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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fun With Numbers: Wrapping Up Recruiting

Before we get too deep into this post -- which, by the way, will be lengthy for all of you who might have planned to get some work done today -- I wanted to clarify one thing.

I'm a fan of stats. I can remember forcing my dad to take me out to buy the Sunday USA Today every week during baseball season when I was 9 years old so I could get the full MLB stats. I started playing fantasy baseball when I was 13. I like numbers.

And when it comes to stats, and particularly, these types of posts, I tend to hear two types of negative responses:

1.) "These stats are flawed because they don't take into account X, Y and Z."

2.) "Numbers lie. I know what I see."

As to the first critique, you are right. Which is why I write this post with an all-important caveat -- I'm providing you with information and some of my thoughts about what the information means. But for it to be truly meaningful, you're going to have to think about it some, too. Stats, in a vacuum, really aren't worth much. They require you to dig deeper. I'm just trying to give you the shovel.

As to the second critique, you might as well just stop reading blogs like this and go back to enjoying the games on Saturday. And I don't mean that as a criticism. There's a lot to be said for the folks who just want to enjoy football as a diversion and soak in the atmosphere on game day. But while stats don't always give us the whole story, the numbers are far from meaningless. They do help us to understand deeper issues and peel away some of those oft-repeated memes that really do us no good other than to provide things for useless comentators to quote during games.

So that's my soapbox moment for this post. The numbers are well researched, and hopefully they help you gain a better picture of things. If you don't like the results, feel free to ignore them. It's worked for politicians for years. And if you're intrigued, feel free to dig deeper, and keep me posted on what you find.


OK, we've gone through a handful of the results our pal Jim F. dug up in his extensive research of recruiting during the past couple of weeks. But today is the day we empty out the vault, and a day I get to use lots of charts and tables. Fun times.

So, I figured we'd start by addressing a few of the questions that you guys have brought up after the first couple of posts.

First up -- Recruiting rankings tell us how good a player is when he leaves high school. But how good are these guys when they leave college, and how is Georgia doing coachin' 'em up?

Hard to really quantify that, but let's give it a whirl. So, let's take a look at how many of the top-100 level recruits signed by each SEC school went on to earn All-Conference honors during their careers.

(*Remember, these stats include only players ranked by Rivals as "Top 100" players since 2002.)

School Top 100
(1st team)
Florida 47 15
31.9 6 12.8
LSU 43 7 16.3 5 11.6
Georgia 35 5 14.3 3 8.6
Tennessee 32 7 21.9 3 9.4
Alabama 22 4 18.2 3 13.6
S. Carolina
14 2 14.3 0 0
Auburn 11 1 9.1 0 0
Miss. State
9 3 33.3 1 11.1
Arkansas 7 2 28.6 2 28.6
Ole Miss
7 1 14.3 1 14.3
Kentucky 1 1 100.0 1 100.0
Vanderbilt 0 0 N/A 0 N/A
Total 228 48 21.1 25 11.0

OK, so what do we see?

Well, for one, the idea of landing a top recruit isn't really as big a deal as everyone seems to think. Even if you happen to sign a top-100 level prospect, there's only about a 1 in 5 chance that he'll go on to be one of the three best players at his position in his own conference. So maybe we've overvalued this whole recruiting thing a bit.

Chris Low has some interesting numbers from the 2009 All-SEC teams for offense and defense that essentially shows how being a big-time recruit doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be a great college player, and coming in as an under-the-radar signee certainly doesn't prevent you from having a big impact.

There's an interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell that I'm sure a number of you have read called "Outliers." The book is essentially about how people become great at their craft. In addition to the numerous points about luck and hard work and opportunity and effort, there was one thing that sort of stood out to me. Gladwell concluded -- and this was backed up by a number of studies -- that you don't have to be the smartest guy in the room to be great at an intellectual exercise. You don't need to be a genius to be an immense success. Instead, you have to have reached a minimal threshold of ability, beyond which it doesn't matter how much smarter you are. In essence, a guy with an IQ of 130 and a guy with an IQ of 190 have roughly the same probability of achieving some specific level of success.

Perhaps that is true of these recruiting rankings, too. It doesn't matter that much if you're a top-100 guy. What matters is that you're good enough to be recruiting by an SEC team. If you have that much ability, then your odds of success really then become exactly the same as everyone else's -- the difference will be how hard you work, how lucky you are to avoid injuries, how many opportunities you get for playing time, etc.

Of course, when we get beyond that, there is still no doubt an element of a high-level recruits impact that is determined by coaching. And what these numbers tell us is that, for the truly high-end athletes, Georgia hasn't been particularly good at turning them into high-end performers.

Setting aside Kentucky and Vanderbilt, who have managed to ink just one player from this pool combined, Georgia is tied for eighth of 10 teams in turning top-100 prospects into All-SEC performers, and perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs' staff has been successful at less than half the rate their arch-enemies at Florida have done. In terms of aggregate numbers alone, Florida has used its top-100 talent to create three times as many All-SEC performers as Georgia.

Now, football is no doubt the ultimate team game, but when your top competition is churning out two All-SEC players for every one that you do... that's a problem.

Also, one more note: There was only a marginal difference between the "elite" of the top-100 (i.e. 5-star guys) and the other top-100 players (i.e. the upper-echelon 4-star guys) who turned into All-Conference performers. In the SEC, 20 percent of 4-star guys went on to earn All-Conference honors, and 23 percent of 5-star players did.


OK, let's get back to those recruiting numbers for a minute. You might have been surprised to learn how few of the top recruits actually turn into All-SEC performers. I'll admit, I was.

But let's broaden the scope a bit. The thought behind a 5-star guy coming out of high school is generally that he has immense NFL potential, and the college experience is all about ironing out those details to get his game ready for the next level. So let's look at how our pool of elite high school talent in the SEC fared when it came time for the NFL draft.

Year Top 100
Still in
Percent Drafted
2002 30 0 0 0 0 10 33.3
2003 29 0 0 4 13.8 8 27.6
2004 23 0 0 2 8.7 8 34.8
2005 25 13 6 2 8.0 4 16.0
Total 107 13 n/a 8 7.5 30 28.0

*Note: "still in school" includes players who were still playing at the college level during the 2009 season. "Left Early" was used only for the 2005 totals as a means of differentiating between those still in school and those who weren't part of the 2009 NFL draft because of an early departure to the NFL.

Yikes! If you're a top-100 recruit, you have roughly a 1 in 13 chance of going on to be a first-round draft pick in the NFL. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure if that's good or bad.

Of course, the fact that about 1 in 4 does go on to the NFL is probably a fairly favorable number, and probably tells us that, when the recruiting rankings turn out to be good, they turn out to be very good. And when they miss, they miss by a fairly wide margin. (Which, for the sake of fairness, isn't necessarily due to flaws in the recruiting services alone. There are tons of factors that go into determining whether a big-time recruit turns into an NFL player.)

In case you're curious, Georgia has landed 21 top-100 recruits from 2002 through 2006. Of that group, six were still in school at the end of the 2009 season. Of those six, Kade Weston and Reshad Jones figure to be drafted, while Bryan Evans likely won't, Akeem Hebron and Justin Anderson aren't yet draft eligible, and Nedarris Ward transfered.

So, of the 15 who have come and gone, seven went on to be drafted. If you add in Weston, Jones and Evans, Georgia is looking at a 50 percent success rate of turning top-100 players into draftable commodities. That's not too shabby -- but when you compare the NFL draft results with the All-SEC results, you might fairly argue that the players are being drafted more on talent than success at the college level.

And one more note -- Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno became the first two first-rounders from this group last year.


We listed the number of overall top-100 talent at each school earlier, and Georgia hasn't exactly been in the same ballpark with Florida overall (the Gators hold a 47-35 edge total from 2002-2009) but what about the players the two teams had last year?

As it turns out, there really wasn't a huge difference. In fact, here's a run down of the number of top-100 recruits still in school among the SEC's teams.

Team Still in school
Florida 29
LSU 24
Georgia 21
Alabama 19
Tennessee 17
S. Carolina
Auburn 6
Arkansas 4
Ole Miss
Kentucky 1
Miss. State
Vandy 0

As we've pretty clearly shown, a top-100 ranking doesn't necessarily make you a future star. But this list is a good indicator of who has had the most talent to work with, and while Alabama and Florida turned their talent into wins, LSU and Georgia probably could have done a might bit better with the ability of the players on their rosters. And hat tips are probably deserved for Kentucky, which has really had a fine half-decade in the SEC despite having virtually no top-tier recruits.


A few other interesting tidbits from Jim's research to pass along...

-- It probably comes as no surprise that the Southeast is a fertile recruiting base. But fertile might be an understatement. It's really the Octomom of recruiting bases.

Of the 800 total "top 100" recruits from this time period, 321 of them came from the Southeast region. That's 40 percent.

It's no wonder then that the SEC has been the best conference in the country during that stretch.

It's also worth noting that of all the regions, the Southeast also had the highest percentage of top recruits who stayed in state for their college careers.

-- Here's the SEC's draft breakdown from 2002-2006, if you're interested:

First round -- 11
Second round -- 3
Third round -- 5
Fourth round -- 2
Fifth round -- 4
Sixth round -- 2
Seventh round -- 5

Not drafted -- 58
Still in school -- 137

-- You won't be surprised to learn that, during the decade of the 2000s, the SEC produced more players drafted by the NFL than any other conference. It was the ACC, however, that led all conferences in first-round draft picks (thanks Miami and FSU!), producing 69 first rounders compared to 58 by the SEC.

-- Georgia ranks sixth among all schools in producing players who were drafted during the 2000s with 49 players being selected. The Bulldogs also rank sixth in producing first-rounders with eight.

As for that team down the road -- Florida has produced 47 total draft picks (putting the Gators seventh overall) and is tied with Georgia by producing eight first rounders.

The Gators should have an early edge for the new decade after this year's draft though.

-- You might want to know about success in the NFL after being drafted... well, Jim dug up a few numbers on that, too.

33 players were drafted from the SEC among "top 100" recruits. Of those 33, only seven have become regular contributors at the next level, with the jury still out on the rookies. (And by "solid contributors," Jim used Jerious Norwood as the line of demarcation. I was amused by that.)

Overall, Jim's math says only about 8 percent of all top-100 recruits will go on to be decent NFL players.

Oh, and the average pick for a top-100 recruit being drafted is 109th overall -- i.e. the beginning of the fourth round.

-- A quick list of "top 100" talent that ended up transfering during this stretch:

Ben Olson, QB (BYU to UCLA)
Willie Willians, LB (Miami to L'ville)
Ryan Perrilloux, QB (LSU to Jax State)
Mitch Mustain, QB (Arkansas to USC)
NaDerris Ward, TE (Georgia to Oregon)
Ryan Mallett, QB (Michigan to Arkansas)
Cam Newton, QB (Florida to Auburn)
Brandon Saine, RB (Ohio State to Michigan)
Willy Korn, QB (Clemson to TBA)
Nu'Keese Richardson, WR (Tennessee to TBA)

Bottom line on these guys... it doesn't usually work out well.


OK, well I hope you at least managed to kill a hefty portion of your work week with these posts, and maybe got a bit of additional information from it.

And if you're complete sick of these types of posts, don't worry. You're free for the next few days. But I am working on another in-depth analysis of a completely different topic that you'll be treated to sometime in the next two weeks. So you've got that going for you. Which is nice.


rbubp said...

There is undoubtedly a correlation between having All-SEC performers and winning games as a team.

rbubp said...

(The NFL is likely not so interested in the games-won stat.)

NCT said...

Yes, there's correlation between all-conference numbers and winning, but (and this is one of those "other factors" things Hale acknowledged at the outset) the spotlight shines a little more brightly on players on winning teams, drawing the attention of those who determine all-conference status. On the other hand, there may be an element of "spread the love" that goes into selections, pulling in players from less successful teams to give the roster more of an "all"-conference feel. Who knows? Still, I think it's safe to say that ability and performance are the primary criteria, and the aggregate nature of numbers over time reduces the effect of the other factors. Fun stuff.

DBH said...

Brandon Saine has transferred from Ohio State to Michigan? If that's true, you've got a major scoop, because it hasn't been reported anywhere.


PS -- Thanks for compiling the recruiting stats. We fans really appreciate the work you do for us.

Ben Dukes said...

Is there any research showing offensive vs defensive recruits in that timespan? I'm particularly interested, because the fact that our coaches don't do a fantastic job of "improving on the talents" of incoming kids is hardly reassuring.

If we've been landing top 100 recruits primarily on the offensive side of the ball, and our numbers are so much lower than FL's, then one could deduce that our problems will continue, because the offense didn't get an overhaul. However, if we're routinely bringing in our highest-rated players on DEFENSE (as I've always supported), then we have reason to be optimistic.

So, I'd love to know how the highest-rated players on each side of the ball are doing.


Went ahead and looked back in the blogs because I thought I remembered some numbers on this. Of the 35 top 100 recruits we've brought in, 19 have ended up on the offensive side of the ball (17 +2 athletes) with 16 landing on the defense (15+1). If Richard Samuel moves to defense, the numbers will balance even more.

So, what do we infer from this? I don't know. I had hoped the numbers were far more skewed, that 70-80% of our top recruits had gone to the D and been wasted by poor coaching on that side of the ball. At least then I'd have the optimism of the ability of the new coaches. I know some of the Highly-rated recruits who've come in have suffered injury or played out of position for a while, but what I'd like to know, is out of those who've had a true shot at success, how many have had it?

If a kid didn't qualify to enter school or was plagued by injury, he "didn't get a shot" in my mind. Likewise, Nedarris Ward transferred to Oregon. I can't put that on John Lilly's inability to coach him up.

So, anyone want to do the numbers on that one?

JasonC said...

Like Ben said, it would be good to see these numbers for offense and defense.

Keese said...

Ok so which school in the SEC has produced the most NFL guys that garnered a 3-star ranking or less? THAT would be interesting to know. Think of Pollack, Green, T Davis, etc for Georgia

Daniel said...

Thanks for the great blog. If you had a search engine worth a damn on here Id make it a home page. Youve got that going for you sir, which is nice.