Tuesday, June 17, 2008

AC100 On Campus: Russell Shepard

The first in a two part series on the LSU quarterback of the future is up on the AthlonSports.com website.

He will need to add some weight if he expects to play duel-threat QB in the SEC but he certainly has the speed and explosion to cut it.

Throwing the football, he has some room for impovement. The deep pass needs some work. However, the intermediate throws - digs, crosses, slants, posts etc - are all on the money. He has enough zip to play QB on the next level.

No matter where he plays, he will be a dynamic athlete.

Russell Shepard Video: Part 1

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Early Signing Period?

G.J. Kinney is a quarterback for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Kinney committed to the Baylor Bears prior to his senior season. He signed with the Texas Longhorns on signing day 2007.

Kinney sat on the sideline as he reshirted his freshman year in Austin. He then decided to transfer to Tulsa and will sit out this season as well. If there had been an early signing period for football prospects, like there is for basketball players, he would be challenging for the starting job at Baylor this fall instead of sitting out for the second consecutive season.

Kinney is just one of many players who have been caught up in the recruiting dominoes game. In 2007 they fell as follows: John Brantley (Ocala, Fla.) decommitted from Texas and switched to Florida. The Longhorns then, because they missed out on their first choice, offered Kinney, who then decommitted from Baylor to sign with Texas.

It was a lose-lose. Kinney lost his chance to play. Baylor lost their potential quarterback of the future. The Texas Longhorns were indifferent.

This entire fiasco could have been avoided had Kinney had the opportunity to sign his Letter of Intent (LOI) during an early signing day.

The majority of the coaches in the SEC think so too.

During the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., nine of the 12 head coaches voted in favor of a 24-hour early signing day in late November — right before the contact period would begin. Unlike most rules within the recruiting realm, this one would actually benefit both the kids and the coaches.

It’s a win-win.

Florida’s Urban Meyer, Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier voted against the proposal.

Currently, recruits must wait and sign during a signing period that begins on the first Wednesday of February and ends in April. With the rare Terrelle Pryor exception, recruits sign their LOI on Signing Day.

It is an arbitrary date.

The recruiting calendar has been sped up so much by the proliferation of recruiting coverage on all fronts. Independent film companies, online recruiting coverage and the need to be the first coaching staff to offer a scholarship has stretched what used to be a couple month process into a multi-year process.

The Texas Longhorns had 17 commitments for the class of 2009 before the end of March 2008. Even though the trend to decommit has increased in recent years, a great majority of commitments stick. So why do they need to wait nearly a full calendar year to sign?

Recruits that have decided on where they are headed to school will have the opportunity to get the process over earlier. It is not intended to help those that are uncertain of their decision. The high school prospects are not required to sign on the proposed early day. If they are unsure and still need time to visit other campuses, they can still do so and subsequently sign in February.

This eliminates numerous headaches and saves money for all parties involved. Players will not be constantly hounded by poaching coaches, which generally means classroom and dinner table interruptions. Coaches will not have to deal with baby-sitting 30-something 17-year old kids for two months, which generally means superfluous spending of thousands of dollars.

Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson voted in favor of an early signing day saying, “This is for the guys that know. They’ve already been to two junior days. They’ve already been to camps. They’ve been on unofficial visits. They’ve been to two or three games. They know whether they want to sign or not. They don’t have to sign…We do not have to go and spend thousands of dollars going to see them (recruits) every week.”

It also sheds some light onto the recruiting process for both coaches and players. Coaches lie to recruits. Recruits lie to coaches. It is unfortunate but undeniable. With recruiting classes being partially finalized earlier, players will have a better feel for what the depth chart looks like.

On the flip side, coaches really have no idea what is going on inside a 17-year-old’s head. In fact, most 17-year-old kids do not know what is going on inside their own heads. With prospects putting pen to paper earlier, coaches will know exactly who is available to be recruited and who is off the market.

There is one small caveat, however.

“The stipulation is that you can't take an official visit,” Johnson said. “If you are not sure, take your time. Take your visits. But then you have to sign in February.”

If a recruit were to take an official visit prior to the proposed signing day in November, he would then be ineligible to sign until the normal signing day in February. It becomes the coaching staff’s responsibility to actually turn down an official visit from a recruit if he is interested in signing early.

The SEC athletic directors and presidents must first sign off on the proposal before they can submit it on a national level (which, of course, would take another approval). Athletic directors, coaches and presidents from around the nation would then need to accept and likely tweak the proposal prior to it going into effect. If it were to be approved, the early signing period is not likely to go into effect until fall of 2009.

There is no telling how the national landscape of coaches will react. Last year at the SEC spring meetings, the same coaches - with a few exceptions - voted against this same type of proposal. In only a single year, the concept of an early signing day has gained speed. Even if it does not get "ratified" this year, the idea got a jolt of momentum from Destin, Fla.

Either way, an early signing period is necessary. And inevitable.

Friday, June 6, 2008


On my trip through the state of Texas last week, I had a chance to sit down with half a dozen of the top prospects in the state. It turns out, they are also some of the top prospects in the nation.

First up is the top defensive tackle in the nation: Jamarkus McFarland.

Here is the link to the video...

DT Jamarkus McFarland Video

The biggest thing that stood out to me about big J-Mark was his off the field attitude and mentality. He was very humble and honest. He is student body president. He never misses class, practice or workouts. He lives for Lufkin High School. I asked him if he had any favorite teams or players growing up and he said, "I grew up a Lufkin Panther fan."

He is also incredibly strong. He benched 3-bills as a freshman.

It looks like LSU and Texas are the finalist with LSU having the edge. Les Miles and Co. are cleaning up...

AC100 On Campus: ERIC GORDON

I had a chance to shoot practice and sit down with Hillsboro's Eric Gordon.

here is the link to the video...

ATH Eric Gordon

Gordon does a litte bit of everything for Hillsboro. He will be used as a wideout, a running back, cornerback and safety. He will also return kicks.

He was easily the best athlete on the field when I watched practice. He was also much thicker than I anticipated, particularly in the lower body. He strength should really develop on the next level. Its the mental side of things that he will need the most work on. He reads, progressions and maturity must be improved if he expects to star in a conference like the SEC or ACC.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The NFL Draft: As Recruits?

The closest thing NFL fans get to actual football this time of the year is the NFL Draft. It is the NFL’s version of Christmas day. Fans from San Diego to Buffalo wait in anticipation as Santa Claus — played by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — walks to the podium every 10 minutes to hand out another present. Kansas City fans love their shiny new bike: LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. While Houston fans scoffed at their new pair of tube socks: Virginia Tech offensive lineman Duane Brown.

But how did Dorsey and Brown come to be first round draft picks?

Dorsey was a highly touted, four-star Rivals100 (top 100) defensive lineman from Gonzalez, La. Brown, on the other hand, was a lower rated three-star tight end from Richmond, Va.

It raises a question that is always a hot-button issue within the walls of the palatial Athlon Sports headquarters: Do recruiting rankings really matter?

In an effort to finally reach the bottom of this long-debated argument, I examined the recently completed 2008 NFL Draft. What better way to truly evaluate talent than with a list of the top-100 players selected by NFL talent gurus and personnel wizards.

For the sake of discussion, the first three rounds of this year's draft will be used. If it wasn’t for those darned Patriots and Spygate — and their forfeited first-round pick — it would have been a nice, clean 100-player list. Instead, I am stuck with only 99.

In addition, all non-FBS picks will be excluded as well. Eight players from FCS schools were selected. Two went in the first round (Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, Joe Flacco), two in the second (Jerome Simpson, Dexter Jackson) and four in the third (Kendall Langford, Antwaun Molden, Bryan Smith, Chad Rinehart). There is one small caveat, however. Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, the 18th overall pick, will be included, since he originally signed with Pitt. The reasoning behind this is simple: Not only did all the recruiting services pass these guys, so did all the FBS coaching staffs.

For the sake of consistency, all recruiting rankings will come from Rivals.com.

Using a 3,000-player pool for any given year (25 scholarships x 119 FBS teams = 2,975 prospects), here is how a normal recruiting class looks:

: 25-30 per year
: 275-325 per year
: 700-800 per year
: 1,600-1,800 per year

This means that only the top one percent of high school football players receive that coveted fifth star. The top 10 percent get a fourth star. If a prospect is ranked in the Rivals 100 — or the Athlon Consensus 100 — he is ranked in what is roughly the top three percent of high school prospects.

That is rarified air.

Those are just the ones that get evaluated and receive the subsequent star ratings, however. According to MaxPreps.com, there are roughly 15,000 high school football teams in this country. That is approximately 300,000 senior football players in any given year (15,000 teams X 20 seniors per team). Those aforementioned percentages become microscopic when applied to the true player pool.

One-thousandth of one percent of high school senior football players will ever receive a five star rating. Keep that in mind.

Now that all of that is out of the way, the following is a look at the 2008 NFL Draft as recruits.

"Straight Cash, Homie"

Only one player in the top 10 was not ranked as a four-star prospect or higher. Matt Ryan, the third overall pick, was a three-star prospect coming out of Exton, Pa. Here is the breakdown of the top-10 picks:

Pick Player Position School No. of Stars Rivals 100?
1. Jake Long T Michigan No
2. Chris Long DE Virginia No
3. Matt Ryan QB Boston College No
4. Darren McFadden RB Arkansas Yes
5. Glenn Dorsey DT LSU Yes
6. Vernon Gholston LB Ohio State No
7. Sedrick Ellis DT USC Yes
8. Derrick Harvey DE Florida Yes
9. Keith Rivers LB USC Yes
10. Jerod Mayo LB Tennessee No

The 10 most valued NFL prospects were almost unanimously ranked very highly coming out of high school. The only one that was not a big time recruit, Ryan, plays the most difficult position to evaluate — quarterback.

No, I am the Best

Not many high school football players can claim that they were the best player at their position in the nation. This draft’s first four rounds saw eight players drafted that were ranked as the best player at their given position when coming out of high school.

Player School Pick (Round) HS Position Class
Keith Rivers USC 9th (1) ILB 2004
Jonathan Stewart Oregon 13th (1) RB 2005
Kenny Phillips Miami 31st (1) S 2005
Martellus Bennett Texas A&M 61st (2) TE 2005
Early Doucet LSU 81st (3) WR 2004
Andre Caldwell Florida 97th (3) WR 2003
Justin King Penn State 101st (4) CB 2005
Tony Hills Texas 130th (4) TE 2003

Additionally, there were 14 players taken in the first three rounds that were ranked in the top-5 at their position nationally when coming out of high school. Among these were Darren McFadden (#2 ATH, 2005), Derrick Harvey (#2 WDE, 2004) and Dan Connor (#2 ILB, 2004) who ranked as the second best prospect at their position nationally.

The Numbers Game

Here is a round-by-round breakdown of how draftees ranked as high school prospects:

  Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Total (Top 99)
5 4 3 12
11 10 9 30
7* 9 13 29
7 5 7 17
FCS 1* 4 2 7

* - Joe Flacco is counted as a three star Pittsburgh signee

Roughly 45 percent of the first three rounds were highly ranked recruits coming out of high school. There were also 25 members of the Rivals 100 — the top-100 prospects in any given year — taken in the first three rounds.

On the surface it looks like a prospect is almost more likely to be a first-round pick as a two star (7) than a five star (5). However, a deeper look at these numbers shows just how remarkable recruiting rankings can be:

No. in each class 25-30 275-325 700-800 1,600-1,800
No. drafted in '08 12 30 29 17
Percent drafted 40-48 9-11 3.6 Less than 1

This means that a player has nearly a 50-50 chance of being drafted in the first three rounds if he is ranked as a five star recruit. The chance drops significantly for four stars. It drops even further for three star prospects, as they have less than a four percent chance. Two star recruits basically have no chance of being drafted in the first round — in fact, its less than one percent.

The Big Six

College football fanatics have recently fallen in love with the “BCS Busters.” Utah, Boise State and Hawaii have all played in recent BCS bowl games. Fans and athletic directors alike have complained about the smaller schools not getting a chance at a National Championship.

Do they deserve a chance? Yes. Will they ever win a National Championship? The talent breakdwn says no.

For the most part, ‘non-big six’ schools finish outside of the top-50 in recruiting rankings. But there are plenty of players drafted from these schools. So why do they get the perceived slight in recruiting rankings? One word: depth.

Since 2000, the Miami Hurricanes lead college football with 62 draft picks. The first non-big six team is BYU. The Cougars’ 20 draft picks rank 39th in the nation. This means that two-thirds of the big six teams are consistently putting more players into the NFL than any one of the smaller schools.

Lump of Coal

As the draft played itself out, one thing kept popping into my head: There is a lot of talent being drafted in the middle rounds. In particular, underclassmen who declared early were being passed over. There must be a reason. The talent is clearly apparent as all of the players got drafted in rounds 2-4 and were all highly touted recruits. However, it is obvious that all of these players could have used one more year of growth and development:

Player Team Pick (Round) Stars Rivals 100?
Devin Thomas Michigan State 34th (2) NA*
Curtis Lofton Oklahoma 37th (2) 62
DeSean Jackson California 49th (2) 18
Calais Campbell Miami 50th (2) No
Malcolm Kelly Oklahoma 51st (2) 68
Martellus Bennett Texas A&M 61st (2) 8
Jamaal Charles Texas 73rd (3) 57
Reggie Smith Oklahoma 75th (3) 64
Jermichael Finley Texas 91st (3) No
Mario Manningham Michigan 95th (3) 45
Justin King Penn State 101st (4) 19

*- Thomas was the #15 ranked junior college prospect nationally in 2006

Except for Campbell and Finley, all of these prospects were ranked in the top-100 nationally coming out of high school. One more year and many could have been first round picks.

The Athlon Consensus

These numbers mean that recruiting ranking really do matter. Are recruiting services 100 percent accurate? Of course not. It is nearly impossible to evaluate motivation, maturity and integrity (See former Florida State WR Fred Rouse). However, recruiting rankings are pretty good indicators of how a prospect will turn out. As the industry grows, fans of college football can only expect that these self-proclaimed talent evaluators to get even better at predicting the future.

Athlon Sports debuted its Athlon Consensus 100 this January. The 2009 AC100 will include additional expert rankings to expand the recruiting rankings for fans in order to get a true national top-100 list.

So in a special service announcement to all college and pro football fans: Pay attention to recruiting! It is the future of the sport that we all know and love so much.