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How to think about the '10 class

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If given the choice, surely most would choose to bring in a recruiting class considered strong across the board. That's how it was a year ago, and how things could play out in the coming year. In what's perceived to be a down class locally, there'll probably be compromises in some areas. That doesn't mean it's impossible to sign a good class, and I believe that Rutgers did do well some areas this year, like at receiver.

Even with lowered expectations from the onset, there are a couple things going in RU's favor with their '10 signees. The staff finished strong; likely, better than they had anticipated. It's odd to see 24 signees in a year where there wasn't much exceptional local talent. That's somewhat a function of roster needs too, and there are questions about whether certain players will end up enrolled and on scholarship.

What's also good to see is that it's a class with speed and athleticism in spades. Coach Schiano vowed to make those factors a top priority in roster construction. It's not just about signing playmakers; we want linemen who can run too. Flood needs athletes for his zone blocking lanes. Schiano wants agile, disruptive linemen. That criterion is a critical factor in why the staff may value certain players differently than other schools with different priorities, or to a recruiting service that has to consider the needs of 120 different teams. Coach also mentioned character when talking about Johnson, Coleman, Thomas, and Thompson, and that's clearly emphasized quite a bit.

The fun thing about scouting high school recruits is in trying to project how they'll develop three or four years down the line. Eric Foster transformed from a skinny linebacker into an All American-caliber player for Rutgers. Put him in a 3-4 defense, and Foster may not have ever seen the field. When moving past the cream of the crop type talents, I think this is a pretty good approach. Let's say, as a gross oversimplification, once you move towards the midpoint of a normal distribution (bell curve), every prospect will have his own particular strengths and weaknesses. Roughly, there's a distinction between two separate classes of players: overachievers, and projects. The challenge then is to strike the best, most-efficient balance between the two to develop a winning football program.

Here's my line of thinking about so-called "projects". Even the worst FBS teams produce good players at times. If you take a bunch of raw talents, the odds are that most of them won't develop, but some of them will. Devin McCourty was a combine star who battled a few injuries in high school, and he turned into one of the best corners in the country as a senior. Other, similar question marks never made it. Super Bowl heroes Gary Brackett and Shaun O'Hara couldn't earn scholarships under Terry Shea. What about the other walk-ons who gave it their best, and are now selling cars and compiling spreadsheets?

It's a question of scouting, and whether or not a staff has shown an ability to both find and develop players. Rutgers has shown a good track record for the most part. The danger in this area is in not doing the legwork. When you look at how Notre Dame struggled in recent years, a lot of that could be attributed to the fact that while the Charlie Weis staff did a very good job convincing prospects to come to South Bend, for whatever reason, those players didn't seem to get much better once they arrived. Their senior tackle Sam Young is a perfect example. Young dominated in high school, but that was primarily because he was far ahead of the developmental curve over his peers. They caught up, and he never lived up to expectations in college.

The flipside of this with the coach who replaced Weis at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly. It's funny, Notre Dame fans are now furious that Kelly's competing with mid-level Big Ten teams for recruits instead of going toe to toe with Florida and USC like Weis did. It's almost as if they'd rather sign the #1 recruiting class than finish #1 in the postseason poll. Coaches like Kelly, or Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, can indeed now bring in a higher tier of talent than they could have at their old jobs, but you'd think their track records would allow for a little bit of slack.

A coaching staff has to get an apparatus in place for doing well with talent evaluation and development, one that can always adapt and grow. Then, having carefully fine-tuned that system for reliability, successful staffs have to be confident in accepting the end results, and not be insecure about external scrutiny. It's tricky, but when reading third party recruiting evaluations, especially the ones on this very site, readers always need to be cognizant of these factors. Keep an open mind, but also keep enough grains of salt handy to give your cardiologist fits.

As a final thought to all of this, before I go back to finish putting the final touches on my class writeup, I again recommend to any readers to read Bill Connelly's recent article on ESPN Insider, which goes into specific detail about the value of recruiting rankings. As mentioned yesterday, Bill does give the gist of his findings in this Washington Post podcast, but if you're interested in finding out more, be sure to check shell out some dough for that article, and check out Bill's other work on footballoutsiders.com, in FO's publications, and his Missouri blog Rock M Nation.

4- and 5-year historical recruiting rankings are MUCH more predictive than I even would have thought, almost as much (from a correlations perspective) as 2-, 4-, and 5-year history

At least take a few minutes and give it a listen, as Bill goes into some detail about how recruiting has nearly as much predictive value as factors like W-L record in recent seasons, and returning starters

It might not warrant social media stalking, or even the endless hype and obsession, but only a fool would write off this topic completely. I'd hope that everyone does take heed of the points mentioned above (i.e., don't say that TCU isn't any good because they largely scout players unknown to the media), and try to strike a proper balance though. Personnel recruiting is one of several imporant causes of team performance and success, all of which play vital roles in the games that we all love to watch come the fall.