Are recruiting rankings pointless, or are they closer to the be-all, end-all?

That’s a circular debate that seems perpetually based on anecdotes and personal preference. In the SEC, Missouri and Mississippi State fans seem to universally argue that development matters so much more. Curiously, Alabama and LSU fans will swear that talent matters — a lot.

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We decided to look at the NFL draft as a gauge. Specifically, do players who are rated highly out of high school have a better chance to become first-round picks? And if so, by how much?

Members of the Class of 2013 who decided to enter the NFL draft early have yet to find out their fate. So we looked at the five classes before that — 2008 to 2012 — for the 14 current members of the SEC. (Yes, that means three first-round picks from Texas A&M and Missouri were included, even though they never played a down in the SEC.)

Most anecdotal arguments point to, say, the Super Bowl. (Did you know that not a single starter for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos was a five-star player out of high school?!)

The problem there is twofold: Some of the veteran players headed to college during a time before the modern recruiting industry existed, and the number of five-star players every year is relatively tiny. Peyton Manning, for example, didn’t get assigned any sort of star rating out of high school. And in 2016, just 25 players earned composite five-star ratings — approximately the number of scholarships that a single FBS team awards in a given year. So that leaves 127 other FBS rosters to fill after accounting for the five-star players.

Here are the results of the study.

That’s staggering, folks. In other words, during that five-year window, 64 players came to the 14 current SEC institutions as five-star signees and 1,063 players came as three-star signees.

For all the so-called “diamond in the rough” stories and the big deal made about SEC development, just 13 of the 1,063 became first-round picks. That’s not quite power ball lotto odds, but it’s miniscule compared to the success rate of five-star players, which reached 25 percent.

The 2010 recruiting class was particularly special, as six of the 13 SEC five-star players became first-round picks.

You can find the first-round picks by NFL draft below. But first, some other observations:

  • The number of four-star players that signed with the 14 current SEC schools spiked drastically from 2008 to 2012, rising each year from 79 to 100. That number peaked in 2015 at 126, though 2016 produced just 107.
  • The SEC signed 19 five-star players in 2009, a tremendous group that included Trent Richardson, Rueben Randle, Dre Kirkpatrick, Andre Debose, Aaron Murray, D.J. Fluker and Sheldon Richardson.
  • The SEC also signed a five-year high of 246 three-star players in 2009.
  • Alabama sent 14 players to the first round of the NFL draft from 2011 to 2015, including six of 15 five-star players. That calculates at a conversion rate (five-star to first-round pick) of 40 percent.
  • By position group, the five-star players in this group who became first-round picks include defensive backs (5), defensive linemen (4), offensive linemen (3), receivers (2), running backs (1) and linebackers (1). The only positions not represented are quarterback and tight end.
  • There were four top 10 draft choices from the 14 schools during this window that started as three-star recruits — Von Miller (Texas A&M), Morris Claiborne (LSU), Chance Warmack (Alabama) and Mike Evans (Texas A&M).

2015 NFL Draft

PICKNAMESCHOOLPOS.STARS
No. 3Dante Fowler Jr.FloridaDE4
No. 4Amari CooperAlabamaWR4
No. 10Todd GurleyGeorgiaRB4
No. 21Cedric OgbuehiTexas A&MOT4
No. 22Bud DupreeKentuckyOLB3
No. 23Shane RayMissouriDE3
No. 24D.J. HumphriesFloridaOT5

2014 NFL DRAFT

PICKNAMESCHOOLPOS.STARS
No. 1Jadeveon ClowneySouth CarolinaDE5
No. 2Greg RobinsonAuburnOT4
No. 6Jake MatthewsTexas A&MOT4
No. 7Mike EvansTexas A&MWR3
No. 12Odell Beckham Jr.LSUWR4
No. 17C.J. MosleyAlabamaLB4
No. 19Ja’Wuan JamesTennesseeOT5
No. 21HaHa Clinton-DixAlabamaS5
No. 22Johnny ManzielTexas A&MQB3
No. 23Dee FordAuburnDE3
No. 29Dominique EasleyFloridaDT5

2013 NFL DRAFT

PICKNAMESCHOOLPOS.STARS
No. 2Luke JoeckelTexas A&MOT4
No. 6Barkevious MingoLSUDE4
No. 9Dee MillinerAlabamaCB5
No. 10Chance WarmackAlabamaG3
No. 11D.J. FlukerAlabamaOT5
No. 13Sheldon RichardsonMissouriDT5
No. 17Jarvis JonesGeorgiaLB4
No. 18Eric ReidLSUS4
No. 23Sharrif FloydFloridaDT5
No. 29Cordarrelle PattersonTennesseeWR4
No. 30Alec OgletreeGeorgiaLB5
No. 32Matt ElamFloridaS5

2012 NFL DRAFT

PICKNAMESCHOOLPOS.STARS
No. 3Trent RichardsonAlabamaRB5
No. 6Morris ClaiborneLSUCB3
No. 7Mark BarronAlabamaS4
No. 8Ryan Tannehill*Texas A&MQB3
No. 10Stephon GilmoreSouth CarolinaCB4
No. 11Fletcher CoxMississippi StateDT4
No. 14Michael BrockersLSUDT4
No. 17Dre KirkpatrickAlabamaCB5
No. 18Melvin IngramSouth CarolinaLB3
No. 25Dont’a HightowerAlabamaLB4

*Texas A&M was not a member of the SEC for any of Tannehill’s seasons.

2011 NFL DRAFT

PICKNAMESCHOOLPOS.STARS
No. 1Cam NewtonAuburnQB4
No. 2Von Miller*Texas A&MLB3
No. 3Marcell DareusAlabamaDT4
No. 4A.J. GreenGeorgiaWR5
No. 5Patrick PetersonLSUCB5
No. 6Julio JonesAlabamaWR5
No. 7Aldon Smith^MissouriLB3
No. 10Blaine Gabbert^MissouriQB4
No. 13Nick FairleyAuburnDT3
No. 15Mike PounceyFloridaC3
No. 25James CarpenterAlabamaOT4
No. 28Mark IngramAlabamaRB4
No. 32Derek SherrodMississippi StateOT4

*Texas A&M was not a member of the SEC for any of Miller’s seasons.
^Missouri was not a member of the SEC for any of Smith’s or Gabbert’s seasons.