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Notre Dame Football

Who's the Best at Identifying 3-star Talent?

June 10, 2020

As long as I can remember following Notre Dame recruiting, there’s been an argument amongst fans about star rankings versus offers.

When a player like cornerback Ryan Barnes‍ commits, there’s one side that says, “Meh, I’m not getting excited over a 3-star.” The other side will say, “Look at the offer list! If Clemson, Georgia, and LSU offered him, his ranking is meaningless.”

In many cases, it’s difficult to say if either side is correct.

Rankings and evaluations have value. That’s been proven over the years. They are also imperfect. Myself and others who rank players never have anything close to a 100% hit rate when it comes to projecting prospects. The same could be said for college football programs who offer or sign a player that doesn’t live up to expectations.

It’s still common for fans to judge a commitment or even a new offer from Notre Dame based on who has offered that player. If a defensive back has a Virginia Tech offer, that immediately validates that player to some people. If Alabama offered? That’s more than good enough for others.

Notre Dame has had some good players during the Brian Kelly era who were ranked as 3-star recruits. Julian Love is the best example and no one would have raved about his offer list. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (who I had ranked as 4-star on ISD) is another and his offer list didn’t blow anyone away either. Sometimes both the offer list and star ranking can be wrong.

The most talked about conversation for Notre Dame fans over the last three years has been closing the gap with the elite programs like Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State. One way to do that is to sign more 4 and 5-star prospects. That can only help the cause when you consider that out of the 23 players drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft during the Brian Kelly era, 21 of them were ranked as 4 or 5-star players. It’s pretty concrete evidence that signing more blue-chip prospects is going to help them add impact players. 

In addition to that, though, they can be better at evaluating prospects who aren’t as seen as elite coming out of high school. Hitting on more 3-star prospects would help a great deal as well.

This made me wonder, which Power 5 programs do the best job of identifying 3-star talent with the potential to develop into impact players? In other words, are there some offers that Notre Dame fans should respect more when it comes to the offer list of a 3-star recruit?

I went through the last five NFL Drafts (2016-2020) and looked at the 3-star or lower prospects who played for Power 5 programs who were selected on day one or day two (the first three rounds) of the draft. The purpose of it was to find out if there are certain programs doing better identification and development of lower rated prospects.

I chose to only look at Power 5 programs because the players from Group of 5, FCS, or lower are players who are rarely recruited by Notre Dame. I decided to not include tight ends and offensive linemen because those are positions where the vast majority of players that Notre Dame signs are 4-stars and the Irish have proven to develop those spots into NFL players. I excluded quarterbacks as well because the evaluations at that position is in it’s own category.

I also didn’t count any players who were JUCO transfers or went to a prep school. Those players would not typically qualify to go to Notre Dame out of high school.

So with all of those players excluded, there were 100 Power 5 players ranked 3-stars or lower as recruits who went off the board on day one or day two of the draft. Notre Dame had zero of them, which makes it pretty clear that other programs are doing a better job at identifying underrated talent.

Eight programs had four or more 3-stars drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft in the last five years.

It’s not a surprise that Utah (six) or TCU (four) are on the list. They consistently develop overlooked talent into NFL defenders and overachieve on the field relative to their recruiting rankings. If these programs offer a player, it might be wise for Notre Dame and other programs to take a closer look.

It’s also not a surprise that Washington (five) is on the list given that Chris Petersen consistently found lower rated talent at Boise State for so many years. We’ll see if those evaluations continue with Jimmy Lake now the head coach for the Huskies.

People may be more surprised to see NC State (five) and Boston College (six) in that group. 

NC State found defensive linemen like Bradley Chubb and BJ Hill who were undersized in high school and physically developed them into NFL prospects. If the Wolfpack offer a lower ranked defensive linemen, it could be worth investigating a closer evaluation of that player.

Five of those six Boston College players signed while current Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown ran BC’s defense. How much of a role did Brown play in each of those evaluations? I couldn’t say for sure, but Michigan didn’t offer 2020 second round pick Josh Uche until after Brown was hired by the Wolverines. He was offered by Boston College back when Brown was still the DC there.

Brown is an excellent coordinator and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that lower ranked high school players become impact defenders while playing for him. More than a few Notre Dame fans have clowned on the Wolverines because of commitments from players who aren’t considered elite. Everyone should probably hold off on that given Brown’s track record with similar players.

Now comes three surprising programs on the list. They are programs that don’t sign many 3-star prospects and would be considered blue-bloods in college football.

LSU has had six 3-stars drafted in the first three rounds in the last five years. Florida had the same number. Ohio State has had five.

For LSU and Ohio State especially, they are getting it done on every level. If LSU is offering a 3-star from their home state of Louisiana, it should immediately signal to other programs that that prospect is legitimate. The same goes for Ohio State offering a 3-star from the Midwest. They can pick and choose from all over the country and if they are choosing someone who isn’t as highly touted, there’s a reason for it.

Every program has to make their own evaluations and can’t get caught up in rankings or groupthink when it comes to a recruit, but there is value in knowing who is doing the best job of identifying 3-star talent.

These eight programs have done it best in recent years and if a 3-star has an offer from them, it means a bit more than an offer from somebody else.

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