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Which Signing Class Is Marks Stoops' Best?

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Is the 2014 signing class that featured Matt Elam and Drew Barker better than the 2016 signing class that featured Landon Young and Drake Jackson?

Shortly after National Signing Day there was a good discussion in BBN circles comparing the 2016 signing class to the 2014 signing class. Which was Mark Stoops' best? The topic piqued my curiosity, so I delved further into the numbers to see if there was a story beyond the surface level recruiting numbers. I was then going to crank out this post, but life intervened as is its wont. It's late, but I think the following still adds to the discussion. Obviously, the real worth of a signing class comes from their on-field performance. The following is merely focused on their rankings as of their respective NSD.

Team Rankings

First, I think it's useful to review the overall recruiting rankings. Below are the 247 Sports Composite rankings for each of Mark Stoops' signing classes while bearing in mind that 247's composite rankings take into account Rivals, Scout, 247, and ESPN rankings. I'm not sure how they are weighted, but for these purposes I'll assume they are equal. To the data:

Year Composite Ranking
2013 34th
2014 22nd
2015 38th
2016 34th

The raw rankings clearly demonstrate the 2014 signing class is superior to the other classes. In fact, the 2016 class is tied with the 2013 class that Stoops & Co. cobbled together in six weeks. It appears pretty "cut and dry" that it's not up for debate: the 2014 class is better.

Comparing the 2014 and 2016 Classes

However, I was curious if a few outliers (i.e. higher ranked recruits in each classes' top 20%) were skewing the data, so I decided to chart them for a visual comparison. The y-axis is an individual player's composite ranking. The x-axis is the player's ranking within his signing class. For example, the top rank player in 2014 was Drew Barker with a 0.94 composite ranking. In 2016, the top ranked player was Landon Young with a 0.96 ranking.

NSD Comparison Top Ten

This chart illustrates the top ten recruits for both the 2014 and 2016 signing classes. It turns out that if any class has outliers buoying its rankings it would be the 2016 class. They have two of the top three highest rated recruits, but only have four ranked in the top ten. The drop is pretty significant for the 2016 Class after its two highest ranked signees, and the drop is almost as steep following its top five signees. The 2014 Class meanwhile stays relatively consistent.

This drives home the point that Kentucky was very fortunate to have three highly ranked four stars in-state in 2016 after back-to-back 5-7 seasons. Without one or more of Drake Jackson, Kash Daniel, and Landon Young this class' ranking would not be near as high. Sometimes UK football is lucky.

How do the two classes compare overall? Behold 2014's clear dominance:

Comparing20162014Whole

As far as the recruiting rankings are concerned, the 2014 class is unequivocally better. For example, 2014's 25th rated signee would be ranked somewhere between the 16th-18th best signee in the 2016 class.

Explanations, Implications, and Caveats

  • The above comparison doesn't take into account positional needs. Not including them is a legitimate critique as it does have a lot of influence on a recruiting cycle's strategy; however, trying to quantify that variable is a job for a hedge fund quant. I am not a hedge fund quant.
  • Will the 2014 class be better than the 2016 class on the field? Who knows.
  • The higher ranking of the 2014 class relative to 2016 shouldn't be a surprise in some ways. This was Stoops' first full recruiting cycle, the program could sell a bright future, and benefited from a few separate recruiting breaks that happen every now and then. Look at the top five in that class. It helped that blue chips Drew Barker and Matt Elam were in-state; Darius West unfortunately breaking his leg his senior season probably incentivized major programs recruiting him to look elsewhere; and Boom Williams decommitted from Georgia only after they received commitments from five star running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
  • If you want hope for the 2016 and 2017 seasons then you'll find some respite in knowing Kentucky's best recruiting class is entering their third year in the program. Raw talent, meet several years experience with college coaching, strength and conditioning, and access to proper nutrition.
  • In the rankings above, the 2013 and 2016 classes are both ranked 34th. I charted those numbers and that chart provides some interesting nuance:

NSD20132016WHOLE

The 2016 class is superior in at least four of the top five signees (third place is tied so I guess go with a coin-flip), and while the middle tier runs pretty even, the 2016 class is superior in the bottom tier. This suggest to me that UK is signing a higher quality recruit overall. A comparison of the bottom 25% of each of Stoops' signing classes probably indicates a high ranking with each passing year. That's probably a post for next February.