Oregon Recruiting, or How to Win Recruits and Influence Players

The Pick: Kenny Wheaton took his talents to the end zone.

As some of you may or may not know, the title refers to a formerly (currently?) popular book by Dale Carnegie that apparently taught more than 15 million people how to make friends. Unfortunately, Mr. Carnegie died before writing what would surely be his second most popular book: How to Win Recruits and Influence Players. As Duck fans know, winning recruiting battles, particularly for the “best” high school football players, has proven difficult. Oregon has had some success (See: De’Anthony Thomas), but often seems to come up juuuuuust short.

This is something I have never understood. If I were a highly-regarded high school football player, and I knew that I stood a pretty good chance of becoming a millionaire (well, at least something more than an eleven thousand-aire), I would give Oregon a long hard look before I thought about Texas, because of the 2013 Alamo Bowl, or Michigan, because Brady of Broke Hoke, or even USC, because of Steve Sarkisian (cut to Puppy Fans nodding in approval).

U mad, bro?

From Video

U mad, bro?

Before we venture on to my thought experiment, I would like to issue a disclaimer: I have never played organized football in my life, unless you count playing in Portland Heights Park, next to Strohecker’s, during parent-teacher conference week. I do, however, think I would’ve made a pretty decent backup JV fullback.

Back to me being an elite athlete staring free college and future millions in the face and the thought bubble above me: “Oregon has been pretty good on-the-field, even though it only gets lowly two-star quarterbacks that started for one year in high school. (Here’s looking at you, Marcus Mariota!) If I, as a potential star in THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, wanted to become that star, I should probably pick Oregon, because its on-the-field performance constantly outstrips its on-paper recruiting. There must be something in the Eugene air that makes Oregon football so successful. They do a lot with a little. How much could they do if I took my talents to Eugene? I’d probably win a bunch of championships, maximize my talent, and launch myself to the NFL and a life of rings and of a lot no concussions.”

To complete the the ring composition about me being something I will neverevereverever be, I think that more elite high school players should pick Oregon because Oregon gets the most out of its players. Yes, sports fans of other big programs, there is something in the Eugene air: good coaching air (cut to Darren Carrington shaking his head).

I’m sure most of the trolls are saying that this claim is a bridge too far. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Read this. No, seriously, I’ll wait.

J.J. Watt: World Destroyer

"JJ Watt" by Jeffrey Beall - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:JJ_Watt.JPG#mediaviewer/File:JJ_Watt.JPG

J.J. Watt: World Destroyer

Welcome back. The in-shape, never-heard-of-Honkin’-Huge-Burritos, Unicorn version of me was right: Oregon does, in fact and in deed, do more with its talent, save Wisconsin. (Give yourselves a hand, Beavs; you guys aren’t so shabby either.)  Sure, the results might also be explained by the fact that the ability to coach up players in college is easier, that teams are able to recruit to players to fit a certain style, and that the level of competition each team faces varies wildly. This might all be true. It is also true Oregon players wildly out-perform their recruiting stars.

Popular perception states that players come for the uniforms. But they will stay for the career development. How many other teams can say that they have appeared in two championship games in the last five years? Three: Auburn, Alabama, and little ol’ Oregon. Who earned commitments from two of the last three Heisman Trophy winners? Oregon.

I don’t know why Oregon doesn’t get more recruiting love. Maybe the coaches are too honest. Regardless, more high school players, not only from California, but also from the entire country (and world, Bjorn Werner and Akeem Hicks), should put Oregon higher on their list than the media or fans think. Perception is not reality. Good recruiting pitches do not equate with good football. For all the future Ducks out there, remember this: the results speak for themselves. Or, to put another way: scoreboard.

Oregon fans might wring their hands about Iman Marshall, Rasheem Greene, John Houston, Jr., Kyler Murray, even P.J. Locke. (Sorry buddy, DB-U Texas ain’t.) This is wrong. Just ask Dr. Cox.

Oregon is not missing out on anything. Elite prospects are missing out on Oregon.

Top Photo from John Giustina

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  • Jeff O

    Many players choose to play locally for many reasons:
    – travel expenses
    – travel time issues so family can see them play
    – personal affiliations and loyalty to local schools/grew up going to their games. Coaches and local alumni push their school as well.
    – the weather
    – chance of getting to play as early as possible (not all NFL prospects start their first year).
    – style of play. Very few pocket passers go to Oregon.

    With this logic, you could argue for one of the military academies because they’re fairly competitive with zero NFL prospects, so why not follow former Navy coach Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech where they run the same system?

    • berrygraham

      The gist of the article is this: Oregon performs well with a good, but not great, recruiting class. Oregon’s success on the field comes even without elite recruits. If the goal of a college football player is to get to the NFL, then you would want to go to the program that is best at developing talent. Let me try to explain this through oversimplified crappy math.

      Assume that all five star recruits (B=5) have an initial ability between
      9.00-10.00, all four star recruits (B=4) have an initial ability
      between (7.00-8.99), with the same formula applying to all three, two,
      one, and unrated recruits.

      Now, assume that a team’s success as a program, Z, is geometrically related to a team’s ability to develop its talent, M, multiplied by the square of a team’s total talent after development, ∑Y^2 (working off the assumption that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts), plus the team’s total initial talent, ∑X. This would look something like Z=(A(∑Y)^2) + ∑X. So, as a team’s total talent initial increases, it’s total talent after development would increase, and thus its success would also increase geometrically.

      Now, imagine player development as a linear formula for all players with a
      certain recruiting ranking, Y=MX+B. Y is the player’s skill as a college
      football player at a certain time during his college career, X is the player’s skill as a high school player upon graduation, and M is the rate at which
      football players develop. Now, assume that a player’s initial skill is
      directly related to the player’s football recruiting ranking, or B. As B
      increases, the player’s initial skill level, X, also increases
      (assuming that a player’s recruiting ranking accurately reflects his
      ability as a high school player).

      My thought experiment centers on putting myself in the shoes of an elite high school recruit that wants to be drafted as high as possible, and that my draft status is a reflection of my ability as a player. Thus, the more I can develop throughout my college football career, the better position I’ll be in to be drafted in the first round, and the more money I’ll make. So, if a team consistently outperforms its recruiting ranking, thereby doing the most with what it has, then I, the elite football player, should go to that school because my already high level of skill will be increased by the greatest degree, and I will be in a good position to be drafted in the first round.

      I am backing into my conclusion using the fivethirtyeight article as my starting point for player development, assuming that a team outperforms its recruiting ranking on account of that team’s ability to develop talent. My conclusion is simply this: an elite player whose primary goal is becoming an NFL first round pick should go to the school with the best track record of player development. This development is represented by the degree to which the team outperforms its recruiting ranking. Thus, if an elite recruit wants to be drafted in the first round, and his best chance at securing that goal is to maximize his talent, then his choice of school should be dictated by the school’s ability to maximize its players’ talent.

      There are a number of assumptions here for which I am not accounting. I am pretty sure this is a detailed and boring enough explanation of the foregoing that it should probably be an article in itself. But I didn’t think about that.

      Regardless of whether you understand what I said, thanks for taking the time to read this article.

      • Jeff O

        “Regardless of whether you understand what I said,…” Give me some credit since I dabbled with a little college coaching.

        You’re not giving credit to programs that historically did not have great recruiting classes, but due to player development, now have a reputation and attract top talent. Wisconsin’s offensive line is a perfect example. They were awful before Barry Alvarez took over the program. Now everyone should assume that the “only” reason they are great upfront is their recruiting ranking? Based on their performance, I’d say they’re getting a lot out of them.

        Aren’t those rankings a little flawed? Ever wonder if the exact same lineman who was made an offer by Oregon wouldn’t get ranked higher if he was made an offer by Wisconsin?

        • berrygraham

          One’s ability to understand math and one’s ability to understand coaching are not one and the same. My comment was directed at use of linear and polynomial regression in explaining my thought process. I was trying to make explicit all of the assumptions I was making in reaching my conclusion, not impugn your ability to understand what I said. Not everyone wants to read a thorough logically reasoned explanation relying on poor use of math equations.

          And I DID give credit to other programs that have historically “weak” recruiting, particularly Wisconsin: “Oregon does, in fact and in deed, do more with its talent, save Wisconsin.” “Save” in this case means except.

          And yes, recruiting rankings are frequently wrong as predictive tool of future success, just like mock drafts by “experts” are frequently wrong in predicting who will get drafted by what team. I don’t know how the rankings are made, or whether offers from a certain team move the needle of public perception one way or another.

          IMHO, I don’t think that offers from other schools have (or at least shouldn’t have) any sort of impact on a coach’s perception of a player. Basing your opinion on what someone else does or sees is a bad way to develop reliable judgment of one’s own perception. To paraphrase Warren Buffet, you have to have your own internal measuring stick. Making an offer to a player because another school with a reputation for developing players at a certain position is, frankly, lazy recruiting. Just because one round peg fits someone else’s round hole doesn’t mean that round peg will fit your round hole.

          There are huge assumptions that I make in my argument, most notably that all high school athletes develop linearly in relation to their initial ability. Player development, especially at that young age, depends on physical development, mental ability, preparation habits, structural support from both family and the program, and many other factors that I have not considered in this article. If I did address every truck-sized logical hole, this article would run to 75,000 words, instead of 750.

          The whole point of what I’m saying is this: if you want to play in the NFL, High School Star X, go to Oregon or Wisconsin (but preferably Oregon) for three years. It will pay off because you will go from being a great high school player to being a great college player, to becoming a highly regarded NFL draft prospect.

      • Anthony Joseph Gomes

        if oregon goes 12-2 with the recruiting class it gets and U$C goes 9-5 with its recruiting class and USCs recruiting class was rated #1 and oregons was rated #15 does that mean oregons class was still inferior or does that mean that the services were wrong? i continue to laugh my balls off at people who will never consider the last possibility.

        • Jeff O

          Recruiting rankings are worse than team rankings. USC is kind of an outlier because of the sanctions that limited their scholarships and I’m sure they’ve lost recruits over the last few years because of that and coaching changes. Being ranked 15th is not that bad. Eight players a year at 4-5 stars can add up. Look at Kansas State – #59. They put teams in the top 20 and can’t crack the top 50 in recruiting.

          One of Nebraska’s National Championship teams had all 11 starting offensive players from the state of Nebraska (Scott Frost should come to mind). I doubt many recruiting pundits went out into the corn fields to give those kids a close look. As much as that team over-achieved based on recruiting rankings, it still wasn’t the place to go if you wanted to be an NFL QB. Maybe the influence of coaches like Chip Kelly will start to change that?

          • berrygraham

            Dudes. Look at the statistical studies on deadspin and fivethirtyeight. There is a positive correlation between recruiting class ranking and on-the-field success. Put another way, the better your recruiting class, the better the team will be. Oregon does recruit well, but not as well as Alabama or FSU or OSU or even USC. The difference is the degree to which Oregon outperforms its recruiting ranking. Again, to put it another way, Oregon does more with the hand its dealt than any other team except Wisconsin.

            Recruiting rankings aren’t as wrong as you think. Your arguments are both circular (well, the rankings are wrong, because the players are better than public perception, so the rankings are wrong), and assume that what is true of a part (a recruit is better than his ranking) is true of the whole (because the recruit is better than his ranking, the recruiting class is better than its ranking).

            My argument, too, is fallacious, because I assume that what is true of the whole (Oregon’s recruiting class outperforms its ranking) is true of each part (that each individual player outperforms his ranking).

          • Dan

            Correlation does not imply causation.

            Do Alabama and USC simply get the top recruits or are the
            recruits rated highly because of where they play high school football and/or
            because they committed to these programs?

          • berrygraham

            Of course correlation is not causation. And I don’t say that. If you have read any of the comments that I’ve written, you will see that I’m not mistaking one for the other. I did not say that having a highly ranked recruiting class causes a program to enjoy success, but rather that there is some correlation between success and having a highly ranked recruiting class. All the deadspin article says is that there is some positive correlation between the two factors. I am not sure what the p number is, whether the correlation is weak or strong. I am attempting to argue one reason WHY there seems to be some positive correlation between the two factors, specifically, why Oregon seems to be such an outlier in outperforming it’s recruiting ranking, the details of which can be found at fivethirtyeight.com in an article dated February 4, written by Stephen Pettigrew.

            I don’t know why Alabama and USC get the best recruits. Maybe it’s due to Alabama’s massive success over the past 10 years and Nick Saban’s ability to develop his defensive personnel into high quality NFL players. USC is located in a recruiting hotbed.

            From what I’ve seen/read/intuited, it appears that the recruit rankings are, at least initially, independent of whether they’ve committed to a certain program. Alabama has had its share of 3-star recruits. Now, it might be more accurate to say that the ranking might reflect the number of offers a player receives, and from what schools he’s receiving these offers.

          • Jeff O

            I get that teams with higher recruiting rankings more often then not, win against teams with lower rankings. Hopefully, the study wouldn’t include games with teams that aren’t even in the same league. Most picks in college football are a no-brainer.

            On-field success is not the same as rankings. I’m sure there is a correlation between that win more game and get ranked higher, but there are many teams that get the benefit of the doubt and their ranking by the AP and their recruiting rankings are over-inflated.

            I would say Navy out performs its recruiting rankings on the field than Oregon.

          • berrygraham

            I haven’t been talking about AP rankings at all, just college recruiting class rankings. And I didn’t say that teams with higher recruiting rankings win more often than not against teams with lower recruiting rankings. There are a lot of teams that have done “well” on the recruiting trail in recent years (UCLA and Michigan) that have turned in garbage performances on the field.

            Why do you think Navy outperforms its recruiting ranking to a greater degree than Oregon does?

        • berrygraham

          Whether the recruiting service is wrong or not is outside the scope of the article. That is one conclusion that can be drawn from the observation that Oregon/Wisconsin/Georgia Tech constantly outperform their “recruiting ranking.”

          One of the assumptions here is that a recruiting ranking represents an objective observation about the collective talent of a program’s incoming class of recruits. Another assumption is that there is a correlation between the quality of a recruiting class and a team’s future success (look at Aaron Lewis’s article for the link). The idea here is that if you accept that there is at least some correlation between recruiting success and on-the-field success, what accounts for the teams that out-perform their initial recruiting ranking? So yes, one of the conclusions as to why this happens is that the recruiting service is wrong, that Oregon is actually recruiting players who are better than the public perception. My assertion is that the difference is explained by better coaching, and that the improvements due to coaching happen to each player. Thus, the measure between a program’s recruiting ranking and its on the field performance is really the sum of each player’s improvement from their initial skill level to their current skill level. As we already assumed that a better recruiting class tends to show a greater chance of future success, it logically follows that a program that has the best recruiting class also recruits the best players. Given that I have asserted that Oregon performs as well as it does because it is the best at developing each player from the start of their college career to the end, then if I were an elite recruit with designs on an NFL career, I would go to Oregon, because my already elite level of skill would be increased all the more by attending the school that is the best at developing its talent.

          Your assertion that Oregon recruits better players than public perception also rests on the same assertion that mine does: that there is a correlation between the initial skill level of its recruiting class (as represented by the recruiting ranking) and future performance. Your assertion is that the public is getting it wrong. However, as I mentioned earlier, there IS research showing that a correlation between the public perception of a recruiting class (recruiting ranking) and on the field success exists. That research weakens your assertion because it tends to show that the public perception is actually more accurate than you are giving it credit.

          My assertion is based on the same assumption (correlation between recruiting ranking and on the field success), and is based on research showing which a team gets the most out of its recruiting classes. I take that idea and apply it to the constituent parts of the recruiting class, that is, the players themselves.

          In sum, we agree that recruiting class reflects a team’s future success; but you think the recruiting rankings are wrong. The recruiting rankings are actually more right than they are wrong, tending to show your conclusion is wrong, while tending to show my conclusion is right.

          TL;DR – You’re wrong. I’m right.


    Its clearly the location and a lot of rain scares people off. Because Recruits know Oregon puts players in the NFL and they have success. I sincerely hope DP changes to a 4-3 Defense this year because if they do and have success then the 4 and 5 star DT’s should come.

    • berrygraham

      I think a DT’s choice, if said DT wants to play in the NFL, should be based on what his projected NFL position would be. Thus, if he thinks that he’d probably end up as a 34 DE or NT, Oregon would be as good a place as any. But if I were a smaller, quicker DT, better suited for either a 43 or Tampa 2 defense, I probably wouldn’t pick Oregon, as that DT’s talent would be squandered. Personally, I thought that Rasheem Greene and John Houston, Jr. should have picked Oregon over USC for a number of reasons, but mostly because Sark’s teams never perform up to their reputation.

      Also, I was surprised to read Helfrich’s comments about being honest with recruits. I’m not surprised that a lot of recruits want some smoke blown their way (sorry again, Darren Carrington). But I attribute at least some of that self-perception on the people surrounding the recruits, not necessarily the recruits themselves.

      Then again, these are kids that we’re talking about. I just hope that they come through their football careers as healthy as they can, regardless of their choice in school.

      • Anthony Joseph Gomes

        this is like saying,…we will get players with more stars if we change our defense…yes you might but you will probably end up losing games because you did that.

        • berrygraham

          I agree – there are very few HS players that have the size necessary to play a 34 DE, let alone a 34 DT. There are very few Danny Sheltons or Malcom Browns around. Oregon’s D-line has been a strength the past few years, the LBs have not.

    • Anthony Joseph Gomes

      oregon has one of the 10 best defenses in the country. oregon doesnt need to do anything with its defensive strategy. don pellum knows what he is doing. chip installed the 3-4 hybrid which is cutting edge. nothing needs changing

      • Bohminator

        Anthony where did you read oregon had a top 10 defense, oregon had the number 6 defense in the pac 12 is that what you saw.