Projecting and predicting where the top college football players will land when their names are called during the NFL draft is one of the best parts about it.
Those college athletes have played their way into this position and developed into elite athletes. But they started out fighting for scholarships and notoriety in high school, some ranking higher than others, all looking to earn a spot at the college of their choice.
Let’s go back in time and take a look at where some of this year’s top NFL draft prospects were ranked in high school and how they got to this point.
Murray, a 5-foot-11, 178-pound five-star recruit from Allen, Texas, signed with Texas A&M before transferring to the Sooners. He was the No. 1 dual-threat passer, ahead of Jarrett Stidham (No. 2 in the class, No. 37 overall), Deondre Francois (No. 3, No. 42 overall) and Brandon Wimbush (No. 4, No. 45 overall). Despite being ranked 13th overall, Murray was the No. 3-ranked prospect in the state of Texas, behind defensive tackle Daylon Mack and cornerback Kendall Sheffield.
Murray has garnered attention for spurning the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball and entering the NFL draft this year, but he also had an opportunity to get drafted in baseball in 2015. He opted out of the 2015 first-year player draft despite being ranked as a top-50 prospect and decided to play football for the Aggies.
An Under Armour All-American and Elite 11 finalist, Murray has certainly lived up to his lofty ranking out of high school (he was a perfect 43-0 as a starter in high school and was named national player of the year after his junior season). In his junior and senior seasons combined, Murray racked up 8,382 passing yards, 2,769 rushing yards and 144 total touchdowns. That is not a typo.
You can see why the hype was so massive for Murray — who’s now projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick in this week’s NFL draft — both out of high school and now out of college.
At No. 3 overall in his class, Nick Bosa was ranked well ahead of his brother Joey, who was No. 56 in 2013. Nick, a five-star recruit, was the top defensive end in the class as well as the top prospect in the state of Florida.
That state ranking was impressive, considering tight end Isaac Nauta, quarterback Shea Patterson, cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen and Saivion Smith, linebacker Rahshaun Smith and 48 other recruits from Florida were all ranked in the ESPN 300 that year.
Ohio State already had Joey on its roster, so many believed it would be the landing spot for Nick as well, despite him having offers from Alabama, Clemson and Florida, as well as nearly every other major program in the country.
As a junior, Bosa had 56 tackles and 29.5 tackles for loss. His senior season was cut short by injury, but in nearly eight games he had 21 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss. He was a first-team all-state player his sophomore and junior seasons and won three state championships at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Williams was ranked as a defensive end coming out of Wenonah High School in Birmingham, Alabama. In his recruitment, he was committed to Auburn at one point, but he decommitted from the Tigers and eventually signed with Alabama after also considering Mississippi State.
What’s particularly interesting about Williams is that he improved his testing numbers dramatically in college while adding quite a bit of weight.
He measured in at the NFL combine at 6-foot-3, 303 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds and had a vertical jump of 30.5 inches, all while weighing 40 more pounds than he did in high school. In high school, he tested at a Nike combine and ran the 40 in 5.24 seconds with a 28.7-inch vertical.
It’s pretty impressive to see that much improvement from an elite defensive lineman from high school to college.
In high school, Allen was 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and he was widely regarded as a lower-ranked prospect by most recruiting services. That was largely due to his size and where he played on the field in high school — he was a wide receiver while also playing reps as a defensive end.
He had five receiving touchdowns as a senior while also tallying 75 total tackles and 22.5 sacks on defense.
His recruitment reflected what recruiting services saw on film, too, with offers from Kentucky, Buffalo, Hawai’i, Kansas and Monmouth, among others. That’s not an indictment of Allen, but rather an example of how development and growth in college can often be unpredictable. He measured 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds at the NFL combine, coming off of a 2018 season with 56 total tackles and 17 sacks as a linebacker, and will be another example of an unglamorous recruit defying the odds.
DE Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
Projected NFL draft pick: 8
2014 ESPN 300: Three-star not in 300
2014 position rank: 26
Sweat’s journey has been interesting, as he was initially scouted as a tight end who measured 6-foot-6, 225 pounds at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
He initially committed to Vanderbilt before decommitting and eventually signing with Michigan State in the 2014 class. After enrolling with the Spartans, he was suspended indefinitely in the 2015 season and was eventually dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.
He then attended Copiah-Lincoln Community College and went through the recruiting process all over again, only this time as a defensive end. He was up to 250 pounds and eventually signed with Mississippi State.
Sweat’s path on the field, excluding his transgressions at Michigan State, is somewhat similar to that of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who was a 6-foot-5, 220-pound tight end who signed with Central Michigan out of high school. Watt eventually landed at Wisconsin as a defensive end and was taken by the Texans with the No. 11 pick in the 2011 draft.
Sweat is hoping to crack the top 10 and would be very fortunate if he follows Watt’s path in the NFL.
QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Projected NFL draft pick: 6
2016 ESPN 300 rank: 63
2016 position rank: 4
Haskins and his family didn’t really focus much on his football career as he was growing up. His parents would drop him off at football camps and take his sister to a nearby attraction to pass the time, rather than patrolling the sidelines to see if their son was performing at a high level.
Once he got to a certain point in high school, though, his talent was undeniable. He and his family moved from New Jersey to Maryland, where he attended Bullis School in Potomac.
Haskins had the opportunity to attend some of the bigger football powerhouses in the area, but he decided on Bullis partially because he wanted his younger sister to have input in the school they would both attend.
He played his way to an Elite 11 invite and was an Under Armour All-American, ranked as the fourth-best pocket passer in his class. He was behind Jacob Eason, K.J. Costello and Brandon Peters, who are all still in school and one spot ahead of Florida’s Feleipe Franks.
Haskins was Maryland’s Gatorade Player of the Year after his junior season and threw for 5,308 yards and 54 touchdowns his entire high school career. He would go on to break multiple Ohio State and Big Ten passing records and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Now he’s hoping to hear his name called in the top 10 of the draft and could be the second quarterback taken after Murray.
The 6-foot-4 Taylor was considered a guard prospect out of high school, and he had dropped some weight before enrolling at Florida to get down to 345 pounds. Offensive line is a tough position to predict, which is reflected in his ranking.
Despite most viewing Taylor as a three-star recruit, he did have some big offers: Miami, Clemson and Georgia, to name a few. He was committed to Miami at one point, but he decommitted after receiving an offer from Florida and eventually signed with the Gators.
The No. 46 guard in the class, Taylor eventually moved to right tackle at Florida and has played far above his high school ranking. Now predicted as a first-round pick, Taylor likely will become the highest pick among the guards in his class.
Gary was first spotted as an eighth-grader at a Rutgers camp, where he was holding his own against some of the older competitors at the camp. He started his high school career at Scotch Plains-Fanwood in New Jersey before transferring to Paramus Catholic in Paramus, New Jersey.
He measured in at 6-foot-4, 287 pounds in high school and had monster testing numbers even back then. He ran a 4.86 40-yard dash at a Nike combine, which was the best among his position group in his class. He also had a 32.6-inch vertical at the time.
He was even more intriguing to NFL scouts when he improved on those numbers at the NFL combine, running a 4.58 40 and jumping 38 inches in the vertical.
Gary was the No. 1-ranked recruit in his class, he was an MVP in the Under Armour All-America Game and he has flashed dominance at a high level. His stats and injury history have raised questions about what his NFL career will look like, but there is plenty of potential.
That potential — and his athleticism — is partially what has him ranked so high in the draft projections, because those are things you just can’t teach, and it’s what many college recruiters saw from him in high school.
Metcalf is from Oxford, Mississippi, committed to Ole Miss very early in his recruitment and never decommitted or wavered despite earning offers from Alabama, Auburn, Miami and a few other big programs.
He was a 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver out of Oxford High School. Metcalf’s impressive physique at a sculpted 228 pounds and his 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL combine have garnered him plenty of attention leading up to the draft.
His combine performance is interesting, as Metcalf was clocked in high school with a 4.72 in the 40 and a vertical jump of 34.9 inches, compared with his combine jump of 40.5 inches.
He was ranked as the 40th-best receiver in his class, behind Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry and his Ole Miss teammate A.J. Brown. Despite injuries that hampered him in college, Metcalf’s newest testing numbers have him regarded as a potential top-10 pick in the draft.
OT Jonah Williams, Alabama
Projected NFL draft pick: 17
2016 ESPN 300 rank: 25
2016 position rank: 3
Williams was a 6-foot-5, 280-pound recruit from Folsom, California, and was widely regarded as one of the best tackle prospects in the class. He was offered by nearly every major program in the country, including Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Florida and Auburn.
The offensive line can be tough to predict, but there are often some can’t-miss prospects who stand out on and off the field. Williams was one of those recruits whom every recruiting service and nearly every college recruiter was high on from the start.
He has lived up to his ranking and then some, as he now has the potential to be one of the first tackles taken off the board in the draft.