This is a basic overview of the 2009 signing class for the LSU football team. This series will continue probably until rather close to the first game of the season, as there are 24 members of the recruiting class, and only 48 days until kickoff. We likely will not post in this series on the weekend, and probably not all 5 days of every week. This series will be "bonus coverage" by ATVS, posted at around noon every day it is published.
Like last year, we will break down each player first by whether that person is, in my esteemed judgment, a project, a solid player, or a headliner. These terms are far from scientific. In general, a project is someone I expect to need a lot of seasoning before he is ready to contribute (if indeed he ever will be able to contribute). A project may be someone whose upside is not as high as others, or may be someone who has considerable talent but is raw and needs more coaching than is typical. I would expect that all projects would redshirt this year. A solid player is one with notable talent and at least some polish and is likely capable of being an early contributor at least in a limited role. The "solid player" may redshirt or may not, depending on the need at that player's position. The solid player, if he develops, could very well end up being a key player on the team in the future. A headliner is a player I expect to make an immediate contribution and has obvious high-level talent to maybe end up as an All-Conference-calibre or All-America-calibre player. Both factors must be present: obvious high-level talent and ability to make an immediate contribution. I would be surprised if any player deemed a headliner redshirts the 2009 season barring injury.
Oh, and there's one more category: the mystery man. If there is no available film on a player and I have not seen him play on television, I'm not even to make a guess as to how to characterize the player. It would be a guess based upon nothing, but I will still write up what I can.
Please, do not make the mistake of thinking that I am infallible in these matters. Even the expert talent evaluators are quite fallible and I am not an expert. I am merely an interested observer who has watched a good deal of film and pays attention to the recruiting media for several years and, I hope, can make fair and justifiable educated guesses based upon the limited amount of evidence available to me and the patterns that developed in previous years' observation. I am particularly confidence-free in my opinions on offensive linemen, in which players are usually separated according to highly esoteric factors I do not understand. I just like to see them mash.
After the jump, I will talk about some of the principles of following recruiting:
1. Don't live and die by recruiting rankings and star systems. The star system is a helpful, but ultimately very flawed, way in which lay persons can keep up with recruiting. If you pay close attention to the recruiting media, you will notice how much politics goes into these rankings. Heck, you don't even have to pay that much attention. One coach has openly talked about how a little politicking from him got one kid raised from a 3-star to a 5-star. The ranking system is also self-fulfilling. Kids get ranked in part based on their offers. If Southern Cal is going after a player that the services believe to be a 2-star, the sites will take notice and will probably raise their ranking to at least three stars, on the theory that "USC doesn't recruit 2-star players." Of course, then if the kid commits to USC, his bump from 2-star to 3- or 4-stars will be factored into USC's recruiting rankings. So the kid is being highly rated because he's being recruited by USC, and then USC is highly rated for getting commitments from high-rated players. Self-fulfilling, and not at all limited to the influence of USC. Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia, and yes even LSU have this impact on recruiting rankings and the result is that almost no matter what happens these schools (with their reputations for good recruiting) will automatically be highly rated.
2. Then again, it's not like the system is useless. If you look at the NFL draft, every year there are former 2-stars (or even lower-rated players) who get drafted in the upper rounds. However, the bulk of the players drafted will be guys who were rated 3- and 4-stars out of high school, and if you were rated a 5-star, your chances of being a 1st day pick in your draft year are about 25% or so, which is much better than the rate for lower-rated players. The vast majority of 5-star players end up being at least pretty good, even if they don't end up being great, unless injuries, discipline/educational issues or even the choice to pursue a different sport hamper their careers. Sometimes the services simply whiff on someone and claim him to be a 5-star calibre player only to have him ultimately disappear in the middle or bottom rungs of a depth chart, but that doesn't happen all that often. Others will end up being pretty good, but not the kind of instant-impact player the high rating would invoke. Still others will end up spending more time behind bars than at practice (not literally, but figuratively). Several will lose the college football lottery and have their careers negatively impacted by injuries. One or two may choose to pursue baseball instead of football. But if you recruit a class full of 5- and 4-star players, success is likely in your future. You just can't count on the services being right about any particular player.
3. Be skeptical of 40-times and listed vertical leaps. I once wrote an entire article about how useless the 40-time is. In short, 40-times are measured under non-standard conditions, using not-necessarily-accurate instruments, are sometimes self-reported (and therefore highly suspect), will often change greatly as players get into a college weight room, and have limited impact on a football game anyway.
4. There's no substitute for watching the guy play. Watching a game is better than watching a highlight reel, but watching a highlight reel can give you a really good indication of a player's talent level. You expect a good player to make really good plays at times. Film is a much better way to tell if a player plays fast, has strength, and has polish. What you might miss, however, is the player's bad plays. The play in which the linebacker was out of position and gave up a touchdown probably isn't going to make the highlight reel. You might miss that a player doesn't put in the effort on every play. Still, you can look for that upside. If he bigger, stronger, faster than everyone around him? A really good recruit should have moments of utter domination at the high school level. Be mindful, also, of the level of competition. 5A leagues in Texas are a heck of a lot better levels of competition than the small private school leagues in Mississippi (though Stevan Ridley came from that league and he looks pretty good so far). If a player does not look like a man among boys in his film, that is a red flag, though not a killer.
5. Pay attention to how a player treats the recruiting process. I am a big believer that how a player treats the recruiting process can have a correlation to how he develops as a player. This is not to say that every player who pushes his recruitment out to (or beyond) signing day is going to be a dud, or even to suggest it. I pay attention to whether the player is playing up the media attention. I don't like seeing players who court the media spotlight and play games with their recruiting. In my anecdotal observation, these kids who exhibit selfishness on the recruiting trail often exhibit selfishness when they get to college. Some high profile examples would include Willie Williams, Ryan Perrilloux, and many others. Indecision is one thing, but showing your butt is another.
6. All of this may be wrong. It's not like the NFL doesn't have its share of prima donnas, and sometimes walk-ons become All-Americans.