Part I of an ASU recruiting analysis: The importance of commitment dates in recruiting success

Arizona State has historically enjoyed its most recruiting success with players who commit to the program between September 1 and National Signing Day.

Editor's Note: This is the first of a multi-part serious examining Arizona State's recruiting operation and success. Part II of this series will focus closely on regionality and the locations the Sun Devils have attracted recruits from.

When Arizona State landed a pledge from former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett last week, it broke a drought of more than 100 days without picking up a verbal commitment.

After local Mountain View High wide receiver Curtis Hodges committed to ASU on July 29, the Sun Devils pushed through the critical recruiting months of August, September, October and November without receiving a single pledge. 

Though earning Barnett's commitment could be a pivotal turning point for the Sun Devils in the 2017 recruiting cycle, ASU head coach Todd Graham and his staff knows that the next six weeks are the most important in the recruiting calendar.

Over the last 10 years, the recruiting battles won between September 1 and National Signing Day in each cycle have traditionally provided ASU with its most productive players. Regardless of whether former coach Dennis Erickson or Graham -- ASU's current coach -- has been at the helm of the program, the Sun Devils' ability to win hard-fought battles for the program's most sought-after recruits has been essential in providing ASU with the necessary depth to compete in the Pac-10/12.

Though both Erickson and Graham demonstrated a willingness to take verbal commitments from recruits early in cycles and in some years, add to recruiting classes after National Signing Day has passed, it's the high-profile targets who commit between September and early February who become the foundation of ASU's program.

Of the more than 240 players ASU has signed under the direction of Erickson and Graham over the last 10 years, 47 of the 60 multi-year starters ASU has produced in the last decade have committed to the program between September 1 and National Signing Day of their respective recruiting cycles.

In many cases, recruits who commit prior to the start of their final season at the high school or junior college level don't have as many offers as the players weighing their options deep into the months of December and January, and often times, those players don't pan out.

During Erickson's tenure, more than 50 percent of the players who committed to ASU prior to September of their respective recruiting cycles either didn't end up playing at ASU or spent their careers as reserves. During Graham's tenure, that number has only slightly improved, as 47 percent of the players who committed to ASU prior to September of their recruiting cycle didn't play or never developed into a starter. 

In a comprehensive analysis of ASU's recruiting classes in the last decade, SunDevilSource classified recruits into five different categories: Players who became multi-year starters at ASU, players who became a one-year starter at ASU, players who spent their careers as reserves, players who did not receive playing time with the program, and for some of Graham's most recent recruits, players whose resumes are still incomplete.

Additionally, SunDevilSource created further delineations among players based on their commitment dates to the program, providing three different designations: Players who committed prior to September of their recruiting cycle, players who committed between September 1 and National Signing Day, and players who were signed by ASU after National Signing Day.

Over the past 10 years, the Sun Devils have clearly enjoyed their greatest recruiting successes between the start of football season and National Signing Day, as both Erickson and Graham have experienced similar success between these dates. In fact, both coaches have watched more than 30 percent of the recruits who committed during this key period in their respective tenures develop into multi-year starters at ASU.

Early cycle commitments

While only 73 of the more than 240 commitments ASU has received in the last 10 years from players who ended up signing with the program took place prior to September of a given recruiting cycle, these players still represent 30 percent of the recruits ASU has signed in the last decade.

For many players who commit early, recruiting is viewed as a burden; some athletes just want the process to come to an end as soon as possible. For others, though, an early commitment comes in the case of players who don't receive many scholarship offers and likely won't receive other offers of a similar caliber.

In the case of a player like Tesoro, California, native Sean O'Grady, a member of ASU's 2011 recruiting class under Erickson, ASU was clearly the best offer the defensive line prospect was on track to receive. After reporting offers from Mountain West schools like San Diego State and Colorado State, O'Grady wound up committing to ASU in August of 2010. A 3-star recruit, O'Grady never cracked the rotation at ASU and wound up transferring to San Diego State prior to the 2015 season.

In this current cycle, ASU took a commitment from Hodges despite loading up its wide receiver unit last offseason with three high school recruits plus two transfers, Ryan Newsome and John Humphrey Jr.

Though Hodges is considered a 3-star recruit, his only other reported scholarship offer comes from Iowa State. ASU likely didn't have to take Hodges' commitment when he announced it in late July, but the Sun Devils did so, banking on the idea that the potential his 6-foot-6 frame would bring to the program would be worth the scholarship offer.

Hodges is a classic example of the type of player who commits early in the process. Among players who likely won't receive many offers, there is frequently a desire to ensure that a commitment is solidified before a coaching staff evaluates and prioritizes other players at his position.

September through Signing Day: The commitment sweet spot

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the majority of the most productive players commit between September and Signing Day, because these are the recruits who receive the most attention from higher-profile schools and wind up taking official visits to multiple schools.

Closing on high-profile recruits traditionally takes much longer for a program like ASU, as the Sun Devils typically have to battle with a variety of other Pac-12 programs and prominent schools around the country for the highest priority targets on their board. 

Landing recruits other programs also prioritized provides ASU with higher-caliber athletes who are more likely to become key contributors at the college level.

Examples of players who fit this particular category include defensive back Omar Bolden and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a pair of Southern California natives signed during the Erickson era that ASU won heavily contested recruiting battles to land.

During Graham's tenure, ASU's coach has secured late-in-the-cycle commitments from players like sophomore defensive end Joseph Wicker and former running back and wide receiver D.J. Foster, a pair of recruits who had no shortage of college options.

Foster's status as a local product and Bolden, Burfict and Wicker's Southern California ties are critical to note, because their recruitments reinforce the idea that signing the top recruits within a program's recruiting hotbeds leads to overall program success. 

While only 14 percent of recruits in the last decade who committed to ASU prior to September became multi-year starters for the program, 32 percent of the players who committed between September and National Signing Day, including Bolden, Burfict, Foster and Wicker materialized into multi-year starters.

Nearly 50 percent of the players who committed between September and Signing Day wound up starting for at least one season during their time at ASU, while just 30 percent of players who committed prior to September ever earned a starting job. 

The difference between pre-September commits and recruits who commit between September and Signing Day is staggering, and it's a difference that holds true for commits during both the Erickson and Graham eras.

Exactly 32 percent of players who committed during the Erickson era between September and National Signing Day became multi-year starters, which is a number that has held steady for Graham. Though 14 percent of the recruits signed under Graham have been categorized with "incomplete resumes," it's unlikely Graham's numbers will jump significantly ahead of Erickson's once those players are awarded designations such as "reserve," or "one-year starter" for their contributions.

Not all commitments are offered equally

While the majority of ASU's top contributors in the last decade have committed between September and National Signing Day of their respective cycles, not all of those players were high-profile targets the Sun Devils zeroed in on early in their recruitments.

Each year, as priority targets commit elsewhere and fall off of the Sun Devils' board, ASU is forced to re-evaluate its recruiting tactics and in many cases, make late scholarship offers to players who qualify less as high-profile recruits and more as backup targets.

In some cases, ASU has waited to offer junior college players who need to improve academically or who need an extra season of film to show they're deserving of a Pac-12-level offer. In other cases, ASU has waited to offer high school recruits who aren't necessarily top options for the program, but become more desirable recruits as other prospects slip away.

In evaluating the more than 150 recruits who signed with the Sun Devils between September and National Signing Day over the past 10 years, SunDevilSource created an additional designation for recruits who received their scholarship offer late in the recruitment process. By separating the nearly 60 recruits who committed to "late" scholarship offers, we found, as would be expected based on all other data, that the recruits who received early offers and committed between September and National Signing Day performed better on average, while the players who were offered scholarships as contingency plans did not stack up as well. 

When evaluating only the players who received "late" offers that came late in November, in December or in January of their respective cycles, our analysis revealed that more than half of the players who commit with late offers do not develop into starters at ASU.

In 2010, Erickson and his staff received nearly a dozen commitments from players who were offered late in the recruiting cycle, which is the highest number of late-offered recruits ASU signed in a cycle in the last 10 years. While two players, quarterback Taylor Kelly and safety Alden Darby, ended up becoming key multi-year starters, five of the players ASU took commitments from with late offers ended up in the "did not play" category.

In 2013, the first class Graham had a full year to build and craft, the Sun Devils accepted commitments from seven players the program offered late in the cycle. While junior college transfers Nick Kelly and Demetrius Cherry became multi-year starters after receiving late offers, others including Jack Powers and Eriquel Florence never ended up playing. 

Of the players that received late offers in the last decade, 33 percent didn't end up playing at ASU, while 22 percent became reserves during their careers. Only 22 percent of the players receiving late offers became multi-year starters, which is still an improvement over the 14 percent of recruits who committed prior to September of their recruiting cycles.

When accounting only for the players who received early offers who committed between September and National Signing Day during their cycles, the percentage of recruits who developed into multi-year starters jumped from 32 percent to 37 percent. 

Much like the data from other parts of the recruiting cycle suggests, it doesn't make much of a difference whether a player's late-in-the-cycle offer came from Erickson or Graham's staff. 

Neither coach has enjoyed overwhelming success in offering late scholarships to players who were most likely backup plans, and the statistics reflect that.  

Though a higher percentage of the late-in-the-cycle offers Erickson's staff administered went to players who didn't end up playing for ASU, Graham's late-in-the-cycle offers were more likely than Erickson's to turn into career reserves. For both coaches, just 24 percent of players who committed between September and National Signing Day became multi-year starters, which is a 13-point drop off from the 37 percent of players that received scholarship offers earlier in the cycle that developed into multi-year starters. 

Post Signing Day Acquisitions

Over the past decade, ASU coaches have signed 17 different players after National Signing Day, with 2010 being the only year the Sun Devils elected not to add a player after the day a majority of recruits sign their letters of intent.

Though ASU has typically added just one or two players after Signing Day, the group of players comprising this category is important to distinguish because the Sun Devils could theoretically bypass adding a player and wait until the following year's class or pursue a transfer option to fill an open scholarship spot.

While the post-Signing Day additions obviously amount to a smaller sample size to draw from, ASU hasn't had much success with finding multi-year starters or high-profile contributors late in the month of February and beyond.

Of the 17 players ASU has added after Signing Day, only three became multi-year starters. While one of those starters was kicker Zane Gonzalez, the most accomplished placekicker in college football history, nearly half of the prospects ASU has added in the waning days of the signing period or thereafter never played or playing sparingly for the Sun Devils.

In Erickson's 2011 recruiting class, the Sun Devils added a decade-high five different players after National Signing Day, but only junior college transfer Davon Coleman developed into a regular contributor. Coleman wound up becoming one of the three multi-year starters ASU added after Signing Day, but of the four other players ASU added late in that cycle, three didn't wind up playing for the Sun Devils.

Post-Signing Day acquisitions are clearly a risky venture, and though it's tough to draw long-term conclusions from such a small sample size, these types of commitments appear just as challenging to capitalize on as pre-September commits have been for ASU's program. 

The nature of commitments

After compiling the data from ASU's past 10 recruiting classes, it's obvious that both Erickson and Graham have enjoyed their greatest success on the recruiting trail with the players who committed to ASU between September and National Signing Day.

Far too often, players who commit to a program early in a cycle or after National Signing Day wind up being unable to contribute at the same rate as players who commit between September and National Signing Day. 

Based on what we know about the nature of recruiting and the manner in which ASU has crafted its signing classes in the past 10 years, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Sun Devils' most successful signees were the ones who ASU has had to battle for with other high-profile programs.

The data-driven analysis of ASU's recruiting classes in the last decade demonstrate that regardless of who's in charge of the Sun Devils' program -- be it the offensive-minded Erickson who boasts more west coast ties, or the defensive-minded Graham who comes from Texas roots -- ASU's ability to sign its highest-priority recruits is a driving factor in improving its overall depth.

Seasons in which ASU accepts too many marginal early commitments, is forced to make too many late-in-the-cycle offers as a contingency plan, or adds recruits after Signing Day threaten to deplete the program of scholarships reserved for the impact players who typically commit between September and Signing Day.

Winning recruiting battles -- especially those that take place in Southern California and Arizona -- is much easier said than done, but as the Sun Devils enter the closing six weeks of the 2017 recruiting cycle, ASU's ability to land priority targets it has long-standing relationships with is essential in ensuring future success for the program. 

Editor's Note: This is the first of a multi-part serious examining Arizona State's recruiting operation and success. Part II of this series will focus closely on regionality and the locations the Sun Devils have attracted recruits from.


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