TheInsiders ranks QB, Kyle Wright as the best player in the country. Tom Lemming ranks QB, Chris Leak the best player in the country and Rivals ranks LB, Ernie Sims as the best player in the country. So, who's right?
In the ever-growing world of high school football recruiting, more and more emphasis is put on what each service seems to know about what these young men are going to do at the next level. But, when fans see disparities such as this, players ranked nowhere doing great and players ranked high doing nothing, they go back to these rankings and wonder just what is going on.
I'll tell you.
In regards to the recruiting services, a ranking is most generally come to by taking the recruiting experts from that network, getting the ranking of each on a certain player, averaging it out and wham, bam, there ya go, there's how good he is. It's not all that simple, because if you think about it, what goes into deciding how good a player is should be far more difficult.
First, these players have to catch your eye. How do they do that? Stats are nice, but that's not the biggest thing that gets recruiting analysts looking your way. It's who is recruiting you. Yeah, that's right. If Notre Dame, Nebraska, Florida State, Ohio State and USC are recruiting a young man, every recruiting analyst is going to be all over him like he's the second coming. And, if they have actually offered him in writing, you can almost hear the drool hit the carpet.
In fact, whether you know it or not, all those stars you see by players names doesn't indicate (always) how each is perceived on film, but what schools are recruiting them. If a player is being recruited by North Texas, South Dakota State and Florida A&M and another is being recruited by Miami, Virginia Tech and Michigan, well you don't need to be Einstein to figure out without even looking at a bit of film that the second kid is probably better.
And, that's the first thing you should know.
You see, TheInsiders has a great staff of recruiting "gurus". Guys like Jamie Newberg, Greg Biggins, David Garvin, Chris Pool and Scott Kennedy. These guys know what in the heck they are doing. They know how to evaluate talent and review film. The only problem is, they are human and they have lives and that means, they can't watch all the film necessary to truly evaluate who's the best and who isn't.
You know what goes into reviewing just one film? Well, depending on the position, a lot, but let's take a look at QB. As you are watching the film, you look for a variety of things. Mechanics, both standing and while running. Feet and how much they move when they are and aren't supposed to be. Vision, head movement, being able to check down receivers and look off defenders. How much poise they have in the pocket. Arm strength, judgement and the ability to make something out of nothing. This isn't even everything, but you get the picture. And what it is, is not watching a film over and over, but going through a play, hitting rewind, watching that play again, hitting rewind and doing that again and again until you are satisfied in your evaluation about certain aspects of this QB's game as it relates to what happened during that play.
Ok, now take into account that there are a bazillion prep athletes out there, all trying for scholarships to play division 1-A football. Based on one film evaluation taking one hour to watch and to write, you can see the obvious problem. They can't watch all the film.
So, what do you do? Well, you do what everyone else does and it points back to something I said earlier. You look at the big boys and who they are recruiting. They are the true talent evaluators. They have lists for two and three years ahead of kids they are looking at. They've gone through a ton of film and based on what they know, they offer kids and those are the ones that automatically get the four and five star rankings.
Now, as the season progresses and more kids come into the fray, film evaluation can be done on a larger scale. You've managed to narrow down some of the hotter prospects and those are the ones that get the truest scrutiny. As for the rest, well, if Florida offered them a scholarship, let's slap a couple stars on them and see who else offers them. If Florida State jumps on and maybe even Miami, let's slap another star on him and get the film. And, if everyone on God's green earth has offered this kid, slap five stars on him, get the film and slap it on the network for everyone to see their highlights.
That's over-simplifying it, but generally, you do have to look to the experts to see who's good, but I'm talking about the coaches that are actually banking on this kid to improve their football team.
You think Nebraska doesn't evaluate each kid with the highest degree of caution before offering one of those valuable scholarships? With the limitations nowadays, each is worth it's weight in gold, so they tear down the film, analyze every aspect of this young man's physical attributes, get background on his academic attributes and after that, contact him and interview him when it's allowed. After all that, they offer them, unless of course their film was simply off the hinges good, but that's not the most common scenario.
If you look at the stars and look at some of the schools that have offered, you are likely to see a nice correlation. It's not always like that, but in the end, you can call it better safe than sorry.
Does this take away from the recruiting rankings in the end? Yes and No. Yes, because people put too much stock in them as it is. If Mel "The Hair" Kuyper says a guy is going in the first round, does he? Not always. In fact, not too darn much. If Tom Lemming says that this recruit is all-everything, superman and the "flash" all rolled up into a ball, will he be a sure fire success? Nope, in fact, that only happens just some of the time.
They are opinions and like any opinion, they can be right or wrong. But, recruiting rankings are even more subjective, because in many cases, they are opinions based on other people's opinions, so you can see the room for error.
There's an old saying that says something to the effect that if someone does you wrong, shame on them, but if they do it twice, shame on you. That leading of course leading to the conclusion that when this time of the year comes around and you have all but put your every emotion into this player or that because they have so many stars by their name, you are setting yourself up for a fall.
You don't see players, you see numbers. You don't see stats, you see stars. What you don't see usually ends up being what gets you and there you are, dejected in the end, wondering how these predictions could have been so wrong. Whether it's their performance at the next level not quite being up to their five star ranking in high school or it's you judging your University incompetent because they can't get all these five star players to go there, you've decided to hinge your entire opinion on a ranking, that you don't even know how it's created.
It's created by very skilled people, who know what they are doing, know what they are looking at and know what they are looking for. But, they are people. They can't watch every film. It's impossible. They have to rely on the abilities of others to decide the rest. What you don't know is which ones are "The Rest".
My rule of thumb for people is that when looking at rankings, take them as a reference and an indication of some of their potential. But, if you start throwing yourself into this recruiting mix like you have done every year for you don't remember how long, getting emotionally involved with the numbers, in the end, you are likely to be the only one disappointed.
If you truly want to know how good a player is, I have the best piece of advice to you. Wait until their career is over.
Other than that, it's just all one big guess.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619