If a study put out by the Emory Sports Marketing Science Initiative is to be believed, then an elite prospect hoping to make it to the NFL would be better off eschewing the primetime games and national championship appearances of going to a program like Alabama, and should sign with Kentucky instead. It is not to be believed, though I’m sure coaches from less successful programs will be mentioning it.
Let’s see if you can spot the problem. Here is a list of the teams with the best and worst rates of converting elite recruits into NFL draft picks. Kentucky has done such an amazing job that 1.75 out of every 1 elite recruit has made the NFL. Yes, that’s right, the University of Kentucky has figured out how to genetically duplicate elite recruits and turn them into multiple elite prospects.
That, or this is deeply flawed when it comes to drawing the conclusions that it claims.
Just checking Kentucky and Oregon State over the period 2007-2012, we see that Kentucky has 10 players drafted, none higher than Corey Peters in the third round, and Oregon State has 16 players drafted, with Andy Levitre the highest at #51. No player from either school was drafted in the Top 50 during this time frame.
The problem, of course, is this bizarre elite recruits to NFL draft picks ratio, which compares the success rate of overall picks, regardless of original recruiting ranking status, with just the number of elite picks.
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Let’s see if an analogy can illustrate the problem. Let’s say that I want to look at children, and the relationship between making a household income of $200,000 or more when they are older, based on how much income the parents made. I’m looking at three communities, one with barely anybody who lives in it who makes that much, another a middle class community with some upper income families, and a third community where virtually everyone is making above $200,000. I then look at the outcomes years later for the children of those families.
If I told you that your best bet for becoming rich as an individual was to grow up in the poorest community, would you believe me? What if I had this cool ratio that said the percentage of wealthy kids to wealthy parents was the highest for kids from the poorest community? I think you would laugh at such a conclusion.
Well, that’s what we have when the authors claim ”[t]he key result is the significant negative relationship between the number of four-star prospects and the draft conversion rate of high ranked prospect.”
Of course there is a significant relationship, if we are comparing apples to oranges and the total number of drafted players to just the number of elite prospects.
Imagine the following schools with the ratios of elite to non-elite recruits for every 100 scholarships:
School A [bad D-1 Program]: 4 elite recruits, 96 non-elite recruits
School B [Solid Bowl Program]: 32 elite recruits, 68 non-elite recruits
School C [National Champion Program]: 72 elite recruits, 28 non-elite recruits
Now let’s say that our elite prospects (4 and 5 star recruits) get drafted at 25% for each school, and the non-elites, 5% will be surprises and get drafted.
School A should have 5.8 players drafted, for an expected “Draft Pick to Elite Recruit” ratio of 1.45.
School B should have 11.4 players drafted, for an expected ”Draft Pick to Elite Recruit” ratio of 0.36.
School C should have 19.4 players drafted, for an expected ”Draft Pick to Elite Recruit” ratio of 0.27.
The only way we wouldn’t see a strong negative relationship between the number of NFL draft picks and the number of elite prospects was if the elite programs were much, much better at producing NFL players within each group.
So, no, elite prospect, don’t go to Kentucky instead of Alabama. There are some interesting questions to be answered, namely, are your chances of being drafted better if you are a 3 star and go to a smaller program, but this flawed study does not prove that either way.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]