DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE PART 1: INTRODUCTION AND METHODOLOGY, FINAL GRADE POSITIONAL RANKINGS
DEVELOPMENTAL DEEP DIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS
The idea for this piece came about when Adam Cushing left to take the Eastern Illinois job.
As we were discussing Cushing on our podcast and with each other, the question of Cushing’s ability to develop offensive line talent came up repeatedly. We all confessed to a belief that this development had been sub-standard. We realized, however, that we didn’t have something concrete to pin that belief on.
Sure, we could point to specific games or, ahem, specific months of the year, and easily highlight struggles on the offensive line. But could we actually quantify the strength of the Offensive Line as a position group? Between recruiting and the development of players, what was really happening within NU’s O-Line year to year? For that matter, what was happening year-to-year with ALL of Northwestern’s positions groups? Where is the most talent being recruited, and where is he most talent being developed? Where IS Northwestern the most successful then it comes to personnel?
We, the West Lot Pirates, have decided to take a shot at figuring that out.
Here’s what we did:
From 2010-2017, we examined every single Northwestern recruiting class. Notable walk-ons were considered as well. We examined every single player in terms of A.His recruiting profile coming out of high school and B.His production once he got to Northwestern.
After examining these things, we issued each player a letter grade.
A COUPLE OF NOTES ABOUT THE GRADES
1.YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY.
Understand that we were looking at well over 150 players! You could sit with us for hours and argue over whether or not Joseph Jones deserved his A grade relative to Justin Jackson’s A grade. We get that. We don’t claim to be perfect, but we know that you know that we watch a LOT of NU Football. We may be off in one spot or another, but we believe the overall trends represented within our grades our correct.
2.WE’RE NOT HERE TO BADMOUTH OLD PLAYERS.
We gave out plenty of low grades during this process. Those players are not going to be named here. A guy who busted his butt for 4-5 years and gave his all for our beloved program doesn’t need to google his name some day and find this article with that name next to a bad grade. If we mention a player by name in this piece, it’s because that player had a successful on-field career at NU.
3.WE’RE NOT SHOWING YOU EVERY SINGLE GRADE.
First, see entry #2. Second, the point here is evaluate the position groups as a whole, not specific individuals. Trust the process!
1. Eight recruiting classes were examined: 2010-2017. Split grades are possible, i.e. C+/B-.
2. We considered two things when evaluating recruiting profile: A player’s grade in stars and scale according to Rivals.com, and the offers that player received from other schools.
We felt this was the most holistic way to view things, because between Rivals and college coaches, someone tends to be right. Ibraheim Campbell was a upper-mid 3-star prospect according to Rivals, but Michigan State and Stanford understood the extremely high level of prospect they were looking at. On the other hand, Rivals knew how good Tyler Lancaster could be when few others saw a future Packer in Big Lanny.
3. A “C” generally represents a player who was lightly recruited and didn’t produce much on the field while at NU.
To paraphrase the David Pumpkins skit from SNL, when you’re recruiting 100s of players, they’re not all going to be winners! We’re not giving out Ds and Fs to every guy who didn’t play. Teams need to fill rosters, and they also know (Alabama excepted) that every one of those players is not going to be a marquee recruit. With this said…
4. Assuming that two different players produced at a level in-line with expectations coming out of high school, the more highly-recruited player gets the higher grade.
We have a player on our roster who is mainly known–to this point–for performing a fantastic sideline Macarena. We also have Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP Clayton Thorson. Thorson’s production has been roughly in line with what was expected of our biggest quarterback recruit ever. The other player, dance moves excepted, was not expected to start and dominate on the field. Both players have basically matched expectations. Thorson gets the higher grade. We need to account for our coaches’ ability to land the Big Fish in the recruiting world. HOWEVER…
5. A grade below “C” represents a player who did not have on-field success at Northwestern despite higher expectations.
This is a key part of our overall goal here. How many times did Northwestern recruit a major player, then fail to get commensurate production out of that player? For the record, D+ was the lowest grade any player received.
6. Injuries CAN be the cause of low grades.
The least fun aspect of the this process. This is another reason we aren’t showing the grades. Injuries are no one’s fault, but over time they should affect all position groups relatively evenly. What we found is that no single position group was particularly decimated relative to the rest…but that certain groups were hurt by injuries more BECAUSE they failed to develop healthy players enough.
7. Grades above “C” correspond to a player who was better coming out of high school (and played like it), a player who developed well at Northwestern, or both.
The very highest grades tend to be players who became household names amongst NU fans or players who became stars despite a low (or nonexistent) recruiting profile. The highest of the high did both. A total of three A+ grades were given out. (Here’s a hint: All three players are in the NFL now, one is the best at tackling, one is the best at classical piano, and one is the best at having negative-12% body fat.)
This also seems like a good place to revisit the Jones/Jackson argument we mentioned above. Literally every Northwestern fan knows Jackson. Fewer know Jones. Obviously, Jackson’s production at Northwestern exceeded Jones’ by a wide margin. But here’s the thing: Jackson was a monster recruit. Jones had literally ONE FBS offer, Northwestern’s. Now, both players are playing in the NFL. One has blocked a punt, and that guy can credit his own perseverance and Northwestern’s coaches for getting him to that point. And he was a darn good player on the field for the Wildcats! That’s an A. (As for the “+” missing at the end of Jackson’s grade? We thought he was going to be awesome. He was awesome. That’s also an A in our book.)
8. In the case of players who still have multiple years of football left at NU, we tried to err on the positive, particularly if we thought this player was going to be seeing a lot more of field in the future.
Pete McIntyre would a be random example of a guy who will probably have a big role in the linebacker corps down the road, and we tried to make his grade reflect that without going overboard.
9. After we tabulated all of the individual player grades, we grouped them by position. In the case of players with multiple positions, or who were listed at a different position coming out of high school, the position they primarily played with at NU was where they were grouped.
This was mainly a cut-and-dry process, with the exception of a few players, like Solomon Vault. Ultimately, we slotted Vault at running back. AND THANK GOODNESS FOR THE RUNNING BACKS THAT WE DID. MORE ON THIS LATER.
10. Once we had the position groupings, we started averaging data based on four 5-year periods: 2010-2014, 2011-2015, 2012-2016, and 2013-2017. Each period represented a 5-year window in which all players on the team at that time could theoretically have been available.
Obviously, these guys weren’t all actually available at once, and obviously, a guy who was a true freshman in 2010 wasn’t yet playing a the final grade level he might display in 2014. Still, on a macro level it’s a useful way to look at everyone at once. In areas in which guys REALLY aren’t ready to play as underclassman, our data can actually become MORE useful, as you will see later.
11.After compiling our data for the four time periods listed above, we averaged them together to create FINAL GRADES for each position that covered 2010-2017.
These grades were broken down into these subcategories:
Cut Grade basically works like this: With a given year, how many guys should actually be reasonably expected to play at that position? This grade represents the top players Northwestern would be expected to play to fill that need.
In other words, basically: How good are our top guys?
This is the raw average of the grades of all players at a position.
Within any given position, what percentage of the players brought in:
B.Undergo fantastic development relative to recruiting profile?
Understand that we were tough graders here. To make this list purely on performance, a well-regarded high school player had to be a bona fide star at NU. There are plenty of beloved Wildcats who did not make the cut. The goal here is to highlight how successful Northwestern is at finding, recruiting, and developing peak talent.
On to the Rankings!
FINAL GRADE RANKINGS BY POSITION, 2010-2017.
CUT GRADE RANKINGS
5.Defensive Line B+
6.Running Backs B+
8.Offensive Line B-/C+ (B)
TRUE GRADE RANKINGS
4.Defensive Line B-
7.Offensive Line C+
8.Running Backs C
HIT PERCENTAGE RANKINGS
2.Defensive Line 45%
7.Offensive Line 21%
8.Running Backs 21%
Here are three notable questions/reactions you may have relative to these lists that we want to address right here:
1.So you didn’t split secondary up into cornerbacks vs safeties? No, we didn’t. It was going to be a little tricky given some of the positional overlap here. But yes, we know as you know that our safeties tend to be better overall than our corners. We will talk about this and other things when we discuss the secondary later.
2.What’s up with the parenthetical grade next to the Offensive Line? We’re glad you noticed! This is very important, and we’ll discuss it when we get to the Offensive Line section.
3.What the heck is up with the Running Backs? RIGHT?!?