I wrote a story for today’s paper about recruiting rankings and which position is the hardest to project going from high school to college. For you Norfolk readers, it is in today’s Pilot. For you Roanoke readers, it’ll run later this week because of a space issue today.
The story’s genesis came from this tweet about a month ago by new Virginia Tech offensive line coach Jeff Grimes: “Of the 9 O-Linemen who were 1st round NFL draft picks this year, only TWO were ranked higher than a 3 star coming out of high school.”
So I asked a few people — specifically national recruiting analysts Mike Farrell of Rivals and J.C. Shurburtt of 247 Sports — what position is the hardest to project? Without hesitation, both said quarterback, simply because there are so many mental things required of the position that are impossible to predict. (There’s a reason why NFL teams keep doing things like draft JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall. It’s a hit-or-miss position with plenty of variables.)
But they both acknowledged offensive line is where the most out-of-nowhere success stories happen, simply because it’s hard to know how a player that big will develop physically. The stats, which I’ll post at the end of this, back that up.
First, here’s how the story starts:
Watching the NFL Draft every year tests Mike Farrell’s reserve.
The national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com makes his living projecting how high school players will do at the college level, and each year’s draft serves as a referendum on classes he ranked four or five years ago.
“I cringe a little bit watching it,” he said. “Because I just know what’s coming: all the naysayers. I get a lot of interview requests after the draft.”
He won’t get many questions about the 17 five- and four-star players taken in the first round this year. But the two-star offensive lineman who went No. 1? He’ll hear about that.
“We’re projecting 17-year-old kids as for how they’re going to be when they’re 22 years old after all the trials and tribulations of college football and being away from home for the first time, and parties and girls and all the things that can derail you from being a terrific football player,” Farrell said.
“If I could predict the future, I wouldn’t be working. I’d have an island.”
To get a better idea of what the numbers indicate, I looked at first-round picks since Rivals began publishing rankings. I found rankings of each prospect in the first round in every draft going back to 2007 (except QB Brandon Weeden, who predated the site’s ratings). Any draft before that has some 2001 recruits, who don’t appear in Rivals’ online database.
The measure was simple: see how first-round picks were ranked coming out of high school. The star system ranks high school players. The draft, particularly the first round, is a good indication of how NFL teams rank the top college players three to five years later.
The result? The bigger the player, the better chance he could could go from under-recruited prospect to a first-round pick. Here are the numbers:
Percentage of first-round picks since 2007 that were 3-star or less, by position
- Tight end – 60.0% (3 of 5)
- Off. line – 58.1% (25 of 43)
- Def. line – 48.1% (26 of 54)
- Def. back – 44.4% (16 of 36)
- Linebacker – 34.8% (8 of 23)
- Quarterback – 29.4% (5 of 17)
- Running back – 23.5% (4 of 17)
- Wide receiver – 16.7% (4 of 24)
Percentage of first-round picks since 2007 that were 2-star or less, by position
- Tight end – 40.0% (2 of 5)
- Off. line – 25.6% (11 of 43)
- Def. line – 20.4% (11 of 54)
- Def. back – 13.9% (5 of 36)
- Linebacker – 13.0% (3 of 23)
- Running back – 11.8% (2 of 17)
- Quarterback – 0% (0 of 17)
- Wide receiver – 0% (0 of 24)