As Anthony Mammel mentioned in his 2014 Signing Day recap, the effects of the 2013 season cannot be overstated for what they did to Michigan's 2014 class. However, it's important that we take as close to a holistic view of the 2014 signing class as possible and see the good as well as the bad, and of course the painful "what might have been." Here are a few thoughts on Michigan's 2014 class following Signing Day:
This is not a bad class. It is, in fact, very solid. The reason why we might look at the 2014 recruiting class and see it as a downer is likely for two reasons. First, it's small. With only 16 prospects, it's difficult for Michigan to get into the Top Ten of the overall team rankings when they're not pulling in hauls like USC did in 2013 when five of their 12(!) signees were ranked No. 1 in the country at their respective positions. Second, it's a bit of a downer that Michigan's 2014 class is not as close to Ohio State's as a year ago. The Buckeyes pulled in 23 prospects, and while their best recruit can probably match ours, overall they just beat us in the sheer number of four-stars.
Let's not overlook the fact that there is some quality to the recruits Michigan landed, and that's something to feel good about. Jabrill Peppers is the consensus No. 1 cornerback. He's not just No. 1 on one site or two, but pretty much everywhere. Everyone and their mother agrees that Peppers is an utter force in the defensive backfield, and what's more, he can also make an impact on offense if the coaches so choose. Does me saying that remind you of anybody? Yeah, you're probably thinking about this guy.
Let's also not forget about Drake Harris -- who, by the way, is an early enrollee. I know many of us don't get to see much more of these prospects beyond their highlight tape, but I had the privelege of seeing Harris's play on the field myself personally. If there was a "Mr. Football" (i.e. high school MVP) for the state of Michigan, Drake Harris would likely have won it. He's 6'4" -- the ideal height for a wide-receiver -- and fast and has amazing hands catching the ball. If Michigan fans were hoping for an impact receiver to come in an replace Jeremy Gallon even as a true freshman, it's not too far off to put those hopes on Drake Harris. Personally, I will be shocked if he doesn't see the field this year.
Michigan added depth and addressed their needs. The biggest need, of course, was wide receiver, which Michigan addressed about well as anybody could have. They flipped their No. 1 target, Drake Harris, from Michigan State and locked down another pair of receivers, the shortest of which is 6'3". Both Freddy Canteen and Maurice "Moe" Ways have the deadly combination of speed and height that means each of their ceilings is very high. Canteen, like Harris, is also an early enrollee.
The staff also some added beef along the defensive line. Bryan Mone, who's pretty much a consensus four-star, looks like a beast already but probably needs at least a year under the Greg Mattison tutelage. Lawrence Marshall was also a solid get at defensive end, despite having played in the shadow of five-star defensive end Malik McDowell, who committed to Michigan State.
Additionally, there's Brady Pallante, a lowly two-star who I frankly think is being terribly underrated. Pallante, despite being measured at 6'1" and 255 lbs., was given a strength rating of 9 and a motor rating of 8 on his 247sports profile, which could indicate that he plays much bigger than his measurables. He was also the (Florida) state high school wrestling champion. With that accolade and a nasty mean streak, it's no surprise that Pallante draws comparisons to former Michigan nose tackle Mike Martin.
Need more explanation? Here's Touch the Banner on Pallante:
Pallante benches 370 lbs. and squats 580 lbs., but his best quality is probably the leverage he's able to use on the defensive line. Fellow defensive tackle Bryan Mone is significantly larger, but Pallante plays like a guy who's 30 lbs. heavier.
Also via Touch the Banner:
The young defensive tackle has a fair amount of potential, in my opinion. He's a true nose tackle in a 4-3 Under defense, because he plays with great leverage as a short, stout fire hydrant. He uses his hands well to control offensive linemen, he looks tremendously strong in the upper and lower body, and he's comfortable in either a right- or left-handed stance. His first step is decently quick, and he does a good job of grabbing at ankles coming through the line, tripping up ball carriers before they can get a full head of steam.
Finally, Michigan locked down some depth at quarterback, with three-star Wilton Speight out of Richmond, VA -- and notably the same high school that produced Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Speight, at 6'6", 230 lbs., is a pure pocket passer who appears to have limited mobility at best. Think John Navarre.
Despite all the support and hopeful optimism from Michigan fans throughout his commitment, Speight was never able to break out of the three-star ranking. He had a solid but unspectacular senior season, failed to qualify for the Elite 11 competition, and did not stand out in the Under Armour bowl despite being the starting quarterback for his team. Of course, we can't expect all incoming quarterbacks to have been studs in high school, and no one appears to be expecting Speight to rip the starting job away from Devin Gardner or pass Shane Morris on the depth chart. The important thing to note with Speight is that he has the frame to become the ideal pro-style quarterback, and he's in a position where he can learn and grow and isn't expected to carry the offense too soon. Most importantly, even though he might not be as heralded as Shane Morris was, his commitment and signing were critical for quarterback depth.
However, this class could have been so much better. Let's not kid ourselves. As much as we all love the players who signed, and Michigan definitely signed a few good ones, the number of prospects that Michigan was at one point leading with and then subsequently whiffed on is mind-boggling. Prior to the 2013 season, Michigan was not only leading with five-star defensive ends Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell but Michigan was at one point so far ahead of everyone else for them, they were considered all but guaranteed locks. Early whiffs like tight end Nic Wieshar and offensive tackle Alex Bars committing to Notre Dame were shrugged off because we were banking on Hand and McDowell eventually signing with the Wolverines. If not Hand, then at least McDowell.
Giving the Wolverines' depth at running back, it's safe to say Michigan didn't have much of a shot with prospects like Leonard Fournette or Jeff Jones, both of whom went where pretty much everybody expected them to go. Hand and McDowell are a different story. Michigan was the longest school to be recruiting Da'Shawn Hand, alongside Virginia Tech. It basically went like this: a ten-horse race where Michigan and Virgina Tech are the top two, a one-horse race where Virginia Tech is unexpectedly dropped and Michigan leads well above everyone else, then a three-horse race between Michigan, Alabama, and Florida. Then he signs with Alabama. What happened? Michigan went 7-6, Florida went 4-8, Alabama went 11-2. It doesn't seem that tough to figure out.
Meanwhile, Malik McDowell was the highest rated in-state prospect next to Drake Harris and Damon Webb, and McDowell's parents are die-hard Michigan fans. McDowell himself stayed quieter than a mountain valley canyon on who his favorites were, but with his parents being much more vocal about who they supported, it was considered that at the very least McDowell would be a safe consolation in the event Da'Shawn Hand didn't end up with Michigan. Again, Michigan goes 7-6, Michigan State goes 12-1 and wins the Rose Bowl, McDowell commits to Michigan State. Noticing a theme here?
Yeah, that's because Michigan's 2013 season f**king killed us. This has been said to death and will continue to be said to death, but even so it cannot be overstated. 2013 is the gift that just keeps on giving. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a season where Michigan wins a mere seven games would lead to pretty much every big time recruit (save for the one who grew up a Michigan fan himself) jumping ship like the Michigan football program is the damn Titanic.
Before the season, prospects like Leonard Fournette, Adoree Jackson, and Jeff Jones (a soft Minnesota commit at the time) each seemed excited to visit Ann Arbor. We had Da'Shawn Hand raving about Michigan's professors and talking about how his decision is coming down to academics (spoiler: it didn't). Then mid-way through the season, the wheels fall off the bus, and Michigan hobbles to 7-5. Disaster strikes on the recruiting trail: Fournette, Jackson, and Jones all cancel their official visits, Hand says he's committing to Alabama because of its engineering program(!?), and our two previous five-star offensive gems for the 2015 class, running back Damien Harris and wide receiver George Campbell, de-commit from Michigan and now look like long shots.
Michigan went 7-6 and had a recruiting off-season like they just went 3-9. I suppose it could have gone worse. Despite a momentary scare, Michigan did not lose the commitment of Jabrill Peppers, who re-affirmed his love for the Wolverines and tried his hardest to get Hand, McDowell, and everyone else who was leaning towards Michigan on board. Drake Harris's staying true to his Michigan commitment, after infamously flipping from Michigan State because he claimed he wanted to focus on football, is something of a surprise after it was Michigan State, rather than Michigan, who had the better football season and won the Rose Bowl.
The hiring of Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator also didn't provide as much of a shot in the arm as many of us would have hoped. Nussmeier did not convince anyone to flip their commitment to Michigan at the last minute (or within the final month), and by all appearances he had virtually no effect on 2014 class. We'll now have to judge Nussmeier primarily on how he does with the players through spring ball, and of course, through the upcoming season. Granted, there's a lot to like about this class -- it has players who can be expected to make a noticeable, positive impact on the field early -- but there's no question that the class didn't turn out the way we all hoped it would.
Conclusion: based on numbers and the prospects who at one point had Michigan as their favorites, the 2014 signing class was good, but it could have been better. How good the 16 recruits are that we did sign has yet to be determined, but it will be interesting to see.