Monday, May 09, 2011

A Look Back - Recruiting 2007-2010

Here at TSF we've been doing recruiting class breakdowns internally for years. Starting in February of 2007, we decided to capture those thoughts and put them out for public consumption. It was always an irritating thing for us to see those national recruiting services award "stars" to recruits and rate classes and in some cases, the people doing those evaluations didn't have the background to be doing it. They just relied on what people "in the know" told them about different players and often times awarded stars based on the prestige of the programs that were recruiting them.

Additionally, people subscribe to these recruiting services and rarely are they told how accurate the service is at rating players in RETROSPECT. Where do you go on the internet to get the most accurate predictor of future success of high school football players? The answer is: nowhere. Because rating services can't take into account all the other factors that go into a player's success - their ability to stay out of trouble off the field, their willingness to work hard, the fit of their skill set to the coaching staff they end up playing for, etc.

With that in mind, we don't assign "stars" to the Hokie recruits. We tell you what we see on film and hear from people in the program, just like those services you pay for. The difference is that knowing the coaching staff and the type of player that succeeds in VT's program, we can evaluate film of a player in terms of something in addition to their athletic ability. We consider the current depth chart, the type of offense or defense the player played in high school, how long they've played football, their football IQ, etc. Of course athletic ability still counts for a lot as well.

And now that we've been publishing these predictions for a while, it was suggested (smartly) by a reader, that we take a closer look at how we've done. So what you will see is for each class the percentage of time we were right about a player in that class. If we called for success, the player had to make it into a starting role at some point during their career. If we called for a failure, in order for us to be right, the player had to have never started a single game in their entire career - for any reason. Injury, transfer, or just not being good enough, all were taken into account on both sides of the prediction. For the 2010 class, a success is considered as making the two deep instead of having to have started a game because most of the guys from that class who've already made it into the two-deep will likely start a game at some point in their career. We will leave the 2011 class alone as those players haven't even shown up on campus yet.

Finally, after the percentage accuracy, we will highlight our three biggest misses since we've been doing this (and a miss could be from either side of the coin), as well as our most accurate predictions. So without further ado, here's the breakdown:

Class of 2007 - 67% accurate

Class of 2008 - 69% accurate

Class of 2009 - 55% accurate (assuming the current depth chart holds true for the fall and Cody Journell, James Gayle, Logan Thomas and Tariq Edwards all start)

Class of 2010 - 48% accurate

Three Biggest Misses: (the original write-up on each recruit follows their name).

1) Class of 2010, Skip Hopkins -

"There was great discussion and disagreement within TSF about Hopkins. Just last year, we typed that we couldn't think of a single miss that Coach Cav had in the past 3 recruiting classes. Well, this might be his first in a while. 5'11" 270 lb. defensive tackles don't usually earn scholarships to Virginia Tech. However, back when the Hokies landed Skip’s older brother Antoine (who has turned out to be quite capable) the word on the street was "yep, Antoine is a stud, but you should see his little brother..." And yes, Demetrius Taylor just came off of a very solid senior season at about the same height and weight as Skip. The difference is that Taylor was a converted linebacker who happened to be one of the strongest men to ever play football at Virginia Tech. We’ve read that Skip Hopkins compares favorably to Evan Hailes in the trenches, which is saying something considering the hype behind Hailes' recruitment this year, but the footage on Hopkins doesn’t really seem to show anything more than great athleticism. Hopkins' size and strength just don't seem like they belong at Virginia Tech. Maybe he’ll grow into it. We want to give Coach Cav the benefit of the doubt based on his amazing track record, so just color us confused on this one."

This is what I get for doubting Coach Cav. And to Recruitnik D's credit he was the one who really liked this signing. Hopkins was obviously capable of contributing right away and should be even more of a force this season as a starter.

2) Class of 2008, Quillie Odom -

"One of our favorite players out of the 2007 class, Odom took a year at Hargrave and wow did things change. He became a VERY highly rated recruit due to a stellar campaign at Hargrave and the Hokies are fortunate that Odom has re-commited to Tech because there were some other school pursuing him in the background. We're going to have to use that word again - playmaker. Slightly undersized, Odom is a holy terror with a bloodhound's nose for the ball and the speed and agility to get there quickly. Nothing is surefire in recruiting because of the other off-the-field variables that can affect whether a kid gets the playing time, but Odom looks just about surefire to be in the 2 deep for the Hokies in '09. Coach Bud Foster - who is not known for sending a lot of sunshine up people's tailpipes - offered this tidbit when reviewing Odom's highlight reel - "he's got some of the most impressive tape I've ever seen." Um.... we don't need any further info. Do you? "

All the physical tools but it took him until this point in his career to actually take to coaching and he's plugged in at defensive end where he's too small to be a star. Yes we highlighted the possibility of "off-the-field" variables in the original write-up but we all thought Odom was going to be a bigtime player for Tech and he quite simply wasn't.

3) Class of 2009, Jerrodd Williams -

"It must just get scarier and scarier to be an offensive coordinator in the ACC trying to figure out how they are going to throw the ball on the Hokies. Eddie Whitley and Stephan Virgil look like the next big things at cornerback (Virgil has really already arrived) and in this 2009 class, Williams and Jayron Hosley look to carry on what is fast becoming a direct line to the NFL. Torrian Gray is red-hot right now, both on the recruiting trail and in coaching the secondary and he's the one who landed Williams. So many top corners in high school just get by on being great athletes. Williams is a great athlete who also has a nose for the football. He always seems to be in the right position to make a play on the ball and then he usually does so. Like Hosley, once he has the ball in his hands he has a way of finding the end zone. It's fun to see athletes this talented choosing Virginia Tech over ACC programs like Clemson and UNC."

Well, Williams wasn't fast enough to play corner, didn't want to move to safety and transferred to Clemson. Basically a non-factor from the get-go.

Three Best Picks (ignoring the easy ones like Logan Thomas and Ryan Williams who were so obviously going to be bigtime).

1) Class of 2008 - Dyrell Roberts -

"Playmaker. Put the ball in Roberts' hands and get out the popcorn. Roberts wins the award for most underrated recruit in the class. Think a taller Eddie Royal and you'll understand the potential Roberts has. Coming in to a WR corps losing 4 seniors, Roberts has the physical ability to play as a freshman in the 4 deep. Speed and size are 2 things you can't coach, and Roberts has lots of both. Coale, Terry, Luckett, and Dillard may play well enough to keep a redshirt on Roberts but it doesn't seem likely. Now, this will completely depend on his commitment and dedication to learning the offense and playing his hardest, but just watching his tape, he's breathtaking. He scored from the QB position, RB, WR, and kick returner. A kid like this is one that we hold up to make our annual mockery of the recruiting services that people rely on so greatly. Roberts is a 2 star recruit and Giselle Bundchen has a nice smile. Please."

Until his leg injury in the Georgia Tech game in 2010, Roberts was a playmaker throughout his career in every sense of the word - reverses, kickoff returns, big catches (Nebraska 2009 anybody?). Honestly, Roberts and 2011 WR recruit Robert Lockhart are very similar in that both got no credit because they were under the radar and if they had been spotted by schools like Alabama or LSU they would have been 4-5 star recruits (and unfortunately for Tech probably would have gone to those schools). And though this view may be controversial for some, for Roberts' sake, he ought to take a redshirt in 2011 to get a full recovery from that leg injury. That would allow him to be the senior leader and #1 guy at receiver in the 2012 season. Plus he'd get to mentor the wealth of young WR talent headed to Blacksburg this summer.

2) Class of 2008 - Jake Johnson -

"We bet Jake Johnson reminds Bud Foster of himself when he was younger. This kid is all intensity and he brings a pile of bricks to the football. Fundamentally, however he needs a lot of work. He reaches a lot and makes horse collar and jersey tackles and sometimes on his monster hits he doesn't wrap up. Now in high school that about knocks the RB or QB out, but in college you need to be sound in your tackling. The super-exciting thing about it is that Johnson has the things you can't coach - size, intensity, football instincts. And to address his fundamentals he merely has the best linebacker coach in the country (and we make no reservations about saying that) in Foster to guide that talent into a tackling machine at Virginia Tech. It should be interesting to see where Johnson ends up on the defense. You will hear us say this a lot during this recruiting analysis - sorting out the immense LB talent in this class and the '07 class and getting them into the right positions is a great problem that Coach Foster has."

Probably my favorite write-up. Johnson was the guy that everyone was raving about and he had intensity, no question. But the tape showed the flaws that ended up costing him his starting job and moving him to defensive end (and eventually out of the program). It's surprising he didn't take to Foster's coaching, but from what I heard, he and Foster were too much alike - another aspect we picked up on in this assessment. Goes to show that even a blind squirrel can find an acorn now and again.

3) Class of 2009 - James Gayle

"And now we come to the #1 Most Underrated prospect in the 2009 Class. Gayle was not even covered by most of the recruiting services at all (although Rivals to their credit gave him 3 stars). We hope the recruiting services never notice that if Jim Cavanaugh is recruiting a defensive player, then that player is something special. We said earlier that J.R. Collins is the most ready to take the field at defensive end right now, but James Gayle has the most upside of any of the ends in the '09 class. If Collins reminds us of the solid, productive Orion Martin, Gayle reminds us of the explosive, playmaking Corey Moore and down the road he could be that type of difference maker. Gayle is shot out of a cannon when the ball is snapped, he plays the position violently and with purpose and he demonstrates an uncanny ability to know where the football is going. His speed looks breathtaking, although at 215 lbs he'll need to put on a good 25-30 lbs or more without losing much of that quickness, which sounds like a tough Mike Gentry project. However, if he is able to do so, expect to know James Gayles' name by 2011 at the latest."

We hit two homeruns on this one with the comparison between Collins and Orion Martin and Gayle with Corey Moore. No Gayle hasn't been a starter yet, but by every account he is going to have a monster season barring injury. Usually the spring buzz is about an offensive superstar (think of what we heard when Michael Vick, Tyrod Taylor or Ryan Williams were having their big springs). This time, it's about James Gayle and all the offensive linemen are talking about what a force he is. This is a great legacy as one of the last recruits from Coach Cavanaugh in his long and decorated career of recruiting.

One last accurate prediction I want to throw out there (outlining the past 3 accurate predictions has apparently made me feel full of myself) went against a lot of grain. In 2008 and even up through mid-2009, there were a lot of fans who were unconvinced about the GREATNESS of Tyrod Taylor. Yes, people acknowledged his athleticism, but they questioned whether he would ever be more than Bryan Randall. A good QB and good leader.

From the minute I saw Taylor's performance against LSU, I knew he was a future star and would be better than good. He would be GREAT and I said so. When the coaches tried to redshirt him again in 2008 (and cost the Hokies that game against ECU), I railed against it. Throughout Taylor's career, I have said that he was an NFL talent, struggling to find a place within an incompetent offense and developed by a subpar QB coach. This was my closing point in a post after the 2009 Nebraska Miracle in Blacksburg.

"For all those fans who are saying that the offensive struggles are because Tyrod can't throw the football, let me explain why that is not the case. Sure he had some bad throws on Saturday, there can be no doubt of that. He wishes he had some of those back. But there were several key drops on some good throws and several other stupid formation and holding penalties that nullified very good pass plays. With the game on the line, Taylor's throw to Coale was as he was getting hit by a first round NFL defensive tackle and it travelled 60 yards in the air and couldn't possibly have been thrown more accurately. His play to Roberts, I am telling you for a fact, is a play that probably five quarterbacks in all of Division I-A football could have made. Tyrod Taylor is a physical talent who has had the bad misfortune to play for a terrible offensive coaching staff. He's not being prepared for the next level and I hope you guys can get some sense of how sickening this is for me. There are many things I am not good at (I'm sure we could do an entire series of blog entries on that list) but one thing I can do is gauge football talent. Taylor has a lot of it. Enough to play in the NFL if he were properly coached. It's too bad he's not and on that note……"

Despite those obstacles, he became a 6th round choice of the Ravens and I'm convinced, given a shot, that he can be a starter in that league.

So that wraps up our uhmmmm, wrap-up. Now all you Superfans need to join us as we go hit the weight room in preparation for the start of summer practices in 2 1/2 months. Until then,