Recruiting for Beginners Part V: Wrapping Things Up

C.W. O'BrienCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2009

Despite all of the analysis and evaluation that goes into recruit-tracking, sometimes players and classes don't perform as well on the field as they do on paper. 

The fact of the matter is that any number of a million things can happen once a recruit gets on campus.  Players transfer or get hurt.  Some recruits can't perform in the classroom and leave school.  Coaches get fired.  Sometimes the recruiting services just miss. 

If having a top-ranked recruiting class was all that was needed to compete for a national title, then we should have seen Nebraska or Tennessee play for all of the marbles sometime in the last four years.  They had the top two recruiting classes in 2005 according to ESPN.  Instead of crystal footballs, both programs got new coaches. 

The numbers suggest that USC should have a few more national titles, but they don't.  The numbers also suggest that it is impossible for teams like Utah, KU, and Boise State to even be invited to play in a BCS bowl...never mind those teams actually winning their games. 

Class rankings aren't guarantees, only indicators. 

"60 percent of the time, it works every time."—Brian Fontana "Anchorman"

The reality of recruit-tracking and class grading is that they are only accurate about 60 percent of the time.  Yes, I did say 60 percent.  Six-zero percent. 

Sixty percent is a test grade that you don't tell your parents about.  If my Jeep only starts 60 percent of the time, I need to take it to a mechanic as soon as possible.  If I only hit the toilet 60 percent of the time, I'm pretty sure that my wife will divorce me. 

But, for a recruiting service, 60 percent is a pretty good number. 

Before the name calling starts, please let me explain myself. 

Every year there are literally thousands upon thousands of potential prospects that could end up on FBS rosters.  The sheer number of eligible prospects is staggering.  It is an unfortunate reality that not every prospect is going to be seen. Those that are actually seen may not be seen enough to actually be evaluated properly. 

There just aren't enough hours in the day. 

The level of competition can become a major factor when evaluating.  Potential recruits play for high schools, prep schools, and junior colleges.  It isn't like these prospects play each other often, or in most cases, at all.  In high school, the level of competition within a state can vary from classification to classification or league to league.  It can get really tedious trying to compare prospects from different states. 

When you throw in prep school and JuCo prospects, gauging the level of competition among prospects can become a crap shoot. 

Yes, most recruiting services have recruit combines and skill camps to gauge recruits, but that doesn't really make it that much easier.  There is no way that every prospect in the country will attend the same camp.  It is logistically and financially impossible. 

It isn't even like every camp and combine uses the same type of equipment or grading methods.  Some camps use electronic timers, some use hand-held timers.  Some camps have digital scales, others don't.  I can go down to my gym right now and jump on three different scales and get three different readings.  The process is far from uniform.

Once the prospects actually get to school, a lot can happen.  Not all coaching staffs are created equal.  Some recruits develop better than others.  Other recruits get bogged down on the depth chart. 

Some five-star prospects flop.  Some two-star prospects blossom into All-Americans. 

To put this into perspective, consider draft-tracking for the NFL.  The most knowledgeable minds in the NFL handle the research and evaluation of potential NFL prospects. 

Their success and accuracy: about 70 percent. 

The best and the brightest GMs and draft experts are only marginally more successful than their recruit-tracking counterparts, despite the numerous advantages that they have at their disposal. 

The NFL draft experts only have to evaluate a fraction of the prospects that a recruiting service has to.  They have hundreds of hours of tape available for each draft prospect.  The level of competition can vary slightly, but in general, is considered about equal.

The NFL combine provides an opportunity to see and compare almost every available player at the same time.  This allows the measurements, grading methods, etc. to be the same for every player.  The standard and grading method are identical for every player at the combine. 

With all of the advantages, the Draft should be much easier to evaluate and project.  It isn't. 


Once a player gets on a team, a lot can happen.  Not all coaching staffs are created equal.  Some players develop better than others.  Other players get bogged down on a depth chart. 

Some first round picks flop.  Some seventh round picks turn into Pro-Bowlers. 

So, like I said before, 60 percent is pretty good.

It was only a few years ago that recruiting services were only about 50 to 55 percent accurate.  With each passing year, the recruiting services improve.  They see more prospects.  The evaluation methods improve and so do their projections. 

The system will never be perfect.  When it comes to accurately guessing how 17- and 18-year-old kids will perform, nothing will ever be one hundred percent accurate.  That isn't going to stop recruiting services from trying. 

If fans are looking for concrete answers as to how their team will perform in the up-coming years, they should keep looking.  Recruit-tracking will not provide those answers.

However, if they are looking to find good indicators as to how their team will perform, recruit tracking is the way to go.