Bill Connelly a few years back created a new uberstat for receivers called RYPR (receiving yards/total team plays *Passing S&P+). His description:
Below, you will find a measure that attempts to answer the following questions about a given pass-catcher:
- 1) How much do you produce?
- 2) How important are you to your team's passing game?
- 3) How good is the passing game to which you are important?
- 4) And how much is the forward pass featured in your team's offense?
The idea was to simply multiply the following four factors together: a player's Yards Per Target, his Target Rate, his team's Passing S&P+, and his team's pass rate. Target Rate x Yards Per Target x Passing S&P+ x Pass Rate = RYPR.
Let's skip right to Michigan
I went through several iterations trying to match exactly what Connelly had done, so this may not match the results I reported beforehand. Here's the breakdown of Michigan's targets with NCAA averages in parentheses:
|Target #||Receiver||RYPR (NCAA avg)||Yards/Tgt||Target Rate|
|1||Jeremy Gallon||178.0 (102.6)||10 (8.6)||32% (23%)|
|2||Devin Funchess||97.0 (68.8)||8.1 (8.1)||21% (17%)|
|3||Drew Dileo||22.6 (49.5)||5.8 (7.8)||7% (12%)|
|4||Jake Butt||30.5 (36.6)||8.7 (7.7)||6% (9%)|
|5||Jehu Chesson||28.7 (27.0)||9.2 (7.2)||6% (7%)|
|6||Fitz Toussaint||26.3 (20.9)||10.2 (6.7)||5% (6%)|
|7||Jeremy Jackson||9.2 (17.1)||7.1 (7.0)||2% (5%)|
Funchess's 97.0 was 22nd among teams' second targets though his yards per target were average for No. 2 guys. The max protect stuff in the season's third quarter (Indiana through Nebraska) bore out in the numbers, with that third receiver (Dileo) far under the typical third receiver's usage.
Best Receivers in a Bad B1G
Gallon wasn't the only long term top receiver to graduate last year, and the conference wasn't very deep on receiving talent to begin with. The result is not many wideouts left in-conference to have cracked that 100 (average for a team's best receiver) mark. In 2013 the Big Ten average RYPR for its teams' top three receivers was 69.5, last among major conferences and just ahead of the Sun Belt and Conf USA. When I removed all seniors the Big Ten was behind the MAC (Conference USA was still very worse). Here's the best among those that remain.
|Receivers||Team||Tgt||Rec||Yds||YPT||Tgt Rt||1st Dn%||RYPR|
|Devin Smith||Ohio State||#2||44||660||9.0||20.9%||34%||88.7|
Maryland has lots of receivers. Northwestern's Joneses were pretty productive, and could be more so in a Trevor Siemian offense. The tight ends:
|Tight Ends||Team||Tgt||Rec||Yds||YPT||Tgt Rt||1st Dn%||RYPR|
|Jeff Heuerman||Ohio State||#4||26||466||12.9||10.3%||44%||62.6|
|Jesse James||Penn State||#3||25||333||8.3||10.2%||33%||39.0|
Remind me to draft Heuerman in the draft-o-snark.
Draftageddon is upon us. We will delight half the readers, irritate the other half, and learn much more about Big Ten football than we ever thought possible; along the way Seth will issue terrible snark about players like they will always be what they were last year and ignore it when Jack Mewhort ends up drafted in the second round.
THE OCEANS WILL BOIL, THE LAND WILL BE BESET. And so forth and so on. Devin Gardner knows what's up.
Everyone drafts a QB, 5 OL, and six skill players on offense. Heiko is not with us but yes you can take a QB to be a skill player other than your QB. The sixth skill player is for flexibility. Please denote RB/FB/TE/WR when you draft, and sure you can draft six tailbacks if you want to feel the wrath of the voters.
On defense, everyone drafts 4 DL, 3 LB, 2 CB, and 2 S and one wild card intended to be a hybrid space player. The extra guy is because nickel packages are important, and defending the spread is important. But yeah he could be whatever you want, you loons.
A punter and a kicker are also drafted.
Standard snake procedure.
Imaginary points are awarded for PR/KR skills amongst your draftees.
Once everyone has filled a particular slot the last remaining guy who has not filled the slot has to take a guy at most three rounds later, to prevent three QBs from going off the board in the first round and no one for the rest of the draft until the very end (although with this group that would be dangerous and leave you with Andrew Maxwell).
Kyle Prater must be drafted far too early.
I get to gloat about Rashede Hageman every third round.
As randomly determined by RANDOM.ORG the order is
Brian, you are me, and also on the clock.
ROUND 1 - PICK 1: Braxton Miller, QB, OSU
O: QB Braxton Miller (OSU)
BRIAN: While I don't think there's that huge of a gap between Miller and Devin Gardner since neither of them are likely to be around when things get back to me I have to grab one now. The clear choice is Miller. The only guy to finish in the top ten in both rushing yards and passer efficiency last year, Miller is by far the most explosive QB in the Big Ten and has steadily progressed as a passer, going from 54% to 58% to 64% completions over the past three years and steadily increasing his ability in the pocket. Will he ever be great there? No. But, uh...
...he doesn't have to be. Main concerns here are dual: OSU revamps its OL and loses Carlos Hyde, which may make things generally less efficient and put more burden on Miller; this leads to concern #2: Miller seems to be bionic with the hits he can take but the was knocked out of enough games last year to get Kenny Guiton 109 attempts. He's not exactly fragile but neither can you expect him to get through a season totally unscathed.
ROUND 1 - PICK 2: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
O: LT Brandon Scherff (Iowa)
ACE: As tempting as it is to build my offense around Devin Gardner and a functional offensive line, I think in a four-person draft the Big Ten has enough talent at quarterback to hold off on picking one here. Meanwhile, I'm not convinced the conference is as deep at tackle (at least for this exercise), and there just happens to be one—and only one—that could've been a first-round NFL Draft pick had he left early: Iowa's Brandon Scherff, who's present in the top ten of just about any 2015 mock draft you can find.
At 6'5", 320 pounds, Scherff has pro-ready size, and he's a monster of a run blocker with a size/quickness combination that's truly impressive on film. At the very least, watch the first clip from this video of him absolutely dominating Northwestern for a series:
Sure, I'll take the guy who can escort a defensive lineman ten yards downfield with one arm. Also, in a league that features some talented pass-rushers, Scherff provides a reliable blindside protector—Iowa finished first in the B1G in fewest sacks allowed and, since that number is skewed by pace/style, third in adjusted sack rate last season.
While my heart told me to pick Gardner, my brain remembered what happens to quarterbacks that aren't properly protected. With this pick, I've got easily the best run-blocking tackle in the conference, and probably the best pass-blocker, too.
ROUND 1 - PICK 3: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
O: QB Devin Gardner (Michigan)
BISB: I don't think Gardner is the best player remaining, but in my mind there's a bigger drop-off from Gardner to the next quarterbacks than there is between the top-flight defensive linemen I'm tempted to grab. Seth can't take all of those.
[@ RIGHT: Bryan Fuller]
Gardner threw for 2960 yards (in only 12 games) at a 60.3% completion rate. His 8.6 YPA was the best in the Big Ten, and more than a yard per attempt more than Cook and Hackenberg. Ha accounted for 32 TDs (21 throwing, 11 rushing) against 11 INTs. He threw for 14 TDs against 3 picks and 8.85 YPA in Big Ten play. And he did that with absolutely no running game (at least of the 'forward' variety). He did it without padding his yardage numbers with bubble screens. He did it with a strained everything. And the next time he sees a pocket will be the first time.
The last time he stepped onto the field, he threw for 451 yards and 4 TDs with no picks and ran for another score. On a broken foot. And when he was healthy? Boy howdy.
Gardner lost pocket-sized safety blankets Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, but Devin Funchess is a legit #1 receiver (I swear, if anyone drafts him as a TE I will force-quit the draft), and between him, Freddy Canteen, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Dennis "DENNIS NORFLEET" Norfleet he will have plenty of targets, He should be productive once again. Now, if he can just get a liiiiiiittle time to throw the ball...
Uh oh crap forgot about that.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Alarming quantities of opposition defensive linemen]
From Darrin Kirkland's junior highlights, which you should watch.
Four-star IN ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. became Michigan's seventh 2015 commit, and second in the last week, when he made his pledge while visiting campus yesterday. You can find his Hello post here, and Brandon caught up with him for an interview posted this morning. A pleasant bit of news that didn't make either post appeared in a short piece in the Indy Star—Kirkland plans to enroll early:
"I feel good and my family is extremely proud," Kirkland said. "I can't wait to graduate and head over there in the winter time."
Kirkland plans to graduate in December and take part in Michigan's spring practice in 2015. Kirkland had 71 solo tackles, 40 assisted tackles and three sacks last season.
Even though there are plenty of inside linebackers on the roster in the classes ahead of him, making early PT something of a longshot, it never hurts to get a head start on navigating both the playbook and college life in general.
When we left off last week, Shaun Crawford had told the coaches of his plans to visit Notre Dame and Ohio State. Now we can add another school to that list:
DB Shaun Crawford says he will also be visiting Miami in June. Hasn't talked to Hoke yet
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 17, 2014
Right on the heels of that Crawford news comes word that Michigan has offered another 2015 cornerback:
2015 DB Cameron Ordway (Pulaski, Tenn.) says Michigan offered.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 19, 2014
Ordway is a four-star and the #21-ranked cornerback in the class according to the 247 Composite, and his offer sheet—which includes Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, FSU, LSU, Notre Dame, OSU, Ole Miss, PSU, and Tennessee—is quite impressive.
Tennessee and Ole Miss are currently favored on the Crystal Ball. Given that list of interested parties, I'll believe Ordway has serious interest if, and only if, he makes it to campus.
Speaking of offers to highly sought prospects that probably won't come here, Michigan offered the nation's #10 WDE, Georgia prospect Arden Key, according to 247's Kipp Adams. Key's already named a powerhouse-laden top five:
Last week Key named a top 5, in order, of Oregon, Miami, LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina.
There's time for U-M to get involved, as Key plans to decide at the Army AA Bowl, but I'd put him in the same category as Ordway—until there's word of a visit, I wouldn't get too optimistic.
The 2015 Rivals100 got an update today, and it features a lone Michigan commit: Garrett Taylor, who took a slight dip from #41 to #48 overall, though he remains the #6 corner in their position rankings. A few of U-M's top targets were among the biggest movers, both good and bad:
- FL RB Jacques Patrick jumped 26 spots to #18 overall and picked up a fifth star. He's now the second-ranked running back on the list, behind only Damien Harris (#4 overall).
- FL WR George Campbell lost his fifth star and tumbled 26 spots to #42 overall; Rivals cited continued concerns about his catching ability.
- CA WDE Keisean Lucier-South moved up 40 spots to #35 overall after being "virtually unstoppable" at multiple camps this spring.
- NC SDE Darien Roseboro, who recently named U-M to his top ten and may very well have the Wolverines out in front, moved down from #45 to #79. With Roseboro now weighing 283 pounds, Rivals pegs him as a tweener who may have to move inside.
Other prospects of interest include IL DT Terry Beckner Jr. (#32), OH OLB Justin Hilliard (#49), UT OLB Osa Masina (#58), MN DE Jashon Cornell (#76), and VA DE Clelin Ferrell (#77).
Rivals named Tyree Kinnel as the #10 performer among defensive backs who participated in one of their camps, citing his ability to cover like a cornerback ($):
The 6-foot, 190-pound Kinnel is a safety prospect, but he was able to show off the coverage skills of a cornerback en route to winning MVP honors at RCS Columbus. Not surprising considering he is a safety, Kinnel was physical at the line of scrimmage and bumped wide receivers off their routes. He was also able to open his hips and run with them down the field. Kinnel is headed to Michigan, making a commitment to the Wolverines last summer.
IL DT Terry Beckner Jr. has been quiet on the recruiting trail—so far, the only visit he's made was to nearly Mizzou—but he told Tim Sullivan that he plans to visit a couple familiar schools ($):
"I'll go to camp June 1 at Ohio State," Beckner explained. I'm excited to get there.
"I haven't made it up to Michigan yet. I'm going to try to go there. Their coach was just at the school, I think coach Hecklinski. I really haven't had a chance to talk to him yet though."
We'll see here—the fact that the OSU date is set and the Michigan one isn't is of some concern.
Tip o' the cap to Rice for winning the recruiting game. Shut it down. We can all go home now.
HELLO LADIES (not like that). If you took in yesterday's softball double-header you got 14 innings of tension, home runs, and dugout gibbering capped by what has to be the nuttiest final inning I've seen in the sport: Michigan, down one, clubs back-to-back first-pitch homers off one of the best pitchers in the country to go up one, then puts someone on base for the final batter, who hits a rocket that…
…NOPE. Michigan had just blasted a ball over the centerfield fence that none of the outfielders bothered to move on, and this particular ball seemed harder-hit than that. It must have been on more of a line or really temporarily heavy or something. CF Lindsay Doyle was given an opportunity for the walk-off rob of a potential walk-off homer, which she took.
Even Carol Hutchins, an outpost of Red-like reserve in a sport that has a lot of jumping up and down, was momentarily baffled into GIF-worthiness.
You and me both. The catch was Sportcenter's #1 play, which is pretty remarkable on a day that had plenty of baseball and NBA action.
Michigan advances to their ninth super regional in ten years of the current format; they'll travel to Tallahassee to take on the #8 overall seed Florida State. FSU is hosting their first super ever at an impressive 53-6. The best two of three series kicks off Thursday at 7 on ESPN.
Victory. The Michigan money cannon remains undefeated:
EDSBS Bowl 2K14 closed at midnight last night, and the total for the week's fundraising is staggering and very much awesome: $33,250.85 raised for Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta, all from your contributions. …
University of Michigan $10,183.68
University of Georgia $4,024.20
Notre Dame $2,249.32
University of Alabama $1,977.55
Georgia Institute of Technology $1,969.72
Auburn University $1,716.40
Well done, gentlemen. I have excellent news: in honor of the cannon, RRISA is naming their conference room something Michigan themed. Orson has asked us for suggestions, so I throw it open to the MGoPeanutGallery. Please keep in mind that we are trying to retain people's goodwill, so something like "Leaders and Best (unlike all non grads)" would not be good.
[11:27 AM] Spencer Hall: If there's a huge Michigan painting, they'll put it up there
[11:27 AM] Spencer Hall: seriously
Anyone that wants to provide a candidate shoot me an email.
Stauskas time. Nik Stauskas didn't shoot at the NBA combine but that's not to say he didn't shoot at all in the past week. A few gents put on a workout beforehand, and Stauskas proved that he is the unstoppable workout freak($) that you may have seen on youtube:
None of them disappointed Monday. During early shooting drills, Stauskas had the lead early, hitting 47 of his first 50 attempts. At the end of the workout, it was McDermott who couldn't miss, beating everyone with 13 3-pointers in 35 seconds. … Each player takes roughly 100 3-point attempts during a workout. On most days, Stauskas and McDermott are shooting about 85 percent. That's really remarkable.
That is nuts.
Chad Ford also notes that Stauskas looked "terrific" in the various ballhandling drills at this workout and is… wait for it… also grab a beer… "making a play to be more than just a shooter." While Stauskas isn't likely to be an NBA PG unless his team wants him to gently escort opposing points to the basket, his ability to get his own shot and excellent P&R skills will see him be more than just a shooter. Ford has Stauskas #12 now and thought he was upwardly mobile even before he put up impressive combine numbers:
Michigan's Nik Stauskas and Creighton's Doug McDermott really shined, as well. Stauskas was especially impressive. He measured with a 35.5-inch max vert, a 10.79 lane agility score, a 2.92 shuttle run and a 3.27 sprint. Those were all very good numbers and should boost his draft stock.
I know you are thinking about what I am thinking: what about the Pistons? Detroit needs shooting, and they need someone who can run a pick and roll with Andre Drummond without resorting to miserable off-balance jumpers. DX's latest mock has them taking McDermott. While that makes sense, as currently constituted Detroit could use a guy who can play 1-3 with bad defense a lot more than a guy who can play 3-4 with bad defense. Also, McDermott seems constitutionally incapable of being an okay defender because he's such a tweener; a hypothetical NBA Stauskas coached by Stan Van Gundy could be all right down the road, especially if Caldwell-Pope can be the 3-and-D guy.
If Detroit stays at eight I'd say there's a pretty good chance Stauskas ends up being the player who makes the most sense. Other than McDermott, guards/wings available at eight are likely to include Tyler Ennis, James Young, Rodney Hood, Gary Harris, and Zach LaVine. Only Hood and McDermott are in Stauskas's universe as a shooter, and Gary Harris being more 6'2" than 6'4" probably eliminates him.
Also in Michigan draftee news, DX's post-combine mock has Robinson and McGary as the last two picks of the first round.
All right, all right. Eighty-seven people have emailed or tweeted me about the latest indicator that things aren't going well on the season ticket front, so I am compelled to reproduce it:
The existence of such a thing isn't much of a surprise… except you'd think they'd translate "Added Value Opportunities" into English before releasing it to the world. The outstanding quality of the athletic department is how remarkably ham-handed they are at being marketers. This is supposedly Brandon's expertise and he's throwing powerpoint slides at the public.
The lord's work. Deadspin continues its excellent series demolishing bad arguments the NCAA tries to muster in its favor. The latest to meet the guillotine: competitive balance.
…my own research in 2011 showed that of the 1,000 top recruited athletes over a decade, 99.3 percent went to power conference schools. … the truth is that the current rules seem to lock in imbalance, and prevent would-be upstarts from building recruiting momentum.
That makes intuitive sense. A team can't put its money where its mouth is if it really really wants a guy that another school wants. When compensation is fixed* all choices are about things other than compensation.
And since it's currently impossible to make the system more unbalanced…
*[I guess it does technically move based on the value of a degree from school X. That is not going to be a huge consideration for many football players. See: every player ever citing academics as a reason he went to school Y, no matter what that school is. "I have chosen Wyoming School Of Finger Twiddling for its excellent academics," etc.]
Pyrrhic press conferences for 1000. When the press gets the temerity to ask a question that leads to this answer…
"No buyer's remorse at all," Delany said Wednesday after the Big Ten administrators' meetings. "When I go to Jersey, I go to New York, I go to support, not to judge."
…things are not going well in the PR realm. Jim Delany just described visiting his sister in rehab.
No surrender. O'Bannon plaintiffs have asked the court to ditch the individual damages in their lawsuit and, as a side effect, ditch the jury.
The plaintiffs' lead attorney, Michael Hausfeld, told ESPN that forgoing the effort to seek damages for the individuals who are named in the lawsuit streamlines the case, making it all about stopping the NCAA from continuing to prevent athletes from sharing in the media revenues they help generate. …
The filing by the plaintiffs aims to focus all of the attention on whether the NCAA's economic model should be changed. It's an attempt to avoid the messiness of sorting out who may have been harmed for past wrongs, and to what degree.
That would be the NCAA's worst nightmare, as judge Claudia Wilken is the person issuing statements like "I don't think amateurism is going to be a useful word here." It seems like the NCAA's best shot is to bamboozle a jury with the arguments Deadspin is currently blowing up.
As with any story about the O'Bannon lawsuit, we have a new opportunity to point and laugh at the NCAA's beleaguered lawyers.
The NCAA objected to the new move by Hausfeld to drop the damages claim. The association's lawyers wrote Wednesday night that they were "surprised and troubled by the Plaintiffs' last minute and abrupt decision to attempt to avoid having a jury decide" the case, calling it a "last ditch effort to change course in this litigation."
…Hausfeld dismissed the NCAA's argument.
"There's always been a damages claim and an injunctive claim," he said. "If they haven't been paying attention to the injunctive claim, it's inexplicable."
Well, they are very busy these days.
It'll be a while. Brian Kelly said something about playing Michigan, so everyone gets asked about it again. Dave Brandon has had "zero talks" with Notre Dame about resuming the series. It would take a lot of pride-swallowing for Brandon to do such a thing. The chances of that seem… low.
The earliest Michigan and ND will talk about playing again will be after both places have new athletic directors, and even then they'll be scheduling ten years out. This year's game is the last for probably 20 years. Well done, college football.
Old mascots are always the best. If you could guarantee me that Michigan's hypothetical mascot would look like it was put together at the local insane asylum's arts and crafts night, I would be on board. Hellmascot part 4,210 is MSU, 1966:
No, no money for athletes. Somehow all of this manages to get sucked up despite MSU not adding sports:
"I think it was about 2000, our budget was right around $25 million and today it's $94 million," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "And it's real easy to take a quick look on where the allocation of those funds have gone, and so much of it — there is the coaching salary component that kind of stands out."
Wait, save that!
"But there's a much larger chunk that has gone to escalation of scholarships and services provided."
All right. What might these things be?
"It used to be a coach and a trainer kind of handled everything. Well now there's somebody to teach you how to cook, there's somebody on some campuses that do the cooking, that show you how to shop."
They have to invent ways to burn this money. That is the situation. They are so far up their own butts that they think they should be taught to cook and shop like they're in finishing school with Betty Draper. How about you give them the money and they decide whether they should spend it on a guy teaching them how to shop* or, like, anything else.
Meanwhile, Michigan made a profit of 90 million dollars from 2007-08 to 12-13, an average profit of $15 million per year. That's going to be great when I get my dividend check.
*["So this green stuff I have… I hand it to the man behind the counter. You don't get any green stuff. But if you had some green stuff, you could give it to the man behind the counter"]
Etc.: I still can't believe Gordon F. Gee was paid like 12 times what an average university president makes. GRIII did well at the combine. No beer at Michigan, because I would do anything for money but I won't do that. Good on Mark Schissel for making Michigan's compensation structure more transparent. Maryland previewed. TJ Leaf has a top four and is visiting soon.
Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. told me on Thursday that there was no way he was going to commit while visiting Michigan this weekend. He said he wanted to stick to his decision date which was set for August. He also said that this weekend’s visit was just a small opportunity for his family to get a feel for what Michigan has to offer. Sunday morning he had one more thing to say and verbally pledged to the Wolverines.
Just getting onto campus I had that gut feeling. I just felt it when I looked at the Block M on the stadium. I knew I could not say no to this place.
Kirkland Jr. said that the visit was all he’d hoped for in regards to his parents and that the family atmosphere was exactly what he was looking for.
This visit was all about spending time with the staff and their families. I wanted to do that for my parents and myself to see how we all worked together. First we sat down with Coach Hoke and his wife and just talked for a while. Then we went to lunch with Coach Mattison and his wife and Coach Mallory and his son. When we got back Coach Mattison showed me exactly how they would like to use me in the defense. All of that was just great for me and my family. It was just a great fit for us.
The family fit was obviously there, but what about the schematic fit? Kirkland Jr. is prototypically built for the MIKE linebacker position but Coach Mattison told him that he has some other plans for him early on in his career.
I will eventually be groomed into being the MIKE backer of the defense but he said early in my career I will have the opportunity to earn a spot playing WILL and in specific blitzing positions.
Once Darrin decided in his mind that he could see himself playing for Coach Mattison and living in Ann Arbor, he actually had to say the words. Commitments happen in a lot of different ways, but Kirkland Jr.’s is surely one of a kind.
(Laughs) I called Coach Hoke but he was in church so him and his wife ran out of church and I told him that I’m committing. His wife actually screamed out loud in church about it. (Laughs) It was pretty crazy!
Kirkland Jr. is now a Michigan recruit and they have had a recent history of becoming recruiters themselves. Darrin knows that he now has a job to do well before he ever arrives on campus.
My job is to help recruit the best class in 2015. That’s my mission. I’m trying to bring guys in to help win a National Championship. Coach Mattison really wants Keisean Lucier-South and Darian Roseboro to be in front of me. I talked to Keisean a little bit today but I’ll be checking in with a lot more guys soon. I’d really like Miles Boykin and Brian Cole on board too, personally. You always need weapons on offense!
With a recruiting mentality in place, Kirkland Jr. must also focus on performance and preparation.
I’ll be hitting hitting up the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit this summer, as well as the NFTC camp in Columbus. Most of all I’ll be getting ready for my senior season. We are trying to go out on top.
As for the Columbus mention, some people have voiced concerns about whether interest from the Buckeyes would cause Kirkland Jr. to develop wandering eyes. He had a clear message for those worried about him.
I’m 100% committed to the University of Michigan. I’m a Michigan man and I am true to my word. That is the type of person I am. GO BLUE!
According to multiple sources, including himself, Indianapolis (IN) Lawrence Central ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. committed to Michigan while on an unofficial visit today. The Wolverines got in on Kirkland at just the right time; after Michigan offered in early April, he picked up subsequent offers from Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Oregon, and appeared on the verge of many more.
Kirkland originally planned to make a May 30th decision, but called that off after fielding the Texas offer. Once again, though, the coaches made a huge impact during a campus visit:
The importance of getting a prospect on campus. Darrin Kirkland Jr. said he didn't go up to Ann Arbor with plans to commit today.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 18, 2014
So did Michigan, period, per 247's Steve Wiltfong:
"As soon as I saw the Block M on campus, I knew I was committing on this trip," Kirkland said. "I felt great about Michigan. My parents really like Michigan and I'm excited to be a part of the Michigan program."
Kirkland becomes the seventh member of the 2015 class and the first at linebacker.
4*, #5 MLB,
4*, #6 ILB,
4*, 81, #7 ILB,
|4*, 90, #7 ILB||
4*, #5 ILB,
Kirkland is universally considered one of the top seven inside linebackers in his class, with the only variance being how highly each service considers that position group as a whole—the #5 ILB spot on Rivals puts him at #153 overall, while only the top four ILBs crack the Top247. Put it all together and Kirkland falls just within the top 200 prospects nationally.
The services are in general agreement about his size, with all but Rivals (6'1", 233 lbs.) listing him at 6'2" and 220-228 pounds, a very solid frame for a rising senior linebacker.
What stands out most when reading Kirkland's scouting reports are the repeated mentions of his excellent instincts. Here's the free report from Scout, which lists discipline, instincts, and tackling technique as strengths with shedding ability as an area for improvement:
Very smart, instinctive player who always seems to be in good position and around the football. Takes good angles to the ball, rarely takes false steps and shows good closing ability. Has gotten stronger and thicker over the last year and needs to continue to do that. - Allen Trieu
Rivals analyst Josh Helmholdt noticed the same when he watched Kirkland and Lawrence Central take on eventual state runner-up Carmel last September, ranking him as the top underclassman prospect from a weekend featuring two big-time matchups ($):
4. DARRIN KIRKLAND JR., LB, INDIANAPOLIS (IND.) LAWRENCE CENTRAL (2015)
It was a fast start for the Rivals250 to Watch presented by Under Armour prospect, as he tallied five tackles and a forced fumble in the first quarter. Kirkland was fairly quiet after that, however, although Lawrence Central's defense stayed stout throughout the game. Kirkland transferred to Lawrence Central from Park Tudor over the summer to play in the same linebacker corps as Lee, and they make a formidable duo. Kirkland will play a MIKE and a WILL role in Lawrence Central's defense, and he does both equally well. He has sideline-to-sideline speed and gets great depth in his pass drops. What stood out most in this game, however, was Kirkland's football IQ. His play recognition is well ahead of the others on that defense, and he sniffed out several counters and screen passes.
ESPN's profile features two evaluations—one from his junior season, and a longer evaluation done more recently—that had to be done by two different people. They agree that he's a forceful run-stopper who's better in confined space than the open field. Then we get incongruous statements like this from the first eval...
Closing burst is just average. Did not see explosive power at the point of attack or strong hands and take-on skills.
...and this from the more recent one:
Powers through blockers and scrapes well with square shoulder pads getting over and under blocks; closes off-tackle with deceptive burst for his size.
Explosive on his final steps of contact. Runs through ball carriers with good force.
They did agree that Kirkland's hand usage could be better. Then there's perhaps the biggest point of contention regarding his game—his ability in coverage. Here's ESPN again:
Can turn and get adequate depth in his zone drops while displaying a nose for the ball and the strength to collision and reroute shorter crossing routes. He does show some wasted motion breaking forward. We do not see the hip fluidity that projects well as a man-to-man linebacker at the college level. Shows limitations in space. Flashes good timing, closing burst and effort as a blitzer and appears to have more upside in this facet than in coverage on 3rd down.
While this doesn't totally answer the questions about Kirkland's man-to-man ability—especially in pads vs. no pads—247's J.C. Shurburtt repeated the praise for his ball skills after the 2013 Columbus NFTC:
Top247 prospect Darrin Kirkland Jr. (Indianapolis, Ind./Park Tudor) surprised with his outstanding coverage ability- batting down ball after ball.
This spring, at the Rivals camp in Columbus, Kirkland took home position MVP honors and the top ranking among defenders at the camp by once again showing off his coverage ability ($):
Kirkland proved to be the best linebacker in a loaded group. The Rivals250 member has excellent footwork and was putting on a clinic during the position drills portion for the camp. When it came time for one-on-ones, Kirkland stepped up to every challenger. He showed that he has the speed to run with any running back or tight end and was able to make some plays on the ball while it was in the air. Kirkland broke up a number of passes en route to winning the linebacker MVP award.
It sounds like Kirkland may have some limitations athletically, namely concerning his hip flexibility and straight-line speed, but he appears to make up for a lot of that with his technique and instincts.
Meanwhile, there's little question about what he can do as a run-stuffer. From 247's Clint Brewster's film evaluation ($):
Kirkland Jr. doesn’t miss tackles and plays with his head up. Stays square and drives through the ball-carrier when he tackles. Good form and gets underneath his opponent.
Striking Ability 8
Shows nice explosive power when he makes contact and stays the attacker. Closes on the ball-carrier quickly.
Brewster concludes that while Kirkland is "not the most talented all around linebacker," he "does everything right and constantly diagnoses action correctly," then chooses for his player comparison... David Harris. Yes, please. I'll have another.
If everything above screams MIDDLE LINEBACKER to you, you're not alone. A squat, powerful run-stuffer with great instincts but perhaps not the most fluid athleticism is a MIKE until proven otherwise, and given his blitzing ability he should be able to fit there whether U-M sticks with the 4-3 over or goes back to an under front.
As mentioned above, Michigan got in on Kirkland just as he started to blow up on the recruiting trail. His other offers included Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Mississippi, NC State, Nebraska, North Carolina, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin.
According to TomVH, that list was likely to grow when Kirkland made his pledge:
Darrin Kirkland Jr had started to get some big offers and interest, it's a big deal for Michigan to get him now.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 18, 2014
While U-M may have to sweat out Kirkland fielding prestigious offers until Signing Day, the fact that he committed despite recent offers from the likes of Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas—the last of which he called a "game changer" when it came through in late April—is a very good sign.
Lawrence Central plays in Indiana's largest division, and they've been a relatively successful program in recent years, winning the state championship in 2012. Kirkland transferred to LC for the 2013 season, and after losing several key pieces they fell to a 3-7 record last season.
Kirkland is the first four-star produced by the school in the Rivals era. The most prominent prospect to come out of the school in recent years is current Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson.
Kirkland recorded 110 tackles and eight sacks en route to All-State honors in 2013, per 247.
FAKE 40 TIME
Kirkland supposedly ran a 4.58 at Louisville's camp last summer, though it's unclear whether that's hand-timed or electronic. That'd be quite fast for a linebacker his size, though he does display impressive burst; I'll give it three FAKEs out of five.
Junior highlights and single-game cut-ups are available on Kirkland's Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
With Michigan's glut of linebacker prospects from recent classes, Kirkland will almost certainly be afforded a redshirt year in 2015, when the open spots vacated by Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan will be competed for by Ben Gedeon, Joe Bolden, Michael Ferns, and Ben Gedeon, in all likelihood.
With Kirkland slotting in to the MIKE spot, he's either going to have to beat out an older player or wait his turn for a couple years before grabbing a starting spot. Program depth is a beautiful thing. He certainly has the size and instincts necessary to play early if necessary, though, so don't rule out the possibilty that he grabs some early PT.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan now has seven commits in the 2015 class and, according to our count, five scholarships remaining—that number will assuredly grow by NSD. With Kirkland in the fold, they're set at inside linebacker. Positions of need moving forward include running back, receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, weakside DE, and outside linebacker; Michigan may also look to add another defensive back if Shaun Crawford eventually decommits, though the need there isn't huge either way.