I've been wanting to talk about the importance of "star ratings" in recruiting for quite some time. Now that Rivals and Scout have put out some of their first rankings, and we have our first commitment from a rated player, now is the time.* It will also transition well into a series of profiles of 2007 recruits, which will be a good way to fill some time between now and the start of the season.
I want to evaluate the importance and significance of a recruit's rating on the recruiting services. The problem is that it is often difficult to distinguish a "successful" player from an "unsuccessful" player. The easiest way to quantify it, I think is to look at NFL draft picks. That requires a lot of research, and unfortunately, GeauxTuscaloosa's budget for hiring a research assistant has undergone recent cuts, from $0.00 to something less than that.
Fortunately, someone on TigerDroppings did some of the work for me. Here is a breakdown of the recruiting star ratings of players drafted in the first two rounds of the 2007 NFL draft.
5-star: 5 in the first round, 3 in the second round; Adrian Peterson selected highest at #7
4-star: 17 in the first round, 10 in the second round; Jamarcus Russell selected highest at #1
3-star: 7 in the first round, 14 in the second round; Gaines Adams selected highest at #4
2-star: 3 in the first round, 4 in the second round; Jamaal Anderson selected highest at #8
other: 0 in the first round, 2 in the second round; Ilaikai Alama-Francis selected highest at #58
I think the immediate lesson to learn here is that stars clearly don't mean everything. There were more 3-stars picked in the first round than there were 5-stars, and almost as many 2-stars picked in the first round too.
Does this mean that stars mean nothing? It does not mean that, and this becomes clear when you know that Rivals only gives about 30 people per year a 5-star rating. I don't know how many get 4-star ratings, but I know it is several hundred. There are probably thousands of 3-stars, and thousands more 2-stars.
So, if you are a 5-star, you have about a 1 in 4 chance of being picked in the first two rounds, if 2007 is representative. If you're a 4-star, you have about a 1 in about ten 10 chance of being selected so early. Not bad, but definitely much lower. If you're a 3-star, it drops to about 1 in 50 or more. Any lower, and you're a longshot to get that call.
Now of course, you can have a very successful college career without being drafted in the first two rounds, and if I were trying to do something more definitive, I would look at the entire draft, and perhaps even go beyond the draft. After all, Justin Vincent was a 5-star, and he had one really great year before his production dropped, and he was not drafted. Is he a "successful" college player? Borderline. It would be a tough call.
From all I've seen, the results gotten by analyzing the first 2 rounds of the 2007 NFL Draft hold up to closer scrutiny. 5-star players sometimes bust at the college level, but usually don't. 4-star players bust more frequently, and 3-star players bust more frequently still. However, it is also true that 2-star and 3-star players can become VERY VERY good.
The point is that it is really nice to get a lot of 4- and 5-star players, but don't go thinking that the two-stars on the list are "wasted scholarships" or some other ignorant pejorative. I doubt Clemson would say that Gaines Adams was a wasted scholarship, and I doubt Louisville regrets recruiting Amobi Okoye.
So, relax. Chill out. Enjoy the spectacle that is college football recruiting. Cheer at the 5- and 4-star guys we will sign, if indeed we sign any 5-stars. But don't make an ass out of yourself over the 3-star and 2-star guys we got commitments from early. Sometimes those guys turn out to be very good, and I promise you that Les Miles and the rest of the coaching staff knows more about them than Rivals.
* I prefer Rivals rating system to Scout's. I find it is considered more definitive, and this analysis is based on Rivals ratings, rather than Scout's. Scout is a little more generous in giving out 5-stars, and from what I understand they do not have as big of a scouting staff as Rivals.