How do you evaluate players?

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How do you evaluate players?

Evaluating high school football players isn't an exact science. Nobody has a patent on the recruiting process. There are dozens of evaluating services and all of them agree to disagree on every prospect. One analyst's four-star athlete is another analyst's three-star athlete.

One thing that most critics agree on, however, is that there are four services to rely on -- longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, Rivals, Scout and ESPN. Lemming has been in the business for 32 years, far longer than anyone else.

But that doesn't mean he is right and everybody else is wrong. Examine the top 100 lists of every analyst or their lists of the top 10 recruiting classes each year and you'll see some major differences. One player's talent level is determined by one observer at a particular time, on film or in person, and each evaluator sees something different.

How do you explain, for example, that Montini wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who is committed to Nebraska and was recruited heavily by Notre Dame, was ranked as the No. 55 player in the nation by Lemming but wasn't ranked in the top 100 by Scout, the top 150 by ESPN or even the top 250 by Rivals?

The truth is Westerkamp wasn't rated more highly because, as he admitted to one and all during the recruiting process, he is a white kid playing a position that traditionally is the property of black athletes. In Lemming's view, however, Westerkamp proved himself as a consummate wide receiver.

"In three years, who will be right?" Lemming said. "He always catches everything within his frame. He has big-time speed and strength and couldn't be stopped during his high school career.

"I had the advantage of watching him play for the last two years while other services didn't. He has an uncanny knack for catching everything within his reach. He has super strong hands and concentration. He will be an impact player as a freshman at Nebraska, a go-to guy."

Lemming thinks Westerkamp made the right decision to honor his early commitment to Nebraska rather than consent to Notre Dame's late pitch.

"He made the right choice," Lemming said. "Notre Dame couldn't pass him up. But Nebraska wanted him more. They recruited him all year. He was an afterthought for Notre Dame. You should always go to the school that wants you the most, especially if they work around your talents. Let him be Jordan Westerkamp, the kid at Montini, rather than plug him into a system that he doesn't fit into."

Glenbard West defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, who is committed to Ohio State after originally being pledged to Notre Dame and Penn State, was rated No. 47 by Lemming and No. 48 by Scout and No. 64 by Rivals but No. 130 by ESPN. Bolingbrook linebacker Antonio Morrison was rated No. 69 by Lemming but No. 204 by Rivals?

Lemming said his method of evaluating players is based on his years of experience. "I have no set way. A prospect has to have size and speed for his position. He also must have the ability to be an impact player at the high school level. Production is important, too," he said.

"But I don't rate kids according to the number of scholarship offers they have. I don't elevate a kid because he signs with a big-time program. I won't be right on everybody but I have to be right on a majority.

"Remember, we are dealing with 18-year-olds. That's why some evaluations by recruiting services are so different. It is an inexact science. Everybody has different opinions. There is no set way to rank players. But it is a mistake to rank them according to offers. Production should be No. 1 over projections."

For some unexplained reasons, Lemming believes Illinois products are traditionally underrated by most national recruiting services that don't seem to spend much time in the state and don't respect its brand of football, despite the fact that Illinois is one of the leading producers of talent to the NFL.

There are two ways to evaluate an athlete, of course, by observing him in person and on film. That's why Lemming annually travels from coast to coast (and Hawaii) to personally meet with more than 1,000 prospects to evaluate their skill set, talent level, maturity, mentality and attitude.

"I like to sit down with a player, watch around 15 minutes of game film and get a reaction from him," Lemming said in his 2007 autobiography, "Football's Second Season: Scouting High School Game-Breakers."

"It helps me to understand what the player is feeling as he is making a run or a tackle. A player's true emotions come out when he watches himself on film. You can't get that feeling over a phone call and it really is the basis for a sound judgment on the kid's personality.

"It is also invaluable to have the coach in the room. He lends his expertise about the player and the coach will usually provide me with an honest appraisal. From the coach, I can find out about the player's leadership skills, his drive both on and off the field and some background on the kid's family."

What does it take to be a 5-star athlete? According to ESPN, to be designated as one of the most elite players in the class, he must "demonstrate rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game.

"They have all the skills to take over a game and could make a possible impact as a true freshman. They should also push for All-America honors with the potential to have a three-and-out college career with early entry into the NFL draft."

Rutgers looking at bringing football game to Yankee Stadium

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Rutgers looking at bringing football game to Yankee Stadium

Northwestern isn't the only Big Ten team looking to bring football to an iconic baseball stadium.

Last week, it was Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips talking about his desire to get the Wildcats back on the gridiron at Wrigley Field, and now Rutgers athletics director Pat Hobbs is talking about getting the Scarlet Knights football squad back in action at Yankee Stadium.

Hobbs and new head football coach Chris Ash threw out the ceremonial first pitch ahead of Tuesday's Yankees game, and Hobbs talked about bringing Rutgers football back to the Bronx.

"(The Yankees) want to work more closely with us," Hobbs said, his quotes published by NJ.com. "We want to look at maybe bringing a game here and announcing that sometime down the road. I guess the Yankees see Rutgers is starting to move forward and is a good story, so they want to be part of it, too."

Rutgers has played thrice previously at Yankee Stadium: one regular-season game against Army (which was a home game for the Black Knights) and two appearances in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Should Rutgers play a game there in the future, it would likely mean losing a home game in New Jersey.

Hobbs said he hopes to announce something soon, but we'll see if the Knights play a home game in the Bronx sometime in the next couple of seasons.

Until then, enjoy Hobbs and Ash throwing out that first pitch.

James Blackmon Jr. will be back with Hoosiers in 2016-17

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James Blackmon Jr. will be back with Hoosiers in 2016-17

After missing the majority of last season, James Blackmon Jr. will return to Indiana for his junior season.

Blackmon had entered his name into the NBA Draft, taking advantage of new rules allowing underclassmen to do so without hiring an agent and participate in team workouts while still being able to return to the college level with their NCAA eligibility intact.

But after learning more about his pro potential, he withdrew ahead of Wednesday night's deadline.

Getting Blackmon back will almost be like adding a completely new player for Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers won a regular-season conference championship last season without Blackmon playing in a single Big Ten game.

Blackmon shone as a freshman, averaging 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds during the 2014-15 campaign. Last year, he averaged 15.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13 games and posted significantly better shooting numbers, shooting 48 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from 3-point range.

It was reported Tuesday that Troy Williams will forego his senior year at Indiana and stay in the draft, and the Hoosiers lose their best player with the graduation of Yogi Ferrell. But Blackmon's return as well as those of Thomas Bryant and O.G. Anunoby should make Indiana a formidable threat in the Big Ten in 2016-17.

Why Cubs can't take Jake Arrieta’s brilliance for granted

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Why Cubs can't take Jake Arrieta’s brilliance for granted

ST. LOUIS – When the Cubs returned home to Wrigley Field after Jake Arrieta’s second no-hitter, veteran catcher/media go-to guy David Ross stood in front of his locker and listened to a question about whether or not he had seen anything like this before. 

Surrounded by reporters in the new state-of-the-art clubhouse, Ross immediately cited two other examples he witnessed up close during a big-league career now in its 15th and final season: Kris Medlen and Eric Gagne.  

This is not at all suggesting that Arrieta is heading toward Tommy John surgery or a performance-enhancing drugs scandal or a steep drop off the cliff. But Medlen’s narrow window of greatness and Gagne’s game-over flameout shows the Cubs can’t take Arrieta’s brilliance for granted.  

Arrieta proved he’s not a cyborg on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium, even as the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and won his 23rd consecutive regular-season start.   

Since 1913, only three other pitchers had seen their teams win 22 straight starts, according to STATS Inc.: Carl Hubbell (New York Giants, 1936-37); Whitey Ford (New York Yankees, 1950-53); and Medlen’s 23-start run with Ross and the Atlanta Braves between 2010 and 2012.    

“I don’t take it for granted,” Ross said. “When you look at the daily performance, you see him just carrying you as a team. You can’t take that for granted, because you realize it’s special. It almost adds a little bit to your energy level, because you’re expecting great things from him and you don’t want to let him down as a teammate. 

“You’re like: ‘I’d better bring my A-game, because this is our stud and he’s doing some special things and I want him to keep doing these special things.’ We don’t ever want to think that one of our guys have a chink in the armor. You just want them to keep rolling.”

Medlen appeared in only two games for the Braves in 2011 and underwent a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow in 2014. He earned a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals last year and is now on the disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation.    

Ross also caught Gagne during the 2003 season where the Los Angeles Dodgers closer went 55-for-55 in save chances and won the National League Cy Young Award, part of a run where he converted 84 consecutive saves. 

Gagne needed the Tommy John reconstruction of his right elbow in the middle of the 2005 season, bounced around to three different teams, showed up in the Mitchell Report (featuring a due-diligence e-mail from Theo Epstein to a Boston Red Sox scout) and later admitted to using human growth hormone.     

Again, this is simply a reminder to appreciate what you’re watching here. 

This was the first time Arrieta allowed a regular-season run in the first inning since May 29, 2015 against the Royals, according to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago stats guru Christopher Kamka, and the first time he allowed four runs in a regular-season game since June 16, 2015, or Kyle Schwarber’s big-league debut.   

“I’m not a big numbers guy, but I watch how he makes really good major-league hitters who get paid a lot of money (look),” Ross said. “He makes them look not very hitter-ish. I just read the swings – and the takes even. 

“Guys are taking fastballs down and away with two strikes like it surprises them. And I know that’s what 90 percent of us are looking for when you get two strikes, just trying to make some contact. The ball explodes out of his hand because he hides it so well.”

Which made it jarring to see Arrieta give up his first home run in more than six weeks when Randal Grichuk drove a ball over the right-center field fence and into the St. Louis bullpen in the second inning. Pitching coach Chris Bosio quickly visited the mound during a stoppage in fourth inning. Left-handed reliever Travis Wood warmed up in the bullpen during the fifth inning.

Arrieta escaped that bases-loaded jam when third baseman Tommy La Stella made a diving stop to his right on a Grichuk groundball and threw to second base for the third out. That was it for Arrieta, who threw 93 pitches and watched his ERA soar from 1.29 to 1.72.

“I walk to the park a lot, so you hear people talking,” Ross said. “It’s funny. It makes me laugh when you’re at a restaurant or something and you hear them talking about: ‘Yeah, Arrieta’s going today, maybe he’ll throw a no-hitter.’ It’s not that easy, people! 

“But you feel that energy in the atmosphere. And you know the other team is going to bring their best, because they understand they’re facing one of the best in the game, if not the best.”