Deveon Smith, listed as 5'11, 210ish, committed to Michigan on Saturday during his visit. Smith is a kid who has been on the mind of many Michigan fans ever since he was first offered by the UM staff, his first. He's been the topic of many debates among Michigan fans, most centering around the assumption that a Smith commitment would mean no chance at super-recruit Ty Isaac, a thought which has since been proven wrong.
Smith was a bit of a late surprise with regards to the recruiting process. His offer from Michigan came in December, after relatively little hype among Ohio recruit-niks. After camping in Columbus, he picked up an offer from Urban Meyer. The two offers highlighted a relatively unimpressive list, which was followed up by Indiana, Purdue, West Virginia, and Bowling Green. His rankings are similarly sporadic; Scout has him as the #7 RB in the country and a 4*, ESPN has him on their 150 watch list, while Rivals and 247 have him as middling 3*s. To me, it's understandable. Smith represents a fundamental argument when it comes to rating and offering RBs; how much speed is enough speed? Is there a minimum threshold for success, with regards to college football? Those who say the answer is no, and choose to look more towards a system fit, would be more bullish towards the Smith commitment, ala Scout and ESPN. Obviously, the reverse is true of Rivals and 247.
Those same fault lines exist in the minds of Michigan fans and writers across the blogosphere, some of whom feel that Smith has been massively shafted by the likes or Rivals, while others feel that such skepticism is well deserved. Per normal, the skeptical writer has 118 comments calling him a moron. That's not to say I completely agree with Magnus. With regards to Smith's ability, I take the typical, boring, non-inflammatory outlook; that is to say I believe the truth lies somewhere in between. I'd disagree with Ace in his statement that Rawls and Smith are the only running backs capable of handling a featured workload when Toussaint leaves, which paves the path for Smith. In the same way that smaller running backs are often limited in their workload because of their inability to block or the difficulty they have staying healthy, I don't see Smith as a truly explosive feature back. I would disagree with Rawls as well, but that's another discussion.
In my opinion, a lot of people simply choose to ignore Smith's lack of speed. I think the lack of agility and elusiveness that Drake Johnson has to overcome is similar to Smith's stumbling blocks to get on the field. Both are fairly large obstacles in the way of becoming an elite option at the tailback position, but I suppose both couldhypothetically be mitigated or minimized by a successful S%C program.It does happen. Have you ever seen Le'Veon Bell's high school highlights? That's one of the slowest high school tailbacks I think I've ever seen. However,once he began to go through more conditioning and training at MSU, he became a key member of a terrifying stable of backs. Is it the exception instead of the rule? Sure. But it happens.
However, to point-blank deny Smith's other significant assets because of his speed would be a mistake. He's one of the hardest runners I've seen at the high school level. In my day, when the NFL was much more oriented around the power-run, high school players were trying to emulate the hard hitting, rough and tumble runners that they saw every Sunday. Nowadays, who are the most idolized and successful runners? Trent Richardson? A strong runner, but he'd be nothing without his speed and shake. LaMichael James? In the NFL, you have guys like Chris Johnson? Arian Foster? Lesean McCoy? Ray Rice? I know people will throw out other names, but I think they're in the minority. Nowadays, kids want to shake you out of your shoes and outrun you, instead of running over you. The kind of hard-hitting mentality that you see in Smith's game simply isn't common. Even our other 'power back' commitment this year, Wyatt Shallman, has a tendency to try to juke you out of your shoes at 250 pounds, instead of running over you. Some people will underestimate a kid's mentality, but in my experience, it doesn't often change throughout college. If you ran for 1000 yards in high school because you consistently got to the edge and outran everyone, you're going to do the same thing in college. Something like that takes a long time and a lot of coaching to change. He sinks low and delivers the blow instead of taking it, and he has a mighty stiff arm.
When he gets on campus next year, I think he'll likely be able to redshirt. Fitzgerald Toussaint will be a senior, Rawls most likely a junior, with some combination of Drake Johnson/Dennis Norfleet/Justice Hayes directly behind them. When Toussaint leaves, the coaches will either try to platoon the backfield, or hope one of the above steps out from the rest of the pack. Unfortunately, right now, all of them are significantly limited in some way or another, which is why I think Ty Isaac remains one of the most important recruits left on the board. In any case, Smith will have no shortage of chances to take over the feature back role, and hold it for the duration of his career.
So there you have it, folks. While limited by his speed, Smith still runs with an angry mentality that you don't see all too often, in modern times. The staff has now gained the commitments of two big backs in this class, with Shallman as the other. However, they maintain that they wish to bring another back into the fold. Unless they are able to convince CA RB Justin Davis or TN RB Jordan Wilkins to come in on a visit, that other back will either be Green or Isaac. I suppose you can't go wrong there, can you?