Michigan finally ended their recruiting drought this past Monday, when VA CB Garrett Taylor announced his commitment to Michigan. This marks the end of a rather brief recruitment that saw an offer go out in mid-February and a decision made roughly a month later. Our own Joshua Henschke covered the news on Monday.
People are pretty excited with this commitment, and I don't think it's hard to understand why. It isn't often a top-100 guy who lives 11 hours away will go from unoffered to committed in a month. Additionally, Michigan was able to land his verbal over the likes of Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, LSU and Virginia Tech. According to Scout, Taylor is the first four-star-or-better CB to leave the state since Jordan Love committed to UGA in 2009. Taylor's commitment plants another stake in an area that's becoming increasingly pro-Michigan- having sent Wilton Speight, Derrick Green, Marell Evans and Brandon Minor up north in recent years.
However, in spite of all that, I'm not quite as excited as everyone else. When I saw his ratings across the board (top 50ish, except for Scout), I assumed that I would disagree with the FoxSports affiliate as I so often have in the past. Then I put on the tape.
While it's clear that Taylor's a physical d-back, he doesn't look like a top-50 type player to me. His hips show a bit of stiffness, his closing speed is average, and I don't see much of a top gear. I've read some evaluations that put that on his footwork and other 'coachable assets', but in my experience, you more often get what you see with CBs. The kid can certainly pack a punch, don't mistake him for a 'shutdown' guy.
All of that is why I think he would make the perfect Nickel CB. In past years, Michigan has sort of tossed whatever hybrid type players they could in slot. More often than not, that player has been a promising freshman defensive back that they were just looking to get on the field. This has led to a lot of nickels that are quality coverage men but weak in the run game, or vice versa. I think Taylor provides that perfect hybrid role. He has a strong upper body, he isn't afraid to tackle anyone, and he shows better coverage skills than one could ever reasonably expect out of Jarrod Wilson or Thomas Gordon. It remains to be seen how much nickel coverage Michigan will deploy in their new-ish 4-3 over system, but if the role is there, I think he's a perfect fit. If not, there's always safety or boundary CB, but I think his playing style limits his upside in either of those positions.
Regardless of where they plug him in, he'll have to ride the pine for a while first. Don't mistake that as me anticipating a redshirt, though; as a strong tackling CB, he's almost destined to have his redshirt burned on special teams. Coming into his junior year, there'll be a vacant hole where Blake Countess played. Though I don't expect Taylor to play the field, other CBs (such as Crawford/Peppers) could move over and present opportunity. Nonetheless, he'll still have to compete with the likes of Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Reon Dawson, Brandon Watson, whatever freshmen may come after him, as well as the aforementioned Crawford/Peppers tandem. I think he ultimately finds himself some kind of role, I'm just not sure it's as prominent as others are assuming.
Plenty of observers have noted Michigan's recent emphasis on size and physicality in their CB prospects. Indeed, these two powerful backs will join a 2014 scholarship corner group with an average size (5'11ish, 177.14 pounds) the largest its been since 2010 (6'ish, 184.5 pounds). Many have projected this to lead to more opportunity for jamming and tight coverage, rationalizing Roy Manning's switch to CBs (the SAM linebacker often must deal with the releasing Tight Ends immediately off the line of scrimmage). Here's to hoping this group can be a bit more productive than the historically bad 2010 bunch (though it's hard to blame them for the failure).
Either way, Taylor's a solid pick-up early in a promising 2015 class. As the third DB in a projected small class, Michigan will probably veer away from the position group for now (although I hope they maintain a solid presence in the recruitment of Minkah Fitzpatrick). In the meantime, attention should be focused on quarterback, running back and outside linebacker.