Ranking Harbaugh's Commits, Pt. 1
Nothing about Harbaugh has been quiet, but the end of June quietly served as the six-month marker for his time in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh's hire was met with an explosion of excitement from Michigan fans, and those who followed recruiting expected big things in that department.
As it turns out, recruiting has been something of a mixed bag. Some fans have been happy, while others have bemoaned the presence of two-star pledges. While not exactly conventional, it's become apparent that the engine for Michigan's success will be the coaches - an All-Star lineup of coaching talent who can mold the high-intensity players that train under them. The belief that effort trumps all, and a hierarchy of leaders and followers, would once again be sewn into the university's 3,100 acres of land. The program has, essentially, reconnected with the slogan, "those who stay will be champions" - not only in the work promised, but the trust in higher powers as well.
Still, while things like effort can overcome high school shortcomings, the fact remains that some recruits offer more promise than others. In going through all the available media I could find on all the players to commit under Harbaugh, my general conensus aligned with that of the recruiting sites: basically, you'll find a lot of four-stars in the top ten, and two-stars further down. At the same time, this ranking will try to correct some of the more well-known flaws of sites like Rivals, Scout, and 247, and it will also be simply another pair of eyes.
1. Zach Gentry (Rivals: 5.9) Quarterback - 2015
It would be hard to find a more hyped statement than this: his frame is reminiscent of Cardale Jones, but the intuitive comfort in avoiding tacklers and running in space brings Braxton Miller to mind. Simply put, Gentry is a great, great prospect, and I'm not surprised to hear the coaching staff is similarly high on his abilities.
Upon closer inspection, a few other things stand out about his game. He likes throws to the boundary far downfield, which are some of the most difficult throws for a quarterback to make. He shows good timing on those throws. Unlike many mobile quarterbacks, he keeps his eyes downfield when scrambling and tends to make good decisions between run or pass. Gentry also throws accurately on the run. This might be coincidental, but the result of all this is that Gentry rarely takes dangerous throws; he's always looking for a big play (one-on-one deep) or space to run while avoiding tough throws into a place full of defenders. He can zip the ball into tight spaces as well, though this might be his weakest area and he tries not to.
Finally - the athleticism. He's not blessed with breakaway speed in the same way as Braxton, but he is intuitive in juking out players to make them miss, then running by them in a hurry. Being 6'6", 230 (and possibly as high as 6'8", 240) would seem to imply that he can take some hits; however, he doesn't intentionally subject himself to body blows for minimal gain. This is a rare prospect with physical gifts, but also an understanding of when and how best to use them. There are things he needs to clean up - certain technical issues, and understanding more complex offenses and defenses - but the comfort level he's shown so far is encouraging.
2. Michael Onwenu (Rivals: 5.8) Offensive Line, Defensive Line - 2016
His junior year, Onwenu stood out the most as a defensive line prospect; however, word out of summer camps has been that things have clicked for him on the offensive side. Here was some analysis of how he fared at The Opening Chicago Regional:
Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech Top247 offensive guard Michael Onwenu played three different positions and was dominant at all three.
Offensive guard, his projected position on the next level, the 6-foot-3, 365-pound Onwenu was a force at the point of attack, showing he could handle different styles of defensive tackles throughout the day, whether it was a big, quick prospect like four-star Naquan Jones, or the shorter, more powerful Brice Brand. Onwenu can get it done a number of ways, whether it's just burying opposition or redirecting the pressure.
My instincts initially were that Onwenu would be a nose tackle, and I don't think I was the only one with that assessment. Besides, the heaviest defensive prospect Jim Harbaugh has recruited so far, other than Michael Onwenu, stands at 245 pounds.
If Harbaugh has showed us anything, though, it's that making assumptions this early about where prospects end up would be folly. The Wolverines are still recruiting for the 2016 cycle (including Rashan Gary), and Signing Day is a full season's worth of games away. Many things will look differently, for better or worse, by next February.
Regardless of position questions, it's encouraging that Onwenu has attacked the challenge of playing on the offensive line as well as he has. If he ends up on defense, he'll be a road-stuffing and controlling force. If he ends up on offense... he'll be a run-grading, controlling force. This is a pretty easy pick to make.
3. Ben Bredeson (Rivals: 6.0) Offensive Line - 2016
Bredeson, a 6'4", 280-pound tackle out of Wisconsin, has been called one of the best line prospects in the Midwest. Once he gets into a college S&C program, he has a great chance to be one of the best linemen in college.
He has some positional flexibility, but between his height and skills I see Ben ending up at guard. He's tenacious against defenders, driving them into the ground every chance he can get. Even though he already has plenty of strength, another couple years could see him balloon up to 310 or 320 pounds and hold his own against college nose tackles.
My favorite part of his repertoire is that he's great in space; he always gets his hands on smaller defenders and immediately changes their trajectory. He has the footwork to track and keep up with anybody, and can maintain leverage and power even in between steps. Between the pile-driving, the tenacious attitude, and the overall athleticism, I could see Ben turning into a great all-around player that Wisconsin will wish they had.
4. Ron Johnson (Rivals: 5.9) Defensive End, Linebacker - 2016
This is generally true for a lot of elite prospects, but Ron Johnson's high school film truly shows a man amongst boys. He's strong as a tree, athletic out in space, and extremely quick in short spaces.
Johnson also shows some very solid handwork and long, powerful arms, capable of delivering a withering punch to free up space from attempted blockers. He is up to 6'4", 240 pounds now, and his strength makes him a candidate for early playing time. He will be able to guard his responsibilites in the run game, but also make plays around the edge and attack the quarterback.
"It feels great to know where I'm going," Ron said a few weeks ago. "Michigan is a great school and a big reason why I wanted to commit so early is because I can focus just on football...
"Michigan was just a good fit, I thought so, my parents thought so and talking to the players and the coaching staff at Michigan, and they told me I have a chance to play and a better chance to eventually play in the NFL. I'd like to play around 245 this coming season for Camden. I play tight end [and defensive tackle] at Camden, but I'll play any position Michigan wants me to play."
5. Brandon Peters (Rivals: 5.8) Quarterback - 2016
Peters is another great quarterback prospect. He's smaller (reportedly 6'5", 205 now) and a little quicker than Zach Gentry, and shows good touch on all his throws. In fact, his accuracy might be my favorite part of his game. Peters also has deceptive strength that he uses to rifle passes downfield as soon as a receiver opens up. Every part of the field is available for him.
And while Peters is strictly a pro-style quarterback, he's athletic enough to gain yards with his feet. It's not a big part of his game, but the necessary thing is comfort in space. He knows how to avoid pressure, can decide between run and pass opportunities, and makes guys miss in the open field. He can also get the ball out in a hurry when he needs to, throwing accurately on the run.
Plus, he's not afraid of competition. The prospect of a crowded quarterback room hasn't fazed him, and Peters walked into Michigan and won the Aerial Assault this June. Peters also competed well at the Elite 11 camp, finishing seventh.
This was what Scout's Chad Simmons had to say at the event: "Peters was as consistent as anyone on day one at the Elite 11 Finals. He threw with very good accuracy, which is impressive any time, but when working with new receivers that you don't know, it stands out that much more.
"He looks athletic on the hoof and he throws with little effort, and the ball was just dropping in the receivers' hand on Monday."
We'll see what kind of senior season Brandon puts together, and how much more he grows. Another reason for the staff to play Gentry this year is that if Peters redshirts, he'll have two or three years to be the starter, potentially.
6. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. (Rivals: 5.8) Tight End, Defensive End - 2015
Like Michael Onwenu, Ty Wheatley Jr. is a great prospect on either side of the ball. As a tight end, he shows enough blocking ability to compete at a college level on Day 1. Though the route-running and catching look a little more labored and deliberate, he's very capable of getting open and catching passes thanks to his long (6'6", 255), athletic frame. It's hard to imagine him not playing at tight end, where he's capable of making an impact in Ann Arbor right away.
But, it's also hard to imagine him not ending up at defensive end. His defensive film stopped being posted by senior year (a hint that Wheatley was dedicated to the tight end spot), but multiple scouts who've seen him in person said he belongs there.
"Wheatley was far and away the best player at [our] camp," said Rivals' Adam Friedman in March, praising his strength and refined technique. Scout had this to say: "Wheatley has the size to overpower an offensive tackle, and also can use his speed to get around the edge. In addition, he can run a play down from behind and is versatile enough to move inside and play defensive tackle if he adds the weight."
For what it's worth, Wheatley is a bona fide play-maker at tight end who looks like a potential All-American there if he gets more instinctive and refined on offense. All that takes is time and reps; the willingness and talent are there already. And, Wheatley can switch back to defensive end later on if Michigan needs him.
7. Kingston Davis (Rivals: 5.7) Running Back - 2016
The first thing to note about Kingston Davis: he's listed at 6'0", 242 pounds, and moves very well for that size. The Prattville, Alabama product had interest from both Alabama and Auburn, and is reminiscent of several recent SEC backs, like Tre Mason, Eddie Lacy, or Josh Robinson. He also had offers from LSU, Florida, the Mississippi schools, and Louisville.
All this is to say that Davis is a very good prospect, one who might not have been expected to make it out of the South a few years ago. Back then, critics would have said that the Big Ten (which was recruiting passively in general, but particularly in the South) can't pull talent out of SEC territory. But now, the Big Ten has a chance to prove them (and some more recent critics, too) wrong.
At Michigan, Davis will be competing with upperclassmen, 2015 recruit Karan Higdon, Matt Falcon and Kiante Enis. Enis has the potential to switch over to defense, but I see Davis and Falcon being the stars of the show, competing for and sharing carries in the same way as Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith so far. Both of them are good prospects, and in case of a few injuries Enis, Evans, or Higdon could step in. The 2016 cycle replenishes Michigan's running back depth chart in a big way, with Davis and Falcon really leading the way.
8. Shelton Johnson (Rivals: 5.6) Defensive End, Linebacker - 2015
It's easy to fall in love with Johnson's abilities as a football player. He's good in space - catching interceptions, taking good angles to ball-carriers, and he could probably drop into coverage on occasion. At the same time, he's a defensive end with an NFL-sized frame, a long, lanky defender who gets tons of strength out of the 220 pounds he reportedly played at last year. He'll need to bulk up - how much is not certain - but I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the field sooner rather than later.
9. Devery Hamilton (Rivals: 5.8) Offensive Line - 2016
The first thing that stands out on Devery's film is how agilely he moves - almost like an oversized skill player at times. For a guy whose job will be to keep pass rushers off the quarterback, that kind of mobility is impressive and tantalizing.
The problem is that even at the high school level, it's easy enough for him to get stood up. Part of this is strength, and part is technique. He also plays too high at times. Hamilton will need to work on this to have an impact at the next level; obviously, given his ranking, I'm confident he can tackle those weaknesses. In fact, he's already started.
"[Devery has] worked really hard in the offseason," assistant coach Henry Russell said to 247. "He's close to 285, 290 right now, and still has his athleticism, has really good feet, has really long arms, is really athletic for how big he is. His upside is tremendous, it's up to him how big he wants to be and how hard he wants to work, but he has all the tools to be a really good player. Now he's had a full offseason working on that and his craft, and he could have a tremendous year for us this year."
As Russell points out, Hamilton has one year left of high school ball to continue his maturation. After making his way onto the football field as a "basketball kid," he has grown from a defensive end and tight end to, finally, a full-blown tackle. Recruiting sites have discounted the lack of refinement in his game, but good coaching and a couple of seasons could fix a lot of holes. Early results are promising.
10. Chris Evans (Rivals: 5.7) Wide Receiver, Running Back - 2016
Besides being Captain America, Chris Evans is one of the speedier prospects on this list, and a likely bet to end up at slot receiver. He has the moves, the speed, and an underrated vision that sets him up for long gains after the catch. Then, when he scores a touchdown, Evans uses the technique of a sprinter crossing the goal line, lunging forward as defenders follow in his wake.
Basically, Chris turns football into a track meet - a little bit of Oregon to the rest of the team's Stanford. The Indiana product has been a little under-recruited, but some dynamite appearances on off-season camp circuits has garnered attention:
Evans arrived fresh off helping lead his team to a 6-A state championship, rushing for 1,249 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding another 676 yards receiving and 10 scores en route to the ring.
He made the two-hour drive up I-69 and from the moment drills started he was on another level, showcasing the speed, balance and agility that will eventually make him a sought-after prospect. Indiana is the only offer thus far, but Penn State head coach James Franklin, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and Spartans assistant Dave Warner were all in this week. Michigan State may be next to offer and if they do, they could be tough to beat.
Evans could not be checked during the competition portion, as there wasn't a running back or corner that could match up athletically.
247Sports ranks the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Evans as the nation's No. 3 all-purpose back in 2016. He could easily add 20 pounds and be just as dynamic.
He's even been praised for his blocking, and he has a pretty durable frame for someone with his gifts. It's the little things like that, and his low center of gravity that helps him change direction easily, that puts him so high on this list.
11. Brad Hawkins, Jr. (Rivals: 5.8) Wide Receiver - 2016
'Big Play Brad' is blessed with an all-around game: speed, short-area quickness, effort, hands, route-running, concentration, strength, durability. He was even a kicker and punter for his high school team. To me, his biggest weakness is his lack of elite speed, and combined with a somewhat average height (he's listed at 6'2", 195), he might have a hard time producing against the really good cornerbacks at the next level.
Still, don't mistake this for the "possession receivers" of yesteryear. Hawkins has undeniable athleticism, and a low center of gravity to make cutting and changing direction effortless.
12. Matt Falcon (Rivals: 5.8) Running Back - 2016
Matthew is a great all-around running back, with jitterbug cutting abilities, good speed and a large (6'1", 210), sturdy frame. Given a choice, Falcon is probably more likely to tuck and run for the sideline, looking for a crease, than he is to drive straight forward into defenders. The athleticism is there to make that work in high school, and there's a good chance he can make it work in college. When he does run for contact, he shows good pop and the ability to shed tacklers.
Still, Falcon will want to get comfortable with college speed, gain a few more pounds, and develop his game between the tackles. It's doubtful any of this will prove too difficult, and he has the potential to be an elite, 220-pound tailback for Michigan.
13. Victor Viramontes (Rivals: 5.7) Quarterback - 2016
As a runner, Viramontes is a mirror image of some the names listed above: good balance, change of direction, a sturdy frame. He can also air it out to any part of the field while on the run, showing the same abilities out of the pocket that Brandon Peters and Zach Gentry have.
He's been complimented for this before, but I'm a little worried about his tendencies to take big hits as a quarterback. Call it Post-Devin Gardner Syndrome, but I'd have reservations about Viramontes if he was the only option at quarterback. He has run a lot more than he's passed in high school, to the tune of 384 carries to 352 pass attempts. Plus, when he runs, he welcomes contact from defenders and gives it back at least as well. Given how much he loves contact (it's a bit rare when a quarterback's junior highlights include forcing a fumble on defense), I think Viramontes might end up at another position. The competition at quarterback also might force this.
Which position he turns to, though, is unclear. He could play well on defense, maybe at strong safety or linebacker. He could be dynamite with the ball in his hands as well, but Michigan already has a number of those prospects. Of the 28 players to have committed to Harbaugh, seventeen right now are on the offensive side. Only 11 are on defense, and that hints at some possible position changes for the future. If it's not Ty Wheatley or Michael Onwenu, Viramontes and Kiante Enis are very good prospects to bolster the defensive side. And if Viramontes does flip over to defense, he will be a raw prospect.
14. Kiante Enis (Rivals: 5.6) Athlete - 2016
Enis led the nation in yardage this year as a running back, but his skills probably translate elsewhere at the college level. He has good feet, balance, speed, and gets north and south in a hurry. I am not the only one who sees him as a potential safety. He's reportedly grown to 6'2", 190, which means he might even develop enough size to play linebacker before all is said and done. If I can assume that D.J. Durkin wants long, athletic bodies all over the place on defense, based around a 3-4 look, I think Enis looks good as a rangy safety with the ability to hit 210 pounds and keep his movement.
This is a case where a major scouting site has him ranked largely based on a particular position (running back), where he shows a number of flaws that would not factor in once he moved elsewhere. Athletically, Enis is a gifted prospect, but he will have some work to do once he gets to Ann Arbor.
Hitting the Links Won Gold
The Rivalry: Comparing Twenty Years of NFL Success
It's not pretty. Michigan has still managed to supply the NFL with some elite talent in recent years (Jake Long, Tom Brady, LaMarr Woodley, Charles Woodson, Taylor Lewan), but it has not brought the house, so to speak.
USA Football Wins IFAF Gold Medal
Since 1999, the best football teams in the international community have gotten together every four years to compete for gold. The first two tournaments, the United States was held out because of its inherent advantages, and Japan won both times - in Italy in 1999, and Germany in 2003.
Then, in 2007, the US was in. It steamrolled to the final round (77-0 over South Korea, then 33-7 over Germany), where it met host nation and two-time defending champ Japan. The game went to double overtime, but the USA won 23-20.
Then, in 2011, the US ran the table again - 61-0 over Australia, 48-7 over Germany, 17-7 over Mexico, and 50-7 over Canada, all while playing with amateurs. The US improved its tournament record to 7-0.
This year, the game was hosted in Ohio - certainly a step down from Italy, Germany, Japan, or Austria. The US team, though, didn't disappoint: consecutive wins over Mexico (30-6), Japan (43-18), France (82-0), and Japan again (59-12) to claim the title. The US now has three titles in each of the three tournaments in which it was allowed to play. In their eleven games, they have outscored opponents 523-84.
SB Nation's Washington Preview
Fun fact: Michigan is second in total Rose Bowl appearances (with 20), after USC. Washington is tied for third with Ohio State and Stanford.
Thompson ended up going 25th in the draft to the Carolina Panthers.
LSU's Leonard Fournette: The Next Herschel Walker?
This is a good piece, but it would also be easy to argue the flip side of Andy Staples' comparison, that Herschel Walker was in fact more peerless than some Fournette fans might believe.
Herschel, who grew up in Georgia with a speech impediment and a lack of confidence, eventually starred for his high school team in both football and track. When he went to UGA, he was a two-time All-American - as a sprinter. In three years as a college football player, he was a top-three Heisman finalist all three years. In 1992, on the eve of turning 30, Herschel competed in the Winter Olympics in two-man bobsled, and finished seventh. In later life, he has taken up mixed martial arts, and has a 2-0 professional record, both on TKO. The first time, he donated his winnings to charity, because he was just doing it for fun.
Basically, if there are athletes as good as Herschel Walker, it's a very short list. No offense to Fournette.
Herschel vs. Bo is a fun debate among old SEC fans. Herschel put up better stats, but Bo was more focused on baseball. The two of them are called the greatest running backs to ever play in the SEC, with Herschel often getting the nod of greatest ever.
How The Big Ten Has Infiltrated SEC Media Days
I enjoyed reading this way too much. It's worth noting that, for all the progress made and all the "off-season battles" won, the Big Ten does need to take several more steps forward, especially in terms of depth.
Inside Michigan's Youth Impact Program
This is one of the ways that football, with all the attention and money attached to it, gives back.
Previewing Rutgers' Defensive Line
The fact remains that size is the thing holding Rutgers' defense back from gaining legitimacy. That extends beyond the front line, but that's where the size mismatches are the most jarring. Kemoko Turay, for example, grew from a two-star recruit to an impact reserve in the span of one redshirt season. I'd have assumed it was on the team's to-do list to slap another ten or fifteen pounds on Turay (who got 7.5 sacks last year despite not starting) and try to develop him as a full-time starter. But judging from the spring roster, it doesn't seem like that's been the case.
So, how does someone like Turay (6'6", 235) hold up in the run game against the left tackles he'll have to face in 2015 - most particularly, Taylor Decker (6'8", 315), Jack Conklin (6'6", 317), Tyler Marz (6'5", 321), and Derwin Gray (6'3", 325)? Even lighter tackles like Mason Cole or Joe Dahl would have fifty or sixty pounds on him, which is hard to overcome over the course of a full game, let alone a full season.
SEC Will Experiment With 'Medical Observer'
There are a few things worth critiquing here. For one, this observer's job will be focus on "head and neck" trauma only, and only during the course of a game. From a booth above the field, they will have limited access to assess injuries on the sideline. This trainer is also be tasked to do something referees are already supposed to do, which is maintain health and safety on the field. This is hailed as progress, but it's little more than lip service to the health concern that's gotten the most press - concussions.
But what about medical decisions in the week after a concussion? What about back or knee issues, or rehabilitation for longer-term injuries? What about intricate issues that take place between doctors, student-athletes, and coaches? This step by the SEC is not actual reform, and I seriously doubt it will actually be helpful to student-athletes.