When I first wrote that Paul Johnson is a severely underrated recruiter way back in late May, the Jackets were coming off of an underwhelming 7-6 season and riding a two-game losing streak into what promised to be a long and depressing offseason. Tech was, after all, losing most of its offensive line, its quarterback, and just short of the entire defensive line. The outlook for the 2014 season was looking glum, but one factor did have the ability to save the day: Paul Johnson's ability to recruit players that fit his system. What happened next is just 11 wins worth of history.
We can preach and whine all we want about the lack of highly-rated recruits that Georgia Tech brings in, but that doesn't change the fact that every player who sets foot on the Flats is ready, willing, and able to contribute to Paul Johnson's team regardless of media-assigned stars. I've said it a million times before and I'll say again: when a talent evaluator goes to watch a high school prospect, he or she sits down and decides how well that recruit would do in a traditional college or professional-level offense. A three-star recruit for many teams is a top-of-the line pickup for Paul Johnson, and this 2014 season provides numerous examples of just why that is. Shall we go down the list and see how highly rated some of Tech's biggest contributors were coming out of high school?
Offense: Zach Laskey (**), Tony Zenon (**), Synjyn Days (***), Freddie Burden (***), Shaq Mason (***), Deon Hill (***), Charles Perkins (***), Darren Waller (***)
Defense: Adam Gotsis (**), Paul Davis (**), DJ White (***), Jamal Golden (***), Quayshawn Nealy (***), Isaiah Johnson (***)
That list just scratches the surface, but it's more than enough to prove my point.
I'd like for all you reading this to go ahead and take a moment of silence for the dignity of anyone who still wants to argue that Paul Johnson can't find and develop suitable talent for his offense. The 2014 Yellow Jackets set the record for most efficient offense in college football history, and did so with a grant total of one four-star player in the starting lineup (Justin Thomas). Every other player was rated three stars or lower coming out of high school, but Paul Johnson and his staff sniffed them out and made them into contributors.
Another thing that Paul Johnson did an admirable job of this season was getting to recruits before anyone else. He has found a perfect loophole for dealing with negative recruiting and the many obstacles of recruiting for a school like Georgia Tech, and that loophole is getting to recruits before anyone else and securing their commitments before the factories even notice that they exist. This has been a large part of why this season's recruiting rank was so high for so long; it resided in the top 20 for much of the cycle. Look at guys like Nathan Cottrell and AJ Gray, who committed early and have since seen their rankings skyrocket as they garnered more and more national attention. While Nick Saban's recruiting staff was at the Ferrari dealership searching for their top target's new car, Paul Johnson's staff was scouring the lowlands in search of the next Attaochu or Laskey. It paid off.
The last point I'll make on the matter is the character of this 2014 Tech team. The added emphasis on chemistry that Paul Johnson appears to have had did even more to negate the lack of pure athletic talent of the team, and that says as much about Johnson's recruiting ability as anything. Finding athletes is one thing, but finding athletes who fit the bill character-wise is even more of a challenge. I'll even go on record saying that the slew of dismissals we had this offseason allowed Tech to experience the success they did in 2014. Kicking out those distracting guys was a blessing in disguise.
While Johnson still hasn't brought in the flashiest athletes to play in his system, he has proven time and time again that he knows what he's doing on the recruiting trail. Hopefully the 2014 season and the 2015 recruiting class will be enough to finally put this foundationless stereotype that Paul Johnson can't recruit to bed for good.
Our head coach is an underrated recruiter, and he is slowly making that Opinion Week post into fact.
What has 2014 told you about Paul Johnson as a recruiter?