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The Problem With Evaluating Division III Talent

I received a recommendation on Twitter last night to look at tape of Justin Hill, a wide receiver out of Division III Mount Union College. (Shout out to @Revtymyers on Twitter.) The highlight video I was sent was extremely well done and does hype you up to see the guy play.

To give some context, since I assume most of you won’t know where or who Mount Union College is, they are a school of about 2,200 undergraduates located in Alliance, Ohio. They play in the Ohio Athletic Conference, and have a 95-6 record in the last seven years under coach Vince Kehres. In that seven year span, they have two national titles and have not won their conference title in only one year.

It sounds like I’m typing directly from their Wikipedia page. That’s because I am. I am also trying to illustrate an important point here that I, somebody who follows college and professional football religiously, didn’t know about this school that seems to be a powerhouse in division III. That unfamiliarity makes it difficult to evaluate just how good somebody like Justin Hill is because I don’t have a frame of reference.

Some of you, likely those from Ohio, might be screaming “everybody knows Mount Union!” This would be because of your proximity to the school and it possibly being a local sensation. I’ll give you two examples to back up my point.

 First, is North Dakota State University. Another juggernaut of a team, and producer of NFL quarterback Carson Wentz. They had eight national titles in the past decade since joining division I FCS, that’s the division below division I FBS where most big name teams reside. 

NDSU is a huge thing in Vikings country. I see people all the time with bumper stickers and such when I visit Minnesota. I receive recommendations to cover Bison players for draft profiles often. However, much like Michelob Golden Light, NDSU isn’t really known too far outside of the Upper Midwest. I could pull a hundred football fans off the street where I live; Portland, OR, and maybe ten would know the school for anything more than Carson Wentz.

My second example is even more localized. Rochester Community and Technical College, located in Rochester, Minnesota. They were crazy good at football in the mid ‘00s and maybe into the ‘10s. They may still be excellent, but since I became more focused on other things in high school, I don’t know. Isaac Fruechte, former Golden Gopher and Minnesota Viking for a week played there before going to the University of Minnesota.

For those of you in the Southeast Corner, and perhaps those who very closely follow Minnesota High School football in general, you’ll know that Fruechte was probably the best high school athlete to come out of the three rivers conference in recent memory. 

This has gotten to be a very localized example, but my point is that it’s difficult to know much about Division I FCS or even Division II teams unless you follow them very closely, and I simply don’t have time or energy to follow every small school in the country.

It’s also difficult to find tape of these guys. In my, admittedly brief search, of Youtube for Justin Hill, I have so far found a few highlight videos, and one full game tape. The highlight videos are fun to watch, and you get to see what a guy is capable of, but you have no context at all. It’s usually all unconventional angles so you don’t see how they made the play or what other players did to make it happen. The full game tape is really  the only thing I trust when evaluating because of this and the fact that a highlight tape will never show you a player’s shortcomings.

The final problem is again one of context, and this time it’s in the level of competition they are facing. When it’s a division I player, I can usually figure out just how good their opponent is. Often, I can find their specific matchups and do a quick look into how good that player is. It’s still not perfect as I’m evaluating for the NFL level, and not the college level. However, if we know just how bad or good the opponent is in context of NCAA Division I FBS, we can reasonably predict how good the player will be against NFL competition. Even that’s not very accurate though as we see so many “experts” miss on their picks every single year and, much like the NFL itself, the quality of FBS teams and players can fluctuate wildly year-to-year. 

Now imagine trying to do those evaluations and make a call on what you think of a player all without context of their individual matchups, their personal measurements (especially since there are no prodays this year and Division II and III players rarely get invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.), or even how good their opponents’ whole team is. 

I’ve now spent way too long complaining about how hard my job is, listing wikipedia facts, and making references that very specific groups of people will understand. This whole point was that I will not be doing a deep dive on any Division II or III players for this upcoming NFL Draft, and I don’t foresee it happening for future ones either.

 However, if there is a player you want me to evaluate that is not in the FBS, please reach out to me either here or on Twitter (@kjocon14) and I’ll put together an article in about a week doing as much analysis on individual players as I can. You may now return to ignoring me and everything I have to say.

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Kirby O'Connor

Kirby O'Connor is a graduate of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he studied Electronic Publishing and minored in Art. Kirby is a lifelong, die-hard Vikings fan thanks to his father. You can find him on Twitter @kjocon14.

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