The Opening 2015.

Recruiting. It’s a cut throat game between programs when one player can be heavily recruited by five schools out West, five schools in the South and five schools from the Midwest. It’s taxing on a player and his family to deal with for the better part of two years.

Now, one site is making a joke of the entire process all together. I am not one to get all caught up in rankings. I am pretty open about Notre Dame taking a “three-star” prospect or different recruiting services disagreeing on talent. Different eyes look at different qualities of players is probably a good thing, so fans can develop more than one opinion of a prospect.

However, 247 Sports recently dropped Notre Dame commit Tony Jones Jr. from a four-star to a three-star after The Opening and it has been somewhat eating at me.

Number one, The Opening is not designed for running backs to succeed at the event. Speed backs have a better chance of doing well, but even with a combine (40 yard dash, power ball toss, vertical jump and shuttle drill) it’s still an uphill battle for a running back to perform well the rest of the week. The backs do chase drills where a linebacker or linebackers chase down a running back from different angles and the back tries to juke or run their way out of the angle. Then the rest of the time is spent doing 7-on-7 and with the talent at The Opening at receiver, the check down throws aren’t too common.

In the case of Tony Jones Jr, he is a 5-foot-11, 210 pound running back, who can truck or scoot around him. Jones put up a 100.23 Nike Football Rating at The Opening with is in the 99th percentile of the athletes tested in his class. He ran a 4.68 40 yard dash (95th percentile), 31.1 inch vertical (80th percentile), 4.41 shuttle (87th percentile) and threw the power ball 40 feet (99th percentile). So, all in all it’s a very impressive score card for a running back that coming into the event wasn’t considered in the top group of athletes in his position group.

Number two, Jones did as well as a running could possibly do in the pass game during the 7-on-7 portion of the camp. He was doing so well, his team moved him to the slot and even outside on some plays. Trust me, there were not many running backs doing that at this camp. Jones also showed the ability to consistently find the open space and that means he was taking the right angles and leverage in his routes.

Jones also demonstrated the ability to catch the football consistently when open or in traffic. Part of his ability to catch the ball so well goes back to his baseball background. Jones is one of the top baseball players in the state of Florida and I believe that has improved his hand-eye coordination. He is able to look the ball in as well as track the ball coming to him. Not saying it’s earth shattering, but it allows him to be better in that aspect than some of his other counterparts.

I am not saying Jones was the best running back at the camp, nor am I saying he should have been moving up in the rankings based off his performance. Jones simply showed he can do the things speed backs can do in a camp setting as a power back, which is somewhat impressive.

Now back to the original point.

247 Sports dropped Jones from a four-star prospect to a three-star prospect based on this performance. I have spoken to multiple people that were at The Opening with little or no Notre Dame ties and they agreed Jones did better than expected. To add more confusion to the matter is 247 did not have either of their big boys for their Notre Dame site there in Steve Wiltfong or Tom Loy there. Both have made a name for themselves in the Notre Dame and National market for working hard and being fair in their assessments.

This means, a National analyst was specifically watching Tony Jones Jr. enough to drop him in the rankings? I don’t buy that. The Opening has 100 of the Nation’s top prospects in attendance and the National guy is watching a running back play 7-on-7 versus watching the receivers vs defensive backs and the quarterbacks? I think if that is an accurate statement then he needs to reassess what he is looking for at that type of camp.

Next, you have 247’s reasoning for dropping him which might be even more confusing.

“Notre Dame commit Tony Jones Jr. is a really good running back prospect and one that is even better in pads than he is in a camp setting, but he’s slide down to a three-star rating with an 88 grade. We just feel at this point in the process, he’s not a guy that separates in any one area. The U.S. Army All-American will have his senior season and the All-American Bowl to earn that fourth star back.” – 247 Sports on why the drop for Jones

So, Jones is a really good running back and better with pads on than he is in a camp setting. I didn’t know rankings or football players potential were now based on how they play in shorts and t-shirts. Feel free to correct me, but I thought football was played with pads? I watched the junior highlight tape on Jones and I am pretty sure he and everyone had pads on. I am sure Notre Dame, Oregon, LSU, Florida State, Ohio State, USC and even Texas Tech play with pads on Saturday afternoon’s. I have re-read that statement a thousand times and can’t justify how they are downgrading a running back from a camp setting when they state he is better in pads in the same sentence.

BUT, then I remembered that in today’s recruiting service world, hits to the website are vastly important. I know this and won’t lie, I pay attention to the hits this site gets. 247 Sports is a brand and they have been doing quite well in the area of advertisement, so much that a lot of their sites are now posting more free content than premium. So, what will drive hits? Dropping a Notre Dame commit to a three-star and maybe moving some other schools commits higher to increase excitement and viewership on that teams site seems like a good business decision. Notre Dame fans will now watch Jones all fall to see if he gets that bump and then when he doesn’t 247 will more than likely wait till the U.S. Army All-American coverage to give him the bump to increase their viewership before the National Signing Day a month later.

I am not one to criticize a business strategy, but this seems kind of crossing a line. The kids work hard to achieve these “rankings” and it’s a personal achievement when they can look back and say they were a “certain star”. For Jones, he wasn’t going to be a five-star prospect, but it’s kind of disappointing for him to be dropped, because of a good performance at a camp where he or anyone else at his position wasn’t expected to excel at.

If Jones dropped ball after ball after ball, sure I could see it. But, Jones could have caught every ball thrown to him, scored five touchdowns and ran a 4.5 40 and still wouldn’t go up in the rankings, because it’s 7-on-7. Yet, he is dropped for no legitimate reasoning other than viewership to the network. It’s a sad day for the recruiting fans out there, but get used to it, because Jones won’t be the last.

Look for Jones to play with a chip on his shoulder this fall for IMG Academy. Oh, IMG Academy is arguably the top high school program in America, who Jones will be a second-year starter for and they probably play with pads on too.