I’m always fascinated by looking back at old NFL draft magazines and seeing which players were destined for stardom and failed to produce. Just as intriguing is reading the reports on players that were considered marginal, only to become playmakers at the next level.
I’ve decided to take it one step further and look at how prospects were rated coming out of high school. There are quite a few interesting names up there so I figured I would share some notables. I got all of this info from Scout.com’s recruiting prospects page. It’s worth a look.
How many of you would’ve guess that Trent Edwards was the 2nd rated QB prospect, only behind Vince Young in 2002? I mean, Trent was a 5-star!
Donte Whitner was the #1 rated CB coming out of Glenville High in 2003. That I expected because Donte continued to be a good player throughout college and now in the NFL. I probably sound like such a homer for continuing to back Donte article after article, but the proof is on the film. One of his best friends, Ted Ginn Jr., was also rated the #1 CB, but in 2004. Fun fact: Ginn also attended Glenville High.
Leodis McKelvin, who worked his way up to being drafted 11th overall in 2008, was the 78th rated CB in 2004, and was only a 2-star recruit.
Ashton Youboty was the 26th rated CB in 2003, hailing from Klein High School.
Jairus Byrd was not even rated by Scout.com as a CB, coming out of Clayton High School.
DE/OLB Aaron Maybin was the 26th rated DE prospect before committing to Penn State.
2010 1st overall pick QB Sam Bradford was the 17th rated QB prospect in 2006. I still think he’ll be a bust, but that’s a pretty impressive jump. Taylor Potts was rated ahead of him.
The thing I find most interesting about all of this is the NFL’s fascination with potential. If player’s were highly regarded before, GMs and scouts want to take chances on guys that don’t necessarily grade out that high. Many try to foresee future production from one-year wonders (see Thomas, Devin or Maybin, Aaron) that never really got it done in college. One can only grade what they see. If they were great in high school and had an injury-plagued college career, that doesn’t mean they are just waiting to explode when they get healthy. It most likely means they will be injury plagued in the pros, too. CB Kevin Thomas from USC is a great example of this. Kevin was a talented player in high school, and was heavily recruited. At USC, I thought he played well when he was healthy, but that’s a big ‘if.’ For that reason, I gave him a contributor grade last year. He had talent, but if he could never stay on the field he won’t be able to help much. The Colts drafted him in the 3rd round this year, banking that he could put his injuries behind him. This off-season, before ever playing in an NFL game, he hurt his knee and was done for the year.
[Quick disclaimer: Though I don’t really have to explain this to Bills fans, Colts GM Bill Polian is by far the most accomplished talent evaluator in the NFL and quite possibly NFL history. Taking fliers on guys once and a while no way condemns any of the magic he has conducted in April. Heck, even legendary Bill Walsh compared 49ers 1997 1st rounder Jim Druckenmiller to Drew Bledsoe, and described him as “can’t miss.”]
Of course, there is no sure way of predicting NFL success and good players running in Thomas’ cleats have slid through the cracks. Frank Gore lasted until the 3rd round in 2005 because of his injury history and he’s arguably the most complete back in the league. The point I’m trying to make is some scouts put too much emphasis on potential. Drafting talent is already a murky business, why make things more difficult by swinging at a pitch you can’t see?