If you follow recruiting passionately, chances are you are a believer in the best-case scenario. You are basing your own personal well-being on, and losing sleep about, an 18-year-old kid who will almost certainly not live up to the expectations you have in your head. As Spencer Hall put it last week:
"A player brought out of high school is, for seven months at least, perfect in his blankness. He has never lost a game. He has never fumbled away a conference title, nor showed up gimpy and hobbled to a rivalry game. His grades are perfect, and he has never been pulled over by police glassy-eyed on a scooter. He is all shining potential, the first date, the perfection of uncut cake in the bakery case."
Over time, you see quite a few blue-chippers make an instant impact on their chosen team; therefore, every star recruit your team is pursuing projects as a difference maker. A five-star quarterback isn't a raw, somewhat untested kid with a cannon arm; he's Matt Barkley. A five-star running back isn't a kid who ran over, around, and by high school kids half his size, and will need an adjustment period in college; he's Adrian Peterson. A five-star wideout isn't someone who has iffy hands and has never truly been hit hard; he is now Sammy Watkins.
Obviously it is difficult to gauge true impact at certain positions on the football field, but over the next few days we will take a look at how blue-chippers should be expected to fare when they enroll at their college of choice. We start by taking a look at the receiver position; quite frankly, freshman receivers took college football by storm in 2011. Five-star stud Sammy Watkins (the No. 3 receiver in the 2011 class according to Rivals) was not the only player who did incredibly well -- LSU's Odell Backham Jr. (No. 6) had his moments, as did Ole Miss' Nickolas Brassell (No. 7) and Texas' Jaxon Shipley (No. 9), not to mention Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas (No. 1 Athlete) and USC's Marqise Lee (No. 3)
There are eight high school receivers in the 2012 recruiting class who have received either a five-star rating or a high-four-star rating from Rivals (we will define "high-four-star" as receivers who were given a 6.0 sub-rating -- as mentioned previously, a four-star recruit can be given either a 5.8, 5.9 or 6.0 sub-rating):
- Five stars: Dorial Green-Beckham (Springfield, MO), Stefon Diggs (Olney, MD), Nelson Agholor (Tampa, FL)
- High four stars: (Dallas, TX), Cayleb Jones (Austin, TX; Texas commit), Amari Cooper (Miami, FL; Alabama commit), Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, CA; Notre Dame commit) and (Jacksonville, FL; Alabama commit).
(Trey Metoyer, a five-star receiver from the 2011 class, signed with Oklahoma last winter but failed to qualify until recently; he is listed as a five-star commit for the Sooners this year, but we are counting him as a 2011 player for the purposes of this exercise.)
Like Thomas and Lee last year, plenty of players in the "athlete" category could end up as receivers, but that is such a melting pot category that we are sticking with just those listed as receivers by Rivals.
To get a read for how these players -- and other top receivers like Oklahoma commit Durron Neal and South Carolina commit Shaq Roland -- might perform, let's look at some numbers.
From 2005-11, 59 high school receivers received either a high-four-star or five-star rating from Rivals. Two of them (South Carolina's Chris Culliver and Illinois' Terry Hawthorne) ended up playing defense, two more (Oklahoma's Trey Metoyer, LSU's DeAngelo Benton) failed to qualify, and two more (Oklahoma's Josh Jarboe, West Virginia's Deon Long) were either kicked out of school or transferred without playing a down.
Of the 53 remaining players on this list, 11 received redshirts during their freshman year (21 percent). This is not a large number. While redshirting is obviously a common practice, it does appear that receivers get up to speed at a faster rate than those at other positions, and athletes of this blue-chip caliber rarely redshirt.
We can basically separate the 42 blue-chippers who played as true freshmen into five categories based on how they played in their debut seasons: Should Have Redshirted (fewer than 10 targets in their freshman year), Understudy (10-30 targets), Solid No. 3 (31-60 targets), Solid No. 2 (61-90 targets) and Immediate Star (over 90 targets)
Redshirted: 12 of 53 players (22.6 percent)
Should Have Redshirted: 14 players (26.4 percent)
Understudy: nine players (17.0 percent)
Solid No. 3: seven players (13.2 percent)
Solid No. 2: eight players (15.1 percent)
Immediate Star: four players (7.5 percent)
So on average, of the eight blue-chip receivers in this class, about two will become either Immediate Stars or Solid No. 2s, two to three will become either Minor Contributors or Solid No. 3s, and about four will either redshirt or make little to no contribution.
Should Have Redshirted
- Markeith Ambles, USC (two targets, one catch, three yards in 2010)
- Marlon Brown, Georgia (three targets, two catches, 15 yards in 2009)
- George Farmer, USC (four targets, four catches, 42 yards in 2011)
- Dwight Jones, North Carolina (one target, no catches in 2008)
- Jarvis Landry, LSU (eight targets, four catches, 43 yards in 2011)
- Ivan McCartney, West Virginia (six targets, one catch, four yards in 2010)
- Damon McDaniel, Florida State (seven targets, three catches, 51 yards in 2006)
- Jameel Owens, Oklahoma (eight targets, four catches, 44 yards in 2008)
- Niles Paul, Nebraska (one target, one catch, six yards in 2007)
- Nu'Keese Richardson, Tennessee (nine targets, eight catches, 102 yards in 2009)
- Chris Slaughter, Auburn (three targets, three catches, 19 yards in 2007)
- Rodney Smith, Florida State (five targets, one catch, seven yards in 2009)
- Adron Tennell, Oklahoma (five targets, two catches, 26 yards in 2006)
- Darius White, Texas (seven targets, one catch, five yards in 2010)
Sometimes a player makes enough of an impact in two-a-days that he sees the field immediately, but then it turns out there either isn't a place for him in the two-deep, or he loses ground or confidence once he begins to take real hits. There are hundreds of stories, but the bottom line is, quite a few can't-miss kids miss, at least at first. And when a player gets a slow start to his career, the odds are good that, for one reason or another, he might not be long for that university. Owens and Ambles transferred after just one season on the field, while White, Slaughter and McDaniel were gone after two.
Some stuck it out and eventually thrived. McCartney had a stellar second season in Morgantown this past fall, while Paul, Jones and, to a lesser extent, Smith, became go-to players by their third years. Still, it has to be considered a red flag when a player like this doesn't make an immediate impact.
- Jheranie Boyd, North Carolina (28 targets, 12 catches, 214 yards in 2009)
- Ronald Johnson, USC (18 targets, seven catches, 110 yards in 2007)
- Pat Patterson, Ole Miss (23 targets, 12 catches, 180 yards in 2009)
- De'Vier Posey, Ohio State (19 targets, 11 catches, 117 yards in 2008)
- Rueben Randle, LSU (17 targets, 11 catches, 173 yards in 2009)
- Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee (18 targets, 11 catches, 167 yards in 2010)
- Fred Rouse, Florida State (13 targets, six catches, 114 yards in 2005)
- Terrance Toliver (22 targets, 10 catches, 249 yards in 2007)
- Patrick Turner, USC (22 targets, 12 catches, 170 yards in 2005)
For players like Rogers, Posey, Randle, Toliver, Johnson and Turner, their first seasons were truly served as understudies. They waited their turn, then thrived in coming seasons. Posey and Rogers were both targeted over 100 times as sophomores, while Toliver, Turner and Randle were targeted over 85 times as juniors. (Johnson, meanwhile, finally experienced a breakthrough as a senior.)
This category does still feature a couple of quick transfers (Patterson, Rouse) and a player who has never taken a true step forward (Boyd), but for the most part, if you reach this level as a freshman, good things lie ahead.
Solid No. 3
- Jonathan Baldwin, Pitt (42 targets, 18 catches, 404 yards in 2008)
- Orson Charles, Georgia (37 targets, 23 catches, 374 yards as a tight end in 2009)
- Percy Harvin, Florida (45 targets, 34 catches, 427 yards in 2006)
- Aldarius Johnson, Miami (59 targets, 31 catches, 331 yards in 2008)
- Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma (60 targets, 33 catches, 471 yards in 2005)
- Mario Manningham, Michigan (48 targets, 27 catches, 442 yards in 2005)
- Darryl Stonum, Michigan (37 targets, 14 catches, 176 yards in 2008)
Players in this category probably showed flashes of brilliance but just weren't quite consistent enough to become immediate stars. Five of the seven had catch rates worse than 60 percent (and one who didn't was a tight end), but four of seven averaged over 14 yards per catch. They were able to make an impact -- and in Harvin's case, his rushing ability helped to make him a key player on Florida's 2006 national title team -- but they weren't ready to become all-conference performers just yet.
They eventually figured it out, however. All seven players here averaged at least 8.0 yards per target as sophomores, and four ended up with catch rates of 62 percent or better. Four would have at least one season of 800 receiving yards, and five would go pro after just three years (the other two, Johnson and Stonum, would end up getting suspended and/or kicked off the team). In this case, flashes of brilliance typically lead to sustained brilliance.
Solid No. 2
- Arrelious Benn, Illinois (76 targets, 54 catches, 676 yards in 2007)
- Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State (67 targets, 42 catches, 618 yards in 2007)
- Mike Davis, Texas (70 targets, 47 catches, 478 yards in 2010)
- Michael Floyd, Notre Dame (82 targets, 48 catches, 731 yards in 2008)
- Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M (74 targets, 50 catches, 632 yards in 2008)
- DeSean Jackson, California (63 targets, 38 catches, 601 yards in 2005)
- Duval Kamara, Notre Dame (66 targets, 32 catches, 357 yards in 2007)
- Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia (65 targets, 38 catches, 505 yards in 2005)
While the name of the category is "Solid No. 2," some of these players were basically go-to receivers for teams that either didn't pass much or didn't pass very well. In all, this is a confusing category. While these players were targeted more than those in the "Solid No. 3" category below, they did not necessarily succeed at a higher rate over the course of their careers. Some failed to show much development in their sophomore years (Kamara, Davis, Massaquoi), while others became stars (Floyd, Jackson, Bryant). There were stellar careers in this batch, but they were a bit sporadic. Benn posted spectacular stats as a sophomore, then regressed as a junior; to a degree, so did Jackson. Davis, meanwhile, was decent as a sophomore but couldn't save a hopeless Texas passing attack. But most of these players still ended up in the NFL.
- DeAndre Brown, Southern Miss (114 targets, 66 catches, 1,109 yards in 2008)
- A.J. Green, Georgia (103 targets, 56 catches, 963 yards in 2008)
- Julio Jones, Alabama (103 targets, 58 catches, 924 yards in 2008)
- Sammy Watkins, Clemson (124 targets, 84 catches, 1,225 yards in 2011)
Savor these players, because a) they are rare, and b) they are almost certainly going to be gone after three years. All four of these players were not only frequently targeted (in Watkins' case, almost 10 times per game), but they produced at a high level (all were at 9.0 yards per target or higher). Of course, Brown's stats were boosted a bit by playing in Conference USA, but he was still an athletic marvel until suffering a freak leg injury in the 2008 New Orleans Bowl. He was injury-prone throughout his Golden Eagle career and went undrafted in 2011 despite leaving school early.
Green and Jones, meanwhile, were not only drafted highly after their junior seasons, but they produced immediately in the pros as well (Green caught 65 passes for 1,057 yards and made the Pro Bowl; Jones, meanwhile, caught 54 passes for 959 yards). As long as he doesn't take too many hits along the way, Watkins could very easily produce immediate success in the pros, too. Luckily, as college football fans, we get him for two more years.
Recruiting is all about hope, and posts like this are designed to dash hope to a certain degree. Still, it is unfair to most prospects to expect something like Julio Jones or Sammy Watkins right out of the gates. The median player is more like Terrance Toliver, Patrick Turner or, if you are lucky, DeVier Posey. A good percentage of blue-chip receivers will become stars eventually, but few will do it as freshmen. Receivers appear more advanced and are more likely to make quick contributions, but as is typically the case with recruiting, tamping down expectations now will result in less anxiety and, let's be honest, hurt feelings later. The 2011 breakthrough of freshman receivers may have been a sign of things to come -- we can certainly figure that the prevalence of the spread offense in high schools could result in receivers more advanced than in a previous day -- but for now, it was a one-year surprise.