Recruitniks Reach Around To Pat Themselves on the Back Over NFL Draft

Star rankings disappear when you take the field. - David Purdy

As the first round of the NFL Draft ended Thursday, the folks who bring you non-stop rankings of high school players took to Twitter to give themselves a pat on the back.

Their numbers are mathematically correct, but was this really an accomplishment?  As Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald noted, because there aren't that many five-star athletes, all it would take is one five star recruit to be drafted in the first round to win that argument, when graded that way.

The main thing to note in all of this is that college recruiting and the NFL draft are actually quite comparable. College teams evaluate high school players, looking at how they perform at a lower level, factor in measurables, and extrapolate how they will perform at the next level.  Pretty much what the NFL does as well.  The main difference is that the actual choice is reversed:  players choose the college team, while the NFL picks the player.

So when it comes down to it, it shouldn't be a surprise that you get similar results when the processes are essentially the same.

In fact, what's a bigger surprise is that only four of the NFL's top 32 picks were considered in the top 30 coming out of high school. What's more, three of the NFL's top 32 picks were players that the services didn't feel could contribute at the BCS level.  In other words, the number of complete misses (two star recruits that went in the first round) were about the same as the rankings they actually got right (five star, first round recruits).

Let's take that further with Jason Kirk's analysis of the 2014 NFL Draft, which shows that 17 five-star players were drafted overall - along with 23 two-star recruits.  In other words, the NFL selected more of the "can't play at the top level" players than blue chippers.

Every February, college football fans are inundated with recruiting rankings, which we're constantly reminded are the key to success. Sometimes those forecasts are right...and the recruitniks are sure to remind us about it.

Sometimes they are simply dead wrong. But the only sound from the recruiting experts when that happens is the sound of crickets as they simply won't admit their failure.  Take a certain team from the south. From 2009 through 2012, their national rankings were fifth, third, third, and second. Plenty of talent, right?

In the 2014 NFL draft, that school didn't have a single player drafted in the NFL Draft. That's right. Nobody from Texas' blue-chip recruiting classes was deemed worthy to be drafted in the NFL. Well, not exactly... Garrett Gilbert was drafted, but he doesn't count for Texas since he transferred to SMU.  The former five-star prospect was drafted in the sixth round.

And that goes to my point. Talent is hard for the professionals to evaluate.  The professionals in the NFL have a tough time with evaluating, as Matt McGuire's 2010 study of the NFL draft showed.  It's tough for college head coaches, who's careers depend on it.  So it shouldn't be a surprise that the part-time amateurs who analyze it for the services don't get it right either.  No matter how hard they protest and proclaim their own importance.

I mean, when a school whose recruiting rankings from 2009 through 2012 were ranked 77th, 48th, 29th, and 42nd lands three first round draft picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, you realize that coaching and development is as important, if not more important, than the raw talent.  That school was Louisville, and that coach was Charlie Strong.  And it shouldn't be a surprise that Texas hired Strong earlier this year.

Texas learned their lesson and recognized the importance of development. You need talent, of course. But evaluating talent is difficult enough as it is for the professionals whose livelihood depends on it. You've got to develop it, and sometimes you have to look harder than just at the measurables.

That's a sad fact of football that some recruiting guys still won't admit.

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