Recruiting is the most inexact science in sports.
An easy way to get lost in the recruiting shuffle is to glare at star ratings and statistics. Star ratings are the least accurate of the two deciphering points, but stats can be equally deceiving.
There are five stats that really get overhyped often, and this is a breakdown of what they are and how they can mislead a casual recruiting follower.
How recruits will develop over four years is tough to judge, but there are signs that coaches look for to choose who they believe will develop into star talent once they arrive at the next level. Here is why you don’t need to get lost in the stats shuffle.
When looking at running backs, rushing yards are the first thing that we look to as a sign of the talent level carried by the back.
As fun as it is to sign a running back that destroyed the high school or JUCO circuit for 2,000 yards, that doesn’t mean they are the best back to hit the gridiron. The level of competition they play against is something to always look at. That is the biggest factor in compiling stats.
If the competition is weak, who cares how many yards you produce?
A solid example of that is Enrique Davis, a former Ole Miss running back. Davis was a Parade All-American out of high school, rushing for over 1,200 yards his junior and senior seasons. He took the JUCO route out of high school, and left JUCO as the No. 1 player in the country according to Rivals.com and Scout.com.
He finished his Ole Miss career with only 864 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He never rushed for over 400 yards in four years with the Rebels.
Davis is just one example where star status and stats can be misleading to even the best of eyes in the college game.
When looking at defensive linemen the first stat that is looked to is the sack total. How many times can this guy make it into the backfield?
That can be an issue for those that forget to watch the film of their favorite recruit. If a player is a solid FBS prospect at defensive end, he may stand at 6’5”, 250-pounds. If he is playing in the lowest division of football in his state, he is facing offensive linemen half his size.
There is no doubt that star recruit can blast past a 6’2”, 220-pound offensive tackle. This is why camps and film are so important.
Watch what a recruit does on film. Does the lineman use his hands when attempting to break free of a block? Is he a bull rush only type guy, or is there skill moves involved in his approach to the backfield?
There are a lot of things to focus on when looking at defensive linemen and their sack totals. Watch how they react in camps against other elite talents.
Sack totals are one of the most deceiving of all defensive stats.
Tackle totals are almost worse than sack totals. Often coaches will record tackles for players that are last to the ball or that are a part of a gang tackle situation. The thought is that their star linebacker will pick up more offers based on his stat production.
While it is impressive if a recruit has 170 solo tackles, I will question that number and instantly turn on the film. How is the linebacker in pursuit? Is this just a pile-jumper, or is he the first to make contact?
There are a number of ways to take tackle totals from high school players. Your first dose has to be with a huge grain of salt.
Film will also show whether guys are playing the right gaps, and covering the way they are supposed to. Tackles are nice, but it is less substance than you may expect.
Jake Holland of Auburn is a great prospect to look at when analyzing lofty stats. As a high school linebacker, he totaled 351 tackles in his career. His senior season he had 153 total tackles. His junior year he had 129 total tackles.
He looked like a game-changer joining the Tigers. Instead, the biggest issue with Auburn’s defense for the past three seasons has been linebacker. His stats were strong, but his play has not translated to the field in college.
There is something to say for speed in the college game. It is a huge need and has become one of the most important parts of the college game in the past decade.
Offenses are now reliant on having as many speedy playmakers as possible.
One of the big focuses for recruit watchers is their 40-yard dash times. The problem with those times is that they are rarely accurate early in the recruiting process.
When players go to SPARQ, Rivals and Gridiron type camps they are tested accurately. Still, the speed is deceiving with no pads on and in running shoes.
Speed is neat to have when no one is running at you, but how these players translate that speed into production is tough to judge. Some 4.8 guys are better than a 4.4 guy if they can play at full speed.
Don’t fall for the 40-yard dash trap.
If you played high school sports and had to max your weight for a lift-a-thon of some sort, you know how to fluff the numbers. Let’s be honest, you didn’t bench that 350 lbs. as a 16 year old junior—neither do half the recruits leaving high school.
Weight lifting maxes are an extremely overrated stat, and often they are fluffed a bit to make these kids look better than they are.
Just because a student-athlete says he can power clean 275 lbs. doesn’t mean he can. Even if he could, it doesn’t mean it translates on the football field.
Of all stats, ignore this one.