In more than 30 years of evaluating high school football players, recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network has pinpointed such future stars as Dan Marino, John Elway, Randy Moss and Peyton Manning.
But his track record isn't flawless. His list of misses reads like a Hall Fame--Barry Sanders, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Terrell Owens, Antonio Gates, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Maryland and Jeremy Shockey.
How did Lemming miss Sanders? Well, he wasn't the only one.
"Every school in the country turned him down. He visited Northwestern and they turned him down," Lemming said. "Oklahoma State took him mostly because they missed out on everyone else."
"Nobody really went after him. He's from Austin, Texas, and Texas turned him down," Lemming said.
Lemming, who has Chicago roots and lives in a Chicago suburb, also missed out on Maryland, who hails from Chicago's Whitney Young High School.
Maryland wanted to attend Notre Dame, but the Irish weren't interested.
He was close to signing with Indiana State, but Miami (Florida) leaped into the picture after missing on another inner city product, Mel Agee, who chose Illinois.
"I think it's a testimony to the kids that are being a little overlooked now," Lemming said. "If you have the heart, willingness and a little bit of luck in growing, no matter what you say you can make it to the NFL."
So how do you truly measure the value of a high school football recruit?
What is important to college coaches? What do they look for? What makes one prospect good enough to play in the SEC, while another must settle for the MAC?
"You can't go by the number of scholarship offers because kids from Chicago get more offers because most college coaches travel here. Big-city kids get more offers. You have to take that into account," Lemming said.
For example, De La Salle offensive tackle Jamarco Jones has 27 offers, Plainfield South linebacker Clifton Garrett has 25 and Crete-Monee linebacker Nyles Morgan has 23. Nic Weishar, Marist's tight end who isn't listed among the top 250 players in the nation according to Rivals, has 19 offers.
Does that mean Jones is the No. 1 prospect in Illinois? How much stock do you put into the number of major Division I offers a player has, the number of Big 10 or SEC offers as opposed to MAC or Mountain West?
"I put some stock into it. Major programs won't offer unless they like you. And the power schools, the top 16 to 20 programs in the country, has first choice," Lemming said. "But it doesn't mean they are better evaluators. And that is the key. Remember, other schools have better evaluators because they have to be."
Each prospect is rated according to his size, speed, heart, competition he faces and his production. Then, the quality of the programs that have offered is taken into consideration.
"You can't avoid it. But that isn't the end-all," Lemming said. "A true evaluator ranks players ahead of offers."
Lemming said 50 percent of a prospect's evaluation is based on his size, speed and athleticism. He won't be offered if he doesn't have the size and speed to play his position.
Production, a player's performance against top-notch competition, and his consistent ability to dominate opponents, should play an important part in the evaluation process, Lemming said, but some schools put more emphasis on kids who produce, while others put more emphasis on potential--how they project for the future.
How do you measure heart or desire? "A lot of guys make it to the NFL with desire even if they are average in ability or good but not great athletes. Sometimes desire will lift them up and let them go to the NFL," Lemming said.
"That's why I like to have personal interviews with kids to see if they have heart, if they have willingness or a passion to play the game. That's something you don't always see on film."
Lemming singled out Don Beebe, Peanut Tillman and Wes Welker as three undersized athletes who proved they had the heart, desire and passion to play the game and it took them to the NFL.
He believes Jamarco Jones raises questions that many college coaches are asking. The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder is a great prospect with enormous potential to match his great size. But...
"He needs to dominate, which he hasn't done yet," Lemming said. "He is a big athlete and college recruiters will take a big kid over a smaller offensive lineman who dominates because they feel they can train him to be a great player. But will Jones play up to his potential at the major college level?"