In my last scouting report, I said Mazi Smith could possibly be the biggest commit of the June 22 extravaganza.
I no longer think that.
Watching Zach Charbonnet’s film in great detail had me grinning silly at my laptop. He is a unique blend of balance, acceleration, great footwork and strength. While Charbonnet is rated as a 4-star, he is only 303rd overall and the 15th-best running back per the 247 composite. This is a criminal under-ranking.
Thankfully, 247Sports rankings guru Barton Simmons has stated Charbonnet will be getting a big bump after their Opening re-rank. Hopefully the other sites will catch up, as well. How he is rated this low with what he shows on film, while playing for California powerhouse Oaks Christian with teammate (and No. 1 recruit in the nation) Kayvon Thibodeaux, is insane.
Now, with my rant over, it’s time to actually look at why I’m so excited about Charbonnet’s potential at Michigan.
As a junior, Charbonnet ran for 2,049 yards and 23 touchdowns for 7.7 yards per carry. He also caught 27 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.
Check out his junior highlights below. Spoiler alert, it takes four minutes into the tape before he doesn’t score a touchdown.
Just a warning, Charbonnet’s runs were usually so long that I had to cut the GIFs short so they would be small enough files to upload.
The biggest thing that stood out to me was Charbonnet’s amazing footwork. He has great instincts and patience, cutting frequently to shake defenders and get into open space. When someone goes to tackle him, Charbonnet keeps his feet high and chopping, trampling the defender.
This is the first play on Charbonnet’s film, and for good reason. He leaves not one, not two, but three defenders on the ground with his moves. The first is a defensive end who dives at him at the line of scrimmage. He changes direction slightly as he’s running past the end, leaving him on the ground futilely grabbing at his ankles.
Next up is the safety, who tries to come up and fill after all the linebackers have been neutralized. Charbonnet uses a jump cut to his right and the safety takes a big swing and a miss. It’s almost out of a cartoon how the safety looks diving and making a big hug of the air as Charbonnet flies past him.
Finally, all that is left before daylight is the cornerback on the field side. After jump-cutting past the safety, Charbonnet was heading straight upfield. When the cornerback challenges, he makes a sharp turn to his right before continuing down the field. This uses the cornerback’s momentum against him, who had been coming in hard from the left. His cut leaves the cornerback on the ground, like so many of his teammates.
There are many examples of excellent footwork in this one play, but Charbonnet continually shows these skills off. Here’s another great play that involves his cutting and high-step ability.
After Charbonnet receives the handoff, he runs hard to the edge, as if he were going to go outside the tackle. However, once he sucks the defenders on that side in to where he’s heading, he sharply cuts inside, going up the middle.
Once he makes that cut, the safety comes up to fill. You can guess what happens based on the last play — Charbonnet jump cuts to his right, already looking at where he’s going next. The safety, meanwhile, dives headfirst into his teammate, knocking both of them over. Seriously, Charbonnet is making these guys look downright foolish.
He’s not done on this play, though. A defensive end doubles back downfield and grabs at Charbonnet’s legs, grabbing hold of one briefly. Charbonnet does what you’re supposed to do and chops his legs high, which shakes off the end. It also clears out the cornerback who has dived at his legs right after he slipped free.
In the NFL, there has been a new style of running made famous by Le’Veon Bell. After receiving a handoff, Bell is extremely patient, waiting to see where a hole opens up and then bursting through.
Charbonnet, with his amazing footwork, uses this technique a lot in his film.
Charbonnet takes the handoff, then pauses for a half second. He doesn’t stop, but bounces on the balls of his feet, ready to burst through whatever hole he finds. He fakes slightly to the left, then cuts quickly to his right, accelerating through the hole. Because of his little fake in the backfield, he has the defense taking a step in the wrong direction, which he exploits. Charbonnet is a master at setting up defenders in a position that is advantageous for him.
Running downfield, Charbonnet is working on the cornerback, who is the last line of defense. He keeps feigning inside, trying to get the guy to turn his hips the wrong way. The cornerback never bites fully, and Charbonnet is forced out of bounds after a big chunk.
All the footwork Charbonnet uses is great to shake defenders and make holes for himself, but once a back has daylight he has to take advantage of it. Charbonnet does this with his quick burst, turning his patient steps in the backfield into top speed quickly, which is what leaves those defenders hugging air.
Charbonnet’s acceleration is on display in the play above. He doesn’t start off in top gear after getting the ball, instead eluding the defenders who have cluttered the backfield. He makes a subtle jab to get away from them. But after he fakes the defenders out, he hits the hole hard. The middle of the field is open and he takes advantage, getting to top speed quickly. He splits the defensive backs chasing after him and wins the race to the end zone.
This next play combines Charbonnet’s footwork skills with his burst.
There’s a lot of clutter up the middle after Charbonnet gets the ball, but he quickly sidesteps it with a sharp cut. Right after his cut, he explodes up the field in the hole he’s found before defenders on either side can get a hand on him.
His cutting and acceleration make Charbonnet so elusive. It’s extremely hard to get a good shot on him, as all the plays I’ve included above have shown.
While Charbonnet’s quick acceleration gets him to top speed quickly, he’s not quite a burner. He is a bigger back standing 6-foot-2, limiting his top-end speed.
As someone who mostly avoids the camp circuit, there is not a 40-yard time for Charbonnet out there. However, he does have an 11.2 second 100-meter dash on record. This is definitely a good time, but not quite in the upper echelon. For comparison, fellow 2019 commit David Ojabo ran a 10.9 100-meter at 233 pounds. That probably speaks more to how much of an athletic freak Ojabo is rather than proving Charbonnet is slow, but it gives a frame of reference.
The lack of breakaway speed is evident on tape for a couple plays, where Charbonnet is unable to separate from defenders chasing him.
Charbonnet breaks through the defense and has the field wide open for him ahead. However, he can’t quite escape the defender who keeps up with him for 40 yards and catches him from behind. He feels the pressure and has to try to stiff arm him to get away, but ends up being tackled when other defenders, who were not far behind, catch up.
Here’s another example of Charbonnet failing to separate from the pack.
For this play, don’t look at who ends up eventually tackling Charbonnet, but rather the defenders chasing him. They are able to stay in pace with him, especially the one guy at the front of the pack. Charbonnet doesn’t gain much ground, if any, while sprinting down the sideline. Now, the defenders weren’t catching up to him, but for a high-level Power 5 running back you’d like to see him burn them more.
Luckily, Charbonnet’s elite elusiveness makes it hard for defenders to bring him down once they get close to him. But don’t be surprised if you see Charbonnet getting caught from behind on long runs once he gets to Michigan and faces even faster competition.
Charbonnet has real potential to come in and compete for a large portion of the carries his first season on campus. Running back is one of the positions where true freshmen can make an immediate impact.
Chris Evans will most likely still be on campus and the established starter. This season will determine who will be behind Evans, whether it be O’Maury Samuels or one of the three backs brought in from the 2018 class.
I believe Charbonnet can pass any of the backs in the two classes ahead of him and become the leader of Harbaugh’s preferred running back committee.
Charbonnet is under-ranked as of now, but look for that to change shortly. Pretty soon it should become apparent Michigan got a steal from across the country.