Matt Rhule Took Middle-Ranked Recruiting Classes at Temple and Transformed Them Into AAC Champions
Since his time at Temple, Matt Rhule has come to be known for his ability to evaluate high school prospects; in particular, for his ability to identify players who are relatively unknown to the recruiting industry and turn them into all conference and NFL players.
When he came to Baylor, an obvious question presented itself: would Rhule continue to delve into nooks and crannies to find players when he has such easy access to the best trained high school football players in the world in Texas?
After three years of recruiting classes, we have a resounding answer: yes.
In four years, Rhule transformed Temple from a program ranking in the 100s to one in the 30s. In his 3rd season Temple made the AAC championship game and in his 4th they won it. This was above what the recruiting rankings predicted, as his recruiting classes at Temple ranked 7th, 4th, and 5th in AAC.
By definition, there are only two ways this can be done: 1) you coach-up the talent (whether through development, tactics, etc.) to become better than your competitors’ superior talent or 2) the recruiting rankings were off and the talent was better than they realized.
Undoubtedly, both were at play here. But in this article, I want to focus on the second aspect.
Rhule Places a Higher Emphasis on Camp for Finding Players
For Baylor, June is camp season, wherein high school prospects from all over country come and compete for both an opportunity to get better and potentially receive an offer. Rhule has spoken many times about how important he sees camp, as he thinks it is vital that he sees how guys perform under his coaching staff’s coaching before extending an offer.
Over the past couple of weeks, Baylor has taken five commitments from players totally off the radar of most Power 5 programs, two of whom did not even have profiles on most of the recruiting sites. They all came to camp, performed well, and earned an offer.
This strategy has caused some consternation for some Baylor fans. The class currently ranks 9th in the Big 12 on the 247 composite. Many fans undoubtedly worry that Rhule’s flirtation with the NFL or the threat of possible NCAA sanctions is impacting recruiting.
Rhule Trusts his Staff’s Evaluations and it has Already Paid Off
But some historical perspective shows that this is not the case. For the past two years, Baylor has taken commitments from relatively unknown guys that end up vaulting up the recruiting rankings as the services take notice of them. For the 2018 recruiting class, one of Baylor’s first commits was from WR Tyquan Thornton, an un-ranked player who had no other offers of significance. By the end of his recruitment he was a 4* with offers from Florida, Georgia, Miami and many others, and he went on to have a phenomenal true-freshman season at Baylor. Several other guys from the 2018 class were initially under-recruited and played pivotal roles for Baylor last year, such as WR Josh Fleeks and TE Christoph Henle.
For the 2019 recruiting class, Baylor’s best signee was Will Williams (per my eyes and others, as seen here and here) an absolute no-name from El Paso with no other significant offers. He received an offer after a reportedly awesome camp, as did fellow 2019 signees Harrison White, Qualan Jones, Elijah Ellis, Solomon Turner, Brandon White, Matt Jones, and Logan Compton.
A New Voice on the Panel
Earlier this year, Rhule hired James Blanchard as his director of scouting. The older brother of former Baylor great Travon Blanchard, James has been active in the twitter scouting community for years now, and eventually started his own recruiting service whose purpose was to find unknown players. He has been famous for saying things like “trust your eyes,” and, referring to prospects with great film but no big offers, “see a stud, offer a stud.”
Coaches, once a bigtime school offers before you do the kid isn't considered a steal anymore.. Trust your eyes, evaluate the kids skill set and make the offer. Don't Make The Process Harder Then It Has To Be.. See A Stud, Offer A Stud...— James Blanchard (@jkbtjc_53) November 29, 2017
James has a great track-record over the years, most notably sending the film of 0* Xavien Howard—now the highest paid CB in the NFL—to the former Baylor staff, and begging the former staff to offer Innis Gaines, who is now an all-conference caliber defender at TCU.
His influence is palpable, as several of the recent commits have referenced him as their primary contact when committing. In his hiring of Blanchard, Rhule seems to be doubling down on his development-heavy approach, finding talented raw athletes with lots of upside.
From No Profile to 4*?
It seems quite clear that Rhule and his staff do not first look to see what 247 sports has ranked a player before they offer a guy or take a commitment. Per my eyes, recent commit Chateau Reed, who did not have a recruiting profile anywhere, is one of the best athletes Baylor will have taken in the past few years, in the ilk of a Will Williams. A few recruiting services have already slapped a mid-3* grade on him out of ignorance, but I suspect he will continue to climb the rankings as time moves along.
Rhule Marches to the Beat of his Own Drum
As Ian Boyd noted, for Rhule, “Class after class has been stocked with lean, raw, high upside athletes. Many of them have had less than obvious projections and it’s been clear that the plan is just to get them on campus, bulk them up, and teach them football until they found their place. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy and it will likely yield dividends at some point, but they’ve been collecting lots of talents that needed real time to help them.”
Now, this is not to say that Rhule’s classes have been stocked with no-name 2*s, as his three classes at Baylor have ranked 5th, 4th, and 4th in the Big 12. But there is a certain delight in Rhule recognizing where Baylor is at and distributing resources accordingly. When he first got here, many of the top prospects in Texas were visiting, even speaking well of Baylor, and eventually committing to Texas, A&M, SEC schools, etc. Since then, he has moved on from attempting to woo the top, college-ready prospects in the state to spending that time digging deep for diamonds in the rough.
Rhule trusts his ability to evaluate and to develop. It is risky in the sense that it often takes years to determine whether you or the industry was correct. But at the end of the day he is coaching these players, and he has been willing to bet on himself.