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Recruiting Rankings and Player Impact, Part 4

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DL/LB at UW vs. USC compared to recruiting rankings

DT Leonard Williams of USC
Los Angeles Times

Welp, that was definitely a season for the Huskies.

This article was originally slated to go live back in September, with the season opener with Montana and the Michigan game looming next week the following week. At the time, I started off by saying, “A great season will likely go a long way in putting Coach Lake and the staff into better position with recruits.” Turns out the opposite is also true.

But the recruiting dead period is over and it’s time to turn our attention back to looking at the UW’s successes and failures over the years, and at the same time to compare them with the competition. UW has shown itself over the past decade-plus to be pretty good at developing players, but getting top talent in the building definitely helps raise the floor. To get them, though, they’ve got to give players reasons to choose the Huskies. For a lot of fans, Oregon has been the recruiting bogeyman recently, but historically speaking there is one team to rule them all when it comes to West Coast recruiting, and that team is USC.

I’ll remind you, of course, to first check out Part 1 and Part 2, to make sure we’re all on the same page for the concepts and terminology used here. You also might want to refer back to Part 3, where I discuss the DL/LB that signed with UW from 2010-2020 (plus the class of 2021), so you can compare what we’ve done the last decade to USC.

USC had a total of 97 DL/LB that signed with the team 2010-2020 (plus the signing class of 2021), which includes 15 DC (“don’t count”) players that never made the active roster, whether due to academics, injury, transferring or otherwise leaving the team after only a redshirt year, and new 2021 recruits (which were included only for the sake of comparing recruiting ratings at signing, not for performance).

This is a UW fan blog, not a USC blog, so let’s not bury the lede. Here’s how UW’s defensive front-seven recruiting has stacked up vs. that of USC over the last 12 seasons, along with the impact on the field.

Table 1: Comparison of UW-USC Recruit Rankings vs. IMPACT

Position Avg. Ranking Mean IMPACT Mean Imp/Gm Median IMPACT Median Imp/Gm
Position Avg. Ranking Mean IMPACT Mean Imp/Gm Median IMPACT Median Imp/Gm
ILB (UW) 0.8781 125.9 2.7 65 1.5
ILB (USC) 0.9047 62.3 1.4 2 0.17
OLB (UW) 0.8507 129.4 2.9 70 1.95
OLB (USC) 0.918 147.8 3.4 54.5 2.16
DE (UW) 0.8735 67.4 1.6 18 0.56
DE (USC) 0.9052 87.2 2.7 31.5 1.08
DT (UW) 0.8781 85.6 2 25 0.96
DT (USC) 0.9161 86.8 2.7 37.5 2.26
Total (UW) 0.87 101.9 2.3
Total (USC) 0.9106 100.1 2.6

When it comes to recruiting, it’s not pretty. USC’s front seven recruits average almost half a star rating better than UW’s do; when it comes to OLB prospects, it’s almost 23 of a star higher. That’s not a surprise. With rare exceptions, USC’s recruiting overall has been in the top 10 every year, often in the top 5 or top 3. Shaq Thompson is a whisker behind USC’s Korey Foreman as the #1-2 top-rated recruits between the schools in this time, but Sa’vell Smalls is the only other Husky that would place anywhere among the next TWENTY USC DL/LB commits.

In terms of play on the field, though, the gap is not nearly as wide, with some odd variance by position:

  • Inside LB: This position is where UW is closest to USC in recruiting (0.0266 difference, less than half the difference they see at OLB), but it’s still a sizeable gap. On the field, though, UW kills it at ILB, getting double the IMPACT (both career and per-game) at the position than USC has despite a substantial difference in star-rating. You’ll notice the catastrophically low median value for USC’s ILBs. That reflects the radical imbalance they had at the position. Cameron Smith had a whopping 531 IMPACT score (10.02/game), one of just three players ahead of Hauoli Kikaha. Lamar Dawson was a solid if unspectacular 4-year regular (227.5/4.29), Scott Felix had two decent years after a slow start, (130/3.17) and Palaie Gaoteote IV had a strong start to his career (133.5/4.31) before transferring. After that, it’s radioactive hot garbage despite 5 other ILBs being 4-star recruits.
  • Outside LB: This should be a massive advantage for USC, given the recruiting ratings (UW at mid-3* on average, USC right on the borderline of low-mid 4*), and they are better overall than UW, but not as big a difference as you’d expect. While they had a lot of duds at the bottom of their OLB chart, there’s a lot of depth in USC’s performance, with seven OLBs with a career IMPACT over 300 (and 2 more over 160), including Hayes Pullard with a ridiculous 545 IMPACT (10.48/game). [Note: If you’re asking “Who?” that makes two of us. I remember Cameron Smith at ILB as a thorn in everyone’s side but this guy? He racked up huge numbers as 4-year starter from 2011-2014 but I swear I’d never heard of him before doing this project.]
  • Defensive End: This is a similar story to OLB (though with only half the gap in recruit ranking), with USC players well ahead of UW in terms of career IMPACT, and way ahead in terms of IMPACT/game—the biggest discrepancy of all positions. This is borne out in median rankings as well, with USC’s DEs approaching double Husky numbers. Both teams have one player way out in front of everyone else at the position (Kikaha for UW, Leonard Williams for USC), then a handful of solid players (e.g., Shirley, Bowman, Potoae, Onwuzurike at UW, Christian Rector, Drake Jackson, Morgan Breslin at USC), but the Trojans have a stronger middle class of decent talent after that.
  • Defensive Tackle: Despite a recruit rating gap of almost 400 points, UW and USC are in a virtual dead heat as far as DT career IMPACT. USC again wins on per-game stats, and its advantage is even more pronounced in median values than mean values. That’s a testament to eight Trojan DTs having a career IMPACT over 120, vs. only 5 for UW.

CAREER IMPACT VS. PER-GAME IMPACT

UW owns USC six ways from Sunday in terms of ILB impact over the past 11 seasons, but setting that aside, OLB, DT, DE each showed a similar pattern. The overall impact of our DL/LB in their careers is almost indistinguishable from those at USC despite the latter’s far higher pedigree. Our coaches are clearly doing something right with the players they are getting without worrying so much about the one’s they’re not. However, the oddity is that, with the exception of median career IMPACT at OLB, UW trailed USC in mean and median career and per-game stats, but they trailed them by much more in per-game measures.

Table 2: Team Advantage in IMPACT by Position

Position Mean IMPACT Mean/Game Median IMPACT Median/Game
Position Mean IMPACT Mean/Game Median IMPACT Median/Game
ILB UW +102% UW +93% LOL LOL
OLB USC +14% USC +17% UW +28% USC +11%
DE USC +29% USC +59% USC +75% USC +93%
DT USC +1% USC +35% USC +50% USC +135%

Why would UW’s players stack up better in career IMPACT than per-game? It could be due to more USC players leaving the program early (whether turning pro, getting run off to replace with new recruits, or anything else). It would jibe with the idea of UW taking more time with player development to turn those “diamonds in the rough” with lower recruiting rankings into serviceable players with longer careers vs. USC’s high school all-stars coming in ready to blast from the jump.

It turns out there’s some truth to that, but not much, at least in the aggregate. Among UW’s counting players, they had an average career length of 35.5 games vs. USC’s average of 32.6 games.

However, recent recruiting classes kind of confound that issue, as recent recruits can’t have already ditched out early due to supreme talent. If we wind the clock back and only look at players entering 2017 or earlier (so that only players with 4 potential years in the system, so they could have left earlier if they wanted), the picture is much the same. UW players have careers that are a little bit longer, but not much: UW 41.9 vs. USC 37.2.

That could account for some of UW players making up ground on nominally more talented players at USC in terms of career arc but wouldn’t explain the degree of difference in per-game impact. I welcome discussion in the comments below on why it might be the case!

As for the specifics of USC’s players and their careers stats and impact, I’ll include those in the next installment. I wouldn’t want you thinking I just made all this stuff up! We’ll get some nitty-gritty stats on USC players, then on to the hated foes from in-between-land!

FINAL NOTE: In Part 3, I said there were three players ahead of Hauoli Kikaha in terms of total career IMPACT. Cameron Smith I might have been able to pull out as a USC player that put up a ton of numbers. Hayes Pullard I never would have guessed in a million years if you spotted me 10 consonants and a vowel. But that means there’s only one player left ahead of him, and while #4 Kikaha, #3 Smith, and #2 Pullard all cracked 500 in terms of career IMPACT (Leonard Williams and Su’a Cravens were the next highest Trojans, both in the 400s), there was only one player who joined the 600 club to take the top spot. I wonder if anyone can guess before we get to our Oregon installment next time.

In the meanwhile, All Aboard the DeBoer Train and let’s look forward to his new staff filling out our 2022 recruiting class with some exciting new prospects as we look forward to a new beginning for Husky football!

Go Dawgs!