Recruiting: Star ratings a bit more accurate

semerson@macon.comFebruary 2, 2013 

ATHENS -- Paul Oliver. Kregg Lumpkin. Brandon Miller. Kade Weston. Those are not the four best players in Georgia football’s recent history. None of them was ever even a first-team all-SEC selection.

But between 2003-05, those four were the highest-rated recruits who signed with Georgia. They were the only prospects rated as a composite “five star” by the recruiting services.

Five years ago, the websites did a bit better. A.J. Green and Richard Samuel were Georgia’s two five-star recruits, the highlights of the 2008 signing class. Green proved to be a star and worthy of the hype. Samuel finished his final season at Georgia as a backup.

Through the years, there are plenty of examples of hyped recruits who were busts and three-star recruits who end up being stars (Bacarri Rambo, an All-American in 2011, the most notable.)

But a scan of the recruiting rankings during the past decade reveals this conclusion: They are becoming more accurate.

So when Georgia signs a highly rated recruit Wednesday, he’s more likely to end up like Green than any of the first four players in the opening paragraph.

“If we haven’t improved, then we probably should be fired,” said Chad Simmons of Scout.com, who is in his ninth year as a recruiting analyst.

A decade ago, the recruiting business was still in relative infancy: Rivals and Scout were still getting started and gaining respect. There were fewer opportunities to evaluate prospects. Technology was limited.

“When I was doing this 10 years ago, you had to send a letter to a coach, and put a self-addressed envelope in there, send a request for a tape, and then when you got it put it in the VCR,” Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said. “Everything was so slow.”

These days it’s big business: There is less dependence on film and more reliance on in-person analysis by experts who know football. The analysis of prospects starts earlier. The analysts and coaches exchange information more frequently, a result of the better credibility given to Rivals, Scout and 247sports, a recent start-up.

The recruiting websites have also been around long enough that they’re simply more experienced and thus better at what they do.

“Practice makes perfect,” said JC Schurburtt, national analyst for 247sports. “In the early part of the 2000s and the mid-to-late 2000s, this industry was new. It was all new. … (Now) there is four times the amount of scouting eyeballs that go into a scouting ranking, versus one organization.”

Hits ... and misses

Back in 2003, the top recruit in the nation -- according to 247sports’ composite of the rankings at the time -- was linebacker Ernie Sims. He panned out, going on to a good career at Florida State, and was the ninth overall pick in the NFL draft three years later.

But most of the other players in the top 10 that year are forgettable names: Whitney Lewis, Kyle Wright, Prescott Burgess, Wesley Jefferson, Andre Caldwell, Nate Robinson and Demetris Summers.

In hindsight, the best player in the class was Reggie Bush, who was ranked No. 16.

Now compare that with the first round of the NFL draft from the same year: Most of those players are still in the league, 12 of them eventually made a Pro Bowl, and several will be Hall of Fame candidates (Andre Johnson, Terrell Suggs, Troy Polamalu, Nnamdi Asomugha.)

But a similar comparison five years later shows that the recruiting services were getting better.

Among the top 32-ranked players in the composite rankings in 2008, a much higher percentage went on to great college careers. And the top 10 included recognizable names like Da’Quan Bowers, Terrelle Pryor, Julio Jones, Will Hill, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green and Arthur Brown.

Nine of the first-round picks in that year’s NFL draft have made a Pro Bowl, including No. 3 overall pick Matt Ryan, and another quarterback, Joe Flacco (18th overall pick), is in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

What does this mean? Basically, that being a five-star recruit in 2013 means a bit more than it did in 2008 -- and a whole lot more than in 2003.

“We get a bad rap,” Schurburtt said of recruiting analysts. “If you look at it, look at the first-round draft picks in the NFL, these guys aren’t batting that higher a percentage than we are. Football is a tough game to evaluate, because so much is between the head and the chest. You can never climb into a guy’s head and see what he’s thinking, and you can’t climb in his chest and see how he’s feeling.”

Rating the Bulldogs

From Georgia’s perspective, the hit-and-miss rate with the elite recruits has certainly improved lately.

In 2009, quarterback Aaron Murray was No. 19 in the 247sports composite, and cornerback Branden Smith was one spot behind him. While Smith’s career wasn’t spectacular, he did make more than 20 starts at cornerback. Murray, meanwhile, is in the process of rewriting the school’s passing records.

In 2010, Alec Ogletree was the highest-rated recruit in what was otherwise a low-ranked class for Georgia. Ogletree, ranked No. 19 overall nationally in the composite ranking, emerged as one of the team’s best defensive players and is a likely NFL first-round pick this year.

In 2011, Isaiah Crowell (No. 6 in the composite) and Ray Drew (No. 18) were Georgia’s two highest-ranked recruits. Crowell was the SEC freshman of the year, justifying his high ranking until his arrest and dismissal last summer. Drew, a defensive end, has yet to have an impact but has a couple more years to become the star he was expected to be.

And, last year, Georgia’s highest-rated recruits were tailback Keith Marshall (No. 12), tackle John Theus (No. 16) and linebacker-safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (No. 20.) Yes, Marshall took a backseat to fellow freshman Todd Gurley (No. 78), but Marshall did rush for 759 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman. Theus started every game. Harvey-Clemons rarely played, but will have a chance this year.

None of this means that Georgia’s top-rated recruits on Wednesday will be stars or the three-stars can be written off. The class can’t be judged until later.

But the recruiting services have made the immediate evaluations be at least a better gauge than they used to be.

“And I think 10 years from now we’ll be even better,” Farrell said. “We will have improved our methods even more. I don’t know what it’s going to be. Ten years ago, I would’ve told you we’d still be using VHS tapes today.”

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