Reviewing The 2006 Recruiting Class: Top 50

Submitted by Brian on April 26th, 2011 at 4:08 PM


Brandon Graham and Ricky Dixon

A few years ago I took a look at the Rivals top 100 and attempted to evaluate the success or failure of the kids in it, ranking each player on a five point scale and coming up with an average. It was pretty interesting but an enormous pain in the butt and the vague desire to repeat that study for future classes paled in comparison to the mountain of tedious research it required.

But if ESPN is going to do the tedious research for me, I'm on board. What follows is a reprise of the earlier post's methodology. Players are rated on a five point scale:

  1. Total bust.
  2. Contributor but a marginal one, or a not-very-good starter.
  3. Average starter.
  4. All-Conference-ish player in a BCS league, likely NFL draftee.
  5. All-American-ish player, likely to be drafted in top two rounds.

These should roughly correspond with star rankings. Players on the borderline will be assinged a 3.5 or whatever. Players who don't make it for reasons other than talent—injury, grades or being a total knucklehead—are noted as such. It's a bit much to expect recruiting analysts to project who is going to rob a liquor store.

This post covers the ESPN top 50. The table below has rankings from the three major services and a brief explanation of what happened to them.

Player School ESPN Scout Rivals Rating
Myron Rolle FSU 1 7 12 4
Three year starter and second-team All ACC at FSU; left for Rhodes Scholarship before senior year. Sixth round pick of Titans, NFL backup.
Percy Harvin UF 2 8 1 5
All-purpose Florida ninja. First round pick of Vikings, offensive rookie of year.
Vidal Hazelton USC 3 5 7 Inj
50 catches for USC as soph, injured, buried on depth chart, transfer to Cinci, injured in first game at UC.
Andre Smith Bama 4 2 2 5
Three year starter left to be top ten pick after true junior season.
Matt Stafford UGA 5 11 6 5
Instant starter at UGA, first pick in 2009 draft.
DeMarco Murray OK 6 37 35 4.5
Part of backfield platoon for first three years; 1200 yards at 4.3 YPC as senior, two-time AB12, expected to be 2nd-3rd round pick
Sergio Kindle Texas 7 6 5 5
Three-time AB12, AA as senior, second round pick of Ravens, Butkus finalist
Taylor Mays USC 8 21 16 5
Brutal headhunter was four-time AA. Second round pick of 49ers.
Micah Johnson UK 9 9 36 3.5
Three year starter had some injury problems but was 1st team All SEC as junior; undrafted, practice squad type in NFL.
Antwine Perez USC 10 43 29 3
Transferred to Maryland after one year, worked way into starting lineup as junior, probably won't be drafted.
Maurice Evans PSU 11 62 46 3.5
Monster sophomore season (12.5 sacks, Hendricks finalist) followed by minor legal trouble, disappointing junior year, early NFL draft entry. Went undrafted and is a practice squad guy.
Mitch Mustain ARK 12 10 10 1
Left after Las Cronicas Locas, transferred to USC, sat on bench, lost to ND in only start.
Jevan Snead Texas 13 68 61 3
Beat out by Colt McCoy, transferred to Ole Miss. Mediocre two-year starter there. Idiotically entered NFL draft after 20-int junior year. Surprise: undrafted.
Stafon Johnson USC 14 13 18 3
Member of USC diverse but mediocre backfield as soph/junior. Dropped 275 pounds on his throat before senior season. Entered draft anyway, made team, immediately destroyed ankle.
Tim Tebow UF 15 29 22 5
Is Tim Tebow.
Jai Eugene LSU 16 17 #12 CB 2
Started nine games as a sophomore but was LSU's nickel guy after that; bacup safety as senior.
Al Woods LSU 17 12 20 4
Contributor for four years, starter as senior. No college accolades but a fourth round NFL draft pick.
Marcus Ball FSU 18 67 37 TKE
Problem-ridden LB suspended three times before transfer to JUCO, then Memphis. Was starting for Tigers before getting suspended again.…
Sam Young ND 19 3 11 4
Four year starter surrounded by utter incompetence. Sixth round pick of Dallas
Brandon Warren FSU 20 #7 TE 24 TKE
Contentious transfer after excellent freshman year; booted from Tennessee; at North Alabama.
Gerald McCoy OK 21 4 4 5
Two-time AA was third pick of NFL draft.
Eddie Jones Texas 22 20 25 3
Started as senior, contributed before that. Six sacks, one honorable-mention AB12. May go at the tail end of the draft.
Allen Walker Miss 23 89 60 3
Three year starter but not a notable one. No accolades, won't get drafted.
Carl Johnson UF 24 39 28 4
Three year starter and enormous human; projected to go in the fourth to sixth rounds of the upcoming draft.
Reshad Jones UGA 25 #13 S 14 4
Two year starter was twice second-team All SEC; picked in fifth round.
Allen Bradford USC 26 28 9 3
Another member of USC's consistently mediocre backfield. Had bust-out senior year until sidelined by injury.
Markeith Summers Miss 27 #81 WR #38 WR 2
Mostly a backup; did start as a senior but finished fourth on the team in receptions.
Jim Barrie UF 28 #58 OL #15 OT Inj
Career ended with ACL explosion.
Jermaine Cunningham UF 29 #13 DE #4 WDE 4
Three year starter was second team all SEC as a senior; second round NFL pick.
Chris Wells OSU 30 1 3 5
Human battering ram was brutally effective when healthy. First round pick.
Brandon Graham MICH 31 14 15 5
The best player in the history of awful defenses, Graham was an AA in 2009 and a first round pick of the Eagles.
Richard Dickson LSU 32 #13 TE #6 TE 3.5
Three year starter had 30 catches as soph/junior. Dropped off a bit as a senior. Second team All SEC twice; undrafted but stuck with Lions.
JB Walton PSU 33 #28 OL 72 Grades
Transferred to D-II school after academic issues.
J'Marcus Webb Texas 34 44 63 Grades
Played in every game as a freshman, then succumbed to academic issues. Got drafted in seventh round and started 12 games as a rookie.
Damon McDaniel FSU 35 #29 WR 69 1
Seven catches in two years; transferred to Hampton; didn’t do much there.
Adron Tennell OK 36 91 42 2
Vague contributor didn't do much until he was a senior and even then just 24 catches.
Emmanuel Moody USC 37 75 70 2
More mediocre USC tailbacks. Moody had about 400 yards each year he was at USC; he transferred to Florida and did little.
David Ausberry USC 38 46 66 2
Started as junior but was unproductive; moved to TE; played a bit. Won't get drafted.
Jeremiha Hunter Iowa 39 #19 LB 78 4
Three year starter was second team AB10 as senior. Probably will get drafted at tail end.
Byron Maxwell Clem 40 #20 CB #18 CB 3
Nickelback until his senior year, when he was a decent starter. May get drafted.
Terrence Austin UCLA 41 81 #14 WR 3.5
Second team AP10 as kick returner; also a decent receiver. Seventh round pick who stuck with Redskins.
Dustin Earnest Texas 42 83 #14 ILB 2
Career backup. Did contribute a decent number of tackles as an upperclassman.
Raeshon McNeil ND 43 92 74 3
Okay two-year starter was passed over by NFL.
James Aldridge ND 44 34 27 2
Mediocre runner averaged under 4.0 YPC for career; moved to FB as senior.
Mike Goodson A&M 45 18 32 3.5
Started off with a bang but production tailed off. Fourth round pick.
Konrad Reuland ND 46 40 81 3
Transferred to Stanford, started as a senior in TE-mad Harbaugh offense. Won't get drafted.
CJ Spiller Clem 47 16 8 5
Insanely explosive do-everything RB/KR/PR was a top ten pick.
Ricky Dixon LSU 48 #46 WR #23 WR 1
Two catches in two season; tranferred to Texas Southern.
Akeem Hebron UGA 49 32 65 1
JUCO, then three years at Georgia where he didn't do anything.
LeSean McCoy Miami 50 22 43 5
Prepped, went to Pitt, and was the Panthers offense for two years. Second round pick.

So what does this say?

The 44 players who didn't bomb out for unrelated reasons averaged a 3.4. On average a player from ESPN's top 50 turned out to be a borderline All-Conference type. In buckets:

5: 11
4 (and 4.5):  8
3 (and 3.5): 14
2: 7
1: 4

75% of ESPN top 50 players were at least average-ish starters on big time college football teams or Notre Dame. 43% of them were All-Conference types, and 25% were All-American types. That's a good strike rate at the very top.

It's not as good as it was when I looked a the 2002 class. That Rivals top 50 averaged 3.5 and only had 13 guys 3 or below. However, three guys were punted on and twelve more weren't rated for one reason or another. Only six dropped out here. Sites may be more careful these days about character/grade rumors.

Who won?

Can't say yet until we get through the whole 150 and check out Rivals and Scout lists to see their embarrassing misses, but the above looks ugly for ESPN. There are four flat out busts on the above list. On two all three sites were fooled; on two they weren't. Those two were

  • Ricky Dixon, an LSU receiver two did nothing and transferred. ESPN had him 48th. Scout had him a generic three-star; Rivals had him towards the tail end of their four stars.
  • Damon McDaniel was 35th to ESPN; Scout had him 29th amongst WRs and Rivals had him 69th. All were somewhat wrong, but ESPN was more wrong.

There are seven meh guys, and on most ESPN was more wrong. Some of them are moderate differences that we'll probably see when we run across outliers in the Rivals and Scout top 50s, but on a few ESPN whiffed hard:

  • #27 Markeith Summers was a generic three star to Scout and just hanging on to a fourth star at Rivals.
  • #42 Dustin Earnest was 83rd on Scout and a generic three star ILB to Rivals.

Rivals was also considerably less wrong about Jai Eugene; both other sites got Clemson CB Byron Maxwell, LSU TE Richard Dickson, TX QB Jevan Snead, USC S Antwine Perez, MI DE Brandon Graham, OSU RB Chris Wells, and USC RB Emmanuel Moody better pegged than ESPN. There aren't many examples of the reverse, just small gaps in evaluations. We'll see if that holds up once the whole picture is tediously put into Excel.



April 26th, 2011 at 4:14 PM ^

is that ESPN's rankings were shaky around this time but have improved the last few years. Would love to know if that's actually true, but I would have expected Rivals and Scout to have outperformed ESPN in 2006 (with Rivals maybe outperforming Scout).  


April 26th, 2011 at 5:30 PM ^

ESPN's recruitng coverage was in its infancy in 2006 and has expanded drastically since then.  I would expect them to fare worse than scout/rivals this far back.  

If in subsequent years, somebody does a retrospective on the 2007 and 2008 classes I expect ESPN's rep to keep improving. theyve been spot on with some overrated guys in our classes lately (namely Campbell).


April 26th, 2011 at 4:21 PM ^

That should be a new recruiting metric: "Propensity to Rob Liquor Store."

"Jimmy has exceptional speed, hips on swivel and excellent pad level.  Major concern is the unregistered hand gun he likes to carry and the abundance of liquor stores in his neighborhood."


Zone Left

April 26th, 2011 at 6:39 PM ^

It seems like coaches really have a tough time with this one. To a man, they'll think it's important that their players act like upstanding members of society--even the self-interested ones hate bad press and top players getting arrested. I'll bet a dollar that most FBS coaches are the endlessly optimistic type of people who really believe they can make a difference in some of these young men's lives if they only take a chance on them. When they combine that belief with the talent level of the top prospects, I think coaches can't resist recruiting them.

A recruit like Willie Williams is the perfect example. The only thing that may have eclipsed his potential were his personality flags. Everyone was willing to give him a chance, even though they all had a pretty good idea things wouldn't end well.


April 26th, 2011 at 4:26 PM ^

how the hits/misses progress through an era where video taking and posting to the web becomes more wisespread. With phones coming out now that can take 1080p video and edit on the fly, its not going to be just camps where the student athletes can be evaluated. Anyone can have a bad/good weekend but over a 10ish game season plus camps it'll be much easier to grade players out. 

What is much harder to grade a player out on is the system he gets put in and how it accentuates his abilities or hinders them. Sometimes a player is punished by bad coaching/scheme and can lead to a false miss. I'm sure Toby Gerhart is not a Heisman finalist if he's playing for Oregon....

turd ferguson

April 26th, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

Like you suggested, without seeing the top 50 from Scout & Rivals, I don't think you can say much in terms of comparisons. 

Here, we see some of the guys who ESPN thought they'd take a shot on even though Scout & Rivals weren't as crazy about them.  You wouldn't expect those kids to perform as well as the across-the-board, unanimous stars.  It'll be interesting to see how the other two services did when they took shots with kids that ESPN and/or the other service weren't as crazy about.


April 26th, 2011 at 4:41 PM ^

There was a lot of teeth-gnashing when Eugene dropped Michigan in favor of LSU.  Hopefully people feel better about missing out on him now (circumstances of the change aside).


April 26th, 2011 at 8:16 PM ^

is the hardest position to project because it's hard to tell if a CB has good hips and the athleticism to cover WRs.  This is why football camp is more important IMO because the coaches get a closer look at the CB prospects to evaluate if they can play CB in college level.


April 26th, 2011 at 5:11 PM ^

This kinda shows what I generally see in these "look back" pieces that I love.   It seems that the really top kids the (say top 20) most of the services agree on and they generally become very successful.   Once you get away from the real freaks it becomes much more of a crap shoot. 

This says to me that these guys don't scout as much as just look at the kids body and his measurables and guess.  


I Bleed Maize …

April 26th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

I've always believed ESPN's rankings are the worst of the 3 sites (4 now with 24/7, but there rankings seem to be all over the place to0).  They tend to grade guys going to the SEC or USC always a little higher than they should.  This breakdown just gives more proof to that argument.  They were incorrect big time on quite a few guys.


April 26th, 2011 at 10:02 PM ^

This is the type of info that makes me a regular visitor on Mgoblog and puts this web site in an elite group for the multiple Michigan fans throughout the world, starving for information on our our great university, who seek sports information  . I have often wondered what the followup on common rankings is.   Nice job.  Keep up the in depth analysis.


April 26th, 2011 at 10:07 PM ^

This is an example of one of the reasons why I am a regular visitor on mgoblog.  Good analysis of what the rankings mean.  Keep up the good work.


April 26th, 2011 at 10:22 PM ^

But I'm not sure what one can make of it, other than a snapshot in time, partly because of a lack of a control group and partly because of confounding variable (i.e. "coaching").  Another confounding variable is that players do not choose teams at random (a "highly ranked" linebacker may be more likely to choose to go to Linebacker U).  There seems to be several ways to look at the "rankings" from a fan perspective, each probably fairly painful to analyze, but my guess are these are what most people care about (very similar to what Brian posted):

Outcome #1: I want my college team to do great

Outcome #2: High school kid makes it to the NFL

Outcome #3: High school kid becomes NFL stud

So, the hope when you have a highly ranked recruiting class is that it will materialize into wins and mythical national championship.  To analyze that you could look at a specific year for a team (or league), go down the roster and average the rankings (similar to what Tim graciously provides) then look at the number of wins.  To get a really good measure, it may be helpful to do this over 4 or 5 years for a team/league.  That may even be enough data to gauge whether there is a recruiting service ranking that is a better predictor than others.

The other outcome is of course whether a kid goes pro.  One way to do this is looking at the NFL draft over a few years and seeing what each player was ranked by each recruiting service (if even ranked).  One could probably parse out which service better predicts pro potential.

Lastly, one could do the same thing for pro teams that I mentioned doing for college teams.  One could look at playoff teams, super bowl winners, or all comers.  Since "coaching" is a confounding variable, maybe just looking at pro bowl players over a few years makes sense.

Apologies for the long post, and doubly for presenting a methodology without actually doing the work.  Hopefully, time will allow me to actually follow-up on this...