Duck Recruiting — Evaluate the Meal, Not the Ingredients


Two of the signature days on the football calendar brought the season to a close last week.  The first was last Sunday in the form of the Super Bowl, sport’s biggest spectacle, but also one of the truest meritocracies; the team that executes better on the field wins, and does so by presumably having the best combination of player talent and production possible from them.

The second overlapped the spoils of the first: On the same day the Seattle Seahawks held a parade celebrating their accomplishment on pro football’s biggest day, college football held its signature event: National Letter of Intent Signing Day.

It makes sense that the Super Bowl and Signing Day are the most noteworthy days on the calendar for their respective levels of the sport, because those are the days that are the most symbolic of how success is measured in each.  Success in pro football is determined entirely on the field with all participants having an equal opportunity to win, while college football is still largely determined by a series of academic arguments, where reputation and speculation matter as much as production.  It is only fitting that the most celebrated day in college football would be the one celebrating the most speculative portion of the sport: recruiting.

On that same day, perhaps mindful of the day’s significance in talent-evaluation circles and how he and many of his teammates had been “perceived” during their signing days, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson posted this on his Twitter:

The “F” grade Wilson is referring to came from this article , a hilarious re-read that includes pointed criticisms of the selections of Ryan Tannehill and Alshon Jeffery.  When you examine the players in Wilson’s picture, it’s no surprise why their class wasn’t more highly regarded in NFL circles on draft day.

Of all the players featured in that picture, none were ranked higher than three stars coming out of high school, which may explain why only five of them (Wilson, Bruce Irvin, Derrick Coleman, Jermaine Kearse, and J.R. Sweezy) even played for schools in BCS AQ conferences.  They were all players who got used to being overlooked, yet all of them became NFL players who contributed to a Super Bowl-winning team.

Not seen in the picture but a player who began his career with that Seahawks’ 2012 class is former Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei.   Tuinei fits the mold of other players from that draft class, a two-star wide receiver who started at a junior college before finishing his career at Oregon.  He is fondly remembered by Oregon fans as the team’s leading receiver in 2011, punctuating his career by winning Rose Bowl Offensive Player of the Game with an eight-catch, 155-yard performance that helped the Ducks win their first Rose Bowl in 95 years.

Lavasier Tuinei during his Offensive Player of the Game performance in the 2012 Rose Bowl.

Amazing Moments

Lavasier Tuinei was the Offensive Player of the Game in the 2012 Rose Bowl.

I mention Tuinei and the Seahawks because the majority of the discussion surrounding Oregon’s recruiting class last week focused on the players the other teams didn’t get, rather than focusing on who they did.

Maybe it was the early commitment of its most highly-regarded recruits in this class, or the lack of a marquee name changing their commitment to Oregon on Signing Day like the de-commitment of players such as Budda Baker, or how players such as Juju Smith or Trey Lealaimatafao chose to sign elsewhere, rather than focusing on the gains of the players who have committed; playing the what-if game before we even know what the productivity of those players, who will play elsewhere, will be.

If you want an example of why it is premature to evaluate recruiting classes based on high school rankings, look no further than a class like the one Texas had in 2009. Coming off a 12-1 season where they won the Fiesta Bowl, and because they are Texas, the Longhorns were able to bring a class that featured three five-stars (including one at quarterback) and eleven four-stars, with not a single player lower than a three star.

That class was a “disaster” (their words) that set the program back several years and potentially cost Mack Brown his job, yet at the time was regarded as a top-five class in the country.

I understand the fascination with Signing Day because it gives fans hope.  There is the belief that landing a huge talent will be a game-changer for a program.  However, that hope shouldn’t turn to despair just because players don’t sign with Oregon.  Fans want to treat players as interchangeable commodities, that any of these players could (or should) play for the Ducks.

Two-star recruit Wade Keliikipi

Kevin Cline

Two-star recruit Wade Keliikipi.

Yet any entry-level staffing manager could tell you that the greatest key to success isn’t if he has talent, it’s if he can fit.  If a player doesn’t feel he belongs at a certain school, there’s no reason to have them go there.  Concentrating energy on players who want to be in Eugene rather than leveraging those who are unsure about going there will have a far greater long-term payoff.  This is where Oregon’s coaches have done a tremendous job in recent seasons, finding guys who fit their program rather than chasing star rankings.

Bill Parcells once said, in reference to his desire to be involved in personnel decisions, “If they want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”  Evaluating a recruiting class on Signing Day is a lot like evaluating a meal by looking at the ingredients.  Sure, we can all see what quality cuts of meat and fresh produce look like, but if it’s not prepared in a competent way, it doesn’t matter what ingredients you start with.

This is why Oregon’s recruiting classes need to be evaluated strictly on wins and losses, the finished product of recruiting.  If the results don’t measure up, and evidence of such failings can be traced back to recruiting, by all means take up the necessary pitchforks and torches and storm the complex.  But evaluating recruiting classes now is nothing more than determining who did the best job of shopping for the groceries.  There’s still a meal to be made, and the quality of that meal is the criteria by which fans should use to judge programs.

Top photo courtesy of Craig Strobeck

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Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt

Nathan Roholt is a senior writer and managing editor emeritus for FishDuck. Follow him on Twitter @nathanroholt. Send questions/feedback/hatemail to

  • Dfb

    The thing so many people don’t get is that signing day isn’t about future talent for a lot of fans, it’s about getting attention from the media. Sure the Ducks could have done well in recruiting but their ranking wasn’t that great, and you don’t media attention for a decent class.

  • DonealDuck

    Two absolutely ‘correct’ ways to look at this class:

    Positive: It is obviously not a ‘dud’ class when one young man coming to Oregon was MVP of his all star game and another scored three touchdowns in his and should have been; and when every need, albeit maybe one, was filled with outstanding players and young men. Performance on the field and in life is still more important than ‘stars’, yes?… ;)

    Negative: Anyone other than a green and yellow glassed Duck apologist would have to admit that it can only be seen as a failure by Oregon coaches to wait so late in the recruiting cycle to obtain commitments from defensive tackles when they knew the situation a year ago at this time. It is impossible to keep the thought from entering one’s mind; “What were they thinking?!?”

    • hokieduck

      Arik Armstead, Alex Balduccit, DeForest Buckner, all with two years experience coming into the Spring; Tua Talia was the #1 ranked JUCO D lineman. I do not get the prevailing wisdom that Oregon failed on the 2014 defensive line recruiting.

      Frankly, the D line is not the problem with the failure to stop the run in the latter part of last season. Alliotti’s defense was set up for the D linemen to plug gaps and the linebacking corp to make the stops. It was the loss of Kiko and Clay that hurt the Ducks last year.

      If there was a failure in recruiting D linemen, it does not pertain to the 2014 season but to the 2015 season.

  • hokieduck

    I don’t know in what alternate universe I exist, but in mine, NLOI day is only a small bandaid which I apply to the gaping wound of missing football in February. To call it “the most noteworthy day on the calendar” for college football is ludicrous to me in my universe.

    Congrats and welcome to all the great young athletes who committed to playing Duck football. We look forward to seeing you grow, learn, and excel on the field and off.

    Go Ducks. WTD.


    The 1 positive of this class is that 17 of these young men were Team Captains at their High Schools, and this speaks too me as clear cut Leaders, and last years Team, the Duck’s that is really had NO LEADERSHIP, no players that jumped on guys for there bad play or for giving up, and for this Team to get back to that WTD Mentality, our QB Marcus needs to be one of the 1st players to MAN UP and be a Captain and he clearly needs to be way more Vocasl than being his ALTER EGO on the Islands and laid back, because that needs to change and he needs to direct everyone on this offense because your QB should be the Team Leader.