20 NFL Stars Overlooked as College Recruits

  • Aaron Rodgers

    Not every league MVP, Super Bowl winner or All-Pro originally came with a “must-see” tag in high school. Here are 20 NFL stars who were once overlooked as college recruits.

    Rodgers, the eventual All-World quarterback, 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.

    Rodgers was able to transfer to Cal after one year of junior college and the rest is history.

  • Tom Brady

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

    Getting to Michigan proved to be the easy part. At several points in his college career, Brady played second fiddle to the likes of Brian Griese and Drew Henson, despite showing flashes of brilliance in between.

    As the story goes, the 199th pick in the 2000 draft made them all pay, leading the Patriots to three Super Bowls amid an unprecedented run of dominance while building his resume as one of the best signal-callers in NFL history.

  • Russell Wilson

    At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, the diminutive Wilson was just a 2-star recruit coming out of Richmond, VA. Despite being a passing and running threat, Wilson only received offers from Duke and NC State, choosing the latter. Wilson played three fruitful years with the Wolfpack before baseball conflicts spurred a transfer to Wisconsin.

    After being overlooked again by NFL scouts due to his size, Wilson just led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title.

  • Richard Sherman

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

    He chose the latter, where he originally starred at wide receiver before switching to defensive back after a season-ending knee injury. 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.

  • 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 consensus 2-star recruit.

    Watt received several offers and settled on Central Michigan, where he spent just one year as a tight end. Prescient enough to know where his strengths were, Watt transferred to Wisconsin, where he became a standout at defensive end in 2009 and 2010. The permanent position switch worked for the eventual NFL All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year.

  • 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 a patella tendon injury his junior year. His high school head football coach convinced Mack’s dad that if he picked up a new sport, he’d go to college for free.

    It was bleak until Liberty College assistant coach Robert Wimberly was turned on to Mack. When Wimberly took an assistant job at University of Buffalo, Mack’s lone offer followed — to outstanding results. Mack was selected fifth overall by the Raiders in the 2014 NFL Draft.

  • 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 draft.

  • Alfred Morris

    As a high schooler in Pensacola, FL, Morris did draw interest from Florida and South Florida. But the 2-star recruit didn’t field any out-of-state interest, nor did he earn offers from either school. Morris wound up at 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).

  • Antonio Brown

    Brown’s path to college ball was a rocky one, marked by a senior year spent bouncing from home to home. The quarterback out of Miami’s Norland High School spent a year at North Carolina Tech Prep and was 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 earned first-team All-American honors twice as a return specialist and with the Steelers became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards in one season.

  • 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 a two-time All-Mountain West first-teamer and 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.

  • Johnny Manziel

    ​Manziel drew his fair share of offers, but he was just a consensus 3-star quarterback. The all-time Aggies great was also just the No. 14 dual-threat QB in the 2011 class, according to Rivals.

    But Johnny Football tore through the college game, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman. The 22nd overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Cleveland Browns is now ready to set the NFL on fire.

  • Luke Kuechly

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

    But the Cincinnati product shined at Boston College, earning three first-team All-American honors. He’s since become one of the top defenders in the NFL, winning the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013.

  • Josh Gordon

    Rivals rated Gordon a 3-star wide receiving recruit, but he was given as few as two stars by Scout.com. Still, Gordon fielded offers from several top schools such as Nebraska and Missouri, and opted to go to Baylor.

    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.

  • Brandon Marshall

    ​Marshall was a 2-star recruit coming out of Winter Park, FL, according to Rivals. He fielded offers from just 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. However, the five-time Pro Bowl selection has been arguably the greatest receiver in the NFL since beginning his career, starring for the Broncos, Dolphins and Bears.

  • 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 five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and still one of the most feared corners in the league.

  • 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.

    With the Owls, Wilkerson earned All-MAC honors as a junior. Wilkerson skyrocketed himself into the first round of the 2011 draft with a sterling Pro Day and since earned a second-team All-Pro nod in 2013.

  • Greg Hardy

    ​While “Kraken” may have graduated with honors from Hogwarts, his alter ego Greg Hardy was a 3-star recruit out of Briarcrest Christian in Memphis, TN. He fielded several offers and opted to attend 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).

  • Colin Kaepernick

    Kaep 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 him after an assistant football coach saw him dominate a basketball game with a 102-degree fever.

    The undersized QB was redshirted as a freshman in 2011 but eventually nudged his way into the starting role that season. History repeated itself in the NFL, where the 49ers backup nudged himself into the starting role, leading San Francisco to three-straight NFC championship games.

  • Matt Forte

    ​Forte was just a 2-star recruit out of Slidell, LA, and earned just one offer from Tulane University. The local hero became a stud with the Green Wave, making two All-Conference USA first teams and 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. To boot, Forte has equaled his number of recruiting stars in Pro Bowl selections.

  • 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 D1 schools and played instead for Division I-AA (FBS/FCS designations did not exist yet) Eastern Illinois. Romo signed as an undrafted free agent with Dallas in 2003 and after spending two years as a holder, he blossomed into a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the NFL’s top passers.

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