The world of college football recruiting has revolved around the star system for some time. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s undeniable that stars matter.
If you were on the internet during the NFL draft, you probably saw this common talking point: recruiting ranks are nice, but do stars really matter? The “stars don’t matter” crowd is extremely loud this time of year. They love making the argument that players like Baker Mayfield prove the uselessness of recruiting rankings. I’m here to prove how wrong that conclusion is, both in college football and in the draft.
Before we get into why this assumption is incorrect, we should give a little bit of background first. This argument isn’t new, and has been a constant since recruiting became mainstream news. As soon as people started rating recruits, contrarians have attempted to delegitimize those ratings. In the past few years, they’ve only gotten louder.
It’s an easy take to stumble upon. With lower-ranked players like J.J. Watt, Le’Veon Bell, Dak Prescott, Jordy Nelson, Bobby Wagner, Ben Roethlisberger, and Antonio Brown (among many others) all lighting up the league during their respective careers, the confirmation bias is strong. The faces of this trend don’t justify it, however.
For every J.J. Watt, or Le’Veon Bell, you can find tons of successful former blue-chips at the same position. It’s obviously not a perfect science, but in general, the recruiting experts do their jobs. We have the stats to prove it.
Before we get into the stats, I’ll give some context. Success rate in this case depends on the percentage change from blue chips coming out of high school to percentage in the NFL. For example, if 10 percent of recruits at a position are blue chips (four or five stars), but 40 percent of NFL players at that position are former blue chips, that’s a success for the recruiting industry.
I examined skill positions on both sides of the ball, using 247Sports composite rankings for the 2018 class. Here’s how the data breaks down.