Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post A casual recruitnik’s common-sense guide to recruiting ratings

Friday February 9, 2007

With the High Holy Day of college football’s national signing day past us now, the competition to get the best prospects and be named the best class is as much of a sport to some fans as the football games themselves. At the center of this "sport" are the recruiting services. Since the early 1980s, these services have gone from newsletters and 900-numbers to full-fledged media companies with TV and radio shows, exclusive combines, and people as pseudo-celebrities and brands.

Behind the growth of this industry are the recruitniks who live and breathe recruiting news. Recruitniks have a love-hate relationship with the recruiting services. They devour every morsel of information and multimedia, and they rejoice when the prospects heading to their school are rated highly. After all, the recruiting rankings are the scoreboard in this sport. That fact also brings out the hate mail if the news is bad. The passion and irrationality can create a bizarre cast of characters on both sides of the information exchange including the overzealous, walking-NCAA-violation fan and the arrogant kingmaker recruiting guru. Most of us fall short of those extremes – I hope.

I don’t claim to be any kind of recruiting expert, and I certainly don’t follow recruiting as much as many people do. I know generally who Georgia will sign and some basics about those guys, and I am familiar with the higher-profile targets who considered Georgia this year. That’s about it. I’ve found that following recruiting and absorbing all of this information as a casual recruitnik has been a lot easier and less stressful keeping these things in mind:

  • Recruiting rankings and ratings are just opinions. They might be based on hours of film study or trips and interviews all over the state, or they might be shots in the dark. Some of the "gurus" might have never played or been involved with college football; some have. That doesn’t mean that their opinions are without merit; some have worked hard to become informed and even earn the off-the-record confidences of coaches. There are no absolutes in this business, so just relax – discuss, disagree if you like, and remember that the rankings and ratings you see are just someone’s opinion.
  • Recruiting rankings and ratings are not perfect and are often wrong. This might seem like the most mind-numbingly obvious thing you’ve ever read, but forgetting this simple point leads to so much of the bad blood from those who take these things too seriously. The recruiting services sell credibility and authority, so the more insecure among them are hesitant to admit that they might get it wrong. It’s OK to admit that, and to me it actually adds to the credibility of those who aren’t stuck on being right all the time. On the other side, you have fans too caught up in the minutia of specific rankings. "Why is our running back only rated four stars? Why is he the #3 guy in the state when he is clearly better than the #2 guy?"
  • Recruiting rankings, even with their imperfections, can still provide some useful information in the big picture. If you look at the top prospects on a service like Rivals.com, you’ll see that most are committed to or have been offered by some of the best programs in the nation. If the best schools are offering the guys at the top of your list, chances are that you’ve identified some pretty good prospects. If you think in terms of generalities and don’t worry about specific rankings (the #6 vs. the #8 class), they have a good bit of value and show which teams should have better talent. Then it’s up to coaching, player development, scheme, academics, and everything else that turns the potential of top prospects into productive college players.
  • Coaches are also not perfect in their evaluations. The ranks of Division 1 and 1-AA are full of stars that the big programs missed on. In fact, those kinds of programs depend on finding such guys that slip under the radar. Further, the top programs often have a good bit of dead weight from scholarship players who didn’t pan out. If the coaches who are supposed to be the real experts and have resources to meet and evaluate these prospects can’t get it right much of the time, I don’t hold the recruiting services to a higher standard of accuracy. Some coaches get it right more often than others; you can tell who they are because they keep their jobs.

    There’s an interesting post from HeismanPundit recently where he looks at the recruiting pedigree of various Heisman winners. Naturally the paper trail is much better for players from the Internet era, but his list is pretty thorough. What strikes me is that of the Heisman winners he considered to be top prospects, nearly all of them won the Heisman at a traditional power (surely the dynamics of the Heismandments come into play there). On the other hand, almost all of the Heisman winners he lists who weren’t top prospects won their awards at schools on the periphery of college football. Wuerffel seems to be the exception, but even Florida wasn’t much of a traditional power until the Spurrier years. It’s likely that a lot of "good" programs passed on or lightly recruited guys like Sanders and Ware, and they dramatically elevated their programs in such a way that they had the outrageously successful seasons it takes to win a Heisman at a school like BYU. If you want a name who fits that mold for next season, it’s Colt Brennan. He started his career as a walk-on at Colorado before going to Hawaii via a junior college and is poised to have the obscene stats that you need for Heisman consideration from such schools.
  • As a rule, you want higher-rated prospects. One of the things you’ll hear this time of year, and I admit it annoys me to no end, is someone who’ll say, "Recruiting rankings don’t matter – <player name> was just a two-star prospect and he turned out to be an All-American." Good for him. Again, if the coaches can’t even get it right, I’m going to accept that there will be cases where blue-chippers are never heard from and walk-ons become All-Americans. This is usually the mantra of the fan whose school just lost out on a highly-rated kid. There is a reason why teams like Florida and SoCal are loading up on five-star prospects. As a rule, they’re better prospects. More of them, as a percentage, turn into elite college players. While some top prospects don’t pan out, having more on your roster means you have a much better chance of having a few who do. An elite prospect who lives up to that tremendously high billing can be truly special.
  • Player-to-player comparisons get more hazy the closer you get to the national level. How can you say with any certainty that one offensive guard from Virginia is better than some other one from Ohio? In the same county or region, you might be able to get a pretty good comparison between two kids who play against each other. Even in the same state, you’ll have comparable opponents and are usually getting the opinion of someone who has a good feel for the quality of football in different parts of the state. But when you get to the multi-state region or the national level, it’s a tough job. You have editors trying to pull together the opinions of different local guys each with their own biases, and highlight films don’t always tell the whole story. Combines and national all-star games can help, but even they provide relatively few points of comparison. So someone is the #6 quarterback in the nation instead of #3. What does that mean?
  • Highlight videos are nice, but they are highlights. Most of the recruiting services offer deep libraries of highlight videos now, and some of them are truly sick. Fans can make the mistake of getting too caught up on the highlights though. They are supposed to make the prospect look good, and you can piece together a pretty decent reel on most anyone who has seen much playing time. They’ll show the lineman making a pancake block, but they won’t show him giving up the sack. They’ll show the circus catch but not the pass that went right through a receiver’s hands.
  • Who’s offering? If you want a very general sense about the potential of a prospect, look at who is after him. If is down to Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas, he’s probably pretty good. Scholarships are scarce, and programs don’t intend to waste them on prospects they don’t consider to be worth it. You have to be a bit careful with this one though, because the inverse doesn’t always apply: the absence of a lot of big-name offers doesn’t necessarily mean that the prospect is a stiff. Maybe the staff has found a true diamond in the rough. Maybe the prospect fits a specific need that other teams don’t have. Maybe there are academic or character concerns. Maybe he’s such a mortal lock to one school that others don’t even bother. All of those cases happen every year. There are dozens of reasons why programs do and don’t offer certain prospects.
  • Recruiting services are great for gathering data points. This is where they add most of their value in my eyes. Where is a prospect looking? Who has offered? Who leads? Will he qualify? The steady stream of updates about and direct quotes from the prospects and those involved in the recruiting process is very valuable information to those who follow recruiting. Though these decisions can often be fickle or irrational, the services do a great job of identifying the important factors and participants in the decision. Some of the best even form solid relationships with the prospects and are the first to know, often from the prospect himself, when there is something to report. College coaches subscribe to these services just to keep up with this kind of information. I get a bit less interested when the "guru" puts on his evaluator cap and starts telling me about a lineman’s technique with his feet or a defensive back’s hips.

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