For the last five years I’ve tried to break down every recruit in every Big 12 class. The goal was to look beyond star ratings and class rankings and dive into fits, what different teams were looking for, upside potential, and ideally to have a database from which to be able to project whether teams had a strong future or not.
On that latter point I never really managed to translate my extensive lists into something that practical. For the most part it just helped me be aware of what teams were aiming for and there were some guys like Chuba Hubbard or Neville Gallimore that I saw coming from a mile away because I’d seen their film.
The 2015 breakdowns were at Inside Texas and never actually completed. The 2016 breakdowns can be found at the old sportstreatise.blogspotcom. From 2017 to 2019 I did it all here and compiled them for 2017 here, 2018 here, and 2019 here.
This year I’m doing it differently. My plan initially was to forego doing this at all. It’s about as time consuming as you’d guess and it often seemed to yield less than you’d think. How much can you draw from watching 250, three-minute HUDL videos while looking up testing numbers? Definitely some, but not as much as you’d like.
What’s more, between writing Flyover Football…
…and diving into the history of this league both in real time and regularly looking back, I realized that there were some shortcuts available.
What can you actually see on HUDL film?
This is a question that has gnawed at me and plagued the process for the last several years. I’ll tell you what you can see on HUDL film, raw movement skills and physical tools. Here’s what you can’t see very easily, toughness, football IQ, feel for the game, character, and growth projection. I’d try to study up on guys where I had questions but it’s always hard to see much beyond the raw tools.
Now, you can learn more if you know where to look. The best way to get a real eval on a guy is to watch him in a full game. Then you can see what his team’s gameplan was, what sort of role they would give him unto the all-important mission of actually winning football games, and how he performed in that role. When I’ve studied full games on QB recruits I’ve been able to draw conclusions about their potential that proved very accurate.
Another smart metric that I love for evaluating kids from playoff teams is to go watch their competitor’s film when they played head to head. A WR won’t put the endless clips on film where a particular CB locked him down, the OT won’t have that time he faced a star pass-rusher and got beat for a sack.
Every OL can look tough on HUDL when the five times all year that they finished a block with savagery can paint a picture for what they supposedly play like all the time. With pass-rushers I always try to look up their stats, are the four sacks on this highlight film the only sacks they had all year? If you can move well enough to get the sacks that are on your HUDL then you should have been doing it regularly. The HS ranks aren’t just filled with future NFL tackles.
Some of these tricks for making the most of HUDL are more valuable for what I’m going to try and actually do this season than it is for gauging a guy’s overall feel for the game but at least you get a fuller picture.
Duncanville cornerback Ennis Rakestraw, who was a hot commodity down the stretch, was a 3-star but he had playoff film where legitimately good passing teams like Southlake Carroll (with 5-star QB Quinn Ewers) couldn’t work the ball to his side of the field. Ditto for future 5-star North Shore cornerback Denver Harris, who will be a burning hot commodity in 2022. Rakestraw ended up choosing Missouri over Texas or Baylor, likely a tough loss for both.
If you want to look deep enough you can learn some things about these kids, but it’s not feasible to do so for ever recruit in the Big 12. Not for me at least.
Most of the positions on the field end up coming down to whether a team has guys that measure well in that regard, or who can be taught to fit into a team concept. This is why Kansas State’s teams under Bill Snyder had so many 8-9 win seasons last decade despite being probably the slowest and least imposing team (athletically) in the conference. Because most positions on the field come down more to feel, toughness, and team chemistry and K-State did a good job of finding and playing kids that they’d grown up into mature, maxed out football players that would perform their role.
As I’ve tried to note so many times, most positions on the football field come down to having good role players. It’s not always a major advantage to be trying to convince 4/5 star athletes to play a minor role in support of another blue chip player.
For the purpose of gauging which teams are filling out their rosters with kids that can learn to play good team-ball and own the middle of the field with toughness, chemistry, and intelligence…I’d argue that HUDL is mostly useless.
But that’s not the only thing that decides football games, and it’s not really the mark of a Big 12 champion either.
What sets apart championship teams?
As I noted the other day in my macro look at Big 12 recruiting and the state of national recruiting, the game today comes down to a few key 1-on-1 matchups in space. You can drill 2/3-stars to work together in concert to control the middle of the field, but when a tackle is protecting the QB against an edge rusher it’s just a matter of who’s beating who? Aside from the inverted Tampa 2, most best practices defensively these days hinge on having 1-2 cornerbacks who can play man coverage outside the hash marks and hold up without help over the top. Similarly, if you have some wideouts that can win those matchups then you’re cooking with gas on offense…if your QB knows how to find them and you can keep him upright.
If you want to win championships then you need athletes who can win 1-on-1 matchups on your flanks in the trenches (OT and DE/OLB) and on the perimeter (WR and CB/N).
There are a few spots where you can really benefit from having a stud. A DT who can rush the passer is ultra valuable, a safety who can erase the deep field with his range like Ed Reed or Earl Thomas, or hybrids in the middle of the field that can create or erase matchups such as flex TEs or LBs that can play man coverage. All of those pieces can make a big difference, but you don’t need them to win titles if you’re just sturdy and cohesive inside and then have athletes in those crucial spots in space.
Well, you can gauge whether a team has some athletes at those key spots by watching HUDL film.
Like I noted from studying that 2014 Baylor team in their contest with K-State that year when they basically clinched the Big 12 title, the Bears only had a handful of blue chip athletes on their roster but all of them played in those key spots. They had 4-stars in Spencer Drango at LT, Shawn Oakman at RDE (across from LT), WRs Corey Coleman and KD Cannon, and CB Ryan Reid. Then for good measure they had 4-star Andrew Billings at the nose as well. There were some other really good talents on that team, MLB Bryce Hager is still in the NFL, but they had obvious athletes in those crucial spots.
You don’t have to recruit blue chips at those positions to end up with studs. Oklahoma State has been finding dominant wideouts from the 3-star ranks for years and TCU often fields lockdown corners that were former 3-stars. But that kind of athleticism will tend to show up on a HUDL. For instance, I knew from watching Hubbard’s film that he was a 5-star athlete even tho the services only gave him 3-stars.
So I’m going to pull up the HUDL and break down the Big 12’s 2020 recruiting classes by how well they filled out their roster with tackles who can protect the edge, edge-rushers that can beat them, wide receivers that can win down the field, and cornerbacks who can check them. If you don’t have those components, you’re just not going to win the Big 12.
If you aren’t getting enlistments for your space-force, then your ceiling is below the top of the league. For the other positions, we can just wait and see which programs do the best at finding and developing savvy players. I think we all have a good guess on which staffs have that part down and which don’t. That sets your program’s floor (which Texas always seems to explore), but athleticism sets the ceiling.
So this year for our team by team recruiting breakdowns (cues music)…
…we’re going to space.