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Recruiting Rankings, Football Factories & Making An NFL Roster

Coaches who are the best at developing elite talent are also the ones that can identify pro-level talent, but are there too many "blue chippers" to begin with?

Michigan is one more bad season away from hosting a telethon.
Michigan is one more bad season away from hosting a telethon.
Kimberly P. Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The old maxim is that winning is about "Jimmies and Joes, not Xs and Os." Take a gander at the participants in the past two College Football Playoffs (and the winners,) and that bit of coach speak may as well be codified, if not just accepted conventional wisdom.

Here are the four-year averages for NSD class rankings:

2014: Alabama (1) Ohio State (4) FSU (5) Oregon (17.5)

2015: Alabama (1) Clemson (14) Oklahoma (14.25) Michigan State (29)

To put this number in a little clearer perspective, blue chippers are the life blood of a quality team, and no where is this more apparent than at the end of the year results. While consistently signing top-25 classes may be enough to get you to the mountain (Oregon, Michigan State,) it takes those truly elite classes, with a roster staggeringly comprised of blue chippers, to actually win it.

For instance, Alabama's 2015 roster was composed of 73% blue chip guys (four-star or higher.) Last season, Ohio State's roster was nearly as stacked, as 68% of the roster were represented by these elite players. Before that? Florida State's team was 56% blue chip players. While there is no magical ratio, it dose appear as though you need at least half a roster filled with these guys that recruiting services designate as "future NFL players" to actually win the trophy.

While the playoff numbers (aside from who hoisted the hardware) don't show quite the tidy 1:1 relationship between playoffs and talent, the advanced data certainly do bear out that consistent talent wins consistently.

Here are the top-5 teams in terms of S&P+. I've put their average recruiting results in parentheses beside the school name:

Team 2011 S&P+ 2012 S&P+ 2013 S&P+ 2014 S&P+ 2015 S&P+ 5-YEAR AVERAGE Rk
Alabama (1)
27.5 28.5 22.2 28.3 30.0 27.3 1
LSU (3)
28.7 15.4 15.9 16.5 18.6 19.0 2
Ohio State (4)
6.2 12.7 18.4 30.2 24.0 18.3 3
Oregon (17.5)
21.2 22.1 12.5 23.7 11.6 18.2 4
Oklahoma (14)
21.5 17.5 10.7 17.7 22.6 18.0 5

The same old names keep popping up, irrespective of which end of Ouroboros we want to try and analyze first when talking talent or coaching. In this chicken-and-egg, recruiting clearly is the most important factor.

But, a logical question arises here: Once that talent is on campus, and all of those "future NFL players" (as denoted by four- and five-star designation) arrives on campus, what is the effect of development and coaching on actually sending them to the NFL?

While that may be a bit harder to quantify, Pick Six Previews actually took a stab at it.

Football Factories - Pick Six Previews

You might be looking at this information and wondering what to really take from it. If you are a Tennessee fan you might have already tweeted at us about Derek Barnett and Jalen Hurd's bright futures. However, the erratic results per school, coaching staff, scheme, and conference ultimately prove my original point: they don't have a significant impact on an individual recruit's likelihood of going pro.

The player's athletic ability, mental makeup, etc. are the the most significant determining factors. If you are good enough to go to the NFL, they will find you.

However, the difference between the top teams and the bottom teams on this list is significant and cannot be ignored. It is important to remember that the basis for this data comes from the recruiting services--and with over one million high school football players in the United States, projecting future prospects is hardly an exact science. UCLA, Clemson, and the other top "developers" have certainly proven to NOT squander talent. But since the NFL places such a high premium on innate physical ability (i.e. not coachable), the results are even more revealing about these coach's ability to evaluate and recruit the best talent.

It is an interesting read, but one that immediately raises the corollary question, and what I think is a serious problem with the recruiting services: If the best coaches. In terms of identifying and sending "future pro prospects" to the pros are still "failing" 60% of the time, yet we know that elite rosters are at least half full, and usually 65-70% composed of these 4-5* guys, then are we not seeing an unwarranted proliferation of the four-star athlete? i.e., there may actually be too many very good players that are labeled as "future pro players/4-stars" than are really warranted? Because, it is clear that the number of players designated as blue-chippers by recruiting services cannot be support by actual NFL draft results.

I understand the subscription business model at work here. And, I get that recruiting services want to sell more of their product to more markets and include more schools and more high school players into the product: Not only is it good business, but it's the quid pro quo of how these guys get influence at the high school level. Still, does the blue chip designation really stand up if approximately half of the players so labeled are not actually producing blue-chip results (and, draft status is certainly one, but not the only, metric to gauge the results.)

What do you think?