maybe i should have had greg howard write the brandon obit.
Brian buzzed me last week with a recruiting question on early enrollees:
1) Are EEs less likely to redshirt?
2) Are EEs more likely to start as freshmen? Underclassmen?
3) Are EEs more likely to be all-conference? Drafted?
4) Are EEs more likely to stick around as 4th and/or 5th year Seniors?
I hear a lot about the benefits of being an EE; you get on campus early, you get to start working out with the team trainers and players, start taking classes, etc. I think Clemson has something crazy like 12 EEs this year and I can't imagine that hurts their team development. I'm just curious if it actually gives any empirical advantage to those who do so.
Thanks and Go Blue!
I don't have national data, but I've got the early enrollees in my giant spreadsheet (see "EE" column). I'm pretty sure of things since 2008, but before that I had to rely on Michigan's press releases from signing days and spring games.
2015: Malzone, Cole
2014: Speight, Canteen, Harris, Cole, Mone, Ferns, Watson
2013: Douglas, Butt, Bosch, LTT, Taco, Dymonte
2012: Ringer, Bolden, Wilson
2011: Greg Brown
2010: Gardner, White, Hopkins, J.Rob, J.Jackson, Ricardo, Pace
2009: Forcier, V.Smith, Campbell, LaLota, M.Jones, Hawthorne, Vlad
2007: Mallett, Helmuth, Chambers
2006: C.Brown, Boren
2005: Kevin Grady
Just from reading that list you'll notice transition years have relatively few of them; a healthy Michigan probably has six or seven guys enrolling in January each year. You'll also note a lot of guys who left for one reason or another.
1) Are EEs less likely to redshirt?
Yes. 32% of EEs redshirted as freshmen versus 65% of those who enrolled in fall (those who never enrolled not counted). They obviously came to play.
2) Are EEs more likely to play early? Yes, but they're less likely to play overall. Here's the average number of starts per their season in the program for players who would be eligible*. Notice the difference?
* "Would be eligible" means I've removed redshirt (including medical), and transfer years, and 5th years of guys who never redshirted. Those lost to attrition otherwise are counted.
That is wow. It is extremely weird for there to be as many starts for true freshmen as for third- or fourth-year players. This shows that early enrollees are more likely to play as freshmen, but were progressively less likely to be starters each season thereafter.
You also can see the average start numbers per eligible player are rather low.
It's more accurate to say you find out what they are much earlier. Notably, NONE of the early enrollees to earn starts at Michigan redshirted initially (the 11 starts by a 5th year are all Gardner's).
It's also worth nothing that it wasn't the same guys contributing to those columns. Your true freshman EEs with more than 3 starts were Mason Cole (12), Jake Butt (8), Tate Forcier (12), and Darryl Stonum (10). Those guys—for reasons of injury, Denard, or temporal existence—contributed just 8 starts to the sophomore column, which is filled instead by Boren, Vincent Smith, and Jarrod Wilson.
3) Are EEs more likely to be all-conference? Drafted?
That seems to be much more relative to their talent, but we'd need national data to make that assumption. One day I'll add NFL draft information to the big spreadsheet; maybe we'll discover something then.
4) Are EEs more likely to stick around as 4th and/or 5th year Seniors?
As you probably guessed from the above chart, they are way LESS likely, and from the data it appears that's mostly because they're flight risks. Even if you figure all of the current players make it to graduation, early enrollees at Michigan have an average of 1.92 (!) lost seasons of eligibility out of the four they get, compared to 0.82 for fall entries.
This remains true even if you remove all the guys currently on the team. Here's a breakdown of the % of former players (from 1993 class to 2014) who stuck around X amount of years by when they enrolled:
|Seasons at M—>||5||4||3||2||1||DNQ|
That is stark. A good third of early enrollees left the program after just a year, and the hits kept on coming. When you total up all the eligible seasons of enrollees lost to various types of attrition, the EEs were particularly likely to be giving those seasons to other schools:
|% of Season Lost To:||Fall||Early|
|Gave up football||10%||2%|
Of the 37 early enrollees, six played out their eligibility and 13 are currently on the team. Three losses were natural attrition (Mike Jones was an unrenewed 5th, Hopkins gave up football, and Pace was a medical loss), and three were dismissals (Forcier, Stonum, and Austin White). That leaves 12 transfers: Boren, Mallett, Helmuth, Chambers, Emilien, LaLota, Ricardo, J-Rob, G.Brown, Ringer, Bosch, and Ferns.
Only the first two of those transfers wound up helping Power Five programs, though Bosch and Ferns still have the opportunity to do so. Mallett and Boren would have been guaranteed starters on the 2008-forward teams. The rest seem to be guys who were buried on the depth chart and realized it early.
What have we learned?
An early enrollee is more likely to care extremely about early playing time. They chose Michigan in part for an immediate opportunity to start, thus raising the likelihood of early playing time. However they are way more volatile in attrition.
Your expectations of an early enrollee from Michigan's smallish sample is that you'll find out right away if he's going to be either a long-term starter or a non-major contributor. A lot of these guys come to compete for an open spot, and either win it or move on.
Michigan's offense this year is facing the mother of all X factors in its quarterback situation. Brady Hoke left the rest of the team in relatively great shape, but its most important position in a Shane-or-die position.
Hoke and his staff recruited just Russell Bellomy (a last-minute flier stolen from Purdue) in the hybrid 2011 class, and skipped a quarterback altogether in 2012 because they already had a commitment from Morris in 2013. This was a bad idea then, and worked out awfully for Michigan. Bellomy's injury ruined any chance of a badly needed redshirt for Shane, so even if Morris worked out he'd be gone after 2016. And if he didn't work out: Michigan was going into this year hoping to catch lightning in a freshman from either lone 2014 recruit Wilton Speight, or early enrollee Alex Malzone.
From left: Morris, Speight, Malzone, Gentry, O'Korn. O'Korn won't be eligible in 2015 due to transfer rules but gives Michigan a guy they didn't have between Morris Speight.
This won't happen under Harbaugh. The former Michigan and NFL star likes lots of bullets and lots of competition at his old position, which he personally coaches. Harbaugh has already added the high-ceilinged Zach Gentry, a perfect complement to the high-floor Malzone. By this time next year (unless there's attrition), Michigan should have the above plus two years of eligibility remaining on Houston transfer John O'Korn, and likely one or two of the nation's best freshmen.
What I'd like to do, then, is go back through Harbaugh's quarterbacks—the starters and the recruits—to see if we can find any common threads in the type of guy he adds to the pile, and the type of guy who emerges from it.
|Jim used his Orlando offseason home as a base from which to recruit the talent-rich region for WKU. [USA Today]|
Recruiting assistant, 1994-2001
Bo's former defensive backs coach Jack Harbaugh was coaching at Western Kentucky, and struggling through his first few years, when the school decided it would cut two assistant coaching positions and a handful of scholarships (they already put very little toward equipment). His sons offered to do some scouting and recruiting for him—John from Cincinnati and Jim from his house in Orlando—and the harvest from those recruits was an WKU's rise to a I-AA national championship in 2002 and eventual reclassification into Division I-A.
The Jim-John co-op (John was doing much of the scouting, passing on guys Indiana couldn't recruit) was personally credited with 17 players on the national championship team. Nick Baumgardner got the story of Jim's first quarterback recruit, Willie Taggart:
Harbaugh explained he was trying to round up some talent for his dad's program. He told Taggart that he and his father were watching tape of Manatee and asked, "Who is that little skinny guy?" Jim said he thought he should play quarterback in college and he'd come by the school on Tuesday at lunch to discuss it further.
Taggart hung up and assumed it was a prank or something. "I called my high school coach and he checked on it and said, 'Yeah, Jim is Jack Harbaugh's son.'
Manatee was a Tampa area powerhouse back then, so Taggart's a guy who absolutely would have shown up on recruiting radars today, and had FBS programs looking at him then. He became the best QB in school history, improving a 2-8 team in in 1995 to 7-4 in '96 and 10-2 in '97. Taggart is now USF's head coach, and was an assistant for Jim at Stanford.
Taggart returned to WKU in 2000 and ran an option offense that rotated between three candidates. The original winner was Jason Johnson. They got the 6'3/200 Johnson out of Palmetto, but with the limited scholarships they couldn't offer him one out of high school. Johnson went to a military college for a few years before being re-recruited:
It was during that second season that Johnson had to renter the recruiting game. He was in contact with a number of Division programs, including Clemson, South Carolina, Kansas State and Indiana, but in the end Western won out.
Donte Pimpleton was the second, a local-ish dual-threat kid who wound up playing receiver—there isn't anything on the internet connecting his recruitment to the brothers. The third candidate, and the starter of the 2002 championship team, was Jason Michael, another local recruit, onetime Jim Harbaugh assistant in SF and now the OC of the Tennessee Titans,
Jim did recruit Alan Ogletree, an overlooked athlete from Atlanta who ended up starting at every position in the defensive and offensive backfield for the Hilltoppers (QB, RB, FB, WR, CB, SS, FS, K, P).
[After the jump: Raiders and San Diego]
Taco-ranked starters are far more likely than Glasgows [Fuller]
Every year, as college football recruiting becomes the only football thing left to pay attention to until spring, we are suddenly struck by an army of pundits so arrogantly attached to their "recruiting stars don't matter" narratives that they don't bother to care that math is against them.
Michigan typically gets taken to the woodshed in these articles for recurrently not matching recruiting expectations with on-field results. This discrepancy does exist beyond the normal J.T. Turners that everybody gets, and for various interrelated reasons: attrition spikes, spottily shoddy coaching, program instability, recruiting shortfalls. Anecdotally, there are examples I can point to, especially in the early aughts, when an otherwise two-star athlete was bumped to a three-star because Michigan offered. That explains less about how Wisconsin and Michigan State thrive on 2- and 3-stars, and more about how Michigan has recruited very few guys under a consensus 3-star.
However every time we find a new way to compare recruiting data to performance data, we consistently discover that recruiting stars handed out by the services correlate to better players. No, a 5-star isn't an instant superstar, but the 25-30 five-stars each season are consistently found to be about twice as likely to meet some performance metric (NFL draft, All-conference, team success, etc.) as the pool of 200-odd four-stars, who are consistently more likely to meet performance thresholds of the 400-odd three-stars, etc.
Today I present a new metric for proving it: starts.
|Example of raw data, via UM Bentley Library.|
ALL the Starts
My project over Christmas was to take the data from Bentley's team pages (example at right), scrub the hell out of it, and produce a database of who started what years, at what positions, at what age, with what recruiting hype, etc.
A few weeks back I released the initial results of my starts data. We noticed there were a lot of problems in that. I went back and did a lot of fixing, mostly just finding more weird errors in the Bentley pages I'd culled the data from, sometimes emailing the guys themselves to ask things like "Was there a game in 2001 that either you or B.J. didn't start?"
I think I've got it cleaned up now; at least the total number of starts for each season matches 22 players per game.
Recruiting By Starts
Starting in 1996 we start getting relatively uniform star rankings for recruits, though I had to translate Lemming rankings and such into stars (he had position rankings and national lists that line up with what we call recruits today). So I took the average of available star ratings of all players to appear on Michigan's Bentley rosters from the Class of 1996 through the Class of 2010, and put 'em against the number of starts generated. Guess what: recruiting actually matters.
|2- or 2.5-stars||29||271||9.3|
Even with Michigan's notorious luck, the 5-stars were expected to give you about two seasons of starts, compared to the 8 or 9 games you'll get out of a 2- or 3-star. That is significant, and offers a bit more evidence toward the general statement about recruiting stars: the higher the star rating, the more likely he is to be a good college football player, though at best you're at 50-50.
As for walk-ons, I've linked to the list of the 217 guys in that time period who made the Bentley rosters and weren't special teamers, in case you doubt me. The Order of St. Kovacs have accomplished great things for Michigan, but turning up one of those guys anywhere other than fullback has been rare indeed.
I'm going to try to use the starts data above to get predictive. The scatter plot of the 1996-2010 group was pretty linear so I'm just going to plug in a linear equation:
Expected Starts on Avg M Team = Stars x 5.30 - 6.35
And that gives us a reasonable expectation of Michigan starts to expect from a class based on their rankings:
click big makes
For the Class of 2011-2014 projections, I just guessed by hand, so those projections are going to be increasingly inaccurate once I'm predicting 2017 starters and whatnot.
The chart above has two stories to tell: 1) The strength of a recruiting class is strongly correlated to the value that class will produce in starters, and 2) the damage done by attrition to the 2005 and 2010 classes created ripple effects for several classes afterwards.
An Average Michigan Team:
By some quick averages I was able to get an average makeup of a starting 22. I took the average number of starts by experience (i.e. year in the program) for the classes of 1995-2010, adjusted those numbers for a 13-game schedule, then divided by 13 games to get an idea of what the starters ought to be against years of interest.
|Senior / RS Jr||7||5||4||8||8||6||8||9|
|Junior / RS So||6||10||5||4||7||7||5||6|
|Soph / RS Fr||3||3||6||2||1||2||3||4|
|AVG starter age||3.55||3.27||3.18||3.82||3.50||3.27||3.77||3.50|
By this the last two teams look extraordinarily young—about as young as the 2008 team or younger. The 2012 team by contrast seems like a wasted opportunity. FWIW I counted Devin, not Denard, as the quarterback, or it would have been even older. That fits the narrative: 2012 was a wasted opportunity, as a line with three 5th year seniors (two of whom were long-term productive starters) plus Lewan and Schofield was coached into one of the worst offensive lines in memory.
Five on five. [Upchurch]
When news broke recently that Jabrill Peppers was moving to safety, Brian threw up a quick explanatory post, Why Peppers Might Be A Safety, talking about how modern spread offenses dictate modern quarters defenses, which in turn dictate that the safety over the slot is the glamour position du jour.
An offensive innovation like the zone read will open up the entire book again as coaches figure out ways of running all the things they already like out of new looks, new play-action, etc. But defensive innovation, with a few notable exceptions, is much more reactive.
Often what we call a "new defense" is just rediscovering an old, unsound thing that takes away the thing offenses are doing these days. The 46 defense was bringing a safety down. The zone blitz was having a defensive end playing coverage. The Tampa 2 had a middle linebacker responsible for deep middle coverage. The 3-4 made three linemen responsible for six gaps. And the hybrid man/zones of today put your deep coverage into the middle of the run-stopping game.
The way a defensive innovation becomes a sustainably great defense is great players. Dantonio's quarters dominated college football with a string of NFL-bound defensive backs. The 3-4's proliferation through the NFL was accompanied by a rush on anything that looked like Vince Wilfork. The Steel Curtain (the first Tampa 2) was built around Jack Lambert. Miami (NFL Miami)'s "No Name" zone blitz defense had a 6'5/248 lb. track star named Bill Stanfill at WDE. And the '80s Bears could pull off this crap:
…because that "46" was the jersey number of one Doug Plank.
You don't need to be a football guru to see what made the 46 defense tough: there are eight dudes in the box, six of whom are just a few steps from the quarterback. Running into a stacked box is futile (DO YOU HEAR ME? DO YOU HEAR ME, AL?!?). You can try to identify who's blitzing and throw to holes in the coverage before they arrive, but you'd better have Dan Marino.
[After the jump: how to 46 a modern offense]
Fred Jackson has been a fixture at Michigan going back not one but two undefeated seasons. He arrived in 1992 to join Gary Moeller's staff. Since then, including a two-season stint as Lloyd Carr's first offensive coordinator, Jackson coached (and showered superfluous praise upon) over 100 running backs.
This site has correctly pointed out numerous flaws in the RBs over the last few seasons. It's difficult to diagnose what's coaching and what's just a certain back's ability. Every time we run into Vincent Smith, which is often, either Brian or I have pestered him about why nobody else can block like he could, and Vince just smiles and says "it's hard." Jackson himself has said that vision and ability are nature, blocking is a mentality, and the most he can really do is teach them whom to block.
|Best Backs of the Jackson Era|
|*Powers had another 1,945 yds at
5.07 YPA prior to Jackson's arrival
His results are mixed; Jackson coached four of the top ten leading rushers in school history (and his guys blocked for a fifth). On the other hand only two of his guys—Wheatley and Biakubutuka—cracked 5 yards per carry for their careers, a feat accomplished by nine of the guys coached by Jackson's predecessor Tirrell Burton.
What isn't hard to find is effusive praise about Jackson as a person and as a coach, from his former wards to high school coaches across Michigan. Like the coaches of Canham's era, Fred is a permanent fixture of the Michigan Athletic Department, a relationship that goes back to when Fred was Rick Leach's quarterbacks coach in high school.
The thing that really kept Jackson here through the tenure of four coaches was his ability to recruit the state of Michigan. There was a time when Michigan barely had to work to get homegrown kids, when Michigan Replay was the best access most local coaches had to any college football program, and the local press ignored anyone else. Today the in-state rival is on a roll, and there are as many Saban/Perles/Duffy/Dantonio guys in the state's coaching ranks as there are Michigan dudes. While Michigan's mainstream beat has four Rosenbergs trying to make a name for themselves at the expense of the program for every Angelique, the Spartans own an army of slappies. The current generation of recruits were born after the peak of Carr, and can only remember a few crazy 4-point wins over Notre Dame as great Michigan moments.
Michigan has veritably owned Michigan regardless.
This month, Jackson retired, the position he held for 23 years going to one of his first acolytes at Michigan. I choose not to let such a career pass quietly. I also choose not to review his career statistically, or at least not by utter performance. Rather, I'd like to chart our way through this long career in simple carries. Full data is here.
The bar graphs after the jump don't tell a story; they're there help jog the stories of so many storied running backs and fullbacks to come through here since I was 12.
[After the jump, a review of the backs in the Time of Jackson and the carry distribution between them from game to game.]
My biggest takeaway from last night is Michigan will need a very strong and well-coached front seven if Harbaugh is to pull a 1969 next Thanksgiving weekend.
The key to Michigan's dramatic defensive improvement in 2011 was that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison gave Michigan's defense an identity. They went to a 4-3 under, single-gap run defense that Mattison brought from the Ravens, and over the course of the year found the best fits for the guys on hand.
|Durkin knew Mattison from his Charlie Weis pants days. [photo: Joe Raymond|Freep]|
You remember, despite the relative success of this transition, that some fits were more or less awkward than others. Jake Ryan was a perfect SAM. Ryan Van Bergen worked as a 3-tech or a 5-tech. Mike Martin played nose because nobody else could, and his disruption was deployed with a lot of stunts, or weird stuff like when they came up in an Okie and Martin dropped back to essentially MLB. Roh at WDE was a solid run defender but wasn't built to take advantage of that WDE-tackle matchup that's supposed to produce natural pressure.
Last year of course they went to a 4-3 over base alignment, making Jake Ryan into an awkward MLB because the alternative was Beyer as a really awkward 5-tech. The kicker: offenses were forcing Michigan to play nickel 50% to 90% of snaps, which made Ryan into either an undersized defensive end, or a guy on the sideline.
JMFR is gone but Mattison will still be around, joined by new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. At the Cleveland event last night I suggested Mattison’s role will be as sensei to Durkin, who hasn’t really flown solo yet (Muschamp was very involved with that defense).
It adds up to a belief that Michigan won’t change its defensive style for 2015, but what is that style? Coverages are another matter; just speaking to the front seven: should they be the under that they recruited for, or the over they transitioned to?
Refresher on 4-3 philosophy
Mattison and Durkin both coached (Durkin as a graduate assistant for one year) under Bob Davie at Notre Dame, who with Jackie Sherrill developed the Texas A&M "Wrecking Crew" defense. Jimmy Johnson (another Sherrill acolyte) took it a step further in Miami, and Pete Carroll now runs in Seattle.
You’ll note that they used different alignments. Johnson’s defenses were the genesis of the 4-3 over, and so influential that this is what people usually mean by “4-3” defense, as opposed to Tom Landry’s base version. Carroll’s been coaching the 4-3 under since he learned it directly from Monte Kiffin, who developed it at Nebraska.
The under alignment was not the base concept; the real philosophy in Kiffin's terms was to give his defensive linemen simple assignments so they could play with aggression and disruption. The benefit of one-gapping is no defensive linemen stopping to diagnose the play. Once the ball is snapped, all of these defenses want those brains thinking "go!", "put my hat in a gap," "be a factor," and "attack that block!"
Mattison used a mix in Baltimore because he had Ngata, but at Michigan he’s had an almost exclusively gap-attacking defense. The question has been what alignment to run it out of, and that’s a question of which players fit it best.
(Start at 1:17)
So which alignment is Michigan going with this year? I think again it’s a question of personnel? I make diagram.
Michigan’s short on red dudes
The above is my attempt at showing the spectrum of qualities emphasized by the front seven positions in the 4-3 over versus the 4-3 under. I also gave a small approximation of color fits for guys I know something about (Spur-like objects like Gant and Wangler left out because I ran out of colors to depict DB-ness).
It's meant to show what we mean when we talk about the why nothing's a perfect fit for the talent on hand. Suggestions for improved shading are welcome. Takeaway from this experiment: Michigan's front the next few years may be better at throwing out different looks than it will be at rotating through shark teeth.
If you trust my judgment on the shading above, the over appears to remain the best fit for the guys we have, provided they can find some backup ends (the glut of DE/DT tweeners remains). As Mattison mentioned in the video above, the half of the time you’re in nickel to counter a 3- or more-wide look, you’re in an over anyway. D.J. Durkin used a lot of smaller players and changed things up a ton at Florida, and I expect the future will be a truly multiple defense with versatile front seven players. I expect when they can’t run Ojemudia and Charlton out there at the ends, Durkin will experiment with linebacker-ish dudes out there.