If you’re a college football fan and you’ve been on Twitter in the past couple months, you’ve probably seen the debates about the importance of recruiting rankings and how much stars matter.
Some people argue that recruiting success is the overarching, single-most important factor in the success of a college football program, while others believe coaching and development are more important than the talent of players coming out of high school.
Truly, both are important, but both of these facts are also true: In the past decade, Ohio State has consistently put together some of the best recruiting classes in the country year in and year out, while the Buckeyes have also had more players selected in the NFL draft – a prime indicator of how effectively each school both recruited and developed talent – than almost any other school.
Since 2011, the Buckeyes’ recruiting classes have ranked in the top seven nationally every year with the exception of 2019, when they signed an unusually small class of only 17 players.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have had at least seven players selected in each of the last five NFL drafts for a total of 45 draft picks, the second-most among all schools behind only Alabama, who has had 48 since 2016.
Given that, we’ve decided to take a look at the correlation between Ohio State’s draft success and recruiting success by looking back at how many five-star, four-star and three-star recruits the Buckeyes have had each year for the past 10 years – based on 247Sports’ composite recruiting rankings – and the percentage of draft picks that have come from each group, including only players whose collegiate careers are now complete.
The following data does account for players who transferred elsewhere after starting their collegiate careers at Ohio State, both for those who were drafted (Noah Spence, Joe Burrow) and those who weren’t, but does not account for signees who never actually became members of the Ohio State football team. It does not include players who are still playing college football or intend to continue playing college football, whether at Ohio State or elsewhere.
Five-Stars: 8/10 (80%)
2011: 1/2, 2012: 2/2, 2013: 1/2, 2014: 1/1, 2015: 0/0, 2016: 1/1, 2017: 2/2
Among the 10 composite five-star recruits who signed with the Buckeyes between 2011-17 that are no longer playing college football, eight of them were selected in the NFL draft. The only two who weren’t were 2011 five-star linebacker Curtis Grant and 2013 five-star H-back Jalin Marshall, who both went on to play in the NFL as undrafted free agents.
The last three Ohio State five-stars to enter the NFL draft – Nick Bosa, Chase Young and Jeff Okudah – have all gone on to be top-three overall picks. Noah Spence (who finished his career at Eastern Kentucky after being dismissed from Ohio State), Vonn Bell and Raekwon McMillan were all second-round picks, while Braxton Miller and Adolphus Washington were both third-round selections.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the vast majority of Ohio State five-stars in the past decade have gone on to be NFL draft picks – considering that there are typically only 25-35 five-stars in each recruiting cycle, and as many as 256 selections in each draft – but the Buckeyes’ 80 percent rate of five-star recruits who have gone on to be NFL draft picks from 2011-17, not including those who are still in school (Justin Hilliard, Shaun Wade, Baron Browning and Wyatt Davis), is higher than the national percent of 66 percent (134 of 203) from those same classes.
Four-Stars: 34/81 (42%)
2011: 5/10, 2012: 2/14, 2013: 6/18, 2014: 8/15, 2015: 8/13, 2016: 3/9, 2017: 2/2
Four-star recruits usually make up the bulk of Ohio State’s scholarship roster, so it’s no surprise that the majority of the Buckeyes’ draft picks from their past decade of recruiting classes have been four-star recruits.
Dating back to 2011, more than two out of every five four-star recruits – 42 percent, to be exact – who signed with Ohio State (not including Jamel Dean, who was drafted after playing at Auburn, but never played at Ohio State due to medical disqualification) and have now completed their collegiate careers have been selected in the NFL draft.
By comparison, that rate is nearly twice as high as the percentage of four-star recruits in the class of 2015 (21.5% – 62 of 289, not including players who received sixth years of eligibility), who were selected in the 2018, 2019 or 2020 NFL draft.
Many of Ohio State’s top draft prospects of the past decade were four-star recruits, including 10 of the Buckeyes’ last 17 first-round picks: Dwayne Haskins, Denzel Ward, Billy Price, Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker and Ryan Shazier. This year’s No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow, was also a four-star recruit who played three years at Ohio State before finishing his collegiate career at LSU.
Three-Stars: 10/39 (25.6%)
2011: 2/9, 2012: 3/9, 2013: 2/3, 2014: 1/7, 2015: 2/10, 2016: 1/1
Although it’s clear that Ohio State’s efforts to land top-ranked recruits have been a big reason why the Buckeyes have had so many players drafted in recent years, they’ve also found an impressive number of lower-ranked gems who they’ve developed into NFL draft picks.
While the vast majority of three-star recruits, who are typically ranked outside the top 300 in their recruiting classes, don’t go on to play in the NFL, 10 of the 39 three-star recruits – more than one in every four – who have signed with Ohio State since 2011 and are now done playing college football have ended up becoming draft picks.
Those 10 three-star recruits haven’t just been selected in the NFL draft, they’ve all been drafted in the first four rounds: Malik Hooker, Darron Lee and Damon Arnette in Round 1; Michael Thomas and Devin Smith in Round 2; Pat Elflein, DaVon Hamilton, Jeff Heuerman and Malik Harrison in Round 3; and Cardale Jones in Round 4.
There are several different conclusions that can be drawn from the data above – clearly, as you’d expect, five-star recruits are more likely to end up in the NFL than three-star recruits – but altogether, the numbers show Ohio State has done an excellent job of both recruiting and developing NFL-caliber talent, and that while the top-ranked recruits are the most likely Buckeyes to be draft picks three to five years later, a significant percentage of lower-ranked recruits have also developed into NFL players in Columbus.