20 Comments

  1. Cameron

    I can only speak with any degree of knowledge on offensive and defensive line recruiting. So I’ll confine my comments to that area.

    1) Linemen (offense or defense) with large skeletal frames but who have not filled out / bulked up yet are *the* undervalued asset in recruiting (in my opinion). You are not looking just at height, but also shoulder width, arm length, and ham length (from the back of the knee to the butt). Barring specific measurements, you’re gauging whether, if you added fifty pounds or so to the guy, he’d still look proportional. They take a few years to develop the bulk and strength you are looking for, but if you’re an underdog program, that’s part of the price you’re going to have to pay to beat the big boys. These types of guys tend to be more common where Norse / Slavic populations settled down in the US, but are by no means limited by race. If you need a famous example, take a look at photos of JJ Watt in high school. He looks none too impressive unless you start focusing on his skeletal frame, at which point you’re drooling. Or maybe that’s just me …

    2) Explosive, but smaller, defensive linemen. Bigger guys tend to be picked up first by blue blood programs, but slightly shorter, and particularly lighter, guys with =< 1.6 10 yard times are greatly undervalued. (Ignore 40 yard times; they mean nothing for the trenches.) You tend to find these guys playing defensive end outside of metro areas where they have not been noticed by national recruiting programs.

    3) The large, strong guys who have no athleticism. This is a very specific type of guy you are looking to develop on the interior offensive or defensive lines. If you see a big guy who can't be moved, has no explosiveness, looks good moving laterally while maintaining contact with an opponent, but looks winded after running more than 10 yards, then you know the type. This the guy you're looking for to develop into a guard-mauler or 2-gap nose tackle.

    4) Tight ends who can't catch. If a guy playing tight end at the high school level looks great except for when going out for routes, then fear not. He might just become your next best pass rusher or offensive tackle. Sure, you can try to keep him as a blocking tight end, but you'd be surprised at how many future exterior linemen you can mine from this group.

    Not an exhaustive list, but I think a good starting point for underdog college recruiters.

    • ianaboyd

      Good stuff.

      “These types of guys tend to be more common where Norse / Slavic populations settled down in the US, but are by no means limited by race.”

      Right, there’s a reason some programs have had more success than others with their walk-on programs or grabbing 2/3-star kids. Some programs are in areas with large settlements of Viking/Teutonic descendants. Race is a sensitive issue in all of this and there are always tons of exceptions but on a macro level it’s undeniable that fast-twitch muscle fiber or larger frames are more common in some groups than others.

      • Cameron

        Right. You keep seeing certain types on the offensive line for a reason, but part of that is cultural. College teams would be just as likely to go recruit descendants of Mamluks and Sumo wrestlers if they were more inclined to play football.

  2. JObhr

    Few comments about this article that uses football to examine several strands of popular science (behavioral economics, human development, and genetics). I’ll brake up responses because the post was getting too long.

    First, football.

    There is data, first from Mathlete at mgoblog to my knowledge (below), but now repeated by others, that supports the hypothesis that star rankings are most predictive of success on defense. The weakness of recruiting to predict offensive success, I agree, is due to relatively poor performance of recruiting services in QB and OL evaluation.

    I’ve proposed that there be no 5-star OL. OL success is due to unit success more than other units. Furthermore, as has been alluded to above, human physical, cognitive, and emotional development extends into our mid-20’s (no reference as this is the stuff of textbooks by now). More on this later.

    I’ve proposed (in response to Ian’s posts) that teams recruit nothing but high school DL and OT candidates. Excellent players in these spots are rare so increasing your sample of potential candidates is key. “Misses” at DL and OT can be funneled to the OC and OG slots.

    http://mgoblog.com/diaries/what%E2%80%99s-5-star-really-worth-predicting-future-team-success-recruiting-rankings

    • ianaboyd

      There is data, first from Mathlete at mgoblog to my knowledge (below), but now repeated by others, that supports the hypothesis that star rankings are most predictive of success on defense. The weakness of recruiting to predict offensive success, I agree, is due to relatively poor performance of recruiting services in QB and OL evaluation.”

      I think the key is that offense is a skill game whereas defense comes down largely to toughness and athleticism. It’s hard to eval skill or project how players will grow in skill but base athleticism is consistent.

      So then the game for recruiting on D is finding ways to get athletes despite lacking access to the top rated kids. It’s obviously possible since Gary’s been doing it for years and years. I think there’s another path as well, the ND State path, if you will.

    • Cameron

      “I’ve proposed (in response to Ian’s posts) that teams recruit nothing but high school DL and OT candidates. Excellent players in these spots are rare so increasing your sample of potential candidates is key. “Misses” at DL and OT can be funneled to the OC and OG slots.”

      Interesting idea, but one that will only work for certain offensive and defensive systems. The requirements for playing right guard as opposed to left tackle in pro or smashmouth spread systems are quite different, for example. Trying to plug a failed principal pass protector into your main mauler position requires some serious transition time. Same goes for taking a failed DE and putting him in at 3-tech DT.

      I think what you have to keep in mind is that when it comes to offensive linemen, fit is far more important than recruiting ranking. In the Big12, Baylor under Art Briles was my favorite example. For a while there, I think they only had one 4/5 star guy, but boy did they do a great job recruiting dudes with the size and power to fit their scheme. Statistically, you might think: there’s very low correlation. From my standpoint, if you’re only paying attention to their recruiting ranking, you’ve missed most of the evaluation.

      • ianaboyd

        Good thoughts.

        It’s an interesting idea though for a smashmouth team.

        Recruit only tackles and DL and find your guards from the ranks of DTs and failed OTs…could maybe work. You gotta be redshirting and coaching them up hard though, maybe grabbing a JUCO here and there to fill holes when things don’t work out.

        I believe there are baseball teams that have tried this, recruiting only up the middle and then finding corner infielders or outfielders from the ranks of middle infield/outfield guys that were less adept in the field.

      • JObhr

        “serious transition time.”
        “offensive linemen, fit is far more important than recruiting ranking.”

        We agree.
        This strategy is predicated on having developmental time. As mentioned, I’m especially skeptical of recruiting rankings for OL to the point that I don’t think 5-star ranking are applicable.
        Last year when reviewing Big12 recruiting, I suggested to Ian that the criteria for evaluating different position groups be: talent, fit, and number.

  3. JObhr

    Jews were thought to be particularly gifted basketball players because they were “crafty.” Was it because they were crafty, or was it because American Jewish populations were clustered in East Coast cities with bad weather, and basketball was the only sports option for six months of the year? Jamaican sprinter production, and Cameron’s example of Polynesian proclivity for football is a more recent examples. Outside of sports, Filipino nurses (1), and Indian doctors are other examples (2).

    Key components that needs to be included when discussing the predilection of different social groups for particular activities is capitalization rate (3) and our understanding of genetics (4).

    Could particular populations are genetically predisposed to be faster or stronger or more caring? The Nature article would argue against that hypothesis. There are regional differences, but very few genes and gene families are distinct and. Outside of Finnish, Japanese, and East African clusters, there is little unique population-wide genetic diversity on a macro level.

    Social factors are probably a bigger factor. Capitalization rate is the rate at which a given community capitalizes on the human potential within that community. It reflects part of the “nurture” hypothesis, and I would contend, is a greater share of why particular populations seem better at particular activities. A variety of factors drive certain groups into specific vocations: space, local weather, opportunity, and mentorship.

    So what does this mean? It is likely that 1% of the population of that has the physical, intellectual, and emotional makeup to achieve status as a national or world-class athlete is relatively evenly distributed. However, biases within and outside social groups direct development in particular directions, whether in be towards becoming a great TE or a great geneticist.

    1. http://newamericamedia.org/2013/05/telltale-signs-why-are-there-so-many-filipino-nurses-in-the-us.php
    2. http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/24/bobby-jindal-indian-americans-opinions-contributors_immigrants_minority.html
    3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kspphGOjApk
    4. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v526/n7571/full/nature15393.html#abstract

    • ianaboyd

      Actually physical differences between different ethnic groups are not minor and do play a major role.

      If the genetic distribution of athletes was equal than West Africans wouldn’t have dominated the 100m sprint for the last 30 years or so.

      • JObhr

        I guess we agree.
        Sprint success by Caribbean nations is a classic example of how human capitalization is critical to development. West African gene pool still requires the early deep development programs in places like Jamaica to translate to world class success.

        • ianaboyd

          Right, it’s almost never just nature or nurture. Jamaican success is pretty interesting, they’re clearly doing something differently.

    • Cameron

      “It is likely that 1% of the population of that has the physical, intellectual, and emotional makeup to achieve status as a national or world-class athlete is relatively evenly distributed.”

      I’m dubious of this assertion, or at least with regard to particular positions in sports. I would be really surprised, for example, to find out that individuals who are at least 6’2″ with 20″ shoulders are as likely to pop up in the South Asian populations as they are among Norse ones. Are there big Indian/Pakistani guys? Oh yeah. As common per 10,000 as compared to Norse populations? All the stats I’ve read say that’s a pretty clear “no.”

      • JObhr

        You bring up two separate but related points here: size and performance.

        First size. In my experience, tailors, not scientists, measure shoulder width ( 🙂 ) so my comments are restricted to height.
        I agree, Vikings are taller than South Asians…
        but why if the genes of these two groups are relatively similar?
        The answer is largely access to nutrition, especially for mothers carrying children. This has been demonstrated in a number of populations including Japanese (post WWII increase in height of the population) and Indian immigrants to Western countries. In both instances, there is a steady increase in height after greater access to the corn-fed, hormone-addled Western diet. This means that there is an important role for nurture (modifiable variables) even in the size component of performance.

        Next performance. Excellence in sports is a combination of physical gifts, intelligence, and grit. For sports like football, learned skill is key. You have to learn to be a QB or an OT or a MLB. Intelligence and grit are needed to hone physical gifts. If physical gifts were determinant, recruiting rankings would be far more precise.

          • JObhr

            And Swedes are a little more than 2 inches shorter than the Dutch, with a very similar genetic makeup. So, I agree that genetics are a component of height determination. If you know the relative value of the genetic contribution (nature) to height versus environmental contribution (including epigenetics, diet, maternal imprinting, i.e., nurture), you can teach a slew of population biologists.

            I also agree that height of Northern Europeans will probably max out at a higher height than South Asians or Japanese at the population level. However, when talking about elite athletes in sports that are skill based (ball sports–football, basketball, tennis, soccer), so intelligence, grit, and emotion are extremely important. Social biases leave a lot of human capital untapped.

            If you think that Northern European genetics is unique in formatting these traits, please show your work.

  4. Davey O'Brien

    In response to point on the efforts to finding talent back int the day I knew a college coach who subscribed to easily 100 small town Texas newspapers solely for the Spring time editions which would contain the results from various track meets held over the weekends. He found more than one diamond in the rough after noticing the same name appeared under a sprint event, weight, and jumping.

    Today some colleges (i.e. TCU) have used “camps” in remote locations such as deep East Texas. Not only does that location pull kids who might not make it into a Nike event in Dallas or Houston, but also the NW corner of the Boot which has been very generous to TCU’s football program over the years.

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