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Recruiting Musing: Talent and Talent Capitalization

Time to get back into the murky world of Virginia Tech's overall recruiting picture. Suffice it to say that what I discover is a...disconcerting lack of success with theoretically important recruits.

One end of the recruiting spectrum lifting up another
One end of the recruiting spectrum lifting up another
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Let's start this article with the pretty founded premise that the Virginia Tech Hokies haven't had a good couple of years. Since the 2011 season, the Hokies have gone 7-6, 8-5, 7-6, 7-6. That's not AWFUL, but it's at the very best stagnantly mediocre. In contrast to the previous years, in which there were only 4 seasons out of 17 wherein the Hokies didn't post double-digit win rates. We've all argued back and forth about the efficacy of our coaching, strategy, program, exposure in the media, and so forth and so on. But what really stung me when I read an article on 247 is not that we didn't have some good players in that run. It was that so often the players perceived to have the most talent weren't successful. There's a myriad of reasons for that, but the simple line is that when Virginia Tech has received highly ranked players, they haven't played or been coached to expectations.

Now, don't take me wrong. Sometimes the recruiting rankings are completely incorrect. History is littered with four- and five-stars that didn't make it- Virginia, the state, in particular has actually had a surprising run of them, but that's an article for another day. When your baseline for winning a national championship is 50% four and five star talentyou can't afford to miss on those guys when you don't get many in the first place.

Part of the reason why kids are ranked highly in particular, is, yes, that they're being recruited or are committed to high end programs. However, part of the reason why these high end programs win championships is because they find and capitalize on talent. Generally, it's known talent. It's a mutually affirming cycle in that way. Anecdotally are you more proud of snatching away a three star that Alabama's interested in or a three star that Marshall is their only other offer? Obviously there are success stories- walk-ons or lowly-rated players that excel. But due to simple volume- most recruiting services limit their number of four or five star players to some degree if not very tightly- you're not going to be able to find ALL the diamonds in the rough. It's simply too much data to actually sift through to reliably gain a talent advantage. Take a look at an NFL offense like the Steelers. Le'Veon Bell was a 2-star running back. Antonio Brown was unranked. Ben Roethlisberger was a one year starter in high school. Markus Wheaton was a three star that played in Arizona, which is not a huge recruiting hotspot. That's a lot of professional talent that WAS lowly ranked. But you cannot reliably get those guys together on one team when you're competing in a free market with many advantages and disadvantages, as compared to a sphere where you have only 31 competitors, and on top of that, if you draft someone, you have their rights for x number of years (barring certain circumstances).

So in the past 4 years, Tech's capitalization rate on its high-end talent has been...mediocre at best. The top 15 players by 247's composite rankings are:

  1. Kendall Fuller (5 star composite, Class of 2013): Two quality, productive years, then one year where he was only semi-productive and mostly just injured. Drafted in the third round due to injury concerns. I'd say that his Virginia Tech career was a success, but it left me wondering ‘what if' in terms of his health and him staying a longer period of time. His significant other offer list was impressive: Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and others. I'd say that there we've got consensus success.
  2. Tim Settle (4 star composite, Class of 2015): Incomplete. He was redshirted this past year to lose weight and get into playing shape. That's fine. Redshirting I get. I hope he sees the field this year with great frequency. He had academic concerns coming out of high school, but qualified without having to prep, thankfully. Other significant offers included Alabama, Louisville, Clemson, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Nebraska, Mizzou, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Texas, TAMU, UCLA, Tennessee, etc. I hope that he lives up to the promise that everyone thought he could.
  3. Joel Caleb (4 star composite, Class of 2012): Caleb has bounced back and forth throughout his career as the coaches couldn't find whether to put him at wide receiver or tailback, which probably hurt his development as well. He's only had 30 rushing attempts, 8 receptions, 1 TD, and 199 yards of offense in his career. He's been skipped over no matter what position he's been at, too, which means that not only is he not fitting, he's being outperformed by ‘lesser talent'. His offer list included West Virginia, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, North Carolina, Penn State, and Clemson. It's not like he wasn't wanted. But he was a big safety in high school, and wouldn't put in the time on defense where he was wanted.
  4. Holland Fisher (4 star composite, Class of 2014): Fisher was another case of a player that got rotated back and forth because his frame and his talents didn't exactly fit any position. Between Whip and Rover he went, but he was only on the team for a redshirt year before leaving. That was after a year of prep school, following grade trouble in high school and transferring high schools. He's now out at San Jose City College. His other offers included Alabama, Tennessee, Penn State, Ohio State, and others. Either way, it was a wasted recruitment.
  5. Wyatt Teller (4 star composite, Class of 2013): Teller's been a pretty good guard. He was recruited as a defensive lineman but was switched to the offensive line to make up for the fact that our OL recruiting had been less than stellar. Success there is only marred by the occasional boneheaded penalty and the fact that taking a 4 star defensive end from the DL has left it young and thin. His other offers included Clemson, Michigan, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee, West Virginia, and others. Didn't think that we'd get an all-ACC caliber (potential NFL caliber) guard out of him, but he's a success.
  6. Kris Harley (4 star composite, Class of 2011): Harley was released after the 2013 season, and is now playing at Western Illinois, which is closer to his Indianapolis home. He finished his career with eight tackles and one interception. Other offers included Oklahoma, Michigan, USC, North Carolina, Iowa, and Stanford among others. Complete miss.
  7. Ken Ekanem (4 star composite, Class of 2012): Ekanem is another fair success, despite the somewhat disappointing last season where he posted very low sack numbers- though that was a problem along the entire defense, not just him. Either way he's played plenty and is one of the defensive leaders on the team, and the old head in the defensive line locker room. I wouldn't say he's been stellar, but at the very least he's been solid, and we hope he can return to his 2014 sack numbers. Other offers included Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Oregon, Notre Dame, Pitt, and others.
  8. Zack McCray (4 star composite, Class of 2010): McCray was another ‘can't find him a consistent position' guy. Recruited as a defensive end he went back and forth between it and tight end later in his career. Other offers included Alabama, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee, UCLA, and others. He totaled 18 tackles in his career. Not capitalized upon after he didn't get much playing time at tight end, and that just ended his career.
  9. Kyshoen Jarrett (4 star composite, Class of 2011): Jarrett wasn't flashy or extraordinary, but no one should view his career as any sort of disappointment. He had heavy playing time for three years, didn't ever redshirt, had five interceptions and plenty of tackles. He looked like he was going to have a good NFL career as a nickel/general defensive back, but an injury has put that in jeopardy. Even if he wasn't a superstar, I'm counting him as a solid contributor. His other offers included Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Pitt, Stanford, and Wisconsin.
  10. Nick Dew (4 star composite, Class of 2010): Left the program after being buried on the depth chart for two years. He went between whip and safety. Other offers included Arkansas, Louisville, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and others. This is one four star that the big boys avoided and were apparently right to do so.
  11. Jerod Evans (4 star composite, Class of 2016): Incomplete grade due to being just introduced to the program this spring. Other offers included Mizzou, Cal, UCF, and I have heard that there were others that would've offered if not for him accepting and signing with us. The latter part being mostly hearsay, though, we'll see how he does with Coach Fuente.
  12. JC Coleman (4 star composite, Class of 2012): There WAS a point in time where JC Coleman was thought to be the answer. The tail end of 2014? Coleman put the team on his back. Military Bowl MVP, he came into the season looking like he'd be the number one running back, but he ended up being washed in the rotation, until Travon McMillian took over. His performance probably wasn't up to his rating, but he was still a loyal Hokie the whole time. He got a bit victimized by the poor offensive playcalling and the lack of thought put into the rotation and the playcalling selection put together. His other offers included Duke, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and others.
  13. Bucky Hodges (4 star composite, Class of 2013): Didn't end up at QB, but I'm not complaining at all about that position change. Has a chance to be one of the best tight ends in the country. Other offers included Maryland, Ohio State, Virginia, and ECU. Wonder why he didn't end up getting more looks? Either he didn't publicize them or people missed out. NEXT!
  14. Shai McKenzie (4 star composite, Class of 2014): Injuries and legal trouble have marred McKenzie's career. Although his freshman year showed promise in limited time, we still don't know what we have with him. Two torn ACLs can really, really screw with a guy's effectiveness. Other offers included Pitt, Florida State, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and others.
  15. Raymon Minor (4 star composite, Class of 2014): Minor is a redshirt sophomore linebacker now, having only logged one solitary tackle in his career. He could theoretically be one of the linebackers on the field this year after fall, but right now that's still an uphill battle for him. Other offers included Clemson, Nebraska, Cincinnati, Iowa, Miami, Ohio State, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and others. Incomplete grade, but not trending well so far.

In total, that's 5 hits, 3-4 incompletes, and 7-6 busts. When you don't get as many highly rated guys, you've got to make what you do get count, and that hasn't exactly been working. In that same time, we've had 2 other four stars show promise (Travon McMillian and Yosuah Nijman), but outside that, it's been a lot of three stars and below. And yes, they are valuable if not amazing contributors. Sam Rogers was a walk-on. Isaiah Ford was one of the most ‘over-recruited' 3-stars I've ever seen (by that, I mean that his offer sheet was HUGE for only being three stars and he proved that sheet right). Cam Philips has been more than successful. Chuck Clark and Brandon Facyson have plenty of talent and anchor the secondary when healthy. Augie Conte is a solid guard. But you've got to have more than that to succeed in major college football, and we've still got a good bit to go.