“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
Photo via cu.tribtoday.com
As reported last night by Sam Webb, Warren (OH) Howland RB DeVeon Smith pledged to become the 16th member of Michigan's class of 2013. Smith is the second running back in the class, joining Detroit Catholic Central's Wyatt Shallman, and he's the 14th recruit among the Wolverine commits to garner a four-star rating from at least one recruiting service.
Smith has multiple Big Ten ties, as both his older brothers (Lance at Wisconsin, Maurice at Michigan State) played for schools in the conference before later transferring. Despite growing up deep in Buckeye country and having brothers play for two conference foes, DeVeon grew up a Michigan fan.
4*, #7 RB,
|3*, 89, #31 RB|
Early on in the process, there's quite a disparity in the rankings on Smith. Scout—the most recent service to update their rankings—is by far the most bullish, putting Smith up at #58 overall and the seventh running back in the class. ESPN has him on their top 150 watch list, but on the other end of the scale, 247Sports has him as a middling three-star and Rivals has yet to rank him. Expect this to change in the future; Smith has earned rave reviews from Midwest scouts covering Ohio.
All four sites list Smith at 5'11", and only Rivals (195) doesn't list him at 210 pounds. As a high school junior, he already has the size to see the field at the collegiate level.
"He's a powerful kid with a low center of gravity and he runs hard and with attitude. He can run between the tackles and he doesn't waste a lot of time getting north and south. He's a guy that you can feed the ball to throughout a game. His balance and ability to break arm tackles really stands out. He's not a burner, but I think his speed is better than advertised. He's a classic I-formation, pro-style tailback."
As you'll see on his film, Smith may not have track-star speed, but he has little issue tearing through tackles at the high school level. While that speed comes into question, Dave Berk says he's a home run threat in the writeup for Scout's top 50 players in Ohio, where Smith ranks #3 ($):
Two-way player who projects as one of the top running backs in the Midwest. Has good size at 5-foot-11, 210-pounds showing speed, power and balance. Capable of taking each carry to the house for a score or making the big defensive stop.
Size, balance, and power appear to be the main strengths in Smith's game, and he has enough speed to be dangerous when he breaks into the open field. This sentiment is echoed by Mark Porter as Bucknuts ranked Smith as the #5 2013 prospect in Ohio ($):
“He is a well built back. He can run well between the tackles. He can take a lot of punishment. He would be your traditional Big Ten back who can play in bad weather and grind out yardage. He would be a good fit in Ohio State’s new offense. As a junior, he was much quicker than he showed the year before. He has some spring to his step. He is very powerful and thickly built.”
Before Smith's junior season, Duane Long had some concerns about Smith's size and speed, but loved his natural ability as a runner ($):
I would argue Smith is the most naturally instinctive runner in the class. Very quick feet. Good balance and runs with good power. I think Smith stands a good chance of moving up this list because my reservations are about his body and speed. He is a very muscular kid at a very young age. I am concerned he will be a ‘tweener. The older he gets without growing into a ‘tweener the better his chances of moving up. His speed is a question. I think speed is the most overrated thing with backs but they have to be fast enough. We will see if Smith is.
Long had Smith listed at 6'0", 210, so I think he was worried Smith would grow into linebacker range. That didn't happen, so the only concern moving forwards is top-end speed. Given the rest of the package that Smith provides, plus the growing evidence that sprinter's speed isn't necessary to excel at running back—see: Mike Hart, among others—he still has the skill-set to be an excellent Big Ten back.
Smith's offer sheet wasn't especially long, but he has one that should stand out: Ohio State. Along with the Buckeyes and Wolverines, Smith had offers from Bowling Green, Indiana, Purdue, and West Virginia.
As a junior, Smith was second-team All-Ohio in Division II after amassing 2,150 yards and 25 TDs on 189 carries. That followed up an 1,800-yard sophomore season and a freshman year spent racking up just under 1,000 all-purpose yards at the varsity level.
FAKE 40 TIME
Bucknuts lists a 4.5-second 40 time for Smith, which I'll give three FAKEs out of five considering the concerns about his speed.
Short junior highlight reel:
And film from a pair of Warren Howland games last season:
Smith certainly passes the eyeball test when it comes to a running back; his build and strength for a junior is impressive.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Smith is going to walk on campus in 2013 and have a chance to play. If his Scout ranking is ultimately the one that holds up, he'll be the highest-rated back on the roster barring a later commitment by Ty Isaac, and only Fitzgerald Toussaint (a senior in '13) and Thomas Rawls (a three-star in '11) really project as every-down backs in the classes in front of him. It wouldn't surprise to see Smith earn the backup role as a freshman before taking over full-time for Toussaint in 2014. With the Wolverines not picking up a true star at running back in the last couple classes, Smith will get every opportunity to earn time and excel in Michigan's evolving offense.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Ah, I was kinda dreading this section. First of all, Michigan now has 16 commits in a class that should get to 23 or 24. With the remaining spots, the Wolverines need two more receivers, a nose tackle, a strongside DE, and a linebacker (probably Ben Gedeon). That takes Michigan to 21, and a potential third tight end would move that number to 22. This leaves one or two spots for the best players available. LB E.J. Levenberry has a spot waiting for him. S Su'a Cravens likely would as well.
The big question, however, is what this means for Ty Isaac. I've been told Michigan will take just two tailbacks in the class—Wyatt Shallman very much included—but we'll see if that changes for a five-star like Isaac. Despite the rumors, it wouldn't appear that a crowded backfield would be an issue for Isaac:
“Competition makes you better. If you don’t have someone behind you pushing you to be better, you might get sloppy. If I’m the only back in the class, yeah that’s cool with me… but if I’m not, it’s not a turnoff and I’m not scared of it. I would expect people to be disappointed in me if I was talking like that. As a coach if I heard somebody say that, I’d understand. But at the same time, to me that sounds like you’re scared of competition.”
Deveon Smith on #Michigan possibly recruiting another RB after his commit: "They didn't talk about that at all.It doesn't even matter."
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 18, 2012
We'll have to see how it plays out. Regardless, Michigan has a pair of four-star backs in the class who bring the MAN in MANBALL.
Sam Webb is reporting that Warren (OH) Howland RB DeVeon Smith committed to Michigan today. Smith becomes the 16th member of Brady Hoke's class of 2013, and the 14th to earn a four-star rating from at least one recruiting service. It is St. Patrick's Day and the CCHA title game is in full swing, so the informative portion of this post will be coming tomorrow.
Image via FridayNighOhio.com
After pretty much letting the cat out of the bag on Twitter yesterday, Massillon (OH) Washington cornerback Gareon Conley confirmed today that he has committed to Michigan ($). He becomes the 15th commitment in the class of 2013—the 13th to earn a four-star rating on at least one recruiting site—and the second cornerback, joining Cass Tech's Jourdan Lewis.
4*, #20 CB,
|NR CB||NR CB||3*, 88, NR CB|
Conley is flying under the radar to every service save Scout, though it's worth pointing out that Scout has updated their rankings most recently of the four. The sites are evenly split as to whether he's 6'1" or 6'2", and all agree that he's between 165 and 170 pounds. Considering Michigan wanted a bigger cornerback to add to the class and complement Jourdan Lewis, that's a pretty solid frame.
Bucknuts ranked Conley as the #16 player in Ohio for the class of 2013, one spot in front of Taco Charlton and two spots ahead of Mike McCray (this means you can probably expect him to move up when 247 updates their rankings). A concern about taller cornerbacks is usually their overall athleticism and fluidity in the hips, but neither is an issue according to Mark Porter ($):
“I think he may be the best pure corner in Ohio. His ball skills are second to none. His range and athletic ability are second to none. He can match up with the number one receiver. The trait that Cam (Burrows) has over him is he may be more physical. But Gareon is ‘twitchier’ in the hips.”
Scout's group of Midwest analysts also has Conley ranked as the #16 player in the state, and Allen Trieu had some high praise in his evaluation ($):
I may disagree with Bill's statement on Munger [that he's the best player in Ohio nobody has heard of], because this might be the best kid in Ohio no one's talking about. He's long, smooth, can run, and shows good ball skills and smarts. He makes plays in zone and in man coverage, and although he definitely needs to add weight, he's a solid tackler as well.
Scout's Bill Greene questions Conley's size—though I assume it's about his weight; his height is an unquestioned positive—but echoes the sentiments about his athleticism and coverage ability ($):
A fine basketball player as well, Conley has the skill set to succeed at the next level. Although not blessed with great size, he has shown the willingness to come up and hit in run support. His best strength would be his coverage ability, and his speed. Very similar player to Canton McKinley's Jermaine Edmondson, who signed with Michigan State.
Finally, Massillon Washington assistant coach Jamie Palma notes that Conley's coverage ability is exemplary considering his height, making him an ideal matchup against larger receivers ($):
“One thing you don’t see a lot of is guys that can defend and can play corner at 6-2,” said Palma. “Most corners are 5-9 or 5-10… maybe six foot. He is a good 6-2 with a real long wingspan. So what I think he does is he brings that size out there at corner that you normally don’t see. You think you are going to have a mismatch when you see a lot bigger wide outs. He matches up better with those types of players.”
As you can see, Conley's biggest assets are his athletic ability and coverage skills given his size. Once he adds some weight, he should be able to match up quite well against bigger receivers while still having the speed and agility to hang with quicker players.
When he committed, Conley also held offers from Northwestern, Toledo, and West Virginia. According to 247, Cincinnati, Indiana, Ohio State, Virginia, and Wisconsin also showed interest.
In 2011, Conley recorded 26 solo tackles, three TFLs, a sack, nine pass breakups, and four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He put up those numbers despite playing a large portion of the season while wearing a cast due to a wrist injury.
FAKE 40 TIME
Bucknuts credited Conley with a 4.5, which I'll give three FAKEs out of five—he's reportedly pretty fast, but that sounds like just an estimation or hand-timed run.
Junior highlights [RATHER LARGE PUNTER ALERT AT THE :15 MARK]:
I've seen this pointed out elsewhere, but it bears repeating: his long stride bears an uncanny resemblance to Steve Breaston's.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Conley brings somethat that no other corner on the roster will by the time he shows up on campus, and that is size. Of the CBs on the current roster, only J.T. Floyd breaks the 6'0" barrier, and he'll be gone after the 2012 season. If Michigan wants a taller cornerback—and somebody who can come up in run support—to play the "field" corner (wide side of the field, as opposed to the "boundary"), Conley could see action early in his career.
That said, he's going to have to add some weight first. 170 pounds is quite skinny for a 6'2" frame, and if Conley is going to match up with bigger receivers, he's going to need to add some muscle. He has two years to do just that, so we'll see how he looks when he shows up on campus. If he takes a redshirt year, he should be right in the mix for a starting spot across from Blake Countess in 2014, likely competing with a trio of Cass Tech grads in Delonte Hollowell, Terry Richardson, and Jourdan Lewis.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan is now almost certainly done recruiting at cornerback for 2013, barring a player like five-star Kendall Fuller deciding to come on board. They may be done recruiting the secondary entirely, as taking another safety to go along with Dymonte Thomas isn't imperative; again, however, a top talent like Su'a Cravens would have a spot available.
The Wolverines can now focus on bringing aboard a second tailback, one or two receivers, a nose tackle, and a strongside DE. After that, IN EARLY MARCH, the coaching staff can focus almost entirely on targeting the top players in the class and shifting their focus to the class of 2014. Jebus.
McCray II (left) is also a standout TE for Trotwood-Madison; the elder McCray (right) was a captain at OSU.
As first reported by Scout, Trotwood-Madison LB Mike McCray II—the son of former Ohio State captain Mike McCray—made his commitment to Michigan official this afternoon ($):
"I have committed to Michigan," McCray stated. "I've been feeling like Michigan was the right school for me for two weeks now, and there's no reason for me to wait any longer. It's the right time for me to commit, and I'm very excited to be a Wolverine. I'm being recruited by Coach (Mark) Smith and we have a great relationship. We speak at least once or twice per week."
McCray becomes the 14th commit of the class of 2013 and the first linebacker. He told Scout he's being recruited as an inside linebacker, but as you'll see, I think he ends up on the strongside.
4*, 92, #10 ATH,
Michigan brings in another player generally regarded as a four-star, as McCray lands in the early lists of every recruiting service save Scout, which has released by far the most limited rankings (though that changes this week). Rivals is especially bullish on McCray's abilities, placing him all the way up at #44 overall in the country. Both Rivals and 247 list McCray at 6'4", 230 pounds, while ESPN (6'3", 225) and Scout (6'2", 220) have him a little smaller. Considering recent articles on McCray have him listed as high as 238 pounds, I think the higher figures are likely more accurate; some suggest that he could grow into a defensive end role, though he's needed at Michigan as a stronside linebacker, where his size projects well.
McCray landed at #18, one spot behind fellow commit Taco Charlton, in the recently-released Bucknuts top 50 players in Ohio. Mark Porter thinks McCray is headed for a position switch ($):
“He would be an active defensive end and will probably grow into that position as a college player. He plays linebacker now, but I think he ends up moving down to the line at the college level.”
However, the strongside linebacker in Michigan's 4-3 under is practically a DE; Jake Ryan took snaps at both SLB and weakside DE last year depending on the situation. In this case, McCray's size and possible tweener status could be a strength.
McCray really broke out in 2011 as a junior, helping lead Trotwood-Madison to a Division II state title. Scout's Bill Greene was extremely impressed with McCray's performance last season ($):
One of the more improved juniors in Ohio this season, and a legitimate Top-10 candidate in a loaded year in-state. McCray's improvement can be traced to better side-to-side movement, and better recognition from his linebacker spot. He is super-athletic, plays with high intensity, and displays good overall football intelligence. I definitely see McCray receiving an Ohio State offer at some point, and this weekend makes sense with his teammate Bradley on campus with him.
McCray was ranked at #13 in Scout's initial Ohio top 50 ($), but unlike teammates Cam Burrows and Bam Bradley, he did not receive that Buckeye offer (as of now, at least). Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt watched McCray play twice last season, praising his instincts, pass coverage, and discipline in his first evaluation, then saying this after watching him in the state title game (both links $):
At 6-4 and 220 pounds, McCray is one of the best playmaking defenders I have seen this year. He is always around the football, always playing at 100 miles per hour and never tiring despite going both ways. McCray doubles as a tight end on offense, and there are teams interested in him for that position in college. His highest upside is definitely on defense, though, where his combination of size, athleticism and playmaking ability should ensure a long career in football. If McCray plateaus right now he's still going to be one of the top linebackers in the Midwest, and probably the country. But McCray also has room to grow in his game. He can add strength and definition to his body in the weight room this off-season, which should also improve what is already pretty good speed. If he takes another step forward with off-season preparation, McCray is going to be scary good a year from now.
After the state finals, BuckeyeGrove's Mark Givler added, "McCray simply does everything you can ask a linebacker to do; he fills gaps, makes plays in space, and does a great job in coverage." For those afraid that McCray is too big for linebacker, it certainly sounds like he has the athleticism and coverage ability to play in space, and that shows up in his film as well.
McCray chose Michigan over Tennessee and Illinois, while also holding offers from Arizona, Boston College, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota, Ole Miss, Nebraska, N.C. State, Oklahoma, Purdue, South Carolina, Syracuse, Toledo, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Oklahoma and Tennessee offers obviously stand out; despite the lack of an Ohio State offer, McCray was generating national attention when he decided to commit.
McCray had 88 tackles, two forced fumbles, and five interceptions—returning three for touchdowns—as a junior. As a tight end, he hauled in 30 receptions for 494 yards and nine touchdowns, making him the increasingly-rare true two-way player.
As a sophomore, McCray tallied 65 tackles, three forced fumbles, and three interceptions while catching 11 passes and scoring five offensive touchdowns.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals credits McCray with a 4.61-second 40, which is quite fast for a player who could conceivably play DE at the next level. While he's lauded for his athleticism, I'll still give that four FAKEs out of five.
Short junior highlight reel:
As noted, McCray has no problem dropping into coverage and making plays.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
McCray will immediately provide depth at SLB, a position only redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan and redshirt junior Cam Gordon—he of the multiple position switches—currently occupy among scholarship players. Ryan appears to have that job locked down for the next few years, while Gordon should be competent enough to play as a backup while McCray takes a redshirt year.
That said, McCray has the size and athleticism to be an early contributor, and his coverage skills could mean Michigan is afforded the luxury of sliding Ryan down to WDE and putting McCray in at SLB in passing situations once he has a handle on the defense. Once Ryan graduates, McCray will have every opportunity to take the starting job on the strongside; we'll see if he's battling, say, E.J. Levenberry for that role when this class fills out.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan now has 14 commits in the class of 2013, all but two of whom garnering four-star ratings on Rivals. McCray is the first linebacker in the class to commit—Charlton plays OLB in high school, but he's coming is as a WDE—and it looks like Michigan will take three total in the class. The other two will likely come from the trio of high-caliber recruits currenly listing Michigan at or near the top of their list: WLB Ben Gedeon, WLB Dorian O'Daniel, and SLB E.J. Levenberry.
For more detail on the scholarship situation, check out Brian's recruiting section from Monday's Unverified Voracity. Major needs for the rest of the class are at running back, wide receiver, defensive tackle, and cornerback.
True story: I woke up to my phone vibrating on my desk and I immediately had no doubt that I was way late in getting to a "Hello" post. I didn't know for whom—though I had a good idea it was Wexford (PA) OL Patrick Kugler, who tweeted that Michigan "[felt] like home" after his visit yesterday—but I knew that Brady Hoke doesn't sleep and had no trouble punishing me for my slothfulness. This is where we're at with Michigan recruiting right now; I'm going to have to start patterning my sleep after a college football coach. This is totally okay as long as the 2013 class is wrapped up by the end of March.
On that note, Michigan now has its entire five-man offensive line class filled before the end of February. It is filled with four-stars. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
4* OT, ESPNU
150 Watch List
4*, 92, #20 OT,
Four-stars across the board for Kugler, because what else did you expect? He even has an early four-star ranking from Scout, so it appears he's destined to end up on each of the four services's top-[blank] lists. Rivals is the most bullish for the moment, placing him as their #54 overall prospect, making him the team's third-best commit by their standards and the sixth in the Rivals100. Every site but Rivals lists Kugler at 6'4", 270 pounds—Rivals credits him with an extra inch and ten pounds—making him the ideal size to move inside, most likely to center.
Kugler's certainly got the bloodlines to be a dominant lineman. Scout's Bob Lichtenfels cited the Kugler family history when naming him the breakout 2013 prospect of the East last October ($):
We knew Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny offensive lineman Patrick Kugler was going to be good. His family lineage would suggest that his father Sean Kugler is the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers and his brother Robert Kugler is red shirting this season in his true freshman season at Purdue. The younger Kugler is better than we thought, he is dominant. I actually wouldn't hestitate to say he is the best lineman in Pennsylvania regardless of class.
Patrick did not let the resource of having an NFL offensive line coach for a father go to waste, working with his dad on technique and also being a ball boy, getting to absorb the atmosphere of an NFL training camp. Here's Kugler's self-evaluation ($):
'I just think my best thing is my physicality and run blocking definitely," he said. "I like being really physical and I'm working on my pass sets a lot. I'm working a lot on my strength and trying to get up there, get bigger and quicker."
Scout lists feet—not a surprise when working on footwork with an NFL coach—intensity, and nasty streak as Kugler's strengths, and his only listed weakness is size. While Kugler can't change being 6'4", this is actually a good thing for a center, and at 270 pounds he's got the frame to be college-ready by the time he sets foot on campus. Here is Scout's full evaluation:
Kugler is a technician and he is nasty. He finishes his blocks and always plays to the whistle. He has great feet and gets to the second level as well as anyone. Very dominant at the point of attack. he is equally adept at run blocking and pass protection. He is very cerebral and is rarely in bad position. Very good knee bend and deceptively athletic. Needs to fill out his frame more, but that will come with age and experience.
With his technical ability and feel for the game, Kugler sounds like the ideal center, though he's got the ability to play anywhere along the interior of the line and potentially even tackle—that likely won't be necessary given the recruiting haul this year and last.
So, in short, Michigan just pulled in a refined, technical lineman who knows the game, is equally skilled at pass- and run-blocking, and has the proverbial nasty streak. Oh, and his dad is the offensive line coach for the Steelers. I'd say "DO WANT," but we already got him.
Kulger had 25 offers when he pledged to Michigan, including Arizona, Boise State, Cal, Florida, Florida State, Iowa, Miami (FL), Michigan State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pitt, South Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Washington, and West Virginia. [EDIT: Also Ohio State. Continue maniacal laughter.]
Offensive lineman, so no stats. He was recently named to the ESPNHS Underclass All-America team and pulled in all-state and all-conference honors as a junior. He was also first-team all-conference and all-state honorable mention as a sophomore.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals lists a 5.1-second 40 time, which I'll give three FAKEs out of five, as well as a 300-pound bench press and a 415 squat.
Kugler does not have a highlight tape available, surprisingly. I'll update this if I come across one.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Kugler is the center that Michigan has been looking for, and while he'll likely take a redshirt year to bulk up, he could compete with Jack Miller for the starting job as a redshirt freshman. [EDIT: Though with the lack of depth, he may be forced into duty as a backup as a true freshman.] Even if Miller holds off Kugler until he graduates, Kugler will likely be a two-year starter anchoring the middle of the Wolverine line; no 2012 lineman projects to center and there's literally no depth after Miller. Kugler is much higher-ranked than your average center by the recruiting services, so I'm guessing he'll be in the running for postseason accolades by the time he's an upperclassman, though that's just a guess since I clearly don't have any film to base that on.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
The Wolverines are now done taking offensive linemen, having pulled in two projected tackles (Logan Tuley-Tillman and Chris Fox), two guards (Kyle Bosch and David Dawson), and Kugler, the center. They're also up to 13 total commitments for the class of 2013, and while I sound like a broken record, I'll once again state that this class should have around 20-22 players, though some recruiting analysts suggest Michigan could take up to 24. That would take a fair amount of attrition, so we'll have to see about that.
With the remaining spots, Michigan appears intent on taking two receivers (one big outside playmaker and a versatile slot, probably), another tight end, a nose tackle, a linebacker, and another corner, at the very least. That would put the Wolverines at 19 commits, and they could use their remaining scholarships on the best players available.
BONUS RIVAL SCHADENFREUDE. From the Notre Dame board IrishEnvy in their Patrick Kugler thread:
Today, 11:20 AM #20 (permalink) Raining On Your Parade
Committed to UM today.
Last edited by phork; Today at 11:23 AM..
That is all.
Sam Webb just broke the news on Twitter; yes, Michigan has picked up another commit:
Columbus Marion-Franklin HS WR Jaron Dukes has pledged to #Michigan
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) February 22, 2012
LOL my life. Informative update forthcoming.
Informative Update: According to Michael Spath of The Wolverine, Dukes is the first-ever offensive skill position player from Columbus to commit to Michigan, which is pretty mind-boggling. Despite growing up in the heart of Buckeye country, Dukes actually is a lifelong Michigan fan, and he told me that he got emotional running onto the field at the Big House when he visited a couple weekends ago. Despite his trip going as well as it possibly could, he wanted to make sure he took the time to think things over and talk to his parents and coaches before coming to a decision; it appears he's thought things through.
|NR WR||NR WR||NR WR||3*, 87, #63 WR|
As you can see, Dukes is flying under the radar right now and has yet to be ranked by any of the recruiting services, though I expect that will change soon now that he's committed to Michigan [EDIT: Talk about your quickly-fulfilled predictions; 24/7 just gave Dukes a three-star rating]. Though Dukes is listed at anywhere between 6'2" and 6'5" in his recruiting profiles, recent observations peg him at a legit 6'5", 200 pounds; he's definitely the big type of wideout that Al Borges has been looking for.
Bucknuts listed Dukes as their #29 prospect in Ohio for the class of 2013, and their evaluation included this quote from scout Mark Porter ($):
“He’s the biggest wide receiver in the class. He’s not as big as TY Williams a couple of years ago. But he has great size and is useful down around the goal line. He had a nice game against Trotwood.”
In that game against Trotwood—playing against cornerback and consensus top player in Ohio, Buckeye commit Cam Burrows—Dukes tallied six catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Scout's Dave Berk was on hand for that game, and while there are questions surrounding Dukes's speed, he seems to think that won't be a big issue ($):
At 6-foot-5, 200-pounds, Dukes has the physical size Notre Dame coaches love from the wide receiver position. Besides his size, Dukes showed surprising speed during his six-catch, 173-yard two-touchdown performance.
On one of Duke’s [sic] two touchdowns, Burrows had the angle to make the stop, but Dukes showed a burst that sent him past the standout corner that already holds an early offer from the Irish.
A recent Tim Sullivan feature talked about the strength of Jaron's game—his ability to high-point the football, a la Junior Hemingway—and had a glowing quote from his head coach ($):
Whichever school he does ultimately pick will be getting a talented wideout. Standing 6-5 and weighing 197 pounds, he's a physically-imposing receiver who can use his mass to shield defenders - and make blocks on the edge. He also has the body control to high-point the ball once it's in the air, and a knack for making plays after the catch.
"He's 6-4 or 6-5 legit, 200 pounds, he runs a 4.6," said Coach Haffele. "He has great ball skills catching the ball. He's a pretty good blocker. All that god-given talent he has. And then, once you meet the kid and talk to him, that's the selling point. He's just such a great kid."
We'll see about that 4.6; Dukes himself knows that he has to work on his speed to take his game to the next level, and he told me as much when I first interviewed him before his visit:
JARON: My biggest strengths are being able to read the secondary, keeping a level head, going out there and having fun and being able to go out and catch, just catch the ball. I would love to get faster. They keep telling me speed kills, so I want to be the fastest one out there. I want to be the fastest one on the field.
As you'll see on film, Dukes is very reminiscent of Hemingway in his ability to go up and get the football. His speed doesn't stand out, though he's clearly working on changing that fact. Burner or no, he'll provide a big downfield target for Shane Morris and he should be a major weapon in the red zone.
Dukes also held offers from Illinois and Toledo while garnering interest from Cincinnati, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State; he visited OSU multiple times before reaching his decision, though he did not hold an offer.
Dukes told me he had 36 catches for 673 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals lists a 40 time of 4.6 seconds, the time his coach claims he ran. Seeing Dukes on tape, I have to give that a four FAKEs out of five; he's going to have to work on his speed, as has been said above, including by Jaron himself.
Junior highlights from ScoutingOhio:
It's difficult to get a read on his route-running from that short clip; hopefully more video surfaces in the near future, as there isn't even paywalled tape on Rivals right now.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
The evidence is flimsy indeed, but Dukes—like every receiver from the 2012 and 2013 class—is going to have every opportunity to compete for playing time right away. When Dukes arrives on campus, the Wolverines will have just six returning wideouts—Jeremy Jackson (SR), Jeremy Gallon (SR), Drew Dileo (SR), Jerald Robinson (JR), Amara Darboh (SO), and Jehu Chesson (SO)—and the only players with even comparable size are Jackson and Chesson, who both stand at 6'3".
That said, Dukes is a developmental prospect, and it seems likely he'll take a redshirt year as long as the Wolverines don't suffer attrition, especially if they can bring in a blue-chip prospect like Laquon Treadwell in the 2013 class. Dukes appears to be a late-bloomer—he told me his coaches said he "couldn't catch a cold" as a freshman—so there's a chance he makes a big leap up in the rankings and changes that opinion. With little film to go on, for now I see him as another Hemingway type; a big receiver who uses his body well and is a deep threat by virtue of his size and leaping ability, but not a burner who's going to be a steady possession receiver.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan now has 12 commits in the class of 2013, almost certainly more than half of what they'll take in a class projected to fill out at around 20-22 players. Dukes represents a player of major need at receiver, and the Wolverines will take at least one more player at the position; Treadwell seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for that spot, but Michigan has 14 other offers out to uncommitted prospects. Other positions of need include one more offensive lineman, an every-down running back, nose tackle, and depth in the back seven, specifically at linebacker (likely just one, and M can be picky) and cornerback.
Brady Hoke... I really just don't know what else there is to say about his—and his coaching staff's—effort on the recruiting trail. I've run out of platitudes, but this class is already on pace to be one of the top five—at least—in the country. It's still February. This is relatively unprecedented, but you know that already.