Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Review of Michigan Recruiting: 1993-2003

Marlin Jackson and Braylon Edwards, two recruits who worked out quite well (photo from Michigan Daily).

Many Michigan fans (myself included) spend a tremendous amount of time following the collegiate choices of talented 17- and 18-year old football players, especially when those kids happen to be considering Michigan as a potential destination. I drop $10 a month on my Rivals subscription so I can see the latest recruiting rankings, up-to-the-second rumors on the next Vince Young, and know the instant a player commits to Michigan so I can be the first (well, one of the first) to be excited over his potential All-American career. There are thousands of other Michigan fans out there just like me, and many people out there earn their living tracking the future destinations of high school players.

However, for all the efforts put into rating these players before they ever make it to college, there is not a lot of data out there on what exactly happens to recruits once they step on campus. Many of the casual fans are never aware of the four-star linebacker who never sets foot on the field, or that the All-American wideout was actually only a three-star prospect in high school, or that our all-time leading rusher wasn't even the most highly-touted running back in his own recruiting class.

Mike Hart, class of 2004 three-star running back. Not Pictured: Max Martin, class of 2004 four-star running back.

I won't be talking about whether the star system (which many argue is inherently flawed) is the best way to judge recruits, and if it is at all accurate. First of all, I'm breaking down data from 1993, and Rivals' star system data isn't available until the class of 2002. Second, Sunday Morning Quarterback has already done a very thorough (and brilliant) three-part breakdown showing that a player's star data is a very good indicator of how good the player will be in college as well as determining his likelihood of being drafted.

I will be looking at Michigan's classes as a whole, so every player given a scholarship will be counted. This may be flawed, but it's the data I have to work with. My query is, out of every player Michigan gives a scholarship to, what are the chances the player:
  • Plays out his full eligibility
  • Sees significant playing time
  • Is an All-Big Ten/All-American performer
  • Gets drafted
  • Leaves early (and why they leave early, when that data is available)
For this, I used Mike DeSimone's incredible database of Michigan recruiting classes, which covers every player in every class from 1993 through 2008, and the Bentley Historical Library for data on starts and All-American and All-Conference performers. I will be looking at the classes from 1993 to 2003 (the last class in which every player has played out his eligibility or left the team). Tomorrow, I will be taking this data and doing my best to guess which players from Michigan's recruiting class of 2008 will fall into which category.

Overall, Michigan handed out 220 scholarships from 1993-2003. Of those players:
  • 106 (48%) started at least twelve games for Michigan
  • 48 (22%) were taken in the NFL Draft
  • 10 (4.5%) were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft
  • 50 (23%) were selected All-Big Ten at least once
  • 19 (9%) made an All-American team
  • Charles Woodson (.45%) won a Heisman Trophy
I made sure for the All-Conference and All-American players to not count the same players twice if they made the teams in multiple years. Even though Charles Woodson was All-Big Ten all three years he played at Michigan, he still counts as one.

The .45% of Michigan recruits who win a Heisman Trophy.

As for how many players stuck it out through their four (or five) years:
  • 138 (63%) played out their eligibility, meaning 82 (37%) left the team early
  • 6 players (2.7%) left early for the NFL
  • 3 of those players (David Terrell, Charles Woodson, and Tim Biakabutuka) were taken in the Top 8 of the Draft
  • The other 3 (Alex Ofili, Ernest Shazor, and Shantee Orr) went undrafted
  • 2 players (Clayton Richard and Drew Henson) left school early to play pro baseball (.9%)
  • 9 players (4%) were kicked off the team for grade or disciplinary issues (I realize this is way low, but many of Michigan's disciplinary casualties simply transferred for undisclosed reasons. Take that number with a huge grain of salt)
  • One of those players (Larry Harrison, .45%) decided it was a good idea to show off his naughty unmentionables to Michigan co-eds on Minerva Street
  • 24 players (11%) transferred (not including disciplinary casualties)
  • 12 players (5.5%) were not picked up for their fifth year of eligibility (Ryan "Yards After" Mundy falls in this category, since we weren't going to bring him back before he transferred to West Virginia)
  • 15 players (7%) had their careers cut short due to injury

Kelly Baraka, a five-star running back who never saw the field at Michigan before being kicked off the team.

What can we take from all of this (besides that I need to get out more)? First of all, recruiting is a very inexact science. What made Shawn Crable (four-star linebacker, class of 2003) into an All-Big Ten player and NFL 3rd-rounder while James Presley (four-star linebacker, class of 2003) bounced between fullback and linebacker before leaving the team after two years of having zero impact? Michigan fans may have seen the Kelly Baraka dismissal coming (he was arrested twice before he ever made it to Michigan), but who could have guessed that Larry Harrison would commit a felony sex crime?

Second, at a school like Michigan, some players are simply going to be crunched out of playing time by better players and decide they want to move on. Matt Gutierrez was a highly touted recruit out of Da La Salle, a football factory in California where he never lost a game, and was primed to replace John Navarre in 2004 before he suffered a shoulder injury. Enter Chad Henne. Exit Matt Gutierrez. Gutierrez still managed to make it to the NFL (after a season at I-AA Idaho State) and stuck with the New England Patriots last season as their third quarterback. Could he have been an impact player at Michigan? We'll never know, but if I had to guess, I would say absolutely. Of the 11% who transferred for non-disciplinary issues, many of them probably would have started (and maybe starred) at lesser schools, but got caught behind guys who had more talent or simply were there first.

Third, football is crazy dangerous. Seven percent of players never see the end of their careers because of injury. Defensive back Daydrion Taylor never played again after this hit against Penn State in 1997:

Again, there is no way to guess that Taylor's career would end due to injury. However, you have to take into account that in a 25 person class, on average 1.75 players is going to suffer a career-ending injury. This is one of the reasons why the NCAA allows you to have 85 scholarship players. Football is very violent, and sometimes people get seriously hurt (both are evidenced above). It's nice to have some extra players around when inevitably a couple guys go down to injury. Since you never know who that will happen to, teams make sure to get a ton of depth at every position possible. Inevitably, some of this depth will never be necessary. This leads to transfers, players quitting, etc.

Fourth, Michigan is an amazing football program. If you had asked me before I started this project what percent of recruits were taken in the NFL Draft, I would've thrown out a number in the 10% area at best. Instead, 22% of Michigan recruits get selected in the draft, and that doesn't include all the players (like Shantee Orr, Pierre Woods, and Ronald Bellamy, among others) who catch on in the NFL as undrafted free agents. If you sign with Michigan, you have a one-in-four chance of making the league (ignoring weighing chances by star rating). That's an incredibly effective pitch to throw at potential recruits. Probably much better than the .45% chance of winning the Heisman. Also, one-in-ten becoming All-Americans is nothing to sneeze at either.

Tomorrow, I'll take these findings and see what I can project about the 2008 class. I will most likely be incredibly wrong with most of my guesses, which will ironically prove my point about how hard it is to project how good recruits will actually be. However fruitless that endeavor will be, it will at least be entertaining to me, and hopefully to you as well.

No comments: