also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
Newsome at Michigan (via 247) and on the field (Rivals)
Lawrenceville (NJ) Prep OT Grant Newsome announced his commitment to Michigan this morning via a very heartfelt note he posted on Twitter [click for full size]:
Newsome, who chose U-M over Penn State after recent return visits to both schools, is the seventh commit in the 2015 class, joining Jon Runyan Jr. among offensive linemen.
4*, #20 OT,
4*, #21 OT,
4*, 81, #25 OT,
4*, 92, #22 OT,
4*, #19 OT,
Newsome is rated with remarkable consistency by scouts, to the point that he's ranked higher among offensive tackles on the 247 Composite than any of the four recruiting services. I don't think I've seen that for any player, let alone one who's yet to play his senior season.
There's almost universal agreement about his size, as well. He's listed at 6'7 everywhere but 247 (6'6"), and everybody but Rivals (280 lbs.) pegs his weight at 290. There's little question where Newsome fits on an offensive line—that's prototype tackle size.
Newsome made his first major mark on the recruiting scene after his sophomore year, when he picked up an offer from Penn State shortly after standing out in their summer camp ($). Unfortunately, no scouting report at that link, but pulling in an offer from a strong recruiting Penn State program that showed major interest in him through two coaching regimes is a pretty good sign.
Scout's free eval likes his mobility and notes he needs some work on technique, which will be two running themes throughout this post:
Newsome is athletic, strong in pass protection and can get to the second level quickly in the running game. He is good drive blocking and does a nice job in pass protection. He has good length and is able to protect the edge, but does need to refine his technique. Newsome also gets to the second level quickly. -- Brian Dohn
He gets to the second level so quickly it needs to be noted twice in a four-sentence span, apparently. Getting another look at U-M's latest commit, Dohn ranked Newsome's performance third among offensive linemen, one spot ahead of Runyan, in a strong field at the New Jersey NFTC ($):
3. Grant Newsome, 6-6, 290, The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School
Skinny: Newsome had the unenviable task of being a left tackle in a 1-on-1 competition, which is slanted greatly toward defensive ends. His kickstep was good, he did a good job of not reaching and he used his length to tie up and frustrated defensive ends. Newsome also showed a good initial punch, and his lateral slide and footwork was also solid.
It appears Newsome's already improving on some of the technical aspects. While he came up short of position MVP honors and an automatic spot in The Opening, 247's Steve Wiltfong thought his performance could've merited an invite to Nike's elite camp:
Mclean (Va.) Lawrenceville School Top247 offensive tackle Grant Newsome could have easily won offensive line MVP honors and been invited to The Opening as well. Perhaps he still will. Has the ideal frame one wants in a left tackle, has nice length, he can bend, he keeps defensive linemen off him, not letting them get their hands on him.
ESPN's junior eval is just a condensed version of their longer one, so I'll reprint it here; it reflects the general consensus that Newsome has the ideal size and potential to be a great left tackle, but needs to add strength and technique—like most every offensive lineman coming out of high school—to put it all together ($):
STRENGTHS: Is very tall with a lean blend that looks to be capable of supporting additional bulk. Can move adequately in space for a guy his size with the ability to pull and block what is directly in front of him. Flashes the ability to get set quickly in pass to slide feet and mirror. ... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Needs to continue to develop functional strength. Does not always roll hips and explode through contact. Can deliver a punch and jolt defender when given the angle but first step is not consistently on proper angle. Hand placement will need to improve as an edge protector. ... BOTTOM LINE: Newsome has the frame and athletic ability to develop but is still a bit raw at this stage. His size and athleticism will garner interest from some bigger schools down the road.
NJ.com placed Newsome second in their state rankings—ahead of Penn State's trio of highly touted New Jersey commits and 2016 five-star Rashan Gary—published this February after he earned first-team all-state honors:
Attributes: Newsome is as good an athlete as you will find playing offensive tackle. He possesses terrific feet and initial quickness. His lateral agility, anticipation and overall athleticism project him to left tackle in college. He displays good willingness in the run game and the potential to become a standout BCS offensive lineman.
Recruit capsule: Grant Newsome
• Frame - 10
• Pass Blocking - 9
• Run Blocking - 8
• Awareness - 7
• Upside - 10
Only consensus five-star corner Minkah Fitzpatrick ranks in front of Newsome; the locals really like his game. That article also featured the requisite glowing review from his coach:
"He's a very unique player in the sense that he combines anything that anybody who coaches college football would want in a young man. He is smart, articulate, tall, long and athletic. He's got a great sense of the game, a great work ethic and he's smart on the field and in the class room. And he's a gentleman. And I know that's a lot of superlatives, but he's doing a fantastic job all-around and we are lucky to have him." – Lawrenceville head coach Danny O'Dea
The above and the note Newsome posted upon committing probably covered any concerns about fitting The Pattern™. Just in case they didn't, it's worth noting Newsome heavily emphasized academics throughout his recruitment, taking looks at the likes of Cal, Duke, and Northwestern, and going into exacting detail on how Michigan's combination of excellent academics and support made a major impression after his most recent visit ($):
Newsome, who is looking to major in Civil War history [ed-Ace: my man] , said the academic tour, and specifically the M-PACT program and its director Shari Acho were a major plus for the Wolverines.
"It's definitely something I would say will factor into my decision," he said. "Michigan's academic support system is really unique for their athletes and it's something my mom and I were both really, really impressed with. They gave me a clear cut idea of the types of classes I would be taking and what the life and schedule is like for a student athlete. Michigan's APR and graduation rates were something I had heard about, but it's not something I'm concerned about at all. I know I am capable of succeeding anywhere I go, and for me the support system stood out so much, I know I will have more than enough resources to be successful in school if I decide to choose Michigan."
It appears at least one negative recruiter didn't get the updated APR scores.*
Michigan is getting a lineman who fits the left tackle mold to a T, has excellent athleticism for his size, displays no off-field warning signs, and needs to add strength and technique to get to where he needs to be. Given U-M's recent offensive line classes, he should be afforded time to develop, and after that the potential is very high.
[*Honestly, negative recruiting doesn't really get a rise out of me—it happens everywhere in some form or another—but at least get the facts right.]
In addition to Michigan, Newsome earned offers from Alabama, Cal, Duke, Georgia, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, North Carolina, NC State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Pitt, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, among others. A decent list, I guess.
Lawrenceville Prep went 5-3 last season, and while the Rivals search function is still not working for me, they've got an alumni page that gives you a solid idea what level of program they are—the vast majority of their graduates who play college football do so at Ivy League schools or the like.
Offensive lineman, no stats.
FAKE 40 TIME
No 40 time is readily available, but, you know, offensive lineman. The quick feet, as described by seemingly every scout, are what matter here.
Sophomore highlights are available on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
He'll be a tackle.
Okay, that's both obvious and uninformative. Newsome should be able to take a redshirt year; when he gets to campus, Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden will be redshirt juniors, Chris Fox and Logan Tuley-Tillman redshirt sophomores, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty should be a redshirt freshman. Early enrollee Mason Cole and David Dawson, who's in the same class as Fox and LTT, may also be in the mix at tackle, though at least one of those two should eventually slide inside.
Newsome most likely will get a multi-year apprenticeship while he's refining his technique and hulking out, then he'll get his shot at earning a starting job.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan has the offensive tackle they needed, and while they could add another lineman—probably a good idea for class balance if they have the room—they're in a position to take the two they've got and focus on other positions given the depth along the line in the last few classes.
With Ty Isaac's transfer taking up a scholarship, we're projecting 15 or so players in the class with normal attrition, though that number could certainly grow. That leaves eight spots remaining for U-M to add a running back, a wide receiver or two, a tight end (a spot they could fill soon with Chris Clark), a defensive end or two, an outside linebacker or two, and perhaps another defensive back to fill Shaun Crawford's vacated spot. Add all those needs up and you get to nine players—space is limited, something that Michigan has used to their advantage on the recruiting trail in the past.
From the man himself, it's official—USC running back transfer Ty Isaac is coming to Michigan:
I will be attending the University of Michigan this year
— Ty Isaac (@TyIsaac) June 5, 2014
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Ty Isaac's Twitter background is the album cover of Biggie's Ready To Die, making this transfer even more full of win than originally thought.
We still await word on whether Isaac will receive a hardship waiver that allows him to play this fall or if he'll have to sit out a year. Even though Michigan is outside the 100-mile radius that's the normal NCAA standard for granting a hardship, the reason Isaac transferred was so his mother—who's developed an ear condition that prevents her from flying—could drive to his games, something she can do from their Illinois home.
I thought I'd written a Hello post draft back in 2012, when Isaac was down to USC or Michigan in his recruitment. Turns out, the running back whose commitment post never saw the light of day was Bri'onte Dunn. An informative update is forthcoming.
5*, #7 RB,
5*, #4 RB,
4*, 83, #13 ATH,
4*, 95, #5 APB,
4*, #8 RB,
Coming out of high school, the recruiting services regarded Isaac as either one of the very best running backs in the country or a top-100-ish athlete. Naturally, ESPN ranks him the lowest despite an extremely positive scouting report (more on that below).
We don't have to take a guess as to his size; Isaac clocked in at 6'3", 225 pounds as a freshman last season at USC. He's a tall, upright back with the bulk to mash between the tackles and the height/hands combination to be a really dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield.
While Isaac had grabbed the attention of scouts as soon as he played on Joliet Catholic's varsity squad as a freshman, it's hard not to start this section with his record-shattering performance as a junior in the Illinois 5A state championship game, because GOOD GOD:
With 6 minutes and 40 seconds left in the first half, Isaac had already broken the Class 5A title record of 210 yards, set by Rock Island’s Alonzo Wise in 1997. With 48 seconds left until halftime, he had 376 yards, breaking a school record and the all-time IHSA rushing record for yards in a state title game regardless of class. Maine South’s Matt Perez had the previous mark in a Class 8A title game with 316 yards against Marist in 2009.
Isaac finished with 515 YARDS AND SIX TOUCHDOWNS ON 26 CARRIES, which definitely merits ALL-CAPS treatment. Search YouTube for "Ty Isaac state championship" and you get a series of clips like this, in which he makes one cut and then explodes past everybody for a touchdown:
Fits zone running scheme: check.
The massive amount of attention Isaac received for his performance didn't please him, however, as Joliet Catholic's defense collapsed and the team fell to Montini, 70-45:
"It wasn’t even something you could enjoy, it was something we needed," Isaac said. "We had to put points up. At the end of the day, it was really irrelevant."
Fits The Pattern™: check.
Aside from his eye-popping numbers, Isaac most impressed scouts with his combination of size, athleticism, and receiving ability. Scout's profile listed his strengths as breakaway speed, change-of-direction, and hands—blocking was the sole area for improvement—accompanied by this scouting report:
Tall, good sized back with the speed to break long runs. Is very smooth, changes directions well and has deceptive elusiveness. Is an excellent route runner and receiver out of the backfield who occasionally can split out or play in the slot. Does a lot of running from the wingback position, so he'll likely have to get used to inside running and blitz pick-up from a more traditional tailback spot in college. - Allen Trieu
"There was some talk that maybe Ty would flash out to the wide receiver position in college because of his size," said Rivals.com Midwest Recruiting Analyst Josh Helmholdt. "I definitely think his upside is at running back, but that attests to his abilities as a receiver.
"He is a natural pass catcher with soft hands and obviously the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He could flash out into the slot at times and create mismatches with linebackers and safeties."
That could make him a great complement to Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, both of whom are much more accomplished runners than receivers. That's not to say Isaac doesn't hold his own as a runner; Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated said there was "not much to critique" in the room for improvement area of this scouting report, while the positives were... quite positive ($):
A polished, fundamentally sound, shifty, explosive running back with excellent size, athleticism and an even-keeled demeanor on and off the football field. A long, explosive, gliding stride with excellent knee lift. Great vision and a find-the-hole, hit-the-hole mentality with the ability to anticipate where the next wave of tacklers is coming from and cut it back against the grain. Weaves through traffic with the greatest of ease.
A naturally instinctive running back. Has the unusual ability for a prep running back to hit the hole square, and then make cuts off a wide, balanced base. Has an explosive gear once the path to paydirt comes in his radar. Nice forward lean with the football. Appears to protect the football well.
Hi. I would like ALL OF THAT. Prister went on to compare Isaac to Eddie George, another big upright back whom you may remember winning the Heisman at Ohio State.
There were concerns coming out of college, given Isaac's film heavy on untouched bursts into the secondary—sorry for being so good, I guess—that he lacked between-the-tackles power or the willingness to run though contact. That's not what ESPN saw when they updated their scouting report for Signing Day 2013 ($):
More of a one-cut-and-get-north type of back, but his vision reading linebacker flow and balance going against the grain are impressive. Has lateral quicks to slip pursuit. He has good feet for his size and the patience needed to follow blocks and let the hole open up. Very good initial take off with a long stride burst to turn the corner. While he can exploit a crease and accelerate through the second level, he makes his mark on strength and will likely do so at the next level. This is a strong runner who can be a load to wrap up solidly, particularly high, when he gets square to the line and utilizes his good downhill burst. Needs to be conscious of pad level and improve lean, but shows good body balance at contact. He's a hard runner who can finish and get the tough yard. Has a sturdy frame with high toughness for multiple carries.
Isaac's stock dropped a little bit as a senior, though Scout's Allen Trieu chalked this up to nagging injuries and less-than-stellar competition when he ranked Isaac as the #2 Illinois prospect in his class behind (sigh) Laquon Treadwell ($):
Isaac had a lot to battle this year. He had to fight injury as well as a growing sentiment that he did not play great competition in high school. Maybe those folks forgot about what he did as a junior, or his six touchdowns in the state title game against a good Montini team. He has good size, speed, and a smooth running style that has him compared with some of the USC greats that he now inherits the mantle from. He's also a great receiver out of the backfield, another asset he will bring to SoCal.
So that gets us through his high school career. Isaac's college career got off to a slow start, as he received just ten carries through the first nine games in a crowded backfield. After a breakout performance against Cal (11 carries, 87 yards, 2 TDs) in the tenth game, he mentioned one of the primary reasons it took him a while to get into gear:
Arriving on campus this summer after a storied high school career in which he rushed for a total of 5,305 yards out of a prolific double-wing attack, Isaac had some difficulties early on as he made the switch from wingback to tailback in USC’s intricate pro-style scheme.
“It was a shock to the system,” Isaac said. “I ran about five plays in high school, and now I’ve got five different reads on one play, so that was definitely something that I had to adjust to.”
Even though he must switch systems once again, it'll be far less of a transition than going from a very simple high school offense that utilized him as a wingback to a complicated pro-style attack with him as a traditional tailback.
Programs to offer Isaac out of high school included Arizona, Auburn, Clemson, Illinois, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Penn State, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
If you're really curious, you can read a remarkably extensive history of Joliet Catholic football here.
As a high school junior, Isaac rushed for 2629 yards and 42 touchdowns on 203 carries, posting a ridiculous 13 yards per carry, while adding 360 yards and seven more TDs on 16 receptions (22.5 ypc). I can't find senior stats more specific than 1500 yards and 22 touchdowns on an unknown number of rushes—still not bad for an injury-plagued year.
At USC, he toted the rock 40 times for 236 yards (5.9 ypc) and two TDs, and chipped in four receptions for 57 yards.
FAKE 40 TIME
247 lists a 40 time of 4.45. I can't find the source of the time, so I'll give it four FAKEs out of five. That would be very impressive for a back of that size, and while Isaac shows off solid top-end speed, he's not a pure burner.
Junior highlights, featuring a whole lot of that state title game:
While Cal's defense was, well, bad, you're still going to want to check out his second touchdown run in that game:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
A lot of this depends on the status of Isaac's redshirt. If he receives his NCAA waiver and is allowed to play right away, he should factor in immediately to Michigan's running back rotation—he has a size/skill combination, especially when it comes to receiving, that no other U-M back can boast.
If he doesn't get the waiver, that might actually work out best for U-M, as it would put Isaac a year of eligibility behind Green and Smith and give him a clear shot at the full-time starting gig in a few years. Of course, he may very well earn that role before Green and Smith graduate; there's a lot of unknown when it comes to the running backs given the state of the offensive line. No matter what, he should see the field whenever he's allowed to.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
This is where the NCAA waiver really comes into play. If Isaac redshirts this season, the need to land an elite back in the 2015 class is somewhat alleviated. If he doesn't, getting a back who will be ready to start in a few years will still be very important. Michigan should take a back regardless, but a potential extra year of Isaac on the roster would soften the blow of possibly missing out on both Damien Harris and Mike Weber.
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.
Alex Malzone quarterbacking Brother Rice to their third straight state title (Photo: MLive)
A long and meandering search for Michigan's quarterback of the class of 2015 ended back at home. Birmingham (MI) Brother Rice rising senior Alex Malzone committed on the spot after receiving his coveted Wolverine offer while unofficially visiting campus today. Malzone becomes the sixth commit in the '15 class and just the second on the offensive side of the ball, joining OL Jon Runyan Jr.
4*, #15 QB,
|3*, #16 QB||3*, NR QB||
3*, #13 PRO-QB,
As you can see, Malzone's rankings are all over the place. Scout gives him four stars and ranks him inside their top 300, Rivals has him two quarterbacks away from four-star status, ESPN has their not-unusual disconnect between glowing evaluation and not even bothering to rank the kid, and 247 has him well below the four-star cut. I'm guessing some of these rankings will change now that he's committed; ESPN and 247 have him behind prospects generating very little in the way of major college interest.
The scouting services list Malzone as somewhere between 6'1" and 6'3", and other than a bizarre Rivals outlier of 166(!) pounds—stick-figure skinny—they all peg him in the 200-pound range. The general consensus is 6'2", 200, which looks about right based on photos and film. Maybe Rivals accidentally flipped the first '6'.
Malzone first made his mark as a sophomore, when he began taking snaps away from Brother Rice's returning senior starter as soon as he took command of the playbook:
"I was the quarterback on JV last year and then got moved up for the playoffs," Malzone told Scout.com. "This year, [starting QB] Cheyne [Lacanaria] was always there to help me. Halfway through the regular season is when I started to get the offense down. Whenever I had a question, he was there. He wouldn't push me to the side. He would help with the defenses and which receivers he looks for, and it helped me a lot."
After attempting just 24 passes heading into the state title game against Muskegon, Malzone connected on 8 of 11 passes for 167 yards and two TDs to lead the Warriors to their second straight MHSAA Division 2 state championship.
As the unquestioned full-time starter last fall, Malzone faced Muskegon once again in the state title game, and he had an even better performance the second time around, completing 20 of 24 passes for 263 yards and three passing TDs and adding 33 yards and a score on the ground in a 38-21 victory.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that Malzone's big-game prowess and mental makeup earn consistent mentions in his scouting reports. Scout's Allen Trieu:
After flashing big time talent last season, many wanted to see how Malzone would do as the full time starter. He has answered that question to date, leading his team to several big wins and several last minute wins, exhibiting poise, calmness under pressure and a strong, accurate arm.
The free report on Scout, also written by Trieu, takes it a step further:
|Has the arm to make all the throws. Mechanics can still use polishing, but he has good velocity on his passes, shows excellent timing and is very accurate. Shows the ability to make tough throws into coverage and has great touch down the field. Shows calm under pressure and lead several late game winning drives and has been in big game situations. May not have ideal dropback QB height, but is a gamer and a winner. - Allen Trieu|
A gamer and a winner. /crosses off two boxes on quarterback evaluation bingo card
Also, as is tradition, "size" for any non-prototype QB is listed as an area for improvement. /crosses off another box
The mental aspect goes beyond winning big games; ESPN's evaluation details Malzone's advanced command of a Brother Rice offense that seems like it'll translate well to Michigan's pro-style (for whatever meaning that phrase still holds) offense:
Really shows good command of the scheme. Plays in a traditional, multiple set from both under center and out of the shotgun. Is it good ball handler and sees a heavy dose of play action. Is quick to flip his hips around gets set and work through progressions. Plays with confidence and also plays within the scheme. Does not take a lot of risks with the football, but his arm strength allows for him to. Can work through progressions get shows anticipation off the first read to get the ball on time.
ESPN also praises his arm strength, "gifted rhythm and timing," and accuracy, mostly brushes off worries about any mechanical issues, discusses how he'd be a more coveted prospect if he'd been this productive in another region, and... leaves him unranked.
The main knocks on Malzone are his height—at 6'2", he's not the pocket passer prototype—and some mechanical issues derived from a youth focused more on being a baseball pitcher than a football quarterback. As mentioned, ESPN largely dismisses the mechanical concerns:
Release is quick and over the top. Does show a slight draw back where the bottom point of the ball points backwards as he pulls back to deliver. It's not alarming, but is evident. Similar to Kerry Collins, but nowhere near as pronounced.
Trieu seems relatively unconcerned, as well:
The two knocks on Malzone were his baseball style release and his lack of prototypical height at 6-foot-2. Mechanics are something he has steadily been working on. He throws well on the roll, but is not a running threat, although he shows good presence and ability to climb the pocket and keep his eyes downfield. He also stands in tough and will deliver passes in the face of pressure.
Tim Sullivan caught him at a game against a very overmatched team from Canada last October, and it seems Malzone occasionally let old, bad habits creep back into his release:
At times, Malzone reverts to a long baseball-style throwing motion, bringing the ball low, and delaying his release. However, he puts good zip on it, and continued work on his mechanics will straighten that out. His accuracy is excellent, despite the long release. It can be even better (and quicker) by tightening things up.
By the Elite 11 camp in Atlanta this March, however, Malzone seemed to have worked those problems out of his system, according to Scout national analyst Scott Kennedy:
Alex Malzone made his way to the South from Brother Rice High School in Michigan. Malzone was selected as one of the Final Five participants in the final drill as well. Malzone has a lightning quick release in large part because of a short windup that almost gives the appearance that he’s pushing the ball. He still gets good velocity on his throws and without needing to bring the ball back, he gets it out quickly.
At last month's Rivals camp in Detroit, Josh Helmholdt ranked Malzone as the #5 offensive performer, noting his outstanding arm strength and accuracy:
Malzone came into the camp as one of the most recognizable players and he really lived up to the hype. The most noticeable thing about him was his rifle arm. The ball really pops off his hand and gets to his target in a hurry. Malzone's good footwork helped him throw a very accurate ball. He was able to hit most of his receivers in stride throughout the day.
Perhaps most importantly, Malzone shined when it came time to earn his spot in the quarterback pecking order during his throwing session for Doug Nussmeier:
“My conversation with Coach Nuss went very well,” Malzone said. “He’s been all around the country seeing guys throw. I think he has one more, maybe two more on his list. He told everyone from the beginning he was going to see everyone throw. And then see what happens from there. And that’s pretty much what he told me. He said he was very impressed.
“Coach (Fred) Jackson actually came to the school at the end of the day. He just wanted to let me know he talked with Coach Nuss. And that Coach Nuss said I did great job.”
To sum it up, Malzone displays excellent arm strength and accuracy, has good footwork and pocket presence, is working through mechanical issues with apparent success, and has a track record of producing at a high level. His height, in conjuction with his lack of game-breaking mobility, seems to be holding him back from higher ratings more than anything else.
Malzone also held offers from Pitt, Wake Forest, Western Michigan, and a slew of other MAC schools. Penn State, among several other more prominent programs, showed serious interest; they were at his throwing session as well, then ended up pulling in one of the highest-ranked QBs in the entire class last week in dual-threat Brandon Wimbush.
Brother Rice is gunning for their fourth straight Division 2 state title this fall, which will be their first season in 57 years with a new head coach after the legendary Al Fracassa retired on top following last year's championship.
The Rivals database search function is currently broken as all hell, so I can't bring up a list of notable Brother Rice products (I'm sure I'll get plenty of help in the comments); the most recent big-time prospect from BR is current MSU linebacker Jon Reschke.
After completing 27 of 35 passes for 474 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions while taking snaps away from a title-winning senior QB during his sophomore season, Malzone excelled in his first year as a starter. He finished second in the Mr. Football voting in 2013, connecting on 190 of 281 attempts for 2,782 yards, 25 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, according to MaxPreps.
FAKE 40 TIME
247 lists a 40 time of 5.13, which is one of the least FAKE 40 times I've seen for a non-lineman. A token one FAKE is awarded due to the fact that I can't find the source of the time.
Single-game cut-ups, sophomore highlights, and a longer partial-season junior reel are available on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Shane Morris is the apparent successor to Devin Gardner after this year, and with freshman Wilton Speight already having a session of spring ball under his belt, Malzone should take a redshirt year barring the unexpected. If we assume Morris is a two-year starter, Malzone and Speight should compete for the starting job in 2017, when Malzone will be in his third year in the program.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan has their quarterback, at long last, and expect Malzone to be an active recruiter much like the signal-callers in the classes preceding him. Based on the current depth chart by class, which hasn't yet been updated for the commitments of Malzone and Garrett Taylor, Michigan has six spots left for the 2015 class, though that number will almost certainly grow by Signing Day.
The main positions of need moving forward are running back, receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, weakside DE, and both inside and outside linebacker; the Wolverines are in on several prospects at each of those positions.
Michigan's picked up a commitment from NH SF/SG Aubrey Dawkins, a 6'4" sleeper sort just discussed in this afternoon's recruiting post. The son of Stanford coach and former Duke star Johnny Dawkins, he picked Michigan over Dayton and will come in this fall.
Informative update coming.
Dawkins has the kind of rankings you expect from a guy with a placeholder photo many places. 247 has him a three star and the #67 SG, Rivals an unranked three star. ESPN and Scout still have him a two-star member of the class of 2013.
Dawkins took a prep year, so much of his scouting is old. ESPN hasn't updated his profile since last February. What they saw then($):
…ideal frame for the scoring guard position with excellent length. He does a terrific job of facing up his opponent and blowing by him to get to the basket. … can knock down the 3-point shot and his release looks relatively smooth… must get better handling pressure while dribbling. His handle can get sloppy when defenders get into him-especially when he goes left. His jump shot is solid, but as he gets stronger it needs to get more consistent for the scoring guard position.
That is just about it for scouting reports before his prep year. The major sites didn't collect any this year, either, but fortunately the NE prep school scene has spawned a number of regional sites that track the various D-I players hanging around.
So we know Dawkins had a bust-out performance in February of this year in the NPSI tourney, which is apparently a thing where all the fancy pants schools draw sabres and joust. Three different outfits took note. NERR:
The six-foot-six post-graduate had all parts of his game clicking. He was hot from behind the arc and athletic in transition, but equally important was the level of energy he was able to provide his team on both ends of the floor. He finished with 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals.
…breakout performer over the weekend in Providence. Sporting a quality physique and playmaking abilities at the tin, the one question mark surrounding the North Carolina native has always been in his shot making from behind the arc. The son of Stanford head coach, Johnny Dawkins, the younger Dawkins erased all questions surrounding his long range attempt and in his final outing in Rhode Island, hit on four 3’s and at one time, had scored 28 of his squad’s 52 points. …definite mid-major plus recruit, at the very least.
And Cox Sports:
Aubrey Dawkins was perhaps most outstanding. The lanky big man can play all three perimeter positions, and has improved his outside shooting to the degree where burying the three pointer is expected when left open.
Adam Finklestein mentioned Dawkins first in the video accompanying that quote, speaking thusly:
He showed his length and athleticism that everybody knew about. Everybody knew he was a great defender. He handles and passes the ball well enough to play all three perimeter postions. But what was critical to his performance was how well he shot the ball from the three point line. That was the big question mark in his game, and he was virtually automatic with his feet set from downtown.
An athletic guard around 6'5" who can shoot and slash but isn't going to cross a dude over and get to the rim—sounds like your archetype there is Tim Hardaway, Jr. Dawkins has had plenty of time to get on radars and did not until very late, so don't expect freshman fireworks.
That said, he is legit bouncy.
While he's not GRIII, he's got the midair pause going on a few of those alley-oops. Also, he finishes with both hands in some seemingly awkward ways.
A guy with good size and athleticism flying under the radar implies a lack one outstanding skill that puts him in recruitable Bin A or B or C. If you ask him about himself he claims to be a jack of all trades:
“I think my game is an all around game. I don’t think I do anything especially good. I do a lot of things well. Taking it to the basket, shooting from outside, high IQ, value the ball, athletic. I think that about sums it up. Make the best play, not settle for outside shots, take contested shots, do anything I can to win really.
He told Dayton's Rivals site the same thing nearly word for word($).
Scouting video put together by UMHoops shows a guy who can attack off closeouts but the one time he's asked to straight-up beat a guy in an iso situation (late shot clock) it looks awkward and ends up in a turnover. On the other hand, his shooting looks at least serviceable in this small sample size; have to figure Beilein can make him decent or better.
FWIW, Dawkins is self reporting he is 6'6", 185. He's reported anywhere from 6'4" to 6'6"; if he has added an inch or two that would be nice.
In high school, Dawkins averaged 19 and 7 for a team that sometimes did things like score 25 points in an entire game (17 of those were from Dawkins).
At New Hampton, Dawkins averaged about 13 points a game, which led the team. Prep stats can be funky, as those teams are often loaded with multiple D-I prospects. Mitch McGary had trouble even starting for his despite being Mitch McGary.
Michigan's main competition for Dawkins was Dayton, the A-10 squad that just reached the Elite Eight. He had a number of other low-major offers. Rhode Island, another A-10 school, also apparently offered. Nevada was interested.
If you're wondering why Dawkins didn't play for his father, he was direct about that before his senior year at Palo Alto:
“It’s a hard school to get into; I don’t care how good you are, you’ve got to have the grades to get in. I’m not going to go there.”
All right then.
In addition to the clips above, here are some highlights from Dawkins's prep year:
You can watch a replay of one of Dawkins's NPSI games for one dollar here.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
With Michigan's two wing slots thoroughly occupied this fall, Dawkins will compete with MAAR for minutes behind Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin, and then again with MAAR and any 2015/2016 recruits when LeVert and/or Irvin heads to the draft… at least at the SG spot. Michigan may go with Kam Chatman or Cole Huff at the 3, should Huff commit.
As a coach's kid with a nice frame, Dawkins has the potential to be a nice 3-and-D wing for Michigan with an upside similar to THJ's, minus an inch or two of height and vertical.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan has one spot left and looks set to spend that on Nevada transfer Cole Huff. If things break down with Huff they would likely bank it for next year unless they really want a 4 or 5 to come in right now. If they're willing to take a transfer who has to sit it appears that need is not severe.
Possesses excellent dunkface (via PennLive)
First reported by Sam Webb and confirmed by multiple sources, 2014 Allentown (PA) Central Catholic G Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman committed to Michigan while on his official visit this afternoon.
Abdur-Rahkman picked up heavy interest from the Wolverines as they prepared for the potential losses of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III; once those two declared for the NBA Draft, MAAR's recruitment hit the fast track. He becomes the fifth member of Michigan's 2014 class, joining Kam Chatman, Ricky Doyle, Austin Hatch, and DJ Wilson.
|3*, NR SG||NR SG||2*, 64, #101 SG||NR SG||NR SG|
As one would expect from a prospect picked up as a late-cycle contingency plan, MAAR flew under the radar of most of the recruiting services, with only ESPN even bothering give him a complete ranking—and they don't even list his weight. The other sites are in relative agreeance regarding his measurables; all list him at 180 pounds, with Rivals and 247 pegging him at 6'4" and Scout shaving off an inch.
Unsurprisingly, scouting reports on a largely overlooked prospect are hard to come by—there's not a single scouting-related article on him on Rivals, Scout, or 247. ESPN's evaluation was last updated in June 2013, so while it gives us a starting point, it doesn't include any progress MAAR made during his senior season [emphasis mine]:
He's extremely versatile with the size and length to offer minutes at any of the three perimeter positions, and is a match-up problem virtually anywhere on the court because he's capable of making plays for himself and others over top of smaller guards and has the speed, quickness, and handle to go by most bigger wings. He's equally versatile defensively where his size, length, and ability to cover the court might even be bigger weapons.
He's a dribble drive player on the offensive end, and not yet a consistent outside shooter. That flaw in his offensive repertoire is likely to be exposed much more at the next level when the game slows down and he's not able to get out in the open floor with the same frequency. Even at that, he's going to be much more effective in an up-tempo system at the next level.
He has a very intriguing combination of size, length, quickness, and smooth handle but he's going to have to continue to get more skilled on the perimeter in order for his game to translate as well to the college level.
The inconsistent jump-shooting is a concern for any guard coming in to play for John Beilein, though MAAR's drive-oriented game at the very least gives U-M a different type of player to put out there, especially if he lives up to his reputation as a defensive stopper.
The most recent, thorough analysis of Michigan's latest addition comes from UMHoops, which posted a scouting report on MAAR this week, as well as the video embedded later in this post. The whole thing is obviously worth your time; Dylan praises his transition game and passing ability, sees room for improvement in his shooting and ballhandling, and comes away with this conclusion:
Abdur-Rahkman might not be the traditional Beilein wing, but he would bring a lot of things to Michigan’s backcourt that are currently lacking. He looks like a natural fit to play the two-guard spot, but down the line he could potentially slide to the three or the one. Michigan’s inability to contain dribble penetration last season was no secret and Abdur-Rahkman might be able to shore up some of those concerns – especially down the line. He’s already physically mature (he’ll turn 20 in September) which means he could be ready to play at a college level, but also that he’s been able to bully younger players at the high school level.
That last bit means MAAR is probably closer to his ceiling than your average incoming freshman, which can be a benefit in the short-term but does add some concern for how much he'll improve over the long haul.
Sam Webb asked Abdur-Rahkman for a self-evaluation this week, and he had no issue noting the areas of his game that need improvement ($):
I’m more of a facilitator, get in the lane, drive and kick, find the big guys inside. I can play defense. I’m a good defender – perimeter. I can shoot a little bit…I need to get better. Dribbling better, but need to get better. Midrange is pretty good.
Despite his scoring acumen, note that MAAR calls himself a facilitator first and foremost.
Coach/teammate evaluations are difficult to trust entirely for obvious reasons, but do at provide insight into how a prospect handles himself in the locker room, and Abdur-Rahkman comes in for high praise in that regard:
“He is a complete player,” [Central Catholic head coach] Dennis Csencsits said. “Not only does he lead us in scoring but he leads us in assist, he is a very good rebounder so he is a really well-rounded player, very smart, very savvy basketball player.”
Although he continues to excel on the court, Abdur-Rahkman’s teammate says the “friendly and outgoing” star has been their mentor.
“Muhammad has helped me become a better leader and a better teammate,” sophomore point guard Zay Jennings said. “Just learning some basketball [techniques] that he does, overall, he is just a good teacher and a good leader.”
As you'll see, MAAR was a scoring machine in high school, but the stats, film, and quotes show that he's an unselfish player, as well.
About those stats—they're quite impressive:
Barring a major surprise, Abdur-Rahkman will be named to the Pennsylvania all-state team next week [Ed: he was], making him the first player in Lehigh Valley history to be an all-state selection four times.
He also was a unanimous choice as The Morning Call's player of the year for the second consecutive year.
The 6-foot-4 swingman was the driving force behind one of the greatest seasons in Lehigh Valley basketball annals.
With Abdur-Rahkman averaging 23.6 points, 4.1 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game, Central Catholic became the first area boys team to win its first 29 games, sweeping the Lehigh Valley Conference and District 11 3A titles en route.
The dream season ended with a 60-50 loss to eventual state champion Neumann-Goretti, but few will ever forget this Central Catholic team or the talents of Abdur-Rahkman.
He finished with 2,136 points — the most in CCHS history and the sixth most in District 11 annals.
That article contains more background on MAAR and focuses, once again, on his humble demeanor and unselfish play. This quote from Abdur-Rahkman sums it up:
"The numbers don't mean much to me," he said. "I'm just glad we won four district titles. That was our goal. We put in a lot of hard work and we just got better each year. One day it will all hit me what we've accomplished but right now, hard work is what I want to be remembered for."
Before picking up the Michigan offer on his visit, Abdur-Rahkman held offers from Bucknell, Delaware, Drexel, George Mason, Lehigh, Robert Morris, and VCU, according to ESPN.
The UMHoops scouting video is a must-watch:
Brian posted his impressions on it earlier this week:
MAAR's shot selection here would be terrible except he's in high school and the shots he's getting off are probably better than wide open looks from a number of his teammates. And he puts down a lot of his terrible, terrible shots. It's the open ones, whether it's at the free throw line or generally, that seem to need work. As UMHoops notes, one of the games here features five threes from MAAR, which is a major outlier for a guy who hit 1.9 a game.
We could see some improvement in MAAR's shooting once the onus for creating most of the team's offense no longer falls on him.
Also, a four-second assessment of his athleticism reveals that...
...yup, he's athletic.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Abdur-Rahkman needs to develop on the offensive end, but he still might see the floor next season—his physical maturity should help him there. While the worries about Michigan's depth for 2014-15 have focused on the frontcourt, Jon Horford's transfer and the NBA losses have created a ripple effect that leaves the backcourt a little thin, especially at the two. While Caris LeVert will play the vast majority of those minutes, Zak Irvin—the presumed starting three—may have to play more minutes at the four than the two, especially if Mitch McGary decides to go pro.
That leaves MAAR as the only backup guard aside from Spike Albrecht and Austin Hatch, and it's unlikely Hatch is going to be ready to play after returning to the court this past season. I doubt Beilein used a scholarship on a 20-year-old freshman at a position in need of depth without plans to utilize him immediately; even with the iffy jump shot, MAAR should carve out a niche role as a defensive specialist who can get out and lead the break. How he's utilized from there will depend largely on the development of his offensive repertoire.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan has one remaining open scholarship for next season. I'd be surprised if they took another recruit in the class. It's more likely they'll look to add a transfer if the right player shows interest, and if that doesn't happen they can pocket the scholarship for 2015-16, which currently has just one open spot—though that figure could grow given the distinct possibility Mitch McGary and Caris LeVert are NBA-bound by that time.
EDIT: Or I'm totally wrong, as Sam Webb just tweeted out the latest offer news:
#Michigan has offered 2014 New Hampton (N.H.) Prep guard Aubrey Dawkins
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) April 19, 2014
This can mean a few things: the transfer front isn't looking so good, Beilein expects further attrition, or the coaches just really like Dawkins. We'll see.