Friday's Mailbag 

March, 6, 2009

Lots of different topics in this week's mailbag:

From Duane in Tustin, Calif.: The Pro Bowl analysis got me thinking about how overrated recruiting rankings really are. I know you did a book about what really goes on during the evaluation process, but how closely do these staffs monitor the accuracy of the recruiting sites as well as do their own studies to learn if there is a smarter way to go about their recruiting pursuits?

Feldman: Many programs do conduct post-mortems and various studies like what you're talking about when it comes to recruiting because so much time and money are spent in the process and obviously jobs depend on it. Kent McLeod, Duke's director of football relations, is one of the brightest people I know. He had worked in Ole Miss' recruiting office for years, starting out under Tommy Tuberville and then staying through David Cutcliffe and Ed Orgeron. I probably picked McLeod's brain more than anyone's in all my time down in Mississippi. This week, he finished doing a project charting every player at the NFL combine that included what position they were supposedly projected at and their star ranking by the two major Internet recruiting sites, and The results of the spreadsheets are fascinating.

QB: There were 21 listed. Four didn't even receive one star. Fifteen received three stars or fewer. The average rating was 2.67 stars. The two top prospects, Georgia's Matt Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez were two of the three five-stars. (Rhett Bomar was the other.)

RB: There were 31 listed. The average tailback star rating was 2.81. The average FB was 2.50. The only players who got any five-star ratings were Beanie Wells, LeSean McCoy and Mike Goodson. Fourteen of the backs had ratings of two or fewer stars, including UConn's Donald Brown, Boise State's Ian Johnson, Liberty's Rashad Jennings and Syracuse FB Tiny Fiammetta.

WR: There were 44 listed. Ten had ratings of fewer than two stars, including Rice's Jarrett Dillard, Penn State's Deon Butler and Cal Poly's Ramses Barden. Michael Crabtree was rated by one of the sites as a four-star and as a two-star by the other site. The average rating was 2.63.

TE: There were 21 listed. The physical growth was from an average high school weight of 222 to 250 for the Combine. The average rating was just 2.12, and McLeod points out that's probably partly because there is so much projection going on with this position. It's also curious to see that only one-third of these guys were actually projected by the recruiting sites to play tight end. Six were QBs; five were wide receivers. Two of the guys pro scouts tout as the top blockers -- NC State's Anthony Hill and Fresno State's Bear Pascoe -- were a defensive end and a QB/LB.

OT: There were 27 listed. Three were unanimous five-stars: Ohio State's Alex Boone, Alabama's Andre Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe. The guy many scouts project as the top OT, Baylor's Jason Smith, was a two-star, who has reportedly gone from being 225 pounds to 309. Average rating: 2.74.

OG: There were 19 listed. The average rating was 2.29. The biggest gainer was BYU's Travis Bright, who was listed at 210 from newspaper reports during high school and showed up at the combine at 321.

C: There were 13 listed. The group's size went from an average of 272 in high school to an average combine weight of 302. Stanford's Alex Fletcher boosted the star ratings, as he was a four- and five-star guy. The three top-rated guys according to most scouts now were all two-star guys: Oregon's Max Unger, Cal's Alex Mack and Louisville's Eric Wood. Average rating: 2.38 stars.

DT: There were 23 listed. Only Texas' Roy Miller got five stars. He was a four-star on the other site. SJ State's Jarron Gilbert, the guy who became a YouTube phenom for his jumping-out-of-the-pool stunt, was a 240-pound no-star recruit who is now a 288-pounder.

B.J. Raji from BC, the consensus top DT, was just a two-star. In looking at this bunch, most of the top college performers weren't considering big guys. Georgia Tech's Vance Walker, now 304, was a 255-pound two-star; Sen'Derrick Marks from Auburn, now 306, was a 265-pound two-star; Ole Miss' Peria Jerry, now 299, was a 280-pound two-/three-star and Mizzou's Ziggy Hood, now 300, was a 230-pound two-/three-star DE recruit. Average rating: 2.76.

DE: There were 30 listed. The average weight has jumped from 237 to 268. There were no five-stars. Some of the top-rated pro prospects came in as the lightest: Texas' Brian Orakpo, then a 213-pound three-/four-star, now 263; Penn State's Aaron Maybin, then a 211-pound four-star, now 249; and Tennessee's Robert Ayers, then a 230-pound four-star LB, now 270. Average rating: 2.25.

LB: There were 27 linebackers. The ILBs panned out better than the outside guys. The ILBs had a 3.11 rating, while the OLBs were 2.50. The fastest riser has been Wake's Aaron Curry, who went from being a 210-pound two-star to a 254-pound possible top overall pick.

S: There were 24 listed. There were two guys who came in as four-stars: Mississippi State's Derek Pegues and Oklahoma's Lendy Holmes; neither was touted as a safety initially. Pegues had been a QB/CB, and Holmes was a WR. Average rating: 2.56.

CB: There were 35 listed. Average star rating is 2.23.

McLeod says he searched for documented weights because those would be the weights colleges would have on their recruiting boards unless the recruits came to their camps. He adds that this should serve as a reminder to staffs that might be tempted to dismiss some players in the recruiting process who might seem too light.

It also shows that schools that take projects, like Jason Smith at Baylor or Aaron Curry at Wake, where you have players who can run but don't possess the bulk in high school, often get rewarded because in time they can develop past those hyped-up bigger guys who might not move as well.

From Sean in Pennsylvania: Boise has a nice program but let's not get carried away. Outside of the Oklahoma game, which we all knew was a game Oklahoma didn't care about (see Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl for comparison), what has Boise done? I'll give you the fact that they consistently dominate their conference. Great, what else? I have a couple items for you: In 2007, the played 1 BCS conference team and were soundly beaten. Guess who? 4-9 Washington led by Ty Willingham. In 2005, they were 0-3 against BCS conference teams. Including a 48-13 loss to Georgia. One of these years I hope the BCS puts them in the title game.

Feldman: Sean, as I said, I think it's the level the Boise program has been elevated to in the last 3-4 years that has changed its perception nationally. You simply can't just dismiss their beating OU and say, "Well, forget about that one game." It's not Boise's fault, whatever motivation the Sooners may or may not have had. And there have been others. This year, they beat No. 17 Oregon and did so at one of the loudest stadiums in the country, and they did it while playing a redshirt freshman QB who had played in only two college games before that. In 2006, they crushed Oregon State, 42-14, and that was a Beaver team that went on to win 10 games that year. And you can talk all you want about playing BCS schools, but the truth is, most BCS schools don't want any part of having to play a home-and-home with Boise. From talking to the folks inside the BSU program, they hear some offers of 2-for-1s, and at this point, those aren't very tempting.

I got a handful of e-mails off that entry like Sean's. A couple were from Mizzou fans, but most were from annoyed Notre Dame fans who maintained that winning in South Bend still is harder and shows more than winning at Boise. No doubt there is some prestige still associated with winning in South Bend, and as a couple of people pointed out the game would unfold on national television, so there is merit to it in that regard. However, that still doesn't outweigh the recent history. Last year, the Irish lost at home to an average Big East squad (Pittsburgh) and to a horrible Big East squad (Syracuse). The year before that, the Irish lost in South Bend to Air Force by 17, lost to Navy, were shut out by USC 38-0, lost to BC by double digits, lost to Michigan State by double digits and lost to Georgia Tech by 30. They're not much over .500 at home in Charlie Weis' four seasons at ND.

I will concede Missouri fans have at least some argument, given that the Tigers are 17-2 in the last three years at home.

From Paul in Pittsburgh: The one thing I just don't understand is why people criticize teams for not playing anybody in non conference. To me there is no incentive to play good non-conference games. You used to with the previous incarnations of the BCS. To me I would play four teams that have no chance of beating me each year. Try to make it through the conference schedule undefeated. Get to a BCS bowl. The national champion thing is a joke. It's not a real championship. The media and coaches vote on who they like anyways. If you could explain why you should play someone?

Feldman: If you're an SEC team, I think you have the best chance to get away with not playing any elite nonconference teams because the perception is you will still have had to overcome four or five top 20 teams if you make it through the schedule and the SEC title game. In some cases, you can survive it even in the Big Ten. Penn State, which had a very favorable nonconference slate, would've played for the national title if it had beaten Iowa. But that's within a season in which teams from the SEC and the Big 12, and USC, suffered a loss. If you're most Big Ten teams and all Big East teams, you probably need at least one heavyweight on your schedule, or you are close to getting the Utah treatment. I suspect that if a Big East team ran the table and didn't have a nonconference win over a top-10 team, it wouldn't rise above a one-loss SEC or Big 12 title team.

From Jenn in Miami: Haven't we reached the point of Tim Tebow overload? I get that he's a great player, but now the NCAA is making special exemptions for him. Urban Meyer's playing it like Tebow staying in school is so that he can reach more people than if he went to the NFL. Yeah, maybe, but that's assuming if Tebow bombs in the NFL. Correct me if I'm wrong but Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have a lot higher profiles than Mr. Tebow does right now.

Feldman: Interesting point. I think it's unfair to draw the comparison to Manning/Brady to Tebow, given that those other guys have much larger bodies of work. Will Tebow ever host "Saturday Night Live"? Who knows? I wouldn't bet against him. A few years back, a friend of men raised the point that Matt Leinart was the highest-profile college football player ever, and my hunch is he was correct, given the state of the media, the Web, 24-hour sports channels, etc. Tebow has trumped that.

As I've said a bunch of times before, I am a Tebow fan. I have great respect for him stepping forward to try and be positive. As the cliché goes, he seems to talk the talk and walk the walk.

I didn't follow the part about the NCAA's special exemption Jenn made, but I suspect she is referencing something from this Orlando Sentinel story about Tebow:

"[Tebow] runs an orphanage and the only reason he would leave early is because the NCAA has a rule that you're not allowed to raise money," Meyer said. "So Tim can sign balls for you all but he can't raise money for something that he believes in, which is preposterous if you really think about it."

Meyer said that with the help of Foley and UF's NCAA compliance department, "the NCAA approved of the ability for Tim to raise money for that orphanage. Your quarterback would not be our quarterback any longer if that didn't happen."

UF later released a clarifying statement it had received from the NCAA, which said, "We have worked cooperatively with the University of Florida, the Southeastern Conference and the Tebow family for a few months now to help interpret and apply our bylaws related to extra benefits and promotional activities." According to the NCAA, Florida boosters and UF are allowed to donate directly to the orphanage.

My three cents: The NCAA seldom likes to get near slippery slopes, but in the spirit of this, as in the case of Myron Rolle a few months back, I think this is the right thing. Later in the Sentinel story, Meyer is quoted as saying that after people saw Tebow's "John 3:16" on his eye black in the national championship game, it was "the most Googled verse in the history of the world."

As an aside, I'm surprised the NCAA hasn't outlawed players writing personal messages on their eyeblack. About a decade ago, they cracked down on players writing on tape on their helmets for what I thought was a similar reason.


• Wisconsin big back P.J. Hill isn't so big any more. The Badger has slimmed down quite a bit for his pro day earlier this week. According to Gil Brandt, Hill measured in at 5-foot-10 1/8, 218 pounds. It is the lightest he's been since junior high school. He ran 4.65 and 4.63 in the 40-yard dash. He had a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-2-inch broad jump. He ran a 4.24 in the short shuttle and had a 7.09 in the three-cone drill. He had 16 bench-press reps.

I was never a big believer that Hill was a viable Heisman candidate, and I'm skeptical he'll be a star in the NFL. I'm also skeptical whenever guys shed 20 or 25 pounds just to get ready for their pro day. Where was this determination during your college season?

• With Sandra Bullock already signed on to play one of the feature roles in the movie based on the life of Ole Miss offensive lineman Michael Oher, there might be a curious choice to play former Rebels coach Ed Orgeron: The role might go to the big Cajun himself.

The outtakes for that, I suspect, would be quite entertaining. I guess they could've also considered Dwayne Johnson -- the former Miami DT played for Orgeron and has said he based some of the verbage of his WWE character, The Rock, on his old coach. Of course the resemblance isn't good, and Johnson's price tag these days is also pretty steep.

As for the role of Phil Fulmer, Clay Travis suggests Fred Thompson.

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