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Player Development Rankings Update

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With a good chunk of the 2017 recruiting class now drafted, has Washington’s elite player development kept up?

Washington Spring Game Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

With the 2021 NFL Draft having concluded recently it’s time to bring back out some results from my player development database. It’s no secret that the Huskies under Chris Petersen and now under Jimmy Lake have done a phenomenal job taking players who didn’t seem destined for stardom and coaching them up into both college stars and NFL prospects.

Starting with the recruiting class of 2014 I’ve built out a database that takes every players’ recruiting ranking and tries to figure out whether they met the expectations bestowed upon them when coming out of high school. In order to do that I put together my Career Score metric which uses All-Conference team, All-American team, and NFL Draft status together to give a numerical score for a player’s career with more points being awarded to rarer accomplishments.

For example a 5-star 0.99+ rated QB (Sam Huard was a 0.9936) has an expected career score of 13.3 which in the system is equivalent to someone who was an early 3rd round pick but never made an all-conference team. It’s also about the same as someone who ended up 2nd team all-conference in their final year and then went on to be a 6th round pick.

That sounds low for someone who is projected to be a superstar quarterback, right? Well in the 2014-17 classes combined there were 19 quarterbacks with at least a 0.97 rating and only 9 of them ended up getting drafted, 8 made an All-Conference team, and 3 made an All-American team. The only one of the 0.99+ rated QBs drafted in the 1st round was Josh Rosen from UCLA who flamed out of contention for playing time almost immediately upon entering the NFL.

As you can see from the above there’s a pretty clear difference as a player’s star rating increased for how likely they are to be drafted or gain postseason recognition. Without factoring in position your average 5-star has a better than 1 in 4 chance of making at least 3rd team All-American and a better than 50/50 shot of both making an All-Conference team and getting drafted. And when you do factor in by position it can make a big difference. If you’re a 5-star defensive tackle the odds of getting drafted are almost 3 in 4 as the kids who are complete studs coming out of high school tend to have physical traits that NFL GMs are willing to take a chance on even without college production.

CLASS OF 2017 RECRUITING CLASS

I only include the classes that have at least 4 full years to make their mark in the analysis which means this year the class of 2017 was added to the list. You could argue in the case of the Pac-12 that 2020 wasn’t really a full year but they still gave out postseason awards and still held the draft so it still gets included. There are still class of 2017 and even 2016 players who will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility and end up getting drafted in 2022 but for the most part the best players from those 4 classes are already out of college and on to the NFL.

There are two ways to judge whether a class under or overperformed when looking at their expected career score versus what actually happened. The first is to turn it into a ratio: observed/expected or O/E. Using an O/E approach a score of 1.0 would be considered average while anything above that suggests the program outperformed its recruiting rankings. This way of measuring usually makes smaller programs look better as a program with an expected career score from their class of 40.0 could score 80.0 and have an O/E mark of 2.0. A program who also ends up going over by +40 but had an expected score of 100 would only have a 1.4.

The second way is to instead take what I mentioned at the end of the last example and subtract the expected score from the observed one. Both of the schools in that last example would have a score of +40. This tends to make programs look better that end up with greater numbers of players ending up with high career scores.

Before looking at the numbers let’s get a quick refresher on Washington’s 2017 recruiting class. The Huskies signed 18 players in that class and half of them were of the 4-star variety. 6 players are no longer with the program either because they transferred, retired, or ran out of eligibility and chose not to pursue a pro career. RB Salvon Ahmed and TE Hunter Bryant both opted for the NFL after just 3 seasons in college and both went undrafted last year. This year Joe Tryon, Elijah Molden, and Keith Taylor all got drafted. There are also still another 4 Huskies that have between probably a 20-100% chance of being selected in 2022 with Cade Otton, Jaxson Kirkland, Henry Bainivalu, and Terrell Bynum. So Washington will look even better for the class of 2017 next season.

If you’re having trouble seeing any of it you can hit full screen in the bottom right. Washington ranks 2nd in the Pac-12 narrowly to Utah in both categories since their recruiting classes had almost the exact same expected career score and so far they’ve also had almost identical career scores. Both schools have had 3 players drafted so far with Utah getting a pair of 2nd rounders and a 6th compared to UW’s 1st, 3rd, and 5th. Each program has also had 3 additional players besides the ones drafted who have made a 1st team All Pac-12 team.

Beyond the Huskies and Utes things are pretty bleak for the rest of the Pac-12. Colorado and Stanford are just about even with where they should be and with an extra year back from a few of their players have a chance to be solidly in the positive. Arizona State is 5th in both methods but after that it’s a pretty homogenous group for the final half of the conference.

It’s been extremely hit or miss for USC who had a pair of offensive linemen taken in the 1st round with Alijah Vera-Tucker and Austin Jackson but otherwise their pair of star defensive tackles went in the 4th and 6th round this year.

2017 was the last year before Oregon had their recruiting really ramped back up and yet they still haven’t lived up to expectations so far. The Ducks had defensive backs selected in the 5th and 6th rounds this year (Thomas Graham and Demmodore Lenoir) but that’s basically it for their class in terms of star power. RB CJ Verdell and OL Alex Forsyth have each made a 2nd team All Pac-12 and could get drafted next year but Oregon definitely did not have a high hit rate with this class.

Looking around the country we see a lot of the usual suspects. The top-5 via the surplus career score are: Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Iowa, and Clemson. Iowa is a bit of a surprise but they’re almost always top-25 and otherwise those are 4 of the most consistent powers in the country. Then we get to national powerhouse Boston College which... Wait, Boston College!?!

Yes, the Golden Eagles have had a 2nd, 3rd, and 6th rounder out of the 2017 class including those first 2 also making an AP All-American team. Given the class they signed coming out of high school you would’ve expected Boston College to wind up with 0.4 All-Americans and 1.6 total players drafted and have already well surpassed both. Kudos to them.

The other 5 names ahead of the Huskies are LSU, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Utah, and Mississippi State which means UW finishes 12th overall. Miss St may also seem like an odd inclusion but 4 of the 6 players drafted in that class for the Bulldogs came out of JUCO. That year they just happened to strike gold from the junior college ranks and so that class only helped them for a 2 year spurt.

A look on the other end of the spectrum shows us some of the usual suspects for under development. Among the 10 worst schools in the 2017 class for the surplus career score rankings are Florida State, Miami, Tennessee, USC, Texas A&M, and Auburn. All of them are programs that consider themselves (rightly or not) to be among the college football upper crust and have managed to recruit like it even if the results on the field haven’t matched.

The bottom 3 of FSU, Miami, and Tennessee signed a combined 23 players in the class of 2017 that had a 0.9+ rating in the 247 Sports Composite. So far just 6 of them have gotten drafted and none of them went in the 1st round. Also none of them have made at least 3rd team AP All-American.

THE 2014-17 CLASSES COMBINED

No matter how you slice it the Huskies had an elite run of pumping out talent over the past 4 years. Based on the recruiting rankings Washington should have expected to produce 3 All-Americans, 10 All-Conference players, and 10 draftees between the 2014-17 classes. Instead they’ve managed 6 All-Americans, 23 All-Conference picks, and 17 draftees with potentially another 3-4 to come next year from the 2017 class. The Huskies rank t-9th, t-4th, and t-12th nationally in those categories over that time.

Washington’s cumulative 533 career score for those 4 classes right now ranks 7th overall. The 6 programs ahead of the Huskies are inarguably right now the 6 premier teams in the sport: Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, LSU, and Georgia. From that standpoint the fact that the Huskies have 0 NY6 bowl wins during that period despite 3 opportunities has to be considered a disappointment. However, 2 of the losses came to those 6 schools and despite the end result it was clearly an underdog story for the Huskies to even get there. The Dawgs’ combined expected career score over that time period was 30th overall in part because Washington takes smaller classes than many other programs due to less attrition.

I hate to do it but I’ll use some of this space to marvel over what Alabama and Ohio State have accomplished. Alabama in the 2014-17 classes had 40 draftees and 17 AP All-Americans while Ohio State had 37 and 15. Yes, they also ranked #1 and #2 in the expected totals as well as the recruiting rankings over that time frame. But both schools have taken on the highest levels of expectation and then consistently surpassed the results by 25-50%.

In particular Alabama deserves a shout out for putting together perhaps the greatest recruiting class on one side of the ball ever. Their 2017 class had 7 different offensive players selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft: 2 QBs, 1 RB, 2 OL and 3 WRs. Yes, all of them were top-75 recruits overall but they ended up going within the first 24 picks across 2 drafts so it’s tough to say they weren’t developed.

QUICK LOOK AHEAD

Let’s take a glance at what the numbers expect over the next few years in this regard with the total expected career score for the 2018-2020 classes.

It won’t be a shock to anyone that follows recruiting rankings but the Huskies would be the #3 team in the Pac-12 in career score for the next 3 classes if everything stayed true to form and players developed exactly as expected.

There’s still plenty of time but so far Oregon (85) and USC (84) are way out in front of the pack in terms of total career score for 2018-20 with Utah (27)/UW (26) a distant 3rd/4th. The Ducks had Penei Sewell and Jevon Holland go in the 1st and 2nd round respectively in their first year of eligibility a few weeks ago. Similarly the Trojans had a 4th and 5th rounder already out of that 2018 recruiting class.

Washington should have CB Trent McDuffie picked highly next year and if Zion Tupuola-Fetui comes back 100% from his Achilles injury in time will have a chance to be a 1st round pick. There are also plenty of guys for the Huskies who will be breakout candidates this upcoming season to show they belong as the next generation of UW stars. Hopefully with a full 2021 season ahead of us there will be a better chance to see just how good all of the young talent on the roster truly is and that the Huskies will skyrocket up that chart.