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."

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen appreciates interview opportunities

Kevin Dineen is back with the Blackhawks but there were times this summer you wondered if another team would take him away.

The Blackhawks’ assistant coach was a major candidate for the Colorado Avalanche head coaching job, according to the Denver Post, following Patrick Roy’s surprising departure. There were probably other inquiries, too.

“It’s always nice to go through a process of talking about the way you do your business. It’s also a reflection of where you are,” said Dineen following the Blackhawks’ White-Red scrimmage on Saturday. “No. 1, you have to get permission to do that, and the Blackhawks have been great about giving me the opportunity to go out and do that. But also, when you have success, a lot of people want to get your feedback or whatever it is.”

Dineen’s name will likely come up whenever there’s a coaching vacancy. He coached the Florida Panthers from 2011-13 and coached Team Canada women’s team to a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Dineen will get another opportunity in the NHL but for now, life is good in Chicago.

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“For me, I couldn’t be happier right here,” he said. “I have a great person and hockey mind to work with in Joel [Quenneville]. But you know, down the line, those things play their way out and we’ll see where it goes.”

Arriving soon

Patrick Kane, Ville Pokka and Michal Kempny will join the Blackhawks’ training camp on Tuesday. The three finished up round-robin World Cup of Hockey play with their respective teams on Thursday.

Dineen said there’s a chance one of the defensemen, Pokka or Kempny, play in Wednesday night’s preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“They’ll get into the swing of things here on Tuesday,” Dineen said. “So that’ll give them a good rest after a long, tough September, and we expect them to hit the ice flying.”

Briefly

  • Duncan Keith will skate during one of the Blackhawks’ practices on Sunday and Monday.
     
  • Team White defeated Team Red 4-3 in Saturday’s scrimmage at the United Center. Spencer Abbott led Team White with two goals.

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

At the end of the day, a loss means essentially nothing for the Cubs right now.

But the Cubs also certainly don't want to hand games to their division rival as the St. Louis Cardinals make a run at the National League wild card spots.

After the Cubs clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs with the Washington Nationals' loss Friday night, they had no answer for the Cardinals in a 10-4 loss in front of 40,785 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon on national TV.

A few disturbing trends popped their heads above ground for the Cubs again Saturday, including the offense's struggles at manufacturing runs, Jason Hammel getting shelled and some bullpen woes.

The Cubs had no trouble putting runners on base against Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes, but they had a tough time plating those guys, cashing in only once with a runner on third base in six tries over the first four innings.

In two of those spots, a Cubs hitter came up with only one out, but failed to bring the run home as Addison Russell struck out in the first inning and Kris Bryant popped out to shallow left in the second.

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Hammel recorded only seven outs and was tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk, watching his season ERA rise nearly 30 points to 3.83. The veteran right-hander fell to 15-10 as he attempts to make a push for one of the Cubs' final postseason roster spots.

"Honestly, I would love to be a part of [the playoff roster], as the rest of the guys on the team would love to," Hammel said. "I know there's only a certain amount of spots, so if I'm handed the ball, I'll be ready. That's the way I'm gonna view it.

"Obviously you wanna be a part of something special like that, but I think everybody here has already been a part of something special to get to this point. We're all very proud. We still got eight regular season ballgames left to build some momentum. Whether I'm on the roster or not, I'm still gonna enjoy it."

Hammel was also clearly on the wrong end of some bad luck Saturday, as the four runs he allowed in the first came via a check swing and a couple hits just out of the reach of his fielders. 

Joe Maddon won't put too much stock into one rough start in late September.

"I'm not too worried about a good or bad outing right now. I'm not," he said. "Pretty much, you know who the guy is. You know if the guy's go this stuff going on or if he doesn't. ... The greater body of work matters."

Setup man Hector Rondon struggled in his appearance, needing 26 pitches to notch just one out, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Felix Pena.

Of course, it's also just one game and one loss for a team with 98 victories and hopes of the World Series.

Rondon had been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago and the Cubs offense had been efficient and relentless in the past four games after Maddon's meeting with the hitters earlier in the week.

Maddon also used the blowout to get regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Russell out of the lineup to help keep them fresh for October.

After the game, Maddon chose to look on the bright side.

"Our starter had a tough day today; that's it. Otherwise we did some nice things," he said, referencing the solid offensive days from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. "We had chances to score runs - runners on third, less than two outs - and we didn't fulfill that.

"We made their starter throw 115 pitches in five innings; I think that's a positive."

The Cubs will close out their season series with the Cardinals on another nationally-televised showdown Sunday night between Jon Lester and St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez.