Recent history shows that if a program wants to compete at a national championship level, it has to recruit 4-star and 5-star players. A glance back at the last 10 BCS national champions shows those programs, four of which came from the SEC, often pulled in top-10 recruiting classes.
Recruiting isn't an exact science, but it does matter. There's no way around it.
How those classes translate to the NFL level is a different story. Ty Duffy of The Big Lead noted earlier this month that the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, two teams who will be competing in the Super Bowl on Sunday, have more former 2-star recruits than 4-star and 5-star recruits.
In fact, the Seahawks have more previously unranked recruits than 4-star and 5-star players, according to NationalHSFootball.com.
Of course, that information is a bit incomplete. Some former recruits, like Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, predated the Rivals.com star system. Suffice to say, Manning would have easily been a 4-star or 5-star product.
The greater point is that what is considered an elite prospect in college doesn't always translate to success in the NFL.
If you're looking for an example, Texas Tech can give you three: offensive linemen Manny Ramirez and Louis Vasquez and wide receiver Wes Welker. All three play for the Broncos.
Texas Tech would like to remind you, and New York City, about that:
Ramirez, a 3-star prospect who signed with the Red Raiders in 2002, had scholarship offers from Houston, Kansas State, Syracuse and UTEP. Vasquez was a 3-star member of Tech's '05 class, though he had more offers, including ones from Nebraska and Texas.
Welker is a well-documented success story. A USA Today feature on Welker from 2008 paints a picture of a player who rose to the top of the NFL despite being "too small" and "too slow":
Coming out of Heritage Hall School, a small, private school in Oklahoma City, Welker was named Oklahoma's Player of the Year by USA TODAY. But he received just one scholarship offer from a Division I school. That came from Texas Tech a week after signing day, when projected signee Lenny Walls opted for Boston College.
Before that, Welker thought he was headed to Tulsa. But that offer never came, nixed when the top prep player from Tennessee, Carl Scott, surprisingly chose the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa's coach then, Keith Burns, got an earful from Welker's mother, Shelley, as the family sat in his office and learned there would not be a scholarship.
Welker went undrafted out of Tech in 2004 and went through two pro organizations—the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins—before hitting his stride with the Patriots in 2007. He's now the face of the undrafted NFL superstar.
(Vasquez and Ramirez were drafted in the third and fourth rounds of the 2009 and '07 drafts, respectively.)
Sometimes, pro organizations miss on a player. Also, players peak at different times in their career. It can be a combination of both as well. It's rarely a black-and-white issue.
What is indisputable is that player development is important at every level of the game, but it's paramount in the pros. Back to Duffy's point on talent evaluation:
Draft evaluations are often inaccurate. Recruiting evaluations, formed with far less data and film, are even worse. Take this as a healthy reminder Signing Day isn’t everything. Awesome five-star guy your school just signed may be the next great thing in college football. He may not.
The three former Texas Tech players playing in this weekend's Super Bowl represent a small sample size of what it takes to be successful in the NFL, a league of 32 teams. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, for example, was a 4-star recruit for Texas. Broncos linebacker Von Miller was a 4-star prospect for Texas A&M.
Still, Kansas has two players on the Broncos roster—cornerback Chris Harris and linebacker Steven Johnson—who never cracked a 3-star rating out of high school. Seattle offensive lineman Russell Okung was a 3-star prospect for Oklahoma State who played under great Cowboys O-line coach Joe Wickline.
Players like Welker and Okung serve as a reminder that what happens every national signing day isn't the end-all, be-all predictor of talent.
Every player, from 5-star to walk-on, has potential. It takes development by great coaches to bring it out.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All recruiting rankings courtesy of Rivals.com.