For those hyperventilating on recruiting rankings in advance of signing day tomorrow, consider this. During coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, for better or worse, you could make the case that Tech’s two stars have outperformed its four stars.
By Rivals’ definition, five-star players are projected to be All-Americans and first-round NFL picks. Four-star prospects are high-impact players and all-conference picks. Three-stars are projected to start for one or two years. Two-stars are future scout teamers and depth-chart fillers. A look at Tech’s two-stars and four-stars (By Rivals’ records, which go back to 2002, Tech has not signed a five-star prospect. Calvin Johnson was a four-star) who have completed their careers offers further evidence that rankings require a sizable grain of salt.
Evaluation – Uzzi proved worthy of his evaluation, starting three seasons and earning first-team All-ACC twice. Four of the eight two stars outperformed – Reid, Smith, Taylor and Washington. While he transferred to Richmond, Taylor was a fifth-round pick of the New York Giants this past year.
Evaluation – Burnett turned out to be one of Tech’s best players in Johnson’s tenure before his career was cut short by a neck injury. Lanier fought injuries, and his career never took off. He switched from defensive line to offensive line, played minimally, and then was placed on medical scholarship.
Evaluation – Moore was a two-year starter at kicker, though he had his share of struggles. Of the four four-stars, only Young saw consistent playing time. Ayers redshirted and then transferred, McCoy never played due to a heart condition and Williams was a backup for three seasons who will not return for his senior season.
My incisive summary
Out of 12 two-star prospects, six were starters for varying lengths and two of them were team captains (Burnett and Washington) and one (Burnett) was named All-ACC. Of the six four-star recruits, four never started a game, one was a decent three-year starter (Young) and one lived up to billing (Uzzi). This list doesn’t include Robert Godhigh, a no-star prospect who walked on and was the Yellow Jackets’ best offensive player in 2013.
You can conclude what you want – Tech is deft at bargain hunting, so to speak, or isn’t so adept at picking out the high-priced merchandise. I’d quibble with that conclusion, as players aren’t recruited based on how many stars they’re receiving. That is to say, coaches don't have a shopping list that says "2 four-stars, 15 three-stars, 2 two-stars, 1 stick of butter."
My takeaway, beyond the fact that we're not dealing with a very big sample size, is that rankings aren’t terribly reliable. I would surmise that five stars are easier to pick out, but that everything is fairly gray after that.
I fall back on what is true in recruiting and, more broadly, in life (Cue the music): So much of what a player becomes is dependent on his determination to maximize his ability and, to a lesser extent, factors like injuries and how the depth chart plays out. I think Washington is a pretty good example. Washington worked as hard as anyone during his career and got the break of having other quarterbacks transfer or switch positions. Given the opportunity to start, he took it and didn’t let go for 2 ½ years.
Tech’s class has one four-star – cornerback Step Durham, who enrolled early – and just one two-star, offensive lineman Jake Whitley. Time will tell on both.