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Maize n' Brew Roundtable: A Look Back at Signing Day 2014

Some of the Maize n' Brew staff offer their thoughts on the 2014 Signing Day and who the Wolverines signed of note.

Gregory Shamus

Earlier this month, Signing Day 2014 came and went, and we offered up various recaps and reviews of the day. Now, a couple weeks removed, we sent around a couple emails and decided to talk about it.

How would you say the 2014 class turned out? How does it stand up to Hoke's previous classes?

Zach Travis: Overall I am pleased with the class despite the slow finish. Michigan picked up a few promising players, filled needs at some important positions, and reeled in one of the best high school players in the nation. The only strikes against this class are that it is small (although Michigan didn't have many scholarships available to begin with), and that it lacks the top-end talent that it could have had if Michigan was able to close a little better. Overall I would give it a B if we were assigning letter grades, and I might even consider moving that up to a B+.

Anthony Mammel: The coaching staff did a much better job in this cycle than most fans will admit. Hoke and company did work early on in the cycle and secured a very talented class that was limited from the beginning because of the scholarship cap; unlike Alabama and Texas A&M, Michigan can’t afford to take eight extra bodies and boot kids from dorm rooms after the fact.

When looking at sheer numbers, this class is relatively weak in comparison to Hoke's first two full classes. Yes, the staff could have closed on Malik McDowell or Da'Shawn Hand, but securing one of those two superstars still wouldn’t have raised the amount of four-star talent to the point in this class to the point where it would compete with the previous two classes. That said, the class is still very talented for being a small class. Again, go to Rivals or Scout and sort the rankings by quality (star average) if you're looking for statistical proof that Michigan did well on the recruiting trail.

DGDestroys: This seems like a cop out of an answer, but I would say it's exactly what you might expect. We got some really nice commitments early on from Mason Cole, Drake Harris, Michael Ferns, Maurice "Moe" Ways and Jabrill Peppers. As the season wore on, it was clear we lost a lot of momentum - and as I've said a billion times before, recruiting is all about momentum. We missed on guys who would have solidified this as another ace class from Hoke (McDowell, Hand), which was disappointing. It wasn't a bad class by any means, but if you don't think this is a bit of a disappointment by the standards we've recently come to appreciate, then I think you're lying to yourself.

Joshua Henschke: I think overall, the 2014 class turned out to be a solid class for Michigan. It doesn't have that star-studded flair - save for one player in particular - but it filled needs and I believe that is the most important thing.

Big House Jack: Comparatively, it's hard for me to see this class as anything more than a disappointment. Both of Hoke's recruiting classes for 2012 and 2013 were ranked top ten in the nation and, overall, generated much more buzz and excitement. This one is considerably smaller and lower ranked. We were close to getting some big time prospects that could have shortened the gap between us and teams like Ohio State, but we didn't. Individually, however, this class is pretty solid, given the few numbers. Five star cornerback Jabrill Peppers certainly helped boost a ranking that would have otherwise fallen to the low 30s. Despite having six to eight fewer prospects than other Big Ten teams, Michigan nonetheless pulled in the No. 2-ranked class in the conference.

What would you say has been the biggest surprise of the recruiting off-season leading up to 2014's Signing Day? Did anything surprise you on Signing Day itself?

Zach: I think the biggest surprise is that Michigan struck out with both Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell. The Wolverines looked to be in the driver's seat for both for a long time, and to have things fall apart at the end is disappointing. I don't think the product on the field is 100% of the issue, but it certainly didn't help and some of the luster has come off of Michigan's recruiting pitch.

Anthony: The biggest surprise is that there were no surprises. I came into signing week expecting Michigan to offer a little-known defensive end prospect or another offensive tackle, but the staff did nothing for the class of 2014 and decided to put more eggs in the 2015 basket. Malik McDowell chose the school everyone thought he would choose, Michigan inked all of its commitments in what felt like record time, and we all sat at home wondering how signing day turned out to be so damn bland.

DGDestroys: If we're talking about B1G recruiting, I'm not sure there was anything especially surprising about how things turned out. OSU, PSU, and MSU finished strong, but none of those should be surprising. OSU is always going to recruit well, PSU got Vanderbilt's James Franklin, and MSU had one of the best years in program history. If you look at things from more a national scope, I was a bit surprised that Texas didn't finish stronger. I understand coaching turnover is going to detrimentally impact any class, but new Texas Longhorn head coach Charlie Strong has always been known as an ace recruiter - I thought he would have grabbed a couple of big names with the momentum from his hire. I was also pleasantly surprised that Western Michigan managed to hold on to such a strong class after such a miserable year on the field.

Josh: If you were enamored with the play of Da'Shawn Hand like I was, it was fairly shocking to see Hand choose Alabama. From all the speculation that seemingly had him a lock to Michigan, it was tough to see them miss out on a talent like that. My biggest surprise on Signing Day was how quickly Jabrill Peppers sent in his LOI. I was afraid of Peppers having a sudden change of heart, but fortunately that didn't happen.

Jack: The biggest surprise to me was just how much going 7-6 affected us. Before the 2013 season, we were the picture of optimism: favorites to represent the now-defunct Legends Division, five star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand heavily leaning towards committing, a pair of five stars in wide receiver George Campbell and running back Damien Harris already committed for 2015, and Devin Gardner getting the chance to shine after he closed out 2012 better than expected. Then the season went bad and suddenly all these nice things went away. We lost the division to Sparty, Hand committed to 'Bama, Campbell and Harris both decommitted, and Gardner finished 2013 with a crushed soul and a broken ankle. I refuse to believe that the season had no effect on this 2014 class.

Furthermore, it was an even bigger surprise that the staff didn't (or couldn't) do more to finish strong. Michigan did not ink any new commitments in the final months before Signing Day. The Wolverines brought on Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator, which created some buzz, but he didn't provide quite the shot in the arm to Michigan's recruiting that we had hoped -- at least, not in the short term. I'm just baffled that Michigan wasn't able to recover from any of the negatives of 2013, when other programs have in their times. Notre Dame went 3-9 under Charlie Weis back in 2007 and no one jumped ship in recruiting there. Ohio State had the Jim Tressel scandal, and Urban Meyer pulled in the No. 2 ranked class in the country mere weeks after he was hired. Penn State inked great players in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Aside from making a coaching change, Michigan's staff didn't show much resilience to the adversity that plagued them throughout the season and didn't try to bounce back. That definitely surprised me.

Besides Jabrill Peppers (although you can choose him if you want), who are you most excited about Michigan signing in this class?

Zach: Freddy Canteen. I think Canteen could be a contributor early because of how much Michigan needs slot receivers. However, it isn't all based on need. Canteen has unbelievably quick feet and good hands, and he spent all last year's camp season running circles around defensive backs. I think Michigan got a steal when they picked up Canteen; I also like his high school teammate Brandon Watson, who signed with Michigan as well.

Anthony: The obvious names are Jabrill Peppers, Drake Harris and Bryan Mone, who all received their fair share of media hype at one point in time. But two names I’m extremely excited about are Chase Winovich and Maurice Ways.

It baffles me that no one seems to recognize just how high of a ceiling Chase Winovich possesses. He has prototypical SAM length–a position on Michigan’s roster that is lacking in depth and players who fit the mold. He has elite straight-line burst for such a long linebacker and will be able to get to the edge for his entire career, and he hasn't even scratched the surface when it comes to strength and weight gains. It’s only a matter of time before he’s pushing 240 pounds and looking like Jake Ryan reincarnated.

Maurice Ways also excites me. The young man hasn't been playing football for long – he hasn't even been truly focused on football for two full years yet – and he can still make huge improvements in on-field awareness and ball skills despite making massive leaps in those categories during his final high school season. He already has the physical build of a dominant college wide receiver and could surprise some people by contributing earlier than Freddy Canteen or Ian Bunting.

DGDestroys: This one's hard. I'd have to say Drake Harris. It's been a while since Michigan has had a talented, big receiver with speed. He'll probably contribute early, especially if Amara Darboh is slow to come back from injury. Jehu Chesson has always been billed as the big guy with speed, but he lacks the elite receiving skills Harris brings to the table, and he's also still pretty lanky (which, of course, Harris is as well).

Josh: I'm excited to see how to wide receiver talent will play out at Michigan. Guys like Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris and Moe Ways fill immediate needs at receiver and may also see some immediate playing time this coming season. Having Canteen and Harris come in as early enrollees is a huge plus for Michigan.

Jack: Without a doubt, I'm stoked about Drake Harris. He's a local kid who I got to see personally and he just lit it up in high school. Granted, we'll have to see how that translates to the college game. Even though Jeremy Gallon has graduated -- which is a huge loss -- I am very relieved that Drake Harris is coming in as an early enrollee, and we'll get to see him in spring practice. He could eventually be the No. 1 receiver.

Who in your estimation -- either from watching highlight tape, reading recruiting profiles, seeing general media buzz or lack thereof -- is the most underrated recruit in the 2014 recruiting class?

Zach: I don't quite know who of the traditional recruits is the most underrated, but I think Michigan's one gray-shirt pickup, Brady Pallante, could have a bright future. I doubt be has the size to be a star, but he is short, powerful, and has been wrestling for years. If Michigan's strength and conditioning staff can get Pallante over 300 pounds, he could be a reliable plug in the middle at nose tackle.

Anthony: This is tough to answer, but I’m going to go with quite possibly the most obvious choice in defensive tackle Brady Pallante, who I didn’t even scout until the night before signing day. (Sad, I know.) Barely coming in at six feet tall, he’s not your typical defensive tackle recruit. He has very sound technique for such a young defender and will give Michigan’s offensive line fits in practice early on in his career, and I think he could go on to become a poor man’s Mike Martin in the long run. We’ll certainly take that given his two-star rating.

DGDestroys: I think there's one obvious candidate in the class, and it's Moe Ways. Whether it's because he committed early, his quarterback is really talented, he didn't hit the camp circuit, most of his tape is fly routes - I don't know, but for some reason, most services had him ranked as a generic three star, even after his impressive senior highlights came out. I don't think he has the same upside as Harris, but he really lacks any substantial flaws. In my evaluation of him, I mentioned I was concerned about hip stiffness and a lack of quickness, but he really seems to have improved on both of those.

Josh: Even before he was offered, I felt Moe Ways was criminally underrated, and I still feel that way. He has great size for a receiver and has solid hands. I've watched a good portion of his film and feel that he could be a great deep threat for Michigan. He doesn't have pure blazing speed, but he's quick enough to make some cuts and make a defender miss. I'm excited to see what he can do once given the opportunity. One could also make a case for Bryan Mone as being underrated at first, but his recruitment started getting hot when it was too late for everyone else. He will prove to people that Michigan found a stud before everyone else.

Jack: Well, the consensus here appears to be between Brady Pallante and Moe Ways, and I'd have to agree. But if I am to offer up a few players that I think are also underrated, tight end Ian Bunting and defensive end Lawrence Marshall intrigue me. Both are not rated consistently on the various sites, but both seem to have huge upside. I like Bunting's size for a tight end -- he's 6'6"(!), 210 lbs. If he can be as good a receiver as Devin Funchess and a better blocker -- whoa. Lawrence Marshall got outshined by Malik McDowell but is a very good pass rusher in his own right. I think in the long term, fans will be happy to hear Marshall's name mentioned quite a bit.

Who, if anyone, is overrated?

Zach: I wouldn't say that any player is overrated, mostly because everything we think about the future for these guys is purely speculative anyway. The one thing I will say is that I don't think Drake Harris walks in and has as big a role in the offense as some people seem to think. For those expecting Harris to be a big factor in the rotation at WR, I think it is important to remember that he spent his entire senior year injured. Now he has to come back from that and beat out Devin Funchess, Jehu Chesson, and Amara Darboh, all of whom have two years in the program. I don't see it happening for Harris this year.

Anthony: The only player who I personally believe falls under this category is linebacker Michael Ferns. He is big, muscular and dominant between the tackles, but I can see him struggling mightily in pass coverage at the next level. You’re going to lose playing time in today’s game if you can’t cover space.

Josh: I don't think anyone Michigan picked up is overrated. I'm thinking more along the lines of being overhyped by fans. I'm just afraid of a meltdown by some Michigan fans if Jabrill Peppers doesn't live up to his astronomical expectations his freshman season. Granted, Peppers appears to be the real deal on film, so he lives up to the hype. It will also be very disappointing if his game does not translate to the next level.

Jack: I know I'm probably going to get crucified for saying this, but is Jabrill Peppers really the next Charles Woodson? The consensus that he's beyond awesome is so utterly unanimous -- not just by Michigan fans, but by rivals, recruiting experts and analysts, and scouting sites across the country -- that I just can't help but feel a little skeptical about it. Everything that people are saying about Jabrill Peppers I wholeheartedly believed was true for Dymonte Thomas, who came in with the 2013 recruiting class. I firmly believed that Thomas would be a world-beater even as a true freshman, and that turned out to be wrong. I hope that Peppers can come in and be everything fans expect of him, but after all this ridiculous hype I personally won't be surprised if he's a bust.

Does this recruiting class affect, positively or negatively, your expectations for the 2014 season, if at all?

Zach: No. Michigan is finally at the point where its game day roster doesn't rise and fall with its recruiting classes. Nobody here in this class should play out of necessity. If someone earns time on the field it will be because he is that much better than the guys ahead of him. Michigan has a couple players (Peppers, Canteen) that should push into the lineup, but most of these guys are going to spend year one on the bench like they should.

Anthony: The top end of this class has to make you positive about the 2014 season. Michigan could replace every last recruit in this class with inferior players so long as it keeps Jabrill Peppers, and this class would still make Michigan’s roster better for one year. He has a combination of brute strength, speed, ball skills and awareness that will make him lethal in college football during his freshman year and beyond, and I've been saying for months that he’s the best player in the class.

In addition to Peppers, Drake Harris and Ian Bunting both help Michigan’s roster on day one. Harris desperately needs to add muscle and work on his blocking, but he’s going to give Michigan someone who can go up and find the deep ball in its opening game, which is something it hasn’t had in quite some time (at least at the WR position). Bunting’s presence will lessen the negative effects that Michigan will suffer from due to the loss of Jake Butt to a torn ACL.

DGDestroys: I don't see any way this will really impact the upcoming season. Unless there was some glaring hole that we didn't fill (I don't see any), it's hard to see a recruiting class negatively impacting the upcoming season. As far as positively... well, maybe Jabrill will break a few big plays on special teams, but that's about the extent of my expected contributions. Hopefully they outperform that.

Josh: I don't think this recruiting class will have any type of effect on the upcoming season. Michigan needs a successful season in the worst way, so maximum effort needs to be given by all players.

Jack: Probably not. We learned from 2013 not to count on freshmen to take Michigan to the next level. Either all of these highly rated youngsters simply weren't ready for the college game, or they were way overrated, or the staff doesn't do a good job of developing talent. There aren't any easy answers, but Hoke and his staff will have to find them quickly. I'm not expecting any freshmen to impact except outside of maybe one or two.

What are Michigan's biggest needs going forward in the 2015 recruiting class?

Zach: I personally would like to see Michigan devote some time to the defensive line. The 2014 class was shorter on top DL talent than many expected early on, and championship defenses are built on great defensive lines. Also, I think it is a really big need for Michigan to reel Damien Harris back into the class. He is a big time recruit that is still really high on Michigan and could go to either Ohio State or an SEC power if he doesn't end up in Ann Arbor. Michigan needs a recruiting win against those two forces.

Anthony: Michigan needs at least one elite offensive tackle prospect, a long, athletic end capable of playing both spots, a quarterback and one to two running backs, among its usual roster filling.

DGDestroys: There are the obvious 'we need to grab some every year' (1 QB, 1 RB, several OL, several DL, position flexible LB/DB), but outside of that, here's what I'm thinking:

Free Safety: For some reason, we passed on Montae Nicholson. Right now, we have Jarrod Wilson and Jeremy Clark. We need to bring in a rangy type this class.

Weakside Linebacker (WILL/WLB): Sure, we got Jared Wangler, but I'm not too high on him. By the time the 2015 class steps on campus, Ben Gedeon will be a junior. We need some young talent here.

Strongside Defensive End: Missing on Malik McDowell and Da'Shawn Hand hurt. We need to grab a couple of these types next year.

Running Back: Yeah, I mentioned it above, but we need numbers here. Michigan has 4 RBs on the roster, and Justice Hayes is a redshirt junior. With 2 years of separation between 2015 prospects and U-M sophomores Derrick Green or De'Veon Smith, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to attract talented backs like Mike Weber (or Damien Harris, although I've said before that I think the divide between the two of them talent-wise isn't as big as most people judge it to be).

Josh: I feel that you can never have enough line help on both sides of the ball. The defensive line is a bit thin right now, so added emphasis on targeting line help is always a positive. With one offensive lineman committed already, I could see Michigan doing what they did with the 2014 class and take two offensive lineman in 2015 to bolster the depth.

Jack: I'd like to see Michigan get more numbers on the offensive line and defensive line. Those two areas just seem to be our biggest bugaboo these last few years. If Michigan can get the lines stable and secure over the next few recruiting classes, I'll feel much better about this staff going forward. I'd also like to see them take a top quarterback in the 2015 class, someone to eventually come in when Shane Morris is a junior. Getting commitments back from George Campbell and Damien Harris wouldn't hurt, either.

What say you, Maize n' Brew readers? Have a thought or two about Signing Day 2014? Who were the biggest gets? Who were the biggest misses?

Share your opinions in the comments.