On my very first scouting assignment for MGoBlog, I witnessed the future—and, of course, was totally oblivious to this fact. As Farmington Hills Harrison blew out eventual state champs Cass Tech with surprising ease to open the 2011 season, I watched from my press box perch at Eastern Michigan while Eric snapped pictures from the sideline.
Devin Funchess ambled out wide, as he'd done for much of the evening. He faced off against Jourdan Lewis, at that time the #2 corner on Cass Tech behind future Wolverine Terry Richardson, who drew the seemingly tougher assignment against the focal point of the Harrison offense, future Michigan State receiver Aaron Burbridge. Lewis was a relative unknown, holding a lone offer from Toledo. Eric took the photo that graces the top of this post.
It's an absurd picture. There's Funchess, looking like a coat rack in shoulder pads, assembling his limbs into something approximating a wide receiver's stance. He dwarfs Lewis, who's got the same deer-legged awkwardness while wearing a jersey top that appears at least two sizes too large.
You'd be excused if you thought neither of these guys would make an impact at Michigan, just based on this photo. Funchess was too gangly for a tight end prospect. Lewis, while bigger than Richardson, still fit the mold of pint-sized Cass Tech corner, which was already becoming a dubious distinction.
Once each player came out of their pigeon-toed stances, however, a bright future was apparent. Funchess ran with an effortless glide, and in limited opportunities to make an impact, he did so in a way that foreshadowed a future at Not Tight End:
Funchess displayed great hands and concentration, making his first reception on a tipped pass, and he finished with three receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown by my count (I'm pretty sure the Detroit News recap omits his first catch). Unfortunately for those who missed the game, I was tweeting when Funchess recorded his touchdown catch, so you'll have to believe me when I say he ran a great route up the seam, plucked the ball out of the air, and showed nice speed getting into the end zone on the 31-yard scoring play. His other catch also came when he found a hole in the middle of the defense – from limited viewing, I like what I see in his route-running, hands, and athleticism.
My ability to process this information—and maintain a healthy skepticism of high school weight listings—exposed my inexperience:
On a side note, for those of you who think that Michigan should try to convert Funchess into a wide receiver, I don't see that happening – he already weighs around 215 pounds, and looks like he could easily add another 20-30 before he gets to Ann Arbor.
Funchess came to Michigan listed at 225 pounds in 2012, and that was a lie. He played tight end for the next season-and-a-half. He did so even though no Michigan coach in the history of Michigan coaches would've played him there if given a choice; still paper-thin and lacking refined technique, his blocking was bad enough that he called himself a "pretty boy" heading into his sophomore season.
By that time, though, he'd already shown what he'd become over the second half of his sophomore season. After Michigan's 2012 blowout of Illinois, Brian described the play that inspired the creation of one of the first two MGoGIFs to exist—before I even knew how to watermark them—as such:
My God, It's Made Of Funchess note of the week. From my vantage point in the stadium, I thought the play-action rollout that eventually turned into the Funchess touchdown had been defeated by coverage. I thought that Denard saw this too and was chunking the ball out of the endzone, which I was pleased with—WOO NO INTERCEPTION—as I saw the ball soar into the stands… at least the dance team… well past Devin Funchess's outstretched… oh.
Wow. Is that legal? Should I clap now? Is touchdown? Is touchdown. Clap. Smile.
We clapped. We smiled. We started listing Funchess as a "FLEX" before giving in entirely to the proper designation: Wide Receiver Devin Funchess. Now he's Top Returning Receiver In The Big Ten Devin Funchess. He runs fly routes past cornerbacks and over the top of safety help. Single cover him and the cornerback might as well not exist. Attempts to tackle him at the knees are not recommended.
Michigan has their tight end of the future, but it's not Funchess, it's Jake Butt. More tight end help is on the way. Meanwhile, the tight end of future past is now the next great Michigan wideout of the present, not to mention a potential first-round NFL draft pick. We saw this coming, but we didn't see this coming.
As for the high school junior who faced off against Funchess on that August evening in 2011, Jourdan Lewis picked up his coveted Michigan offer the following February, and a scant couple weeks later committed along with Cass Tech teammate David Dawson during that unforgettable eight-commit weekend. He's set to challenge for a starting cornerback spot in a loaded secondary this fall after showing flashes of serious potential as a freshman last season. On that loaded Cass Tech defense, which featured current U-M LB Royce Jenkins-Stone in addition to Richardson, he looked the best of them all:
Lewis, Cass Tech's other corner/wideout/returner, was their best player on the field on Saturday, in my opinion. The junior is listed by Rivals at 5'11", 170, and his size allows him to be much more physical – he had a couple big hits on both receivers and ballcarriers and was generally solid in his tackling, and he certainly wasn't afraid to step up and hit somebody. Lewis is not quite as fast or quick as Richardson, but he still has very good speed and agility and was able to show that off in all three phases of the game. Lewis had the best play of the night for Cass Tech's defense, coming up with a diving interception on their own goal line. He already has an offer from Toledo, and I expect he'll get offers from much more prominent programs – including Michigan – in the near future. He has the look of a BCS-level athlete and I like his potential as a bigger cornerback who can make plays against the pass or the run.
"Bigger cornerback," in this case, was relative to Richardson. That's my story, at least, and I'm sticking to it.
Lewis showed off that physicality this spring, when he looked like the cornerback best suited to Michigan's new emphasis on press coverage. Once again, he lined up often against Funchess. Once again, he more than held his own.
Funchess is already a star. Lewis looks like he's on his way. I wish I could say I knew this would happen, but there's Eric's picture, resplendent in its awkwardness, reminding me that potential is a hell of a thing to project.
Unrelated but never unrelated (h/t @smartfootball)
Ranking things is fun, or at least so BuzzFeed tries to tell me every freaking day of my life. And just like any prediction, rankings that attempt to predict the future are typically a fool’s errand. But we are fools, so ON WITH THE PREDICTING.
Trying to project year-to-year development in college football is tricky at best. But we can also try extrapolate by asking two relatively simple questions: (1) were they good at the thing last year, and (2) how many of the people who did the thing last year will be back this year?
The question of the day is this: which Big Ten team will have the best run defense in 2014?
Were they good last year?
This part is easy. There are many ways to break down how effective various run defenses were last year, and while none is perfect, together they give a pretty comprehensive picture. A few of the key measurements:
Yards per carry (sacks removed) - Pretty basic. When the opposing offense tried a run the ball, how far did they go?
YPC (w/o sacks)
Rushing Defensive S&P+ ranking – A fancy rejiggering of statistics based on outcomes for every running play a defense faces.
Rushing S&P+ (nat’l rank)
Adjusted Line Yards – A breakdown of yards per rush compared to what would be statistically expected, and then adjusted for level of competition.
Adj. Line Yards (nat’l rank)
And taking the Big Ten rankings for the various stats together, you get the following rough composite order. Being higher is better and being lower is worse (which you would have known anyway based on the teams at the top and bottom):
So 2013 defensive front performances look to shake out into a few tiers:
- Michigan State: They get a tier all their own. I probably don’t have to explain this.
- Pretty good: Rutgers, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State
- Meh: Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State
- Butt (Not Jake Butt): Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois
How much do they return?
Answering the question "how many starters from the front seven return?" is a little trickier. Take Michigan for example: how many defensive starters did they lose? They lost Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington, but weren’t they kind of the same guy? Do you count that as two starters lost, or one? In a way, it doesn’t matter, as we’re just trying to get a sense for what various teams lost, not necessarily to quantify it. However, to give a very rough estimate of the kind of production everyone is losing, I included the percentage of the team’s total tackles accounted for by guys I deemed to be departing starters from the front seven.
Denicos Allen is gone. Clearly MSU will now be terrible.
The obvious caveats. The first is that tackles are an inexact proxy for quality. A mediocre inside linebacker will usually make more tackles than a top-flight defensive tackle (Nebraska LB David Santos made 87 tackles. Penn State DT DaQuan Jones made 56. Jones was first team All-B1G and a 4th round draft pick. Santos was terrible and was replaced by a freshman mid-season). However, we’re doing qualitative analysis with a quantitative kicker, not the reverse, so it’s helpful information that isn’t vital to our thesis. The second caveat is that the front seven aren’t the only people involved in run defense. Solid safety play is a big deal.
So, here’s where we are:
How good in 2013?
Returning starters (Front 7)
% of tackles by lost starters
|Penn State||Pretty good||5||16.8|
They run the gamut from returning everyone (Indiana) to returning no one (Wisconsin).
A pattern emerges
You may notice that the better defenses are the ones that lose more people. This makes intuitive sense; defenses with more seniors are, all things being equal, better. Of the four defenses we labeled as “MSU” or “Pretty Good,” three (MSU, Iowa, and Wisconsin) suffer serious losses, and I’d argue those were the three best run defenses last year.
So, who are the contenders for Best Run Defense for 2014?
Contenders based on returning talent
- 4.22 YPC
- #33 S&P+
- #45 Adj. LY
- 6 returning starters
Michigan returns all of the major pieces of a run defense that was fair-to-good. Other than getting shredded by OSU for 393 yards at 8.5 YPC, they didn’t surrender more than 170 yards or 5 YPC in any of their other games. Add a healthy Jake Ryan, and if the defensive tackle play is good Michigan looks primed for a big year.
There is no advanced stat that appropriately values “beat running back to death with quarterback”.
- 3.82 YPC
- #22 S&P+
- #31 Adj. LY
- 6 returning starters
I love a good Rutgers joke as much as anyone (you know what’s a good Rutgers joke? Rutgers), but they actually had a solid run defense last year. They had the third-best YPC average (albeit against weaker competition), and they have some solid talent in the front seven with Darius Hamilton, WLB Steve Longa, and MLB Kevin Snyder. Granted, the run defense might just look good because Rutgers’ pass defense is so unbelievably bad, but such is life in Piscataway.
- 4.54 YPC
- #42 S&P+
- #35 Adj. LY
- 7 returning starters
Like Rutgers, we like to make Maryland jokes, but the run defense was pretty solid, and they return their entire front seven. Darius Kilgo and Andre Monroe anchor their 3-4 defense and do an excellent job of keeping linebackers clean. If they can stay healthy (never a guarantee at Maryland these days), they will be very good again.
- 4.67 YPC
- #8 S&P+, #13 Adj. LY
- 5 returning starters
Much like Michigan, Penn State had one implosion of a defensive game (also against Ohio State) and generally held up very well otherwise. You may recall 27-for-27 as a thing that happened. They lose DaQuan Jones, but they return C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes. If MLB Mike Hull can avoid that always-troubling 37th major injury, Penn State could contend for top honors, though depth remains a concern.
Penn State reacted well to subtlety
Contenders based on history
- 3.61 YPC
- #2 S&P+
- #2 Adj. LY.
- 3 returning starters
State lost both starting defensive tackles, uber-productive (and TOTALLY NOT SUSPICIOUS IN ANY WAY) MIKE Max Bullough, and Denicos Allen. But I’m not an idiot, and the last thing I’m going to declare is that Michigan State will be taking some giant step back. The internet remembers such stupid declarations and revisits them. In the last 6 years, MSU’s rushing defense S&P+ rating (in chronological order) was #28, #23, #31, #5, #2, and #2. They have finished as the best rushing defense (in terms of YPC) in the Big Ten the last three years. Shilique Calhoun isn’t a great run-defender, but Marcus Rush and Taiwan Jones are pretty good, and… yeah. Again. Not an idiot.
- 4.07 YPC
- #7 S&P+
- #14 Adj. LY
- 3 returning starters
Iowa loses their entire linebacking corp, along with their 322 combined tackles. The remaining linebackers on the roster had 29 tackles last year. Combined. Howeverm Iowa returns almost all of the best defensive lines in the conference, including two of the best defensive tackles in Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat. Iowa’s worst defensive rushing performance in the last six years was roughly on par with Michigan’s performance last year, and they have been a top-30 rushing defense almost every year. Ferentz has zombie powers, so it could happen.
- 3.80 YPC
- #9 S&P+
- #17 Adj. LY
- 0 returning starters
The 2013 Wisconsin Badgers had a very good starting front seven. But so did the ’85 Bears. And those two groups have something in common: none of them will be lining up for Wisconsin in 2014. The Badgers didn’t just lose nominal starters, either: Chris Borland alone accounted for an estimated 793 tackles per game. They return SOME production along the DL in Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring, but this is almost entirely a reclamation job. Wisconsin doesn’t have a history of dominant rush defenses either; their average S&P+ rush defense form 2008-2012 was #33 in the country, and their average Big Ten rank in YPC over that time was a shade better than 6th in the conference. Unless Gary Andersen is a wizard of some kind, regression beckons.
Hey, look, it’s Wisconsin’s front seven.
- 4.60 YPC
- #84 S&P+
- #88 Adj. LY
- 5 returning starters
Nebraska has the opposite problem Wisconsin had. The Huskers bring almost everyone back, but the guys they bring back weren’t very good last year. Nebraska was really good at getting to the QB last year (2nd only to OSU), which combined with a soft schedule to make their raw yards-per-carry numbers look somewhat decent. But remove those sacks or take anything other than a surface glance, and Nebraska wasn’t good on the ground. Randy Gregory is a hell of a pass rusher, but he’s not great against the run. It’s unlikely Nebraska will be in the conversation at the end of the year.
- 5.90 YPC
- #75 S&P+
- #49 Adj. LY
- 6 returning starters
Hey, they return a lot of guys. Lloyd Christmas dot jpg.
Not even pretending
Teams that weren’t good last year and have to replace significant portions of those not-good defenses
- 4.83 YPC
- #57 S&P+
- #77 Adj. LY
- 4 returning starters
Remember when they were ranked last year?
- 5.03 YPC
- #79 S&P+
- #58 Adj. LY
- 4 returning starters
Thieran Cochran is good. The rest of Minnesota is not good.
- 5.60 YPC
- 76 S&P+
- #79 Adj. LY
- 3 returning starters
- 5.93 YPC
- #83 S&P+
- #62 Adj. LY
- 4 returning starters
Gave up over 250 yards in 7 different games. Only held one power conference team under 4 YPC. Gave up 29 rushing TDs. Was bad.
My answer is ‘I don’t have the first damn clue’
- 4.29 YPC
- #58 S&P+
- #96 (!!!) Adj. LY
- 6 returning starters
They had a good YPC average, but the advanced statistics say they were somewhere between bad and abysmal. They only lose one starter, but that starter (Ryan Shazier) made 144 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. They return theoretically one of the best lines on the country, but how good can it be if it was so bad against the run last year? I am perplexed.
Strictures require that I take a guess
My monkey-choosing-mutual-funds stab at the 2014 sack-free YPC rankings:
- Michigan State
- Penn State
- Ohio State
Well now that's over and we can think about… oh. I can't believe I got a bunch of people going "but I want to talk about football" in this offseason of all offseasons. Happy now?
Anyway, as a result of my quadrennial case of World Cup fever some of these links are a bit old. You have been warned.
The best thing to come out of the Big Ten expansion.
- OREBs are gradually declining as more teams abandon the boards for better transition defense (probably).
- Layups get OREB'd slightly more than 40% of the time, with jumpers and threes OREB'd slightly more than 30% of the time. Threes are least likely to get OREB'd, so don't let those long bouncers back out fool you.
- Anything that gets blocked and stays in play is about 32% to be OREB'd.
Offensive rebounds are more likely as the game goes on, which is a pretty weird finding to me but there it is. The late surge makes sense since trailing teams will go all out and damn the transition torpedoes, but the rest of it is a bit weird.
And yet it moves. A palpable cut for one Jalen Coleman. This is not a drill (nor is it, like, something that is new, but I was waiting for more basketball recruiting news that did not appear):
Coleman, a 6-foot-3 guard from La Lumiere High School in La Porte, Ind., will choose between Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Notre Dame, UNLV and NC State, according to Scout.com recruiting analyst Brian Snow.
Notre Dame, oddly, is rumored to be Michigan's main competition. They do have proximity and (probable) playing time, but they haven't exactly been Beilein-standard during the interminable Mike Brey era.
Kings draftin' Stauskas.
Yeah, probably. Gary Parrish asks a question about Beilein:
Is John Beilein the best at turning lowly recruits into lottery picks?
Trey Burke and Nik Stauskas both shot into the lottery after being in the 70s or 80s as recruits… just wait until next year, when Caris LeVert probably adds his name in there somewhere. Parrish's trump card:
Of the 20 players selected in the top 10 of the past two NBA Drafts, 18 were former top 75 prospects and/or players who spent at least three seasons in college. The only exceptions? Burke and Stauskas -- both of whom enrolled at Michigan as unheralded recruits, earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors as sophomores, turned pro and were selected in the top 10 of the subsequent NBA Draft.
Bonkers, man. This is such a smart quote in re: how:
"We try to project whether a player is on the rise or if he's already where he's gonna be," Beilein said. "A lot of the [analysts'] early projections on players, I think, are made because the players' bodies are ahead of everybody else's bodies. And if you saw Nik or Caris, back when they were 16 years old, their bodies weren't ahead of anybody else's bodies."
Not that projecting based on bodies is necessarily a bad strategy—it seems to be working just fine for, uh, everybody. But when you're trying to assemble a starting five that's ten picks away from being all first-rounders and you don't have the recent pedigree of the Dukes and the Kentuckies, it is (obviously) a rather good idea.
Okay okay one more quote:
"Lots of coaches work on shooting with players, but Beilein teaches guys how to shoot," an NBA executive told me. "He doesn't just work with them. He actually teaches them."
Let's talk about hockey. Over The Boards lists the top 15 college guys for next year's draft, featuring three guys committed to Michigan at numbers 4, 5, and 6. Or mostly committed, in Zach Werenski's case. Nick Boka:
4. 97 D Nick Boka – NTDP U18 – Michigan
The Michigan recruit has an aggressive, athletic upside that could come on very strong in his draft year. Wins battles in the tough areas of the ice and can provide puck support. We like Werenski’s total skillset more right now, but Boka could easily emerge as the best American talent on the blue line in this draft behind Hanifin.
The top nine guys are all headed to Michigan, BC, or BU, FWIW.
This is appalling. National Football Post puts up a thing about NFL talent with a boggling Michigan thing. This is the second half of the chart running down the top 37 producers of NFL talent in the league, as ordered by 2013 player starts. Michigan's cliff is insane:
Nutshell, meet Michigan's barely over .500 record since Bo's death. It's not quite that bad in real life, as a combination of circumstances reduced Michigan's number to the "Stanford before 2009" number you see above. Actually, it's just one circumstance: Stevie Brown getting knocked out with an injury.
Your top overall pre-2009 producers:
- Miami (That Miami)
- Florida State
Michigan is dead last since, amongst this sample. NOW ARE YOU HAPPY TO TALK ABOUT FOOTBALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL /rock musik
All right, sir, you have my attention. MmmgobluBBQ, a Michigan-themed grill/tailgate/BBQ blog exists, and… yes sir, I subscribe.
That… is beautiful, and then you realize that the onion ring there is bacon-wrapped.
Let's not do this. Michigan went over its travel budget for the bowl game by just over 100k, causing assertions that Michigan took a loss on the thing. That is not accurate, as even the article states:
Ultimately, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl left U-M roughly $132,000 in the red. …
U-M's loss of $132,000 does not include revenue brought in from the Big Ten's shared bowl revenue plan, which splits all Big Ten bowl revenue among the conference's 12 teams.
So, not in the red. Just slightly over the Big Ten's travel allotment.
Etc. Don't click this box score unless you want to be reminded of last year. Stop taking pictures of yourself, twits. I BLAME YOU ELLEN. Don't use a null hypothesis when that's not sensible. Contains subtweet shade thrown at David Berri (the "salaries don't predict wins" bit). Nussmeier talks with Bruce Feldman.
Four-Star Vine, I'd Say
It's perhaps the biggest week in camp season, as the Elite 11(-ish) is underway and Nike's elite camp The Opening begins tomorrow. Quarterback Alex Malzone is representing Michigan in both events, and linebacker Darrin Kirkland will join him for The Opening; tight end Chris Clark was also slated to attend the latter event, but pulled out due to personal reasons, per Tim Sullivan ($).
Day one of the Elite 11 finals is already in the books, though the meat of the event takes place today. Malzone measured in at 6'1", 202 pounds when he arrived, and told 247's Barton Simmons of his recruiting plans for later this week:
"I've built some good relationships with a lot of our top targets," he said. "Auden Tate and Michael Weber are a couple guys I'm looking to talk to. Keisean Lucier-South is another big one. Ray-Ray McCloud is another. The coaches have mentioned some guys I should talk to, but I've done most of the work on my own. I'm looking forward to meeting all the players Darrin (Kirkland) and I have been talking to and finding out the interest."
Simmons suggested both Malzone and Kirkland are poised to move up in 247's rankings if they turn in solid performances this week; Malzone recently moved into high three-star territory (and picked up a fourth star on the 247 Composite) and seems likely to earn a fourth from 247 sooner or later. The E11 quarterbacks who haven't already been selected will also get the opportunity to play for a spot in the Army All-American Bowl. In a brief, free update from the first day of E11, Simmons praised Malzone's presence, focus, and arm strength. So far, so good.
If you're looking to watch any of the camps, The Opening will be televised on ESPNU starting tomorrow night; the full schedule is here.
Happy Trails: Four Off The Board
I'm equally confused, Tim.
Four prospects holding Michigan offers went off the board since last Wednesday; three decisions went as expected, while one came as a bit of a surprise.
Nobody was shocked when both five-star OLB Justin Hilliard and four-star DL Jashon Cornell committed to Ohio State during simultaneous announcements last week; each favored the Buckeyes recently and stated a desire to play together. Jumbo WR Miles Boykin's commitment to Notre Dame was similarly predictable.
Then there's three-star TX WR A.D. Miller, who holds offers from the likes of Arizona State, BYU, Miami (YTM), Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. He chose...
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) July 6, 2014
With Boykin and Miller off the table, expect Michigan to make a hard push for another big wideout, 6'4" FL four-star Auden Tate, whose recruitment may come down to a battle between the Wolverines, Florida State (the presumed leader), and Florida. With the other offered receivers on Michigan's board likely ticketed elsewhere, it wouldn't surprise if some new offers went out, as well.
Michigan stopped recruiting Cornell because he'd gained enough weight to project inside; they'd previously wanted him as a weakside DE, and the top option there remains five-star California prospect Keisean Lucier-South, who gave an update on his recruitment to Brandon last week. As for outside linebacker, U-M is high on the respective lists of UT four-star Osa Masina and in-state four-star legacy Tyriq Thompson. Four-star TN ILB Joshua McMillon, who's had very good things to say about the Wolverines recently, could also project to the outside.
2015 Visit Updates
Per 247's Ryan Bartow, four-star NC CB Mook Reynolds, a current Virginia Tech commit, will visit Ann Arbor for July 27th's BBQ at the Big House. While a few other big-name schools are also in pursuit, that's the only visit he's got planned for now. He'll be at The Opening, as well, where he'll likely get some attention from Michigan's pair of commits in attendance.
Also planning a BBQ visit is three-star NC DE Kengera Daniel, whose ranking belies an impressive offer sheet that includes Alabama, Miami (YTM), and Tennessee in addition to Michigan. According to Tim Sullivan($), Daniel plans to take his official visits before making a decision during his senior season; securing one of those officials will be key for landing his commitment.
Scout's Sam Hellman caught up with recently offered four-star NJ ATH Ahmir Mitchell, who told him that unlike all the other schools that have offered him as a receiver, Michigan is recruiting him as a safety ($).
Four-star IN DE Auston Robertson, who camped at Michigan and is expecting an offer relatively soon, will be back in Ann Arbor for the BBQ, per 247's Steve Lorenz ($). While Notre Dame is his early leader, he said that the Wolverines would join them at the top of his list if they come through with an offer.
Five-star Cincinnati (OH) Elder OL Tommy Kraemer told Lorenz that Michigan could join a pair of familiar foes at the top of his list should the coaches, as expected, extend him an offer ($):
Kraemer, who holds offers from Ohio State and Notre Dame among others, says the Wolverines would immediately join that top group with an offer.
"They're the team I grew up following," he said. "My dad coached a former Michigan player and I've always been told about how great of a place it is there. I would want to visit and see it for myself first, but I am pretty sure they would be right there with the other schools I'm highly considering."
Kraemer was invited to the BBQ, but is unlikely to attend because of a conflict with his high school team's camp; he's looking to set up a visit before that camp starts on July 17th. With Kraemer planning to make a decision after his junior season, expect Michigan to throw their hat in the ring whenever he gets on campus.
|Naples, FL – 6'1", 255|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||2*, NR overall
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#117 DT, #270 FL
|24/7||2*, NR overall
#127 DT, #299 FL
|Other Suitors||Appalachian State|
|YMRMFSPA||I call him mini-Mike Martin|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||I am note-free.|
Most Michigan fans were hoping that Brady Pallante wouldn't be in this class. That's no knock on Pallante, necessarily: it's just that Michigan was dreaming of a class with Malik McDowell and DaShawn Hand in it. Once the season progressed as shambolically as it did and both of those top-end stars drifted away from the unpleasant odor of tackles for loss wafting out of Ann Arbor, Michigan found itself with open scholarships and limited options.
Enter Pallante, who committed as a nearly-unheard of nose tackle out of Florida just after the previous year's signing day. The catch then is that Pallante was recruited as a grayshirt who would come in-mid-year (IE, six months from now) and be a part of the 2015 class. When recruiting ended with a thud, he was moved up.
So here he is, and we know… not much. Two-star guys who commit super early are not well-scouted as a rule, and Pallante is one of those even if he's gotten the three-star courtesy bump from a couple of sites. (It makes you wonder how deep ESPN's three star rankings go if the #270 guy in Florida gets one.)
What we do have makes him sound like mini-Mike Martin. Pallante is a penetrator who uses his relative lack of height to his advantage; like Martin (and Terrance Taylor), when not spending time on football he is tossing panicky high schoolers around en route to state championships as a heavyweight wrestler. This is in fact a comparison the coaches have made directly:
“The coaches up at Michigan said I remind them a lot of Mike Martin,” said Pallante. “Coach Hoke just sat down with me and said, ‘we’re looking for a guy who can replace Mike Martin at nose guard and a guy that works hard and is a tough kid’.”
"Wrestling has helped with everything, between balance, coordination, hands," he said. "When you're fighting to get inside control on the wrestling mat, it's the same thing when you're coming off the ball because at the snap you're trying to get inside the man across from you to gain the advantage.
"My footwork is better. Staying low. Learning how to use leverage. There are a lot of things that have transferred over from wrestling to football that have helped my game, and vice versa."
There are three actual scouting reports out there, from ESPN, 247's Clint Brewster, and Rivals's Tim Sullivan. All say he's small ("marginal size"; "undersized"; "undersized", respectively) and that this will be his main issue going forward. Weights for Pallante ranged from 245(!) to 280 on recruiting sites; we're going with Michigan's own listing on their signing day page, which is a relatively measly 255.
They differ in their evaluations of how promising he is as an interior disruptor, with ESPN tending towards the meh:
…adequate-to-good first-step quickness. While he's not a disruptive penetrating presence he is capable of getting off the ball quickly enough to consistently get good initial position and, at times, knock blockers back. Can fire out low and consistently gain physical leverage with his compact frame …. A bit limited as a pass rusher. …battles and gives good effort.
The other two guys may just be trying to be nice, but their evaluations are more hopeful. Brewster:
… undersized but very skilled defensive tackle. … very quick off the ball and has a number of moves in his arsenal to beat an offensive lineman. He has a brawlers mentality in the trenches and can stand his ground against the run. Pallante is athletic enough to get to the quarterback … He has the skill-set to win against much bigger opponents.
…opened things up for his teammates, enduring multiple blockers on most every play, and often enduring cut blocks … has a build that allows him to play with excellent leverage … Most impressive was Pallante's overall technique. He made excellent use of his hands to defeat various types of blocks, and combined hand technique with quickness to knife into the backfield repeatedly. He was disciplined in executing his assignments, holding the edge, and chasing down quarterbacks and running backs in the backfield. He arrived with violence each time.
A gradient on a theme. Pallante will go as far as his hands can take him. If that's the backfield, he'll see time. If that's still-in-front-of-this-double team, he won't.
One point in his favor: Michigan jumped on him so early after seeing him extensively at their summer camp the year before. Michigan has done well with random camp commits under Hoke. (Probably, anyway—they're mostly still to young to have a definitive answer there.)
Etc.: The twist: Magnus likes him better than other people.
Why mini-Mike Martin? Well, if the coaches are saying it I will too. Martin was obviously a much bigger recruit, and bigger dude in general. If Pallante works out it'll be as a version of Martin: get in the backfield over and over again so it doesn't matter if someone tries to double you because you've gone between them.
Guru Reliability: Low. Virtually unscouted by anyone except Sullivan.
Variance: Moderate. Size questions may prevent him from seeing the field; technique seems advanced.
Ceiling: Low. Needs 30 pounds to be the same weight as Jibreel Black was last year, when he was unable to hold up to doubles at all. If he is actually 280 now and can get to 300-ish, I'll revise that upward. In my head.
General Excitement Level: Low. Well… I mean… I don't like being super-negative here when these guys are all lottery tickets and may or may not work out. CMU OT goes #1 in NFL draft, etc. But Pallante seems to have a hard cap on his ability to hold up to doubles.
Projection: Redshirt, then probably another year of anonymity as Michigan returns all of their nose tackles next year. First opportunity to get in the rotation will be as a redshirt sophomore. He'll probably end up a guy behind the guy for the duration of his career, which is useful at NT.
The Beas is finally at ease. Probably. I don't think the USA will have to resort to Beasley in 2018, but 1) left back is a difficult spot to fill for anyone and 2) if anyone is going to have a Frankie Hedjuk zombie USA career it is the Beas.
Demonstrating this: there's not a lot in the pipeline here.
FABIAN JOHNSON – Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany) – 30 in 2018 -
Yedlin's emergence should kick Johnson back over to left back, where he was just as much of a dynamic attacking force for the Nats during qualification and the like. Hopefully he retains his speed at 30; hopefully another four years at outside back will let him work on some of the mental errors that saw players get in behind him late in games—his guy scored in both the Ghana and Portugal games after the 80th minute.
If things are going very well at outside back you could see Johnson slide up into a wing midfield spot. What are the chances of that? Not great. But I'm saying there's a chance because of…
CHRIS KLUTE – Colorado Rapids – 28 in 2018 – 0 caps
Klute appeared from nowhere in 2012 after his career had seemingly fizzled out. He lasted just one year at Furman and was idling in the reserves of the NASL's Atlanta Silverbacks; a year later he was Colorado's defensive player of the year.
He's a lightning bolt like Yedlin and is capable of playing either side, a versatility that will help him get on the roster. He is in fact more natural on the left—his crosses from there have generated a number of Rapids goals—and is thus a treasure. Already called into a USA training camp with his teammate Shane O'Neill. He is the most likely uncapped player to make the 2018 23. Because left back, yes. But also guy has talent.
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GREG GARZA – Tijuana (Mexico) – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
soundtrack is rad, totally tubular, bitchin' yo
Garza is an on and off starter for Tijuana, having seemingly pushed Edgar Castillo out of favor there. It's been difficult to figure out just how much he's playing for the Xolos; it appears he's made 34 appearances since his 2012 arrival. So not exactly first name on the team sheet. Since I can't say I've seen him I'm going by what's out there on the internet and it's a bit confused as to whether he is a clear first choice riser or not.
But as a guy seeing time at left back for a good Mexican side you can be sure the USMNT takes a look.
JUAN PABLO OCEGUEDA – UANL Tigres (Mexio) – 24 in 2018 – 0 caps
Ocegueda was a hotly contested recruitment battle between the US and Mexico that the US won. Unfortunately for Ocegueda, he made this decision at the same time he went on a loan to Chivas. Chivas only plays Mexican nationals, so he was frozen out. Why they didn't just terminate the loan is unknown.
Ocegueda's stuck behind Jorge Torres Nilo, a Mexico international, at Tigres and will have to find a loan or move to get the playing time necessary to become a part of the full national team picture. He should be first choice for the U23 2016 Olympics, for a start.
ERIC LICHAJ – Nottingham Forest (England 2nd) – 29 in 2018 – 10 caps
Lichaj is a natural right back who's been trying to diversify his game and become, like Johnson, comfortable with both feet. He played fairly regularly for EPL side Aston Villa after coming through their academy; last year he signed with Forest on a two-year deal and saw plenty of playing time before a hip issue knocked him out of the lineup and any potential consideration for a World Cup spot. (Not that Klinsmann seemed to give him any notice when he was healthy.)
Lichaj has not appeared under Klinsmann when even Edgar Castillo was given multiple chances, so it's a bit grim for him. If he can add that versatility, though, and play regularly for a solid team he'll be in the picture.
LONGSHOTS: Edgar Castillo has 16 caps to his name but has looked like a defensive disaster in almost all of them; he'd be 31 and on the downside in Russia. Also, Garza forced his way into the starting lineup past Castillo. It's almost certainly curtains for him.
And don't ever count out DaMarcus Beasley.
Meep meep, y'all.
DEANDRE YEDLIN – (probably) Roma (Italy) – 24 in 2018 – 7 caps
Yedlin's breakout World Cup demonstrated he was one of the fastest players in the world, and his crossing was consistently dangerous. It took under a week for AS Roma to swoop in on him and complete a transfer that will see him finish the year with Seattle, then move to Italy midseason. From there he'll be loaned out to a mid-table Seria A team (Italy allows only one non-EU player to come in per year, and Roma's used theirs) and then attempt to replace Maicon, the 32-year-old Brazilian international. So… yeah. Big shoes.
He's supposedly a little deficient when it comes to reading the game, but I mean, nits. He is 20. If he continues improving he's a holy lock… and probably even if he doesn't. But let's hope for the former.
ANDREW FARRELL – New England Revolution – 26 in 2018 – 0 caps
Farrell was the first pick in the 2013 draft after a formative period in Peru(!)—his parents were missionaries there for ten years—and three years at Louisville and has established himself one of the top young outside backs in MLS already. Bonus points for growing a beard until he scores.
Also bonus: depending on how he develops, Farrell may add enough positional flexibility to only bring seven defenders, as he was a center-back in college and has seen time there in MLS when injury has forced him to. He is technical:
"When he has the ball at his feet, he’s willing to do things in the back that defenders like me never did," Heaps said. "He’s so strong, good in the air, but for me the thing that makes Andrew as good as he is, his feet are so quick. I've never seen it before on a player his size. He’ll dribble. He can get himself out of a tough situation by passing out of the back. That’s just his nature. ‘I can do this. I can get by this guy, make a move here, get by one player and open it up for a [teammate]."
That'll help him, broken record about technical defenders being a must, etc., etc.
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TIM CHANDLER – Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) - 28 in 2018 – 13 caps
Chandler's indifferent-to-miserable form after a promising start and wavering dedication to the US cause puts his place in question. At 24 he's probably not going to make a great leap forward, either. Nonetheless, he is a regular Bundesliga starter at a spot where the US doesn't currently have a lot of options.
Chandler will have plenty of opportunities to confirm or dis-confirm his ability and desire before 2018, and if he's into it he does have the most impressive career to date. I just don't know if Klinsmann's going to play ball here—he cut Donovan ruthlessly over dedication issues.
KELLYN ACOSTA – FC Dallas – 22 in 2018 – 0 caps
Acosta skipped college entirely to become a homegrown signing for Dallas and ended up moving to right back for the bulk of this season. He's having some troubles staying on the field and picked up an injury recently, as will happen to 18-year-old pros. Dallas fans seem to think his long-term future is in the midfield; we'll see. At an international level the opportunity is greater at outside back. Like it always is.
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Never count out DaMarcus Beasley, I guess? It's tough to find other reasonable options. This list already has a converted CB and converted mid. Plus Tim Chandler.
Besler and Cameron will be 31 and 32, respectively, when 2018 rolls around. Gonzalez will be 28, Brooks 25. It is a possibility the US rolls with the same four central defenders they did in 2018.
MATT BESLER – Sporting KC – 31 in 2018 – 21 caps
Besler is not likely to be in MLS for much longer after a terrific World Cup. Yeah, Romelu Lukaku ran through him. That'll happen in the 93rd minute against one of the most athletic strikers in the world fresh off the bench. In just about every other situation Besler found himself in, he was terrific. Dude's going to get paid, and any theories about the USA back line for the next cycle should start with Besler.
Now, if we could just incorporate his long throws…
JOHN BROOKS – Hertha Berlin (Germany) – 25 in 2018 – 5 caps
Corner hero and celebration expert. As of early June a pile of EPL teams were readying runs at him after a standout final half-season with Hertha, one that came after he infuriated his manager by getting a back tattoo so large he had to miss time because of inflammation. Getting back in the manager's good graces after that is perhaps the best sign of his talent yet.
Brooks was stuck behind Besler this World Cup as Klinsmann stuck to a strict left/right CB pairing. Odds are by 2018 they will make a serious attempt to use Brooks, a Bundesliga starter at 21, and Besler together.
GEOFF CAMERON – Stoke (England) – 32 in 2018 – 30 caps
Cameron's lack of Beckerman-ness was ruthlessly exposed by Belgium. However: other than a couple of scuffed clearances, one of which fell directly to Nani, he was otherwise excellent as a centerback. (I don't put much blame on him for the Portugal equalizer, as Varela was Johnson's man and Cameron slowed up in anticipation of having to check one of two runners coming from his zone.) I know that is a bit "but how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln" but if Cameron's mishit clearance goes two yards further in any direction, we're talking about him as one of the revelations of the tournament, along with Besler.
Can he maintain through 32? I don't see why not. Centerbacks generally endure longer than other outfield players because positioning and anticipation are ever-burgeoning attributes.
Cameron's positional flexibility has to be considered hypothetical after Belgium, and Brooks is going to come after his job hard. Even so it's unlikely he gets bashed off the roster.
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OMAR GONZALEZ – LA Galaxy – 29 in 2018 – 23 caps
everybody checks Chicharito
Gonzalez was surprisingly able when called upon for the USA's last two games, and that counts for quite a bit. The "surprising" part is something built upon a good six months of Gonzalez making goofy decisions and being obviously culpable for goals, though, and he's still the guy under the most threat for the next cycle.
One major reason: compare him to cultured CBs like Kompany and David Luiz and the difference is obvious. Hell, compare him to Cameron. Gonzalez has his uses. Unfortunately for him, they do not extend to his feet, and a US team that desires to possess the ball against elite teams may look elsewhere.
TIM REAM – Bolton (England 2nd) – 30 in 2018 – 8 caps
Ream was horrible when provided the opportunity to start at the beginning of the 2011 Gold Cup. He ceded a penalty to Blaz Perez in a 2-1 loss to Panama and was benched for the remainder. A few months later he came on as a substitute against Ecuador and was beaten for the winner in a 1-0 loss*. He faded from the national team picture, then surprisingly transferred to then-EPL side Bolton.
Bolton got relegated, with Ream a peripheral player. But Ream hung on to become a first-choice defender and occasional midfielder, appearing in 41 of Bolton's 42 league matches in 2013-14. He was named the player of the year by the club and the fans after.
Ream's best asset as a central defender is his technical ability on the ball, something that the US can really use if they're going to survive high pressing and have more of the ball. Ream's also spent some time as a defensive midfielder, a spot that's going to open up for the next cycle. He should get another look. I won't be surprised if he ends up on the roster somewhere.
*[Should be noted that this may have been the weirdest USA lineup of the past four years, as the US played a diamond with Maurice Edu in front of Kyle Beckerman, flanked by Danny Williams and Brek Shea. Okay! The D that day was the last-gasp crew: Chandler, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo.]
WILL PACKWOOD – Birmingham City (England 2nd) - 25 in 2018 – 0 caps
Packwood debuted with Championship side Birmingham City at just 19, whereupon he almost immediately suffered a severe leg injury. He made his recovery and resumed playing on loan in the fourth tier of English football late last season; after injuries struck Birmingham he was recalled, immediately securing a place in Birmingham's starting lineup. He was named the Football League Young Player of The Month in February.
Packwood got called up for the weird game against the Ukraine that had to be played in Cyprus, though he didn't get in.
ERIK PALMER-BROWN – Sporting Kansas City – 21 in 2018 – 0 caps
At just 17, Palmer-Brown is probably one for 2022, not 2018, but he is starting in MLS right now thanks to Kansas City's injury misfortune and Besler's World Cup absence—an absence that figures to become permanent soon. Before that, Juventus came in with a 1 million dollar offer that SKC rejected. He should be a key figure in the Olympic campaign, with all eyes on him as he attempts to be the first bonafide OMG center-back prospect the USA's had.
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Should be noted that while I included Shane O'Neill as a defensive mid, he is a center back for Colorado and may figure in on the back line.
Traffic Sports is finally done wrecking Gale Agbossoumonde's career, so if he can latch onto the right MLS team and see the field he could start living up to his potential, once considered vast. After 14 appearances in MLS last year, he has yet to play in 2014.
German-American Alfredo Morales has a cap to his name and will be 28 in 2018. He's playing in the German second division.
No need to belabor it: it'll be Brad Guzan unless Tim Howard wants to hang on until 39, and probably even if he does. The third option is unclear right now, but also irrelevant.
ONE MAN'S 23
Note that this doesn't exactly match up with the lines above, as my thinking has changed, man.
Goalie: Guzan, Howard, Hamid
Howard passes the crown to Guzan for this cycle but remains available for tournaments and as a backup; DCU's Hamid is your current leader for ceremonial third keeper.
Central D: Besler, Brooks, Cameron
Dropping down to three because three other guys on the roster can play CB. Top challengers here: Gonzalez, Ream.
Outside back: Johnson, Yedlin, Farrell, Klute
I actually feel confident about this. Disaster is around the corner, then. Top challengers: Chandler, Garza.
Defensive mid: Bradley, Trapp, O'Neill, Stanko
Bradley is obvious, and then it might depend on matchups. Trapp might have a slight edge now. Challengers: Edu, Williams.
Wing: Green, Gatt, Gyau
Speed and attacking verve here is an absolute must. The USA was playing quad-A players here this cycle and that was viciously exposed by the World Cup. I'm only including two guys here because Agudelo, Yedlin, and Johnson are good backup options. Challengers: Pelosi.
Attacking mid: Nagbe, Diskerud, Dempsey
Forgot to even mention Dempsey in the attackers category, which was an oversight. Even at 35 he should be worth dragging along to put on the field at 70'. Main competitors here: Gil, Zelalem if he does go with the US.
Striker: Altidore, Boyd, Agudelo
A like for like with Altidore and here's a dollar that says Agudelo finds a home in the Bundesliga and plays like he belongs. Competitors: Johannsson, Zardes.
This concludes the three weeks every four years where I flip out and soccer blog. Normal service resumes currently.