With signing day looming, it's time for the Doc's annual, week-long defense of the recruiting-industrial complex. Part One: Recruiting rankings and All-Americans.
The holy hour of the vast, seedy recruiting underworld, national signing day, is a little over a week away, which is also the signal for legions of recruiting skeptics to sound their annual, anecdotal chants of "Ryan Perrilloux!" and "Notre Dame!" and snake oil!" And occasionally, they make a persuasive case. On All-Americans, for example: If you were to go back and review the projections for American Football Coaches' Association, the Associated Press, the Football Writers of America, the Sporting News and the Walter Camp Foundation – in 2010, only five came into college as can't-miss, five-star blue chips, the cream of the crop.
By contrast, more than five times as many of those All-Americans – 28, to be exact, more than half of the total –were rated three stars or lower by the recruiting services. According to the gurus, the top three or four recruiting powers in the country should field more talented rosters than that by themselves.
If you didn't know any better, you might be convinced all those recruiting stars everyone gets worked up about every winter didn't correspond to future success at all, a theme you might become familiar with over the next week or so as the annual plague of mockery begins.
Fortunately, because we've been bestowed by the American education system with the magic of basic arithmetic, we do know better. If you look more closely at the relationship between initial expectations and eventual production, there's a very good reason for the heavy distribution of lower-ranked players among the nation's best, beginning with the distribution of stars at the beginning of the process, according to Rivals' extensive database of signees to I-A schools over the last five years:
I would hope that two and three-star players could acquit themselves well enough to produce a large number of big names, since they account for more than 85 percent of signees nationally. Again, using the rosters of the five NCAA-recognized All-America teams, the situation changes dramatically when you look at the All-America numbers in light of those ratios:
Maybe a raw ratio of 1 in 13 – or even 1 in 10, or whatever the "adjusted" number is after accounting for the early departures, injuries and academics that these numbers make no attempt to reflect – isn't all that impressive by itself. After all, that means far more elite recruits are falling short of their star-studded birthright than are reaching it. Across the board, failure and mediocrity are the norm, but if you think of a four or five-star player as a guy who is supposed to become an All-American – and a two or three-star guy as someone who is definitely not supposed to become an All-American – then yes, the rankings frequently miss.
On the other hand, if you consider the initial grade as a kind of investment – a projection of the how likely a player is of becoming an elite contributor compared to rest of the field – well, you'd put your money with the "experts" over the chances of finding the proverbial diamond in the rough every time:
Of course, a large number of players in that sample size haven't finished their careers, but you can divide up the numbers over any time period you'd like – one year, five years, 10 years: The ratio always looks identical on a per-capita basis, and it is not a crapshoot. Four and five-star players are roughly seven times as likely as two and three-star players to land on an All-America team, and the numbers in the NFL Draft tend to be even even more lopsided toward the hyped recruits. All the more reason to want as many of them as you can get your hands on.
That's the story on an individual level. We'll continue later in the week with a look at the rankings as they relate to team-wide success.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.