Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Why projecting recruits' success is an inexact science at best
Class of ’07 illustrates challenges of recruiting
Editor's note: This story originally ran on January 29, 2012.
Andre Jones was a Parade All-American, a four-star Rivals.com recruit, and an early graduate from El Paso Andress High.
He arrived in Austin with expectations befitting his 6-4, 305-pound frame.
But he never played a down at Texas. Instead of hitting the big time, his biggest victory at UT was avoiding jail time.
On the eve of national signing day five years later, Jones epitomizes one extreme in the vagaries of recruiting. He is halfway through a 10-year probated sentence for aggravated robbery.
Revisiting the Class of 2007 shows the difficulty of predicting which high school players will make a successful transition to college. Jones represents the most dramatic fall, from No. 9 on the State Top 100 to rock bottom.
He was among a large group of prospects who fell short of expectations.
Four of the top 10 players on the State Top 100 left the colleges they signed with.
Three of the top four defensive linemen on that state list, including Jones, did not finish where they pledged. Same with five of the nine quarterbacks.
Of the top 10 Dallas-Fort Worth area recruits, it could be argued that only three matched or exceeded the lofty expectations of their rankings as prospects.
“Evaluating prospects is much more challenging because you don’t have as much information to work with,” Texas coach Mack Brown said Friday between stops on the recruiting trail. “And with such early recruiting, more kids change their minds at the end because different options are presented to them than in the beginning.”
Gems don’t pan out
Texas’ haul was hailed as the state’s best, hands down — ranked fifth nationally.
With a strong wind from the 2005 national title at their back, the Longhorns scooped up a boatload of blue chips. They landed six of the top 10 players on the State Top 100, and five top-10s on the Dallas-Fort Worth-area Top 100.
The state’s top two offensive linemen, two of the top three defensive linemen and the top two defensive backs signed with Texas.
It was as if the Longhorns were panning for gold. In retrospect, their brightest gems did not pan out.
Seven signees, including two of the state’s top 10, left the team. None of those top-five area players started an entire season.
“The reality of it is you’re talking about projections,” said Randy Rodgers, recruiting consultant to 53 Division I colleges. “Coaches are saying, ‘Who will be the best player for us two to three years down the road?’
You’re dealing with 17- and 18-year-olds and trying to project how they’ll play at 21. The other thing is, most of the ratings are done by journalists — not coaches — who haven’t looked at any tape.”
A lot of hidden obstacles surface after signing day. Players get homesick. Some clash with their coach. Some battle injuries. Others realize after the fact that they made the wrong choice.
Five Longhorns from that 2007 class transferred, and four others quit for personal issues or injuries.
South Grand Prairie offensive lineman Tray Allen — No. 1 on the area and state lists in 2007 — started only six times during his injury-plagued career at UT.
Mansfield Summit’s John Chiles, the area’s No.2, switched from quarterback to receiver, making 15 career starts.
Garland’s Malcolm Williams, the area’s No. 4, had 80 career receptions but left before his senior season. Skyline defensive back Christian Scott, ranked sixth in the area, started 14 games.
Texas also had its share of hits: Sam Acho of St. Mark’s started 26 of 50 games, and was a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals.
Plano East linebacker Keenan Robinson, Round Rock receiver James Kirkendoll and Gilmer defensive back Curtis Brown were three-year starters. Offensive lineman Kyle Hix of Aledo had 39 starts, and running back Fozzie Whittaker of Pearland was team MVP as a senior.
“After nearly 40 years in coaching, it’s still hard to predict who will make it and who won’t,” Brown said. “But there is one common trait that usually is a strong sign — if a kid is successful both on and off the field in high school the odds are pretty good that he’ll do the same in college.”
QBs on the move
The nine quarterbacks who made the State Top 100 in 2007 were a mobile bunch. Six of them finished their careers at different schools.
Ryan Mallett, the top-ranked quarterback on the state list, went from Michigan to Arkansas. No. 4 Joe Chaisson was converted to receiver at Arkansas then transferred to Texas State.
G.J. Kinne bolted Texas for Tulsa. Wylie’s Patrick Witt left Nebraska for Yale. Nick Fanuzzi, who committed to Alabama, played at Rice. And Nick Foles transferred from Michigan State to Arizona.
“You’ve got to make the best of your opportunity,” Witt told reporters at the time. “That’s the biggest thing, making the most of what you have going on around you.”
Defensive lineman Chris Perry of Keller Fossil Ridge, No. 7 on the area list, signed with Miami but ended up at Texas Tech, primarily because he wanted to be closer to home.
At Miami, he reinjured the foot he hurt his senior year in high school. With the injuries and transfers, it’s been an arduous journey for Perry, who will be a senior in 2012.
“He had all the intangibles to be a good player,” said Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson, who coached Perry at Fossil Ridge. “He accepted being a role player, and he’s been a leader.”
The biggest surprises from the 2007 class came from players who exceeded expectations.
Von Miller of DeSoto was ranked ninth in the Area Top 100, but left Texas A&M as the nation’s best linebacker. The 2010 Butkus Award winner was the second player taken in the NFL draft.
Lufkin’s Dez Bryant, 12th on the state list and third among receivers, left Oklahoma State early and was a first-round pick of the Cowboys.
Mallett, from Texas High, led Arkansas to a 12-win season and a victory at the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic as a junior.
Earl Thomas of West Orange-Stark started all 27 games he played at UT, earning All-American honors in 2008-09. A finalist for the Thorpe Award, he left after two seasons and was the 14th pick of the 2010 draft by Seattle.
During the five years of eligibility for the 2007 class, Texas compiled a 48-17 record, including a berth in the 2009 national title game.
On signing day next week, prospects featured on the best-of lists will shine on paper.
But some will turn out to be overhyped. Some will perform better than expected.
Perfect fits will grow uncomfortable as redshirts. Dethroned quarterbacks will bolt for a shot at glory elsewhere. Injuries and academic casualties will jumble lineups.
Who will be a hit? Who will be a miss?