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Post Getting in a Signing Day state of mind

Wednesday February 3, 2010

If it’s Signing Day, it must be time for points and counterpoints about the value of recruiting services and rankings. I can understand the doubts (but, really, how many times do we have to hear Thomas Davis’s name in these discussions?), and I can understand why many journalists don’t care to touch the subject. Following recruiting can be borderline obsessive, harassing, and at times straight up creepy. It used to be the province of subscription newsletters and 900 numbers. Now it’s big business online and into the mainstream. Did you think ten years ago that the ESPN crawler would be flashing a commitment by some 3-star cornerback who picked SMU over Central Florida and Maryland? Me neither.

Doc Saturday does the work – with actual math – and finds out that top-rated prospects are much more likely (per capita) to become All-Americans. Not all of them do – not even half of them or even most of them. That’s the basis of much of the criticism of recruiting rankings, but, as Brian Cook reminds us, those critics often < ahref="http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/the_sporting_blog/entry/view/53433/when_evaluating_recruiting_services,_dont_forget_to_divide">forget to divide.

With 120 FBS schools signing 20 or more prospects each year, that’s at least 2,400 guys entering Division I. The Rivals 100 or whatever list of top prospects you use makes up less than 5% of the incoming class nationwide. It’s reasonable that you’re going to have several individual success stories from among that 95%. 50 of the 93 All-Americans Dr. Saturday examines – the majority – were rated 3 stars or lower. That’s impressive until you do the math and see that those three-star or lower prospects make up the long tail which contains over 85% of incoming players.

The recruiting rankings might not be able to identify which specific prospects will make it big, but if they could they’d be several steps ahead of even the best coaches.

By now this is pretty well-worn ground, but I’ll just add the points I try to keep in mind during recruiting season:

  • Recruiting ratings aren’t perfect. Neither are the evaluations of coaches who are paid much more for their expertise.
  • Ratings can’t take into account intangibles like academics, an enjoyment of firearms, or brooding over that girl back home.
  • Since not every top prospect pans out, you’d rather have more than fewer and increase your odds.
  • Ranking players gets sketchier the greater the geographic area covered. High school football is just too big to see everyone out there.
  • Need matters as much as talent. You can fill your class with top-rated receivers, but not filling needs on the offensive line or in the secondary will lose you games.
  • Highlight videos are just that. You notice how they never show anyone fumbling or missing a tackle?
  • If you ever find yourself saying or agreeing with the statement “give me a bunch of 2-and-3 star guys who bleed [team colors] over some 5 star prima donnas,” don’t operate heavy machinery. Yes, of course we’d all like a fleet of 5-star guys who grew up reenacting in the backyard our team’s most famous highlight, but prospects choose schools for any number of reasons, and not all of them are warm and fuzzy. Give me the best talent every time.
  • When in doubt, look at the offers. Again, the enormity of high school football makes it possible for many guys to fall through the Tim Jennings-sized cracks and become the exceptions to the rule. But on the whole you’d rather be competing against your peers for a prospect and not the teams you schedule for Homecoming. There might be a reason why your Top 10 program is going after a guy also considering Akron and UMass, but it should be a good one.

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