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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fun With Numbers: The Battle in the Trenches

Last week I started posting some findings from an in-depth study done by our pal Jim F. on the top recruits and how Georgia fared in landing them. Most of the post dealt with where the recruits were coming from and how well Mark Richt and Co. protected the borders around the state.

I got a ton of great feedback from you guys on the results, pointing out some issues with the analysis (which was fair) and asking some deeper questions (which we'll get to).

First, here's some points from Irwin R. Fletcher:

The problem then is that you then diverge into thinking that state boundaries somehow indicate proximity. Just look at FSU. It is almost the same distance to drive to UGA from Perry, GA as it is to drive to FSU. Proximity isn't accurately defined by state lines.

Anyway, I think the percentages are a red herring. You can only take so many kids no matter how big your state is. The fact is that since there are fewer BCS schools in GA, the percentages are going to look worse. Texas has how many BCS schools? 7? Bama produces about half as many top 100 recruits but has 3 BCS schools...of course their percentage will be higher. It also explains why PA and GA have lower percentages...fewer choices for kids to stay in-state. (It also becomes an interesting thought when you think about how big a state like Texas and California are and how far these kids have to travel to stay 'in state.')

When you have states like Alabama producing half as many top 100 kids as Georgia, Bama and Auburn are going to have to 'get theirs' from Ga, too.

Fair points, all. I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that Georgia (the state) is poached routinely because many players in the outer borders don't see Georgia (the school) as their "home team." Of course, as Todd Grantham said last week, that's a battle he's going to start fighting.

“If we took the best players in the state of Georgia and within a five-hour radius of our school, and they come to University of Georgia, we can win the SEC championship and compete for a national title. And I think you can be better than Florida, you can be better than Texas and you can be better than Southern Cal if those players came to the University of Georgia.”

So while I think Mr. Fletcher does a fine job of pointing out a reasonable set of explanations for a perceived failure, I'd also say it's probably good news for Bulldogs fans that Grantham is setting his sights even higher.

There were tons of other questions raised by readers after last week's post, and I'm hoping to still hit on a bunch more in the next few days. (Seriously, we've just hit the tip of the iceberg in Jim's research.) But for today, I wanted to address just one.

This issue is brought to us from My2Cents, who wrote:

I think we will do fine in state and around the southeast. What I would hope from Coach Lak and Coach Grantham is to get some of the big lineman that come from up north and out in the midwest. There are also usually some good linebackers and skill players from those areas. The way we play next year will open the doors and tweak a lot on interest. We need to be better at which of the best of the best we pick.

Good points, but as it turns out, the bigger concern might be on the line on the other side of the ball.

Remember, this analysis covers all of Rivals' top 100 recruits dating back to 2002 -- or, for the purposes of this discussion, the best 800 high school players from the past eight years.

So, how might that list break down by position? Glad you asked...

Off. Line
Def Back 110 13.7%
Receiver 94 11.8%
Running Back 92 11.5%
Linebacker 89 11.1%
Def End
87 10.9%
Def Tackle
67 8.4%
Quarterback 64 8%
Athlete 59 7.3%
Tight End
26 3.3%

* Two things are slightly deceiving here. 1.) "Defensive Back" is a bit of a general term. There's a big difference between recruiting a corner and a safety, so we may be being a bit broad in our terminology. 2.) "Athletes" generally end up as defensive backs or receivers, so by labeling them otherwise, we're sort of short changing a couple of categories.

Taking the aggregate numbers only, however, we notice quickly that offensive linemen make up a pretty hefty share of the best players coming out of high school. So, you might then assume that, since only eight schools in the country have secured more players from this list than Georgia, the Dawgs should have gotten a decent number of O linemen, right?


Of the 800 best high school prospects since 2002, Georgia has signed 35. Here's the Bulldogs' positional breakdown:

Off Line
3 8.6%
Def Back
4 11.4%
Receiver 5 14.2%
Running Back
4 11.4%
Linebacker 3 8.6%
Def End
4 11.4%
Def Tackle
4 11.4%
Quarterback 2 5.7%
Athlete 3 8.6%
Tight End 3 8.6%

In case you're wondering, of Georgia's "athletes," one became a defensive back (CJ Byrd), one became a running back (Richard Samuel) and one became a receiver (A.J. Bryant).

So, let's do a simple comparison here: The first chart essentially shows the talent pool of great prospects. The second shows Georgia's success rate in luring those athletes.

Now, where do we see a difference?

Well, on the plus side, Georgia knows how to grab a good tight end. And while that QB number is a little on the lower side, the stats for that position can be deceiving because you don't really need to grab more than one really good one every two years or so.

The biggest difference though? There's no doubt that it's on the offensive line.

In the past eight seasons, there have been 112 offensive linemen ranked among the best in the nation coming out of high school. In that span, Georgia has managed to sign just three of them.

Of course, your next question might reasonably be, "Who were they?"

The answers: Justin Anderson, A.J. Harmon and Chris Burnette.

Anderson spent a year at prep school and has been up and down in his success since arriving in Athens. Harmon and Burnette have yet to start a game (and Harmon opened on the D line, to boot).

In other words, since 2002, Georgia has essentially played without a single top recruit on the offensive line at any point.

This season, Georgia stands to add one more top-100 guy to their linemen cache with Brent Benedict, but he is one of just two O line signees.

On the other hand, Florida has signed six top-100 linemen since 2002 and Tennessee has inked five.

Now, it's fair to ask whether these O line evaluations were all that great to begin with. After all, the list of Georgia's top signees in the trenches doesn't include Clint Boling, and he's turned out to be pretty good.

But I think it's also fair to say that Georgia hasn't had nearly the success with O linemen it should have in recent years, so closing with at least one more this year might make for a big finish.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of positional success for Georgia, here's two more of concern: Defensive end and Linebacker.

Georgia's four "top prospects" at D end during the past eight years where Brandon Miller (miscast for three years), Marcus Jackson (injuries derailed his career), Toby Jackson (never qualified) and Charles Johnson.

That, however, should be changing this year with three four-star prospects joining the ranks and Todd Grantham's new look on D.

At linebacker, Georgia's three "top" signees were Akeem Hebron, Desmond Williams and Josh Johnson. Not exactly an impact group.

Of course, I think Hebron's name might be one that has a chance to float back to the surface as Grantham evaluates his personnel for the 3-4.


jferg said...

I don't think anyone, inside the UGA camp or out, would ever consider UGA as a top O-Line school. D-Line? Yes. O-line. Not hardly.

But, we've had great success in the "win-loss" category. So, the obvious question is: Do you need NFL caliber O-Line guys to win games? to win championships?

My answer: It couldn't let's get some of the hog-mollies!

Anonymous said...

Jferg, the thing is, NFL quality offensive linemen are not usually big-time recruits. The Saints have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and their starters are:

Jermon Bushrod, from Towson. Carl Nicks, who started out as a DT at New Mexico St and wound up 2 colleges later at Nebraska. Johnathan Goodwin, who started out at Ohio U, then transferred to Michigan. Jahri Evans from Bloomsburg. And, of course, Jon Stinchcomb, the only big-time recruit among the 5.

There is no more difficult position to guess on than offensive line, and New Orleans' lineup is typical of many across the league.

How could anyone in their right mind have predicted that a physical specimen like George Foster would be out of the NFL, while the 6'9", 225 lb Dennis Roland would be starting at RT for a playoff team?

Yes, I wish that we had gotten Jawaun James, but OL recruiting is the most inexact of a very inexact science.

Would we have more games with Chris Scott instead of Chris Davis at guard?

I am concerned about the numbers at OL. I saw Kolton Houston at the All-Star game, and if he is 6'5", I am an astronaut. He was dwarfed by the other kids. I hope that he does not show up looking like Kevin Perez and Josh Brock did.

We have got to add more numbers, because Austin Long has back issues, and Benedict will have to redshirt.

jferg said...

Anon 8:52,

Those are VERY valid points. I think you have successfully negated Hale's point that the drop-off from the Nat'l % of OL recruits to UGA % of top OL is of any concern. Because it appears that % of top OL recruits really doesn't matter a whole heck of a lot.

I wonder, however, if there is any correlation between the past decade's MNC participants and their respective prowess at getting top OL recruits. Maybe it doesn't matter if they get to the NFL...rather how well they perform on the collegiate level?

Anonymous said...

RT Irwin Fletcher: 2 Points of clarification -
1)Yes valid point re closest BCS school having the upper hand. I wanted to test that, but not knowing if Chino, CA is closer to Stanford, or CAL or LA, I decided to stick with the known. Also how would you decide on a school if driving distance roughly the same (i.e. Tampa kids - FSU?, UF?, Miami?) Using just In or Out of state gets cleaner, more reliable data.

2)Yes the state of Alabama has 3 BCS schools, but only 2 have gotten Top 100 in the last 8 yrs, and 1 by a HUGE margin (61%; 17 of 28). Same situation is in CA, of all the schools out there only 4 schools have signed "difference makers"; 1 school gets 69%--USC. TX, only 2 schools have signed Top 100 in state (TAMU & UT), UT alone keeps 74%.

It is possible to have a low attrition rate (out of state signees) AND be the 500 lbs recruiting gorilla within, regardless of the number of BSC schools it's competeting against.

Given UGA's location, girls w dresses & boots, $$$, attention (media & TV app), level of competition, fan base ---everything you need to be successful, what stops UGA from meeting both criteria is not only a fair question, but 1 that demands answers for improvement to take place instead of MEH everybody comes here.

Jim F

justwokeup said...

figured I'd check in and say good morning...

nice job on "fun with numbers: battle in the trenches" i think Jim might have opened up a pandora's dawg box with his research on the top recruits and how UGA fared in getting them. OK... so I'm not quite awake yet. I need to get up and get ready I've got to drive down to savannah this morning