Not every NFL star began his career as a heralded high school recruit with dozens of colleges knocking on the door trying to sign them — many, many NFL stars began as nobodies.
Below you’ll find NFL MVPs, offensive and defensive players of the year, and more NFL stars who were relatively unknown before their college football careers — and some who were unknowns until they burst onto the NFL scene.
(Note: there are many more 2-star or lower recruits who have had great NFL careers. Who did we miss? Leave a comment below).
Le’Veon Bell — 2 star
A 2-star recruit in the class of 2010, Bell has turned out to be arguably the best running back in the NFL, let alone the best back in the 2010 class that included top-ranked RB Marcus Lattimore.
David Johnson — 2 star
Just like Bell, David Johnson was completely overlooked as a member of the class of 2010 and went on to tear it up at the FCS level at Northern Iowa.
Antonio Brown — Unranked
One of the best and most exciting wide receivers in today’s NFL, Antonio Brown was an unranked high school quarterback who transitioned to wide receiver at Central Michigan.
Jordy Nelson — 2 star
Another NFL star wide receiver who was recruited at a different position, Jordy Nelson went from a 2-star safety to an impact player at Kansas State and a weapon for the Green Bay Packers.
Russell Wilson — 2 star
Russell Wilson has always been taken for granted because of his height. He was a 2-star recruit heading into NC State, and after finishing his college career as a grad transfer at Wisconsin, he was a third-round pick. He won a QB job he wasn’t supposed to win and has led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls, winning one.
T.Y. Hilton — 2 star
T.Y. (Eugene) Hilton wasn’t on many’s radar as a two-star recruit. He went to FIU, was a third round pick, and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2016.
J.J. Watt — 2 star
Nobody wanted 2-star defensive end J.J. Watt, so he played tight end at Central Michigan for a year before walking on at Wisconsin and eventually becoming a high first-round draft pick and one of the best defensive players of the past decade.
Khalil Mack — 2 star
A 2-star linebacker who had nowhere near the recruiting profile of guys in his class like Vontaze Burfict and Manti Te’o, Mack went to Buffalo and has destroyed offenses since entering the league.
Aqib Talib — 2 star
Talib has become one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks after he was just a 2-star recruit in high school. He quickly got noticed at Kansas, was a first-round NFL draft pick, and is now third all-time in NFL history with 10 pick-sixes.
Bobby Wagner — 2 star
Bobby Wagner only received one college offer as a 2-star recruit — from Utah State. He accepted, went on to be a second-round draft pick, and now has a Super Bowl ring to go along with his two First Team All-Pro selections.
Dontari Poe — 2 star
Remember Marcus Forston and DeAngelo Tyson? Neither do I. But they were the top-ranked defensive tackles in a class that included Dontari Poe, who stayed at home in Memphis and became one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Kansas City before moving on to Atlanta this season.
Brent Grimes — 2 star
A 2-star recruit out of high school, Brent Grimes ended up at D2 Shippensburg before signing with Atlanta as an undrafted free agent. He has turned into one of the better corners in the NFL and has been consistently good for a long time.