Monday, May 4, 2009

Recruiting Classes and the NFL Draft; A Look Back

After much hoopla on national signing day about recruiting class rankings, I've always thought it an interesting exercise to take a look at recruiting classes after they've run their course. I've often scoffed at those who choose to think that recruiting rankings don't matter just because schools and scouting services make a few poor evaluations. "What do I care about recruiting rankings? Those people had Jacob Hester ranked as a 2-star." Fair enough. But you can also take a look at recruiting class rankings, fast forward 3 or 4 years, and look at what programs are playing for national titles. LSU's signing classes prove this to be true. Let's take a look.

I've decided to examine LSU's signing classes this decade, taking note of how many players were drafted into the NFL from each. It's not a perfect measure of success. For example, it doesn't account for a guy like Ben Wilkerson who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top Center but went undrafted due to an injury. Regardless it's an easily quantifiable and pretty accurate method to judge the success of a recruiting class. Here's what we've got with the round of the NFL draft each player was selected in parentheses.

2001 Class - 8 (Ranked #3)
Joseph Addai (1)
Marcus Spears (1)
Michael Clayton (1)
Marquise Hill (2)
Andrew Whitworth (2)
Travis Daniels (4)
Melvin Oliver (6)
Bennie Brazell (7)

2002 Class - 2 (Ranked #15)
Kyle Williams (5)
Skyler Green (4)

2003 Class - 6 (Ranked #1)
Jamarcus Russell (1)
Dwayne Bowe (1)
Laron Landry (1)
Craig Davis (1)
Matt Flynn (7)
Keith Zinger (7)

2004 Class - 10 (Ranked #2)
Glenn Dorsey (1)
Tyson Jackson (1)
Chevis Jackson (3)
Claude Wroten (3)
Early Doucet (3)
Jacob Hester (3)
Craig Steltz (4)
Herman Johnson (5)
Quinn Johnson (5)
Curtis Taylor (7)

2005 Class (Ranked #22 -- only 13 players)
Ricky Jean-Francois (7)

2007 Class (Ranked #4)
Demetrius Byrd (7)

So what did we learn? LSU's 2001 recruiting class, ranked #3 nationally, made up the nucleus of a national championship a couple of years later in 2003. LSU also signed Top 3 classes in 2003 and 2004. The results of those classes? The key players from the 2003 classes led the way for a Sugar Bowl victory and #3 final ranking in 2006. The 2004 class gave us a large number of key contributors to LSU's 2007 national title. In other words, whenever LSU has signed a Top 3 recruiting class, that class has resulted in a final ranking of #3 or higher a few years later. The good news? LSU's 2009 recruiting class was ranked no lower than #2 by any of the scouting services.

It's important to note that the 2005 class only consisted of 13 people and many of them (Brandon Lafell, Rahim Alem, Trindon Holliday, Ciron Black, Lyle Hitt, RJ Jackson, & Chris Hawkins) are still on LSU's roster and playing a major role.

The 2006 class hasn't had any players drafted yet, but those players are entering their 4th year in LSU's program. The early returns on that class is that it has under-performed relative to their #7 national ranking, though it has produced some All-SEC talents (Charles Scott, Richard Dickson). In my opinion, the small numbers in the 2005 class combined with the under-performing 2006 class absolutely contributed to LSU's 5-loss season in 2008. Ryan Perriloux being a boob and poor defensive coaching are mostly to blame, but the 2006 class hasn't held their own...not yet anyway.

In LSU's case, a high recruiting class ranking is a damn good indicator of a high team ranking and a high number of NFL Draft picks a few years later. The results of this exercise are solid enough to give a fair amount of validity to recruiting class rankings.

In case you're wondering how LSU's 2004 class stacks up against some of the best classes ever by any school, my research turned up the following. USC's 2002 class had 14 players drafted. Ohio State's 2002 class had 14 players drafted, including 4 first rounders. But in my opinion, the best signing class ever is Miami's 2001 class. 13 players drafted. 5 first rounders. And lots of NFL success. Here it is:

Kellen Winslow (1)
Antrel Rolle (1)
Sean Taylor (1)
Vince Wilfork (1)
Kelly Jennings (1)
Roscoe Parrish (2)
Roger McIntosh (2)
Leon Williams (4)
Andrew Williams (3)
Frank Gore (3)
Rashad Butler (3)
Orien Harris (4)
Marcus Maxey (5)


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