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Talent Development Rankings: Class of 2016 Retrospective

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How does a class that produced a secondary with Myles Bryant, Byron Murphy, and Taylor Rapp stack up?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Fiesta Bowl - Washington v Penn St Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you missed the primer where I talked about each of the metrics in detail you can catch up on it here. You can also check out the retrospectives on the 2014 class and the 2015 class.

This is where I want to add the caveat that the story of the 2016 class is not yet 100% finished. Redshirt seniors from this class are still in school so the career score totals will change a year from now following the 2021 draft. However, most of their impact has already happened so I think it’s fair to refer to most of the analysis of 2016 in the past tense.

Washington Huskies Class of 2016

5 Highest Rated Recruits: Byron Murphy (4*, 0.9549 rating), Milo Eifler (4*, 0.9368), Brandon Wellington (4*, 0.9129), Sean McGrew (4*, 0.9113), Isaiah Gilchrist (4*, 0.9104)

There’s still a chance for 2 of these players to have breakout redshirt senior seasons but for the most part this group underwhelmed. Byron Murphy was a bright shining star who only got to play 1.5 seasons at Washington but was superb the entire time he was on the field. Wellington started his senior year but he was half of a linebacker duo that was almost certainly the weakest spot for the 2019 edition of the Huskies.

That might not have been the case except that Eifler transferred to Illinois where he has been solid but not spectacular to this point. Sean McGrew and Isaiah Gilchrist have both struggled to fight their way up the depth chart although McGrew has been productive when healthy and on the field. Given UW’s depth in the secondary it seems likely Gilchrist will end his Husky career without ever seeing significant playing time outside of special teams.

5 Highest Career Scores (with expected # in parentheses): Taylor Rapp 39.4 (2.8), Byron Murphy 33.5 (4.5), Nick Harris 26.7 (1.0), Myles Bryant 9.0 (1.0), Levi Onwuzurike 8.0 (3.5)

Despite what was just said above about Gilchrist, this class solidified Jimmy Lake’s reputation as one of the best in the country at identifying and coaching up players in the secondary. Taylor Rapp was a mid 3-star prospect who emerged as an All-American and played a huge role as a true freshman for a team that went to the College Football Playoff. I already addressed Murphy above while Myles Bryant was a walk-on who earned a scholarship and became a 3-year starter at nickel and safety. Nick Harris was the second lowest rated recruit in the class but became a starter along the offensive line in his true freshman season which is borderline unheard of at a school like Washington.

Levi Onwuzurike has a chance to make a major leap up the career score ranks if he has a season like many of us think. If he were to be named 1st team all-conference and become a 2nd round pick in the NFL Draft it would leapfrog him over Nick Harris as the 3rd best score in the class.

Highest Expected Value Recruiting Classes

Before we get into the comparison of our observed to expected values let’s first talk about the expected component. The # of players expected to be drafted or become All-Americans is directly dependent on the recruiting rating of each player so obviously there’s some heavy correlation. Below is the top-ten in the 247 Sports Composite with their accompanying total of expected All-American, expected All-Conference, expected Drafted, and expected Career Score.

Class of 2016 Top-Ten Recruiting Classes (247 Sports Composite)

247 Composite Rank School Expected All-Americans Expected All-Conference Expected Drafted Expected Career Score
247 Composite Rank School Expected All-Americans Expected All-Conference Expected Drafted Expected Career Score
1 Alabama 2.2 5 5.6 143.2
2 LSU 1.9 4.5 5.1 134.7
3 Florida State 2 4.8 4.9 134.7
4 Ohio State 1.4 4.3 5 119.6
5 Ole Miss 1.4 4 4.7 120.6
6 Georgia 1.5 3.6 4.6 109.2
7 Texas 1.4 3.8 4.3 108.8
8 Michigan 1.6 4.3 4.8 124.8
9 Auburn 1.2 3.7 4.6 111.4
10 USC 1.2 3 4 95

USC made it onto the list as 10th in the 247 Sports Composite but my expected values showed that Clemson should have leapfrogged them in the rankings based on the strength of that class. And it’s clear that the recruiting rankings vastly underestimated Clemson’s class as they did for several years before they’ve now emerged as perhaps the best recruiters in the nation.

It should also be noted that the best recruiting classes in 2016 were substantially weaker than they were in 2014 or 2015. Alabama was #1 with expected career score totals of 207 and 187 in the two years before this. They dropped to 143 here despite having almost the same number of recruits each year. 5-star players chose schools like Ole Miss, Cal, Arkansas, and Houston that year as the talent was divided a little more equitably.

Southern schools Ole Miss, Texas, Georgia, and Auburn all made the top-9 in the original recruiting rankings and all of them ended up with solid classes but not quite to that level as they currently stand between 10-15 in total career score. Florida State was the only complete dud of the bunch and one of the major reasons why Jimbo left and Willie Taggart got fired trying to clean up his mess.

Highest Observed to Expected Recruiting Classes

The below graph shows each programs’ observed career score divided by their expected career score. Because this is a ratio it does make it essentially impossible for those with top-ten type classes that we saw above to score as highly as programs with what turned out ot be solid recruiting classes that started out ranked among the lowest in the country. But there’s still plenty of utility in the metric. You can scroll to the right to see other conferences.

Utah makes it 2 out of 3 with titles for both the 2014 and 2016 classes using the O/E ratio method. They had an expected career score of 42 which was 29th in the nation and ended up with 210 which was 3rd overall. The 2014 victory felt a little cheap since it was a terribly rated class that ended up a little above average. This time however it’s legitimate as they took what was expected to be an average class and made it extraordinary with 7 players drafted and 5 All-Americans.

This makes it all 3 years that the Huskies have been 2nd in the conference but still finished in the top-8 nationally. Onwuzurike, Ryan Bowman, and Luke Wattenberg are 3 players that could realistically earn at least all-conference honors next year and make the totals even higher but 4th place in the country is still pretty good.

Minnesota and Iowa are sandwiched between the two Pac-12 schools and there’s a pretty substantial drop after that point. The ACC, Big-12, and SEC all have a large clump of schools at the top of their conferences and none stand out to the extent of the 4 programs above.

Now we’ll look at the observed career score minus the expected career score to give us a surplus total. This version skews things more in the favor of programs that had loftier expectations although the schools from the top of the above graph still fare well using these criteria.

Under this ranking system Utah stays the king which puts them definitively at #1 overall in the 2016 class. No school was first in both methods in either 2014 or 2015. UW manages to vault over Minnesota but several higher ranked to begin with programs enter the fray as Michigan, Alabama, and Clemson each finish in the top-6.

Alabama and Clemson are no surprise given they’ve been the two preeminent schools in the sport for the last half decade. Bama’s overall total career score is 2nd in the years I’ve covered so far behind Clemson’s 2015 class. Though it should be noted they’re aided by transfers counting as part of the original recruiting class since Jalen Hurts likely would not have added on a 1st team all-conference selection and became a 2nd round draft pick staying in Tuscaloosa to play the final few games of the season after Tua got hurt.

Michigan is the big surprise here after they were slightly above expectations but nothing special in both 2014 and 2015. However, their 2016 class was phenomenal which adds some extra hurt to the fact they haven’t been able to eclipse their bitter rivals during their tenure. 9 players for the Wolverines got drafted this past year and a 10th was one of the highest rated to not be selected. If we get the much anticipated UW-Michigan opener to the season this should serve as a reminder of how much talent the Fighting Harbaugh’s lost from last year’s team. We’ll see whether their recent classes can put up similar results.

I eluded to it in the section of the highest ranked teams by the recruiting services but it’s still astounding to see how poorly Florida State’s 2016 class turned out. The Seminoles that year had an astounding 18 players with at least a 0.9 composite rating (4* or 5* players). There’s still one more year for some of them step up but to this point Brian Burns is the only one to have been drafted and no one else has even made a 1st team all-ACC. Despite the ACC being arguably the worst power conference in that span and unarguably the worst one if you take out their best team. That kind of ineptitude deserves a documentary or something.

Top-Ten Career Scores from Class of 2016

Career Score Rating Player School 247 Composite Rating Career Score
Career Score Rating Player School 247 Composite Rating Career Score
1 Jonah Williams Alabama 0.9877 54.2
2 Devin White LSU 0.9393 50.2
3 Devin Bush Jr. Michigan 0.8951 49.4
4 Ed Oliver Houston 0.9969 48.5
5 Derrick Brown Auburn 0.9964 45.9
6 Quinnen Williams Alabama 0.9321 42.6
7 Michael Pittman Jr. USC 0.9688 42.5
8 Tyler Biadasz Wisconsin 0.8405 42.1
9 Isaiah Simmons Clemson 0.8746 41.7
10 Greedy Williams LSU 0.9164 41.4

This list is part of the evidence for why defensive tackle is perhaps the position that requires the least amount of projection between high school and college. Elite defensive tackles entering college tend to be standout performers once they get there and even if they underwhelm slightly will still be viewed highly by NFL scouts. If someone is an elite athlete at 280-300 pounds as a senior in high school they still hold an advantage once they get to college.

Ed Oliver and Derrick Brown were high 5* prospects that finished #4 and #5. Quinnen Williams was 6th and while he wasn’t quite as highly rated leaving high school he was still a top-200 national recruit. They’re missing from the above list but Rashan Gary, who was the unanimous #1 ranked high school player in the country, and Dexter Lawrence were each 5* DTs who finished in the top-20 of career score in the 2016 class.

Things are generally a little more split along the offensive line. Jonah Williams was one of the best offensive tackles in the country after protecting Jake Browning’s blindside in high school but headed to Alabama and was an All-American and 1st round pick. Meanwhile, Tyler Biadasz was a 270 lb defensive end entering Wisconsin, was converted to center and became an All-American himself.

Washington just missed getting a player on this list as Taylor Rapp is #12 overall from the class of 2016.

Summary

The 2016 class was more evidence that Chris Petersen and his staff were phenomenal at identifying underrated talent and developing it into something special. There were 18 members of the recruiting class. If you cut it in half by 247 composite rating the line would’ve been at about a 0.86 which means the players on the bottom half generally had between a 5-10% chance of making an all-conference team or getting drafted.

That group included: Jacob Kizer, Ryan Bowman, Myles Bryant, Nick Harris, and Aaron Fuller. I’d probably still prefer to have the top half of the group (Rapp, Onwuzurike, Wattenberg, McGrew, Murphy) but it’s not crazy if you prefer to have the lower rated players. At the very least the combination of underdog stories with Bryant and Harris put them right up there as fan favorites with the pure star power of Rapp and Murphy. Any you would certainly take the 4 lowest rated players (Bowman, Bryant, Harris, and Fuller) over the 4 highest rated players (Murphy, Eifler, Wellington, McGrew).

Any way you slice it Washington has ended/will end up with a top-10 2016 recruiting class. They’re 4th in O/E career score, 5th in surplus career score, and 8th overall. That number should only go up as Levi wracks up honors this year and Bowman potentially earns another all-conference nod. However more so than with any other class during the Petersen era you were able to throw the recruiting rankings out the window. There was essentially no correlation between how players were rated and how good they ended up becoming outside of Byron Murphy.

Close your eyes, stick your hand into the hat, grab a piece of paper, and read off the name of the player that develops into a multi-year starter. Husky optimists will take this class as a shining ability of the coaching staff to develop what was thought of as fringe Pac-12 talent and develop it into above average talent. Husky pessimists will take this class as a failure to take high end talent and just let it shine as intended. What do you think?