The Big Grain of Salt
An example of why it is hard for fans to evaluate a recruit
Nebraska has a good amount of recruiting momentum going right now. And, as Steve pointed out yesterday, the Huskers recently landed another scholarship recruit, Nate Gerry. That's great. But, a news item about Gerry today provides a stark example of why it is almost impossible for the casual fan to evaluate the quality of a prospect. First, the casual fan is just that. Even the paid recruiting sites and evaluators pale in comparison to the amount of evaluation and review done by coaches. Next - and this is the real problem - the lack of reliable facts. I'll use Mr. Gerry as an example.
Let me first be clear about one thing. This post is not intended to be a knock on Nate Gerry. He's a Husker now. By the accounts I've read, he's a good athlete and football player. Fans can be glad that Nebraska was able to beat out Iowa, Michigan State and others for his services. But, beyond that, the casual fan doesn't know much. Here's why.
You can't teach speed and you can't teach size. Speed is important. So how fast is Gerry? Depends on what you read. Read this article. It's a feel good piece about Gerry picking NU. It's written by the local area sports columnist. Local is good, right? The closer somebody is to the subject the more reliable I tend to find them. Well, then I read this passage.
He has since increased his size and speed (10.39 in the 100 meters and 21.31 in the 200) to become a three-star recruit, and he envisions rising further as part of the Husker football tradition.
Track times are objective, right? They aren't as fluid as the oft-debated "star ratings" variable. Think again. Look more closely at the times the columnist cited. If those are accurate, then Nathan Gerry is faster than any kid to ever run high school track in Nebraska. I'm serious.
The Nebraska state high school record in the 100 is 10.6 seconds. That was set by Ronnie Doss. Doss was racing against Ahman Green in high school. Doss was faster than Ahman Green on the track. If Gerry's 10.39 time is legit, then he is significantly faster than Ahman Green over 100 meters. Sorry folks, no way.
So, I went and took a look at the South Dakota state meet times. Gerry ran an 11.00 second 100 meters to finish second at state this year. He won the 200 meters in a time of 21.83. That's really moving, but not a 21.3. For context, Kenzo Cotton won NE's meet at 21.77.
The point - Gerry is fast. But, he's not THAT fast. Therein lies the issue with almost everything a casual (or rabid) fan reads about any recruit. Even the most objective of measurements can be stretched by a recruiting site, a message board poster or even a well-intended columnist.
This applies almost universally. Jordan Westerkamp is a lot closer to 6' even than his self-reported height of 6'2''. Players often report to camp as college freshman a lot lighter than their reported weights. Remember the Internet legend that was Thunder Collins? That guy was unstoppable until he showed up as a skinny kid with good - not great - speed.
And, this has nothing to do with star ratings either. Those are the ultimate in subjectivity. Yes, good evaluators spend good time putting those together. But, they are based as much on 40-yard dash times and camp performances as they are on real production. And, those evaluators aren't looking for the same things that coaches are looking for. Finally, the actual margin between a 3-star and a 4-star player is just razor thin no matter how important it may be in the school's class ranking or in a fan's mind.
What can the average fan do when they are consuming news and information about recruits? Well, here's the list I use:
- Take every measurement with a grain of salt, especially speed.
- Value production above measurables. Yards beget yards. Tackles beget more tackles. Only catches prove that a player can catch. Touchdowns prove a player can score.
- Consider the competition, in both directions. Who did the player play against in high school? Who did Nebraska beat to get the player? (As my colleague Steve says, "If Oklahoma wants him, then we probably want him.")
- Finally, and this is the toughest one - trust the coaches. They are looking for very specific things and trying to fill needs on their team. It may even apply to (gasp!) a long snapper. The coaching staff does this for a living. They don't do insurance or food service or public relations. They do football. They are professionals and they want to win. Badly. Yes, even more badly than the fans. And, if they don't do it right, there will be losses and other consequences. Fans will just have to trust them, and cheer like crazy.
So, that's where I stand on evaluating recruits, up to and including the latest Husker addition. Sorry, Mr. Gerry. It's not a referendum on you, just on how fanciful we can get about talent. Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to watch my six year old go run a 11.5 second 100 meters. You don't believe that she's that fast? Why not... you read it on the Internet.