Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
According to 24/7's Steve Wiltfong, Michigan has picked up their third commitment in the class of 2013 in Detroit Crockett TE Khalid Hill. Hill received his offer from the Wolverines today and also had one from Central Michigan. He joins Maximum Exposure 7-on-7 teammate Shane Morris and Dymonte Thomas among Michigan's 2013 commits.
|NR TE||NR WDE||NR TE||3*, 86, NR TE|
Hill doesn't have rankings from three of the four recruiting services yet, but that shouldn't be of major concern—it's still very early in the process and the vast majority of juniors still haven't been evaluated. Three of the four list Hill at 6'2" (Scout has him an inch taller) and his listed weight ranges from 223-235 pounds—I'd guess he's closer to the higher number based on the picture above.
Hill was a standout at the Maximum Exposure combine at the Silverdome in December and he apparently developed a strong rapport with his future quarterback ($):
The other Hill at Crockett, Khalid Hill, already has good size. At 6-2, 230 he is big enough to be a good blocker in the run game, but what is most intriguing about him is his ability to run routes and catch passes like a receiver. Hill was clearly one of the top pass-catchers in attendance and has seemingly developed a real chemistry with Shane Morris.
In case you're wondering what "the other Hill" refers to, Khalid's brother Khalil—I'm sure that never gets confusing—plays cornerback for Crockett. Khalid's highlight tape, which you'll see below, jives with this evaluation; he's very adept at finding space over the middle and displays soft hands for a high school tight end. Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt was also impressed by Hill at Maximum Exposure, naming him among the top performers of the event ($):
Hill has all the physical tools to be a Division I tight end, he just is a little on the short side at 6-foot-3. We'll see how he grows, but Division I programs are already showing interest.
Magnus has his evaluation of Hill up over at Touch the Banner, and he praises Hill's route-running and hands while having this to say about his future position and blocking ability:
With a short frame, it's likely that he's headed for the U position, which is an H-back type role. His size might be an advantage when playing in space or lead blocking from the move position, but he may struggle to add enough weight and strength to be an every-down tight end. He gets a little bit lackadaisical with his blocking at times, and he's going to have to be more consistent with his effort in the running game. That can be fixed with coaching, though.
Hill has the body to be able to play as a freshman if needed. He's not the most fundamental or explosive player, but he's not wispy like Devin Funchess and might be more college-ready immediately. I expect him to play a role somewhat like that of former Michigan tight end/H-back Aaron Shea.
Hill also took home MVP honors among tight ends at Michigan's summer camp in 2011, so the coaches were able to get an up-close evaluation that surely helped him land an offer. ESPN has yet to write up a scouting report on Hill and a tap-dancer of the same name is making a Google-stalk difficult, so for now the above camp reports are as much as I can find on Michigan's newest commit. Now that he's made his decision, I'm sure we'll read much more on him in the very near future. Since he plays at Detroit Crockett, I'll also likely be checking out at least one of his games in the fall.
Hill held one offer—from Central Michigan—before he pledged to Michigan today. Michigan State also reportedly showed interest. Considering how early in the process it is and the fact that Hill's camp appearances were in-state, the short offer list shouldn't be of much concern. His Michigan camp MVP honor says all you need to know about what the coaches think of his ability.
Hill caught 29 passes for 448 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. He also added 55 tackles, nine TFLs, and six sacks while playing defensive end.
FAKE 40 TIME
Hill posted a 5.11 40-yard dash time at the Nike SPARQ Combine in Massillon (OH) last February, where he also recorded a 4.84-second shuttle and a 28.5" vertical leap. He looks faster than that 5.11 on film, and since that's an electronic time at a combine I'll give it a one FAKE out of five. If anything, he's probably a little faster at this point.
From a quick perusal of the film, Hill impresses with his ability to go over the middle and his soft hands, though he could do a little better at catching the ball away from his body. It's tough to evaluate his blocking from the few highlights available, but he seems pretty powerful while also possessing surprising athleticism for a player of his size.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
The evidence at this point is flimsy indeed, but Hill looks like a solid all-around tight end who's a real threat as a receiver. He's a little shorter than ideal for the position, which may limit his effectiveness as a downfield threat. Hill has solid bulk for a junior, however, and he shows no fear in going across the middle and extending to make the tough catch. Michigan will once again be in need of an infusion of depth at tight end after Brandon Moore graduates following the 2012 season, so Hill will have every opportunity to contribute early in his career, especially if A.J. Williams eventually outgrows the position.
Without much to go on beyond one camp appearence and his junior film, I can't say much more about how he projects, though his lack of height will likely limit how high he can go when full class of 2013 rankings are released. That said, this is a nice pickup at a position of need, and Hill fits the mold as a versatile player who can line up along the line, at H-back, or even split wide. Given that he has over a year-and-a-half to add weight before his freshman season, Hill should have the size to be an immediate contributor by the time the 2013 season rolls around—we'll just have to wait and see if he has the ability.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
It's still too early in the process to really project the number of open spots, but expect Michigan to end up with around 20-22 scholarships to fill for 2013, and they've now landed three commits. Given the need at tight end, I expect the Wolverines to take one more player at the position, so this commitment doesn't mean that they won't continue pursuing players like Adam Breneman, Jake Matuska, and Jake Butt.
I had just been complaining to Seth about Michigan overlooking the diminutive speedster in their backyard, and lo and behold Detroit King's Dennis Norfleet woke up and faxed a letter of intent to Michigan. Norfleet is 5'6" on a good day but "simply electric."
If you're wondering how a guy like that fits into a pro-style offense, think Darren Sproles. When Michigan has a passing offense to be feared, a guy like Norfleet can take advantage of the space underneath to tear up defenses trying to defend against four verts.
More later as I assemble a full post here.
|4*, #19 RB,
|4*, #5 APB
|4*, #7 APB
Dennis Norfleet is not tall! He is short. When sites are being generous they say he's 5'7"; when they're not he's 5'6". Only one source, that SpartanMag, has bent the truth all the way to 5'9".
But who cares? If you're 5'9" or 5'6" the only way you latch on to a major scholarship offer is by being the quarkiest of quarkbacks. Norfleet is that:
One of the most explosive players in the class, Norfleet has great acceleration, open field elusiveness and a natural knack for making defenders miss. Has excellent skills in the pass game, and is a dangerous receiver. Is also a great return man. He is not the biggest back, although solidly built, but he is a guy who can be used in a variety of roles, including slot receiver.
Three out of four scouting services agree with that assesment; ESPN is notably less enthused. Their evaluation was last updated in early June, though, before Norfleeet tore through a bunch of 7 on 7s and his senior year. Since he didn't go to an All Star Game (by choice—Norfleet runs track and going to one would kill his eligibility thanks to some outdated MHSAA regulations), ESPN never checked back in.
Anyway, they think he's Dennis Norfleet except not explosive:
Flashes good quickness and explosive but lacks great top-end speed and a second gear. … For his smaller size you would like to see more elusiveness and speed in the open-field. Looks to lack really loose hips. Does not appear to have difference-maker qualities when projecting at the major college level or the size to handle high carries and run between the tackles.
This is an opinion shared by no one. Select highlights from his 7 on 7 tour of the country:
- PITTSBURGH: "There are a select few players who can make defenders in position totally whiff in one-hand touch, 7-on-7 football. There may be only one Dennis Norfleet, who seems to make a play or two like that every game. On one particular play, Norfleet put a move on two defenders at one time, splitting the pair and taking the ball in for a touchdown"
- RUTGERS: "Norfleet also has good hands out of the backfield, makes people miss even in touch football and he was also solid on defense. He may not be big, but he can be a special scat back in a spread offense."
- SOME PLACE CALLED BADGERSPORTS: "Norfleet is one of the better pass-catching running backs in the country. He was comfortable running the wheel route and taking it deep as well as catching swing passes and turning them into yards. He is incredibly quick after the catch, showing great burst in getting to the edge."[Caveat: does say "not the fastest player for his size."]
- MIDWEST SHOWCASE: "Although small in stature, Norfleet is hard to check in press coverage because defensive backs have trouble getting their hands on him. After creating separation at the line of scrimmage, Norfleet's speed and quickness in and out of his cuts usually allow him to find plenty of space to catch the football."
And those were just the camps that recruiting analysts were at. Last summer Norfleet hit up 7 on 7s($) at Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Mississippi State as well. A lack of offers from those schools should dampen your enthusiasm, but I don't care much. Tiny backs get lost in the shuffle all the time.
After all that, Norfleet put some pads on and annihilated Brother Rice($) in the Big Day Prep Showdown event at Eastern, causing Josh Helmholdt to deploy all the love he'd saved up by not thinking Chris Wormley is great:
The open-field jukes and stop-and-start plays he breaks off into long gains make the highlight reel, but what is less recognized is that Norfleet is a great between-the-tackles runner. He has powerful legs and the burst to exploit the smallest of holes. Norfleet showed once again that he can be an every down back, carrying 34 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Helmholdt is alone in his belief that Norfleet can work within the tackles, but he has seen him an awful lot, and calls him a "phenomenal receiver" in that electric article linked above.
Finally, high school opponent coach quote:
"He's better than anybody we got, he looks like Barry Sanders of high school to me," said Allen Park coach Tom Hoover. "He's for real. We don't have anybody good enough to catch him. He was beating our guys, and we haven't seen that all year. The flow goes there, you have to get here. You've got to go 5 feet, he's got to go 20, and he beats you there."
Until yesterday, Norfleet had been a Cincinnati commit, selecting the Bearcats over Michigan State and Tennessee presumably because he felt the UC spread was a better fit for his talents.
This year he rushed for 2,033 yards and 27 touchdowns as King reached the D2 semifinals. As a junior it was 1880 yards and 31 touchdowns.
FAKE 40 TIME
Norfleet also put up outstanding testing numbers at Alabama, running a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 4.17 shuttle and posting a 33-inch vertical jump. His play impressed Crimson Tide running backs coach Bobby Williams and had several other coaches on staff commenting on his play.
I give it two fakes out of five.
Senior clips are above. Here's his junior highlight reel:
He's also got sophomore film up.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Yessssss. Schools should recruit guys like Norfleet like they do kickers: have at least one on the roster at all times and maybe stash a second away so you've always got a quality specialist. With Justice Hayes Michigan now has two bullets in the space-player chamber.
Norfleet will instantly be in the mix for both return jobs. While Jeremy Gallon is likely to hold on to punt return duties, kickoff returns could use a jolt of athleticism after Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith split duties this year.
As far as a role on offense, he'll probably spend a year backing up Vincent Smith before fighting with Hayes for third down back. If Michigan really is moving to a "pro style" offense they'll have to define whether that means aimlessly running power over and over or pairing guys like Hayes and Norfleet with Shane Morris to create a Brees/Brady-style deadly passing spread. Survey says: some of both. Norfleet could have an impact in the former and will be a centerpiece in the latter.
Note: if you're one of the folks hoping that Michigan will retain some spread aspects to its offense even after Denard is gone, this is the kind of player who can force that to happen. I would greatly enjoy an offense that used Morris and the crew of receivers he's busy recruiting for 2013 as an every-play weapon you have to react to and then hit you underneath with Norfleet when you did.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
What rest of the class?
Etc.: Cincinnati was really excited about him but can't even be mad because of Stacey. TTB doesn't like the way he jogs into the endzone. I'll take that as an issue. This has nothing to do with anything but when you run across a comment like this about Jake Rodrigues in a "Summer Camp Risers" article, well… man:
Jake sucks. He has padded stats. His 5 month old son needs him to stay home and in his life. Stop chasing dreams. You are a dad. The opening players couldn't understand how he even made it there. OADDED STATS, he is no QB.
Jennifer Hairstylist would like to be Jennifer Rodrigues, and that ain't happening. Rodrigues signed with Oregon.
[UPDATE: There is some dispute as to whether or not Henry has committed. Tom texted Henry, who said he hasn't committed yet and was looking to announce on Tuesday ($). Sam Webb, on the other hand, confirmed the commitment with Ted Ginn, Henry's head coach at Glenville. Sounds like Henry will end up at Michigan either way and there was some miscommunication between him and Ginn about the announcement, but I'll let you know if circumstances change.]
Sam Webb is reporting on Twitter that Glenville (OH) DT Willie Henry, who visited and got an offer over the weekend, has committed to Michigan. Henry becomes Michigan's 24th commit of the class of 2012 and projects to fill a spot at three-tech defensive tackle. The last Glenville product to join the Wolverines was another three-star defensive lineman, current DE Frank Clark—let's hope Henry is able to impress the coaches as much as Clark did last year.
|3*, #38 DT||3*, NR DT||3*, 75, #97 DT||3*, 83, #75 DT|
Coming from a high-profile program in Glenville, Henry has had his fair share of exposure, and all four services agree that he's a low-to-mid three-star prospect. The general consensus on his size is that he's in the area of 6'3", 270 pounds, so he'll have to put on some weight if he's going to land at defensive tackle.
He appears to have the frame to do just that, according to ESPN's evaluation ($):
Though Henry needs to keep developing his frame and add some more good mass he does possess good natural size and looks to carry more bulk than is listed. As a defensive tackle he flashes a good get-off, but can be inconsistent and while at times he shows a nice burst at other times he can be a beat late and needs strive to be more consistent in his get-off. He can tend to play high and needs to work to keep his pad level down. When he does work to stay low he can get overextended and needs to do a better job of playing with better bend and generating more power from his lower body when he engages blockers. When he can gain leverage he is a tough guy to move, but he seems to make things hard on himself at times. He looks to have a solid reach for his build, but needs to do a better job of bringing and using his hands to keep blockers from getting into his frame. When he is active with his hands he can battle and be tough to handle, but with a tendency to pop up and lead with the shoulder and lose his hands he can let blockers into him and can be pushed back. Demonstrates adequate ability to locate the ball though doing a better job of separating from blockers could help to find the ball better. Displays marginal short-area change-of-direction skills.
As is expected with a sleeper prospect like Henry, improving technique will be key if he is going to contribute down the road, and it sounds like he has a fair amount of work to do in that regard. This is when it's quite handy to have three defensive line coaches on the staff. Scout, who ranked Henry the highest out of any recruiting service, has a more positive take on his game. They list athleticism, foot quickness, and pass-rushing ability as his strengths, with size as his area for improvement. Allen Trieu likes Henry's athleticism and, in contrast to ESPN, praises his jump off the line:
Henry is an athletic player who is light on his feet, has good coordination and closing speed. He is disruptive and gets good penetration because he has good get off. He shows a good motor and foot speed in pursuit. He has to add some bulk and strength to be able to anchor against the run, but he flashes, makes some big plays in the backfield and is a good interior pass rusher.
Trieu evaluated Henry at the Columbus NIKE Football Training Camp last May, where he competed alongside the likes of Ondre Pipkins, Danny O'Brien, Mario Ojemudia, and Adolphus Washington, and said he "produced outstanding results in the 1-1s. He’s quick and agile, and used that to win every rep he took."
John McAllister of MSROhio notes that Henry spent his winters focused on basketball, which could help explain his solid athleticism and his need to add weight, and he echoes the praise for Henry's quickness:
Listed at 6'3-270, he uses his athleticism and quickness to beat offensive linemen. Really like the way he uses his hands to separate. Plays pad under pad. Needs to improve his change of direction, but his closing speed on his pass rush is excellent. He agrees that his quickness is his strength. A weakness is that he feels that he must play hard every down. Going both ways on a high level program is hard. He wants to play hard every play. Conditioning and pacing himself is important. Honestly, evaluating him, he does not take many plays "off."
To sum it up, Henry fits the mold of a raw but talented D-line prospect: athletic, quick, and with a good frame, but in need of some serious coaching on technique.
Henry held offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisville, Marshall, Ohio, Pitt, Syracuse, and Toledo. Obviously, that's a lot of MACtion, but offers from the Illini, Pitt, and Syracuse stand out.
No stats were available through an initial Google-stalk. If you spot any, post them in the comments and I'll update the post.
FAKE 40 TIME
ScoutingOhio lists Henry with a 4.78 40-yard dash. That would be outstanding for an interior lineman, even one who played TE and DE in high school, so I'll give that four FAKEs out of five and hope I'm wrong.
Henry boasts a rather extensive, and impressive, senior highlight film:
These are only highlights, obviously, but he looks very quick off the ball.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
As stated earlier, Henry should land at the three-tech at Michigan once he puts on some weight. It's always tough to project these sleeper recruits as anything more than useful depth for the squad, but Henry looks like a player who could contribute down the road as a situational pass-rusher—if he can keep his burst and quickness after adding 20-30 pounds, he could be a real handful for interior offensive linemen. With Ondre Pipkins slated to hold down the nose and command double-teams for the next four years, Henry could see a lot of single-blocking if he eventually sees the field, and he has the athleticism to take advantage. Given the need to add weight and refine his technique—as well as the strong class of defensive linemen already in the fold—it's safe to assume that Henry will redshirt and likely take at least a couple of years to crack the depth chart.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Henry's commitment leaves up to four open spots in the class of 2012, but at this point there aren't four obvious candidates to fill those spots. With Josh Garnett, Armani Reeves, Alex Kozan, and Sam Grant all committing elsewhere over the past week, only Jordan Diamond remains as a clear option to join the class. He announces on February 3rd, two days after signing day, so we'll see if any other surprises pop up in the interim. There are no huge needs remaining for the class (more on that tomorrow), though getting at least one more offensive lineman—Diamond, in all likelihood—would alleviate some depth concerns. Other potential positions to watch would be tight end, wide receiver, and cornerback, though as I said there are no current targets on the radar, at least when it comes to the recruiting services. We'll have to wait and see if the coaching staff has other plans or if they choose to pocket a couple scholarships for the 2013 class.
As expected, Michigan got their second receiver for the 2012 class today when Ladue (MO) Horton Watkins WR Jehu Chesson committed to the Wolverines, according to multiple outlets. Michigan was in desperate need of two receivers in this recruiting class, and with the addition of Chesson and Amara Darboh, Brady Hoke and Co. can focus on landing some big-name targets at other positions. Here's the skinny on Chesson.
Chesson (in blue) with the stiff-arm [Photo credit: Doug Miner/Patch.com]
|3*, #82 WR||3*, #89 WR||
The four services agree that Chesson is 6'3" and around 180 pounds—he's a little skinny but has a very solid frame for a wideout. As for Chesson's skills, they're mostly in agreement as well, pegging him as a middle-of-the-road three-star. ESPN and 247Sports are a little higher on Chesson than Rivals and Scout, listing him around the 50th-best WR in the class instead of down below 80. Considering the other receivers this staff has pursued, it's safe to say they consider Chesson to be a sleeper.
Let's start with Allen Trieu's evaluation over on Chesson's Scout profile page:
Tall, lanky receiver who can go up and get the ball. Snatches it easily out of the air, but lets too many underneath passes get into his body. Great natural athlete with good leaping ability and straight line speed, but is not an elusive guy after the catch. Must add some bulk and strength, but is tough and willing to go over the middle and make catches.
The added bulk and strength stuff is standard fare for a high school recruit, especially one with Chesson's lanky frame. "Great natural athlete" is always nice to see. Here's what ESPN—who rated him the highest of the four services—has to say ($):
Comes off the ball with explosion and a nice stride. Gets into routes quickly and can eat up cushion with an imposing charge upfield. He has some value as a vertical target due to his frame/speed combination, but we are not convinced he is a great speed guy rather a competitive one. He can really elevate and adjust to the jump ball. Positions himself nicely and will high point the ball with good extension. Has flashed the ability to make the spectacular grab look easy and can make the acrobatic grab in a crowd. He consistently catches the ball well and wastes little time getting upfield to make things happen. Can adjust and pluck on the move on poorly thrown balls. He is pretty sharp as a route runner underneath ... Chesson is not quite as crisp at the intermediate levels ... He has the skill set and fluidity to be sharper. After the catch Chesson shows strength and some wiggle to not only make you miss, but also stiff arm and lower his shoulder to power through would be tacklers. He is not a huge homerun threat in space, but given his size he is pretty nifty and can gain valuable YAC and move the chains.
It's interesting that ESPN questions his speed considering his track exploits, more on which later, but the rest of this is quite promising. There seems to be general agreement that he's got good hands, needs a little work on technique, and is more of jump-ball threat than a guy who's going to break a big play on a short pass. As for that track stuff, here's a nice tidbit from a recent article by Tim Sullivan ($):
The physical abilities are certainly there. The 6-3, 185-pound Chesson has the size to outmatch defensive backs, though he will add weight and strength before contributing at the college level. He also possesses great speed as a high school receiver. He was the state champion in the 300 meter hurdles as a junior, and has run a time of 37.44 seconds - good for No. 34 in the country among high schoolers in 2011.
"I think the thing at our level that he does is before you even line up, he creates some matchup problems because of his height and length," Tarpey said. "He's got real long arms, he does a great job of catching the ball away from his body. I think that's a nice thing so teams planning for us definitely had to account for him."
Despite flying low on the recruiting radar, Chesson has had good showings at summer camps in Coral Gables, Gainesville, and St. Louis. Here's Rivals national analyst Keith Niebuhr after seeing Chesson perform at the Nike camp in Miami ($):
STRENGTHS: Chesson made a splash Sunday in Coral Gables by running crisp routes and catching seemingly every pass thrown in his vicinity. He's tall and lean, was quicker than most receivers on hand, and got in and out of his breaks quite well. A hurdler in high school, his leaping ability showed up often during position drills.
WEAKNESSES: Because Chesson is a bit wiry, getting stronger is a must so college corners can't push him around at the line of scrimmage.
So, it seems we've got a tall wide receiver with good-to-great speed and solid hands who needs some work on strength and fundamentals. Chesson sounds like a player who could really excel with some good coaching and conditioning. To be honest—and I say this without trying to sound like I'm wildly biased towards Michigan, as I haven't been afraid to be critical of recruits in the past—I'm having a hard time figuring out why he's rated so low when reading these evaluations.
Chesson's offer list, outside of Michigan, falls in line with his recruiting rankings. The other two finalists for his services were Iowa and Northwestern, and he also held offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Purdue, according to Rivals. Scout also lists a UCLA offer and interest from Florida. Oklahoma State and Iowa have had a lot of success with receiver recruiting, so it's nice to see those teams on his offer list, but Michigan obviously stands out as his best offer.
In his junior season, Chesson caught 53 passes for 605 yards and 11 touchdowns. I can't seem to track down any senior year stats, but I'll update this if I can find them.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals lists Chesson as running a 4.5, and he claims he ran a 4.54 while camping at Florida ($). Considering his ability on the track, I'll give that a two FAKEs out of five.
Junior year highlights (if you're at work, might want to turn your sound off):
If you have a Scout subscription, they have senior year highlights stuck behind a paywall.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Chesson is a tough recruit to figure out, and I haven't had the benefit of seeing him play live. He looks promising on film, he's got great size (with the expectation that he adds some weight), he's fast, and he can catch—to me, he seems like at least a high three-star or four-star recruit. His rankings and offer list, however, say otherwise, and it's not as if he's never set foot at a camp or played in an area where there's no media exposure.
I'm going to go ahead and presume, with a more polished receiver in Darboh also arriving in 2012, that Chesson takes a redshirt year. As a redshirt freshman, he'll then be battling for playing time with Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Jackson, Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson, and Darboh (along with the freshmen in the class of 2013). Only Gallon has really proven that he can be a starter, and he's a better fit in the slot, so it's certainly conceivable that Chesson starts contributing in just a couple years.
That all depends on his development, and it's tough to project a player based on highlight reels. I could see Chesson becoming a great deep threat, and I hate to make such a lofty comparison, but the closest player in terms of style that I can think of is Braylon Edwards after watching his film. At the same time, Chesson obviously needs development, and with Michigan in on some talented receivers in the class of 2013 he could get buried on the depth chart if that doesn't happen quickly. This statement is full of duh, but really anything is possible here. I will go so far as to say I expect him to see the field at receiver if for no other reason than that he possesses a skill set unlike anyone on the roster and the team is so thin at receiver after next season.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan is now down to four remaining open spots in the 2012 class, and things are starting to come into focus for those final spots. It's very clear that Michigan is looking to add at least one offensive lineman and one cornerback—and it's possible at both those positions that they'll take two players if the opportunity arises—and they'll likely take a tight end as well. The last spot will likely be a 'best player available' situation out of the recruits at O-line and DB unless a running back jumps into the mix.
As for who those players will be, that's an entirely different matter. The Wolverines are after several high-profile offensive linemen, including Josh Garnett, Jordan Diamond, Alex Kozan, Evan Boehm, Zach Banner, and Jeremiah Poutasi. It seemingly changes by the day which one or two of those prospects Michigan has the best shot at, so venturing a guess at this point is likely an exercise in futility. As for corner, Michigan is in good shape with Yuri Wright and appear to have a decent shot at flipping Armani Reeves from Penn State if he decommits. Options appear limited at tight end, but chances look to be solid with Sam Grant, high school teammate of Kyle Kalis. At running back, Bri'onte Dunn is no longer an option, nor is Greg Garmon or Wes Brown, but the coaching staff is taking a strong look at former Notre Dame commit David Perkins, a four-star whom most teams are recruiting as a linebacker. As always, there's a chance the coaches unearth an as-of-yet undiscussed recruit to fill the final spot or two—we'll just have to see. At the very least, the need at receiver has been filled.
Michigan finally has a wide receiver in the class, as West Des Moines (IA) Dowling Catholic's Amara Darboh committed to the Wolverines today. He becomes the first of what should be two receivers in the 2012 class, and is Michigan's 24th commitment overall.
Amara Darboh (Photo credit: Public Paul & Media)
4*, #33 WR,
4*, #31 WR,
4*, 93, #19 WR,
The four services essentially agree on Darboh's size, listing him at 6'2" and between 190 and 205 pounds—he's got solid size for a receiver. Scout, Rivals, and 24/7 are eerily close in their evaluation of his talents, all ranking him as a four-star and right around the #200 player in the country, though 24/7 has him well higher than Scout or Rivals in their positional rankings. ESPN is the outlier, and a significant one, rating him as a middling three-star and the #77 receiver in the nation, 44 spots below any other recruiting outlet. Boo, WWL. Boo.
We'll start with the most critical evaluation, from ESPN ($):
Darboh is a combination of strength and quickness as a big receiver with a sturdy build, long arms and nice height. He is part playmaker and part possession player and against this level of competition he can really stand out. He can be an imposing player off the line and shows some physicality when pressed at the line ... Not afraid to go over the middle and will make the tough catch in traffic. Shows good leaping ability and can catch the ball thrown over his head. Tracks the ball well, and does an excellent job of adjusting to the poorly thrown ball or ball thrown to his opposite shoulder on down field throws along the sideline. Can be a body catcher at times, but secures the ball consistently. Has some wiggle in the open field after the catch for a bigger player and displays some natural open field run skills ... We are somewhat concerned about Darboh's top end speed. He does not play as fast as his listed forty times would indicate nor does he possess sudden change-of-direction after the catch.
Sounds like a solid possession receiver without game-breaking athleticism. Also, a decent ability to make big plays despite not being a major deep threat. What say you, Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated ($)?
Excellent size and length help accentuate his deer-like athleticism with the football in the air. Shows nice balance maintaining his feet and running after catches for which he leaves the ground to make. Very fast - probably in the low-to-mid 4.4s - with an effortless running motion. Shows a consistent ability to run away from the crowd in pursuit.
So Prister says he has great speed, and meanwhile lists vision when running after the catch as an area for improvement. It doesn't even sound like ESPN and Prister are scouting the same player, let alone individual game. Can I get some sort of tiebreaker, Clint Brewster of 247Sports ($)?
Darboh shows exceptional speed as a bigger receiver and has another gear once he gets free from a defensive back. Quickness is another aspect that separates Darboh from his competition, as he consistently picks up big gains from short screens or pass patterns. Darboh shows excellent strength and athleticism by breaking tackles from smaller corners and staying up-right. Darboh has a natural feel for the game already by knowing where to sit in zone coverage and also working with his quarterback to find open space when he scrambles. One thing Darboh caught on to quickly was the importance of blocking at the position as he relentlessly blocks until the whistle.
Athleticism: Yes? Yes. Meanwhile, blocking comes up in multiple evaluations as being a strength, while Darboh's route-running and stance—he seems to stand a little high off the snap, leaving himself susceptible to getting jammed—are cited by multiple outlets as relative weaknesses.
Finally, here's his own high school coach on what Darboh brings to the team:
"He's a big, physical player," Dowling coach Tom Wilson said of his 6-2, 200-pounder. "I've seen him compared to Roddy White of the Falcons — a bigger guy that can run very well. He ran 4.42. He's a kid that's had an awful lot of big plays for us in his three years as a starter, and we don't have many three-year starters here. Amara is a special talent."
Roddy White, you say? Why yes, I'd like one of those.
Darboh had a lengthy offer list, with finalists Notre Dame, Florida, Iowa, and Wisconsin joined by Iowa State, Kansas State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt. Rivals also shows interest but no offer from Oregon and USC. Not bad for a player who missed a large portion of his senior season with a shoulder injury.
Despite playing in only seven games this season, Darboh amassed 48 catches for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a junior, he had 49 receptions for 646 yards and 6 TDs, and in his sophomore year he posted 25 for 371 and a TD.
FAKE 40 TIME
Darboh ran a hand-timed 4.42 40 at an Iowa State camp last summer. There are some questions about Darboh's top-end speed, and you usually need to mentally add on a couple tenths of a second for any hand-timed run, so I'll give this one three FAKEs out of five.
Junior year highlights:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Darboh is going to get a shot at immediate playing time thanks to Michigan's severe lack of depth at receiver. Junior Hemingway and Martavious Odoms graduate after this season, leaving a solid starting trio of Darryl Stonum—assuming his return after an indefinite suspension due to off-field issues—Roy Roundtree, and Jeremy Gallon. Beyond those three, there isn't a proven wideout on the roster: remaining receivers Jeremy Jackson, Drew Dileo, and Jerald Robinson have a combined 17 career receptions (this is assuming that Terrence Robinson doesn't get a fifth year, but even if he does, he hasn't been a factor as a WR).
Could Darboh come in and play right away? Absolutely, given his great natural size and athleticism, but it's also possible that there's just enough depth on the squad for him to take his time and develop during a redshirt year—it's going to be a question of whether or not Darboh is a clear upgrade from any of the backup options. After 2012, regardless of his role as a true freshman, Darboh should compete for a starting spot, and he's got a chance to be a multi-year starter with all-conference upside.
No matter what, Darboh should be a great person to have on the team. The original Des Moines Register story is now stuck behind an archive paywall, but here's a sample of what Darboh went through just to survive a turbulent childhood and make it to America, via The Survivors Club:
The civil unrest that erupted in the Republic of Sierra Leone in 1991 initiated the near eleven year war that swept through the country, threatening the lives of residents. In the capital, Freetown, Amara Darboh was just 2-years-old when his father and mother, Solimon and Kadita, were killed during a surge of violence. His father was a member in the military and after his parents’ deaths, he had few options.
Left in the care of surviving family members, their only choice was to flee. Amara spent the next several years living in Gambia and Senegal as a refugee. Life looked bleak for little Amara who had lost his parents and was unable to return home because of the ongoing civil war. Where was he to go if not back home?
The first seven years of his life were spent surviving life and death situations, education seemed impossible, and the hope for a better future was non-existent.
But when Amara was 7-years-old, an unexpected and seemingly impossible event happened. “It was a refugee program. We randomly got picked to come to Des Moines,” he told the Des Moines Register.
Darboh ended up in the care of Dan and Mary Schaefer, whose son Max introduced him to the sport of football. You're strongly encouraged to read the whole article—Darboh is clearly mature beyond his years, and he should be a great presence in the locker room regardless of on-field impact.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan is now down to four remaining open spots in the 2012 class, and besides a definite need for one more receiver—with Jehu Chesson being the most likely to end up in the class at this point—things are up in the air. Offensive linemen like Josh Garnett, Zach Banner, and Jordan Diamond all have Michigan very much in the mix, and it looks probable that the Wolverines will add one last lineman. Cornerback Yuri Wright has listed Michigan in his top group for a long time, but still needs to make it onto campus. The coaching staff may look to add a tight end to replace Pharaoh Brown, with Taylor McNamara and J.P. Holtz both getting in-home visits in recent days. And of course, there's running back Bri'onte Dunn, who the Wolverines are still trying to wrest from the grasp of Ohio State.
If you asked me right now to predict the final four spots, in order of confidence, I'd say Chesson, Dunn, Wright, and Diamond, but past Dunn there's not a prospect on the board where Michigan looks to have better than a 50-50 shot. That's not to say Michigan won't finish out the class strong—I'd expect they fill it with at least three four-star players when all is said and done—just that it's difficult to project who will jump on those final few open spots at this moment.
According to Sam Webb ($, info in header), Josh Helmholdt ($), and also Drake Johnson himself, the Ann Arbor Pioneer running back was just offered by Michigan and committed this morning. Johnson becomes the 24th member of the class of 2012, leaving four spots left in what's expected to be a 28-man class.
Photo credit: Angela J. Cesere, AnnArbor.com
|2*, #133 RB||NR RB||2*, #153 RB||NR RB|
As you can see, Johnson is very much an under-the-radar prospect, garnering two-star ratings from Scout and ESPN while not being ranked at all by Rivals or 24/7. The consensus on his size is about 6'1", 205, though when I saw him last weekend (more on that later), I thought he looked a little shorter and a bit under 200 pounds, but that's one man's impressions from the bleachers.
There's not a whole lot out there on Johnson, as one might expect for a sleeper prospect, but ESPN has a full evaluation ($):
This is a productive guy with good inside and outside running skills; we see the ability to shed and pull through tackles; is productive returning punts; flashes good underneath coverage skills as an outside linebacker and should be an effective special team's player. From a deep alignment this prospect displays good vision; is quick locating and getting into creases showing the elusiveness needed to make first tacklers miss in space. His quick feet and balance allow him to get outside where he does most of his damage; runs with and over the pads, downhill, slashing style; we see a short burst when in traffic with the deceptive long speed needed to outrun opponents at his present level of competition. Appears to have natural hands; is productive running the shuttle pass and seam route from a slot alignment; can catch in traffic while demonstrating the ability to adjust to throws out of his frame. This guy flashes the toughness needed to be an every down back, capable of staying on the field in long yardage situations.
One thing I certainly agree with here is Johnson's ability to play every down—he is essentially Pioneer's entire offense, regularly toting the rock 30+ times a game. His speed is also without question a strength, as Johnson is the two-time defending state champ in the 110-meter hurdles. In an article by Mick McCabe, Johnson says his track conditioning plays a big part in his ability to be a workhorse back:
In the past three games, he has gained 1,074 yards, and he has scored at least four touchdowns in each of the past four games.
This kid shouldn't be able to get out of bed the morning after games.
"I guess it's conditioning to get ready for it," Johnson said. "I did a lot more running because I run track, too. I spent an extra amount of time this summer just doing track workouts so I would be ready to carry the ball a bunch of times, because Coach had told me I was going to be carrying the rock a lot."
In a complete stroke of luck, I watched Johnson play in the district final against Temperance Bedford last week, and my prediction that he'd be a preferred walk-on at best clearly missed the mark. Here were my impressions of his game:
As a Pioneer grad, I hate to say this, but Johnson looked to me like a track athlete playing football, and not a player who should garner a BCS-level scholarship offer. His straight-ahead speed is very good, and that's all he needed against Bedford, but Johnson practically has to stop running entirely to make a cut—he really doesn't have any juke moves, instead choosing to bounce outside and run as fast as he can—and he also fumbled the ball three times (losing one) despite not taking any huge hits.
While Johnson usually fell forward, he also tended to go down on first contact, and instead of taking on hits he'd try to spin off contact, even against smaller defenders. The only time he really fought for extra yards, he ended up fumbling—he often carries the ball away from his body and seems to forget about ball security when he's in traffic. Pioneer listed him at 6'1", 215, and Scout has him in that same range, but he looked closer to 5'11", 190 to me (comparing him to his teammates and using the same roster, so take that with a grain of salt). Johnson is a heck of a high school player, and he's tasked with being the entirety of the Pioneer offense, but I see him as a preferred walk-on at best for Michigan.
I stand by my scouting report, and you can judge for yourself in the highlight video below. He's got the frame and the speed to be a BCS-caliber back, but I'm not sure I see the tools for success—namely in agility, power running, and ball security—necessary to deliver on that potential. Obviously, I'd love to be wrong here, especially when talking about a fellow Pioneer.
Before Michigan swooped in today, Johnson held just one scholarship offer for football (he's also a highly-sought track prospect), and that was from Eastern Michigan. Rivals lists interest but no offer from Army, Syracuse, and Toledo. One thing to note is that Johnson did not go to any football camps ($) after his junior year because of track, which could help explain the lack of evaluations/ratings/offers.
Johnson has put up some ridiculous numbers for Pioneer, rushing for 2757 yards and 37 TDs (plus one receiving) so far this season, which leaves him just 133 yards shy of the single-season state rushing record with an upcoming regional final against Detroit Catholic Central this weekend. As a junior, Johnson rushed for 2200 yards, according to Allen Trieu ($). Part of the numbers can be attributed to his huge workload—last weekend, he rushed 36 times for 348 yards and four touchdowns, and carried the ball on all but five or six of Pioneer's snaps—but his elite speed helps him break off huge runs with regularity—he also had a 95-yard touchdown run against Bedford.
FAKE 40 TIME
Since Johnson hasn't attended football camps, there's no 40 time reported on any of the four recruiting services, so no FAKEs to hand out. There are, however, very real numbers from his track career, and they are impressive:
55m hurdles - 7.76, set AAU Indoor National Record.
60m hurdles - 8.09, ranked in top ten in the country, indoor 2010
110m hurdles - 14.16, fastest freshman time run in the country. Placed 3rd at MHSAA Outdoor State Championships. Highest place for freshman hurdler in Michigan ever.
He's fast, yo.
Highlights from the first nine games of this season:
A combo video of sophomore and junior highlights lives here. You can also see his victory in the Division 1 110-meter hurdles state final (he's in white with the purple stripe, and also the guy running faster than everyone).
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
You've seen my thoughts on Johnson—I'm surprised he a got a scholarship offer at this point in the process—and I think he'll be a depth and special teams player for Michigan. His lack of agility and real power is disconcerting if the Wolverines expect him to become a feature back, though his speed and size make him an intruiging prospect regardless—he could find a home as a returner or special teams demon while trying to work his way up the depth chart at running back.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan is now down to four remaining open spots in the 2012 class, and there's still a very definite need for two receivers, with Michigan still very much in the mix for Jordan Payton, Amara Darboh, Monty Madaris, Jehu Chesson, and even Stefon Diggs. The question will be how they use their remaining two spots. Sam Webb said on WTKA this morning that he doesn't expect Johnson's commitment to affect how Michigan will pursue Bri'onte Dunn, and that makes sense to me—I'd be surprised if the coaching staff felt settled at running back with just Johnson in the fold.
If Michigan misses on Dunn, there are still two spots for another offensive lineman and a defensive back. If they don't, it'll be a tough decision for the coaches to figure out which position they prioritize higher (I'd guess O-line, but it would be difficult—and potentially impossible—to turn down Yuri Wright or Shaq Thompson if they were ready to commit and a spot was open). This almost surely rules out the possibility of the Wolverines taking two more offensive linemen in the class.