Not every NFL star was a can't-miss prospect coming out of high school. For whatever reason, be it poor scouting, late physical development or something else people don't notice on the surface, longshot recruits can make the NFL.
As it turns out, you can make a good NFL all-star team out of the lesser-rated prospects. These aren't all necessarily current players or players who are at their peaks, since this is all just for fun anyway.
Recruiting services only go back to around 1999 at the earliest (which means this can only include players who started college around 2000 or later) and in those early days the information is still pretty spotty. When available, star ratings are taken from the 247Sports Composite, but for the older players, Rivals is often the only source.
Tony Romo, unrated
High school: Burlington (Wis.)
College: Eastern Illinois
NFL honors: Second-team All-Pro (2014), 4x Pro Bowl
Burlington High School
You know Romo was an undrafted free agent. But did you know he was also a highly regarded golfer and basketball player in high school? He also won the 2002 Walter Payton Award, often known as the FCS Heisman.
Victor Cruz, two-star
High school: Paterson (N.J.) Catholic
NFL honors: Second-team All-Pro (2011), Pro Bowl (2012)
Cruz was named to the New Jersey All-State team as a senior, and his high school team won the state title. Yet his journey to NFL stardom is one of the more unlikely in recent memory. His commitment to pursuing his dream is honestly inspiring.
Jordy Nelson, two-star
High school: Riley (Kan.) County
College: Kansas State
NFL honors: Second-team All-Pro (2014), Pro Bowl (2014)
Nelson starred at quarterback and in basketball and track -- he won an AAU national championship in the 400 meters as a 10-year-old -- but began at Kansas State primarily as a defensive back. He struggled before switching to wide receiver, where he became one of the best in program history.
Chris Johnson, two-star
High school: Orlando (Fla.) Olympia
College: East Carolina
NFL honors: All-Pro (2009), 3x Pro Bowl
The number everyone always thinks of regarding Chris Johnson is 4.24, his record 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine. But when he was in high school, Johnson ran a 10.38 second 100-meter sprint, which is pretty fast. Hard to believe his only other FBS scholarship offer was from UConn.
Alfred Morris, two-star
High school: Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest
College: Florida Atlantic
NFL honors: Second-team All-Pro (2012), 2x Pro Bowl
The steady NFL back on why he was overlooked, despite being a prominent player in a heavily recruited state:
"I was a first-team, all-state linebacker, but I didn't want to take people's heads off in practice," he said to Yahoo! Sports. "You want to prepare for the game, but you have to make it through the game."
Morris' only other offer was from Florida A&M.
Julius Thomas, unrated
High school: Lodi (Calif.) Tokay
College: Portland State
NFL honors: 2x Pro Bowler
Thomas decided to concentrate on basketball in college before later trying football again. In his one season of college football at Portland State, he earned first-team All-Big Sky honors. He just signed a deal with the Jaguars that includes $24 million in guaranteed money, so switching back to football was probably a good idea.
For offensive linemen in particular, recruiting is a tricky game. It's a difficult position to project, and tons of kids don't fully grow into their frames until they get into college strength programs. For that reason, the number of top offensive linemen who were modestly rated recruits is fairly high.
Joe Staley, two-star
High school: Rockford (Mich.)
College: Central Michigan
NFL honors: First-team All-Pro (2013), 2x second-team All-Pro, 4x Pro Bowl
Staley worked his way from being a lightly regarded recruit (despite earning plenty of praise from Michigan media) into being a first round draft pick. The eventual 315-pounder was an all-state track athlete, which still shows:
Watch LT Joe Staley run - this was a 4th quarter play in the playoffs - Think he wanted to make this block? https://t.co/DxnBYXdRoG #Effort— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) September 24, 2014
Ryan Clady, two-star
High school: Rialto (Calif.) Eisenhower
College: Boise State
NFL honors: 2x first-team All-Pro, second-team All-Pro (2008), 4x Pro Bowl
Clady also became a first round pick despite being rated low. The 6'6, All-San Bernardino County star actually played a lot of defensive line, then switched to offense after one year at Boise State.
Josh Sitton, two-star
High school: Pensacola (Fla.) Catholic
NFL honors: 2x second-team All-Pro, 2x Pro Bowl
Sitton played on both sides in high school, where he made more sacks as a defender in one year than he allowed as a blocker in two. His only other offers were from Nicholls State and UAB.
Mike Iupati, two-star
High school: Anaheim (Calif.) Western
NFL honors: First-team All-Pro (2012), 3x Pro Bowl
How did scouts miss on a player who'd go on to sign a $40 million free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals? He was born in American Samoa, but moved to California in time to become an all-state lineman, so it's hard to say.
Alex Mack, two-star
High school: Santa Barbara (Calif.) San Marcos
NFL honors: Second-team All-Pro (2013), 2x Pro Bowl
Mack makes it four out of five offensive linemen who were drafted in the first round after being lightly recruited. He was also a highly decorated wrestler, and his 4.2 GPA earned him attention from Northwestern and Stanford.
SB Nation presents: The way-too-early 2016 NFL mock draft
DeMarcus Ware, unrated
High school: Auburn (Ala.)
NFL honors: NFC Defensive Player of the Year (2008), 4x first team All-Pro, 3x second team All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowler
Ware grew up in the shadow of an SEC power, but was overlooked. He's turned into one of the most decorated pass rushers of the past decade. Two of Ware's Auburn High School teammates, Osi Umenyiora and Marcus Washington, also went on to long NFL careers.
J.J. Watt, two-star
High school: Pewaukee (Wis.)
NFL honors: 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 3x first team All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowler
Originally went to Central Michigan, but transferred to Wisconsin because he didn't want to switch from tight end to offensive line. He walked on at Wisconsin, and bloomed before being taken in the first round by Houston. (Wisconsin has a tradition of turning local two-stars into first rounders.) You might be familiar with his accomplishments since then.
Watt's first sport was hockey, and he played on a team that traveled to tournaments as far away as Germany. Football became his priority because hockey cost too much, he says.
B.J. Raji, two-star
High school: Washington Township (N.J.) Washington
College: Boston College
NFL honors: First team All-Pro (2010), Pro Bowler (2011)
It's hard to imagine a player of Raji's size was also a basketball player, but he did just that in high school until he was a junior. He didn't even start playing football until he was a freshman in high school. Despite only being a two-star recruit, Raji picked Boston College over offers from Rutgers and Wisconsin. His mean-mugging Rivals profile photo remains very good.
Over the last decade, Boston College leads the country in non-blue chips who went on to become first-rounders.
Dontari Poe, two-star
High school: Memphis (Tenn.) Wooddale
NFL honors: Second team All-Pro (2013), 2x Pro Bowler
Poe was in the marching band when he was a high school freshman. He hadn't played organized football before. His high school head coach had him try out for the team, and he ended up as the No. 11 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Bobby Wagner, two-star
High school: Ontario (Calif.) Colony
College: Utah State
NFL honors: First team All-Pro (2014), Pro Bowler (2014)
Wagner was second-team All-State for his division in high school, but his only offer came from Utah State. He was a second round pick in 2012, making him the highest drafted USU player in 32 years.
Connor Barwin, two-star
High school: Hazel Park (Mich.) University of Detroit Jesuit
NFL honors: Second team All-Pro (2014), Pro Bowl (2014)
Barwin was primarily a tight end well into his college career, and didn't switch to defensive end until his final year with the Bearcats. He even had a year as a reserve power forward on the basketball team.
Chad Greenway, unrated
High school: Mt. Vernon (S.D.)
NFL honors: Second team All-Pro (2012), 2x Pro Bowler
Greenway played all over the field in high school, including quarterback, safety, and returning kicks. He was voted to the All-State team three times, and was named the state player of the year as a senior.
Brent Grimes, unrated
High school: Philadelphia (Penn.) Northeast
NFL honors: Second team All-Pro (2014), 3x Pro Bowler
Grimes' journey to the NFL was a circuitous one, starting at Division II Shippensburg and then going to NFL Europe's Hamburg Sea Devils before he ended up sticking with the Atlanta Falcons.
Aqib Talib, two-star
High school: Richardson (Texas) Bekner
NFL honors: Second team All-Pro (2013), 2x Pro Bowler
Talib was named to the all-district and all-city teams in high school. His only other major scholarship offers were from Arizona and Baylor, both of which weren't as good as they are now. His talent as a cornerback is hard to ignore, but he also spent some time as an offensive player at Kansas, mostly at wide receiver.
Eric Weddle, two-star
High school: Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Alta Loma
NFL honors: 2x first team All-Pro, 3x second team All-Pro, 3x Pro Bowler
Weddle was twice named all-state at Alta Loma, and received several all-region honors, including from the Los Angeles Times. Weddle also played baseball and basketball in high school, and had scholarship offers from New Mexico State, UNLV, and Wyoming.