this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
They come in pairs
Crawford (bottom) and Kinnel
Two 2015 Ohio defensive backs have proclaimed Michigan their outright leader, and both have given Michigan fans a reason to believe they'll pop in the near future. In OH CB Shaun Crawford's case, that's because he's announcing on Friday at 4 PM on ESPN.com. He told Rivals's Mark Givler that "I don't really have a group of finalists, it's mainly just that one school for me," actually moved Miami down his list after visiting, and hasn't been offered by other potential favorite Notre Dame. This one is not heavy on suspense.
Crawford is a leetle guy at 5'8" to 5'10", depending on who you believe, but he brings 170+ pounds to the table already—the same as Michigan's 6'2" freshman corners—and impressed Givler with his toughness:
Shaun Crawford is as good in run support as any corner I've seen come out of Ohio the last few years.
Commence the Antoine Winfield comparisons that will never, ever stop.
That is a highly reassuring thing to hear about Crawford, since no one doubts his athleticism or skill—it's all on the size, or lack thereof. Crawford's actually playing safety for his team so that he'll have more impact on the game this fall, FWIW.
The other guy, OH S Tyree Kinnel, has not been as explicit as Crawford but according to Brandon has set a visit for Saturday. Kinnel was clamoring for a Michigan offer, extremely disappointed when one didn't come after camp, and now has one. A commit watch is definitely on. While Kinnel was momentarily inclined to open things up given the lack of proverbial love, Hoke and company have a knack for closing the deal, like they did with George Campbell.
Kinnel is a four-star to 247 and Scout but has not been rated by ESPN yet. Those four star rankings in the range where Kinnel would be on the tail end of top X lists or just outside; he's a solid 3.5 star guy by our reckoning. The major drawback is that he seems to be a CB/S tweener, which Michigan doesn't care about at all. Nickelback, maybe?
[After the jump: Jabrilladiculous]
In this week's podcast Brian alluded again to his spectrum of blocky-hitty to catchy-outie or whatever. Most of this has been touched on before but I thought I might delve a little further into the Fullback/U-back/Tight end descriptors and what Borges means to do with his shiny new knife set.
The coaches call them fullback (Kerridge and Houma), U-back (Shallman and Hill) and Y-Tight End (Funchess, Williams, Butt and Paskorz). By now you ought to be familiar with all of them but just in case:
- Fullback: lines up in the backfield in a position to receive a handoff; may be split, offset, or inline. Kerridge is your pure blocker type; he'll wander out to be a pass option out of the backfield but I've yet to see him run a route more than a few yards from the L.O.S. Houma is supposed to be more of a combo blocker-runner; his quick burst of acceleration and compact body force defenses to respect the threat of a quick dive from him.
- U-back: lines up in the backfield but nearer to the edge of the line, usually outside the tackle opposite the Y-tight end. May also line up as an end (on the line) if the receiver to his side is not on it. This position really encompasses anybody between pure fullback and pure tight end. Wyatt Shallman is the more fullbackian as he's more of a running threat than a pass-catching option, though his size makes him a strong edge blocker. Khalid Hill is an interesting guy for the U since he's supposed to be an accomplished pass catcher and route runner, yet can still lay fullback-like blocks.
- Y-Tight End: lines up on the line (and thus can't move before snap) next to the tackle. A guy whose skills lean receiver may "FLEX" out, which is a fancy way of saying he's playing possession slot receiver. A.J. Williams and to a lesser extent Jordan Paskorz represent the "more like another offensive tackle who may go out and catch something sometimes" end of the Y spectrum, while Funchess and Butt are both on the "more like another receiver who may block something sometimes" extreme. Getting production from this spot this year hinges on getting somebody to get adequate at the part he's not great at, the most likely candidate being Funchess's blocking.
[Jump for discussion and guys and whatnots]
Rivals ranks Five-Star Challenge camper Steven Parker 123 spots higher than any other service.
Rivals released their updated 2014 Rivals100 today, and this would've gone without more than a passing mention if not for this tweet that accompanied the release:
— Rivals.com (@Rivals) August 19, 2013
Fans of recruiting often throw out unsubstantiated claims about bias in the player rankings; this "fun fact" from Rivals, though, is just begging for some investigation into potential issues with their rankings. Does Rivals favor recruits who show up to their camps?*
I decided to take a look at the players in the Rivals100 who are listed as participants in the Rivals Five-Star Challenge; they represent 51 of the top 100 prospects on Rivals. My rather unscientific method of looking for potential bias was to look at each Five-Star Challenge participant's ranking on Rivals and compare it to their highest ranking on any of the other three services; if there's consistent bias in the rankings, Rivals should be the high outlier for this specific set of prospects. You can pore over the full (chart?) chart here; below is a summary of what I found:
- 26 of the 51 Five-Star Challenge participants (50.9%) were ranked higher on Rivals than any of the other three recruiting services.
- 11 players from the group were ranked at least 20 spots higher on Rivals than elsewhere, compared to eight whose highest ranking was 20 or more spots above their placement on Rivals.
- Five FSC participants in the Rivals100 were ranked 50+ spots above their next-highest ranking, including significant outliers OK S Steven Parker (#46, 123 spots higher than Scout) and TX OL Demetriux Knox (#35, 92 higher than Scout). Only two such players — AZ OL Casey Tucker (#79 on Rivals, #27 on Scout) and FL LB Kain Daub (#86 Rivals, #24 Scout) — fit the opposite criteria.
- On average, the 51 FSC participants were ranked 5.3 spots higher on Rivals than they were anywhere else; that number would obviously be even higher if we were looking at the industry average instead of the next-highest rank.
Where the numbers get really interesting, however, is when we look at the relationship between Rivals, ESPN, and Under Armour. As of this year, Rivals's recruiting rankings are "presented by Under Armour." Meanwhile, ESPN and Under Armour are still partnered for the Under Armour All-American Game. When I mentioned this potential conflict on Twitter earlier today, our friend TomVH noted that both Rivals and ESPN have input into the Under Armour AA selections:
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) August 19, 2013
Since Rivals and ESPN both have potential conflicts of interest regarding Under Armour All-American prospects, I revisited my chart and looked for prospects whose highest non-Rivals ranking came from ESPN. Of those prospects, six are committed to the UA game. These are those six players:
|Name||Rivals100 Rank||ESPN Rank||Delta||Highest Non-ESPN Rank||Non-ESPN Delta|
This is, to be sure, a limited sample, but I can't say I'm surprised to see that each player's highest ranking drops — significantly, in the case of the top three players on the chart — when the two services with ties to the Under Armour Game are removed. When running the numbers for the full set of 51 Five-Star Challenge participants and using the highest non-ESPN rank for Under Armour All-Americans, the gap between Rivals and the other services widens significantly — the prospects are ranked an average of 11.1 spots higher on Rivals than the other services.
Rivals received some immediate backlash when they published the tweet at the top of this post; they repeatedly replied to commenters with this explanation when pressed about potential bias in their rankings:
@travatrave It shows how many of the kids we were able to evaluate first hand and in person, no bias at all.
— Rivals.com (@Rivals) August 19, 2013
This isn't an illegitimate explanation; Rivals got the chance to see a large group of top prospects in a setting that no other recruiting outlet was allowed to attend, and that should rightfully lead to some disparity in player rankings — both to the positive and negative. The fact that the Five-Star Challenge participants skew to the positive, however, along with the trend of major outliers among Under Armour All-Americans, suggests that some bias is present when it comes to recruits who participate in a Rivals-sponsored event.
Recruiting rankings, as we well know, are by no means an exact science, and my methodology here is far from ideal. That said, the role of sponsors in recruiting rankings is worth watching with a critical eye.
*Notably, the Rivals Five-Star Challenge is only open to Rivals reporters. No other outlet is allowed to cover it.
HEALTHING UP WOO
Jake Ryan came back before he was injured. Are we moving Jake Ryan's timetable up? I… maybe?
There are rumblings about the first Big Ten game, which would be crazy.
When you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. When you have four, math implodes. Michigan State's nominal starter put up 4.1 YPA in their latest closed scrimmage and their true freshman went 10 of 14 for 240 yards, so a two-way quarterback battle is now a four-way one:
"At the beginning of the scrimmage it was a three-horse race," Dantonio said Monday. "And at the end of the scrimmage, it was a four-horse race."
While you are fretting about uncertainty at guard and safety at least Michigan's quarterback battle is "who wants to get Devin Gardner sandwiches?" Also, Michigan is starting Taylor Lewan at left tackle instead of a former walk-on. LeVeon Bell ain't walking through that door.
Related: in weird news, Hoke told the Michigan insider that Shane Morris was held out of Saturday's scrimmage because they wanted to rest him. Uh?
Meanwhile in Iowa. An open practice(!) leads BHGP to conclude that redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock is likely to throw two-yard hitches on third and seven for the Hawkeyes. Rudock was a three-star out of star-studded Florida powerhouse St Thomas Aquinas a couple years back.
Other bits from Iowa City:
- Sounds like depth is at a low ebb on defense.
- Greg Davis has spent most of the offseason smoking opium and drinking absinthe, so Iowa's now a no-huddle shotgun team.
- True freshman tailback LeShun Daniels is going to play, because he is an Iowa tailback. He is scheduled to be raptured up midseason. Weisman and Damon Bullock also return.
From the comments:
"It looked like a modern-day college football offense."
This… wait, so… but… I can’t… so wait, you mean…. but that’s…. that’s just…. um…. but…. I don’t…. wait, what?
In West Lafayette. Rob Henry is named Purdue's starter, which is amazing because he's a redshirt senior. I don't know if I've ever experienced the opposite of the Brooks Bollinger Eighth Year Memorial Season effect, but it seems like Henry should be much younger. Playing at Purdue == premature aging. Thus all the ACL tears.
In South Bend. The Irish lose Danny Spond to migrane issues. He was a returning starter at the Irish equivalent of SAM.
Another angle. Gardner posted his slant touchdown to Joe Reynolds to instagram:
Johnson is young for his grade, and you know Beilein keeps an eye on that stuff. His coach reports that now that Johnson has "shown a lot of maturity" in the classroom that Michigan is getting more interested. His mom used to play at Wisconsin, but other than that connection it seems Michigan is the local favorite:
“I’ve really got to dissect the program and the way they play (more), but I love Michigan. I’m from Michigan and any time I turn the TV on, if Wisconsin is not playing and Michigan is, I’m rooting for Michigan. It is just a matter if it is going to be a fit for Jay. (It’ll be about) where I feel that Jay is going to get the most development, the most growth, (and has) the people who are going to get on board with Jaylen’s dream, as well as him being an asset to the program.”
Johnson's going to take all five officials, but probably won't use one on Michigan because he's, like, 10 minutes away. Iowa State, Louisville, and Oregon have been scheduled already.
Old school. Newsreels from mgovideo. This, the 1943 Brown Jug game:
This from the 1964 Purdue game, narrated by a very, very boring man.
There's also a half-hour of the 1936 Minnesota game.
It just had to happen to us. This Football Study Hall piece attempts to rank coaching performance relative to recruiting success by taking star average and comparing it to F+, one of those fancy holistic statistical measures that tries to smooth out schedule strength and takes MOV into account. Your #1 recruiting outperformer is the 2012 Kansas State Wildcats.
Of local interest: #2 is… 2007 West Virginia. 2006 West Virginia is 10th. Michigan hires that guy, and that guy turns in the 19th-worst performance of the decade. Cumong, man. No other coach appears in the top and bottom 40. The only other coaches with multiple years in the top 40 are Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, and Brian Kelly, with Chip Kelly an honorable mention since he was the OC for Mike Belloti.
BONUS: this study makes Rick Neuheisel look like the worst coach of the past ten years. Three of his four UCLA teams finished 12th through 14th-worst, and many of those below him are outfits like Washington State and Colorado, teams whose recruiting profile doesn't really cover how terrible they are.
Etc.: "Forecast: Good." Not so good: David Terrell's situation. More Darboh stuff. I'm not sure if this is the best acronym for a college basketball team right now. IN SG James Blackmon Jr. on Michigan. On the 1977 OSU game.
While everyone is busy breaking down the scrimmage film with a Jim Garrison-like passion, I thought I would sneak a little preseason preview of some concepts I have been thinking about for how to measure success on a down by down basis. If you want to avoid the nerdy details, skip down for some pretty charts.
Looking at down by down success is a tricky thing and right now there are only limited tools for how to evaluate how an offense is utilizing its most precious resource. The only mainstream tool is third down conversion percentage. This tool’s simplicity is both its weakness and a hidden strength.
Third down conversion rate does not take into consideration how hard your third downs are to convert. Two teams could have identical conversion percentages but if one team has a lot of third and shorts and the other doesn’t the team that doesn’t is accomplishing a much tougher job than the first team. That absence of context is also the hidden strength. Third down percentage isn’t a great predictor of how good your team performs on third down as much as it is an all-encompassing look at how good your team is at getting to manageable third downs and then converting them.
The newer stat that looks at all downs is the Success Rate metric, one I have been on record as not being a huge fan of. Success Rate is a more nuanced look at each down and assigns them a binary pass fail grade depending on whether they meet certain threshold criteria. A binary makes some sense on third down and more sense over the collection of downs, but there is too much opportunity for other value to come and go for the binary to be of major use.
A third way is an expected value (EV). How much value is each team adding or subtracting on given downs. This is a literal value look at ranking teams by what they are accomplishing on a given downs. I have traditionally used this metric but again, it lacks the detail of what is really going on behind the numbers. An EV look tends to lend a lot of value to big play teams and punish consistent gainers. There is evidence to support the rankings coming out that way, but again, I don’t think the numbers tell a good football story in one dimension.
The Early Downs Breakthrough
As I began digging into this I pulled all kinds of numbers looking at each of the three downs separately before it dawned on me, first and second down are really a package deal. They are the offense’s opportunity to either do something big or maximize their chances of a third down conversion, first and second downs and typically on the offense’s terms. You can only create big plays so often and even being good at getting in great third downs all the time still means you are having a lot of plays with a chance for the defense to get off of the field. 3rd and 1’s are converted 72% of the time by the offense, so if you get in three of those situations the odds are nearly two to one that you get stuffed on one of them. Being good at avoiding third downs is a better skill for an offense than getting in manageable ones (although both are obviously preferred).
So to that end, I put together three key metrics for an offense for 1st and 2nd downs:
Early Conversion %: Percent of first downs that are created prior to third down. An average team will convert at about 50% with the best offenses closing in on 60%, like the 2011 Oregon offense.
Bonus Yards: This is a big play metric. For the plays that create a conversion, how many yards beyond the sticks does the average play go. Average teams are around 6.5. Mike Leach’s 2005 Texas Tech team was one of the best ever at 9 yards beyond the stick.
Average 3rd Down Distance: The first two metrics are about the successes, historically, most football coaches are more about minimizing the negative. This metric is for them. For the 50% of the time that the average team faces a third down, how many yards are they typically facing. The average team still has 6.5 yards to go on an average third down. Last year’s Air Force team that Michigan faced was the best of the last 10 years with an average distance faced of 4.0 yards for the season.
Now that early downs have hopefully been understood a little better, it’s time to look at third down and focus on a true measure of the down itself. One option that’s sometimes used is to break down the conversion rates into yardage buckets representing short yardage, medium, etc. This isn’t the worst way to go about it, but still isn’t great. Unless its over a large portion of time, sample size problems are likely and you still potentially have problems, although much smaller now, of where do the actuals trials fall into the buckets. Too many buckets and the splits become hard differentiate, too few and there is little continuity to what you are measuring.
To try and solve these issues, here is my suggested stat:
Adjusted 3rd Down Conversion Percentage: Each third down distance has an average conversion rate that looks like this:
1 yard to go converts at 72%, 10 yards to go at 28%. If an offense converts a third and 1, they get +28% for that play. Fail and it’s –72%. Average up all the third downs for a period and you are left with a single number to reflect how a team has done on third downs, that isn’t weighted by being better at first and second down. The other nice thing is that it is naturally anchored to zero. An average team is at +0%. 2011 Wisconsin with Russell Wilson and Montee Ball was the best Big Ten third down team at +16%. 2011 Alabama was the best third down defense at –15%.
Taking all the above analysis, I pulled the results for last season and put them together in a fancy new Tableau table (click to control the view [ed-S: we know; we're working on the links]).
Circle size represents average third down distance
So, Michigan was pretty good on a down by down basis, last year. Only Clemson and A&M where better at third downs when accounting for yards to go. Michigan was also one of the best teams at avoiding third downs altogether, converting on first or second down about 54% of the time.
The other big take away from this is that there are a lot of Big Ten teams at the left hand side of the chart. It’s a bit hard to tell from this view, but Big Ten teams are some of the best at managing third down distance but some of the worst at everything else. Fully half of the teams in the conference are in the lower left quadrant of teams that are bad at both. An offense whose goal is to get into manageable 3rd downs is an offense that is set up to fail.
Michigan lands pretty average across the Big Five conference landscape in both early downs and third downs on the defensive side. The strength of Michigan State’s defense really shows up here, as they only allowed teams to convert before 3rd down about 2 out of 5 times.
I am trying to put together a package of weekly reports and rankings that I can publish online. If anyone has any thoughts as to what you want to see that aren’t otherwise available, I am open for suggestions.
I think these charts do a good job of reflecting what’s happening on a down by down basis. What they don’t show are the impact of big plays and high leverage plays like turnovers and red zone plays.
Over the weekend Michigan had a scrimmage that simulated what they'll do for Notre Dame week. Michigan put some ULTRAZOOM highlights on the internet, some guy attempted to UFR them, Heiko attempted to forestall panic about what was contained therein to eagle-eyed watchers. First, let's examine the pore structure of various unidentified Michigan football players:
Graham Glasgow's playing left guard. More than that, Glasgow was playing left guard because Chris Bryant—not massively-hyped Ben Braden—was held out after having his knee drained. How do we feel about this?
On the one hand, Bryant is a massive human who is a natural guard, whereas Braden is a massive human who is maybe not the best fit on the inside. Having Bryant emerge as a contender at guard gives Michigan more line depth, and when he's been healthy he's drawn praise like this from Kenny Demens:
I’ve always been a fan of Chris Bryant. That has been my favorite offensive lineman since his freshman year. I remember his freshman year he was on scout team… whenever he pulled, I don’t care if you were Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, myself, whoever… when Chris Bryant pulled, you were nervous. You were nervous! Chris Bryant brings the pain.
On the other, Braden is supposedly the most physically talented guy Taylor Lewan has ever seen and line shifts in camp remind you of last year, when the flippin' and the floppin' made the line like jello, Rudy. A steady hand is always better. Plus, Bryant spent all of last year injured to the point where he wasn't really doing much in spring. I'd heard he had some lingering pain issues from that even now, and he just got his knee drained. Also, Bryant was a decent recruit but not as hyped as you might remember. Only Rivals gave him four stars, and they were so up on his recruitment they ranked a 6'4", 340 pound guy at tackle.
Do we like it? Do we hate it? I don't know man. I think I'd rather hear that Bryant is seriously pushing Braden, who is locked in, instead of a position switch that undoes a position switch from spring. The flippin' and the floppin'. On the other hand, Bryant was not available then and is now. It could just be that he is pretty good.
Braden does get some snaps at that LG spot, BTW. He was off and on, apparently hasn't been practicing much at guard, and struggled some against interior quickness in the spring game. (He also seems to get beat by Willie Henry on a Rawls iso that goes nowhere in the above video.) So… I bet he is the #1 backup at tackle when the season starts and it's Bryant at guard. If that happens I'm going to decrement Braden expectations from "Jake Long 3.0" to "plus right tackle."
Toussaint looks like Toussaint. In a good way, not Poor Damn Toussaint of last year. No one else did much at tailback except Justice Hayes, who slips out of the backfield from a shotgun set and makes a touchdown catch after Gardner buys some time. Other running back events are Toussaint juking guys, running tough north and south, and picking up yardage. People other than Toussaint get consumed. Sample size qualifiers, obviously, but Toussaint is also getting external validation from insider types and the coaches.
It's one or two carries each for other challengers, thus indicating who has the lead in the race at RB and giving us no other information. Green gets bounced outside and swarmed, looking a little ponderous. Hayes gets to the hole and nailed on by Cam Gordon on a nice play; Ross grabs him in the hole on his next carry. Rawls picks up negative one yards and zero yards (the latter on a play from the two)—picking up where he left off. De'Veon Smith finishes that drive off.
Meanwhile, Hayes: he was reputed to be a spread-oriented back and excellent receiver. Michigan needs a third down back with the graduation of Vincent Smith. Of late I've been asserting that Toussaint should grab that job but if he's entering the season as the out-and-out feature back (which seems likely given his buzz and Green's injury) Michigan will want someone else to pick up linebackers and slip into the flat. Hayes would obviously be that guy. The other backs on the roster are young or bulky.
It does seem like he's locking down that spot. He was the back in all the shotgun snaps, with that touchdown catch and a screen that Dymonte Thomas engulfs.
The first snap is Kalis pulling to Lewan on a power play. Get used to that, kids.
Chesson and Reynolds are the receiving stars. Gallon was held out, probably because he doesn't have anything to prove at this point.
Also, guy who apparently gets injury information no one else gets says Darboh has picked up a boo boo. (Injury guy has since deleted the tweet, undoubtedly after a visit from Biff the Wolverine Enforcer.) He shows up in the first snap of the video as a blocker and then not again. Assumption: boo boo, held out, don't read too much into it. Injury Guy was right about Derrick Green, FWIW. Michigan was being a little coy with how much he was doing; the two-week estimate was not off base much, if at all. Darboh's thing is supposed to be a rolled ankle, so keep your hands off the panic button.
While you don't want to read too much into a hand-picked collection of pore videos, pencil Chesson and Reynolds in ahead of Jackson and any freshmen when it comes to the #3 and #4 outside receivers. Chesson's catch is pretty dang good, especially as it comes over Blake Countess.
Courtney Avery's playing free safety. This one is negative, I think. Avery's run support has never been a big positive, he's never played the position at Michigan, and it says some not great things about the guys backing up the presumed starters that a "five-eleven", 175 pound guy is getting a look.
One thing it probably doesn't mean: Jarrod Wilson is losing the job. Assumption here is that Michigan is experimenting in case something happens. If it is Wilson losing his job, uh, at least my prediction that we'll miss Jordan Kovacs will have been correct?
Cam Gordon is begging someone to photoshop this.
There is a lot of Cam Gordon in here. Cam Gordon pressures and chases Fitz Toussaint and hits guys and blitzes and whatnot. Beyer's supposed to be pushing Gordon quite a bit, but you can't tell that from this video, not only in terms of appearances but also in terms of Cam Gordon play. Since Beyer was not held out, that would seem to mean something.
There is also a lot of Willie Henry. The mountain wearing 69 is Henry, and he shows up on a bunch of snaps. Black was held out, but there are other guys—Strobel and Ryan Glasgow—who do not feature nearly as much. Most notably Henry helps bury the one Derrick Green carry and engulfs Rawls in the backfield. Something to note, maybe: on that play Richard Ash is also in, playing nose. Henry's at the three-tech. That makes sense with a quality nose rotation in place and a notable lack of size at three-tech. We might see him in a short yardage package instead of Black/Strobel.
It would be something if after this year we look back at ten years of recruiting and Glenville has provided Michigan with as many or even more plus players than Cass Tech.
Man I like that Dymonte Thomas play. Can't see much except Thomas flying up at lightning speed to beat a block and tackle, but me gusta.
[Also in CTK:
And Jibreel Black says things.]