Friday, May 20, 2005

Pulling Rank | by Michael

Every year thousands of college football fans generally salivate over the rankings of the recruits who signed letters of intent to play for their favorite team. Despite the fact that these kids may play different positions in different offensive and defensive schemes against different levels of competition, the recruiting "experts" generally come up with these rankings based upon their own personal opinion and the scholarship offers a player receives.

But how accurately do these rankings predict future success?

It's certainly not an easy question to answer, but I've decided to give it a shot using the rankings from February 2002. Three years have passed, and now most of those recruits are entering their fourth year of college football. Now is as good a time as any to look back and see who has panned out, who hasn't, and whatever happened to...?

This unofficial study relied upon the Rivals Top 100 list and the Insiders Top 101 list for the 2001-2002 season. The scoring system was simple. Points were assigned according to a player's numerical ranking, and obviously, if a player did not make a top 100 list, he received zero points. Points from the two lists were then totaled and the players were ranked, highest to lowest. In the case of a tie, the player who received the highest individual ranking in either list won the tie-breaker and received a higher ranking.

And on that note, here is the Rivals/Insiders consensus top 50 from February, 2002...

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#1 - Lorenzo Booker, RB (Florida State)
Overrated. Booker has played well (887 yards, 5.4 ypc) for the Seminoles but the argument could easily be made that he's not even the best RB at Florida State - see Leon Washington (#48). Booker has not nearly been as dominant as one would expect from the #1 player in a class, and to make matters worse, he's also an awful roommate

#2 - Haloti Ngata, DT (Oregon)
Ngata is without question one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the country. A starter by the end of his freshman year, Ngata missed his sophomore year with an ACL injury but he bounced back last year to finish with 46 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks. To mention that he blocked 2 kicks, too. The big man is also a Heisman candidate, at least according to this guy.

#3 - Vince Young, QB (Texas)
The MVP of last year's Rose Bowl
enters 2005 as a certain Heisman Trophy contender. His off-season development as a passer (10 INTs vs 11 TDs in '04) may determine if he takes home that piece of hardware, and whether or not the Longhorns ultimately play in the BCS Championship game.

#4 - Ben Olson, QB (Brigham Young)
Overrated. After returning from his 2-year LDS mission, Olson transferred to UCLA this past winter. Many expected him to win the starting job this spring while last year's starter, Drew Olson (no relation), sat out with an ACL injury. Unfortunately for one Olson but fortunately for the other Olson, Big Ben's game had trouble shaking off the rust. Karl Dorrell and Bruin fans are holding their collective breath that their savior
will regain his old form this summer.

#5 - Chris Davis, WR (Florida State)
Big things are expected of Davis now that the depth chart has opened up a bit. After an ACL injury forced him to miss his freshman year, Davis has just 37 career receptions in 2 years. Those modest numbers are simply not good enough for a player ranked this high. He may have all the moves and explosiveness desired in a WR, but at this point Davis hasn't made the on-field impact of a top 5 player.

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#6 - Ryan Moore, WR (Miami)
Injured. Moore caught 44 balls in 2003, but only caught 9 passes last year because a sprained foot limited him to 6 games. With Roscoe Parrish gone to the NFL, it's imperative that Moore return to his 2003 form, and indications from spring practice
suggest that it's going to happen.

#7 - Kai Parham, LB (Virginia)
Parham has been a steady player for the Cavaliers but he's been outperformed by teammate Ahmad Brooks (#19). Why Parham was ranked ahead of Brooks in the first place is a little unclear, but thus far, he has certainly played more like a sidekick than a top 10 national player. I've also seen Parham listed in some places as a DE coming out of high school, which causes me to wonder if one reason he may have been ranked so high was because he may have had an impressive highlight reel where he got to the QB a lot in high school...but that's simply an inference on my part. I could be completely off the mark.

# 8 - Ciatrick Fason, RB (Florida)
The graduation of Ran Carthon left a gaping hole in the Gators' backfield, and Fason took advantage of the opportunity. He led the SEC in rushing (1,267 yards, 5.7 avg), caught 35 passes and scored 12 TDs. Next year he'll be playing for the Minnesota Vikings, who drafted him in the 4th round; Fason left UF early in order to support his wife and two children

#9 - Dishon Platt, WR (Florida State)
MIA. Has anyone seen Platt's face on any milk cartons recently? As best as I can tell, Platt signed with Florida State, but failed to qualify academically. He then decided to attend South Florida, and he was planning on going to a JUCO for a year or two before he'd be able to start at USF. But the last article I saw on him was from August 2002

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#10 - Trent Edwards, QB (Stanford)
Overrated. However, it's Buddy Teevens' fault. What's more likely, that Edwards has a ton of talent squandered in Teevens' absolutely pathetic offense, or that Edwards was overrated coming out of high school? Or, as Teevens would explain it, "With intelligent kids, transition can be more difficult." Personally, I expect Edwards to blossom this fall under Walt Harris and reemerge as one of the nation's top QBs...but for now, he falls in the overrated category.

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#11 - Devin Hester, CB/KR/PR (Miami)
Hester may be the best special teams player in the country; he's not just a return man capable of taking back every kick to the house because last year he blocked two FGs, both of which he returned for scores. The Miami staff has finally settled on plaing him at CB, although he reportedly struggled
this past spring because he relied too much on his athleticism rather than technique. The rest of the ACC is anxiously hoping he doesn't pick it up, because if he does, he could easily become one of the best corners in the country.

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#12 - Justin Blalock, OL (Texas)
After redshirting in 2002, Blalock has been a two-year starter at RT and finished last year as an All-Big 12 selection. He enters 2005 on many pre-season All America watch lists.

#13 - Michael Johnson, RB (Virginia)
Overrated. Despite his lofty ranking, Johnson has been stuck behind Alvin Pearman and Wali Lundy, who was actually a much lower ranked RB in this same class. Johnson did rush for 383 yards (6.1 ypc) last year and was a decent kick returner, so he has some talent, but Lundy has already reclaimed the starting position (which he lost to Pearman halfway through 2004).

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#14 - Gerald Riggs, Jr., RB (Tennessee)
After a slow start to his Vol career punctuated by maturity issues
, Riggs finally lived up to the hype and had a fantastic 2004. He rushed for 1107 yards (5.7 ypc) while still splitting time with Cedric Houston (also a 1000+ yard runner). Now that Houston has graduated, Riggs' numbers should reach higher stratospheres in 2005.

#15 - Brandon Jeffries, OL (Tennessee)
Overrated. Although he originally signed with the Vols, Jeffries is now at NC State. Buried on the depth chart at Tennessee, he has said the coaches suggested he wasn't big enough or strong enough to make an impact. After poor grades caused him to spend 2004 at a junior college, he picked the Wolfpack and enters the 2005 season with a chance to show the Vols staff they were wrong.

#16 - Reggie McNeal, QB (Texas A&M)
College Station has been in the shadow of Austin for some time now, and the same holds true for this Aggie QB; he plays in the shadow of Vince Young (#3). His numbers improved tremendously from 2003 to 2004, as he cut his interceptions nearly in half, threw more TDs, rushed for more yardage and improved his completion percentage from 51% to 58%. A&M's record also improved from 4-8 to 7-5 during this time as well; if the same improvement occurs this off-season, look for a monster year from McNeal and Dennis Franchione's Aggies. Of course, with all the attention on Young, no one may know about it.

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#17 - Ricardo Hurley, LB (South Carolina)
Considered by some one of the best OLBs coming out of high school, Hurley has had a somewhat inconsistent career. He played a little as a freshman and showed terrific athleticism and instincts, but injuries nagged him his sophomore year. Last year he returned to make 53 tackles but only 4.0 tackles for loss...not exactly the kinds of numbers you'd expect from someone ranked this high.

#18 - Mike D'Andrea, LB (Ohio State)
Injured. Injuries limited D'Andrea to only 4 games last year, and as a back-up player in 2003 he managed 24 tackles. D'Andrea is still not 100%, however, and in his place Buckeye LBs A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel have stolen the show. Last year Ohio State experimented with a 3-4 alignment to take advantage of their talent at LB, but given the guys in front of D'Andrea, and younger talents like Marcus Freeman nipping at his heels, his role is a bit uncertain.

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#19 - Ahmad Brooks, LB (Virginia)
Brooks, a two-year starter, has had two consecutive seasons of 90+ tackles and was a finalist last year for the Butkus Award, awarded to the country's best linebacker. Brooks sat out spring football
to rest his knee, which bothered him at times last year, and rightfully so, there are huge expectations upon him heading into 2005. Brooks might be the first LB taken in next year's NFL draft.

#20 - Pat Watkins, FS (Florida State)
After giving it consideration, Watkins decided to return to Florida State rather than enter the NFL draft this past April. A first year starter in 2004, the 6'4 Watkins had considerable playing time his freshman and sophomore years, and he will now focus on bulking up and having a big senior year in preparation for next year's draft.

#21 - Marcus Vick, QB (Virginia Tech)
Vick played like a freshman in '03 (2 TDs vs 5 INTs in limited action), and too many run-ins with the law caused him to miss all of 2004. After pondering a transfer, he returned to Blacksburg, where he had a strong spring and was named the starting QB
. Still, most of his contributions thus far have been detrimental. Hokie fans have their fingers crossed.

# 22 - Derek Morris, OL (Ohio State)
Morris originally signed with Ohio State but academic issues caused the Buckeyes to release him from his letter of intent. He then enrolled at NC State in January '03, and he has been a starter since halfway through the '03 season. The mammoth RT was plagued with an ankle injury last year, but still played well. He'll enter the 2005 on most preseason All-ACC lists and on some All-American watch lists.

#23 - Marcedes Lewis, TE (UCLA)
Quite arguably the best TE in the country, Lewis possesses great size and speed. If Drew Olson were a more consistent QB, Lewis would be more of a household name. The second-leading receiver for the Bruins in both '03 and '04, Lewis is capable of having a monster season...but then again, he could easily end up with another 30-catch, average season. Jury is still out on Lewis.

#24 - AJ Nicholson, LB (Florida State)
When Kendyll Pope graduated, Nicholson took over his starting spot last year and shined. He made 88 tackles and 4 sacks, and now Nicholson enters the 2005 season as one of the leaders of the Seminole defense. Nicholson will be a four-year player, and he has lived up to the hype; it should be a shock if he's not at least a Butkus Award semi-finalist this year.

#25 - Zach Latimer, DE (Oklahoma)
Overrated. A dominant pass rusher coming out of high school, Latimer's lack of size has given him fits as a run-stopper. He has moved to MLB, where his size may better suit him, and he excelled this spring

#26 - Maurice Clarett, RB (Ohio State)
Clarett's career has been well-documented...he's now the problem of the Denver Broncos. When he did play, though, he was definitely one of the best running backs in college football.

#27 - Rodrique Wright, DT (Texas)
Fans in Austin breathed a sigh of relief when Wright announced he would return for his senior year. Despite some injuries that nagged him last year, Wright has managed to accumulate 181 tackles, 27 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in his 37-game career at UT, and he has started 32 of those games. You just don't see those kinds of numbers all too often from defensive tackles.

#28 - Darren Williams, CB (Mississippi St)
MIA. A very productive player for the Bulldogs, Williams was kicked off the team
this spring after violating "team rules." The latest rumor has Williams playing for Division 1AA Delaware this fall.

#29 - Aaron Harris, LB (Texas)
There was more to last year's Longhorn LB corps than just Derrick Johnson. MLB Aaron Harris was overshadowed by Johnson, but he still collected 118 tackles last year. Known as a big hitter, Harris will enter 2005 with lots of experience under his belt. He played as a true freshman, then began to earn some starts his sophomore year before finally emerging last year.

# 30 - Darnell Bing, SS (Southern Cal)
Entering his third year as a starter for the national champion Trojans, it shouldn't surprise anyone if Bing is a finalist for the Thorpe Award. Big and fast, he loves contact: exactly what a coach wants in his strong safety.

#31 - Deljuan Robinson, DE (Mississippi St)
Overrated. Ever since missing his first year because of open heart surgery, Robinson's career with the Bulldogs has been an up and down one
, and this spring he recently made the transition to DT. While he has played well, especially considering the personal turmoil he's faced, he hasn't played up to expectations.

#32 - Rhema McKnight, WR (Notre Dame)
McKnight has quietly moved up the Irish career receiving charts, and entering the 2005 season, he's only 59 receptions short of tying the career mark (157, Tom Gatewood). McKnight should break that record now that former offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick is coaching in the Canadian Football League.

#33 - Derek Landri, DT (Notre Dame)
Injuries had slowed Landri's first two years but in 2004 he posted the most tackles (40) by an Irish interior lineman since Lance Legree had 50 in 2000. Landri's numbers should be even better in 2005 since defensive coordinator Rick Minter wants his linemen to get into the backfield rather than tie up the OL, and Landri's quickness is definitely suited for this scheme.

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#34 - Jerious Norwood, RB (Mississippi St)
Norwood has played well on a bad Bulldog team. Last year he rushed for 1050 yards (5.4 ypc), and he had good seasons in '02 and '03 (another 1000+ yards, 5+ ypc). Note to Sylvester Croom: Mississippi State is 0-5 in games where Norwood has less than 20 carries.

#35 - Gabe Watson, DT (Michigan)
Tackles like Watson are what make 3-4 defenses possible. However, as good as Watson played at times last year, he also struggled in the second halves of games because he was out of shape, and coach Lloyd Carr called him out
on it this spring. While constantly facing double teams, Watson was still able to make 37 tackles and 2 sacks, and it should be interesting to see how new Michigan DL coach Steve Stripling impacts Watson's play in 2005.

#36 - Julian Jenkins, DE (Stanford)
Jenkins had a very nice 2004 season with 47 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Overall, he has played in 31 of the 33 games that Stanford has played since he stepped on campus. He's been a productive player but not a dominant one. Personally, I have always thought that Jenkins' quickness should be utilized as a DE in a 4-3 scheme, rather than a 3-4 scheme, but then again, what do I know?

#37 - Kedric Golston, DT (Georgia)
Overrated. After suffering a broken leg during his senior of high school, Golston bounced back to contribute as a freshman. However, injuries caused him to miss half of his sophomore season, and since then, he hasn't been the same player. In fact, he had 34 tackles in 14 games and 3 starts in 2002; in 2003-2004, he had just 40 tackles in 20 games and 18 starts. His 2005 has started off poorly, too, as he recently got into a little trouble
with the law that will cause him to miss the season opener against Boise State.

#38 - Nathan Rhodes, OL (Washington)
MIA. Unfortunately, Rhodes suffered a back injury that caused him to quit football in 2003.

#39 - Edorian McCullough, RB/CB (Texas)
After failing to qualify academically, McCullough enrolled at a junior college, and this past winter he transferred to Oregon State, where he's expected to contribute immediately at CB. However, if you haven't contributed yet, you're a bust in my opinion.

#40 - Winston Justice, OL (Southern Cal)
This could definitely be one of the most underrated recruits in the top 50. From the moment he stepped onto the Trojan campus, he has dominated. Unfortunately, after starting his first two years, Justice missed all of last year due to a "student conduct violation" that stemmed from this case. Of course, it probably didn't matter much that in 2003, Justice had gotten in trouble for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. That said, look forJustice to have a phenomenal 2005 season before moving on to the NFL.

#41 - Marquis Johnson, WR (Texas)
Overrated. Johnson originally signed with Texas but failed to qualify, so he ended up at a JUCO. Prior to 2004, he signed with Texas Tech and last year he spent most of the year learning the offense. Anyone else wondering why you'd hear the following written about a supposed top 50 recruit?
"Johnson, who has a limited football background, got into games only briefly last season as coaches worked to refine his techniques."

#42 - DeShawn Wynn, RB (Florida)
Overrated. Wynn got stuck behind Ciatrick Fason (#8) and only ran for 217 yards last year (81 of them came against Middle Tennessee St). You'd think that he'd try to take advantage of Urban Meyer's new system and the departure of Fason, but apparently he had other things on his mind. According to this account of the spring game
, Wynn was busy running laps rather than playing.

#43 - James Banks, QB (Tennessee)
Banks started off at QB but eventually got moved to WR, where he looked like he'd be a dynamic performer. Unfortunately, off-the-field problems caught up with him. He's currently out of college football after being kicked off the Tennessee football team for failing a drug test
earlier this year.

#44 - Kamerion Wimbley, DE (Florida State)
Overrated. After a dominating spring
, Wimbley is being mentioned in the same breath as former Seminole stud pass-rushers Peter Boulaware and Reinard Wilson. With only 4.5 career sacks, though, he'll need to earn that praise on the field this fall.

#45 - Gavin Dickey, QB (Florida)
Or, not as good as Chris Leak. Take your pick. With the QBs that Meyer has brought in, and is bringing in, and considering Dickey's baseball skills, it's hard for me to believe that in a year or two he'll still be playing football. It's just incredibly hard to balance both sports when you're not a pitcher, and Dickey has been
losing valuable time according to coach Urban Meyer. "This is not a 20-hour a week offense," Meyer said. "This is a 35-hour a week offense and he's not giving us 35 hours, so he's behind."

#46 - Marvin Byrdsong, LB (Mississippi St)
MIA. Like teammate Darren Williams, Byrdsong has left the Mississippi State team because of problems with coach Sylvester Croom. Last year Byrdsong had 54 tackles and zero sacks. He has since transferred
to Northwestern State.

#47 - AJ Davis, CB (NC State)
Davis has logged time the last two years as a key nickel/dime reserve for the Wolfpack but he hasn't lived up to his recruiting hype, most of which was created by his blazing speed. He's expected to move into a starting role this fall opposite Marcus Hudson, a much less heralded recruit from 2001 who has developed into a star in the Wolfpack secondary.

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#48 - Leon Washington, RB (Florida State)
Last year's Gator Bowl MVP
averaged 6.9 ypc while racking up 951 yards in a backfield he shared with Booker. Washington's stock would be higher if Insiders actually placed him in their Top 100; he was #9 in Rivals' list.

#49 - Jonathan Mapu, DT (Tennessee)
MIA. Great early returns on Mapu's play in '02 and '03 but he decided to take his LDS mission
in January '04. Because of that, he won't be back until 2006...will it be with the Vols? Probably, but then again, you never know.

#50 - Aaron Miller, CB (Oklahoma)
See Edorian McCullough (#39). After failing to qualify academically, Miller enrolled at a junior college, and this past winter he transferred to Oregon State, where he's expected to contribute immediately at CB. However, if you haven't contributed yet, you're a bust in my opinion.

After putting this list together, I noticed some trends. These are great for discussion and future studies, and because of the small sample, I’m hesitant to draw any concrete conclusions. But here are some thoughts to throw out there...

• In the top 10, 6 players haven’t lived up to the hype and a 7th is nowhere to be found. At the bottom end of the list, 12 out of 14 players haven’t lived up to the hype. Is there possibly a bell curve when it comes to projecting collegiate football success? Are the best players necessarily the best, and could there be not that much difference between the 40th-ranked player and the 70th-ranked player?

• All of the DEs on the list have yet to make a significant impact -- or else they’ve been moved to another position. Is that a coincidence? Where do the great college pass rushers come from?

• There were 4 OL in the top 50, but entering 2005, only 2 of them had logged significant minutes. There’s a line of thinking that suggests OL is the hardest position to evaluate. Had Rhodes not been injured, he could have been the swing vote.

Are great CBs found or made? Look at the list again: Hester, Williams, McCullough, Davis and Miller. Williams was a consistent player before he ran into trouble and Hester, despite having made his mark as a kick returner, hasn’t established himself as a corner despite being reportedly the best one coming out of high school.

• Finally, if there’s something the recruitniks do well, is it evaluating DTs? Look at the list again. Golston is listed as overrated, yet he played very well earlier in his career, as did Mapu before he went on his LDS mission. Every other DT has played at least up to their expectations.

Again, this is only a one-year sample, so it's difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions. But if there's one thing this type of retrospective suggests, it's that evaluating high school players is more speculative than scientific. And that's a good thing to keep in mind as the recruiting hype starts to heat up.