Re-Ranking Rivals: Are U-M players beating their rankings?

Submitted by Ron Utah on August 19th, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Rivals is my favorite recruiting system.  Not my favorite site, and not my favorite rankings (ESPN is winning that title this year), but my favorite system.  In addition to stars, they have a relatively simple system for ranking recruits:

The ranking system ranks prospects on a numerical scale from 6.1-4.9.

6.1 Franchise Player; considered one of the elite prospects in the country, generally among the nation's top 25 players overall; deemed to have excellent pro potential; high-major prospect

6.0-5.8 All-American Candidate; high-major prospect; considered one of the nation's top 300 prospects; deemed to have pro potential and ability to make an impact on college team

5.7-5.5 All-Region Selection; considered among the region's top prospects and among the top 750 or so prospects in the country; high-to-mid-major prospect; deemed to have pro potential and ability to make an impact on college team

5.4-5.0 Division I prospect; considered a mid-major prospect; deemed to have limited pro potential but definite Division I prospect; may be more of a role player

4.9 Sleeper; no Rivals.com expert knew much, if anything, about this player; a prospect that only a college coach really knew about

A 6.1 player is basically top 35; 6.0 = 35-85; 5.9 = 85-160; 5.8 = 160-300.

To put it in NFL terms, a 6.1 is a 1st or early 2nd-round NFL draft pick. A 6.0 is a 2nd-3rd rounder.  A 5.9 is a middle-round pick. A 5.8 is a late round or undrafted FA type. A 5.7 is a player with fringe NFL potential, a 5.6 is an NFL longshot, a 5.5 isn't going to make it. 5.4 and below are guys that are unlikely to see snaps at U-M.

Keep in mind that the standard at Michigan is high.  Jeff Backus keeps a picture of a Michigan huddle on his wall.  Why?  Because everyone in that huddle would go on to play in the NFL.  While that's not typical, the majority of our starters on both sides of the ball should at least find themselves on NFL rosters for a season or two.

That said, I have taken the Rivals Rankings and re-ranked our players according to my current expectations.  This is based on the evidence I have, which is obviously flimsy for the guys that haven't played yet.  It's a combination of what I've seen on the field, practice buzz, and my gut.  Using Derrick Green as an example, I don't think we've seen or heard anything at this point that would suggest he is a 1st-round NFL pick (PLEASE remember that I haven't seen him play an actual down of college football yet).  The flipside is that Dymonte Thomas is already showing signs of an impact player, justifying his 5.9 ranking, while Gardner appears on his way to being a solid early-round NFL draft choice. 

I have ONLY ranked the players I believe are likely to contribute this season.

Player Position Rivals Re-Rank
Derrick Green RB 6.1 5.8
Kyle Kalis OG 6.1 6.0
Ondre Pipkins DT 6.1 5.8
Devin Gardner QB 5.9 6.0
Dymonte Thomas CB/S 5.9 5.9
Jeremy Gallon WR 5.9 5.9
Justice Hayes RB 5.9 5.7
Amara Darboh WR 5.8 5.8
Blake Countess CB 5.8 5.8
Brennen Beyer OLB 5.8 5.7
Cam Gordon OLB 5.8 5.8
Chris Bryant OG 5.8 5.7
Dennis Norfleet WR/KR 5.8 5.8
Fitz Toussaint RB 5.8 5.8
James Ross III WLB 5.8 5.9
Jarrod Wilson S 5.8 5.8
Joe Bolden MLB 5.8 5.8
Mike Schofield OT 5.8 5.9
Raymon Taylor CB 5.8 5.8
Richard Ash DT 5.8 5.6
Royce Jenkins-Stone WLB 5.8 5.8
Taco Charlton DE 5.8 5.8
Taylor Lewan OT 5.8 6.1
Tom Strobel DE/DT 5.8 5.7
A.J. Williams TE 5.7 5.7
Ben Braden OG/OT 5.7 5.8
Chris Wormley DE 5.7 5.7
Delonte Hollowell CB 5.7 5.7
Devin Funchess TE 5.7 5.8
Jibreel Black DT 5.7 5.7
Mario Ojemudia DE 5.7 5.7
Matt Godin DE 5.7 5.7
Drew Dileo WR 5.6 5.7
Frank Clark DE 5.6 5.8
Jake Ryan OLB 5.6 5.9
Jehu Chesson WR 5.6 5.7
Quinton Washington DT 5.6 5.8
Willie Henry DT 5.6 5.7
Courtney Avery CB/S 5.5 5.7
Desmond Morgan MLB 5.5 5.8
Jack Miller C 5.5 5.5
Keith Heitzman DE 5.5 5.7
Thomas Gordon S 5.5 5.8
Brendan Gibbons K 5.4 5.8
Joe Kerridge FB 5.4 5.6
Matt Wile K/P 5.3 5.7
Graham Glasgow OG/C 4.9 5.5
  avg 5.71 5.77

No, I'm not going to explain the rankings one-by-one.  What I will say is that I believe our average needs to be closer to 5.83 before we are considered "elite."

Also note that the rankings should be slightly inflated.  Why?  Because these are the guys that are projected to contribute to our team this season.  They have gone from recruits to players, and have either demonstrated performance on the field or generated significant buzz.

You'll also notice that higher-ranked players are likely to see rankings revised downward.  This is part common sense, part timing: a top-ranked player has nowhere to go but down and most of our higher-ranked players are young and not yet fully-developed.

Finally, you'll notice a few grades below 5.7 in the re-rank.  If we are to be an elite team, we should not have any (other than kickers) players below 5.7 pushing for playing time.

Here are the rankings, with my projected starters only:

Player Position Rivals Re-Rank
Kyle Kalis OG 6.1 6.0
Jeremy Gallon WR/PR 5.9 5.9
Devin Gardner QB 5.9 6.0
Dymonte Thomas CB/S 5.9 5.9
Dennis Norfleet WR/KR 5.8 5.8
Amara Darboh WR 5.8 5.8
Jarrod Wilson S 5.8 5.8
Fitz Toussaint RB 5.8 5.8
Mike Schofield OT 5.8 5.9
Taylor Lewan OT 5.8 6.1
Chris Bryant OG 5.8 5.7
James Ross III LB 5.8 5.9
Cam Gordon LB 5.8 5.8
Blake Countess CB 5.8 5.8
Raymon Taylor CB 5.8 5.8
Devin Funchess TE 5.7 5.8
Jibreel Black DT 5.7 5.7
Drew Dileo WR 5.6 5.7
Jake Ryan LB 5.6 5.9
Quinton Washington DT 5.6 5.8
Frank Clark DE 5.6 5.8
Thomas Gordon S 5.5 5.8
Desmond Morgan LB 5.5 5.8
Keith Heitzman DE 5.5 5.7
Jack Miller C 5.5 5.5
Joe Kerridge FB 5.4 5.6
  avg 5.72 5.81

This includes a slot WR, nickel CB, KR, and extra LB (JMFR).  If we're looking to be a dominant team, I think we need an average closer to 5.88.

I will revisit these rankings after the season, and perhaps once in the middle.

Comments

1464

August 19th, 2013 at 3:26 PM ^

I think he means this to be a very introspective piece.  What does this phrase mean to you?  What is beating anyway?  Who says that team who scores the most points always win the game?  Are we dismissing the character building element of these contests?

Deep.

nicoleyoung168

August 25th, 2013 at 3:09 PM ^

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nicoleyoung168

August 25th, 2013 at 3:13 PM ^

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MadMonkey

August 19th, 2013 at 4:00 PM ^

dialogue.   This an approach we can embrace in politics, religion, ethics, and sports blogs.

[EDIT:  Well, now that this diary has actual content, i rescind my earlier observation.  It would have been cool if you let is try to figure out the whole Joaquin Phoenix approach a while longer.]

Ron Utah

August 19th, 2013 at 4:04 PM ^

HA!  I just realized it posted before I had added content...don't know what happened there.

I think the kids these days would use "LOL"

This isn't meant to be anything other than subjective rankings.  My goal is to track each player and see how good they actually are, then compare those rankings with our record.  I am also curious to see how talented we need to be in order to be elite, and how far from that we are.

BTW - I would define "elite" as a team that is consistently in the top 10, winning or runners-up in their conference, and playing in prominent bowl games every year.  Basically, a team that is always or almost always in the national title conversation.  'Bama, Ohio, LSU, Oregon, and Stanford would be examples.

Space Coyote

August 19th, 2013 at 5:32 PM ^

I don't think you can take a guy that's a back up and say, "well we haven't seen him play so let's guess he's a 5.7 because he's behind other guys" and then conclude "we need to average around a 5.8" when you really have no idea how the new comers will perform when they rise up the depth chart or where they are now.

I think you could go back and re-rank players that have come and gone, but this just doesn't seem like the best approach for this sort of thing, and I'm not really sure any valid conclusions can be made from it at this point, particularly when rating incoming freshmen or guys that have never played for Michigan yet. Class size, top of the depth chart, etc. would all sway your thinking too much.

Ron Utah

August 19th, 2013 at 6:27 PM ^

I appreciate your post, but I was not offended.  I tried to put enough disclaimers in the content of my post to indicate that it was far from scientific.  Perhaps I should not have ranked the guys that have not yet played, but that's just not as fun.

I am quite certain that lots of these rankings will be wrong--that's how predictions work.  That said, it will be interesting to follow these players and their performance relative to their Rivals Rankings.

As for my numbers about averages, that is from research I have done on Alabama's roster, and the quality of players they produce.  If our goal is to compete at their level each season, we'll need to get closer to their ranking levels in terms of both recruiting and performance.

There is no story here...yet.  This is just a prediction.  We'll start to see how it plays out in 12 days.

ish

August 19th, 2013 at 6:26 PM ^

if you take the 2012 and 2013 classes and assume the between the two classes the highest ranked player at each position will play, the defense would average 5.88 and the offense 5.92.  a few notes on that:

  • on offense, i've counted two WRs and one "flex," who happens to be wyatt shallman because he's the highest ranked TE/FB/RB hybrid.
  • the OL would be magnuson, bosch, kugler, kalis, fox.  the fact that david dawson wouldn't crack that lineup shows you how amazing our depth there is.
  • darboh is one receiver and then a bunch of others get 5.7s.  gotta pick up the WR recruiting.  hello george campbell.
  • jourdan lewis is the only CB with a 5.9.  a number of others get a 5.8.
  • dymonte is the only S who gets a 5.9.  a number of other DBs get a 5.8.  i just assumed that one of the 5.8s would be the other safety.
  • mccray is the highest ranked LB with a 5.9.  a number (ross, bolden, gedeon, etc.) get a 5.8.  i just averaged 2 5.8s with a 5.9.
  • DT is the highest ranked position group - pipkins is a 6.1; poggi a 6.0.  however, if you count "backfield" as a position group, you'd get the same average - morris 6.0; green 6.1

Ron Utah

August 19th, 2013 at 6:32 PM ^

There's no doubt our recruiting is on an upswing.  What I'm trying to do is relate that to our on-field performance.  While those averages are great, it's almost a certainty that the highest-ranked guys will NOT be the ones playing at every position.

That said, we do have some impressive numbers as far as rankings go.  We'll see how that turns out.

As for the WR recruiting, Harris and Campbell should certainly help bump that group.  And it's possible we'll see a few guys make an impact there that aren't/weren't recruited primarily as WRs, such as Norfleet and Peppers.

ish

August 19th, 2013 at 6:53 PM ^

of course not all of the highest ranked players at each position will start (above i wrote "play" when i meant "start" but the freaking server malfunction got rid of editing; i also wish i had noted that i included butt as the TE in addition to a flex).  but that's still ok because as you note, it means that a lower ranked player would be outplaying his recruiting expectations (barring injury to the higher ranked players).

as you note, the bottom line is that recruiting is on an upswing.  between the 2012 and 2013 classes there are only three positions where we don't have a player ranked 5.8 or higher:

- S opposite dymonte;

- WR opposite darboh; and

- CB opposite lewis.

drake harris solves the WR issue and peppers the CB issue.  and only to the extent it's actually an "issue," which i don't believe it is.

timot

August 19th, 2013 at 8:30 PM ^

The bottom line is that the near and mid-term futures look very good indeed. One thing I think most on this board undervalue is the impact having a true passing quaterback will have on the O line. As exciting as Denard was, he truly made playing offensive line more difficult to play due to his poor passing and inability to effectively read the run option. Teams will not be able to stack the box on Devin, who was a higher rated recruit than Denard.

Hill.FootballR…

August 20th, 2013 at 12:34 AM ^

Honestly, my first thought was this is arbitrary and kind of ridiculous. Then I immediately thought, how many first round draft picks did Alabama have last year?

What is interesting about this is that some players get drafted higher in the draft because of "potential" and some players get drafted lower due to "size" (just one example), which doesn't change their effectiveness in college at all. But, it is a very interesting way to rank a team, piece by piece. It actually is a great way to take out things like, "coach play calling" and "strength of schedule" when judging a college football team. 

Honestly I would think a good portion of Alabama's contributors are going to be drafted in their career, with seemingly a few in the first round every year now. 

 

Two ideas to improve on this, I like the idea of including only contributors, but if it's a true freshman or redshirt freshman, you can't downgrade them. This would make it possible for us to grade other teams that we know much less about and make this more statistical. 

Second, when ranking a player, think to yourself, if I was drafting a college team, would they be a first round pick. This way, players like Troy Smith (sorry but it's a good example) or Russell Wilson are higher draft picks than they were due to size or specific style of play. 

This would help JMFR, and to this point hurt someone like Frank Clark.

Jon06

August 20th, 2013 at 1:11 AM ^

I don't know how you can have any non-arbitrary rationale for reranking guys we haven't seen play yet. I also dislike the precise predictions (out to two decimal places!) about where we need to get to be elite. 

I would have enjoyed this piece more if it had been limited to players where we actually have some idea of their NFL draft value. E.g., revising Lewan's ranking up to 6.1 makes sense, as he'd have gone in the first round last year. JMFR to 5.9 makes sense, as he'd surely have been drafted had he not been injured. But what could explain almost any of the other rankings?