Inside the Numbers: Ranking the Recruits
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #16
Here we are again, all present and accounted for and ready for our second annual installment of "Inside the Numbers: Ranking the Recruits."
The premise is simple: We take the Rivals.com, SuperPrep, and PrepStar rankings of Virginia Tech's football recruits and mash them down into one complex ranking system that gives each VT recruit a composite ranking.
We picked Rivals, SuperPrep, and PrepStar because of the depth of their ranking systems. Other longstanding recruiting analysts are excluded because they either don't have a ranking system that has the required depth, or their rankings are subjective and obviously biased towards some schools and/or against others.
We ran our first edition of ITN:RTR last year, in TSL Extra issue #4 (Feb. 16, 2001), and Kevin Jones, the top recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com and SuperPrep, nailed a near-perfect score of 44.8 out of 45.
KJ's 2001 score will probably never be beaten by a Hokie recruit, or perhaps any recruit, for that matter. Think of it as being analogous to Bob Beamon's incredible long jump record at the 1968 Olympics, which stood for well over two decades before being broken; or compare it to Roger Maris' record of 61 homers, which stood for 37 years before thinned-out pitching and a juiced ball finally led to its downfall.
(No letters from angry baseball fans, please….)
Any installment of ITN:RTR is interesting in and of itself, but as the years go on, the ability to compare one recruiting class to classes from years past will make things even more interesting. And this year, the second year we've done this, will give us our first chance to compare classes by putting the 2001 class up against the 2002 class.
As a sidebar, we can go backwards in time and rank the 2000 and maybe even 1999 classes some day, but we're limited by the relatively short life span of the Rivals.com recruiting database, since our formula relies heavily on them.
Let's get started, but first, the same disclaimer we ran last year.
Standard ITN:RTR Disclaimer
If you're into this stuff, you may think that the formula and methodology that I use stinks. So let me warn you not to take this too seriously. I'm always under time constraints here at TSL, so when I came up with my ranking system, I probably put a grand total of 30 minutes of thought into it, tops. The remaining hours and hours were spent coming up with a spreadsheet full of formulas and entering everyone's rankings into it, and then wrapping this wordy article around it.
The Ranking Methodology
If you're not a detail-oriented person, and you like to bite the Tootsie Pop and immediately get to the chewy center, then you can skip to the end of this article and see the final TSL recruiting rankings, which list all 17 players from the highest-rated to the lowest-rated (prep school and JUCO players are excluded -- this year, that includes WR Fred Lee from Milford Prep, OL Jimmy Martin from FUMA, and DT Jimmy Williams from Pasadena City College JUCO).
If, on the other hand, you like to eat a Tootsie Pop one lick at a time and take your sweet time getting to that chewy Tootsie Roll center, or if you're just the type of person who likes to see numbers discussed in mind-numbing detail, then pull up a chair.
I will first describe all three ranking systems (Rivals, SuperPrep, and PrepStar), and then I'll describe how they're integrated into a TSL composite ranking. Then I'll present the final rankings for your perusal. And if you're really insane, I'll even give you a link so you can download the spreadsheet I used, which is totally incomprehensible and may even be chock full of errors.
Remember, this is supposed to be fun. Let's go.
SuperPrep can give up to three honors to a player, depending upon how highly he is ranked. They are as follows:
Elite 50: the top 50 players in the country, ranked from #1 to #50, without regards to position.
All-American: the top 288 players in the country, split up and ranked by position. Among the 288 AA's, SP ranks 22 quarterbacks from #1 to #22, 41 running backs, 11 tight ends, 36 wide receivers, 3 fullbacks, 43 offensive linemen, 43 defensive linemen, 29 defensive backs, 34 linebackers, 17 skill athletes, 7 jumbo athletes, and 2 kicker/punters.
All-State: the top 1075 players in the country, ranked in their state, without regards to position. For smaller states, SP will combine them into a region. Some examples: Florida has a Top 90 ranked from #1 to #90, Texas has a Top 112, Virginia has a Top 39, and there is a Mid-Atlantic Top 32 that is taken from Delaware, DC, Maryland, and West Virginia.
Note that a player in SuperPrep's system who is in the Elite 50 is also, by default, All-American and All-State. Likewise, every All-American is an All-State player.
I don't like PrepStar's ranking system. It's sort of like SuperPrep's, but not really, and it is impossible to fit it properly into a mathematical formula. Like SuperPrep, PrepStar can honor players in up to three ways:
Dream Team: the top 125 players in the country, split up and ranked by position. Among the 120 Dream-Teamers, PS ranks 15 quarterbacks from #1 to #15, 18 running backs, 3 tight ends, 11 wide receivers, 16 offensive linemen, 24 defensive linemen, 15 linebackers, 8 defensive backs, 12 athletes, and 3 kickers.
All-American: the top ??? players in the country (PS doesn't explicitly say how many All-Americans they have, and I'm not going to flip through their magazine and count them), ranked in their region, by position. PS has six regions: Western, Midlands, Southeast, Midwest, Atlantic, and Eastern. So, for example, if a player is ranked as the #6 running back in the Southeast region, that means he is an All-American.
All-Region: this ranking is a little confusing and annoying. In their regional rankings, beneath the AA level, PS lists players as All-Region, but there is no effort made to "rank" them -- they're just listed. For example, in the Atlantic Region, PS ranks 5 defensive linemen #1 to #5, which means that they're All-Americans. Then they list a handful of other defensive linemen in alphabetical order, without rankings. The guys without rankings are All-Region. The first 7 guys, with ranking numbers, are AA's and All-Region.
Similar to SuperPrep, a PrepStar Dream Teamer is also an All-American and All-Region player. Every All-American is All-Region.
Rivals takes a lot of heat for the perceived accuracy of their rankings, but as a rating system, they're the simplest and easiest to understand. And, most importantly for this article, they're by far the easiest to cram into a mathematical formula. Rivals.com honors players in up to three ways (are you seeing a pattern here?):
Rivals 100: the top 100 players in the country, ranked from #1 to #100, without regards to position.
Rivals Position Ranking: Rivals ranks the top 50 "dual-threat" QB's in the country, the top 55 all-purpose running backs, 115 wide receivers, etc. Each player in their system is ranked at his position, or is listed as "not ranked."
Rivals Stars: every player listed in Rivals' system gets ranked from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 stars being the best. The 5 star ranking is very exclusive, so exclusive that there are players on the prestigious Rivals 100 list who are "only" four-star players. Only a few dozen kids -- 38 this year -- out of thousands are given 5 stars.
TSL's Composite Rankings
Now that I've explained how SuperPrep, PrepStar, and Rivals.com rank the recruits, the idea is to take the nine different ranking levels of the three services listed above and compile them into one composite ranking.
For each of the nine ranking levels, I'm going to award a player 0 to 5 points, for a total maximum composite rank of 45. Here's how the points are going to be awarded (please see the "Important Note" after I talk about the points system):
SuperPrep Elite 50: 0 points if the player is not in the Elite 50, and 1 to 5 points if he is. The #50 player gets 1 point, the #1 player gets 5 points, and those in between are awarded points on a sliding scale.
SuperPrep All-American: 0 points if the player is not an AA, and 1 to 5 points if he is. The player gets 5 points if he is the top-rated All-American at his position, and 1 point if he is the bottom-rated All-American at his position. Players in between are awarded points on a sliding scale. Examples: the #1 running back gets 5 points, and so does the #1 QB, etc., but the #41 running back (out of 41) gets 1 point, and the #25 QB (out of 25) gets 1 point.
SuperPrep All-State: 0 points if the player is not ranked in the state, and 1 to 5 points if he is. The player gets 5 points if he is the top rated player in the state, 1 point if he is the bottom rated player in the state, and those in between are awarded points on a sliding scale. Example: Ahmad Brooks (#1 in VA out of 39 players) would get 5 points, while Brenden Hill (#36 out of 39) gets 1.08 points.
PrepStar Dream Team: 0 points if the player is not on the Dream Team, and 1 to 5 points if he is. The player gets 5 points if he is the top-rated Dream Teamer at his position, and 1 point if he is the bottom-rated Dream Teamer at his position. Players in between are awarded points on a sliding scale. Examples: the #1 running back gets 5 points, and so does the #1 QB, etc., but the #24 defensive lineman (out of 24) gets 1 point, and the #15 QB (out of 15) gets 1 point.
PrepStar All-American: 0 points if the player is not a PrepStar AA, and 1 to 5 points if he is. The player gets 5 points if he is the top rated player at his position in his region, 1 point if he is the bottom rated player at his position in the region, and those in between are awarded points on a sliding scale. Example: Jonathan Lewis (#1-ranked DL out of 5 in the Atlantic Region) gets 5 points, while Aaron Rouse (#9-ranked DB out of 10 in the Atlantic Region) gets 1.80 points.
PrepStar All-Region: 0 points if a player is not All-Region, 5 points if he is. Remember, PS lists players who are All-Region alphabetically and does not rank them, so there's no way to split the ranking further. Therefore, I award a straight 5 points for being PS All-Region.
Rivals.com "Rivals 100": 0 points if the player is not in the Rivals 100, and 1 to 5 points if he is. The #1 player gets 5 points, the #100 player gets 1 point, and those in between are awarded points on a sliding scale.
Rivals.com Position Rank: 0 points if the player is not ranked at his position, and 1 to 5 points if he is. The #1 player at his position gets 5 points, the bottom-ranked player gets 1 point, and those in between are awarded points on a sliding scale.
Rivals.com Stars: 1 point for each star. One-star players get 1 point, two-star players get 2 points, etc.
Important Note!! The mathematical formula that I used is a little sloppy, and the sliding scale isn't perfect. For players ranked 1 to 50, for example, it will give 5 points to the #1 player, but it actually gives 1.02 points to the #50 player, not 1 point. I could have taken the time to iron out the formula perfectly, but it's pretty darn close, so I went with it, primarily due to schedule pressures.
And Without Further Ado…
Now, here are Tech's 17 high school signees for the 2002 recruiting class, and their composite rankings. Please note that junior college (JUCO) and prep school players are not included, because the recruiting services do not apply their rankings to those players. For VT, this includes DL Jimmy Williams (JUCO), WR Fred Lee (prep school), and OL Jimmy Martin (prep school).
Average 2002 Score: 14.3
Average 2001 Score (last year): 16.3
Top player: Marcus Vick (39.4 points out of 45) is the #8-rated recruit overall by Rivals.com and the #2 QB out of 50. This leads to him receiving 14.6 points out of 15 from Rivals.com, with lower scores from SuperPrep (12.1 points) and PrepStar (12.6 points). But as discussed previously, Marcus finishes far behind last year's winner, Kevin Jones (44.8 points).
Bottom player: Robert Parker (2 points out of 45) was not ranked by SuperPrep, PrepStar, or Rivals.com, and was a Rivals 2-star player. He tops last year's lowest-ranked player, Brandon Frye (1 point out of 45).
Random example: Aaron Rouse (16.2 out of 45). Aaron is not a SuperPrep Elite 50 or a SuperPrep AA, but he is ranked as the #23 player out of 39 in Virginia -- 2.74 SuperPrep points. Aaron is not a PrepStar Dream Teamer, but he is an All-American (#9-ranked DB out of 10 in his region -- 1.80 points), and All-Region (5.00 points) -- 6.80 PrepStar points. Aaron is not in the Rivals 100, he is ranked the #32 DB out of 90 (3.62 points), and he is a 3-star Rivals player (3.00 points) -- 6.62 Rivals.com points. Aaron's total is 2.74 + 6.80 + 6.62 = 16.16 points.
Comparison to 2001 Class
Just for fun, let's throw the players from the 2001 and 2002 classes together and see what we get -- here's a composite ranking of the 38 players from both classes (excludes Jordan Trott and Chris Caesar, because as late signees, they were never ranked using the TSL system):
You can see that the 2001 class is more top-heavy, but the 2002 class comes on strong in the middle. Overall, these two classes blend together in terms of the numbers of highly-rated recruits, underrated players, and "projects."
But in terms of the rankings, the 2001 class (average rank of 16.3) exceeds the 2002 class (average rank of 14.3). But as you know, the VT coaches don't put much stock in rankings.
This spreadsheet I used for analysis, is available for download at the following location (Microsoft Excel 97 compatible):
Warning: it is nearly incomprehensible, so download it and read it at your own risk. Hopefully, it contains no significant errors.