Coincidentally, the problem with the hype that accompanies a strong recruiting class is the hype itself.
Prospect ratings—which are predictive in nature—are misconstrued as fact, class rankings are equated to future victories and some of the nation’s most talented players are saddled with unattainable expectations.
Former Georgia Bulldog and top running back prospect Isaiah Crowell knows what it’s like to have a career forecasted before it even begins. Last week he belabored this point in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, saying, “One of the major pressures is that people—fans, media, everybody—put such high expectations on you that you hadn’t placed on yourself.”
These lofty—and often misplaced—assumptions are not exclusive to 5-star recruits like Crowell, however. Even less heralded recruits are subject to such high standards, and Georgia Bulldogs fans need to temper expectations for the 2014 recruiting class accordingly.
The Next Tim Jennings
In 2002, Tim Jennings was a 5’9”, 165-pound 2-star cornerback, according to Rivals.com, when he signed with the Georgia Bulldogs. Despite his short stature, Jennings knew he was capable of having a big impact at the collegiate level. He recently told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald he was just waiting for an opportunity after most SEC schools passed him by:
The way I looked at it, man, once you get in that situation, of course you’ve got those five-star, top-100 guys, but you’ve got athletes all over the world. All you need is the opportunity. All you need is the door to open up for you. You get a chance to go out there and compete and then you never know what’s going to happen.
While there’s truth to Jennings' assessment of hard work and opportunity, he is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to lower-rated recruits. While Jennings has achieved the highest standard in professional success (he won a Super Bowl in 2007 and has been named to the Pro Bowl twice) despite being under-recruited, the majority of Georgia players who reach the NFL come to Athens as high-profile prospects.
Over the past two years, 15 Dawgs have been drafted. Only five missed out on 4- or 5-star recruiting ratings out of high school.
|Year||5-Star Recruits Drafted||4-Star Recruits Drafted||3-Star or Lower Recruits Drafted|
NFL.com and 247Sports.com
While that data may seem inconsequential in and of itself, a more precise understanding of Georgia’s target personnel adds context. According to 247Sports, Georgia’s average recruiting class over the past four years has boasted the following recruit distribution:
- 5-Star Recruits: 2.25
- 4-Star Recruits: 10.25
- 3-Star or Lower Recruits: 12.25
Even as the largest percentage of Georgia signees, 3-star recruits are still the least represented classification in the NFL.
NFL scouts and general managers are not concerned with high school recruiting ratings. Rather, their job is to evaluate prospects based on their skill sets and on-field collegiate performances. Accordingly, it would be a false corollary to blame 3-star recruits’ under-representation at the professional level on their high school classification.
More accurately, less regarded prospects have a more difficult time standing out within the college game. In the broadest and most simplified terms, recruiting services predict the likelihood of a prospect’s collegiate success by analyzing measurable data (height, weight, speed, strength, etc.) and immeasurable qualities (the “eye” test) within the bounds of on-field high school performance.
Therefore, any perceived shortcoming—too small, too slow, lacking instincts, etc.—reduces a recruit's ranking only because it also diminishes his chance for success at the next level.
The good news for these less heralded recruits is that almost all of these factors can change during a college career. Even something as important and yet uncontrollable as a player’s height can be improved drastically by a growth spurt.
The bad news for these players, however, is that the same advancements can also define other prospects—even the most elite.
Recent Georgia History
If the recent past is any indication, only a few of Georgia’s 3-star commitments from the 2014 class will have a prolonged and noticeable impact on the field—at least on game day. Four years ago, Georgia signed a total of 10 players who were not 4- or 5-star recruits. Some have had productive careers for the Dawgs, others have been resigned mostly to reserve and special teams duty.
Here’s a more thorough breakdown:
|Player||Position||Body of Work|
|Michael Bennett||Wide Receiver||1,203 receiving yards, 13 TDs|
|Kenarious Gates||Offensive Lineman||4-year contributor, starter|
|Hutson Mason||Quarterback||2 career starts, 1,324 passing yards, 8 TDs|
|Kolton Houston||Offensive Lineman||6 career starts|
|Alexander Ogletree||Fullback||69 yards total offense, 1 TD, left program in 2013|
|Marc Deas||Defensive Back||5 career tackles|
|Derek Owens||Defensive Back||2 career tackles, left program in 2011|
|Brandon Burrows||Defensive End||1 career tackle|
|Demetre Baker||Linebacker||Dismissed from team in 2010|
|Lonnie Outlaw||Wide Receiver||Did not enroll at Georgia|
The four-year production of these 3-star recruits from 2010 may be lacking in consistency, but this sample is not an oddity within recent Georgia history.
Some 3-star recruits from the 2011 class (Chris Conley, Ramik Wilson, David Andrews) have entrenched themselves in the Bulldogs lineup, but others (Zach DeBell, Xzavier Ward, Devin Bowman) have rarely seen the field and some (Chris Sanders, Sanford Seay, Quintavious Harrow) are no longer with the team.
The same story could be told—at least thus far—of the 2012 recruiting class.
Punter Collin Barber and kicker Marshall Morgan have established themselves as starters despite 3-star recruiting ratings, but they were both considered among the nation's best at their respective positions coming out of high school. Other 3-star signees from 2012, like Quayvon Hicks and James DeLoach, have had their moments for the Bulldogs but failed to secure full-time starting spots.
Expectations for this Class
There’s a danger to placing high expectations on recruits, particularly those who are less touted coming out of high school. That being said, several players stand out as potential contributors for the Bulldogs.
Hunter Atkinson, a 6’6”, 250-pound tight end from Oakwood, Ga., has the frame to compete at the SEC level. A relative newcomer to his position, Atkinson stands to benefit from the tutelage of tight ends coach John Lilly. Lilly has turned Georgia into one of the nation’s pre-eminent tight end factories.
Dominick Sanders, a 3-star safety recruit per 247Sports, could be helped tremendously by a position change. At 5’11”, Sanders may be too small to play safety at the SEC level, but he has the speed to convert to cornerback. Watch for defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to re-evaluate Sanders and find the best spot for him on the field.
Additionally, junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng could see the field early and often despite his 3-star rating. Fenteng boasts elite size for a cornerback (listed as 6’2”) and higher-level coverage skills thanks to his JUCO experience.
The 2014 Georgia signing class has several years to prove itself, but in the meantime fans should be cautious of heaping expectations onto yet unproven college players. Not every 3-star prospect is a superstar waiting to be noticed; some will prove to be hardworking and talented players contributing on special teams units and the scout team—and there's nothing wrong with that.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats, rankings, ratings and data courtesy of 247Sports.