Posted: Monday April 25, 2011 12:57PM ; Updated: Monday April 25, 2011 3:53PM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>INSIDE RECRUITING

How top 2011 NFL Draft prospects were rated as high school recruits

Story Highlights

Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert were both five-star recruits out of high school

Anthony Castonzo, one of the top tackle prospects, was a two-star recruit

There's only one zero-star recruit likely to go in Round 1: OT Danny Watkins

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Just like the NFL scouts who evaluate draft picks, the folks who rank football recruits have their moments of prescience and their moments of lunacy. For example, no recruitnik looks back fondly at 2005. Future stars such as Eugene Monroe (Rivals.com's No. 3 overall player), Rey Maualuga (No. 5) and Mark Sanchez (No. 7) were listed alongside busts such as defensive end Melvin Alaeze (No. 4), receiver Fred Rouse (No. 6) and quarterback Ryan Perrilloux (No. 16).

That won't be the case when recruitniks look back on their performance in 2008. Five of Rivals.com's top 15 prospects (No. 4 Julio Jones, No. 5 Patrick Peterson, No. 9 A.J. Green, No. 14 Blaine Gabbert and No. 15 Tyron Smith) appeared in the top 10 of the Mock Draft filed recently by SI.com's Don Banks. So unless someone drops like a stone, Rivals will have correctly pegged five early- to mid-first rounders while they were still in high school. The prognostication could get better. Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (Rivals' No. 2 in 2008) is likely to go in Thursday's first round, and Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams (No. 3), USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil (No. 11) and Ohio State center Mike Brewster (No. 12) -- all of whom are still in college -- may be future first-round picks.

So how did the other potential 2011 first-rounders rank as recruits? Some, such as Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, were pegged as future stars from the beginning. Others, such as Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, were considered projects. One prospect, Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins, wasn't rated at all. But don't blame the recruitniks for missing a future star. Watkins didn't even play high school football. Read on to find out why. (Prospects listed in probable draft position, according to Don Banks' Mock Draft 5.0.)

1. Carolina: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

Class: 2007
Hometown: Atlanta
High school: Westlake
Recruit ranking: Five stars (Rivals high school), four stars (Scout high school), five stars (Rivals junior college)

As strange as it may sound now, Newton was considered a slightly under-the-radar four-star guy when he committed to Florida in September 2006. This probably was because some schools didn't see Newton, then 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, as a quarterback. By National Signing Day 2007, Rivals gave Newton a fifth star. After he washed out of Florida and went to Blinn Junior College in Texas, Newton was a five-star recruit all over again. A massive scandal, a Heisman Trophy and a national title later, Newton is a five-star NFL prospect.

2. Denver: Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama

Class: 2008
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
High school: Huffman
Recruit ranking: Four stars (Scout), three stars (Rivals)

Dareus wasn't hotly pursued until late in the recruiting process because schools were waiting on him to make a qualifying test score. Talent certainly wasn't the issue, especially when Dareus' spectacular senior film began making the rounds. Alabama fans certainly got excited about Dareus after he signed. YouTube clips of Dareus working out killed office productivity across the Yellowhammer State.

3. Buffalo: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

Class: 2008
Hometown: Ballwin, Mo.
High school: Parkway West
Recruit ranking: Five stars (Rivals), four stars (Scout)

Remember the wide-open offense Bill Callahan wanted to run at Nebraska? Gabbert was committed to the Cornhuskers to run that offense. Gabbert dominated at the Elite 11 Camp in 2007, and he was considered the nation's best pro-style quarterback prospect. But when it became apparent Callahan was on the way out at Nebraska, Gabbert reopened his recruitment. In November 2007, he committed to Missouri, where he became the heir apparent to Chase Daniel.

4. Cincinnati: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia

Class: 2008
Hometown: Summerville, S.C.
High school: Summerville
Recruit ranking: Five stars (Rivals), five stars (Scout)

In 2007, the debate raged as to whether Green or Julio Jones was the nation's best receiver prospect. From 2008-10, the debate raged as to whether Green or Jones was the SEC's best receiver. Now, the debate rages as to whether Green or Jones is the best receiver in the 2011 draft. Some things never change.

5. Arizona: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

Class: 2007
Hometown: DeSoto, Texas
High school: DeSoto
Recruit ranking: Four stars (Rivals), four stars (Scout)

Florida, Oklahoma and Texas Tech also recruited Miller hard, but he wound up choosing the Aggies. Location played a role, as did one longtime friendship. High school teammate Garrick Williams -- who had teamed with Miller since sixth grade and who still plays for the Aggies -- also was headed to College Station. Had Miller opted to go to Florida or Oklahoma, the results could have been terrifying. At Florida, Miller would have played opposite Carlos Dunlap. At Oklahoma, he would have played opposite Jeremy Beal.

6. Cleveland: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina

Class: 2008
Hometown: North Charleston, S.C.
High school: Fort Dorchester
Recruit ranking: Four stars (Rivals), Four stars (Scout)

Every major program in the country wanted Quinn, who narrowed his list to North Carolina, Alabama and Auburn. On National Signing Day in 2008, Quinn chose the Tar Heels. During his press conference, he said he had leaned toward Auburn the previous night. North Carolina defensive line coach John Blake was a major factor in the recruitment of Quinn, who was declared ineligible by the NCAA in 2010 for taking improper benefits from an agent and then lying to NCAA investigators. Blake, who once worked for late agent Gary Wichard, resigned amid the agent scandal.

7. San Francisco: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Class: 2008
Hometown: Pompano Beach, Fla.
High school: Ely
Recruit ranking: Five stars (Rivals), five stars (Scout)

The recruiting gurus nailed it with Peterson, who was the nation's top defensive back in the class of 2008. Peterson originally committed to Miami, and as late as early November 2007, he was adamant in interviews that he still planned to go to Miami. But after official visits to Florida, Georgia, LSU, Florida State and North Carolina, Peterson had plenty of options when he arrived in San Antonio for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He wound up choosing LSU. Earlier this year, former Texas A&M assistant Van Malone told ESPN that famed recruiting middleman Will Lyles had tried to shop Peterson to that school. Peterson has denied this and said Lyles had no influence on his school choice.

8. Tennessee: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

Class: 2007
Hometown: Mobile, Ala.
High school: Williamson
Recruit ranking: Three stars (Rivals high school), three stars (Scout high school), three stars (Rivals JUCO), four stars (Scout JUCO)

Schools recruited two-way standout Fairley as a tight end or offensive tackle coming out of Williamson High, the same school that produced former LSU quarterback and No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell. One coach who wanted Fairley badly was offensive line guru Rick Trickett, who recruited Fairley hard at West Virginia and continued his pursuit after moving to Florida State. The NCAA Clearinghouse ruled in August 2007 that Fairley couldn't enroll at Auburn, so he went to Copiah-Lincoln Junior College in Wesson, Miss. Fairley redshirted his first season at the JUCO, and he had an unspectacular second year after moving to defensive tackle. He was still a bit of a project when he arrived at Auburn in 2009. Fairley bloomed in 2010 and destroyed SEC offensive lines. He opened 2011 by dominating the BCS title game.

9. Dallas: Tyron Smith, OT, USC

Class: 2008
Hometown: Moreno Valley, Calif.
High school: Rancho Verde
Recruit ranking: Five stars (Rivals), five stars (Scout)

This is a photo of Smith between his junior and senior years of high school. Pretty impressive, right? Now consider that he was already 6-6 and weighed 265 pounds. Unlike many elite linemen, Smith didn't need to lose weight. He only needed to keep adding to his freakish frame in the weight room. Smith could have gone anywhere, but he committed to USC the summer before his senior year and never wavered. Smith was USC's backup right tackle as a freshman and took over as the starter as a sophomore.

10. Washington: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

Class: 2008
Hometown: Foley, Ala.
High school: Foley
Recruit ranking: Five stars (Rivals), five stars (Scout)

Jones was famously tight-lipped about his recruitment, but he caused a stir wherever he went. The nation's top-ranked receiver by Rivals and Scout, Jones took official visits to Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech before announcing on National Signing Day that he would play for the Crimson Tide. Before he even set foot on Alabama's campus, Jones received 17 write-in votes in the election for Alabama's student body president.

11. Houston: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Class: 2007
Hometown: Glendale, Ariz.
High school: Apollo
Recruit ranking: Three stars (Rivals), three stars (Scout)

When Nebraska entered the fray, only Fresno State, UTEP and UNLV had offered Amukamara, who also was a star tailback in high school. Colorado and Oregon State jumped in with late offers, but Amukamara's choice came down to Fresno State or Nebraska. After an official visit to Nebraska in November 2006, he was sold.

12. Minnesota: Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal

Class: 2007
Hometown: Chandler, Ariz.
High school: Chandler
Recruit ranking: Three stars (Rivals), three stars (Scout)

Jordan, the son of former Brown University and NFL tight end Steve Jordan, played basketball for most of his youth, but he developed into a star on both sides of the line at Chandler High. He also had offers from Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State, but the final choice came down to Cal and Arizona. Jordan told Rivals.com that in the end he had to decide whether he wanted to stay home or leave the nest. Wanderlust won; the Golden Bears weren't disappointed.

13. Detroit: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Class: 2007
Hometown: Hawthorn Woods, Ill.
High school: Lake Zurich/Fork Union (Va.) Military
Recruit ranking: Two stars (Rivals), two stars (Scout)

Most players who go to prep school need academic improvement. Not Castonzo, who scored 35 out of a possible 36 on the ACT in high school in Illinois. But the only schools interested in Castonzo out of high school were Princeton, Yale and Holy Cross. Castonzo thought he could be an FBS player, so he went to Fork Union Military Academy for a postgrad season. It worked. He landed offers from BC, Duke, Virginia and Vanderbilt. He chose Boston College, where he became the first true freshman to start at tackle in 10 years. He wound up setting a school record with 54 starts and earned a degree in biochemistry.

14. St. Louis: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois

Class: 2008
Hometown: Hialeah, Fla.
High school: Hialeah
Recruit ranking: Four stars (Rivals), four stars (Scout)

Liuget could have gone just about anywhere. By the time he committed to Illinois in October 2007, he had 35 scholarship offers. But the recruitment didn't end there. Liuget also took official visits to Florida State, LSU, Miami and Rutgers before signing with the Illini on National Signing Day.

15. Miami: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

Class: 2008
Hometown: Flint, Mich.
High school: Southwestern Academy
Recruit ranking: Four stars (Rivals), three stars (Scout)

Ingram seemed to be headed somewhere in the Big Ten before Alabama swooped into his recruitment in November 2007. He had already taken an official visit to Wisconsin and had scheduled visits to Michigan State and Iowa when Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban -- who knew Ingram's father, Mark, from Saban's days at Michigan State -- offered Ingram a scholarship. Ingram checked out the Spartans and Hawkeyes as well as Arizona State, but he picked Alabama the day before National Signing Day. That made some waves in Big Ten country, but Ingram remained a bit under-the-radar nationally. In fact, Rivals.com ranked him as no better than the No. 13 signee in Alabama's 2008 class. News of Ingram's commitment was quickly overshadowed a day later when Jones signed with the Tide. Ingram didn't stay in that shadow for long.

 
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