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Minnesota Football Recruiting: How good can P.J. Fleck’s 2018 class be?

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So far the 2018 class is stronger top to bottom than any class in recruiting rankings era.

Gopher Sports

What a difference a Top 10 list makes. Up until recently Coach Fleck’s first class at Minnesota felt like it was flying under the radar of the casual fan. Then Oyenmwen "Junior" Uzebuthe gave Fleck his verbal commitment at the Spring Game. While Uzebuthe is a player to be excited about, it wasn’t his commitment specifically that changed things. Rather, it was the fact that his recruitment moved Minnesota’s 2018 recruiting class into the Top 10 in 247’s Composite Team Rankings.

Want to raise the hype level around a Minnesota class? Get it into the Top 10 nationally in April. People will notice.

That said, a Top 10 ranking in April is...well...a Top 10 ranking in April. Things change quickly this time of year (since last the Spring Game the Gophers were #10, then not, then #10 again, and possibly back out by the time this posts) and it’s still EARLY. I mean, when this paragraph was written Alabama was ranked 38th and was being “out-recruited” by SMU. Does anyone think that will hold?

These rankings will see some drastic changes in the coming months and I will be shocked if Minnesota is still in the Top 10 after National Signing Day. That’s why have to drop an important caveat before I jump into any analysis:

IT IS APRIL AND MINNESOTA HAS ONLY 12 COMMITMENTS.

We have both early timeline and sample size factors to consider when evaluation the quality of the 2018 class thus fan. Ok, the fine print is out of the way. Let’s get to the good stuff.

Time to take notice

What is truly impressive about Minnesota’s 2018 recruiting class is not the early Top 10 ranking, it’s the overall quality of the class thus far. In fact, if Coach Fleck continues to recruit at this current level this has the potential to be the best recruiting class in Minnesota history.

Best recruiting class in Minnesota history? Surely I’m throwing out some of that wonderful offseason clickbait hyperbole, right? After all, Tim Brewster’s first recruiting class was #17 in the country (per Rivals, it was #26 per 247 composite) with three composite 4 star commitments. And the Empire Class of 2016 had a high four star recruit in Carter Coughlin.

Since the 2018 class doesn’t have any four stars, how could it be the best class in Minnesota history even if Coach Fleck and his staff continue to recruit at the same level they are now?

Starting with a strong foundation

The answer is that the if it was signed today, the 2018 recruiting class currently has the highest “floor” of any Minnesota class in the recruiting rankings era. What do I mean by this class having the highest “floor” when compared to previous top MN classes? I’m referring to the lowest ranked recruit by the 247 composite ranking. As of now the lowest rated recruit on the Minnesota board is Erik Gibson, who has a composite rating of .8216.

This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of Gibson. The coach’s are extremely high on him and given their track record with receivers I think Minnesota fans should be as well. The other reason not to sleep on Gibson is that he and the other 3 star commits in the lower end of the 2018 class would have been median to top half of the class recruits in the last 6 Gophers classes.

Another way to represent this is to compare the current class to Minnesota’s 5 year recruiting average (i.e. the rating of the “average” hypothetical recruit from the last 5 classes) Minnesota’s current 5 year average is .8304. Every commit except for Erik Gibson rate higher than the “average” recruit brought in over the last 5 classes. That’s a big deal and great news for the Gophers.

A class centered around quality

Another useful way to evaluate recruiting class quality is to graph out the average recruit rating and density for multiple individual recruiting classes (for a previous example, check out our 2016 Empire Class NSD recap).

NOTE: We’re not comparing number of players in each class because it’s April and there are only 12 players in the current class.

What can we see when we compare Coach Fleck’s first recruiting class to Coach Kill and Brewster’s best classes? Nothing but good things.

  • The #eLITe18 recruiting class has the highest average composite rating in program history. As of today, the Gophers recruiting class has an average composite rating of .8512. How does that compare to 2016 and 2008? The Empire Class of 2016 had the 3rd best average composite ranking in program history (.8417), just a hair behind Brewster’s 2008 class (.8431). Fleck’s first class at Minnesota is currently better than both of them. NOTE: In the graph above, the average rating for the 2018 class is the solid line while the 2008/2016 averages are the tightly grouped dashed lines.
  • The variance in this year’s class is really small. Previous classes like 2016 (or 2008) had a wide spread in rankings, with a “floor” that included multiple low 3 star and two star players. They also had players stretching out the “ceiling” tail as well, with Carter Coughlin as a high 4 star and Brewster landing 3 very low 4 stars.

What does this all mean? Coach Fleck and his staff are currently bringing in the best class top to bottom that Minnesota has ever seen without landing a single 4 star commitment yet. If this is how good the class is now, just imagine it if he’s able to bring in some additional 4 star players or if some of the current commits are bumped up to 4 stars after the spring and summer evaluation periods.

Early and talented commits

It’s not just the overall quality level of the class thus far which stands out, it’s also that Fleck has assembled 12 commits of this level before the end of April. It is by far the hottest start in memory, besting even the Empire Class of 2016. In that class Coach Kill also started strong, landing verbal commitments from 4 star Carter Coughlin (.9528), and 3 stars Sam Schlueter (.8603), Phillip Howard (.8509), and Thomas Barber (.8425) by this point in the calendar. That remains extremely impressive, but I’d argue that what Fleck has done is even better given:

  • the larger number of verbal commits accumulated by Fleck
  • all four of Kill’s recruits were from Minnesota in a banner year of local talent while Fleck is landing recruits from farther afield due to a weaker local class
  • Fleck’s recruits have stronger Power 5 offer lists (in general)

Plenty of room to grow

Up until this point the discussion has centered on hard numbers and how the current 2018 class compares to the best classes in the recruiting rankings era. Fleck starting off with the best recruiting class in school history (by average 247 composite ranking) is great, but what is also exciting about this year’s recruiting class is its potential to get even better. Joe Christenson of the STrib had a good piece that discussed this very possibility earlier this week (read the whole thing if you haven’t, there are plenty of great nuggets in it):

“Historically, you need at least four or five four-star [recruits], if you’re going to stay in that top 25,” said Kyle Goblirsch, who runs Gopher247. “They do have a couple guys right now that have potential to bump into that four-star territory.”

Goblirsch said two candidates for a four-star bump are defensive tackle Elijah Teague (from Chicago Marist) and cornerback Benjamin Sapp (Eden Prairie). Teague had offers from Oklahoma, Penn State and Wisconsin, among others. Sapp had offers from all over the country before twice undergoing knee surgery. Like all players, he’ll be re-evaluated this fall as a senior.

Another Gophers commit with four-star potential is quarterback Brennan Armstrong of Shelby, Ohio.

“Our Ohio analyst has seen him countless times; he’s 100 percent pushing for him to be a four-star kid,” said Ryan Burns, who runs GopherIllustrated.com, the local Scout affiliate.

Fleck and Co. have also been all over offering top talent so bumped up scores for current commits certainly isn’t the only way this staff could add 4 star recruits to the 2018 class.

Just how good can this class be?

It’s April, so prognosticating about where this class will end up is a bit of a fool’s errand. But I have no problems looking foolish, so here are some final thoughts/predictions:

  • There is definitely a chance Fleck brings Minnesota it’s first ever Top 25 class in the 247 Composite Rankings. I don’t know how likely that is, but I’m pretty confident we’ll be talking about this possibility as National Signing Day approaches this winter.
  • The 2018 class will represent a step forward for recruiting at Minnesota. Coach Kill made major strides before he retired in late 2015. Coach Claeys took a step back in his sole year. Coach Fleck said recruiting was priority number one and I believe that this class will show the conviction behind the commitment.
  • This will be the best class in Minnesota history in terms of the average composite rating. I expect that the variance for the class will maintain it’s record breaking “floor” and that we’ll see the high end of the distribution improve as a few even higher rated ‘croots commit. Will this mean a Top 25 ranking and the best overall team ranking in program history? I’m not sure. But I do believe that we’ll see the strongest class top to bottom that any coach has assembled at Minnesota.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really excited to see what Coach Fleck and his staff will deliver on the recruiting trail come December and February!

SKI-U-MAH!

ROW THE BOAT!