Assessing Les Miles: Les the Talent Developer

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

We've talked recruiting, spiritedly. I wrote 5,000 words on Les in Preparation. I've already disclosed that my opinion is that recruiting is the very lifeblood of a successful program. There is simply no debating the fact that Les has recruited at an extremely high level. We can quibble on the details, compare to other programs and engage in debate, but the ultimate conclusion is very obviously that LSU ranks amongst college football recruiting elites.

But simply accruing talent does not guarantee success. If that were the case, Larry Coker, Ron Zook and others would still be sitting on their cush jobs and counting their stacks. Once you get the players to campus, there's a host of hurdles. Keeping them academically eligible. Keeping them out of trouble. Keeping them focused. And, of course, developing their talents.

Player development is a relationship process. Coaches can only do so much. At the heart, coaches are teachers. It is their role to instruct and mentor players so they can tap into their natural talents and maximize them. That said, a player's true greatness is really linked to his own internal drivers for success, whatever they may be. That has to be taken into consideration. That also means, it'll be a subjective evaluation.

How To Assess?

This is a point-a to point-b assessment. Development is quite obviously taking something and making it better. First, you obviously need a starting point, and you also need your criteria. I suspect many of you will disagree with my methodology and that's entirely reasonable. I've enjoyed the suggestions in the comments of the previous two posts that help me shape how to better analyze. Perhaps this can become something we annually revisit?

For player development, I think the only logical starting point I can use is recruiting rankings. Recruiting rankings, however flawed they may, give us a starting point. It gives us a set of expectations. While I would like to unload a host of my own evaluations of players, and whether or not players met or did not meet my expectations, a) I don't have that much information and b) I'm trust the "mass opinion," to be more accurate than my own.

That said, I'm going to do this as simply and easily as possible. Three categories: Exceeded Expectations, Met Expectations, Did Not Meet Expectations, and Did Not Qualify. Did not qualify will be used exclusively for players who transferred or were booted from LSU. While you could label them as "did not meet expectations," I don't feel that accurately captures player development. Miles can and should only be held responsible for those he had the full opportunity to develop.

The Data

2005

Exceeded Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Meet Expectations Did Not Qualify
Ciron Black Darry Beckwith Chris Hawkins Kyle Anderson
Lyle Hitt Rahim Alem R.J. Jackson Steven Korte
Trindon Holliday Ryan Perrilloux
Ricky Jean-Francois Antonio Robinson
Brandon LaFell

I don't think this list is overly debatable. Black, Hitt, Holliday and LaFell were all 3-stars that turned into starters/significant contributors. LaFell was the real gem. RJF was more highly regarded, and while we lost a lot of him due to academic issues, there was no doubt he was amazing when in there.

Beckwith was a 4-star that I considered putting as a "Did Not Meet" since his play really trailed off over the course of his career. Alem was a 4-star and became a solid starter. Both Hawkins and Jackson were 4-star talents that never really materialized as anything more than spot contributors, or in the case of Hawkins, a starter that lost his job.

2006

Exceeded Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Meet Expectations Did Not Qualify
Lazarius "Pep" Levingston Jacob Cutrera Jai Eugene Matt Allen
Danny McCray Richard Dickson Chris Mitchell Shomari Clemons
Perry Riley Jacob O'Hair Jared Mitchell Charles Deas
Kelvin Sheppard Charles Scott Richard Murphy Ricky Dixon
Keiland Williams Troy Giddens
Al Woods J.D. Lott
Derrick Odom
Steven Singleton
Mark Snyder
Jason Teague
Zhamal Thomas

A high number of players that didn't work out here. All of the players who didn't meet expectations were 4 or 5 star players, many of which we expected to be big-time contributors. You could argue Al Woods and Keiland Williams as "met" expectations, but considering they both were highly ranked and recruited, I downgraded them. Neither became star players, which is what we expect from 5-stars. A good chunk of the did not qualifies were dismissed for behavioral issues, the others just simply didn't work out. Though it should be noted that Matt Allen, Derrick Odom, Jason Teague and Steven Singleton went on to contribute at other schools.

The big wins are Levingston, Sheppard and Riley. All three star recruits, Sheppard became an All-SEC player. All three were drafted. All three were starters. I don't think that can be considered anything but an achievement in development.

2007

Exceeded Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Meet Expectations Did Not Qualify
Drake Nevis Joseph Barksdale Stefoin Francois Kentravis Aubrey
Stevan Ridley Will Blackwell T-Bob Hebert Delvin Breaux
Ron Brooks Jarrett Lee Jordan Corbin
Demetrius Byrd Alex Russian Sidell Corley
Josh Dworaczyk Terrance Toliver Jarvis Jones
Josh Jasper Phelon Jones
Chad Jones Ernest McCoy
John Williams
Andrew Crutchfield

Nevis and Ridley were both 4-star prospects, but I think both out performed their ranking. Nevis absolutely did. We can debate Ridley, but my main rationale here is that I don't think many suspected he'd become LSU's top running back. For those who didn't meet, Francois simply never put it together. Hebert was a rotational starter, but never as good as his 4-star rating. Lee is self-evident. Toliver you could argue that he met expectations, but again, he was a 5-star that never became a star.

2008

Exceeded Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Meet Expectations Did Not Qualify
P.J. Lonergan Ryan Baker Chancey Aghayere Matt Branch
Alex Hurst Derrick Bryant Chase Clement Rockey Duplessis
Patrick Peterson Brandon Taylor Karnell Hatcher Tyler Edwards

Lavar Edwards Jordan Jefferson Cordian Hagans
Deangelo Peterson Tim Molton
Greg Shaw Thomas Parsons
Kyle Prater
Clay Spencer
Ryan St. Julien
Jhyryn Taylor
Kellen Theriot
Chris Tolliver

Peterson, despite being exceptionally highly rated, didn't just become a star, he became a superstar. Hurst I put as exceeded because he was lowly ranked, a question offer at the time, and wound up becoming a multi-year starter, regardless of the acrimonious ending to his career. Lonergan, as well, a 3-star, lightly recruited, that became a multi-year starter.

Derrick Bryant may be a questionable "met," but he was lightly recruited and played some meaningful snaps here and there, and consistently on Special Teams. I think that's a solid career for him. All of the did not meets were 4-star players we counted on to become solid, dependable starters, and of the six, only Clement came close to meeting that bar.

2009

Exceeded Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Meet Expectations Did Not Qualify
Lamin Barrow Chris Faulk Chris Davenport Carneal Ainsworth
Michael Brockers Derek Helton Josh Downs Dominique Allen
Morris Claiborne Tahj Jones Michael Ford Drayton Calhoun
Bennie Logan Josh Williford Craig Loston Chris Garrett
Barkevious Mingo Rueben Randle Josh Johns
Kevin Minter Russell Shepard Stavion Lowe
Sam Montgomery

This is the banner class, in terms of development, and maybe recruiting, of the Miles era. Sure, the four 5-stars never became stars, but the lower ranked players more than made up for. Randle and Loston weren't busts, they just never became stars. Shepard can be termed a bust, as he never materialized as a consistent offensive weapon. Shepard could be argued as the staff's biggest developmental bust, depending on how you feel about his overall skill set. Davenport was an outright bust, but I don't count it as a developmental miscue, personally.

Looking at those that exceeded expectations, you have: 1 Thorpe Award, 4 All-Americans, 3 1st Team All-SEC, 4 2nd Team All-SEC. Yeah, that's damn strong.

2010

Exceeded Expectations Met Expectations Did Not Meet Expectations Did Not Qualify
Tyrann Mathieu Ken Adams Kadron Boone Jordan Allen*
Eric Reid Alfred Blue Travis Dickson Ego Ferguson*
Brad Wing J.C. Copeland Spencer Ware Jarrett Fobbs*
Tharold Simon Cameron Fordham
Sam Gibson
Jakhari Gore
Nick Jacobs
Zach Lee
Justin Maclin*
Luke Muncie
Elliot Porter*
Ronnie Vinson
Evan Washington*
D.J. Welter*
Armand Williams*
Brandon Worle
James Wright*

*Denotes a player whose career is still under way but doesn't have a convincing case good or bad.

For most of this class, the stories aren't completely written. But I felt it was pertinent to include Reid and Mathieu, and Wing to a lesser extent. Mathieu is one of the best players in LSU history. Though the narrative of him being a nobody recruit is trumped up (he was a 4-star player that gained national acclaim after dominating numerous top ranked players at a Tennessee camp), there's no doubt his recruiting ranking did not match his exceptional performance. Reid was a top 50 prospect nationally and lived up to every bit of that billing, if not more.

Blue and Copeland are still playing, but both were lower-tier 4 stars that LSU jumped on late. Both have become starter worthy players. They've met their rankings, regardless of how the last couple of games of their senior seasons go.

Evaluating 2010 is already a bit tenuous, so I think venturing into 2011 wouldn't prove to be especially telling. We can obviously look at guys like Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr. and La'El Collins and say they've exceeded, or at least met, their expectations. Anthony Johnson and Zach Mettenberger are pretty close as well. The rest, we just don't know.

Summary

Totals
Exceeded Expectations 25
Met Expectations 24
Did Not Meet Expectations 28
Did Not Qualify 50*

*Does not include those from 2010 who are still playing.

So we have 49 we can count in favor of Les and his coaching staff in terms of development. 28 we can count against Les and his coaching staff. And 50 that I don't feel confident assigning to failure, due to injury, trouble making and transfers. For those who were neither injured, nor in trouble, I could see a case for calling some of them failures. But then you have to get back to the heart of the question: Was it poor evaluation from the start? Or the inability of the staff to develop them? Most, if not all, of the players in that category, transferred down to smaller schools and never excelled. Further, and I simply don't have the time to apply this a group of other schools to give us some comparative data, my inclination is that you'd see similar behavior from all of the top programs, even Alabama. The fact is, only so many kids can play. Other kids are bound to get upset and transfer out. Injuries happen.

So then, of what use is all this information, if we don't have a ton of context for it? Well, I think there's enough here to suggest that Les and company have at least done a solid job of developing the talent they bring to campus. They've had, from my purview, more players exceed expectations than meet them, and more players do both combined than not meet them. Even when you go down the list of those who did not meet expectations, the black marks that stick out are mostly the 5-stars from 2009 (Davenport, Shepard, Randle and Loston). Of those four, Randle and Loston at least became solid contributors. Randle was drafted and Loston likely will be too. Randle's "failure" could likely be attributed to the porous offense during his tenure. Loston has battled injuries, but there's less "excuse" for him. Davenport and Shepard both were just busts. Shepard is battling for NFL roster spots because he is an NFL caliber athlete, but he lacks all the skills required to become a WR. Mostly importantly, though, these are guys that were recruited nationally. So if you want to pin the mis-evaluation and ensuing mis-development of these players onto Les, then you have to acknowledge that a similar outcome would probably have occurred at any other school.

For me, the biggest failures in development fall on [QBs redacted]. Neither was without talent. But it didn't feel like either was ever put into a situation that allowed them to excel. The converse would be that perhaps these two were so severely limited, that the staff really did milk the most value out of them they could. Playing QB, especially in college, is about 90% mental. So many physically lesser talented players have played the position at an exceptionally high level in other places. Let's put it this way. If you put Greg McElroy and Jarrett Lee in an NFL combine setting, Jarrett Lee wins every time. But McElroy is currently still collecting NFL paychecks (albeit meager ones as a practice squad player), while Lee is onto his next venture. McElroy isn't especially talented physically, but he's got an outstanding mental grasp of the game. One that we never saw from Lee OR Jefferson. Perhaps McElroy had better teachers. Perhaps he's just naturally more inclined mentally. But we never saw that from our two guys, and I think that goes to failure to develop.

That said, the numbers are just too good for me to deny. 49 of 127 players either became all we expected or more. A 38.5% success rate is pretty strong. I'm sure we can quibble over some of the DNQs and DNMEs, and maybe even a few of the Mets and Exceededs, but in terms of talent development, I see more good than bad.

Evaluation: 7/10

Preparation and Game Planning: 7/10

Recruiting: 8/10

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