Commentary

Count your signing-day calories

Originally Published: February 3, 2011
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

It may be a coincidence that the federal government chose the week of signing day to warn against the consumption of excess sugar, solid fats, salt -- you know, junk food. I think not.

Jadeveon Clowney
Davide De Pas/ESPN.comWill Jadeveon Clowney live up to his billing as the ESPNU 150's top player?

That hangover you're feeling arrived because of all the empty calories on which you gorged for the past 72 hours. You are caught up to speed. You know which schools signed the most players in the ESPNU 150. (Take a bow, Florida State.) You know that the top player, Jadeveon Clowney, hasn't made his decision. You know that SEC teams signed four of the top 10 classes.

And you know, if you're absolutely straight up with yourself, that it doesn't mean a whole lot.

Welcome to the morning after.

It's not that recruiting doesn't mean a whole lot. But -- and I don't want to get too technical here -- who honestly knows which class will be any good? To call recruiting an inexact science is an insult to science, not to mention inexactitude.

Here's what I'm talking about: take the 2006 list of players in the ESPNU 150 and cross-reference it with the 2010 NFL draft. You will find 20 names. Run through the 2009 draft and you'll find nine more players who came out as juniors.

In fact, more players from the 2006 ESPNU 150 have transferred, been dismissed or failed to make their grades (36) than have been drafted in 2009 and 2010 (29).

To be fair, several more players will be drafted as fifth-year seniors this year. Even if 20 fifth-years are drafted, that adds up to about one in three of the ESPNU 150 being drafted. That's about 50 draftees spread among three years in which about 750 players are selected.

It's not that the ESPNU 150 pitch is juuuussst a bit outside. It's just that assessments of football talent have the dependability of "Weather on the 8s." Are there meteorologists who follow recruiting on the side? God help them.

"You're trying to quantify something that can't be quantified," Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani said. "You can get guys that can jump high and run fast and lift weights. That ain't what's happening. There's more to it than that. You've got to profile the guys to see who would fit into your philosophy, into your school, into your coaching. It's all that stuff."

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIBC's Luke Kuechly wasn't a highly ranked recruit, but he's produced big numbers for the Eagles.

The object is not to run fast. It is to play fast, to see what is happening on the field as it happens, if not before. Spaziani signed a kid from Cincinnati two years ago. Ohio State and most other Big Ten schools passed on him. Maybe they thought the kid was too small to play linebacker and too slow to play safety. Eagle linebacker Luke Kuechly finished second in the nation in tackles as a freshman. He led the nation and became an All-American as a sophomore.

College coaches have the harder job. They must project the future of 17-year-olds. The NFL assesses men, not boys, and doesn't do that much better of a job drafting players than the colleges do signing them. If it did, we would be discussing the Super Bowl rings on the hands of JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster led the NFL with 1,616 rushing yards in 2010. No one drafted him in 2009.

Spaziani watched Matt Ryan develop into a top quarterback at Boston College. The Falcons selected him with the third pick in the 2008 draft. Ryan quickly became one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

"As good as Matt Ryan is," Spaziani said, "he got in the perfect system for him. He went to exactly the right team."

That doesn't happen as often as you would think. More often what happens is that a team picks the wrong players. No one is immune. Texas and USC both fell from BCS bowl to mediocre in the course of one season. They signed too many players who, despite their publicity, proved they couldn't play at the level of a national championship contender.

The players had all the stars. They got plenty of attention during their recruitment. They didn't measure up on the field.

For every Eric Berry, the Tennessee defensive back ranked fourth in the 2007 ESPNU 150 and selected fifth in the 2010 NFL draft, there's a Kuechly or a Kellen Moore. A quarterback who is barely 6-foot tall and from a small town in Washington, Moore couldn't cadge an offer out of Washington State. He went to Boise State, where he is 37-2 as a starter.

Signing day annually provides a dollop of optimism to soothe the sting of the season just concluded. That optimism arrives coated in sugar and salt, fried golden brown. It's the day after signing day. Pass the Tums.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com