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Monday, February 15, 2010

Fun With Numbers: From Promise to Production

I'll admit, even after a week away, I'm still pretty burned out on recruiting coverage after signing day, so I don't want to belabor the point. However... I had a few final thoughts I wanted to share.

I wrote pretty extensively in my last mailbag about the notion that seems to be floated among the more "glass-half-full" contingent that it's better to have 3-star guys with heart than 5-star guys who don't really want to be Dawgs. This seems to be the common wisdom among fans who don't want to be bummed about losing a few commitments near signing day.

If you're still in that camp, go ahead and stop reading now. I won't be mad, I promise. There's a real upside to not wanting to know too much about how the sausage is made, so to speak.

For the rest of you, I decided to dig a bit deeper.

My primary argument about this whole "3-star with heart" idea was two-fold:

1.) It's not a player's job to want to come to UGA. The coaches have to convince them that's what they want. So the idea of, "We don't want a guy who doesn't really want to be here," is really simply saying, "We don't want a guy that our coaches haven't convinced to come here." I have no problem with this philosophy, other than to say that eventually your coaches either need to do a better job of convincing or you need to hold those coaches accountable when too few top players are sold on the program.

(*And it's worth noting that I'm not trying to make a case against Mark Richt and Co. here. In looking over the past few signing classes, they've had a few years where they've done a really nice sales job and a few where it wasn't as hot.)

2.) Recruiting is an inexact science, but it's not completely worthless. People seem to put recruiting rankings into one of two categories: a.) They're super important, or b.) they're all guesses.

Well, it is true that it's a guess... but it's an educated guess. There is rationale and reasoning behind the "stars."

So when we're dealing with educated guesses, the best thing we can do is talk in probabilities, and my point was that a 5-star guy has a much higher probability of success than a 3-star guys does, no matter how much "heart" they have.

Of course, in my previous post, I wrote mostly in general terms. My theory, so it went, was that even for the best coaching staff, it would take about 5-10 3-star recruits to find one that was capable of playing at a 5-star level by the end of his career.

That was my theory. But what about reality?

Well, combing through thousands of commitment lists and stats isn't something I have the time nor inclination to do, but I was interested in looking at a more micro version of these results. So, I went back through each of Georgia's recruiting classes from 2004-2008 (five seasons) and compared the "star" rating of players when they signed with Georgia (courtesy of with an arbitrary "star" rating I provided to gauge the success of their careers thus far.

Here's how I broke it down:

1-star: A guy who came and went without any significant production of any kind. A career bench guy, career-ending injury case or someone booted from the team.

2-star: A player who was serviceable at times but whose primary contributions came in reserve or special teams duty.

3-star: A regular starter for at least a year or two, but never someone who routinely affected the outcome of the game.

4-star: A regular starter for at least two seasons who was among the better players in the conference at his position. A difference-maker, but not a superstar.

5-star: Game-changers who had significant impacts for at least two seasons and, in general, went on to be legitimate NFL prospects.

Now, a few caveats here:

-- For some of the players we're talking about (particularly those from the 2008 class), there is much left to learn about how their careers will pan out. My star rating was based about 50 percent on what they've done so far and about 50 percent on my educated guess as to the roles they'll fill going forward. Still, I'd expect a few to outperform my star ranking.

-- A few guys were a bit tough to categorize, with their overall production hovering right in between two categories. In those cases, I generally tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and bump them up to the higher category. (Truth be told though, the star system is probably a bit too generic. A grade of 1 through 10 might be more satisfying in terms of differentiating players.)

-- A number of Georgia's commitments never made it onto campus. In those cases, I did not include them at all. I did, however, include any player who was officially on a Georgia roster at some point -- even if they never actually played a game.

So, with all of that in mind, here's what we found...

Total Number
of Players
Star Avg
2 or 3
42 1.98


4 52 2.81 1.19
5 5 3.80 1.20

So what have we learned?

First off, recruiting "stars" are always going to overvalue the overall impact those players will have, because the handful that exceed expectations are never going to be enough to counterbalance all those who fall short due to injuries or discipline or simply a lack of ability.

But... The drop off from recruiting star rating to production star rating really isn't much different for any of the groups -- at least in the case of Georgia's recent recruiting classes. So the fact still remains... the recruiting rankings are a pretty good indicator of production, even if that production is less than promised. It might be fair to say that we can essentially expect a group of players to perform almost exactly one star level below what they were rated coming out of high school.

What else?

Well, for one, all those "3-star guys with heart" are nice, but there are very, very few who actually see that heart translate into production.

Of the 42 2- and 3-star players who enrolled at Georgia since 2004 (and note, there were only 2 2-star guys, Bryce Ros and Kelin Johnson), the only ones who turned out to be better than average starters were Clint Boling and Ben Jones. Only 12 others turned out to be starters at all. The rest are guys who were used intermittently or completely flamed out.

In fact, for all the talk about how risky recruiting is, and how we don't really know a whole lot about who will turn out to be good and who will fall off the map, the numbers simply don't support the argument.

Yes, there is an inherent unknown quantity in any recruit, but that level of unknown greatly increases as a player's star ranking decreases...

of Players
3 42 18 43%
4 52 8 15%
5 5 0 0%

(NOTE: By "flamed out" I mean guys who earned a 1-star valuation for their career performance.)

Of the five 5-star guys Georgia has landed, only Richard Samuel has turned out to be below average, and he obviously has some time to turn that around still, and he probably isn't to blame for being misused in the first place.

On the other hand, those 3-star guys are essentially a coin flip as to whether or not they'll ever even see the field. And of those eight 4-star busts, four transferred and one had his career cut short by an injury.

Of the three groups we're talking about, 80 percent of the 5-star guys turned into productive starters (and Samuel still has time), 60 percent of the 4-star guys went on to be productive starters, and only about 30 percent of the 3-star guys did.

So the point is this: If you sign a 5-star guy, you are virtually guaranteed to at least get a player who is productive at some point in his career. If you sign a 3-star guy, there is almost a 50-50 chance that he'll never even make a mark on special teams.

Do recruiting ranks mean everything? Absolutely not. But there is value in what they tell us, and the odds aren't in the favor of all those 3-star guys who "just want it more."


BulldogBry said...

that's really good work, and it confirms that recruiting DOES matter. what would be more telling is how these numbers stack up against other schools. i think that's the complaint of most fans (of the fans who have complaints) - that the players, regardless of stars, are not coached up to their level. you got any SEC writer buddies at UT or UF who could do the same analysis?

Anonymous said...

Very nice analysis, sir. I have always liked 5 star recruits. I wish there was a sixth star... Like the amp on spinal tap that had an 11th spot on the volume control... Man, I wish we had signed a couple of stud 6 star players this year...

ChicagoDawg said...

Interesting view to go back and actually assess productivity vs. perceived potential. My take on the "star" system is that there is a low confidence factor in the best case scenarios. Trying to project how physically and emotionally immature teenagers will develop in midst of leaving home and being in the most intense transitional/developmental years of their life is quite the leap. Take into account any number of endless variables (H.S. competition, H.S. coaching/preparedness, future injuries, rate if physical development, collegiate coaching, motivation, academic ability, future external variables such as out of wedlock children, college life, negative influences, etc.,) and it almost becomes an absurdity for someone to attempt to assign stars with any degree of certainty. Nonetheless, I cede the fact that they provide a degree of of relative peer group measurement and to your point, a batch of 5 star players are likely to yield more than 3 star players.

I guess what I am saying, in a really long winded and inarticulate way, is that I loathe the "analysis" of the Jamie Newbergs of the world. The self proclaimed experts who have no discernible qualifications yet breathlessly tout with conviction that a 17 year old from Waycross is the next Ronnie Lott.

Anonymous said...

Plus, 3 stars is exactly half of 6 stars. Give me 6 stars all the day long brother... Twice as good. Let me be the first to put this out there: go to -- firemarkrichtb/cwehaventsignedany6STARplayersatUGA.WTF?.com.

Let's get this done people!


Anonymous said...

The whole premise is flawed. Do an analysis and assign a "heart" ranking to all of Georgia's players. I'd be willing to bet the average four or five star player doesn't have any less heart than the three star player.

PTC DAWG said...

blah, blah, blah, blah....

Irwin R. Flecther said...


Nice work yet again. So my question is why do recruiting "rankings" put so much emphasis on total signing points vs average star rating? Despite the 'failings' this class, uga still signed a top 10 class according to avg stars. The loss of Rogers and adding in the two star WR is basically the difference between where we are and a solid 5-10 in avg star rankings. Anyway, I think that gets lost some time.

I'm thankful the Coaches didn't feel the need to panic and start offering three stars and two stars to fill the class and take schollys from 4 and 5 stars next year.

Kathleen said...

Anon 9:32

The problem with some 6 and most 7-8 star players is that you need android-certified coaches, which we dont' have. Since GT is an engineering school, they'll probably get there first.

The way to go there is probably a good defense, like a magnetic layer under the grass at Sanford.

Anonymous said...

Your analysis, while admirable, fails to take into account coaching. In other words, the assumption is that coaching has no impact. But I would submit that some staffs do a great job coaching players UP, thus deriving more value from the mid-tier players. By only looking at one school, you can't factor this aspect in.

David Hale said...

You're absolutely right, Mark... and I do have a post coming up on UGA's coaching.

Of course, as I mentioned before, the problem with talking about "coaching guys up" is this: If you're a coach who has shown you can coach a 3-star into a 4-star routinely, odds are you're going to get a better job where you can recruit four- and five-star guys. The logic that coaches can get more out of their 3-star players assumes that the coaches recruiting better players aren't doing the same.

Anonymous said...

Florida, Southern Cal, Texas, LSU and Alabama would beg to differ with your analysis and reasoning...though you'll have plenty of support from schools like Vandy, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

While recruiting is an inexact science, the 4 and 5 star guys are the "difference makers" in high school and the logic is that will translate to the next level in most cases. The more of them you sign, the better shape you are going to be in because for every bust, there are going to be two or three other all-conference or all-america types. Those are the guys who are generally going to lead you to the promised land.

Cojones said...

Congrats on your award, David.

I'm more of a passioned than impassioned stats man even tho as a scientist I am more apt to look at most stats objectively. (Does that make sense?). My problems stem from expression which I will leave to those in command of journalistic skills, but I'll bet that your award was presented to your passionate side. My passioned side views these stats(by the way, nice cognitive presentation of some rather ephemeral cognitive facts) as amenable to my own prejudices that place more on the drive and character of the player for hard work and love of the game than a star system that doesn't do these characteristics justice when it comes to great players. I'm not speaking of the "Rudy"s or "Hossiers", but rather the Jim Thorpes that are out there who come into their own and achieve above their own expectations. Hines Ward would be one of our own that I would place in that category while he was at Georgia. No stats or star system can come near expectation that these athletes have given when placed in the college football forge. Rambo may be one of these athletes, but the star system can't foretell. I admired the work you performed to present this subject and am in no way dissing it. It's just that these differentiating qualities always will leave us to sometimes breathlessly wait for and cheer a virtual unknown to his greatest achievements in life with thousands cheering in acknowledgement. There ain't nothing like it that the star system can account for.

Thank you for your usual good and objective column.

Cojones said...

My bad. I meant to place "sometimes breathlessly" in parentheses after "wait".