Five-star recruits get drafted by the NFL way more often than their four-star counterparts. And those four-stars get drafted way more often than their three-star teammates. Years ago, NFL columnists used to wade into the waters and pontificate that stars do not matter because some two-star or no-star players were drafted highly. This, of course, lacked the context required for this sort of analysis which would include the number of five-, four-, three-, two-stars each cycle, and so on.
And every year I would write an article correcting them. I’d point out that every year roughly 5,000 high school football players earn scholarships to play college football at the Division I level. And each year, 32 of those players will go on to become No. 1 picks in the NFL Draft. I’d note that four- and five-star recruits are about 30X as likely to be drafted in the first round than their lesser-ranked counterparts.
Following the journey of the 5,000 has always been an interest of mine. I track how well the recruiting industry does with its blue-chip grades (four- and five-star recruit ratings), and how many two-star and unrated recruits end up in the elite company of the first round.
I particularly like digging into the stories of the two-star and unrated recruits who end up as No. 1 picks, since their odds are astronomical. But in the last two drafts, the numbers of two-star and unranked recruits in the first round has dwindled. The 2020 draft included just one, as did the 2021 NFL Draft.
This is a big difference. The last two drafts have averaged just one player in the first round who was a two-star or unrated prospect out of high school. The prior 10 drafts? 4.4 of them.
I am not completely convinced that the last two years is the new normal. There’s an argument that many schools having cancelled pro days due to the pandemic shutdown in 2020 caused teams to rely more heavily on drafting college players who provided more certainty, which likely means drafting players who were invited to the combine and who have been seen multiple times in person by NFL scouts. Those players are typically players who are at big schools and have been on the radar for longer. Round 1 in 2020 did feature the most players from Power 5 schools ever. But in 2021, the NFL Combine was cancelled, while most schools held pro days.
Writing a column about how one player slipped through the cracks is not all that fun. So for this year, I expanded the idea to look at the two-stars and unrated players who went in the Top 100 picks.