Recruiting Ratings Don't Tell Entire Story

By Kyle Rowland on May 21, 2014 at 8:30a

Seantrel Henderson is a classic recruiting bust.


College football recruiting has become big business. Schools are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to crisscross the country and host highly touted players on official visits. It’s all done in the name of staying relevant in an increasingly competitive sport. The meal tickets are four- and five-star recruits.

But just how often do those blue-chip prospects become NFL stars? Well, not nearly as frequently as one might think. What’s even more likely is a two-star recruit becoming a household name. All-American lists are often dotted with four- and five-star can’t-miss-prospects. Not so for All-Pros and your favorite NFL players. 

On a Sunday night in February, Russell Wilson completed 72 percent of his passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Seahawks to a resounding 43-8 win over Denver in the Super Bowl. Seven years earlier, Wilson used the month of February to ponder his college decision – N.C. State or Duke? Those were the two-star recruit’s options, as rated by Rivals and Scout.

“I put zero stock in star ratings,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said in the spring. “I have no idea what that means, nor do I care. I couldn’t care less. I believe in people.”

It’s a philosophy shared by many coaches and harkens back to Woody Hayes’ age-old advice: you win with people. Talented players are coveted by all, but there’s still a need for having players fit a program and culture. That doesn’t mean coaches won’t gravitate toward the recruits with three, four and five stars next to their name.

Wilson transferred to Wisconsin for his senior season, where he solidified his ability to deliver passes in tight windows, have a team gravitate toward his leadership and manage a game with precision. Perhaps Wisconsin was the right stop for Wilson, not solely because of the Big Ten championship he engineered, but due to the Badgers’ penchant for turning unassuming recruits into All-Big Ten, All-American and NFL players.

Wisconsin’s offense last season didn’t even average two-stars coming out of high school. The quarterback was a former walk-on and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and half the offensive line were no-stars. For Wisconsin, it all added up to nine wins.

Two- and three-star recruits make up more than 85 percent of signees, according to, which presents a foolproof picture. If thousands of two- and three-players infiltrate college football, large quantities should also advance to the professional ranks. 

Ohio State, with its brand and star-power coaches, loads up on four- and five-star recruits every year with a few three-stars scattered about. But there have been cases of low-level recruits panning out. Scout rated Brian Robiskie as a two-star in 2005 and A.J. Hawk was a three-star linebacker in the 2002 class that included five-star linebacker Mike D’Andrea. Unheralded quarterback Troy Smith and lightly-regarded wide receiver Santonio Holmes were in the same class. D’Andrea and a potential quarterback savior, Justin Zwick, were the most disappointing of the bunch.

Major programs have one eye on the others with offers coming in a flurry when an Ohio State, Alabama or Florida State makes a move. 

FBS Signees by Class, 2007-11
Year 5-star 4-star 3-star ≤ 2-star Total
2007 36 340 911 1,460 2,747
2008 37 357 866 1,368 2,628
2009 35 390 1,054 1,342 2,821
2010 26 389 1,316 1,071 2,802
2011 26 299 1,324 2,064 3,713
TOTAL 160 1,775 5,471 7,305 14,711
% TOTAL 1.1 12.1 37.2 49.7 100
Source: Dr. Saturday

“That’s huge. There’s a list of schools that you, over time, learn to respect their opinion and evaluation,” Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni said. “If they offer a kid, we’re almost guaranteed to do it, too.”

Pantoni said it’s a sign of respect when a player Ohio State recently offered picks up several more inquiries. It shows the Buckeyes’ evaluation skills are above average. Not that it guarantees national titles. In the Seattle-Denver Super Bowl, nearly half of the teams’ 53-man rosters was filled with two-stars or below.

“I respect what [recruiting analysts] do. I truly do,” Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said. “But as coaches, we can’t put stock in that. We have to evaluate them our way. They’ll evaluate them their way. And, again, the uniqueness and the fit for each university is so important. You can't build your football team on what other people are saying.”

The process of recruiting and its famed star-rating system is the definition of an inexact science. J.C. Shurburtt, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, said the task of ranking players isn’t always difficult – the explanation to players themselves, parents, coaches, etc. is the hard part.  

“Those three groups of people only care about where their players are ranked,” Shurburtt said. “They ignore that a three-star or two-star rating isn’t bad, but interpret it as such.”

Northwestern is traditionally one of the “worst” recruiting schools in the Big Ten. Being a private institution that lacks the cachet of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State has its disadvantages. Still, the shores of Lake Michigan and Chicago can be enticing. Fitzgerald has led the Wildcats to five bowl games while ranking near the bottom of February’s rankings year in and year out.

The most difficult aspect in slotting kids is hypothesizing how they might perform in college. Sometimes they could go to a coaching staff that doesn’t fit or doesn’t develop them. As teenagers, bodies can betray them.

During Brady Hoke’s tenure, Michigan’s upped their recruiting efforts after three downtrodden years under Rich Rodriguez. Impact freshmen have been in short supply, but attrition and underwhelming upperclassmen can still be attributed to Rodriguez. Hoke’s haul can’t be adequately judged until the coming years.

Wisconsin’s had two head coaches and subpar recruiting classes, according to the rankings, in the past five seasons, but still own three Big Ten titles and more wins than Michigan. It’s not a model many coaches would want to duplicate, though.

“It’s not by accident that the schools that usually recruit well, play well,” Urban Meyer said. “There are some guys out there that know what they’re doing in recruiting services, so I will take a peek at that. But that’s not how you make decisions. A five-star recruit usually has a better career than other ones. There are always great examples of a young late-developer. But those recruiting analysts aren’t bad. They do a good job.”

At Ohio State, Pantoni and his trusted staff of assistants have broken down 2,700 full games for the classes of 2014, ’15 and ’16. There’s a lenient philosophy on offering kids, with Meyer giving coaches partial autonomy on which prospects to target.

“He wants the area coaches to have authority in their area, so if they really like a kid sand feel strongly about then, he doesn’t have any hesitation for them to offer,” Pantoni said. “Sometimes I have to be the neutral party. [Meyer’s] learned to trust me over time. Instead of just agreeing with everyone all the time, it’s good to have an outside opinion.”

Occasionally, that outside opinion can be recruiting ratings, and they sometimes ring true.


Comments Show All Comments

Killer nuts's picture

I'd love to know the breakdown of which of our guys were offered because the coach for that area liked them vs Urban wanting to offer vs Pantoni

smokeybandit's picture

You don't often see the word "cachet" used in sports articles.  Well done!

OSUpawn's picture

I'm glad Pat is loyal to his university.  I wouldn't want to play against him at a big time program.

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+2 HS
yrro's picture

There are more 2* NFL players because there are 100 times more 2* players than there are ranked players.

I do feel like the ratings "miss" more in Big Ten country, but I'm not really sure how much that has to do with coaching. I think it's a bigger area for scouts to cover, with fewer prospects overall. And also no spring football. Scouts are out watching southern athletes play football year round. In Ohio they have to watch film and catch a guy at his basketball game or at track and try to guess how he'll do in football the next year. It's a lot easier to miss a guy who gets a late growth spirt or has no idea how much muscle he can put on if he starts really training for football 24/7.

+8 HS
BGSUBucksFan's picture

Totally agree about the amount of 2* versus higher star rankings.  A more convincing argument against recruiting rankings would be the percentage of NFL starters by star ranking.  For example, if 40/50 5-stars are starters in the NFL, that's a greater percentage than 150/200 2-stars.

+2 HS
acBuckeye's picture

Good point BG. However, I don't think recruiting services make their ratings based on how that player would translate into the pros. They rate them based on how they will translate into college. The NFL is a whole different ball game, obviously. Many more factors come into play when a player leaves for the pros out of college, than when he leaves HS for college.

Having said that, there's a reason why the top programs across the country routinely have the highest rated recruiting classes.

BGSUBucksFan's picture

I think your point is better addressed to Kyle as the article's evaluation of NFL success versus high school recruiting rankings is what led me to my proposal.  Replace NFL with college football, and I would still like to see those percentages.  That is, what percentage of 5-star recruits become starters in college versus 2-star recruits, etc.

buckeyepastor's picture

Most of my favorite Buckeyes over the last 20 years (guys like Krenzel and Wilhelm and Sanzo and Troy Smith and Hyde) were guys thought to have 3 star talent but gave 5 star effort.   I completely understand and appreciate Urban going after and getting the elite players from throughout the country and Ohio, but there's something about those guys who are undervalued and just work their asses off and outshine their more heralded peers.  It's a little early on to say for sure, but Tressel seemed to have a knack for finding those sorts of guys.  

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

+6 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Just to expand on that 3 star player giving 5 star effort (and moving on to Sunday successes) - James Laurinaitis.

IIRC - he was a three star guy better known for hockey (and a famous father) from Minnesota coming out of h.s.

I haven't paid much attention to recruiting (and ratings for that matter) before joining 11W, but it always has seemed heavy on hype, little on substance.

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Can you imagine if he stuck with hockey?  Good Lord.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton


“Those three groups of people only care about where their players are ranked,” Shurburtt said. “They ignore that a three-star or two-star rating isn’t bad, but interpret it as such.”


I think a LOT of people tend to forget this as well.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Denny's picture

Didn't notice this in the article, but did you guys know AJ Hawk was a three (3)-star recruit


Hovenaut's picture

Ninth paragraph (sorry man)...near the chart.

I remember Hawk getting some pt his frosh year in '02, he had a pick six against Miami, OH?

Just recall thinking that kid was going to be a stud.

Denny's picture

Malcolm Jenkins was a two (2)-star recruit


+2 HS
Crumb's picture

It was against Kent State, be he also had a very, very, important interception against Penn State in that 13-6 nail bitter, I believe it ended a PSU drive that had gotten to the red zone. Hawk was probably the best Freshman to contribute on that '02 team outside of Mighty Mo. I don't know how many 'stars' RDS was rated coming out of high school, (I hadn't heard of him) but early on in that raging dumpster fire of a season known as 2011 he made a special teams hit that was unbelievable. I think it was against Colorado, I remember telling my brother; 'mark it down, this Shazier kid is gonna be the next great Buckeye linebacker.' It's kind of cool to be proven right.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+1 HS
buckeyedexter's picture

While there are always exceptions and it's great when a 2 or 3 star kid does great in college, 5 starts have a much higher chance of being successful.

About 17% of 5 stars get drafted in the 1st round, < 1 % of 2 and 3 star players end up getting drafted in the 1st round.

+4 HS
cdub4's picture

You nailed it. I think the recruiting services do an pretty good with the rankings considering they are basically trying to predict the future.

Another point that people fail to emphasize that plenty of coaching staffs make recruiting mistakes, so of course the services are going to be wrong sometimes also.

+1 HS
teddyballgame's picture

 How sleeper recruits still make the NFL, despite blue-chip dominance

A five-star recruit had a three-in-five chance of getting drafted (16 of 27).
A four-star had a one-in-five chance (77 of 395).
A three-star had a one-in-18 chance (92 of 1,644).
A two-star/unrated recruit had a one-in-34 chance (71 of 2,434).

+5 HS
Riggins's picture

Nice link. You beat me by 60 seconds.

+1 HS
teddyballgame's picture

oops.  didn't mean to steal your thunder, especially since you crafted a better post than me

the chances they'll click the link just went up though

+2 HS
Riggins's picture

Recruiting rankings matter. If you don't believe it, read this article on the breakdown of NFL draft picks.

Four- and five-star recruits were 995 percent more likely to be drafted in the first round than their lesser-ranked counterparts.


Consider this: While four- and five-star recruits made up just 9.4 percent of all recruits, they accounted for 55 percent of the first and second round. Any blue-chip prospect has an excellent shot of going on to be a top pick, if he stays healthy and out of trouble.

And it's not like it's hard to project who these four-star and five-star studs are. The recruiting services merely have to take note of whatever players have offers rolling in from across the country.

No one is saying you can't win without signing a slew of blue chip prospects, but it makes your job as a coach a heck of a lot easier.

+1 HS
hit_the_couch's picture

If you read the rest of the article, of all the players selected in the draft 35.9% were 3* and 27.7% were 2*. Those are pretty high percentages. 4* only made up 20% of players taken.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

AndyVance's picture

True, but there are far fewer 4* prospects than there are 2* and 3* prospects. So when you're looking at it as a percentage of the draft, you'd expect there to be more 2s and 3s simply because there were more of them to start with.

-1 HS
Riggins's picture

You're missing the point.  Or you're not understanding the ratios of 5-stars/4-stars compared to 3-stars/2-stars.

A team of 4-star and 5-star players has a 1-in-4 chance of being drafted.

A team of 2-star and 3-star players has a 1-in-25 chance of being drafted.

If you want to coach up a team of 2-stars and 3-stars, be my guest. Nobody is telling you it's impossible, but if you ask our very own coach, he would take the team of 5-star and 4-star players every single time.

hit_the_couch's picture

Many of these kids aren't rated high because they need development, coaching and need to bulk up. Many don't go to camps and things where skills are rated. I read somewhere that the majority of the people rating recruits have never even played the game. Recruiting as whole is big business, but it's also kinda b.s.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

CPDenn's picture

Many aren't rated as high as some of their peers because they don't have a lot of tape, their coaches/whoever at the high school is in charge of sending out tape don't know where to go with it, or they beasted out senior year when schools are already focused on other prospects they've seen for 2-3 years. Recruiting is the most important aspect of college football.

2002osubuck's picture

Roby, Jenkins, hawk, lauranaitis, robiskie, hartline, holmes and smith are a few 3* players that have done pretty well. I saw an article using a great ranking system for schools and how they develope players with different star ratings. Iowa was the #1 team at developing players, with most being  3* or less, and tOSU was #2 if I remember right. So with more talent from Meyer's recruiting, we should develop a lot more players if that holds true.

+1 HS
ibuck's picture

That was just ranking B1G schools, right? Not all FBS schools.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

CPDenn's picture

"Occasionally, that outside opinion can be recruiting ratings, and they sometimes ring true."

If you take a look at the last 10-15 national champions I'd say it rings true more often than not. Pat Fitzgerald is either lying or playing up to the underdog card at Northwestern with that quote. I'd imagine that if he would have landed at Texas or was able to bring in around 20 4* caliber players per year at NW that statement would be a little bit different.

ibuck's picture

I suspect development is generally easier with lower star players than with the 4-5 star guys, who may feel entitled and less likely to accept coaching.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Kyle Rowland's picture

Yes and no. Northwestern is a completely different culture. Takes the right kind of kid to fit in there. Not every four- or five-star is going to be a great fit. There really is something to be said for that. Thad Matta is huge on kids being a fit for OSU. 

CPDenn's picture

True, Northwestern is certainly in a unique position in terms of who they're going to go after and who they take. I do think that goes for a lot of top flight football programs as well, just in a different way. Alabama casts a wide net, but I would imagine there are certain 4/5* players that Saban probably backs off of for whatever reason. Different programs look for different types of players/people.

Burnsy's picture

Only during the offseason can you have this many people discussing math on such a high level. 

+1 HS
Eph97's picture

Ah, the legendary "AJ Hawk was only a 3 star". AJ's knee injury his sr. year of high school kept him off the radar. If not for the injury he surely would have been a 4 star. Many have done the statistical analysis that shows that having many 4 and 5 *'s are necessary to win championships since they pan out for the most part. 

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

We rank everything in this country, from football recruits to pizza. Fitzgerald is right, stars mean nothing, but it's a system that is here to stay, so why not have some fun with it. Good coaches are going to go out and offer based on talent, the stars are for the rest of us.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

Aesculus.'s picture

If you look at Michigan States entire roster from last year, they had zero 5 star and just a handful of 4 star players.  Mostly 2 and 3 star guys.  We had mostly 4 and 5 star guys.