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The Black Stripe Question: What Does It Actually Mean?

+21 HS
saltybuck61's picture
August 18, 2022 at 2:56pm

If you are like me, you’ve probably wondered about the meaning behind black stripes. Yes, we all know that a player getting their black stripe off means that they are officially a part of the team. The question I am referring to is: does a player getting their black stripe off early correlate with an illustrious career?

I tracked down the order of players losing their black stripes every year since 2012 along with certain statistics to see if we can find some common trends. To do this, I gathered each player’s games played, games started, games played as a freshman, games started as a freshman, and their highest role/accolade. Finally, I also gave a semi-arbitrary overall rating from 0-99 for their career, with 50 being average. While I know video games usually have something much higher as their average, 50 is an easy number to utilize.

There were a couple of constraints, notably the lack of accurate data I have for players in the early part of this period. It wasn’t until about 2017 where I was totally confident about all the statistics. 11W handy “Snap Counts” feature made this possible. Furthermore, I wanted to have a measure of performance that was apositional, and could compare quarterbacks, centers, corners, and punters all on the same metric, sort of like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in baseball. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything nearly as neat or objective. In order to attempt to have a metric for apositional comparisons, I used their highest role/accolade to represent this. Here is the criterion I used for their highest role/accolade and how I quantified it to use the data in a scatter plot:

Accolade Legend
Accolade Point Value
Did Not Play 0
Backup  1
Backup - Significant 2
Starter 3
All-B10 - Third Team 4
All-B10 - Second Team 4
Draft Pick - Late Round 4
All-B10 - First Team 5
Draft Pick - Mid-Round 5
All-American - First Team 6
All-American - Second Team 6
Draft Pick - Early Round 6

In case I thought a player was either overrated/underrated by the media or coaches, I also have an overall metric which was just a number I assigned to each player based on their impact. Both metrics are considerate of the entire player’s career, even after leaving Ohio State. Again, the purpose of the exercise here is to find out if black stripe removal has any type of predictive capability for a given player’s career.

With all of that out of the way, what does getting a black stripe early off mean? For the vast majority of these metrics, almost nothing.

Apologies for the Twitter embed, but I do not know how to do it easily any other way. Also, I have no idea if this is going to show up right.

If you squint hard enough, you can find a small correlation for most of these, though I wouldn’t consider them statistically significant. This isn’t hugely surprising, but it isn’t overly intuitive either. My assumption before going into this was that the best players would get their black stripes off first, and the players who did very little would get their black stripes off last. That can be a double-edged sword, though. The best players will often leave after three years due to going pro early, while guys who get off to a slower start can stick around five years and rack up games played, even if their work is primarily on special teams. However, there does remain a slight correlation, as guys who get their black stripe off later are usually the first to transfer to another school.

The same can be said about games started as well. Once again, the order of when a player gets his black stripe off is not important for the number of games a player starts in their career, or really the number of games that they play total. There are a few outliers here; Liam McCullough started his entire career despite being one of the last players to get his black stripe off.

The accolades and overall player rating don’t seem to mean much either. The accolades seem to correlate best, but still, the correlation is small enough where I can’t conclude it is statistically significant (r^2 = 0.07). Anecdotally, yes, some of the best players have been the first to get their stripes off. However, you can find just as many greats at the back end of the stripe order.

At this point, it really does seem like black stripes don’t mean anything at all in terms of a player’s future success. This isn’t totally true, as there is still a consistent correlation across all metrics, but it is so small as to almost be non-existent. Many players get their black stripes off late and end up being outstanding players. For every early black stripe removal like Chase Young, JK Dobbins, Nick Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Joey Bosa, there is a Malik Hooker, Parris Campbell, Marshon Lattimore, Terry McLaurin, and CJ Stroud.

There was one metric that was very predictive, however: Freshman Games Played:

The first 6-8 players often played a lot during their first year, and when they didn’t, it was due to injury. Kourt Williams was one of the first players to get his black stripe off in 2020, but he couldn’t play due to his torn ACL. He was undoubtedly enough to play, but his injury didn’t allow it. The 1st – 7th spots have all had at least one player to play 14 games their freshman year. Besides that, only the 15th and 21st spot have had a player reach 14 games played. The order of the black stripe removal is certainly correlated with early playing time, though injury dampens the effect.

That correlation was somewhat expected, however. Whenever you hear reporters discuss the black stripe, this is something that they often bring up. The bigger reveal to me was the lack of correlation for the other metrics used for this analysis. There certainly are plenty of great players to get their stripes off early, though it was revealing to discover the number of great players who got their the black stripe removed late. Sometimes guys aren’t ready straight out of high school, and it takes them a few years to reach their potential. One of the best examples is Davon Hamilton, who did almost nothing for three and a half years before have a solid end of his redshirt-junior season. Then, he exploded his senior year. Other guys were late risers too: Joe Burrow, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Josh Myers, and Johnnie Dixon all became great eventually despite not getting early playing time.

Are black stripe removals useless for fans? No, they help to preview the upcoming season’s contributors. Still, after the first year, the order of the black stripe removal means practically nothing for the rest of their careers.

This is a forum post from a site member. It does not represent the views of Eleven Warriors unless otherwise noted.

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