How are recruits ranked?
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Q: The commitments of Jackson Jeffcoat (Plano, Texas/Plano West) and Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) elevated Texas over Oklahoma for the highest-rated class in the Big 12. Is it possible for the Longhorns to pass Florida for the No. 1 spot in the country?
Scott Kennedy: Texas did leap-frog Oklahoma. For most of this year, Oklahoma has been ahead of Texas, and as strange as this sounds, it's because they got off to a faster start than Texas. This hasn't been happening lately for Texas, where they pick up two five-star guys a week before National Signing Day. They're usually done by spring practice of the previous year. The late by push by Texas has put them right on the heels of Florida. They're one player away from taking over the No. 1 spot on Scout's rankings.
Q: What kind of player are the Longhorns getting in Jordan Hicks?
SK: Jordan Hicks is one of those bigger linebackers with speed, and what's strange is you normally don't see Texas go into a place like Ohio and pull a guy out. That's almost as strange as pulling a top-five guy out of Texas up to Ohio. It just doesn't happen. For one, those states are so rich with in-state talent. Texas is the biggest state for Division I signees in the entire country. Texas normally doesn't have to go out-of-state for talent, but when they have a chance to pull in a top-10 or top-15 type of guy, it doesn't matter where he's from at that point.
Q: Why was Hicks interested in Texas? It seems like almost every top talent in Ohio ends up signing with Ohio State.
SK: I haven't spoken to him. I think that when I rank some of the teams with the biggest natural recruiting advantages, based on location and in-state competition, I think three of your biggest winners are Ohio State, LSU and Georgia. Texas, Florida and California might have the most talent, but they also have the most competition for players, whereas Ohio State is really recruiting within its state borders by itself.
Q: Seantrel Henderson has been the top-ranked player in Scout's rankings throughout the course of the recruiting year. Why was he the wire-to-wire No. 1?
SK: With these rankings, you're trying to predict the future. Obviously, that's an impossible task; you're trying to project what these guys are going to do, how they're going to finish their careers. Are they going to be All-Americans, are they going to be first-round NFL draft picks, or will they be both? Seantrel's a guy who should be both. If you were building a prototype offensive tackle on your NCAA football video game, this is the guy you would build. He's 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, he plays basketball so he has nimble feet. He's got long arms, and despite the fact that he's a two-sport athlete, he's not soft. He is tenacious on the offensive line and isn't afraid to hit somebody. So he's got size, he's got athleticism, he's got the mentality. Basically, he's the perfect offensive tackle recruit. Now, the last time I heard that about a guy was when Tony Mandarich was in school, and he ended up flopping. And that's what you don't know, is how are these guys going to handle the next level, and how are they going to handle the acclamation to going to classes. There's no such thing as a sure thing, but he's as close as we can get.
Q: How did Henderson fare at the postseason all-star games and practices? Did he live up to his billing?
SK: Yeah, he did. In the one-on-one drills during the practices, he had to pass protect almost exclusively, which gives an automatic advantage to the defense because they know what's coming. We may have seen some guys beat him in practice, but I don't think you're going to see too many beat him in games, because they don't know for sure whether the pass or run is coming and can't pin their ears back.
Q: Perhaps the biggest uncommitted name left is running back Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, S.C./Byrnes). He seems to have narrowed his list to two schools: Auburn and South Carolina. Where do you think he'll go?
SK: There's really good reasons for both schools. He could pick South Carolina because it's close to home and they have a big need for a running back. But, he could also pick Auburn because he's liked them for a long time. He's got no problem coming in with another five-star guy in Michael Dyer (Little Rock, Ark./Little Rock Christian). Auburn has proven it can use two guys in the backfield — even if it was a different coaching staff — with Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams. Now, Auburn has a new coaching staff with Gus Malzahn, who proved before that he can use two guys in the backfield with Felix Jones and Derek McFadden at Arkansas. There are good reasons to pick both. I think the Scout team feels that when you're hesitant to pick, pick the home team. Now, that didn't pay off so well for Jordan Hicks and Ohio State, but when in doubt, pick the home team.
Q: Talent-wise, how does Lattimore compare to backs like Bryce Brown and Trent Richardson, who signed with SEC schools (Tennessee and Alabama, respectively) last February and saw significant playing time as true freshmen?
SK: I think he compares well. I think the running back position is probably the easiest position for a freshman to contribute. I like to say that skill players are born, and linemen are built. There's not a whole lot you have to teach a running back. He's born with an innate ability to balance and the instincts to make people miss. When you hear color analysts say, "You just can't coach that," they're almost always talking about running backs. I think he's physically mature enough. He's over 200 pounds and he's been at a good program at Byrnes. He's got the type of build where can absorb early punishment. I think he's very similar to guys like Bryce Brown and Trent Richardson, who are both bigger backs. They're both hard to knock off their feet, and they both break a lot of tackles. I think Lattimore can come and contribute early. We expect him to.
Q: Can you take us through the process of ranking nearly 3,000 high school seniors every year? Where do you start?
SK: It never stops, to be honest with you. This is a media business, as well. We're out there reporting on guys who are going to Texas or Oklahoma, but all those guys have teammates. If we see a guy in the sophomore or junior class, we put him in our own database at Scout, or keep a list of our own as scouts of guys we need to be watching soon. Scout has already come up with a Class of 2011 ratings list with 600 players on it. It's not just a watch list, but a list of guys rated three stars and above. We came out with that at the beginning of January, and we're actually going to begin ranking this group the day after National Signing Day.
The process starts earlier and earlier every year. Texas understands that better than any school. The biggest day for Texas might be their Junior Day in February, because that's when they finish up a lot of their recruiting, so if Texas coaches know about those players, we need to know about those players. It's not just Texas, either. If Texas is taking commitments that early, so is Oklahoma, so is Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida, USC, it doesn't matter. We need to know about those guys in order to give you our take on who's getting the best player.
Q: Once you put up your initial rankings, how often are they changed? What goes into changing a recruit's ranking?
SK: We have a team of between 12-15 guys with five regional managers and two national directors. The rankings are pretty fluid every day, because while we do a good impression of making it seem like we're everywhere at once, we're really only about the size of one Division I school's coaching staff. The difference is that we don't have to coach. We get to scout and watch football every single day of the week, and we don't have NCAA limitations telling us that we can't go to certain tournaments or combines. In fact, we're allowed to run them. We're working 24/7, and as we see new players we add them, because it may take longer to see a recruit from Memphis than it does to see a player from Dallas. Even though it seems like early commitments move down in the rankings as time goes on, the truth of the matter is they're the first players who are evaluated. If you're listed on the initial top 100, you really don't have anywhere to go but down as we get to see more players.
We have weekly regional meetings to determine whether to move guys. The regional managers move guys in the region up or down fairly consistently. It can be kind of hard to move a guy in and out of the Scout 300. First, it has to be a slam dunk. Even if there is a guy who is good enough to be part of it, the problem then is who do you take out? Fans aren't real big on seeing guys lose a star. They want everyone to move up, but they don't want anybody to move down. I haven't quite figured out how to cram 700 guys into a Scout 300. We do more detailed overall analysis at the top of the rankings after some of the big events. We'll sit down and do our first Scout 100, which we've already done [for the Class of 2011], and then after the spring evaluation period we'll meet a bit more. After the summer evaluation period, camp and combine, we'll do it again. After the senior season, around Thanksgiving, that's when we'll sit down and go though it again. The final time we meet is after the all-star games, where we've each had a chance to put an eyeball on each others' recruits from different regions. It's tough putting together national rankings when you're getting evaluations from five different guys in five different areas in the country.
Q: Fans who follow recruiting know that the more stars a player has, the better he is supposed to be, but what exactly goes into deciding how many stars each recruit gets?
SK: I'm not sure everybody really knows what the stars mean. I think there is a lot of confusion between them. The stars all look the same, but they're not awarded the same. I think there's a big difference between different scouting services. The star system isn't zero through five; it's really two, three, four and five. I cannot tell you everything there is to know about a player, or even give you a great idea of the difference between one player and the next, on a four-point system. What we've tried to do at Scout is try to give some definition to what a star really means. It's a hard definition, not a subjective definition. The definition of a five-star guy on Scout is a top 50 player in the country, regardless of position. That way, there's no debate about why the 48th-ranked guy is a five-star and the 49th-ranked guy is a four-star, when anybody with deductive reasoning can figure out there just isn't that much difference between them on a list of 2,500 players to warrant dropping a star. Our Scout 300 are four-star guys.
Q: In addition to ranking each and every player, you also evaluate the recruiting classes pulled in by each school. Are those classes evaluated solely on talent brought in, or is there an emphasis placed on filling the needs of a particular team?
SK: It has to be based strictly on talent. Right now, it's just a mathematical formula where points are awarded based on each player's star rating and position ranking. So if you're a five-star guy ranked No. 1 at your position, you're awarded 300 points. As anybody knows, it's hardly an exact science, so I always say to look at these rankings as a guide. Recruiting is a component of winning games; it certainly isn't the component.
Q: Can you tell us about how important accuracy is in your rankings and evaluations? How often do you feel you "get it right?"
SK: You know, I've never actually sat down and calculated it like a batting percentage. I feel that the Internet has changed so much, even since the beginning of the recruiting services on the Internet. The original Rivals, which was Scout.com at the time, was made up of a lot of old-school guys who did what we called "recruiting by telephone." They had a couple of contacts, and they'd make a couple of calls and ask who the top players in the region were, etc. Then all of a sudden, those would be the top guys in the region. You're depending on the bias of your local contact with that. I think that's changed a lot, and it's really helped put more eyeballs on the players, so that people are actually doing bona fide scouting. This business has matured enough that's it not just a bunch of computer geeks like me sitting around and watching guys. We've got four or five guys that have actually played or coached college football on our staff, and we're not alone in that. It's become enough of a mainstream business now that it's attracting a higher caliber of talent to the scouting staffs. How often do we get them right? I think we do a pretty good job. If you look at the top teams every year, and at the NFL draft, I think you'll see a lot of guys who were highly-rated. Of course, you're going to see some guys mature at a different rate and they're going to end up in the NFL, too. Nobody gets them all right, or else they'd all be going to the same school.
Q: Have you gone back and reviewed the rankings for the classes of 2005 and 2006?
SK: I've gone and looked back at them, but haven't really reviewed them. I was in a different position then. I was the Southeastern regional manager in 2005. I'm really trying to evaluate how I've done since then, because what I really learned from the class of 2005 was that more emphasis needed to be placed on the character of the player. That class was full of knuckleheads, for lack of a better word. There were guys like Ryan Perilloux, who hopefully will come out of Jacksonville State like he should. Fred Rouse was ranked No. 1 at wide receiver at one point, and was thrown out of Florida State. That entire class was full of guys like that who didn't end up doing anything because none of them were very strong character kids. One of the things I've tried to learn is that character is a tangible asset, just as much as a 40-yard dash time is. Last year, I was pretty proud of the fact that 49 of the 50 five-star guys on Scout actually enrolled last year.
Q: What are some of the bigger advancements that have helped make scouting more accurate?
SK: I think one of the big things is the fact that digital video is easier to come by. You can't scout off of YouTube, but with advancements like it, people are buying better cameras. There's just better video out there. There are Internet video services out there that let you watch high-quality video at your desktop, so you don't have to hope that the coach from the high school sends you a copy that's basically black-and-white, grainy VHS tape by the time that you get it.
Q: With the message board and chat room fervor created by the recruitment process, do you think it's possible that fans take this too seriously, and hang their hopes too much on what these 17- and 18-year-old kids are deciding?
SK: You used a key word there that I always used to describe our business: hope. It's the first day of the season for everybody, and everyone's got a chance to win the title on Day 1. On National Signing Day, players are signing with your college, and those are the guys who are going to win you a BCS championship, those are the guys who are going to help you beat your rival for the first time in years, and nobody can tell you differently. Now, the hope is a good thing, but do people follow it too closely? Probably. I think a bigger mistake that people make is they put too much emphasis on it. There's a good mix of people who really don't care about recruiting; they just want to know about the team and what's going on with it. Then there are the people who believe if they're not getting the four- and five-star guys, they're doomed. It becomes almost as bi-partisan as the Congress these days, between the defenders of the program and the "recruiting means everything" type of people. As with everything, there should be a good mix of coaching, development, talent and character, along with a little luck. That's what helps you win. It's not any one aspect of the game. I think there needs to be a little bit more middle ground.
Q: Do you ever get angry feedback from parents of recruits who feel like you don't have their son ranked high enough?
SK: You mean today? I think I've missed a couple calls since we've been talking. It's one of the harder parts of this job. You're dealing with a very passionate person in the parent. The kids aren't so bad about it. They'd like to be ranked higher; everyone wants to be ranked higher. Parents are parents, and being a first-time parent this year, I'm actually surprised I don't hear more from parents. I think it's understandable. It happens a lot, and we're all in our own little worlds, and I don't think parents understand that we're trying to put together a list of 2,500 players in order. Sometimes, just because the coach is telling you how great your son is doesn't mean he's telling you the truth. It's a recruiting thing. Coaches are going to recruit the players they think they have the best shot with, not necessarily the best players in the country, and there's a difference.
Q: What do you think sets Scout apart from the other prominent recruiting services?
SK: I think Scout is a pretty good blend of ESPN and Rivals. What I think Rivals does best is report on recruiting. They've always done a good job of tracking the kids. I don't think ESPN is on the same level in terms of manpower or how well-established they are. I think they're pretty Southeast-centric, and they do a fairly good job with the top 150 or 200 guys, but I don't think they can follow the guys as well as Scout and Rivals. They just don't have the network involved, and therefore they don't report so well on where the players are going.
I mentioned earlier about the three-, four-, and five-star guys, and I don't think people know what they mean. One of the things I think Scout does better than Rivals is we delve so much deeper into our rankings. This might be an extreme case, but if you look just at wide receivers, Rivals ranks the top 100 receivers in the country, whereas Scout has ranked the top 287 receivers in the country. By contrast, Rivals has 240 receivers rated three stars or better. So basically, more than half the guys rated three stars or better aren't even ranked by position. Scout only has 140 receivers who are rated three stars or better, but have ranked all 287. I think we do a much better job of trying to line people up against their peers. Basically, what this tells me is a ranked wide receiver on Scout is a three-star, not-rated guy on Rivals.
I looked at the junior colleges, and they basically have the same numbers. Last year, 280 players signed with junior colleges, and this year Rivals has 230 junior college players rated three stars or better. That's almost all of them. So what does it mean to be a three-star player? It basically means you got a scholarship offer on Rivals, I guess. I think being rated as a three-star player on Scout holds a lot more weight and a lot more power. All stars aren't created equal. Rivals actually has 50% more four-star players than Scout, too. I hear all the time, "But he's a three-star on Rivals." Well, of course he is; everyone is.
Q: Several schools over the past few seasons have taken in huge classes, knowing full well that everyone they've recruited will not get into school due to academic issues. Has there ever been any discussion about factoring in a recruit's academic prowess into his rating?
SK: With players who are academic risks, I think we constantly don't rank them as high as guys who we know are going to qualify. There's been some discussion about whether or not we should put that on their profile. I'm in the business of giving my opinion, and I don't mind being wrong. In fact, when you're predicting the future, it's not a matter of being right or wrong, it's a matter how often you're going to be wrong. But if you're wrong on reporting a fact like a kid's ability to qualify academically, you can ruin a kid's future. That's not something I'm willing to be wrong on. There are too many kids out there, and I think it's up to the universities to delve into whether or not this kid can qualify for their school.