NCAA Football

Five Star Recruiting Debate: What Matters When It Comes to Ranking Top Topics

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Andrew Ivins, the director of scouting at 247Sports, was enjoying a margarita by the pool — on one of the rare Saturday afternoons when he wasn’t at a combine or a 7-on-7 tournament — when his phone rang. called.

A former national coach of the year called to find out why one of the high school seniors he had just signed had slipped down the industry’s composite rankings.

“It turned out we didn’t even move him down. It was a different service,” said Ivins, a recruiting reporter and analyst since 2016 who recently became 247Sports’ first director of scouting since Barton Simmons left to become Vanderbilt’s general manager in 2021.

“I haven’t personally talked to a ton of head coaches, but I know other guys on our team have,” Ivins said. “I will say this: All those (coaches) love to stand up on signing day and say the rankings don’t matter. But it matters to them. When it comes down to it, they’re going to make some phone calls and try to get their guys moved up. There’s no doubt about that.”

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Ranking more than 3,000 high school players per recruiting cycle can be a mind-numbing process, but what Ivins and his fellow analysts spend the most time discussing is which 32 high school seniors will earn the coveted five-star distinction. They put the finishing touches on their 2023 signing class on Thursday.

“When you look at some of the guys, these are guys that we’ve followed since they were in the eighth grade. And you have a ton of different data points — meaning we saw them in a camp, a tournament or a of their games, including these all-star games,” Ivins said.

“Our rankings — we’ve always used the NFL Draft as our compass. At the end of the day, we’re judged the hardest on that Thursday night in late April or early May when fans bring up kids’ old rankings profiles on draft night . If we say a kid is a four-star, we’re saying he’s an NFL Draft pick. If we say he’s a five-star, we think he’s a first-rounder. Obviously, that’s a difficult thing to project , but we study the NFL Draft, lean on trends and try to apply that to the ranking process.”

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The big debate Ivins and his staff have at the 11th hour is how many running backs to include among their top 32 when it’s clear the position has been devalued in the NFL Draft. Texas’ Bijan Robinson, Ivins said, is the only running back projected in the first round, likely going anywhere from Nos. 18 to 28.

“We like the running back class and the guys we have up top,” Ivins said. “I don’t think we favor one guy more than the other. It’s kind of your taste … taste. So it’s like, ‘Do we even have a running back that’s a five-star?’ If we said that 10 years ago, people would think we’re crazy. But we’re trying to reflect what the leaders and trends are at the next level. We’re always studying that. That kind of shakes up our rankings, if that makes sense. It is truly year-round.”

Ultimately, Ivins and others make their evaluations without the advantage the NFL gets: watching them play in college, going through a professional combine and then meeting with them after a private workout.

“One of my favorite parts of the job is if a guy slips through the cracks, even before my time, I always go back and watch that kid’s film, dig through old numbers and try to figure out how he fell through. so we can catch that guy next,” Ivins said. “Any evaluator that says they’re going to hit 1,000 is dead wrong. You’re going to get misses. You just try to limit those misses.”

The hardest positions to hit consistently? Linebacker, quarterback and offensive tackle.

“I think linebacker has been a fascinating position,” Ivins said. “If you look at where the game has gone — and I mean the big boys on Sunday — everybody wants to throw it around the yard. The trend has been these off-ball linebackers. A lot of the guys that have gone early in draft, played a lot of snaps but is on the smaller size. But they were all fast and had verified speed markers. So we tried to reflect that in our rankings. This class of 2023, we’ll probably have three kids who end up as five stars. One of the kids ran 23 mph in Catapult’s GPS in pads, which is insane. You’re telling me a 213-pound linebacker was the fastest? There’s another kid from Mississippi, Suntarine Perkins, who plays slots and runs around.

“But at the same time, you have to be careful because there’s a growing theory that the game could slide back into more of a power run game, and you might need more mashers and big bodies to get in there.”

Of the 11 five-star quarterbacks from 2016 to 2019 to enter college ball, five have been drafted, including three in the first round after just three years: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Tua Tagovailoa. Eleven of the 22 five-star QBs since 2016 have transferred at least once.

“I’m a big believer in never really knowing what you’re going to get until the bullets start flying,” Ivins said. “Sometimes the kids want to go to high school, be in a perfect situation, get to the next level, face adversity for the first time, and things don’t go well. Between the ears, that’s not all.”

Ivins said it’s hard to evaluate offensive tackles because many who end up being drafted were “under 250 pounds when they entered high school.”

Of the 23 offensive linemen who earned a five-star rating in the composite from 2016 through 2019, 14 have been drafted, with six selected as first-rounders: Jonah Williams (Alabama), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), Isaiah Wilson (Georgia), Evan Neal (Alabama), Kenyon Green (Texas A&M) and Charles Cross (Mississippi State).

“We now rank kids as freshmen and sophomores,” Ivins said. “The reality is, we wish we had more time to identify body types because it’s super hard to project. I’ve been to the All-America game in eighth grade for the last three years in a row. How do you know, what is this child going to look like, not just in four years, but in eight years? There’s no exact science to it.”

Ivins said he and the 247 staff talk to college coaches about rankings, but it’s usually just an exchange of information.

“Some recruiting departments are fine-tuned, well-oiled machines,” Ivins said. “Georgia has about 20 staff members in their recruiting department who all have a computer. Other schools don’t have that luxury. With us, you can hear the college’s feedback. It’s going to be on our minds, but it’s not the end-all-be-all.” everything. On our team, we’ve had more guys work on the other side, run recruiting departments for Power 5, big schools. We also put in the work. We get more direct exposure to some of these kids than a lot of these schools do .We take what they say into account, but it’s a small piece.

“At the end of the day, we look at the kids around the country and try to stack the best 247 of them. At some schools, they might not recruit a kid from a certain region. For us, all those kids are on the board. People ask always, ‘How is this kid not a five star?’ I tell them, ‘Take off the blinders. That’s all you’ve seen. Look at the whole picture. It’s completely different.’ consideration.”

On Athleticswe have always used composite player and team rankings from 247Sports, which combines the rankings done by ESPN, On3, Rivals and 247.

While Ivins and his fellow analysts try to project NFL first-round picks from the high school level, college football fans always have high expectations for five-star recruits. Not everyone becomes a star as soon as they set foot on campus. Some never take that step.

Of the 223 five-star recruits in the 247Sports Composite who have played in college since 2016, only 11 started every game as a true freshman.

5 stars who started as freshmen since 2016

Class Player, Pos School

2016

Ed Oliver, DL

2016

Demetris Robertson, WR

2016

Jonah Williams, Olympics

2017

Trey Smith, Olympics

2019

Kenyon Green, Olympics

2019

Evan Neal, Olympics

2019

Bo Nix, QB

2019

Owen Pappoe, LB

2019

Derek Stingley, CB

2020

Will Anderson, DE

2022

Kelvin Banks, Olympics

In all, about 43 percent of the five stars since 2016 have started at least one game as a true freshman, with one in five starting more than six games in their first college season. In Year 2, 78 percent have cracked the starting lineup, and 52 percent are starting at least half of their team’s games.

How many actually only need three years to make the quick jump to the NFL?

Since 2016, 68 of a possible 154 (44 percent) have entered their names in the draft early, including 21 of 32 from the class of 2020 who won’t be drafted until the last week of April this year. From 2016 to 2019, nearly half of the five-star recruits who entered the draft early (23 of 47) were taken in the first round, with 44 of the 47 being drafted.

How many five stars have ended up in the transfer portal? Including the 2022 class, slightly more than a quarter (26 percent) of the 223 five-star recruits since 2016 have changed schools at least once.

How does the 2022 crop of five-star phenoms compare to their recent predecessors after their first season in college? Not bad.

Fifteen of the 34 five-star recruits in the 2022 cycle started games as true freshmen, with eight starting six games or more (Jackson State cornerback Travis Hunter, Missouri wide receiver Luther Burden, LSU linebacker Harold Perkins, Texas A&M defensive lineman Shemar Stewart, Texas A&M wide receiver Evan Stewart, Georgia safety Malaki Starks, Penn State running back Nick Singleton and Texas offensive tackle Kelvin Banks Jr.).

Four of the 34 have entered the transfer portal.

Tomorrow, in Part 2 of this story, we’ll detail how the 34 five-star prospects in the Class of 2022 fared as true freshmen this past fall.

(Photo of Bo Nix: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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