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25 NFL Stars Overlooked as College Recruits

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  • 1. Tom Brady

    Not every league MVP, Super Bowl winner or All-Pro originally came with a “must-see” tag in high school. Here are 25 NFL stars who were once overlooked as college recruits.

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    The sure-fire Hall of Famer is perhaps the most overlooked NFL player of all time. Brady came up in a time before the star system, but former UM head coach Brady Hoke said the QB “probably would have been a two-star guy.”

    As the story goes, the 199th pick in the 2000 draft made them all pay, becoming arguably the greatest NFL quarterback ever.

  • 2. Aaron Rodgers

    Rodgers received but one offer out of high school — a walk-on spot to compete for a scholarship at Illinois — and instead opted to play JuCo football at Butte Community College, where he was spotted by Cal head coach Jeff Tedford.

    After three years stuck behind Brett Favre with the Packers, Rodgers is now considered the best player in the entire NFL.

  • 3. Richard Sherman

    Sherman will always play with that metaphorical chip on his shoulder. And for good reason. The 3-time All-Pro was a relatively lowly ranked 3-star recruit out of Dominguez High School and received offers from just two Pac-12 schools, UCLA and Stanford.

    Sherman was just a fifth-round selection by the Seahawks in the 2011 draft, but it’s safe to say he’s since earned his status as the NFL’s best cornerback.

  • 4. Drew Brees

    Like Russell Wilson, Brees was considered undersized coming out of high school. Growing up in Austin, TX, he was therefore overlooked by the local Texas Longhorns. Brees instead became a legend in West Lafayette, IN, after leading Purdue to its second Rose Bowl ever.

    Brees has only built on his legacy since winning a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints and becoming a 9-time Pro Bowler.

  • 5. Clay Matthews III

    Despite being the son of an NFL legend, Matthews III was so under recruited at Agoura High School in Los Angeles that he opted to walk on at USC. Matthews had a solid career with the Trojans but exploded onto the scene after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers.

    He’s won a Super Bowl, been to five Pro Bowls and was named the 2010 NFC Defensive Player of the Year.

  • 6. Eric Fisher

    Fisher mimicked J.J. Watt in choosing to play his college ball at Central Michigan. However, unlike Watt, Fisher didn’t have a choice — the Chippewas gave the 2-star recruit his sole offer.

    It took some time, but Fisher eventually shined at CMU and the Kansas City Chiefs selected him first overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.

  • 7. Luke Kuechly

    Kuechly was just a 3-star recruit and the 44th-ranked outside linebacker in the class of 2009.

    But the Cincinnati product shined at Boston College, being named a First Team All-American three times. He’s since become one of the top defenders in the NFL, winning the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013.

  • 8. Khalil Mack

    It’s not often a 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker from Florida gets overlooked. But Mack was a full-time basketball player before suffering an injury his junior year and switching to football. He therefore was just a lowly 2-star recruit.

    After wreaking havoc in the MAC for Buffalo, Mack was selected fifth overall by the Raiders in the 2014 NFL Draft.

  • 9. Antonio Brown

    Brown’s path to college ball was a rocky one, marked by a senior year in high school at QB spent bouncing from home to home. He was even denied admission to Florida State due to academic concerns.

    After a brief stint at Alcorn State, Brown walked on at Central Michigan, where a shift to wide receiver proved to be his gateway to success. Brown led the NFL in receiving in 2014 with 1,698 yards.

  • 10. Russell Wilson

    At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, the diminutive Wilson was just a 2-star recruit coming out of Richmond. Wilson only received offers from Duke and NC State, choosing the latter (he transferred to Wisconsin for his senior year).

    After being overlooked again by NFL scouts due to his size, Wilson is now a Super Bowl champion.

  • 11. Darrelle Revis

    ​Before proving that one man can in fact be an island, Revis was a 3-star recruit ranked as just the 46th-best cornerback in the 2004 class by Rivals.

    At Pitt, Revis twice earned First Team Big East honors, but arguably didn’t truly tap into his full potential until reaching the NFL. Revis is now a 6-time Pro Bowler and still one of the most feared corners in the league.

  • 12. Tony Romo

    Yes, Romo has a habit of coming up short in important spots in the NFL, but the fact that he got there in the first place — and is a star no less — is hard to believe.

    The Cowboys quarterback went unrecruited by FBS schools and played instead for FCS Eastern Illinois. Romo signed as an undrafted free agent with Dallas in 2003 and has blossomed into a 4-time Pro Bowler.

  • 13. Colin Kaepernick

    Kaepernick was his own worst enemy in high school, wanting to play college football despite starring primarily as a baseball pitcher. As a testament to his elite athleticism, Nevada took a flier on the 3-star recruit.

    A star for the Wolf Pack, Kaepernick lead San Francisco to three-straight NFC championship games before regressing in 2014.

  • 14. T.Y. Hilton

    Before he was catching passes from Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Eugene “T.Y.” Hilton was a two-star recruit out of Miami Springs, FL.

    A lightning bolt of excitement for the Panthers, Hilton was a third round pick by the Colts in 2012 who has become Luck’s favorite target in Indy.

  • 15. Alfred Morris

    As a high schooler in Pensacola, FL, Morris was a 2-star recruit who wound up at lowly Florida Atlantic.

    Despite running wild in the Sun Belt, his small-conference profile earned him just a sixth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Less than a year later, the little-heralded running back would set the Washington Redskins single-season rushing yardage record (1,613).

  • 16. Eric Weddle

    A 2-star recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, Weddle was a defensive stud at Alta Loma High School. But he didn’t receive any interest from Pac-12 schools, let alone offers.

    Weddle accepted an offer to play at Utah, where he was twice the MWC Defensive Player of the Year. He was selected in the second round by the Chargers in the 2007 draft and has been an All-Pro free safety every year since 2010.

  • 17. Elvis Dumervil

    Dumervil was there for any of the big Florida schools to land as a kid growing up in Miami. Instead, the 3-star recruit who wasn’t even rated by Rivals in the Sunshine State ended up at Louisville.

    Deemed too small to play in the NFL, Dumervil has proved skeptics wrong again by making four Pro Bowls.

  • 18. Josh Gordon

    Rivals rated Gordon a 3-star wide receiver recruit who was barely ranked one of the top 100 players in the entire state of Texas.

    Gordon’s college career was a tumultuous one, involving suspensions at Baylor and an eventual transfer to Utah. Off-the-field troubles have carried over to the NFL, but there’s no doubting his place as one of the league’s top receivers when he’s on the field.

  • 19. Brandon Marshall

    ​Marshall was a 2-star recruit coming out of Winter Park, FL, and reportedly only fielded offers from UCF and UConn, going for the local option.

    He put up monster numbers at UCF, but earned just a fourth-round pick in the 2006 draft. Five Pro Bowls later, he’s left the big Florida schools wondering how he got away.

  • 20. J.J. Watt

    In high school, Watt was considered a jack of all trades and master of none. As a part-time TE and DE, Watt was not highly ranked at either position and was a 2-star recruit. Watt originally played TE at Central Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin to play DE.

    The permanent position switch worked for the perennial NFL All-Pro.

  • 21. Muhammad Wilkerson

    ​Wilkerson graduated high school as a lowly regarded 2-star defensive end from Linden, NJ. He spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy before attending Temple.

    Wilkerson skyrocketed himself into the first round of the 2011 draft with a sterling Pro Day and is now one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL for the Jets.

  • 22. Greg Hardy

    ​While “Kraken” may have graduated from Hogwarts, his alter ego Greg Hardy was a 3-star recruit out of Briarcrest Christian in Memphis, TN, before heading to Ole Miss.

    A broken bone in his right foot delayed Hardy’s path to the NFL and a poor combine showing decreased his stock, but he eventually proved his worth at the pro level. Hardy set the Carolina Panthers’ single-season sack record in 2013 (15).

  • 23. Matt Forte

    ​Forte was just a 2-star recruit out of Slidell, LA, and earned just one offer - from Tulane. The local hero became a stud with the Green Wave, earning third-team AP All-American honors in 2007.

    He was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Bears, where he has become one of the NFL’s premier running backs with two Pro Bowl nods.

  • 24. Justin Forsett

    A running back out of Arlington, TX, Forsett slipped out of the Lone Star State to Cal after receiving just a 2-star grade from Rivals.

    Forsett burst out of Ray Rice’s shadow in 2014 to rush for nearly 1,300 yards and make the Pro Bowl for the Ravens.

  • 25. C.J. Anderson

    Another diamond in the rough for Cal, Anderson went the junior college route at little-known Laney College in Oakland, CA, before landing in Berkeley.

    Like Forsett, Anderson had a breakout year in 2014 with a Pro Bowl nod and back-to-back 160-yard rushing games.

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