Let’s focus today’s mailbag on one specific question, variations of which have torn through my Twitter mentions like a tornado for several days (and weeks):
Is there reason for concern yet for all of the recent recruiting misses? Especially with local kids? — Stan Teuber
The impetus for Stan’s exasperation can be traced to two separate developments:
1.) Five-star Eastside Catholic defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau, the No. 1 player in the 2021 class, announced July 4 that he has chosen Ohio State over the hometown Huskies and others. In all, UW whiffed on four of the top eight players from its state in the 2021 class — Tuimoloau, five-star wide receiver Emeka Egbuka (Ohio State), four-star linebacker Julien Simon (USC) and four-star wide receiver Junior Alexander (Arizona State). In the past 10 classes, UW has signed just two of seven five-star prospects from within its borders.
2.) A pair of four-star 2022 recruits — defensive back Benjamin Morrison and outside linebacker Tevarua Tafiti — recently announced commitments to Notre Dame and Stanford, respectively, after taking official visits to UW last month and long being considered likely Huskies. (The loss of Morrison could be considered particularly painful, after a streak of nine consecutive classes with a four-star defensive back was finally snapped in 2021.)
UW did earn recent commitments from four-star running back Emeka Megwa, four-star defensive tackle Ben Roberts and three-star outside linebacker Lance Holtzclaw. But Morrison and Tafiti’s decisions leave the Huskies with just eight commits in their 2022 class, which ranks ninth in the Pac-12 and 56th nationally by the 247Sports Composite. That comes after UW’s 2021 class ranked sixth in the Pac-12 and 36th in the nation.
Of course, those rankings are somewhat swayed by the Huskies’ comparably small class sizes in 2021 and 2022, the result of relatively few outgoing seniors. The picture appears rosier if we rely on average star rating, with 0.90 the threshold for a four-star recruit.
Here are the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings for each class since Chris Petersen arrived (along with Jimmy Lake) in 2014.
These rankings reflect just how well Petersen and Co. developed three-star recruits — particularly early in his tenure. The Huskies’ 2016 team that represented the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff comprised 16 starters that were three-star recruits, five four-star recruits, one two-star recruit (center Coleman Shelton) and zero five-star recruits. And of the 30 Huskies who have been drafted since Petersen’s arrival, 20 were three-star recruits, to go along with seven four-star recruits, two five-star recruits (Jacob Eason and Shaq Thompson), and one two-star recruit (Will Dissly). Since 2015, those 30 draftees are tied with USC for the most in the Pac-12 (trailed by Stanford’s 29, Utah’s 26 and Oregon’s 22).
Plus, star rankings have not always foretold future success in Seattle. The 2018 class, for example, featured a perfect split of 10 four-star recruits and 10 three-star recruits. And of the 10 four-star prospects, five have been forced to transfer due to a lack of playing time (quarterbacks Colson Yankoff and Jacob Sirmon, and wide receivers Marquis Spiker, Austin Osborne and Trey Lowe), while two more have been largely buried on the bench (defensive back Julius Irvin and defensive lineman Draco Bynum).
Meanwhile, nine of the 10 three-star signees in 2018 have either starred at UW or could be considerable contributors this fall — led by All-American outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui, running back Richard Newton and right tackle Victor Curne.
The conclusion? Recruiting rankings, while a valuable resource, aren’t everything. And if Lake develops talent as well as his predecessor, UW can continue to vie for Pac-12 titles and churn out NFL Draft picks — even with apparently underwhelming recruiting results. The Huskies’ second-year head coach said as much in late April, days before outside linebacker Joe Tryon — once a lowly three-star recruit from Renton — was selected by the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the final pick of the first round.
“When you guys write our story about whatever signing class we sign in December, it’s going to be awesome,” Lake said. “We’ll probably be in like 15th place in the Pac-12 or something like that. We’ll be dead last. And then we’ll have probably half the guys get drafted and get developed and play a long time in the NFL. So I take pride in that, and our staff takes pride in that.”
Still, can a program that relies this heavily on three-star talent actually win a national title?
The proof comes via 247Sports national recruiting analyst Bud Elliott, whose annual “blue-chip ratio” accurately projects which programs could realistically take home hardware. The theory is that a team must have signed more four- and five-star recruits than two- and three-star recruits in the previous four classes to be in true contention for a national championship.
For reference, here’s the percentage of “blue-chip” recruits — four- and five-star prospects — signed by each national champion across the last decade.
2020: Alabama (83%)
2019: LSU (64%)
2018: Clemson (61%)
2017: Alabama (80%)
2016: Clemson (52%)
2015: Alabama (77%)
2014: Ohio State (68%)
2013: Florida State (53%)
2012: Alabama (71%)
2011: Alabama (71%)
Not convinced? Consider also that in the past three playoffs, all 12 teams reached the required 50% mark. And while Washington sat at just 30% in 2016 — again, a testament to impressive player development — the two teams the Huskies lost to happened to rank first (Alabama, 77%) and second (USC, 70%) nationally in the blue-chip ratio. At some point, culture and coaching are typically overwhelmed by a tidal wave of talent.
In 2021, the Huskies’ blue-chip ratio sits at 49% — a single percentage point below the threshold. The Pac-12, meanwhile, is represented by both Oregon (56%) and USC (53%).
Which makes UW’s recent recruiting misses all the more deflating.
Because, while Washington has proven it can compete for Pac-12 titles with overlooked talent, it must sign the Tuimoloaus and Morrisons and Tafitis to someday, some way, reach for something more.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.