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Monday, February 15, 2010

Fun With Numbers: From Promise to Production

I'll admit, even after a week away, I'm still pretty burned out on recruiting coverage after signing day, so I don't want to belabor the point. However... I had a few final thoughts I wanted to share.

I wrote pretty extensively in my last mailbag about the notion that seems to be floated among the more "glass-half-full" contingent that it's better to have 3-star guys with heart than 5-star guys who don't really want to be Dawgs. This seems to be the common wisdom among fans who don't want to be bummed about losing a few commitments near signing day.

If you're still in that camp, go ahead and stop reading now. I won't be mad, I promise. There's a real upside to not wanting to know too much about how the sausage is made, so to speak.

For the rest of you, I decided to dig a bit deeper.

My primary argument about this whole "3-star with heart" idea was two-fold:

1.) It's not a player's job to want to come to UGA. The coaches have to convince them that's what they want. So the idea of, "We don't want a guy who doesn't really want to be here," is really simply saying, "We don't want a guy that our coaches haven't convinced to come here." I have no problem with this philosophy, other than to say that eventually your coaches either need to do a better job of convincing or you need to hold those coaches accountable when too few top players are sold on the program.

(*And it's worth noting that I'm not trying to make a case against Mark Richt and Co. here. In looking over the past few signing classes, they've had a few years where they've done a really nice sales job and a few where it wasn't as hot.)

2.) Recruiting is an inexact science, but it's not completely worthless. People seem to put recruiting rankings into one of two categories: a.) They're super important, or b.) they're all guesses.

Well, it is true that it's a guess... but it's an educated guess. There is rationale and reasoning behind the "stars."

So when we're dealing with educated guesses, the best thing we can do is talk in probabilities, and my point was that a 5-star guy has a much higher probability of success than a 3-star guys does, no matter how much "heart" they have.

Of course, in my previous post, I wrote mostly in general terms. My theory, so it went, was that even for the best coaching staff, it would take about 5-10 3-star recruits to find one that was capable of playing at a 5-star level by the end of his career.

That was my theory. But what about reality?

Well, combing through thousands of commitment lists and stats isn't something I have the time nor inclination to do, but I was interested in looking at a more micro version of these results. So, I went back through each of Georgia's recruiting classes from 2004-2008 (five seasons) and compared the "star" rating of players when they signed with Georgia (courtesy of with an arbitrary "star" rating I provided to gauge the success of their careers thus far.

Here's how I broke it down:

1-star: A guy who came and went without any significant production of any kind. A career bench guy, career-ending injury case or someone booted from the team.

2-star: A player who was serviceable at times but whose primary contributions came in reserve or special teams duty.

3-star: A regular starter for at least a year or two, but never someone who routinely affected the outcome of the game.

4-star: A regular starter for at least two seasons who was among the better players in the conference at his position. A difference-maker, but not a superstar.

5-star: Game-changers who had significant impacts for at least two seasons and, in general, went on to be legitimate NFL prospects.

Now, a few caveats here:

-- For some of the players we're talking about (particularly those from the 2008 class), there is much left to learn about how their careers will pan out. My star rating was based about 50 percent on what they've done so far and about 50 percent on my educated guess as to the roles they'll fill going forward. Still, I'd expect a few to outperform my star ranking.

-- A few guys were a bit tough to categorize, with their overall production hovering right in between two categories. In those cases, I generally tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and bump them up to the higher category. (Truth be told though, the star system is probably a bit too generic. A grade of 1 through 10 might be more satisfying in terms of differentiating players.)

-- A number of Georgia's commitments never made it onto campus. In those cases, I did not include them at all. I did, however, include any player who was officially on a Georgia roster at some point -- even if they never actually played a game.

So, with all of that in mind, here's what we found...

Total Number
of Players
Star Avg
2 or 3
42 1.98


4 52 2.81 1.19
5 5 3.80 1.20

So what have we learned?

First off, recruiting "stars" are always going to overvalue the overall impact those players will have, because the handful that exceed expectations are never going to be enough to counterbalance all those who fall short due to injuries or discipline or simply a lack of ability.

But... The drop off from recruiting star rating to production star rating really isn't much different for any of the groups -- at least in the case of Georgia's recent recruiting classes. So the fact still remains... the recruiting rankings are a pretty good indicator of production, even if that production is less than promised. It might be fair to say that we can essentially expect a group of players to perform almost exactly one star level below what they were rated coming out of high school.

What else?

Well, for one, all those "3-star guys with heart" are nice, but there are very, very few who actually see that heart translate into production.

Of the 42 2- and 3-star players who enrolled at Georgia since 2004 (and note, there were only 2 2-star guys, Bryce Ros and Kelin Johnson), the only ones who turned out to be better than average starters were Clint Boling and Ben Jones. Only 12 others turned out to be starters at all. The rest are guys who were used intermittently or completely flamed out.

In fact, for all the talk about how risky recruiting is, and how we don't really know a whole lot about who will turn out to be good and who will fall off the map, the numbers simply don't support the argument.

Yes, there is an inherent unknown quantity in any recruit, but that level of unknown greatly increases as a player's star ranking decreases...

of Players
3 42 18 43%
4 52 8 15%
5 5 0 0%

(NOTE: By "flamed out" I mean guys who earned a 1-star valuation for their career performance.)

Of the five 5-star guys Georgia has landed, only Richard Samuel has turned out to be below average, and he obviously has some time to turn that around still, and he probably isn't to blame for being misused in the first place.

On the other hand, those 3-star guys are essentially a coin flip as to whether or not they'll ever even see the field. And of those eight 4-star busts, four transferred and one had his career cut short by an injury.

Of the three groups we're talking about, 80 percent of the 5-star guys turned into productive starters (and Samuel still has time), 60 percent of the 4-star guys went on to be productive starters, and only about 30 percent of the 3-star guys did.

So the point is this: If you sign a 5-star guy, you are virtually guaranteed to at least get a player who is productive at some point in his career. If you sign a 3-star guy, there is almost a 50-50 chance that he'll never even make a mark on special teams.

Do recruiting ranks mean everything? Absolutely not. But there is value in what they tell us, and the odds aren't in the favor of all those 3-star guys who "just want it more."


jferg said...

The obvious conclusion, as I see it, is we need to sign more 5 stars guys. Regardless of how we feel about the "star" ranking system...more 5 star guys would equate to more "hits" than "misses".

Anonymous said...

I am curious of how the classes recruited between 1999-2003 fared. I know that spans two coaching staffs however I think it would be an indicator of coaching. That is the variable that is hidden IMO.
From 1999-2000 it was a different staff. How many 3, 4 5 stars produced during that time? Of those what was their production during the next staffs tenure? From 2005-2009 we had two notable changes on the D side. CWM and JJ were coaching rather than BVG running the defense. The other variable is that DVH (I'm told) had to take less of a role because of health problems. So that is the variable that I think is the "X" factor.