Published Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 10:23 pm / Updated at 9:28 pm
FOOTBALL
Chatelain: When you're grading recruiting classes, it's quality over quantity

Ready for a recruiting lesson, Husker fans?

Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. Write down the 24 players who signed with Nebraska Wednesday.

Now cross out 14 random names. Don't cheat. These are your future failures and big disappointments.

What's going to happen to them, you ask? One won't show up in August. Two will get kicked off the team. Three will quit because of injuries. Four will transfer. Four more will find their brightest moments on the scout team/kickoff duty.

Every year, amid the signing day honeymoon, it's easy to forget just how many precious prospects will flop. It happens everywhere, not just at Nebraska.

Nick Saban's 2008 recruiting class at Alabama is hailed among the greatest of all-time. But only 15 of his 32 signees contributed.

The two best Husker classes of the past decade were 2005 and '07. Neither hit 50 percent.

So how do you measure success in recruiting? We'll get to that.

First, let's look at little closer at '05 and '07.

Ľ The 2005 class had 32 players. Only 15 became prominent/important pieces of the program. That's being generous.

The 15 includes juco transfers Zac Taylor, Zack Bowman, Steve Octavien, Barry Cryer, Ola Dagunduro and Bryan Wilson, all of whom only played two years.

Ľ The 2007 class had 28 players. Only 12 became prominent/important pieces of the program. That includes jucos Larry Asante, Shukree Barfield and Armando Murillo.

The 12 includes Jaivorio Burkes, who retired with a medical condition; Zac Lee, who got replaced after his junior year; Adi Kunalic, who only handled kickoffs.

Ľ Here's where it gets interesting. The worst classes, like 2006 and '08, also hit about 50 percent. So what separates them from the successful groups? The quality of those 10 to 15 significant pieces.

In 2005, the core was Ndamukong Suh, Zac Taylor, Phillip Dillard, Matt Slauson and Zach Potter.

In '07, it was Prince Amukamara, Eric Hagg, Roy Helu, Jared Crick and Niles Paul (all five are in the NFL).

Compare those lists to '06, when the most significant pieces were Keith Williams, Mo Purify, Pierre Allen, Rickey Thenarse and Mike McNeill (you could argue Carl Nicks, but he was a two-year player who didn't shine).

In '08, the best pieces were Alfonzo Dennard, Ricky Henry, Ben Cotton, Kyler Reed, Will Compton and Baker Steinkuhler. Very good players, but few standouts.

It's about quality more than quantity. Look at your 10 random names remaining on your sheet of paper.

What Pelini needs is: five of those guys to eventually get drafted; four to be three-year starters; three to be first-team all-Big Ten; two to earn some kind of All-America honors; one to be a transformational athlete — a national award winner.

Here's an extreme example: The 2008 Alabama class had 11 NFL Draft picks. Eleven!

They included first-rounders Julio Jones, Mark Barron, Marcell Dareus, Dont'a Hightower and Mark Ingram; second-round picks Terrence Cody and Courtney Upshaw; and Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.

Yes, depth is nice and a disastrous position group (like the 2010 Husker defensive line class) eventually causes problems.

But in recruiting, it's not really about how many signees become starters or contributors — you can always plug a hole down the road. Success is primarily determined by the ceiling of your best guys (needless to say, player development is critical).

You start winning big when you string together consecutive classes with four or five difference-makers.

How did Alabama follow its '08 recruiting haul? Saban signed 29 prospects in '09.

Only 12 panned out, but among the dozen were A.J. McCarron, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Chance Warmack, Dre Kirkpatrick, James Carpenter, D.J. Fluker, Nico Johnson and Anthony Steen. All were either drafted — or will be in April.

Nebraska, on the other hand, followed its '05 class with a mediocore '06 crop. It followed its star-studded '07 class with a sub-par '08 group.

So lesson No. 1 is to remember how many prospects will disappoint or fail completely — roughly 50 to 60 percent.

Lesson No. 2 is that the “failure” number doesn't matter as much as you think.

These are the real questions: Is your best defensive tackle the next Baker Steinkuhler or Ndamukong Suh? Is your best linebacker the next Will Compton or Lavonte David?

Is your best pass rusher the next Pierre Allen or Randy Gregory? Is your best tailback the next Marlon Lucky or Ameer Abdullah?

Lucky, of course, was rated the No. 2 back in the country in 2005. Abdullah's ranking in 2011, according to ESPN?

128th.

A good recruiting class doesn't absolutely need five-star talent on signing day. But it better have some by graduation.

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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