As Paul "Bear" Bryant was fond of saying as regards recruiting, it's important because "you can't make chicken salad out of chicken crap." He was completely right. Sure you can win by coaching 'em up, but it sure helps to have something to work with.
Being a consensus 5 star recruit is no guarantee of All-American status. But it doesn't hurt, as a lot of analysis has shown. In this day and time, with recruiting analysts (including SB Nation's own) roaming the country looking for the next big thing, it's a lot harder for a blue chipper to hide.
The days of the under the radar breakout star aren't over. There are guys every year who turn out to be far better college players than anyone ever expected. But guys like Jordan Jenkins and Todd Gurley, 4 and 5 stars who are expected to make a quick impact and ultimately do, are far more common.
Which got me thinking, who was the most surprising recruit of the Mark Richt era? By "surprising", I mean that the player's college performance outpaced his high school hype. For example, Matt Stafford is a poor candidate because his high school hype was off-the-charts. And while you should feel free to disagree, I'm essentially ruling out any player rated 4 stars or higher by any major recruiting service. While there are a lot of guys in that range who aren't household names, it's not really surprising when they succeed.
I am also disqualifying some former Bulldogs for the simple reason that, well, they weren't as underrated as many believe. I've often heard Bulldog fans talk about David Greene as if he were a walk-on whose only other offer was from Vermont A&T. This is revisionist history. Greene was pretty clearly the top high school quarterback in the state for 2000, was rated as high as 4 stars by some services, and had offers from not only Georgia but also Georgia Tech and Auburn. His commitment was news back when mainstream media didn't really cover recruiting.
David Pollack is an obvious candidate. I mean the guy was a 3 star fullback/defensive end who left as the most decorated defender in Bulldog history. But bear in mind that Pollack was a member of the AJC's Super Southern 100 (at the time a major listing of the top 100 college prospects in the South), was first team all-state in class AAAAA, and was recruited by the likes of Clemson, Florida, and Ohio State. Pollack was a pleasant surprise, but Mark Richt wasn't the only one who knew he was a player.
I think strong consideration has to go to Thomas Davis. For those who have forgotten, Davis didn't actually have an offer from Georgia until after his senior season of high school football, when Brian Van Gorder offered him after seeing the Randolph-Clay standout's athleticism on the basketball court. Prior to that the future All-American's only offer was from Grambling.
But for my money the biggest surprise had to be Tim Jennings. I remember following the Bulldog recruiting class of 2002 as the letters of intent came in. I thought the day was over when the word came in that Georgia had signed a 2 star cornerback out of South Carolina whose only other commitable offers were from South Carolina State, Eastern Kentucky, and North Carolina A&T.
Jennings played in 12 games as a true freshman, starting 3 of them on the way to being named Freshman All-SEC by league coaches. He became a perennial starter in the Classic City for the remainder of his career. He finished his time in Athens with 10 interceptions, and as a first team All-SEC selection. In his seventh season as a pro Jennings led the NFL in interceptions in 2013, and was recently listed by NFL Network as one of the top 100 players in the NFL. Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be too short to play cornerback in the SEC, much less the pros. Not bad for a guy who didn't have an offer until the night before National Signing Day.
That's my pick for the biggest surprise recruit of the Richt era. Who's yours? Until later . . .