Former North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples was a 4-star prospect entering college. Fourteen other ACC players who were selected in the NFL draft were also 4-star recruits. PHOTO: Associated Press
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, at the ninth overall pick, was the first ACC player to be selected in the NFL draft over last weekend. Florida State offensive tackle Andrew Datko, who went 241st overall, was the last. By the time the draft ended, NFL teams selected 31 players who spent the 2011 season in the ACC.
For those 31 players, being drafted represented the culmination of a dream. It wasn’t all that long ago, though, that they began their college careers as incoming recruits hoping to find a role with their college teams. With the draft over, it's as good of a time as any to look back and examine what kind of recruits these draftees once were.
Recruiting rankings are an inexact science, of course, but they’re often a good predictor of a player’s – and of a team’s – success. The higher a player’s recruiting ranking, the more likely that player turns into a regular contributor, or an all-conference or all-American type player. And the greater the number of highly-ranked players a team signs on National Signing Day, the more likely that team wins a bunch of games. No secrets there.
The system isn’t perfect. In every recruiting cycle, there are plenty of 4- and 5-star prospects who never reach their supposed potential. And there are teams with highly-ranked recruiting classes that, for whatever reason, don’t capitalize on their recruiting success. But in the case of the 31 ACC players who were drafted the recruiting rankings proved, once again, to be a good indicator of future success.
Among the ACC’s 31 draftees, 16 entered college as either 5- or 4-star recruits, according to Rivals.com. Seven of 31 players entered college as 3-star recruits, according to Rivals, and eight of the 31 players entered college as two-star recruits. Keep in mind, of course, that overall there are fewer 5- and 4-star prospects than there are 3- and 2-star prospects.
Early on the draft, though, ACC players who entered the league as lower-rated recruits were drafted more highly than their higher-rated counterparts. Kuechly, the former Boston College linebacker, entered school as a 3-star prospect, and he was the first ACC player drafted. Among the ACC’s first five draft picks were two players who were once 3-star recruits and one player who was a 2-star recruit.
Here are those first five selections, their college, their Rivals.com star ranking when they entered school and where they were picked in the draft (with overall pick number in parentheses):
LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College, 3-star, 1st round (9th)
DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina, 4-star, 1st round (16th)
RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech, 4-star, 1st round (32nd)
DE Andre Branch, Clemson, 2-star, 2nd round (38th)
WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech, 3-star, 2nd round (43rd)
After Hill, six of the next seven ACC players who were selected were former 4-star recruits.
What’s also interesting while looking back at the recruiting rankings is to learn which schools did the best job of grooming highly-ranked talent for the NFL, and which schools did the best job of taking lower-ranked players and preparing them for the next level. Miami, which is located amid one of the most fertile recruiting rounds in the nation, appears to have done the best job of taking talented high schoolers and turning them into NFL players.
The Hurricanes led the ACC with six draft picks, and all six of those players entered Miami as 4-star recruits, according to Rivals. That’s the good news. That bad news, though, is that none of Miami’s six draftees were selected before the third round, and four of the six went in the fourth round or later.
Which school did the best job of turning lesser-known recruits into NFL talent? The answer seems clear there, too. N.C. State ranked second in the ACC, with five players drafted. But the Wolfpack sent players into the draft without the benefit of having a wealth of heralded recruits. Of N.C. State’s five draftees, only one – linebacker Terrell Manning – was a 4-star recruit, according to Rivals.
Three N.C. State players who entered school as 2-star recruits were drafted, including T.J. Graham, the receiver who went in the third round. Yes, three of the Wolfpack’s five draftees weren’t picked until the seventh round. Nonetheless, coach Tom O’Brien can still point to the 2012 NFL draft as evidence that he and his staff can prepare players for the next level – regardless of their perceived talent coming out of high school.
Here’s a closer look at the ACC’s draftees, and how Rivals.com ranked them entering college:
UPDATE: Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter was inadvertently left out of the above chart. Streeter, who graduated from high school in 2008, was a 4-star recruit when he arrived at Miami. The Baltimore Ravens selected him in the sixth round, with the 198th overall pick of the draft.