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Talent Development Rankings Primer

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An intro to a new series looking at the best programs at developing talent across college football

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl - Washington v Boise State Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

I’ve been building out my recruiting database for quite a while now. With the 2020 NFL Draft now in the books though it’s finally time to unleash it upon the world. My interest in this topic started when it became clear that Chris Petersen’s crew was taking players on the lower end of the national recruiting rankings and turning them into all-conference guys, All-Americans, and eventual NFL draft picks as well as anyone in the country.

That’s all fine and dandy as anecdotal evidence but I wanted numbers. And not just total # of draft picks numbers I mean some real numbers.

In order to try to satisfy that craving I’ve done a couple of things. First of all I’ve taken every player from the 247 Sports database beginning with the class of 2014 and put them in a massive excel spreadsheet with a list of all of their offers, any all-conference teams they’ve made (power conferences only), All-American teams, and eventual NFL Draft picks. That’s allowed me to determine the likelihood of players across the recruiting rankings achieving each of these benchmarks and turn them into expected values.

For instance, let’s look at the absolute cream of the crop. Players with a 0.99+ rating in the 247 Sports Composite. Those are not just 5-stars but top-20 players nationally. What are the chances that kind of player becomes a success in college? In the 2014-16 classes combined (later classes haven’t gotten a full career’s worth of time to hit these markers) 24% of them have made the AP All-American team (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), 51% of them have made an all-conference team (1st or 2nd), and 65% got drafted.

If you’re able to sign one of those guys there’s essentially a 2 in 3 chance they’ll be drafted, a 50/50 chance that they’re going to become an all-conference guy during their career and 1 in 4 chance they develop into an All-American. Stars matter.

Having access to this data across the recruiting spectrum allows us to calculate an expected value that a player hits each of these benchmarks. Once we know that a given player has for example a 75% chance of becoming an all-conference performer and another player has a 25% chance then we can look at them as a 2-man recruiting class and say that if the teams are properly developing talent then at least 1 of them will make an all-conference team.

If exactly 1 of them does we would say them have an observed/expected ratio (O/E) of exactly 1.0 and the coaches did what was expected. If both were to make it then the ratio would be 2.0 (2/1) and better than expected while none would mean 0.0 (0/1) and worse than expected.

I went through that process for the 3 criteria I listed above but I also tried to boil it down into a single number. Based on each player’s status I assigned points which are added together into a career score. Players get points for making end of year teams and getting drafted but they’re weighted for the level of accomplishment. Making 1st team all-conference earns you more points than 2nd team all-conference. Making 1st team all-American earns you more points than 1st team all-conference. Finally, being the #1 overall pick in the draft is worth more than being a 7th rounder.

This type of system does give the true upper crust players much higher career score numbers than everyone else. If you’re a 1st team all-American you’re probably also 1st team all-conference and you’re probably also going to be a 1st round draft pick. But I think that’s okay.

Those are the type of players that have the most dramatic impact distinguishing the middle class from the royalty of college football. They should score substantially better.

If there were one other component to the formula I could add it would be a games started tally. A player who is a solid 2-3 year starter that peaks at all-conference honorable mention should have more than 0 career score points. But I haven’t found a reliable source for all teams over the last 6 years so if you know of one, please pass it along.

FIRST GLANCE AT THE NUMBERS

I already gave a sneak peak of the numbers at the tippy top of the ratings but let’s look at the entire spectrum. The below graph shows players who signed with a power conference team in the 2014-16 recruiting classes. If you’re reading this on mobile I apologize that it will look a little condensed.

Out of over 4,500 players in those 3 recruiting classes headed to power conference teams there was about an 11% chance of making an all-conference team or getting drafted and just a 3% chance of turning into an AP All-American. The trend is also fairly evident that the better your recruiting ranking coming out of high school the better your odds are of hitting each of those benchmarks.

If you’re a 5-star player you’ve got about a 5x better chance of earning all-conference honors, and a 3x better chance of becoming an AP All-American or getting drafted than the average 4-star recruit. It’s still not a sure thing by any stretch but if you are consistently landing top-30 players in the country then you are almost certainly going to be spitting out 1st rounders and All-Americans.

From there things slowly decrease but not with quite the same drop off. You can see the 3-star and 2-star numbers are not all that dissimilar despite quite a wide gap in average rating. You shouldn’t take that to mean that there’s not much of a difference between those groups. This table only includes players heading to power conference teams and so there’s already been some self-selecting on the basis of coaching staffs and the 3-star group has nearly 10x the sample size.

If you remove the conference restriction then fewer than 1% of 2-stars get drafted as opposed to the 3% number for power conference 2-stars. If your favorite power conference team signs a 2-star player in the recruiting rankings it probably signals that the recruiting rankings were wrong rather than that the coaching staff was. No matter what, it’s unlikely that recruit burgeons into a star but they’re more likely than your average 2-star player just by getting offered the scholarship.

SERIES PREVIEW

Over the upcoming weeks I’ll be putting out retrospectives for each of the recruiting classes since 2014 to look at which schools have done the best job of developing talent. Given that the Huskies are of course the reason for this series we’ll go through each of their classes to see the players who based on their recruiting ranking were expected to do big things and compare it to the list of those that actually did.

Each article will look at the top programs at getting their players onto postseason teams and into the NFL draft and why they merited a spot at the top. Did they manage to develop one or two incredibly productive players or did they get a whole bunch of players to overachieve?

For the classes that haven’t had a full chance to play out yet we’ll see what the numbers say about how many draft picks and all-conference players we can expect for the Huskies and some of the other top programs around the country.

Come back tomorrow as we kick things off with a 2014 class that for Washington included Budda Baker, Dante Pettis, Sidney Jones, Kaleb McGary, and Greg Gaines. Spoiler: the Huskies scored pretty well.