Today (Wednesday February 5) is National Signing Day, a day that has become quite a popular event in the college football world. Approximately 2,500 players throughout North America (a majority being 17 or 18-year-old kids straight out of high school) will sign a letter of intent to compete at one of 125 FBS schools and play out their football careers.
What’s made this day even more of a spectacle year after year is the incessant media coverage given to the event. ESPN.com has a webpage under the NCAA College Football section called “Recruiting Nation,” which dedicates itself to evaluating high school talent 365 days a year. Additionally, ESPNU will dedicate most of the station’s programming on National Letter of Intent Day to broadcasting players signing with teams, interviewing top prospects and evaluating the winning and losing schools of the day.
It’s not just ESPN that has zeroed in on recruiting top talent. In the past decade or so, more and more recruiting services pop up and more time than ever before is spent on evaluating talent. The top high school and junior college players are ranked by a system that uses number of stars from one to five, projecting the talent each player will have at the FBS level. These rankings are sometimes spot on and other times completely off.
The most coveted recruits are five-star recruits. College coaches will bend over backwards to land a five-star recruit, mainly because there are so few. Rivals.com a recruiting service website that was launched in 2002 has identified 262 five-star recruits in the past dozen years. That averages out to about 29 five-star recruits per year, with the 2002 class having the most (38) and the 2003 and 2004 class having the least (25). What’s more, that means approximately a little more than one percent of all the players that sign today are five-star recruits.
Less than half of five-star recruits will live up to the hype and make it all the way to the NFL. Of rivals.com’s 262 five-star recruits only 116 were drafted in the NFL, less than 45 percent, with only 42 going in the first round (16 percent). However, a few do hit it big, so today in honor of National Signing Day, here’s a look at the top 10 highest-paid five-star recruits since 2002 currently playing in the NFL.
10. Reshad Jones, Miami Dolphins – Average Yearly Salary: $7,340,000
Reshad Jones currently plays safety for the Miami Dolphins, having just completed his fourth year there. Despite not being drafted until the fifth round in 2010, the 25-year-old has done a nice job for the Dolphins, earning a starting spot for the past two seasons, which was highlighted by a solid year in 2012. During his third season, Jones had 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries to help him be named second-team All-NFL by Pro Football Focus. It also allowed him to sign a four-year deal with the Dolphins worth $29,360,000 that expires at the end of the 2016-17 NFL season.
Jones signed with the University of Georgia in 2006 and was ranked the 14th overall prospect out of the 28 five-star recruits identified in that class. His collegiate career with the Bulldogs was solid, but nothing spectacular. In three seasons at Georgia, Jones recorded 11 interceptions as a defensive back, 5 INTs in 2008 to rank fourth in the SEC and 4 INTs in 2009 to rank sixth.
9. Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals – Average Yearly Salary: $7,874,000
The youngest player on this list at 24 years old is defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who plays for the Cincinnati Bengals. Dunlap was a second-round pick for the Bengals in 2010 and has fared nicely in his four seasons compiling 27.5 sacks. Interestingly enough, Dunlap had 9.5 sacks, his career-high for a season, during his rookie year when he played in only 12 games and didn’t start a single one of them. Having become a full-time starter in 2013, the Bengals rewarded him nicely with a five-year deal that pays him $39,370,000 through the 2018 season.
Dunlap was the fifth-highest-rated prospect of the 2007 recruiting class and signed with the University of Florida. Dunlap had an exceptional season as a junior in 2009 with the Gators, leading the SEC in sacks with 9 and passes defended with 6. With his stock high, Dunlap entered the draft after his junior season and became the 54th overall pick of the NFL draft.
8. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs – Average Yearly Salary: $8,340,717
Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs was also part of the 2007 recruiting class and is only two months older than Dunlap. The 25-year-old has been everything and more when it comes to expectations, having just made his third pro-bowl in four seasons as a safety. Berry had an exceptional 2013, recording 73 solo tackles, 3.5 sacks and 3 interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, in 15 games. Because of his efforts he was selected as first-team All-NFL by the Associated Press and has proven well worth the six-year, $50 million contract he signed coming out of the NFL’s final lucrative draft in 2010.
Coming out of high school Berry was the third overall prospect of the 2007 recruiting class and signed with the University of Tennessee. He started his collegiate career in 2007 as a defensive back where he recorded five interceptions as a freshman. During his sophomore year Berry broke out as a defensive back, recording an NCAA-leading seven interceptions and being named not only the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, but also a consensus All-American. Despite only two interceptions his junior year, Berry was again named consensus All-American and won the Jim Thorpe award, recognizing the NCAA’s best defensive back. He declared himself for the draft after his junior year and was the fifth overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs.
7. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles – Average Yearly Salary: $9,700,000
The explosive yet undersized wide receiver DeSean Jackson has always been recognized for his quickness and speed, even coming out of high school. The three-time Pro Bowler (2009, 2010, 2013) has caught for more than 6,000 yards and 32 touchdowns in his six years with the Philadelphia Eagles and has been rewarded for it with a five-year deal worth $48.5 million that he signed prior to the 2012 season.
The 6-foot-tall receiver was a part of the 2005 recruiting class and ranked as the 18th overall prospect. Surprisingly, the University of California signee was the third-ranked receiver of the class behind two players not currently in the NFL. He was successful during his three seasons in Berkley being named a consensus All-American as a sophomore. During that 2006 season Jackson led the NCAA with punt returns returned for a touchdown with four. Jackson entered the draft after his junior season and was drafted by the Eagles in the second round with the 49th overall pick.
6. Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks – Average Yearly Salary: $10,707,500
Percy Harvin was another explosive yet undersized wide receiver at 5-foot, 11-inches who was also highly touted coming out of high school. The 25-year-old, who just finished up an injury-riddled first year with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, has had a nice five-year NFL career when healthy. After being named as the 2009 NFL AP Rookie of the Year and first-team All-NFL by Sporting News, as well as making the Pro Bowl, Harvin went without the same accolades, yet put up similar numbers the following few seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. In his first year of a six-year, $64 million deal with the Seahawks, Harvin just had one catch for 17 yards during the regular season before making an impact in the Super Bowl when he returned with moderate health.
Harvin was not only a five-star recruit in 2006, but considered the No. 1 overall prospect and signed with the University of Florida. The elusive wide receiver had a nice career with the Gators, where he was used as both a wide receiver and running back. During his three seasons Harvin compiled more than 1,800 yards rushing and 1,900 yards receiving, totaling 32 touchdowns from scrimmage. Harvin entered the draft after his junior year in 2008 and was the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
5. Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Average Yearly Salary: $11,000,000
Gerald McCoy, who currently plays defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just finished his fourth season in the NFL and has been a promising talent for the Bucs. He signed a five-year contract when he was drafted by Tampa Bay worth $55 million and has proven to be worth the money. The 6-foot 4-inch, 295-pound defensive lineman made his second straight Pro Bowl in 2013 and also was named first-team All-NFL by the Associated Press.
Also a part of the 2006 recruiting class along with Harvin, McCoy was ranked the No. 4 overall prospect and highest rated defensive lineman of the class. He decided to sign with University of Oklahoma where he played three seasons and was named a consensus All-American his junior year in 2009. Deciding to forgo his senior season, McCoy was chosen as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and cashed-in on a lucrative contract.
4. Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens – Average Yearly Salary: $12,131,000
As much praise as future hall-of-famer Ray Lewis got for leading the Baltimore Ravens defense for so many years, another teammate of his has been as much of an anchor to the success of the defense in recent years. Haloti Ngata, the 335-pound defensive tackle, just finished his eighth season with the Ravens and made his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. The three-time All-NFL honoree has clogged up the middle for many years forcing double teams and has been compensated nicely for how he affects the game. The 30-year-old has a four-year deal that goes through 2015, which pays him $48,524,000.
Ngata was highly sought after in the 2002 recruiting class, ranking No. 2 overall just behind quarterback Vince Young. He chose to attend the University of Oregon and had three successful seasons there. In his junior season in 2005, Ngata was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American. In the 2006 NFL Draft the Ravens selected him in the first round with the 12th overall pick.
3. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets – Average Yearly Salary: $13,491,667
The New York Jets decided to extend quarterback Mark Sanchez‘s stay in New York by offering him an extra three years through the 2016 season that will pay him $40,475,000 during that time period (or $13,491,667 per year average). The 27-year-old, who sat out in 2013 with an injury, started off his career with a fair amount of success, which included leading his team to two AFC Championship games. However, a couple of mediocre years in 2011 and 2012 have led to much criticism, especially given that his extension was offered during that time.
Sanchez, who was the No. 1 quarterback of the 2005 recruiting class and seventh overall prospect, signed his national letter of intent with USC. After redshirting behind Matt Leinart his first year in 2005, Sanchez split time with him over the next two years before getting complete control of USC’s offense in 2008. After leading the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State his junior year, Sanchez declared for the 2009 NFL draft where he was selected by the New York Jets with the fifth overall pick.
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings – Average Yearly Salary: $13,714,286
Over the past seven NFL seasons there hasn’t been a more impactful running back in the NFL than the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. The six-time Pro Bowler has racked up more than 10,000 yards rushing in his seven seasons and earned the 2007 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and the 2012 NFL MVP awards. The game’s top paid running back just finished his third year of a seven-year contract that pays him a total of $96 million.
Peterson was the No. 1 overall prospect of the 2004 recruiting class and ended up signing with the University of Oklahoma. Peterson made an immediate impact in the college game, rushing for nearly 2,000 yards as a true freshman in 2004. His outstanding play earned him a consensus All-American honor and a second-place finish in Heisman voting. His next two years at Oklahoma were not as successful and a couple injuries hindered his play. Still, with high stock, Peterson left for the NFL after his junior year and was the seventh overall pick going to the Minnesota Vikings.
1. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions – Average Yearly Salary: $17,666,667
Matthew Stafford got drafted at the right time in 2009 because sure enough over the next couple years the NFL changed its rules for compensating rookies when the new collective bargaining agreement was settled. Over the five years he’s competed in the NFL, the 25-year-old has a 24-37 record as the Lions’ starting quarterback and a single playoff appearance to count for. Stafford’s rookie deal was worth $72 million over six years, but the Lions extended his contract another three years for $53 million. That means the 6-foot 2-inch QB will be making an average salary of $17,666,667 through the 2017 season.
Stafford was also a part of the heralded 2006 recruiting class, which included others on this list like McCoy, Harvin and Jones. Stafford was the No. 6 overall prospect of the recruiting class and No. 1 quarterback, choosing to join Jones at the University of Georgia. Stafford started immediately for the Bulldogs and played for three seasons, declaring for the draft after his junior season in 2008. That year he lead the SEC in pass completions and attempts, yet didn’t earn All-SEC Honors. Still, NFL scouts liked what they saw in Stafford and he went No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft by the Detroit Lions.