This is a story about math.
We’ll give you a moment to gather yourself for the coming exercise in addition and division. But at the end you’ll not only acknowledge how recruiting rankings actually do predict NFL Draft success in the first round but also understand just how much they do.
Because after Thursday night, which included a couple former four-star prospects going in the first round from Notre Dame in Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, it’s again crystal clear that recruiting analysts often do get it right when handing out star ratings.
Let’s start with the raw data from Scout.com.
There were 31 first-round picks. Seven were former five-star prospects. Fifteen were former four-star prospects. Three were former three-stars and four were former two-stars. Two weren’t ranked at all, meaning they were no-star prospects. Both went in the Top 10: quarterback Carson Wentz and offensive tackle Jack Conklin.
There’s a couple ways to look at that data. Both are right. Only one is accurate.
One take would be that more prospects ranked three stars or lower went in the first round than former five-star prospects. And that’s correct. It’s also like saying more teams not named Alabama won national titles in the last decade than Alabama, so we’re not sure the Crimson Tide is actually that good.
Do you know how many recruits Scout.com ranked as three-star prospects and below last cycle? Exactly 5,201.
And do you know how many five-star prospects there were? Just 31.
Here comes the math, because based on those numbers a five-star prospect would be 167 times more likely to go in the first-round than a prospect ranked three stars or worse.
For every five-star prospect, almost one in four went in the first round. For every three-star prospect, one in every 451 went in the first round. For two-star prospects, it was one in every 457. For no-star prospects it was one in every 1,008.
By all means, celebrate that overachieving and overlooked athlete who fought his way into the first round. Just realize how rare those actually are.
But you probably could have guessed all that. Of course five-star prospects are going to be more likely to go in the first round than three-star prospects. Yet did you know how much difference there was between four-star and three-star prospects?
Consider that Scout.com listed 360 prospects with a four-star ranking last cycle. Fifteen four-star prospects went in the first round last night. That means one in every 24 went in the first round. Now compare that to the three-star group where one in every 451 went in the first round.
That means a four-star prospect was 19 times more likely to go in the first-round than a three-star prospect. It also means the difference in first round potential between three-star and two-star prospects is virtually nothing.
For the sake of comparison, Notre Dame’s first-round picks under Kelly include one five-star (Michael Floyd), three four-stars (Harrison Smith, Stanley, Fuller) and two three-stars (Tyler Eifert, Zack Martin). That breakdown is more sympathetic to those who believe three-stars can be developed into NFL talent just as much as five-star prospects, although the Irish have signed 65 three-star prospects under Kelly versus just 10 in the five-star group.
Regardless, Kelly has now produced six first-round picks, double the combined total of Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis.
Assuming your eyes have not glazed over, there’s really only one takeaway here. Stars matter. Because the better high school prospects today will overwhelmingly become the better NFL prospects four years from now (or sooner).
Yes, recruiting rankings aren’t gospel.
But to disregard them as entertainment doesn’t add up.