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Thoughts on a history of top-flight recruits

2/4/2011

On Wednesday, we wrapped up our look back at the last five years of ESPNU 150 recruits that signed with Big 12 teams.

Here's a quick refresher course on every Big 12 ESPNU 150 signee:

I learned a lot in looking back on these classes, and the spectrum of results was fascinating. Here are a few thoughts:

  • There wasn't a Heisman Trophy winner among the bunch -- Oklahoma's Sam Bradford was a three-star recruit -- but there were plenty of All-Americans and All-Big 12 talents, as well as a few draft picks. It's interesting to note that the 2010 class was the only one in which more than one Big 12 Freshman of the Year came to campus as an elite recruit. Oklahoma State linebacker Shaun Lewis and Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson shared the defensive honors last season.

  • I'll count probable draft picks, but here's how many NFL draft picks emerged from each class. Obviously, the most recent classes won't be included, and it tapers off quite a bit as you reach the '08 class, which will have a few more drafted eventually. Any players after the 2008 class are ineligible for the draft.

  • 2006: 8

  • 2007: 3 (Dez Bryant, Sam Acho, Curtis Brown)

  • 2008: 1 (Blaine Gabbert)

  • Additionally, I don't have a ton to say about the 09-11 classes because, well, at this point, you can't have much to say. Oklahoma or Texas don't have too many four-year, or even three-year starters at too many positions. It's still very, very early to pass judgment on those guys.

  • Obviously there's still time, but the 2008 class looking back was pretty weak in comparison to those around it. It's easily the worst of the four classes, not including 2011. Two of the top five recruits have transferred. The other three in that group have yet to make significant contributions. Players like Jon Major, Cyrus Gray, Emmanuel Acho, Kendall Wright and Landry Jones join Gabbert as some of the best in the class, but guys like Jameel Owens, Kye Staley, Lynn Katoa and Justin Johnson aren't even with the teams they've signed anymore. Plenty of others haven't come close to the projected impact others would hope.

  • Compare that to the accomplished 2006 class, which was loaded at the top of the board. DeMarco Murray, Sergio Kindle, Jevan Snead, Gerald McCoy and Eddie Jones won't make anybody say, "Who?" That's a strong top 5. Mike Goodson, Jeremy Beal, Josh Freeman, and Jermaine Gresham could all have solid NFL careers, too. In my book, this is the class others will have to live up to.

  • One quick thought: Are Jevan Snead and Josh Freeman's careers the inverses of each other?

  • I'll give a full breakdown of the team totals later on next week, but I was shocked at how few Nebraska reeled in. From 2006-10, they had just three. S Rickey Thenarse signed in '06, OT Baker Steinkuhler signed in '08 and OG Andrew Rodriguez signed in '10. Steinkuhler, of course, has moved to defensive tackle since. For a team that's won the North the past two seasons and at times looked like a national title contender in 2010, that's a pretty solid endorsement of Bo Pelini's coaching. He's won 29 games in his first three seasons, and his nationally-ranked class in 2011 signed four ESPNU 150 recruits alone. For all you non-mathematicians out there, that's more than 06-10 combined. That has to give Nebraska fans a whole lot of confidence about the program moving forward, even if three of those four signees are from Texas, where Nebraska may struggle to recruit after its move to the Big Ten. That, however, is a whole different post and discussion.

  • As an overview of all this, I can't stand it when people decry the recruiting rankings system all together, declaring it worthless. It's not. I also can't stand it when others contend the rankings mean everything. They don't. The truth is right where it usually is: somewhere in the middle. Cite all the two-star recruits you want. I can come back with 10 more that showed in their college careers why they were two-star recruits. You can build a successful program on three and four-star signees, but the facts are this: if you keep reeling in top-level recruits, you've got a much, much greater chance of having big success. Bottom line, that's the truth. You'll encounter some busts among the five-stars. You'll encounter some gems in the two-stars. But recruiting rankings mean something, just not as much or as little as people like to think sometimes.