OH LB Michael Ferns, listed as 6'3, 235ish, committed to Michigan this past Thursday after finally realizing that he wanted to compete for championships, not play for PSU or Notre Dame. Ferns becomes the first commitment in the 2014 class, beating out other rumored Michigan leans such as Malik McDowell, Damon Webb (my pick for #1), and Parker Westphaal. The hope among Michigan fans is that Ferns will take the lead of the first commitment in the 2013 class, QB Shane Morris (who committed in the Spring of his sophomore year), and serve as a sort of 'Senator' to help the staff pull in top talent for the 2014 group.
The excitement of the Ferns commitment is largely centered around his terribly impressive offer list (for a rising junior). It started with Marshall and Virginia in the fall, then piled on with the likes of Oklahoma, Michigan, Penn State, Stanford, MSU, Notre Dame, and yes, the hometown Buckeyes. This quote seems to define Ferns' feeling about Ohio State ($):
Does Ferns have interest in the Buckeyes?
"I’m interest[ed]," said Ferns. "It’s exciting but I’m going to try and take it all in before I try and make a decision next year."
Yes, interested. In the same way I'm interested in your new ringtone, and you're interested in clipping my toenails. In any case, schools like Oklahoma and Stanford held a brief place in Ferns' eyes, but a top three of Penn State, Notre Dame, and Michigan was established as Ferns desired to close his recruitment fairly early. With the sanctions at Penn State, and several good visits to Ann Arbor, Ferns finally "couldn't fight that Michigan feeling" and committed. Ferns on his decision, from the aforementioned article:
"Michigan just stuck out to me. After that second visit up there it kind of really stuck out more. I felt good the whole time I was there. I felt great and I knew it was time to make the decision."
So with an offer list like that, what kind of player is Michigan getting in Ferns? Another good all around athlete and linebacker, in the same sort of mold as 2012 LB Joe Bolden, albeit a bit bigger, and with the versatility of 2013 LB commit Ben Gedeon. While his competition isn't anything to marvel at, I still feel fairly confident in saying he'll be a quality collegiate linebacker. Ferns has good instincts, but more importantly to me, he's very patient as a linebacker. He stays in his gap and wraps up like a pro most of the time, although he can have a tendency to duck and dive. What's surprising to me is that although he's been spoiled with B1G size at a very not-BCS caliber of play, he still mostly relies on his technique and fundamentals to make plays. Many kids his size would simply lumber their way around in the hopes of making a play, which isn't something that afflicts him. I like the way he uses his hands to separate from blockers, perhaps a switch to defensive line wouldn't be out of the question if he continues to grow.
All in all, he looks and sounds very much like a SAM linebacker to me, unless he continues growing. Going into his freshman year, Cam Gordon will have left and Jake Ryan will be a redshirt senior. Chances of Ryan not taking a 5th year=very good. So what does that leave us with? Very little depth at the SLB position. Some (myself included) have suggested that Royce Jenkins-Stone projects best at the SLB position, and Ojemudia could also find his way there if he struggles to put on weight and keep up his explosiveness. Although both have been told they'd be playing the interior linebacker positions, both Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon could find their way to the strongside position, although I believe McCray is the more likely of the two. In any case, there is a lot of uncertainty at the position. If that remains when Ferns steps on campus, he should have adequate size to work his way into the 2-deep early on in his career. He's not really a boom or bust type, so I'm fairly confident he has a steady collegiate career ahead of him.
So there you have it, folks. Ferns will likely end up as top-100 type player, probably floating around the same area as a Jake Butt-Jourdan Lewis type. I don't think he'll end up a five star, but you never know. He's a low-risk, high reward type of commitment that should fit perfectly with the type of environment Hoke and his staff are attempting to create at Michigan, and he'll be a center stone to the 2014 class. All in all, there are very few negative things you can take away from this.