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Talent Development Rankings: Class of 2015 Retrospective

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Is getting your all-time career leading passer and rusher in the same recruiting class good? Keep reading to find out (spoiler: yes)

Oregon State v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

If you missed the primer where I talked about each of the metrics in detail you can catch up on it here.

Washington Huskies Class of 2015

5 Highest Rated Recruits: Jake Browning (4*, 0.9633 rating), Austin Joyner (4*, 0.9113), Benning Potoa’e (4*, 0.9099), Henry Roberts (4*, 0.9049), Trey Adams (4*, 0.8938)

All 5 members of this group made at least some impact on the playing field although it’s tough to say that more than 3 of them were truly standout contributors. Austin Joyner showed a ton of promise in the secondary and may have been on his way to eventually getting drafted before concussions forced him to medically retire. Henry Roberts was a solid swing tackle and started one career game (left tackle in the brutal loss at Cal in 2018).

The other 3 were obviously standouts. Jake Browning won Pac-12 offensive player of the year in 2016 and started every game but one in his 4 year career at Washington and holds almost every passing record in Husky history. Benning Potoa’e finished with 27 career starts and moved inside his senior year after never quite developing into the envisioned pass rusher off the edge. Trey Adams started as a true freshman at left tackle and was viewed as a potential 1st round NFL Draft pick before injuries derailed the last half of his college career.

5 Highest Career Scores (with expected # in parentheses): Ben Burr-Kirven 37.2 (1.4), Myles Gaskin 25.3 (1.4), Trey Adams 16.0 (2.7), Jake Browning 10.0 (9.8), Jordan Miller 9.4 (1.1)

Given the impact this class had on Washington football it’s somewhat underwhelming to see their relative career scores particularly in contrast to the 2014 crew. The big reason for this is the results from the NFL draft. The 2014 class had 4 players selected in the first 2 round of the draft. In the 2015 class BBK was a 4th rounder, Jordan Miller a 5th rounder, and Myles Gaskin a 7th rounder. Meanwhile, Jake Browning and Trey Adams were a pair of 4 year starters at QB and LT who didn’t get drafted due to limited athleticism and in Trey’s case injury concerns.

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.

Top-10 2015 Recruiting Classes by 247 Composite Rankings

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 2.8 5.7 6.6 187.1
2 USC 2.9 6.3 6.2 186.3
3 Florida State 2.2 4 4.9 135.4
4 Tennessee 1.8 4.8 5.5 142.8
5 LSU 2 4.1 5 134.9
6 Georgia 1.7 4.8 5.2 128.1
7 Ohio State 1.6 3.9 4.6 107.3
8 Auburn 1.6 4.2 4.6 113.1
9 Clemson 1.4 3.6 4 104.1
10 Texas 1.3 3.5 4 90.3

This was a relative dead heat between Alabama and USC between who was expected to have the best recruiting class in 2015. The Crimson Tide brought in a ridiculous six 5-star players while USC countered with 4 of their own plus several other 4-stars that were ranked inside the top-100 nationally.

There was a second tier made up of many of the heavy hitters in the Southeast region with Tennessee, Florida State, LSU, and Georgia before things dropped off a bit. Texas was #10 in the 247 sports composite team rankings but UCLA and Texas A&M both had a higher expected career score in my model and Oregon was nipping at the Longhorns’ heels.

Things generally went according to plan as of those top-12 schools in the expected career score rankings, 8 of them went on to finish in the top-12 of the actual career score numbers. The 4 programs to fall off the wagon? Florida State, Tennessee, UCLA, and LSU. All 4 of those schools have changed coaches since that time and the lack of production out of this class certainly contributed to that. LSU obviously rebounded to win the national title this past year. The other 3 still wander the college football wasteland.

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 solid recruiting classes that were 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.

Washington took a bit of a hit from their #2 O/E score from 2014 but they still rank #8 nationally. Once again the Huskies finished 2nd in the Pac-12 although this time it’s Stanford rather than Utah who barely keeps them away from the conference throne. The Cardinal had a pair of All-Americans in Bryce Love and Justin Reid in a recruiting class that was ranked nearly identical to Washington’s on the fringes of the top-25.

The real winners from this class were programs that had been one-time members of the Big East conference. Louisville, Boston College, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh finished #1-4 overall as all of them were projected to finish with 35 or fewer career score points and wound up with at least 58. Louisville’s spot at the top is not hard to figure out since Lamar Jackson was a 3-star recruit when he stepped on campus and turned into a Heisman winner and 1st round draft pick. Each of the other 3 schools managed to produce at least one AP All-American which is clearly better right off the bat then could’ve been expected for those classes normally.

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.

We now see Clemson vault into the lead and for good reason. The Tigers’ 2015 class was the bedrock for a pair of national title winning teams and because of that it racked up a slew of post-season honors and NFL draft picks. It wasn’t a landslide victory but so far to this point Clemson’s 2015 class has the highest combined career score total of any singular recruiting class since 2014. Their defensive line alone finished with 160+ career score points. Washington’s entire class in 2014 with 4 1st or 2nd round draft picks still couldn’t crack 200 overall.

Ohio State also managed to emerge from the middle of the pack in the O/E rankings by virtue of getting an astounding 11 players drafted out of an expected total of 5. 3 of those players were high 4-star players that went in the 7th round but it’s still extremely impressive and the reason why the Buckeyes have been either in the Playoff or the Rose Bowl essentially every year for better part of a decade.

USC and Alabama were expected to be the 2 titans of this recruiting class and each was good but more in the vicinity of “lived up to expectations”. They finished with the 3rd and 4th best classes getting leapfrogged by Clemson and Ohio State. A combined 17 players made an all-conference team between those 2 schools and 14 were drafted headlined by players such as Minkah Fitzpatrick, Calvin Ridley, Ronald Jones, and Sam Darnold.

The South Central region also makes some moves using this grading system as Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Texas each crack the top-10 with classes that were expected to finish in the 10-15 overall range and instead wound up 5-10. Clearly the results in terms of total wins on the field turned out the best for Oklahoma among those 3 programs which I’ll get deeper into in just a second.

Top-10 Career Scores from Class of 2015

Career Score Rating Player School 247 Composite Rating Career Score
Career Score Rating Player School 247 Composite Rating Career Score
1 Christian Wilkins Clemson 0.9893 67.9
2 Clelin Ferrell Clemson 0.9468 65.4
3 Minkah Fitzpatrick Alabama 0.9872 64.2
4 Saquon Barkley Penn State 0.9459 59.8
5 Lamar Jackson Louisville 0.8788 51.7
6 Mitch Hyatt Clemson 0.9897 49
7 Christian Kirk Texas A&M 0.9891 43.4
8 Joe Burrow Ohio State/LSU 0.9003 43
9 Kyler Murray Texas A&M/Oklahoma 0.9855 43
10 Deandre Baker Georgia 0.8594 42.9

You may notice the / for both Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray. We finally get to the problem of what to do with players who transfer. Burrow and Murray had a lot in common. They were both highly ranked QBs who transferred for a shot at a better opportunity. Each have 6 letter last names where the middle two letters are “R”. They also had exactly one season of stardom where they won the Heisman, finished as a 1st team AP All-American, and went #1 overall in the NFL Draft. That was good for 43 career score points. The problem is to whom should those points be distributed?

The fairest answer is likely they go to whichever school they earned the honor for in a given season. However, from a behind the scenes standpoint it’s much harder for me to try to create a database that can attribute 80% of a players’ career to one school and the other 20% to another. I could make exceptions for players like Burrow and Murray but I’d rather stick to a clear methodology if I can’t guarantee to divvy things out the same way for everyone.

And who’s to say that Ohio State or Texas A&M truly deserve 0% credit for each turning out to be a star? The truth is likely somewhere in the middle but to some degree losing credit for their own incoming transfers will cancel out over time. So the credit goes fully to the school that originally signed them. For those curious, here’s what would happen in the surplus rankings if you moved things to 50/50: Ohio State 2nd to 4th, Texas A&M 9th to 15th and Oklahoma 4th to 2nd, LSU 62nd to 58th. Reasonably important but not all that tectonic of a shift.

Summary

Washington’s 2015 class had perhaps more name recognition than any other in the Chris Petersen era but it fell just a little bit short in the end. Myles Gaskin was one of the most consistently great players to ever wear a Husky uniform. Yet he only was named 1st team all Pac-12 once, never earned an AP All-American nod and ended up drafted in the 7th round. You could argue that he was one of the 3 best running backs in the Pac-12 all 4 years of his career and one of the 5-10 best in the country but he had an “always the bridesmaid” type of career when it came to outside recognition.

Over the last couple of years 247 Sports has shifted their prospect grading methodology to increasingly use the NFL Draft as the ultimate measuring stick of success. NFL teams screw up plenty when selecting players but the scouting community has hundreds of evaluators whose jobs are on the line if they don’t correctly pick good players. And it’s much more common in college basketball than college football to see players selected entirely on the basis of potential rather than production. Very rarely does someone get selected in the NFL Draft if they weren’t very good in college.

And yet there are clearly players who “max out” at the college level due to athletic limitations. Jake Browning, come on down. You also get guys who were very good in college but suffer injuries that ruin their pro prospects. We see you Trey Adams. Scrolling down the list of Washington’s 2015 class shows a ton of guys that pop out in Husky fans’ eyes more than their career score might suggest.

Jared Hilbers, Andre Baccellia, Tevis Bartlett, Benning Potoa’e, and Zeke Turner were all meaningful cogs for Washington that combined for 1 career score point. This class may have missed that true national spotlight but it still had a tremendous impact on the course of the Washington program and has a handful of players who will likely still see their names at or near the top of several Husky season and career long records several decades from now.