- By Ken Sugiura
There was not overwhelming excitement among Georgia Tech fans when Pike County High running back C’Bo Flemister gave his commitment to the Yellow Jackets in early December.
First of all, Flemister had previously been committed to Georgia Southern. It wasn’t as though Tech coaches had pried him away from an ACC rival. Second, Flemister bore an unflattering badge – he was a two-star prospect in the determination of 247 Sports and Rivals. That basically meant he wasn’t judged to be power-conference material.
“Glad we’re taking Southern’s players,” one fan wrote sarcastically in the comments section of the AJC story reporting his commitment. “We’ll be as good as they are in no time.”
But the scenario then changed. After the Tech commitment, Tennessee followed with an offer. (The activity prompted Flemister to delay his signing from the early signing period in December to national signing day, which is Wednesday.)
And then something funny happened. Rivals upgraded Flemister to a three-star prospect in early January. Later in the month, Notre Dame joined the chase with its own offer. And 247 Sports followed with its own promotion of Flemister from 2-star to 3-star in the last week of January, two months after his last game at Pike County.
For the more skeptical Tech fan, it may have been confirmation of their suspicions about recruiting rankings, that they aren’t necessarily based on the prospects’ merits as much as which schools are recruiting them.
Tech commit? Two-star.
Tennessee’s offered? Three-star.
Tech coach Paul Johnson, no fan of recruiting rankings, has long espoused a theory that the recruiting services such as Rivals and 247 Sports will dole out the stars for recruits targeted by or committed to the schools with the largest fan bases, all the better to drive subscriptions.
Flemister himself was not impressed.
“It just made me think how political the whole recruiting process is, because during the season, I was two stars, and then I pick up two offers, and I pick up a star, and I haven’t played football since November, but all of a sudden I have another star,” Flemister said.
It has been the bane of Tech fans, who joke about players getting downgraded after they commit to the Yellow Jackets. The chatter about stars and rankings will pick up again Wednesday, when the prospects who didn’t sign during the early signing period (like Flemister) will make their decisions official.
So what did 247 Sports have to say about how Flemister gained another star long after he had played his last game?
Yes, getting power-conference attention was part of how Flemister was upgraded, 247 Sports national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons said. But Simmons said that it wasn’t because of the attention itself.
“His profile kind of blew up a little bit, and we try to be as fluid as possible, looking at our process like a recruiting board would be in a college football office, like a draft board would be in an NFL office,” Simmons said.
Simmons said that when Flemister switched from Georgia Southern to Tech, that caught the notice of the 247 Sports analysts, who decided to take another look at his rating.
“How and when he got that two-star grade is unclear, but that (reassessment is) sort of, Let’s make sure we feel comfortable with that,” Simmons said. “When you sort of do some due diligence and cross check, you realize what kind of year he had and what sort of measurables and what sort of raw tools. It paints a pretty good picture.”
Indeed. As a senior, Flemister rushed for more than 1,800 yards in the regular season. Including Pike County’s playoff run, he led the state with 2,463 rushing yards with 35 touchdowns and was named the AJC Class AAA offensive player of the year. Simmons said they found a trustworthy 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds. Hence, Flemister was a two-star prospect no longer.
Simmons said that he and his colleagues are not different from college coaches in that way. Often, recruiting interest in a prospect will pick up when he has a strong senior season. Indeed, that was the case with Flemister and Tech.
“And so we never change a kid’s rating because he commits to a certain school or because a certain school thinks he’s good, but if a certain school thinks he’s a lot better than we think he’s rated, we’re not afraid to assess what we’ve seen and make sure we still feel comfortable with it,” he said.
That said, without those prompts, there may not be a re-evaluation.
“To be frank, there’s probably a chance that he’d still be rated what he was if he was still committed to Georgia Southern,” Simmons said.
Flemister was not the only running back who had his rating changed in the last week of January by 247 Sports. Simmons said Nakia Watson, who had been committed to Wisconsin since last June, was upgraded from three stars to four, a month after he had signed with the Badgers. Also, Markese Stepp, who withdrew his commitment from Notre Dame in December and then signed with USC in the early signing period, was dropped from four stars to three.
Watson being upgraded after he signed with the school he had been committed to would not seem to fit the belief that a prospect’s rating is based on which schools are recruiting him. Similarly, USC’s recruiting classes have been in 247 Sports’ top 10 each of the past four seasons. Stepp going down from four stars to three after leaving Notre Dame for the Trojans would not seem an adjustment that would woo Trojans fans.
Simmons does not attempt to inflate the purpose of services like 247 Sports. Its mission is not to discover players like Flemister, he said, although it’s nice when it happens. Likewise, Simmons does not claim to be serving college teams. Rather, he and his colleagues are reporting on the recruiting process and providing evaluations to fans.
Simmons chairs a five-person group that rates the top 247 and then depends upon a network of staffers to provide evaluations beyond that. Those ratings are developed through input from college and high-school coaches, performance at camps, video highlights and the like.
Simmons acknowledged that there isn’t much internal debate in slotting, for example, the No. 73 and No. 74 wide receivers in the country, another facet of services like 247 Sports that many fans find absurd. Players are given a grade between 70 and 100, which largely determines the rankings. What range a player fits in is more telling, Simmons said.
“We believe that, if you’re rated as an 83, for example, then if you’re around the other guys that are rated as 83’s, that’s more important than are you 1027 or are you 1055,” Simmons said.
It’s clearly an imperfect system. There are more than enough examples of times they’ve been wrong. Among Tech players who have been rated two-star prospects by 247 Sports – Shaquille Mason, Zach Laskey and Clinton Lynch.
“We’re delivering grades to fans and saying, this is what we think about the kids that their school is recruiting,” he said.
Flemister told the AJC last week that he had “a good idea” of which school he would choose. He took official visits to Tennessee and Notre Dame in January.
In the meantime, it isn’t just 247 Sports that has changed its perspective on Flemister. Without playing a down, he has transformed from a two-star prospect whose commitment some Tech fans lamented to a three-star prospect who would be a major pickup.
As one Irish fan wrote on Twitter, “All I want in this world is a heavy dose of C’Bo Flemister.”