There was a time not too long ago when the last-minute defection of wide receiver Deontay Greenberry from my alma mater Notre Dame to the University of Houston would have sent me into a mental funk that would have taken me a week from which to recover. After all, Greenberry is a dynamic "four star recruit" who "almost got a fifth star from Rivals.com."
And if that previous sentence and all of its mentions of these mythical stars makes no sense to you, consider yourself lucky.
As you probably know, Rivals.com is a college football/basketball recruiting website (and fellow member of the Yahoo! family, along with my employer, 1560 The Game, Yahoo! Sports Radio's flagship affiliate) that is in the business of ranking, rating, and reporting on college football and basketball prospects across the country. Additionally, you can watch high school video of your favorite recruits dominating other high school kids, and interact on message boards with fellow fan(atics) of your favorite school.
In short, it's one of the best-run, go-to websites on the internet and is considered the gold standard for recruiting information and conjecture. It is the Johnny Walker Black of college recruiting websites.
However, much like Mr. Walker's fine scotch, if it is consumed improperly and in portions too large, it can dominate your life, crush your soul, and leave you with a massive headache in the morning.
Yesterday was college football's national signing day, so college football fans everywhere were rightfully interested in which high school players their favorite school signed to replenish their talent supply. Rivals.com gives us exactly what we need in a neat little package -- video clips, pictures, scouting reports, and a star rating telling us how good the player is.
They do all the work for us!
And because it is literally impossible for 99.99 percent of us to watch the high school games (or even the highlights) of so many potential recruits and formulate opinions of our own, Rivals.com has evolved into our common recruiting language and their ratings have morphed into gospel.
So when Les Miles loses four-star defensive end Torshiro Davis out of Shreveport to Texas on a signing-day change of heart, LSU fans (practically all of whom have only seen 60 seconds worth of Davis' highlights and his four-star rating on Rivals.com) see this as a call to action to decapitate Miles' career. That is, if they're not saying that "Davis wasn't that good anyway, and we don't need him."
Amazingly and illogically, most fans actually do both. "Fire Les Miles for losing out on this kid who actually isn't that good!"
I'll admit that there was a time when I was way too wrapped up in the "star ratings" of Rivals.com, when quarterback Gunner Kiel's defection from LSU (poor Miles) to Notre Dame would have sent me keyboard-sprinting to the TigerBait.com message boards to gloat and ask "Boudreau in Baton Rouge" how it feels to lose a five-star quarterback.
However, eventually you sit through enough top-ten recruiting classes at your school (Notre Dame has had four in the last six seasons) with no actual top-ten finishes on the field, and you realize that there are far more variables that lead to on-field success than just "How good does the kid look on high school film?" and "What grade did the Rivals guys give him?"
The easiest example I can come up with for this reading audience to translate Rivals.com "star-speak" into a conclusion that "a) scouting high schoolers is a wild crap shoot and b) even when a kid is talented, he still needs to be coached up" is the Texans' 2011 defense. It is inarguable that the Texans' defense was one of the best in the NFL, statistically and situationally. They had one player selected to the Pro Bowl, one more go as a replacement, and three more selected as alternates. Several more can be categorized as "plus players" or solid contributors.
When the season ended, here is what the Texans' depth chart on defense looked like:
DT: Shaun Cody, Earl Mitchell DE: J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Tim Bulman, Tim Jamison LB: Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, Tim Dobbins, Jesse Nading, Mister Alexander, Bryan Braman CB: Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, Jason Allen, Brice McCain, Sherrick McManis, Brandon Harris S: Glover Quin, Danieal Manning, Troy Nolan, Quintin Demps, Shiloh Keo
So, 25 players in all.
Now, before I lay out the Rivals.com grades on all of these guys, here is a little primer on what the star ratings mean in plain English:
FIVE STAR: Major impact player, probably immediately, and future All-American. Typically, there are only about 25-30 of these guys in an entire class across all of high school football.
FOUR STAR: Definite plus player, largely fits the physical profile of a five-star but needs to work on one or two things to get to that elite level. Typically, there are a few hundred of these players.
THREE STAR: Potential solid contributor or "glue guy." If a three-star blossoms into an All American, it's usually because of a position change and/or a physical change in body type. (Or Rivals.com's scouting group just missed on him.)
TWO STAR: Usually someone who is an inch too short, a tad too slow, and/or didn't play against great high school competition. For programs who aspire to be in the top 25 (both in recruiting and on the field), two-stars are basically like high school football lepers. If you're a coach and you land a two-star player at, say, Alabama or Florida or Ohio State, your fans are going to wonder what the hell you're doing.
So what kind of high school profiles did players on the staunch Texans defense have coming out of high school? Well, glad you asked (high school positions in parentheses):
2-star Connor Barwin (TE) Bryan Braman (DE) Quintin Demps (S) Tim Dobbins (LB) Shiloh Keo (S) Brice McCain (CB) Sherrick McManis (CB) Jesse Nading (DE) Glover Quin (S) J.J. Watt (TE)
3-star Mister Alexander (LB) Johnathan Joseph (CB) Earl Mitchell (RB) Troy Nolan (S) Brooks Reed (RB) DeMeco Ryans (LB) Antonio Smith (DE)
4-star Jason Allen (ATH) Brian Cushing (LB) Brandon Harris (CB) Kareem Jackson (CB) Tim Jamison (DE)
(NOTE: Tim Bulman, Shaun Cody, and Danieal Manning are not in the rivals.com database as the database only goes back to the 2002 recruiting class, and they were all recruited prior to 2002.)
Some observations from this little experiment:
-- There are exactly zero former five-star recruits on the Texans defense. The closest players they have to five-star recruits are Cody (who probably would have been one coming out of high school in 2001; he was a first team All-American coming out of Hacienda Heights, CA) and Cushing (who was considered a major stud coming out of New Jersey). Not surprisingly, both were part of some star-studded USC teams in the past decade.
-- Of the 25 players on the Texans' defense, TEN were two-star
lepers recruits, including Connor Barwin (who has become one of the top pass rushers in football), J.J. Watt (who should go to about six or seven Pro Bowls before all is said and done), and Glover Quin (who is evolving into a plus player at safety). Think about that -- TEN guys were considered fringe COLLEGE players, let alone future pros.
-- Among the most decorated players on the defense is Kareem Jackson, who recently lost his title of "most vilified Texan" to Jacoby Jones in a "loser fumbles the game away" match in Baltimore.
-- Cushing is probably the only one on the list who has played to his rating throughout his career. Literally, everyone else on the list has either vastly outperformed their rating or have gotten "Peter principled" to some degree once they've gotten to the NFL.
Earlier, I mentioned the other variables that factor into whether or not a recruit lives up to expectations. You can have a roster full of four- and five-star players, but if your coaching staff can't develop talent, your strength and conditioning coach can't get them in shape, or the pressure of college academically and socially (including the lure of criminal activity) becomes too much to handle, then five stars may as well be zero.
(Truth be told, a failed five-star recruit has a bigger cost than just the underperformance of one guy. It carries an opportunity cost of other recruits that maybe the coaches stopped pursuing once that five-star guy committed.)
So Deontay Greenberry is a Houston Cougar. Good for Houston. Honestly, this is a much bigger win for the Cougars than it is a loss for Notre Dame. After all, Rivals.com says Greenberry is the 49th best player in the country, which makes him the highest recruit ever for U of H.
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Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.