NFL Stars Who Were Barely Recruited By Colleges Will Make You Rethink The System

Football | 2/21/19

How many colleges do you think recruited Antonio Brown while he was in high school? The NFL superstar is one of the best wide receivers in the league, so he must have had colleges banging down his parents’ door! Yet, somehow recruits missed the mark on Brown, and he went from being a walk-on at Central Michigan to future NFL Hall of Famer. Brown isn’t the only superstar recruits missed at a young age. Here’s the best of best high school “nobodies” who proved they were something special at the next level.

Tom Brady – 13 Pro Bowls

Tom Brady was not recruited out of high school
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

By now Tom Brady’s NFL Draft story is famous. The legendary quarterback sat and watched six quarterbacks taken ahead of him before becoming the 199th pick of the 2000 draft. What you probably don’t realize is that Brady has dealt with disrespect dating all the way back to high school.

Coming out of high school, Brady was a zero star recruit. Michigan offered him a chance to play for them, but listed him seventh on the QB depth chart. For two seasons he watched Brian Griese lead the team while he fought for playing time. It all worked out in the end, though, somehow.

Bobby Wagner – Four Pro Bowls

Bobby Wagner was recruited lowly from high school
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Bobby Wagner might be the best linebacker in the NFL. Coming out of high school, he was barely a blip on college coaches’ radars. Recruitment stars, if you don’t know, go from five to zero. Wagner was given two stars his senior year of high school and only received one college offer; from Utah State.

Wagner impressed enough at Utah that he didn’t fall victim to the same disrespect as Brady. He was drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, where he quickly established himself as the heart that makes them beat.

Ben Roethlisberger – Six Pro Bowls

ben roethlisberger was not recruited out of high school
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Ben Roethlisberger will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. Coming out of high school, however, college recruits were unimpressed. He ended up redshirting his freshmen year of college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio after being a zero star recruit.

Once he started his first game, it was impossible to keep him out of the lineup. Roethlisberger was a revelation for the school’s football team. The NFL noticed, too, and predicted the small school quarterback would go very high in the draft. The Steelers took him with the 11th overall pick in 2004 and never looked back.

Khalil Mack – Three Pro Bowls

Khlalil Mack was a low Recruit in high school
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Another under the radar high school star, Khalil Mack is currently the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. If it wasn’t for a basketball injury in high school, that payday never would have happened. Mack was relatively new to football after his basketball career ended with a patella injury.

He showed promise, but was so new to the sport, he was only given two stars and accepted a scholarship from the State University of New York at Buffalo. In college, he shattered NCAA defensive records and was drafted 5th overall by the Raiders in 2014.

Kyle Juszczyk – Two Pro Bowls

kyle juszczyk was a low recruit out of high school
Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Like Mack, Juszczyk is the highest paid NFL star in his position. A zero star recruit in high school, he played tight end at Harvard from 2009 until 2012. Entering the NFL, Juszczyk switched from tight end to fullback and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.

After the 2016 season, Juszcyzk hit the free agent market. Considered the best fullback in the league, the 49ers decided to also make him the highest paid one. In San Francisco, he has become a perennial pro bowler.

T.Y.Hilton – Four Pro Bowls

ty hilton was a low recruit out of high school
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

T.Y. Hilton is a special NFL player. In seven seasons in the league, he’s totaled over 1,000 yards receiving five times. In 2017, without Andrew Luck throwing to him, he fell short by 34 yards. And just think, he started his career as a two-star recruit from Miami.

Hilton wound up getting offers from three schools but ended up picking Florida International University after his son chose the hat six straight time in a lineup of all his options. He set nearly every receiving record at the school and is now bonafide NFL superstar.

Aaron Rodgers – Six Pro Bowls

Aaron Rodger a low recruit from high school
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

This two-time NFL Most Valuable Player award winner was a high school legend who was considered too short by colleges to play quarterback. After spending a year at Butte Community College where he led the school to a 10-1 record, Cal offered him a scholarship.

Rodgers rejuvenated the flailing football program at Cal and was considered a surefire top ten draft pick in 2005. The 49ers had the first overall pick that year and opted for Alex Smith. Rodgers slid all the way down the first round before the Packers pounced on the chance to draft him.

David Johnson – One Pro Bowl

david johnson low recruit high school
Norm Hall/Getty Images
Norm Hall/Getty Images

David Johnson received two offers to play college football. One was at the University of Northern Iowa while the other was from Illinois State. The zero-star recruit took his chance at Northern Iowa, where he was forced to red-shirt his freshman year.

During his senior season, Johnson set the school record for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. The Arizona Cardinals liked what they saw enough to take him in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He broke out in his second year in Arizona, combing for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving.)

Antonio Brown – Six Pro Bowls

Antonio Brown low Recruit from high school
Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When Antonio Brown is on the field, whatever defense he’s playing against must plan for how to stop him. Since entering the league in 2010, that task has been nearly impossible. Pretty impressive for a zero-star recruit from Liberty City.

It wasn’t just his play on the field in high school that had colleges concerned, though. When Brown applied to Florida State University he was rejected for academic concerns. Determined to play college ball, Brown tracked down Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones, who allowed him to “walk on” to the school’s team as a freshman.

Aaron Donald – Four Pro Bowls

aaron donald was a low recruit from high school
John McCoy/Getty Images
John McCoy/Getty Images

A few weeks before Khalil Mack was made the highest paid defensive player the in the NFL, that honor went to Aaron Donald. He’s come a long way since being named the 37th best high school defensive end in the nation. The ranking made him a three-star recruit and got him a scholarship from Pittsburgh.

Donald’s sophomore year proved he should have been recruited much higher. He recorded 11 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss of yards. By the time the NFL Draft came around, the secret about him was out and the Rams snatched him up with the 13th overall pick.

Delanie Walker – Three Pro Bowls

delaney walker low recruit from high school
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

A standout tight end at Central Missouri, Delanie Walker has spent the better part of his NFL career as a big-time playmaker. He was rewarded for his efforts from 2014 to 2017 with three straight Pro Bowl selections. Why then, was Walker a zero-star recruit in college?

There is no simple answer. In high school, he was twice named the Miramonte League Offensive Player of the Year. He originally enrolled at Mt. San Antonio College before transferring to Central Missouri. Walker was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

Thomas Davis – Three Pro Bowls

Thomas Davis was a low recruit in high school
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Thomas Davis is one of the best high school athletes to ever have been given zero stars as a recruit. His lack of attention is attributed to the small school he attended. So despite being hailed as one of the “finest athletes ever,” colleges mostly stayed away.

Georgia liked what they say, though, and offered him a scholarship. It was his only offer and he made the most of it. The Panthers selected Davis with the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Michael Bennett – Three Pro Bowls

michael bennett was a low recruit in high school
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

Against all odds as a zero-star recruit, Michael Bennett found his way onto the Texas A&M football team. He played decent football there but was never a standout player. When the 2009 NFL Draft came along, Bennett went untouched. Perhaps the recruits were right about him.

The Seahawks ended up signing him as an undrafted free agent and releasing him a few months later. He signed with Tampa Bay before eventually finding his way back to Seattle where he finally established himself as a disruptive defensive lineman.

Marcus Peters – Two Pro Bowls

Marcus Peters was a low recruit in high school
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Marcus Peters quickly established himself as an NFL superstar as a rookie in 2015. He played his first three years in Kansas City and made two Pro Bowls. In the 2017/18 offseason, he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. It’s been a long road to success for Peters, who began college as a three-star recruit.

Playing for Washington, Peters established himself as one of the best defensive backs in the nation. He was even kicked off the team his senior season but was so athletically gifted, the Chiefs still selected him with the 15th overall draft pick!

Travis Kelce – Three Pro Bowls

Travis Kelce low recruit high school
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

A multi-sport athlete in high school, Travis Kelce chose to follow his dreams to play football despite only being a two-star recruit. Wooed by several MLB clubs, Kelce turned them all down and accepted a football scholarship to the University of Cincinnati.

Modest college numbers intrigued the Chiefs enough to take Kelce in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He only played in one game his rookie season but has started almost every game for Kansas City since. The last three seasons he has established himself as the best tight end in the NFL.

Richard Sherman – Four Pro Bowls

richard sherman low recruit high school
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Richard Sherman has a reputation as one of the NFL’s great trash talkers. Of course, he knows how to back up his words with his play, and has found his way to four Pro Bowls as a result. A three-star recruit coming out of Compton, California, his knack for words probably helped him get into Stanford.

A master wordsmith, Sherman graduated from high school with a 4.2 GPA and accepted a scholarship from the Ivy League school. Shockingly, his first year he was a wide receiver! After suffering a knee injury he asked to change positions to cornerback.

Mike Evans – One Pro Bowl

mike evans low recruit high school
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

We have no idea how Mike Evans has only made one Pro Bowl. In five seasons in the NFL, he has never ended the year with less than 1,000 receiving yards. A three-star recruit of Texas, he was scouted and offered a scholarship to stay at home and play for Texas A&M.

The 6’5″ Evans dominated the competition in college while polishing his game to become NFL ready. Considering his gaudy career statistics so far, he did much more than just polish his game, he perfected it.

Dak Prescott – One Pro Bowl

dark prescott low recruit high school
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dak Prescott has had three up-and-down seasons in the NFL. A three-star recruit at Mississippi State, the same can be said for his college career. His best season was his senior season, where he completed 66 percent of his passes and only threw five interceptions.

He repeated that success his rookie season in Dallas, before reverting more turnover prone habits in 2017. Recently, there’s been a resurgence for the pro and he should be rewarded with his second Pro Bowl selection in three seasons.

Aqib Talib – Five Pro Bowls

aqib talib low recruit high school
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

A true late bloomer, Aqib Talib was not heavily recruited out of high school after only being given two stars. He chose to play for the University of Kansas. A solid college career ensured he would be drafted, although he has bounced around once he entered the league.

He was drafted in 2008. In 2014, Talib ended up in Denver, where his string of consecutive Pro Bowl appearances began. The lesson is it doesn’t matter how old you are when you find success as long as you never give up.

Chris Harris – Three Pro Bowls

chris harris low recruit high school
Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Chris Harris has had to fight for respect his entire career. He was a zero-star recruit in high school who played his college ball at Kansas. Despite earning several accolades during his collegiate career, Harris went undrafted in 2011 and signed a small contract with the Denver Broncos.

He managed to find his way into the starting lineup and was named to the All-Rookie Team. The Broncos have never looked back and signed him to a well earned $42 million contract extension in 2014. He paid the Broncos back with three straight Pro Bowl appearances.