Thursday, February 3, 2011

By the Numbers: Putting the 2011 Commodore Recruiting Class in Perspective

A number of VSL readers have expressed curiosity about how the 22 members of the 2011 class of Vanderbilt football recruits stack up -- against our SEC foes, against other FBS schools, and in particular against previous Vandy recruiting classes.

For those who might have been holding out hope that Vanderbilt's commitments would not rank last in the SEC, sorry to disappoint you. You will not find a credible recruiting service that says otherwise. But that is a minor and to-be-expected detail in a much bigger story for Vanderbilt's 2011 National Signing Day.

In giving out grades to the 12 SEC recruiting classes, ESPN highlights several players as big pickups for the Dores: primarily LaFonte Thourogood (Va. Beach, VA), a dual-threat QB prospect and Virginia Tech decommit whose name I would recommend that all of VSL Nation get used to hearing a lot. CB prospect Derek King (Brentwood, TN) is called an "explosive" and "speedy" skill player and a "steal" for the Dores. S Larry Franklin (Vero Beach, FL) is said to be "one of a few sleepers signed out of Florida in this class." And ESPN calls OT James Lewis (Arlington, TN) a "tough run blocker exhibiting good explosion" who has "the tools to develop" into a dominating lineman. These are exactly the kinds of players Vanderbilt needs to target: solid, under-the-radar, sleeper or developmental prospects with very high ceilings, plus a few eyebrow-raising, playmaker "steals" thrown in the mix.

As far as the numbers go, you can only put so much stock in rankings, and they will vary across recruiting services, but I think what we are seeing this year is incredibly revealing. Neither Rivals nor ESPN rank beyond the top 50 or 25, so year-to-year comparisons for Vanderbilt's recruiting classes can be difficult if you rely on those websites. However, has easily accessible rankings dating back several seasons. Over the five years prior to 2011, the average rank of Vanderbilt's recruiting classes was 70th in the nation (69.6 to be precise). This year, Vanderbilt's class is ranked (drum roll please)... #45. For those worried about where Vanderbilt sits alongside its SEC brethren, consider that this is only two positions behind Mississippi State (#43), which brought in the same number of 4-star recruits (two) as Vandy, in a class of equal size, after finishing the season ranked #15 in the AP poll.

The SEC consistently has the best overall recruiting class ratings, and this year is no different. But those who put stock in the numbers should take heart in the fact that Coach Franklin and staff brought Vanderbilt a Top-50 class of recruits and filled several key positions of need in a very short period of time, all in the midst of trying to figure out hiring decisions. This class is a full 25 spots higher than the average Vanderbilt class of the last five years, and I have to believe that this is a sign CJF will be able to deliver in even more impressive fashion when staffed at full strength and given a full recruiting cycle to sell Vanderbilt. Then again, maybe it's just the koolaid statistics talking.

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