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Kentucky Wildcats Football Recruiting and SPARQ

Building on a post from last summer, a different kind of way to evaluate Kentucky's football recruits.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

[I've updated with the SPARQ and Z-score of recent UK offer Jacob Lichtenstein]

Last summer provided an opportunity to evaluate prospects UK was recruiting for the first time via their SPARQ scores thanks to Nike's Regional Opening events. This summer, UK recruits and other prospects continue to participate in Phil Knight's patronage, so we can continue to gain insight into their athletic abilities, and then compare to their peers nationwide.

These single-day scores carry at least some value. Last year, the scores demonstrated Landon Young was undervalued months before he would receive his "five star status" from the recruiting services. They would also  justify the surge of interest Kordell Looney and Tobias Gilliam received towards the end of the prior recruiting cycle.

So, how about this year's group?

First, A Reminder...

SPARQ is comprised of five measurements: forty time, twenty yard shuttle, kneeling powerball toss, and vertical leap. Those factors, along with a prospect's height and weight, provide the SPARQ rating. In effect, it provides a common base to which all prospects - regardless of size - get their athleticism measured.

Brent over at Roll Bama Roll has normalized a very large population of SPARQ scores nation-wide to get a Z-score. With a Z-score we can filter the athleticism of UK's commitments against all participants who receive a SPARQ score by their position. This allows a particular defensive tackle, for example, to be compared against the scores of all the defensive tackles in the country who have SPARQ scores.

Below lists the position, SPARQ, and Z-score of UK recruits and other players. A Z-score of 0 is a player exactly average for his position. A score of 1.0 is a player in approximately the top 16% of all college athletes.  A score of 2.0 puts a player in the top 2.5%, and a 3.0 is truly elite: the top 0.15%.

Current UK Commitments...

This year's post will look at the data from several Regional Opening events held the last two months. UK had fewer commits participate this year, according to my research, but there were several players they are recruiting who participated. First, the commitments.

Prospect Position SPARQ Z-score
Austin Dotson OT 60.84 0.57
Jamin Davis ILB 86.07 0.60
Mac Jones QB 84.45 0.71

Austin Dotson is the first of three Belfry players that will be discussed. The offensive tackle did not have the strongest showing. Dotson, however, is already 6'6'' and UK's strength and conditioning staff will improve his strength and agility. UK needs to sign tackles in this cycle, and Dotson projects as a player that can contribute several years from now.

Jamin Davis is probably destined to play UK's weakside linebacker ("WILL") given a similar build to Jordan Jones and Eli Brown in high school. Davis had a decent showing in Atlanta, and whether causation or correlation, has picked up offers from Georgia Tech and NC State in the last two weeks, according to the Herald-Leader's Ben Roberts.

Mac Jones had a score typical of many pro-style quarterbacks. He's a quarterback and his talent is making the right decisions and throwing accurate balls - not bipedal achievements. Moving along...

Other Prospects of Note...

Arguably UK's top target for the 2017 class, Lexington Lafayette offensive tackle Jedrick Wills had Z-Score of 1.19 from his performance in Columbus last summer. Well, this year his Z-score jumped to an outstanding 2.14. There's a reason he's one of the two or three best offensive tackle prospects in the country. His improvement speaks to a year of training.

In the Washington DC regional, UK recruit Sean Savoy had a SPARQ score of 101.55 for a Z-score of 1.16 [Note: I ran his Z-score as a cornerback and not a receiver]. Savoy had decent forty and shuttle times, but really excelled with the ball throw that was equivalent with the distance of many blue chip linebackers. His score was not as high as Tobias Gilliam's last year, but was higher than former UK commit - and later 'Bama commit, but plot twist, eventual Ole Miss signee - Montrel Custis.

In Orlando, weakside defensive end Jabreel Stephens finished with a SPARQ score of 65.85 for a Z-score of 0.42. 247 Sports is reporting UK offered Stephens in May. For perspective, fellow defensive lineman Kordell Looney had a Z-score of 1.15 last summer.

Thayer Munford is an offensive tackle from Cincinnati that UK has shown some interest in. He had a SPARQ score of 84.84 which is good for a Z-score of 1.66. Would UK take both Munford and Wills at tackle given the number of scholarships available for this signing class? What a good problem to have.

Defensive lineman Jacob Lichtenstein attended the Miami event, and had a SPARQ score of 77.97. At 6'5'' 235 pounds, there's a chance he winds up a 6'5'' 285 pound defensive tackle. At that position he has a Z-score of 0.86.

If I'm missing anyone else of note for this section please leave their name and the event they attended in the comments, and I will gladly derive their Z-score.

Kentucky Kids...

An interesting facet of these events are the prospects who have great performances, but have largely flown under the radar for even the hardcore recruitniks. These players might have one or two small school offers, but a strong day increases their visibility. There were a few Kentucky kids that, while unlikely to sign at UK, may have helped themselves.

The best example is safety Jack Fagot of Lexington Catholic who scored an incredible 116.55 in Atlanta (he nearly repeated the score in Columbus with a 115.68. He's consistent). This was the highest score of any participant in the Atlanta event on March 19th, and puts him at 49th in the country. The infelicitously named Fagot's Z-score is therefore a very high 1.73. His SPARQ score alone would have been 14 points higher than any Kentucky commitment from last year's class. His Z-score is higher than 2015 safety Deionte Thompson (1.39) who was a four star that would sign with Alabama. His Rivals profile says his only offer at the moment is Southeast Missouri State, but you gotta think that's going to change this summer. Athleticism isn't everything, but coaches love to coach based on potential, and his performance suggest he has a high ceiling.

Derrick Barnes, linebacker from Holy Cross in Covington, had a SPARQ rating of 111.42 translating to a 1.66 Z-score in Columbus. Surprisingly, Barnes does not have a profile on any of the recruiting sites that I could find. Here is his HUDL page.

In Columbus, Belfry offensive guard Cole Bentley (but The Opening characterizes him as a defensive lineman...), who claims over 20 offers, had a SPARQ score of 84.21.  This resulted in an impressive Z-score of 1.59. If UK hadn't signed so many guards the last few cycles, or if there had been attrition at the position, there's a good chance UK would have offered Bentley. He should end up somewhere good.

In Atlanta, defensive tackle Austin Daulton of Southwest Pulaski scored an 84.63 for a Z-score of 0.52. The probable future nose tackle's profile at Rivals claims an offer from Eastern Kentucky.

In Charlotte, Belfry defensive tackle RayQuan Horton scored 80.19 for a Z-score of 0.35. He later competed in Columbus, but did not undertake the SPARQ testing. Horton's Rivals profile claims offers from several schools including EKU and WKU.


UK only had three commits participate this year, so the data isn't as instructive as last summer. Over many years, it will be interesting to chart the prospects Kentucky tends to offer according to this metric. Additionally, there appears to be some talent in the Kentucky high school prep ranks this upcoming season.