Three stars or less: The best to players ever do it in the SEC

Ranking the best three stars (or fewer) players of all-time in SEC Football history
Dec 3, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; LSU Tigers cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (7) returns a punt during the second half of the 2011 SEC championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome.  Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 3, 2011; Atlanta, GA, USA; LSU Tigers cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (7) returns a punt during the second half of the 2011 SEC championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

“Stars are not everything.” This is a term repeated frequently by media, coaches and fans of college football each year. High school recruiting is an ever prevalent part of college football with players being ranked by several sites, scouts and experts, and therefore often times being recruiter or not based on this.

While four and five stars are evaluated and projected to be the best performers at the college level out of high school, this is not always accurate. And therefore a lot of big names go under the radar and turn into strong performers for their teams a few years later.

I went through the archives to identify some players that turned into household names for their respective universities that went under the radar due to the star system.

Who are the best players of all-time with three stars or less out of the SEC?

5. Ladd McConkey (WR, Georgia)

This is far from recency bias. If it was recency bias, McConkey would be even higher on this list compared to others. With that being said, he is well-deserving of the fifth best three star out of the SEC all-time in my opinion given his on-field production and three star ranking by On3.

On3 ranked McConkey as the 111th best receiver and 1,147th best prospect in the high school class of 2020. His production was well beyond that totaling 1,687 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns in three seasons with the Bulldogs.

McConkey was just drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 2024 NFL Draft and looks to be a primary option for quarterback Justin Herbert going into this season.

4. Nick Bolton (LB, Missouri)

Nowadays people are familiar with Nick Bolton of the Kansas City Chiefs who is one of the Anchors on their defense, and has helped propel Kansas City to back-to-back championships in 2023 and 2024.

Prior to his days in the NFL, Bolton was ranked as the 118th best linebacker in the class of 2018, which earned him enough for three stars, but no more according to On3.

Bolton would start his final two seasons in Columbia for the Tigers and total 202 in those years combined, including two interceptions.

3. De’Jon “Scoota” Harris (LB, Arkansas)

This has to be the player least talked about when it comes to players that overperformed at the collegiate level. During his time in Arkansas, Harris had over 100 tackles in his final three seasons with the Razorbacks. He would accumulate 371 tackles and 7.5 sacks during his time in Fayetteville.

Harris was on some subpar teams under former Razorback head coaches Bret Bielema and Chad Morris, both who would eventually be fired. Despite the teams performance and his three star ranking out of high school, Harris would rise above to lead the Hogs in tackles all three seasons.         

Harris was named to First-Team All-SEC by Pro Football Focus in 2017.

2. Justin Jefferson (WR, LSU)

Not only is Justin Jefferson electric in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, but he was electric at LSU as well. You would be shocked to hear that Jefferson was a three star prospect out of high school, ranked 1,835th overall and 275th at the wide receiver position according to On3. He is now arguable the best in the NFL.

During his time at LSU, Jefferson’s junior year was his breakout season for the Tigers in Baton Rouge where he caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. In that season, he would rank first in the NCAA in receptions and third in receiving yards. Truly remarkable for a guy that was projected to be next to nothing beyond the college level per the rankings.

1. Tyrann Mathieu (CB, LSU)

Of course the “Honey Badger” makes the cut. Although Mathieu was known for his troubles off the field which led to his exit with the Tigers football program as much as he was known for his success on it, his production when he was with the team was second to few and was a true talent to watch.

ESPN ranked Mathieu as a three star prospect at 77 overall in the class of 2010. The New Orleans, Louisiana native however would prove to be anything but the moment he stepped on campus in Baton Rouge.

Mathieu was immediately inserted into the lineup as a kick returner and defensive back as a true freshman for the Tigers. Despite his five foot nine inch 175 pound frame, Mathiew would total 133 tackles from the cornerback position for the Tigers. He would total six sacks, 16 pass deflections and eight fumble recoveries as well.

Mathieu received numerous awards during his sophomore season in 2011, including being named as a Heisman Trophy Finalist.

Despite being kicked off the team going into his junior year in Baton Rouge, Mathieu would be drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round and play alongside fellow former LSU defensive back, Patrick Peterson in the NFL.

There is a lot of talent beyond these names as well that you may have thought of. Names like Rodrigo Blankenship, Larry Rountree IIII, Cameron Dantzler and others deserve at least an honorable mention.

Next. Ranking the most exciting SEC players of all-time. Ranking the most exciting SEC players of all-time. dark