coaches liked Williams a lot more than the recruiting services, and the 6-5, 290-pounder had plenty of opportunities coming out of high school. Williams visited LSU and Oklahoma State before he picked Oklahoma.
5. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State
Okung's high school team wasn't good his senior year, but it didn't stop schools from jumping into the fray to recruit him. He visited Nebraska and flirted with LSU before eventually picking the Cowboys.
6. Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa
Just about everyone in the Big Ten wanted Bulaga, who was a 6-5, 270-pound tackle/tight end at Marian Central Catholic High. It's a good rule of thumb that when a lineman has a frame that can accommodate 300 pounds and he catches 35 passes for 665 yards and 10 touchdowns as a part-time tight end, he's going to be a great one.
7. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee
Berry's skills were apparent to everyone from college coaches to recruiting analysts. The only question was which position he would play, because he had the speed of a corner and the Swiss Army Knife utility to play either safety spot. Berry visited Auburn, but he eventually chose Tennessee, where his father, James, was a star.
8. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
This back-flipping freak of nature didn't start playing football until his junior year at Deerfield Beach High. The son of Hatian immigrants signed with Central Florida out of high school, but he failed to qualify academically. Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU recruited Pierre-Paul out of Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College, but all said he would need another semester of community college before he could transfer. USF officials told Pierre-Paul he could qualify and transfer if he passed a heavy courseload. Unfortunately for Big East quarterbacks, that's exactly what he did.
9. Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee
Rivals.com ranked 34 defensive tackles ahead of Williams in 2005. Only one of those (Suh) will be drafted above the East High graduate, who chose Tennessee over Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
10. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson
I was in the gym at Union County High when Spiller announced where he would attend school. The students, mostly Florida and Florida State fans, had spent the morning razzing one another about how Spiller would put their team over the top in the rivalry. When he donned a Clemson hat, there was an audible gasp. Spiller's mother, who didn't know which school he would choose, cried. The choice worked out pretty well for Spiller, who almost transferred to Florida after his freshman season but stuck around to put together a fantastic career at Clemson.
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