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Talent, the Super Bowl, and the Bucs

How much talent do the Bucs actually have?

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images

Recently, SB Nation looked at the recruit ranking for every starter in the Super Bowl. If you’re more of an NFL fan and aren’t familiar with high school recruiting, that’s OK. Know that “blue chips” are four and five star players and are relatively rare and highly-coveted, while the majority of recruits out of high school are rated three stars or lower. In fact, one benchmark to winning a national championship in college appears to be recruiting more blue chip players than not. Recruiting services have come a long way in the last decade or so. Fewer players fall through the cracks than they used to, but it still happens.

We also know that being a blue chip recruit makes you more likely to be drafted, more likely to be drafted high in the draft, and more likely to start more games in the NFL and make Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters.

In other words, talent matters.

Everyone is talented in the NFL though, right? And team talent across the league is probably only separated by a few degrees. Still, it’s fun to look at, and there does appear to be some correlation there between blue chip talent and the Super Bowl. So how do the two Super Bowl teams this year stack up?

The New England Patriots’ starters have an average former star rating of 2.9 (they had three starters who went unranked). If you only count the rated players, their average is 3.2. Tom Brady was famously unrated because he came out of high school before recruiting services were what they are today. They listed him as a likely four star. As they note, Chris Hogan slipped through the cracks because he played lacrosse, not football.

The Los Angeles Rams are slightly more talented. Their starters’ average former star rating is 3.4. They only had one former unranked recruit, linebacker Samson Ebukam from the Pacific Northwest.

Still, talent will only get you so far. The Carolina Panthers were overall more talented than the Denver Broncos, but Von Miller is an alien and turnovers will kill your chances.

So what is the overall talent breakdown this year?

In total, 43 percent of the Super Bowl starters were four- or five-star recruits. To put it another way, about two in every five Super Bowl starters were four- or five-star recruits, but only about one in every 770 rated recruits gets that many stars — and hundreds of thousands of high school players don’t get rated at all. So, yes, your odds of starting in the Super Bowl are, unsurprisingly, much higher if you were a superstar recruit in high school.

Here are handy graphs to help illustrate that point:

Again - talent (read: athleticism) matters.

So, just for fun, what was the average star rating of the Bucs’ starters last season?

2018 Bucs Starters Recruit Rankings

Player Stars College
Player Stars College
QB Jameis Winston 5 Florida State
WR DeSean Jackson 5 Cal
TE O.J. Howard 5 Alabama
DT Gerald McCoy 5 Oklahoma
WR Chris Godwin 4 Penn State
LT Donovan Smith 4 Penn State
RG Caleb Benenoch 4 UCLA
DE Jason Pierre-Paul 4 USF
LB Kwon Alexander 4 LSU
CB Carlton Davis 4 Auburn
S Jordan Whitehead 4 Pittsburgh
RB Peyton Barber 3 Auburn
WR Mike Evans 3 Texas A&M
WR Adam Humphries 3 Clemson
DT Vita Vea 3 Oregon
LB Lavonte David 3 Nebraska
S Justin Evans 3 Texas A&M
TE Cameron Brate 0 or N/A Harvard
LG Ali Marpet 0 or N/A Hobart
C Ryan Jensen 0 or N/A Colorado St-Pueblo
RT Demar Dotson 0 or N/A Southern Mississppi
DE Carl Nassib 0 or N/A Penn State
CB Brent Grimes 0 or N/A Shippensburg

I picked starters by this season’s snap counts, and I used 247Sports’ composite rankings, which average the main recruiting services’ rankings together. Now, I took a few liberties - there are 23 starters here, not 22. One QB, one RB, four WRs, two TEs, five OL, four DL, two LBs, two CBs, and two S’s. With this set of players, the Bucs’ average star rating is 2.8, with a whopping six players who were not rated. If you only count the players that were rated, the Bucs’ star average is 3.8.

I left off guys like Chris Conte (three star), and Ryan Smith (0 star or N/A), and Vinny Curry (2 star), and Vernon Hargreaves III (5 star). Curry played about 40 percent of the defensive snaps last year. Hargreaves was a likely third starter at corner before he went down with injury. I also left off Adarius Taylor (three star), who played for the injured Kwon Alexander.

There are also interesting cases like Demar Dotson. Dotson was a three star basketball recruit at Southern Mississippi. He wasn’t recruited to play college football because he had never played football. Ever. But he walked into Larry Fedora’s office one day and walked on to the football team. As a defensive tackle. One year later, the Bucs picked him up as an UDFA and he’s been playing right tackle ever since. If Dotson had played high school football he probably would have been a two or three star offensive tackle.

Ali Marpet famously went to small Division III Hobart College in New York. How did Marpet fall through the cracks? Same way a lot of other linemen do: he didn’t weigh anything in high school, and has since put on a great deal of weight without losing any athleticism. Some guys have the frame for it but are just late bloomers. Marpet played offensive line as a high school freshman at 160 lbs, then quit to play basketball his sophomore year, then played football again as a junior at 210 lbs. He probably didn’t weigh much more than that as a senior. Marpet now weighs over 300 lbs and his testing numbers are elite for NFL offensive linemen. If he hadn’t developed late he likely would have been a blue chip recruit.

Brent Grimes came out of high school around the time when recruiting services weren’t all that reliable, plus he was really small. Grimes is for sure gone next year and Conte is likely to be as well. Hargreaves will probably be back, but in what role? Also, note that Caleb Benenoch is a former blue chip, but he isn’t starting quality; at least in 2018 he wasn’t. We’ll see if new run game coordinator Harold Goodwin and offensive line coach Joe Gilbert can get the most out of him or if the Bucs decide to move on.

Even with all that, the Buccaneers don’t lack for talent. They have done pretty well finding diamonds in the rough too. With the way I did the roster, the Bucs have 11 former blue chip players and 12 non-blue chip, or about 47 percent blue chip. If you add in Hargreaves it’s 50 percent each; either way, higher than the combined average of the starters in today’s Super Bowl.