Last time around, I set out to determine what effect recruiting rankings truly have on the success of the teams that end up landing the services of these young men being evaluated. Towards the end of that piece, I posed the question of how well these rankings predict the success of the individual players themselves. I know you came for those sweet, sweet charts, so I will stop wasting your time right now and get right into it.
I decided that the most objective way for me to test the validity of these rankings over time would be to compare the rankings with the results of the NFL draft, an accomplishment largely seen as the ultimate goal for the prep football player. I know that this may seem like an arbitrary line to draw, since some players either flame out or overachieve when they get to that level. But the line had to be drawn somewhere, and I feel comfortable doing it here (this will be a common theme throughout). I will be looking at every single high school and JUCO player evaluated in the 24/7 composite rankings from 2010-2018 and comparing that with draft results from 2014-2021. I will also be taking a look at the consensus all-American teams from 2014-2020 and making a similar comparison with the recruiting rankings.
For both the draft results and all-Americans, players from the class of 2009 and earlier or 2019 and later were removed because they were not included in the recruit rankings and would throw the numbers off. This turned out to be a significantly more tedious task than even I thought it would be; I spent several hours learning to use something called a data scraper to get information for tens of thousands of players, but the results were very intriguing.
The chart below shows a breakdown of how many players were drafted over this 8-year period from each respective “star” ranking (as mentioned previously, players from class of 2009 or earlier were removed). One-star recruits were not very numerous and most were rated as 2-stars elsewhere, even on the 24/7 website (the evaluations get pretty murky at this point) so I grouped them with two-stars. Obviously the total number of unevaluated players cannot be determined as it would include every high school player in the country who either has no stars or isn’t on the website at all.
This shows that five-star players actually represent the least total number of draft picks, being outpaced even by two-stars and unevaluated players, and blown away by three and four stars. Based on this, it would seem that a prestigious five-star rating, one of the highest honors a high school football player can receive, is actually the worst rating you can receive if your dream is to one day play in the NFL, and it would also seem that the clear best choice would be to be dead in the middle at 3-stars. But, as we all know, statistics without context can be deceiving.
This may seem a little confusing at first, but just try to follow me. We know that getting drafted in the seventh-round is entirely different from getting drafted in the fourth, which itself is totally different from being a first-round pick. A 1st rounder will often receive seasons’ worth of grace as the organization attempts to cash-in on vital draft capital, while a seventh-rounder will honestly be fortunate to make the regular season roster even after a productive preseason. For this reason I made an adjustment which assigned each star level different points for each draft pick. Seven points were awarded for a 1st round pick, six for a second, and so on. This chart shows the results of that calculation.
After this change, it seems that the former five-stars have closed the gap on the former sub-three-star recruits. The main reason for this is because most of the five-stars were drafted in the early rounds. Over these eight drafts, only 49 total five-stars were drafted in rounds 4-7, compared to 118 in the first three rounds. For two-stars and unevaluated, the draft numbers actually started to rise as the rounds went on.
Still, four and three-stars are far ahead of five stars in every round and have a huge advantage in draft points. Three-stars are also still significantly ahead of four-stars, so what is going on here? I would love to say we have uncovered something scandalous, but again, a huge piece of context is missing.
This table shows the total number of recruits in the sample that I took from 2010-2018. Based on this data, you can probably instantly see the issue with the previous assumption. The total number of five-star recruits is 10% of the four-star total, and basically negligible compared to the other groups. I divided the total draft points by the number of total recruits in each star level, and came up with a much more sensible, if not somewhat disappointing, visual.
Based on my point allocation method, this is basically saying that the average five-star recruit over this time gained very close to three points, which means they were drafted in the late fifth-early sixth round. This may not sound impressive, until you consider that the average four-star was a long shot to be drafted at all, and the average player at other levels had virtually no shot. Now understandably, you may question the validity of my formula, but consider this.
Out of all 292 recruits evaluated and given five-stars over this time period, 167 of them have already been drafted, and although several other class of 2018 players will almost certainly be taken in the next draft, this means that even excluding those players, a shocking 57% of these five-stars have been drafted to date. Basically, if 24/7 sports composite rankings labels you as a five-star-recruit, you are statistically more likely to eventually be drafted by an NFL team, than to not be drafted by an NFL team. Additionally, nearly one out of every five 4-stars eventually heard their names called on draft weekend. Stars might matter just a little.
The results of the All-American comparison were pretty consistent with this. Here is a table of the consensus all-Americans between the 2013 and 2020 seasons that were also in the 2010-2018 recruiting classes that we looked at:
This means that roughly 13% of five-stars have become a consensus all-American player, or arguably the best player at his position in the respective season. Once again, four-stars have an outside shot with about 2.4% of them accomplishing this. But just like with the draft, after this point you are reaching unicorn status if you’re able to pull off this feat. 71 consensus All-American three-stars may seem like a lot, but with over 16,000 candidates, well you know what they say about a broken clock.
These recruiting services may not be perfect, but they deserve credit for being thorough and doing their due diligence. There are tens of thousands of high school football players to possibly evaluate every season, and the fact the relationship between a recruits rating and future success is nearly linear when you look at the data speaks to the credibility of their process.
Also, despite what many people may think, they are ultra selective about who they give their elite ratings to. In fact, in the history of our program, USF has signed 13 four-star recruits. We have never signed a five-star before. It really does mean something to be considered a five-star recruit, and I believe it makes the underdog story even more inspiring, knowing how some guys literally beat extreme odds to get where they are in their careers.