Paging the Mathlete: Redshirting

Submitted by oakapple on June 14th, 2012 at 11:56 AM

I thought I'd tee up a potential topic for a Mathlete-like analysis: redshirting. The question is: how much does it "cost" to burn a redshirt? By "cost," I am referring to the projected value of the fifth year that never happens, minus the value contributed during the player's true freshman year.

Obviously, the value of the fifth year can only be estimated. But the costliest burned redshirts are the ones where we have a lot of data confimring that the player was excellent. By January 2013, we'll have three years of data on the value of Denard Robinson as a starter. If you take Denard's performance as a starter, and subtract his actual contributions as a true freshman, you get a decent estimate of what was lost by not redshirting him.

Now, you could argue that with no other QBs on the 2009 roster who could run the spread, Michigan didn't have a realistic choice except to play both Robinson and Forcier in their true freshman seasons. Still, it was not without a cost.

Robinson at least made a substantial contribution as a freshman, although not as much as he would later on. Will Campbell made almost no contribution at all. Michigan didn't have to play Campbell. If Big Will is the starting nose tackle this year, the cost of his burned redshirt will be very high indeed.

So this is another aspect of cost. A costly redshirt is not just one where the player's production as a senior was much higher than his production as a freshman (which is true of many players), but also where the team realistically could have redshirted him, but failed to do so.

If you look at current rising true sophomores (players whose redshirts were burned last year), Blake Countess was probably a "good" burned redshirt, because he saw very substantial playing time, and in fact was the starter by the end of the year. I'll assume that if you're the best guy on the team at your position, then you shouldn't be on the bench, regardless of what class you're in.

But Thomas Rawls was a "bad" burned redshirt, because he contributed almost nothing last year, and now we lose the option of his fifth year. Of course, by 2015 someone else may have surpassed Rawls anyway. But if he's a superstar by his senior year, people will look back wistfully on the handful of meaningless snaps he played as a true freshman.

Another useful category is a player like Brandin Hawthorne. He's a rising senior who burned his redshirt, but he's not a superstar. He's just a guy. Michigan will always have another linebacker to plug in who is at least as good as Brandin Hawthorne, so I don't think anyone will be weeping over the fifth year that wasn't.

That brings me to the two elephants in the room, Devin Gardner and Shane Morris. If Gardner doesn't get his injury waiver, he might be the costliest burned redshirt on the whole team: all of his freshman snaps were meaningless, but there's a very good chance he'd be the 2014 starter if he had a fifth year.

Brian answered a mailbag question yesterday, about whether Shane Morris "would accept" a redshirt, as if it's Morris's decision. Actually, I suspect Morris is smart enough to know that the likely value of starting in 2017 as a fifth-year senior (or at least having the option to do so) is considerably more than the value of playing a few backup and garbage-time snaps behind Devin Gardner in 2013. Unless Morris is good enough to actually beat out Gardner (and Russell Bellomy too), he ought to be begging to redshirt.

So, those are the outlines of a possible quantitative study that the Mathlete might take on. You could assign a cost to each burned redshirt, with particularly "expensive" ones being those where: A) The player did very little as a freshman, and there was no real pressing need to use him; and, B) The player was a superstar by his senior season, and was precluded from playing a fifth year.



June 14th, 2012 at 12:14 PM ^

I guess Mathlete's PAN thing would help but I've been working on a Museday that tracks how many guys were redshirted and which we would have preferred they weren't. I've got every player recruited since '93 and whether he redshirted, plus whether he completed his eligibility, etc.(ALL the Brackinses)!

Redshirts have a lot to do with the current status of the roster, position, and the player's personal makeup. A lot of players come in planning to graduate in four years. Recently there have been more early enrollees, who will have another one or two (spring/Summer) semesters under their belts. If you've got a kid with 12 AP credits plus 28 more from Winter and Summer terms, he could conceivably be 1/3 of the way toward his degree before he plays a football game. He's a good candidate to play as a freshman. Another kid may be a 5-star talent and ready to play but if you don't give him a few semesters on campus to get used to being away from home you're at risk of a big bust.

In general if you have an NFL-caliber player, redshirting him when he could have helped the team as a freshman is just wasting that year, since he will graduate in 4 years and be in the NFL that last season anyway. Braylon could have used a redshirt his freshman season but he wouldn't have returned for 2005 if he had. We did this with Ernest Shazor and he ended up leaving early. However on the whole the contributions of a 5th year senior are going to be greater than for the same player as a true freshman. There are degrees of this. Rawls is a bad example for you here because he's a running back, and RBs don't change very much. Cornerbacks too don't often get much out of redshirting. Guys who need to bulk up and learn difficult schemes are those who benefit the most.



June 14th, 2012 at 12:34 PM ^

I'm not sure you can say that cornerbacks don't gain much from redshirting.  Many are too skinny to play early and the extra 5-10 lbs can make a big difference when they come in at 170 lbs.  Also, it's a position that takes a lot of confidence, and if you shatter that it can derail their career.  Cissoko comes to mind as a CB who would have really benefited from a RS.


June 14th, 2012 at 12:42 PM ^

I like the topic, however, what I'd there is a scenario where a potential fifth year, would mean the soph year of the backup was wasted, and said backup is now only a two year starter instead of a three year starter?

mgoblue No.1

June 14th, 2012 at 2:59 PM ^

When debating this, you have to keep in mind the redshirted players backup too. For example, Denard made significant contributions his freshman year, but we will not know how bad burning the redshirt will be until we see how good DG is once Denard is gone. If he steps right in and is a better passer and a overall in the same league as Denard, then burning Denard's redshirt really was not that bad, but if he sucks....then it's a whole different story (same situation when DG leaves, if Morris is as good/better, it won't be a big problem that DG's redshirt was wasted)


June 14th, 2012 at 6:27 PM ^

Like predicting the stock market. Much easier to do looking backward. The coaches need to assess the value of a kid's contribution immediately, vs trying to project how he may develop over the following four years.


June 14th, 2012 at 8:02 PM ^

Coaches have to do whatever they can to win THIS YEAR. (Cynically, so they don't get fired; less cynically, Hoke has observed that it isn't fair to the seniors on the team to not do everything you can to win for them.) A coach's decision isn't going to be an even weighing of how much can he help me this year vs how much could he help me his 5th year; it's going to be skewed heavily toward how much can he help me this year. If a coach thinks playing that freshman linebacker on kick coverages gives him a better overall shot to win this year than playing a walk-on and saving that linebacker for a few years down the road, he's playing the kid now.


June 15th, 2012 at 1:57 AM ^

There's something to be said for playing the most deserving player, regardless of class. This type of attitude breeds competition, and can be used as a major selling point to recruits. How many recruits would like to hear 'you are likely sitting this year' vs 'if you are on the two deep you will play'. And of of course the risidual effects of playing Denard his freshman year gave the team exposure to attract a top player like Morris down the line.