A constant theme of our recruiting coverage here at ATVS is to emphasize that recruiting rankings mean something, but they don't mean everything. In illustration of that fact, let us examine the NFL Draft and how it corresponds to the players' star rating (according to Rivals) as the time of their recruitment.
5-stars: 6 in the first round, including #1 overall Matthew Stafford, 1 in the second round
4-stars: 12 in the first round, including #7 overall Darius Heyward-Bey, 5 in the 2nd round
3-stars: 6 in the first round, including #3 overall Tyson Jackson, 11 in the 2nd round
2-stars: 7 in the first round, including #2 overall Jason Smith, 14 in the 2nd round
Less than 2-stars (or not available): 1 in the first round, Clay Matthews, who was a walk-on at USC, one in the second round, Sebastian Vollmer of Houston.
It's also interesting that two 2-star recruits were drafted before the first 4-star recruit.
The second round here went really strangely, with lots and lots of 2- and 3-star players selected. While lower-ranked players are often selected in every round of the draft, this seems to be a little more 2- and 3-star-heavy than you usually see. You usually see a distribution more like what you see in the first round, with several 5-star and mostly 4-star and 3-star players being selected in the second, with 2-stars sprinkled in as well.
Now, please, don't be tempted to say that this means that 4-stars are better than 5-stars and that 2-stars are just as good. You must keep in mind that Rivals rates only about 30 high school as 5-stars every year, plus a few JUCOs and a couple prep school players. About 300 or so get rated as 4-stars, and many more get rated as 3-stars. The bulk of scholarship athletes get rated as 2-stars.
There are two take-home messages here: 1) 5-stars have a much better rate of success than 3-stars, 2-stars, or even 4-stars, as judged by the first round of the NFL draft, but 2) some 4-, 3-, and even 2-star players end up being better than the vast majority of the 5-stars.
This is to say that it's nice to get 5-star players, and it's nice to get 4-star players, but you absolutely must look beyond the star-rating when judging these players, and you must realize that just because someone is a 3-star or a 2-star does not mean he is not as good as the others.
I am tempted to think that the proliferation of 2-star and 3-star players in the second round reflects a growing big-school bias, and in particular a growing southern-school bias in Rivals rankings. However, former 2-star recruit Sen'derrick Marks from Auburn would seem to militate against that viewpoint. If there is an irrational southern-school bias or an irrational big-school bias, my observations would be that the situation has gotten worse rather than better since the 2003, 2004, and 2005 classes when most of the players taken here were initially recruited.
This is all to re-emphasize the point made many times in the past that following recruiting is a lot of fun, and rankings have some meaning, but it is really easy to get TOO caught up in it and TOO focused on rankings. Relax, take it easy, and follow your team's recruiting progress without getting too worked up about how many 4-stars we have or don't have or how many 3-stars or 2-stars we have or don't have. In the end, player development is at least as important as recruiting is.
And if you watch a kid's film and think, "There's no way he's really that lowly ranked," relax. You might ultimately be right. And if you think someone has been overrated, you might be right about that too. In fact if you said, "He's overrated," about every recruit anyone signs, you'd be right more often than you'd be wrong.