Le'Veon Bell played high school football in the shadow of Ohio State, but the Buckeyes never showed much interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers running back.
And Bell, who had only a handful of scholarship offers before signing with Michigan State, was pursued like a five-star recruit by schools compared to Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Brown, one of the premier wide receivers in the NFL, was so lightly regarded coming out of high school that he did not receive any stars by Rivals.com, a national recruiting service.
The Miami native played at a North Carolina prep school before receiving a scholarship to Central Michigan.
The stories of Bell and Brown should – but won’t -- temper the celebrations that have taken place across the country on Wednesday, the first day that high school players are officially allowed to sign with schools.
A Steelers offense that finished second in the NFL in total yards last season (411.1) – and led Pittsburgh to its first AFC North title since 2010 – also provides proof the top-rated prep players in the country often fall short of later making a name for themselves in the NFL.
Or are surpassed by less ballyhooed recruits at the next level.
Here is a look back at how five Steelers skill players who project as starters next season were rated coming out of high school.
I will have a post later on Wednesday that looks at the offensive line and tight end Heath Miller coming out of high school.
QB Ben Roethlisberger: Rivals.com’s player rankings go back only to 2002 but it is well-documented how Roethlisberger did not start at quarterback until he was a senior in high school. The 2000 Findlay High School graduate signed with Miami (Ohio), a mid-major program, because higher-profile schools either got in on Roethlisberger too late or recruited him for another position.
RB Le’Veon Bell: Bell starred at Madison High School, which is in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, but Rivals.com rated him as only a two-star prospect in 2010. Bell, who finished second in the NFL with 2,215 yards from scrimmage last season, was not rated among ESPN’s RecruitingNation top 100 running backs in the country coming out of high school.
WR Antonio Brown: It’s pretty easy to see how Brown slipped through the cracks since he did not have great size or blazing speed and hails from Miami, which is overflowing with young football talent. But not receiving any stars from Rivals.com? The three-time Pro Bowler continues to have the last laugh at all who doubted him – from high school to college to the NFL where Brown lasted until the 195th pick of the 2010 draft.
WR Markus Wheaton: Wheaton received three stars from Rivals.com coming out of Chandler High School in Arizona in 2009. Wheaton, who signed with Oregon State, was ESPN RecruitingNation’s No. 67 wide receiver nationally. An interesting note: ESPN’s 10th-ranked wide receiver in 2009 was Terry Hawthorne, who played cornerback at Illinois and was a fifth-round pick by the Steelers in 2013 – two rounds after they selected Wheaton. The Steelers cut Hawthorne after his only training camp and preseason with the team.
WR Martavis Bryant: The 2014 fourth-round pick was highly regarded coming out of high school. Rivals.com gave Bryant four stars. ESPN RecruitingNation ranked him the No. 8 wide receiver nationally in 2010. Bryant played a season at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia before joining 2014 No. 4 overall draft pick Sammy Watkins in Clemson’s 2011 recruiting class.