If you’re ever tempted to wonder what all the hype is about concerning National Signing Day for high school football prospects, then you should check out this list.
These are the 20 highest-rated prospects to play for Nick Saban since his Alabama dynasty began. You don’t have to be a college football expert to see a pretty clear trend here.
Starting with the highest-rated player, the list includes Najee Harris, Cyrus Kouandjio, Andre Smith, Julio Jones, Eyabi Anoma, Cam Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Trent Richardson, Landon Collins, Reuben Foster, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Tony Brown, Alex Leatherwood, Ben Davis, Dylan Moses, Marlon Humphrey, Dee Milliner, Derrick Henry, Calvin Ridley, Jonathan Allen and Rashaan Evans.
Of the 20 players, the closest one to a bust would be Tony Brown, who just completed his career having won two national championships and three SEC titles. The final game of his college career was a start and solid performance in the national championship game against Georgia. Once he proves to be one of the fastest players and best athletes at the NFL Combine he will be drafted and have a chance for a productive NFL career.
You may not be familiar with the name Eyabi Anoma but that’s only because he’s still in high school. Anoma is the highest-rated defensive player Saban has ever signed and is expected to be an immediate contributor rushing the passer next season.
Ben Davis, the son of Alabama’s all-time leading tackler Wayne Davis, has had a slow start to his career. But he has a national championship ring and three more years to see if he can match his incredible athletic ability with actual production on the field.
Harris, Leatherwood and Moses were true freshmen last year, but all three have already proven they’re going to be stars. When the national championship game was being decided, Harris and Leatherwood were on the field as key offensive contributors.
As for the other 14 who have already completed their college eligibility? They have at least two things in common: They were all superstars in college. And they were all high draft choices into the NFL, or are within a couple of months of reaching that goal.
The important point is not that Julio Jones and Landon Collins and Derrick Henry lived up to and even exceeded their lofty projections coming out of high school. The real key is that not one of the 20 players has been a bust.
There are certainly examples of players who were not highly rated as a 17-year-old developing into a great player. That’s why nearly every NFL game is littered with players from Sam Houston State or Weber State or Richmond.
But that doesn’t change the math. A recent study showed two out of every five players who were five-star recruits go on to have long and successful NFL careers. That’s still a relatively low 40 percent, but compared to all other players it is incredibly high.
If you’re wondering how the top recruits in Auburn history have done at the college level and beyond, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Starting with the most highly rated, here are the 15 five-star players who have signed with Auburn since 2001: Byron Cowart, Derrick Brown, Michael Dyer, Tray Blackmon, Montravius Adams, Carnell Williams, Christian Westerman, Carl Lawson, Roc Thomas, Calvin Ashley, Trovon Reed, Tre’ Williams, Ben Obomanu, Jason Campbell and LeMarcus Rowell.
There are some star players there who have led the Tigers to huge wins, including Williams, Lawson, Obomanu and Campbell.
Cowart, Dyer, Westerman, Thomas and Rowell didn’t complete their careers at Auburn. Brown is a current star and Ashley will be able to show his talents this fall as a redshirt freshman.
Recruiting is not an exact science. The team that wins the recruiting national championship this week is not guaranteed to win anything on the field beginning this fall.
But there’s a reason why first-round picks are more valuable to NFL teams than seventh-round picks. It’s because the players who are considered by the experts to be the best prospects succeed at a higher rate than the players who are considered slightly less talented.
So, cheer for the diamond-in-the-rough, overachieving player who is going to work hard to achieve his dreams. He might just beat the odds and become a star.
But know that the prospects with all the stars next to their player profiles are the ones who will likely be starring on the college level and beyond.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.