NFL Draft: 10 players who could've been first-round picks out of high school

Kevin Askeland | MaxPreps.com Thursday, April 29, 2021 11:45am

Trevor Lawrence, Herschel Walker, Adrian Peterson among those who could have skipped college and gone pro.

The NFL Draft is set for tonight in Cleveland, Ohio, with 32 NFL teams prepared to choose from among the nation's best college players. But what if they were able to choose high school players?

Baseball, hockey and basketball professional leagues have all drafted players right out of high school while the NFL requires a player to be three years removed from his graduating class. Opponents of drafting players out of high school into the NFL site maturity level, physical strength and quickness and knowledge of the game as reasons why prep players just aren't ready.

However, there are always those precocious players mature beyond their years who possess the size, strength and speed to compete at the professional level. The emergence of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence as a "once-in-a-generation talent" leads those to wonder if Lawrence might have been a first-round pick right out of high school.

MaxPreps takes a look at 10 players, including Lawrence, who were "once-in-a-generation talents" in their own day. Not all of them succeeded in the NFL while others have gone on to be Hall of Famers. The argument here is that all 10 were phenoms coming out of high school and highly likely that some NFL general manager would have been willing to take a first-round gamble on their potential.
Jadeveon Clowney, South Pointe
File photo by Ron McCann
Jadeveon Clowney, South Pointe
10 NFL-ready players out of high school

Trevor Lawrence, Cartersville (Ga.), 2017
Resume:
The presumptive first pick in this year's draft has been the nation's most coveted quarterback since his freshman year at Cartersville. The No. 1 ranked quarterback in his class throughout his high school career, he's been labeled by some scouts as the greatest quarterback prospect of all-time, along with Hall of Famer John Elway. He became a starter early in his freshman season at Clemson and led the Tigers to a national championship.
Why he would be drafted: At 6-foot-6 and and 208 pounds, Lawrence definitely had the size that NFL scouts like to see in a quarterback. However, he also has arm strength, quickness, maneuverability in the pocket, and passing instincts that make him a once in a generation playcaller.



Herschel Walker, Johnson County (Wrightsville, Ga.), 1979
Resume:
He was the biggest thing to ever happen in Wrightsville (Ga.) in 1979. Colleges from all over the country came to the small town of 2,000 people to watch Walker practice. He rushed for 3,167 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior, a rushing record that lasted for 21 years. He was a Heisman Trophy candidate as a true freshman after rushing for 1,616 yards. He left Georgia after his junior year to play football in the USFL and eventually played 12 seasons in the NFL.
Why would he be drafted: Very few running backs coming out of high school have ever had the total package that Walker presented. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he was big for a halfback. However, he was also the fastest player on the field — he won the 100 and 200-yard dashes at the state meet — and one of the strongest, he was a state shot put champion as well.

Jadeveon Clowney, South Pointe (Rock Hill, S.C.), 2011
Resume:
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, Clowney had strong credentials as a edge rusher coming out of high school. He had 69.5 sacks in his three years on the varsity, including 29.5 as a senior when he was regarded as the nation's No. 1 overall recruit regardless of position. He was a two-time All-American in college at South Carolina, starting as a freshman and essentially recognized as college football's best defensive player by his sophomore season. He's a three-time Pro Bowler in the NFL.
Why would he be drafted: Clowney was not only viewed as the top player in the class of 2014, but that he would have been the top player in many other classes as well. At 6-5, 250 pounds, he'd already developed into a player capable of playing at a much higher level.

Adrian Peterson, Palestine (Texas), 2003
Resume:
One of the more recent players who could have made the jump, Peterson was the national player of the year while running for 2,950 yards as a senior in 2003. The following year as a true freshman, Peterson finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting after rushing for 1,925 yards. He has since gone on to become the fifth all-time leading rusher in NFL history.
Why would he be drafted: Peterson has given several interviews to ESPN, noting that he felt he was capable of making the jump from high school to the pros. According to an article by Len Pasquarelli in 2007, Peterson is often named by talent evaluators as the player who most capable of making the jump.

Marcus Dupree, Philadelphia (Miss.), 1981
Resume:
The most prized high school prospect in the nation in 1981, Dupree scored on his very first possession as a freshman and finished his career with 87 touchdowns. When he arrived on campus at Oklahoma, head coach Barry Switzer reportedly said, "He was the best player on the field ... physically ready, as a true freshman, to be the best player on a great college team. Maybe even ready for the NFL at that age." Dupree came through as a freshman, rushing for 1,144 yards and earning second team All-America honors. However, he left Oklahoma after his freshman year and ended up playing the USFL at the age of 19. After a brief stint with the Los Angeles Rams, Dupree was out of the NFL due to injuries.
Why would he be drafted: Dupree was 210 pounds as a freshman in high school, eventually growing to 235 pounds. He also had sprinter speed, reportedly posting a 4.29 40-yard dash.

Andy Katzenmoyer, Westerville South (Westerville, Ohio), 1995
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A 6-foot-5, 240-pound linebacker in high school, Katzenmoyer devastated opponents with his speed and instincts. He was named the best player, not just linebacker, in the Detroit Free Press's Best in the Midwest rankings. USA Today named him National Defensive Player of the Year. He was Mr. Football in Ohio. He was also the top linebacker on the Parade Magazine All-America team. As a true freshman at Ohio State, he beat out a Butkus Award finalist from the year before, Greg Bellisari, at middle linebacker and set school records for sacks and tackles for loss while earning All-Big Ten honors. Ohio State had the nation's top passing defense with Katzenmoyer leading the way.
Why would he be drafted: Speed, instinct and tackling ability were Katzenmoyer's trademarks (his coach at Westerville South held him out of tackling drills to prevent other players from getting hurt, according to the Detroit Free Press). A neck injury as a rookie brought a premature end to his career.

Cookie Gilchrist, Har-Brack (Natrona Heights, Pa.), 1953
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Gilchrist was the top player in Pennsylvania in 1953. Just a junior, Gilchrist was one of the leading scorers in the state with 184 points on 24 touchdowns and 42 extra points. He earned all-state honors, receiving the most votes on the team. The problem for Gilchrist, however, is that he was ineligible to play as a senior. WPIAL rules prevented any senior who turned 19 prior to Sept. 1 from playing. Gilchrist turned 19 in May of his junior year. Fortune found Gilchrist in the form of Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown, who signed Gilchrist to a contract. However a disagreement led to Gilchrist leaving the Browns. He did play in the Ontario Rugby Union (a precursor to the Canadian Football League) as a 19-year-old. He later played in the AFL and was the AFL MVP in 1962.
Why would he be drafted: Obviously talented enough to gain the attention of Paul Brown, who had coached the Browns to an 11-1 record and a runner-up finish to Detroit in the NFL championship game.

Orlando Pace, Sandusky (Ohio), 1993
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Pace was bigger than most professional offensive linemen when he was still in high school. At 6-foot-8, 320 pounds, Pace was the state lineman of the year as a senior while also earning All-America honors. He became one of just two Buckeyes to ever start as a true freshmen. He is the only two-time winner of the Lombardi Award, winning it as a 20-year old sophomore. He's in the NFL and College Halls of Fame.
Why would he be drafted: Size alone would have made Pace a tempting pick. He's one of the largest players ever selected to the Hall of Fame. However, he was also characterized as being very athletic for a player his size. It was those attributes that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft.



Bill Fralic, Penn Hills (Pittsburgh, Pa.), 1980
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A four-year starter at Penn Hills, Fralic helped his team win three WPIAL championships. As a senior, he earned the Dial National Athlete of the Year Award, which had been given the previous year to Herschel Walker. A two-way lineman, Fralic had 15 sacks as a senior, but he found his way into the starting lineup at Pittsburgh as a college freshman. He eventually earned consensus All-America honors twice and was twice a top 10 finisher in the Heisman Trophy voting. He was a four-time Pro Bowl player in the NFL with the Falcons.
Why would he be drafted: Fralic's versatility would have been a huge bonus as he was able to play on both the offensive and defensive lines as well as tight end. He dominated high school opponents with his quickness and strength.

Bronko Nagurski, Bemidji (Minn.), 1926
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More legendary stories have been told about Nagurski than probably any NFL player in history. Noted for his incredible strength, speed and agility, Nagurski was a powerful runner on offense, but also strong enough to play offensive tackle. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10.2 seconds and reportedly had a 19.5 inch ring size — the largest of any NFL Hall of Fame member. He reportedly could have played any position on the field during the 1930s, including quarterback. He threw several touchdown passes in leading the Bears to two world championships.
Why would he be drafted: At 6-2, 220 pounds, Nagurski was bigger than over half of the linemen on the Chicago Bears when he joined them. His natural strength made him such a valuable player at the University of Minnesota and later with the Bears.