Recruits say NFL development, coaches matter more than NIL

On3 imageby:Jeremy Crabtree07/27/22

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For decades, it’s been somewhat easy to figure out the reasons why elite college football recruits made their decisions. Yet, with the advent of NIL, some say the decision-making process of top recruits has been seemingly turned upside down.

Top football coaches across the country – from Penn State’s James Franklin to USC’s Lincoln Riley to Ole MissLane Kiffin – have suggested that college recruiters can’t compete against a lucrative NIL deal. Furthermore, many coaches say NIL has become the ultimate recruiting tool through “pay-for-play” deals.

But are the coaches right?

Normally, recruits turn to things like distance from home, a program’s history and tradition, coaching staff and NFL development, a school’s academics, or even early playing time when deciding. So, how has NIL changed that? Has NIL surpassed things that normally matter the most for recruits?

“NIL is short money,” one top defensive prospect told On3. “I’m trying to get to the league. I’m trying to get that second [NFL contract]. At the end of the day, the good players are going to get paid wherever they’re at. I know if I go somewhere and make plays, I’m going to get paid.”

Is that the norm?

To find that answer, On3 deployed an exclusive survey in June and July to get honest and unfiltered feedback from star high-school prospects about how NIL impacts their recruitments. On3 surveyed 85 of the players ranked in the top 200 of the On3 Consensus. On3 asked the prospects a series of 11 questions with additional follow-up queries based on their initial responses. The survey received responses from prospects in the top 25 talent-producing states in the country, with a proportional concentration from top talent states like Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and Louisiana. On3 also conducted follow-up interviews after the results were tabulated for additional analysis. We gave the recruits anonymity in interviews and on the survey so they could speak freely on the subject.

Coaching staff, NFL development No. 1 factor in decisions

One of the most important questions from the survey asked the top recruits to rank in order of importance what they care most about when picking a school.

Overwhelmingly, the top response was coaching staff and NFL development. In fact, 71 of the recruits surveyed listed coaching staff and NFL development as the top factor in picking a school. From there, academics were second, scheme fit/early playing time was third, tradition/history was fourth, facilities were fifth, NIL was sixth and distance from home was seventh.

Recruits value long-term value over short-term NIL gains

When interviewing four and five-star recruits about what matters most and how NIL fits into their decision-making process, the words “long term” and “development” were mentioned time and time again.

Almost every prospect On3 visited with was well aware of the splashy headlines that talked about a five-star recruit reaching a potential $8 million NIL deal. Five-Star Plus+ quarterback and USC commit Malachi Nelson has also become the face of NIL for football recruits with his NIL deal with The h.wood Group. Yet, when conducting follow-up interviews, multiple star recruits said they value their long-term potential to earn big bucks over short-term gains that could come from picking a school because of NIL.

A heralded offensive player echoed the sentiment that NIL is a short-term gain. The lucrative gains will be determined by development and performance.

“If you’re going to be balling on the field wherever you go, it’s going to come with time,” the recruit told On3. “It’s not really a huge factor for me and my family because I know as I progress in my career the money is going to be there.

“For me, the biggest things are the academics, athletics and how I’m going to be developed into a complete player, a complete person … a complete man. That’s the most important stuff to me. The NIL will probably fall into the bottom tier because I know that’s going to come over time.”

Player development is going to ‘get you the big money’

A top quarterback prospect also said NIL was toward the bottom of the factors in his recruitment.

“I tried to value other things,” he said. “Obviously player development is one of the top things because that’s what is going to get you the big money once you get to the league.

“I don’t focus on NIL now. Because the stuff that’s promised now might not be given to me unless I go out and start a game. Once I go out and start a game, ball out and stuff like that, all those opportunities will come naturally just from that.”

A blue-chip line recruit said most top prospects value coaching much more than other factors, including NIL.

“I chose my schools I visited because I know all the other stuff is right,” he said. “There is going to be good development. It’s a good place. They have great resources and stuff like that. When you get to that point, you can start thinking about the other stuff like NIL.

“You have to make sure you’re going to a school that doesn’t lack all the things you need like a good O-line coach or a good receiver coach. You’re going to need to make sure those are there before you start thinking about going somewhere with NIL.”