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Hawk Stock: Recruiting

In this latest installment of our Hawk Stock series, we’ll take a look at recruiting as it relates to the Iowa football program.  Here are links to our previous items:

Hawk Stock: Annual Expectations
Hawk Stock: Coaching Evaluations
Hawk Stock: Coaching Report Card

From a macro point of view, here are some key aspects to how I view the recruiting landscape in Iowa City:

-No national title lineage or history to draw on
-Small state that produces the fewest to second fewest BCS caliber players of any in the Big Ten
-Must rely on out of state recruiting; not the top dog or fan favorite in those states
-Has relied heavily on player ID and development the past 30 years
-By next fall, will have Top 15 practice facilities in the sport
-Phenomenal game day environment & fan support
-35 former players currently in the NFL
-More players drafted last two years than all but two teams in the sport (USC & Florida)
-Very good graduation rates of its players

BIGGEST BARRIER

In my opinion, one of the biggest hurdles Iowa has to overcome on an annual basis is the limited number of BCS conference players the state produces each year.  To narrow that down even further, the number of players the state produces that have common offers between Iowa and Iowa State is even lower.

Take a look at the graph below.  The first set up data is purely state driven.  The state is listed, along with it’s population then the number to the right of that are the number of players produced in that state who signed letters of intent with BCS conference programs in the 2011 recruiting class.  The second set of numbers are actual football programs, with state population and the number of in state players those programs signed:

I have been closely following Iowa’s recruiting efforts for the past decade and am also familiar with the number of in state players who receive common offers from Iowa and Iowa State. That number is typically in the four to six per year range.

For the class of 2011, Iowa had just two instate commitments. Wisconsin, a program whose home state has nearly doubles the population of Iowa, had 10.

If you want to know why programs like USC, Texas, Florida, Ohio State and Georgia are not just perennial powers but Top 10 winners all time, look no further than the number of high major players their states produce.

The fact that Iowa has a Top 15 winning percentage during the previous decade in all of college football is a great testament to the Iowa coaching staff’s ability to identify and develop talent, because Iowa’s recruiting class rankings during that time are about seventh best in the league.

I knew the state of Georgia produced a lot of talent, but had no idea it was that much. I didn’t bother looking into statewide information for California, Texas and Florida because we know they produce a boat load of talent.

Be sure to take notice of states like Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi. None of those states has more than 4.5 million people yet they are producing solid numbers of high major players. Many of those players make their way to the rosters of LSU, South Carolina and Ole Miss.

I didn’t include them in my spreadsheet, but LSU signed 16 players from Louisiana last year, South Carolina signed 10 in state prospects and Ole Miss nabbed 13. When you can fill close to half or more than half of your recruiting class with home grown talent, your job is a lot easier.

That has never been the case at Iowa and likely never will. Most programs in the Big Ten and Midwest have to (or choose to) get a significant portion of their players from out of state (save Ohio State). This includes programs with national title lineage like Oklahoma, Michigan, Notre Dame and Nebraska.

Some will want to point at Nebraska and say ‘Hey, don’t they have the same instate issues that Iowa has?’ Yes, they do. But they also have recruiting advantages that Iowa does not have, like three national titles in the 1990′s alone and better football facilities.

While we’d all like to see Iowa’s name higher on the annual recruiting rankings, it’s far easier said than done from Iowa City.

NFL IMPACT

The biggest ace Iowa has up its sleeve right now on the recruiting front is the NFL angle. Realistic or not, most high school players who can get scholarships to play football at Big Ten universities believe they can make it to the NFL.

Most colleges will tell these prospects that they can help them get to the next level and Iowa is no different. Only when Iowa says it, there is a great deal of truth to it.

Over the past two NFL drafts, only USC and Florida have seen more players drafted than Iowa. There are currently 35 former Hawkeyes on NFL rosters according to ESPN. That number ranks 8th nationally and second in the Big Ten behind Miami (FL), USC, Texas, Tennessee, Ohio State, Georgia and LSU.

Iowa has had the most offensive linemen drafted in the NFL (11) since the 2003 NFL Draft.

Every Iowa senior starting tight end (nine) under Kirk Ferentz has been drafted in the NFL or made an NFL team in his first year as a rookie.

All 11 members of Iowa’s starting defensive unit in 2008 were either drafted in the last three NFL drafts or signed to NFL free agent contracts following the drafts.

Over the past 10 years, 90 of 100 (90%) of Iowa’s senior starters have been drafted in the NFL or signed NFL free agent contracts.

Defensive secondary Coach Phil Parker has coached 14 Iowa defensive backs to the NFL and Iowa defensive backs have earned all-Big Ten honors 25 times.

Those are phenomenal statistics, all the more impressive when you consider Iowa’s recruiting classes have averaged seventh best in the Big Ten ranking since 2002.

The facts support the following statement: This staff can identify talent and develop that talent better than any staff in college football today.   The seven teams ahead of Iowa on the list above related to former players currently on NFL rosters have built in recruiting advantages Iowa does not have.  Those schools routinely sign Top 15 or better recruiting classes nationally, year in and year out.  Iowa’s classes have likely averaged in the mid to upper 30′s, at best, over the past decade.

I have contended for a number of years that you not only have to work harder at Iowa, you have to work smarter.  Iowa has a sign in its weight room that has been a solid mantra through the years; Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

CURIOUS DEFENSIVE LINE ISSUES

I left out the defensive line position in the accolades above, because I wanted to single that group out in this segment.

Iowa has placed 20 defensive linemen in the NFL under Kirk Ferentz and every senior starter (seven) under DL Coach Rick Kaczenski has gone on to the NFL.  Iowa was the only school to have three of its defensive linemen drafted in the 2011 draft.  Last year’s senior class (Clayborn, Klug, Ballard) were a part of four defenses whose average NCAA scoring defense ranking was 9.25.  Yes, I wrote average ranking.  They were 7th in 2010, 10th in 2009, 8th in 2008 and 12th in 2007.  That 2007 number is not a misprint, either.

Those are out of this world numbers that should be leading to annual success on the recruiting trails.  Iowa has had some success in landing a few four stars here and there in recent years, especially as of late; Darian Cooper signed in February of 2010 and Iowa has verbal commitments for the 2012 class from four-star prospects Faith Ekakitie and Jaleel Johnson..

Here is a list of defensive line recruits that have signed with Iowa inside of the last four years who later chose to leave the program with eligibility remaining:

John Raymon (2011)
Donovan Johnson (2010)
Anthony Ferguson Jr (2010)
Tyler Harrell (2009)
Marty Hopkins (2009)
Scott Covert (2009)
Jason Semmes (2008)

Toss in players like Scott Covert and Cody Hundertmark who began their Iowa carers on the defensive line, moved to the offensive side of the ball and later left and that takes you to nine players.

Iowa can’t afford that type of attrition at any position, much less the most important position on its team based upon the historical success and importance the defensive line has been to Kirk Ferentz football teams.

Under Ferentz, Iowa has never won more than seven regular season games unless it’s scoring defense was ranked 24th in the nation or better. That has happened five times in the Ferentz era, and in four of those years Iowa has a scoring defense ranked 16th or better in the nation.

Simply put, the Iowa defense line has been the biggest barometer between breakout seasons and average seasons.

WHY THE ATTRITION?

I wish I could answer that question, but I am as puzzled as you are. Given the NFL success stories, why is Iowa having trouble keeping defensive linemen on the roster or getting more of them to Iowa City in the first place?

It’s hard to believe the coaching staff just missed that badly on nine players over a three year span when that had never happened at this position before.  So what things have changed in recent years or during this time frame where we have seen so much attrition at this position?

The only tangible thing I can point to is former Iowa Defensive Line coach Ron Aiken leaving the program on February 14th, 2007.

Iowa had seen defensive linemen transfer out of the program during Aiken’s time in Iowa City but Aiken was in Iowa City when Ballard, Klug and Clayborn signed with the Hawks.  He coached Clayborn for one year. Rick Kaczenski was hired to replace Aiken and has been there ever since.

This fact isn’t brought up to throw Coach K under the bus, because he must be doing a good enough job to see Ballard, Clayborn and Klug get into the NFL.  Mitch King and Matt Kroul play under Coach K in 2007 and 2008, too.  However, it’s the only ‘obvious’ change in visible variables I can see from the outside, which doesn’t always provide the best view.

So even taking that coaching position change into account, I do not have an answer to the question of ‘why the attrition?’.  It is promising to see some of the players Iowa has landed in each of the last two recruiting classes along the defensive line.

WHY NO JUNIOR COLLEGE INFLUENCE?

As best I can recall, Derreck Pickens has been the only real Juco contributor along the Iowa defensive line and that was in 2001.

This year’s Iowa team could have used one or two Juco’s, but I don’t recall Iowa being actively involved with any one year ago and if they were, things never got very far along.

If they weren’t, then they over estimated the abilities of the players they had coming back.  You knew Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns were going to be good for you because you had seen it.  However, everyone after those two were unknowns outside of the walls of Fort Kinnick.  Perhaps these players had given the staff enough confidence to play the hand they had, which is how things played out.

Unfortunately, the group behind Binns and Daniels was never able to play together for any length of time due to injury.  Dom Alvis had outside contain issues early on after moving to defensive end and couldn’t hold his gap on the inside to start the year.  Lebron Daniel had similar contain issues but improved as the year went along.  Tom Nardo did a solid job when he was healthy but that was for less than half the season.  Alvis missed the final three regular season games due to an ACL tear in the Michigan win.  Carl Davis injured his leg in training camp and was never 100 percent so this was a lost season for him.  Steve Bigach flashed but was not ready for the minutes he was asked to play at the Big Ten level.

From my vantage point, most of the players after Binns, Daniels and Nardo needed another year of seasoning and weight training before they were ready to fill any serious role on the Iowa defensive line, but the Hawkeyes didn’t have that luxury this season.

This brings me back around to the Juco question circa the fall of 2010.  The Iowa coaching staff had to see this coming but chose to play the cards in their hand instead of trying to improve the hand via the Juco ranks.  There is no guarantee that a Juco player or two is going to save the soup, but it couldn’t have hurt, given the importance of this positon to the program.

IS HELP ON THE WAY?

The 2008 Iowa recruiting class was ranked 9th in the Big Ten by Scout.com and 13 of the 25 signees are no longer with the program.  Those Class of 2008 players would be the seniors on the 2012 team.  Guys like James Ferentz and James Vandenberg were a part of that class and more than 50% of their ‘signing classmates’ are gone.

The 2009 Iowa recruiting class ranked 11th in the Big Ten (out of 12, as I am factoring in Nebraska’s national class rankings into the Big Ten now).  That class had 18 members on signing day and eight of them are no longer in the program.

Having that level of attrition in back to back classes which would now be your fifth year seniors and fourth year juniors is devastating to a developmental program like Iowa’s.

The 2010 class was ranked 6th in the Big Ten and signed 21 members; 18 of them are still at Iowa.  The 25 member 2011 class was ranked 4th in the Big Ten and is down five members from signing day, but many of these players saw action this season.

The 2010 and 2011 classes have a lot of speed and talent but 2013 is a better target for that talent to show up in big numbers on the field.

Iowa will be receiving a visit from Juco DL Jake Sheffield this weekend, but they have yet to offer him a scholarship.

SUMMARY

This program is not likely going to be a ‘destination’ program on the whole, but it has produced a lot of NFL players on both sides of the line of scrimmage.  This program, like many others, is built in the trenches and the Hawkeyes have done well here.

You’d like to think that sort of success would make their jobs easier on the recruiting trails, but nothing seems to come easy.  Landing players like Cooper, Johnson and Ekakitie along the defensive line in the last 10 months is certainly encouraging and Iowa’s three youngest classes are full of promise.  However their two oldest classes have been hammered by attrition, which causes concern for next year.

That leads us to our next installment in this Hawk Stock series, a look into the crystal ball to see what the 2012 season looks like.  We’ll do that Friday or Monday, using a lot of the data we have shared, putting together potential depth charts and examining Iowa’s 2012 opponents and what they have coming back.

  • Jhwilsin

    Excellent analysis! These numbers back up my total support for Captain Kirk.

    • lutherhawk

      This staff seems enigmatic based on these statistics, and Jon alludes to it.  They are great at developing and producing NFL level talent in the trenches, yet seem to be having trouble retaining players.  The attrition is killing this team, although, many of the players who left or quit were probably not BIG talent level anyway. 

  • Eckhawkeye

    I think that was an excellant article and helps define the current issues that Iowa has had this year. Thanks for your efforts on this article.

  • Hpdyke

    Unless I missed it, an important ommission is our attrition rate vs. the average (B10 and/or national). Good read.

    • Jts87047

      I agree, Jon that would be a heavy lift…but very important in your analysis

  • IowaFan81

    I think part of the problem with attrition is that some of these kids get everything handed to them in high school because they are the best of the best, but get to college and many are on the same level.  They don’t get playing time right away and want to move on because of it. 

    • Jeffbuck7

      That’s true of every program. It does not explain the attrition problem particular to Iowa.

  • Aegland

    Pretty Colin Cole was a JUCO. Rewatching the 2002 team and noticed a a lot of overall JUCO contributors.

  • Paul

    In the past, the SEC has always oversigned by 5-10 schollies, so their attrition rate has to be huge also.  But with 30 schollies, they are probably losing some to academics, and weeding out the ones with limited potential as they go.  They are limiting this practice in the future.  Will be interesting to see if it changes the strength of the SEC.

    It was interesting to see that the northern states seem to produce about 3 players per million, and the south produces considerably more.  I know Florida HS plays spring football.  Does GA, AL, TX or CA play spring football?

    • Duke Slater

      Yes Paul, all of the states you mentioned allow High Schools to practice football in the spring. The state of Ohio’s football Coaches Association is trying to enact legislation that will allow a period of 10 days in helmets.

  • Jts87047

    Jon, I wonder if you have any knowledge about whether the Coach’s or Admin. do some research on why kids leave?  Is there any effort on the part of the news media to do some investigation or are they prohibited from doing this?  The reasons often given by the kids seems fairly bland and gives me the impression that their reason is not really the real reason they are leaving.  Is the person they hired to help the kids adapt doing his job?  Anyway, I would like to know how we compare with the other programs on attrition esp. Big 10. 

  • Grady

    Great compilation of stats/info. I feel you dismiss the NB comparison too quickly, tho.  Their only real advantage is a national championship history, and what player makes their decision based on what happened 20 years ago?  What IS different are EXPECTATIONS at NB, as evidenced by both teams’ reactions after 8-5 seasons in 2010:  Iowa stands pat and continues down the same path;  NB fires multiple staffers to try to improve, which they do this year to perhaps 10-3…while playing a lot of young players.

    Re: defensive linemen, put it this way: if I had been a young D-lineman at Iowa during 2009 and 2010, what was the motivation to stay?  During those years Iowa played entire games using no more than 4-5 D-linemen.  Yes, they were top-notch, future NFL talent, but most teams are consistently rotating D-linemen in, keeping players fresh and keeping younger players involved and motivated because they know they are at least going to get into the game.  If my theory is correct, over the next couple years you will see far fewer D-linemen leave Iowa because without top-tier talent Iowa will be rotating players at that position far more often — at least they should be.

    A final guess on the # of overall departures.  I suspect it may have something to do with the emotion level of the coach.  Young men are typically drawn to emotion, and when things don’t go their way personally (lack of playing time) they have to have other reasons to stay.  This is just a hunch, but I’d love to see a comparison done between relatively even-keel coaches like KF and more demonstrative coaches like Rhodes at ISU — comparing player departures over time when the teams have similar records.  Just for fun.

  • William

    Great work, I cannot wait. I have been “sharing” these columns on my facebook page. GO HAWKS!!

  • Dkwikk

    Sometimes young ones give up when older ones or less skilled older players keep getting favored and your waiting three years to play. A lot of programs will get younger ones in the mix but it seems Iowa just puts them in a hanger until they are needed because of injury. I think, and we see it in running backs, you have to keep throwing a bone to guys when they are younger or they look at their college careers and say my football life is short, I’m moving on.

    • Larry Flint

      Huh?

      In football, discipline and consistency can be every bit as important as talent alone.  Young guys have their heads firmly lodged up their behinds if they don’t realize that.

      Guys like Harrell and Moses left … but they also had guys like Binns, Ballard, Clayborn, Klug, and Daniels ahead of them.  I loved the upside of Moses …. but neither he nor Harrell were better than the guys playing ahead of them.

      As for the DL in 2011, the biggest thing that hurt it was a combo of both lack of experience AND all the injuries.  Even back in the spring, injuries were undermining the ability of the DL to really develop as a group.  The few stretches where the DL enjoyed some personnel continuity and good health also coincided with the unit playing at its best.

  • Topher

    I’m sorry but the d-linemen that left the program were absolutely awful. John Raymon is as bi-polar as they come.

  • Larry Flint

    A few quick remarks concerning attrition on the DL:

    - Injuries led to the departure of Hopkins
    - Harrell was one of those guys who thought that he could/should play right away at Iowa … he couldn’t
    - Semmes wanted to play with his brother
    - Donavan Johnson had grade issues

    I do remember hearing that Coach K hounded on Semmes a bit … however, it also sounds like he does that to pretty much everybody, particularly when they show promise.

    If you recall some of the old synopses written by Patrick, you’ll then remember that Covert showed enough during practices that were public to suggest that could could potentially end up being a Nardo-like player.  However, it also sounds like Covert probably had a tough time putting on more size without it negatively impacting his quickness/athleticism.  Thus, from that perspective, he simply was never truly able to grow into the position where he was originally projected.

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  • Tisb06

    I think the biggest problem over the last several years are the number of recruits that have left the program.  Losing 45-50% of you recruiting class really hurts not only your depth but leadership.  All you need to do is look at the 2010 class it graduated 21 seniors, but how much better would that team have been if the recruiting classes that came after it had less attrition.  The 2003 recruiting class was probably the best class ever at Iowa but how many were still here for their senior year, less than half and that really affected Iowa.  So I agree that Iowa does a great job finding and developing players and with their NFL track record I’m surprised that so many are leaving.  The coaching staff needs to do a better job in finding those kids that plan to stay with the program.

  • Scrubs

    The attrition of the D-Line only tells part of the story of the defense this year.  Maybe the coaches thought a mid-level talent D-Line would be offset by a great secondary (which turned out to be a fairly accurate description of the secondary this year), and by a manageable linebacker corp.  The linebacker position (mostly due to injury) suffered nearly the same level of attrition as the D-Line and has not played to the level it should have either.  Without the injuries to the linebacker corp, and with the great play of the secondary, it could’ve been a completely different season since the big games that were lost were squarely on the shoulders of the offensive players.  

  • Colt45

    I do agree with Grady, when your behind future NFL guys you don’t want to wait 2 years  for (or injury/suspension) to start playing. Especially when you realize that the guys they are recruiting behind you might steal your spot. At Iowa that’s not a big deal to worry about, but it doesn’t encourage you to want to stay. I think Grady also had the excellent point in the different coaching styles. You might say that that some of the top tier  coaches like Saban aren’t overly energetic, but then they have the coaching record, and everyone is telling you to listen to a guy like Saban.

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