Mike Lantry, 1972
OR: JABRILL PEPPERS AND COMFORTING UNCERTAINTY
Three receivers make this post. This guy isn't one of them.
For the first time in years, Michigan's depth chart isn't patched together with duct tape and hope, so the incoming freshmen of 2014 don't have as many opportunities for early playing time as past classes. This is worth celebrating, especially when one particular freshman is poised to make a big impact at a position with some experienced depth anyway.
After Jabrill Peppers, there isn't a clear role for any of the incoming freshmen, and getting this list up to five involved a few reach picks. Again, this is good. Without further ado, here's the list.
1. JABRILL PEPPERS, CB/KR/PR (6'1, 210; 5*, 247 Composite #1 ATH/CB)
Surprise! Despite the presence of four older cornerbacks with significant game experience (Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Jourdan Lewis, and Channing Stribling), Peppers is simply too talented to keep off the field. He should see immediate time in Michigan's nickel package, either as the nickelback or playing on the outside with Countess in the slot, and as the season progresses he'll challenge Taylor for a starting spot—with his size, athleticism, and ability in run support, Peppers is an ideal fit on the boundary.
With apologies to Fearless Leader, I believe Peppers will make an instant impact in the return game, as well. While Dennis Norfleet consistently threatened to break long returns, they rarely materialized last year. Michigan had just one kickoff return of 40+ yards (T-89th nationally) and none of 50+; just two punt returns went for 20+ (T-58th), one 30+, and zero 40+. Averages were middling at best: 49th in kickoff returns and 91st in punt returns. Fielding kickoff returns, at the very least, would be a great way to get Peppers the ball without overwhelming him with too much responsibility. If he has a role on offense this year, it'll likely be limited to just a handful of plays.
2. FREDDY CANTEEN, SLOT (6'1, 170; 4*, #41 WR)
Canteen is the player going solo/the one with insanely quick feet
Slot receiver is one of a small number of spots with total uncertainly on the depth chart. Just two players return there: Norfleet (six career "catches" that were actually end-arounds) and sophomore Da'Mario Jones, who only saw time on special teams last year. While Doug Nussmeier may have a different outlook, thus far the coaches have been hesitant to give Norfleet a significant role. A relative unknown committed to Central Michigan before Michigan came calling, Jones never rose above middling three-star even after flipping his commitment. This spot is wide open.
Enter Freddy Canteen, who went from completely off the radar when his high school didn't play actual games in 2012 to a hot camp commodity with ever-rising rankings in 2013. At 6'1, he's got the size this coaching staff covets, and his route-running is very advanced for an incoming freshman. On top of that, he's got speed to burn and a phenomenal name. What more can one ask for? It wouldn't surprise me at all if Canteen, an early enrollee, is the starter in the slot from day one.
3. IAN BUNTING, TE/FUNCHESS (6'7, 233; 4*, #11 TE)
Photo credit: J. Geil/Chicago Sun-Times
Bunting wouldn't have cracked this list a couple weeks ago; then Jake Butt went down with a torn ACL. Now Michigan is down to one tight end that actually catches passes, and that's only if you believe Devin Funchess is still a tight end. AJ Williams is almost exclusively a blocker (and he's still working on that), while Jordan Paskorz is a former linebacker without a catch to his name. Khalid Hill comes off a redshirt and could factor in as an H-back, but that's about it as far as tight end depth goes. There's room for another pass-catcher.
The question is whether or not Bunting will be at all ready to put his hand in the dirt; even in high school, he did most of his damage split out wide. At 233 pounds (on a 6'7 frame), he needs to bulk up significantly to be able to hold his own as a blocker. As an enormous receiver with great hands, however, he can at least see the field as a third-down/red-zone specialist; putting him on the field with Funchess poses major matchup problems for opposing defenses.
4. BRYAN MONE, NT (6'4, 328; 4*, #8 DT)
Another player on the list due to injury on the current roster, Mone could be forced into duty at nose tackle if Ondre Pipkins is limited in his return from a torn ACL. The only other true NT on the roster is redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst, who was listed at 270 pounds on last year's roster.
Mone's stock fell from near-consensus top-50 player to borderline top-100 prospect (or, in Rivals' case, flat-out three-star) after he looked overweight and out of shape at the Under Armour game. Mone put on a ton of weight in a short period of time before his senior season and it clearly affected his conditioning. Luckily for Michigan, he's enrolled early, so efforts to turn bad weight into good are already underway. It's highly unlikely Mone is ready to play a major role, but Michigan might need him to hold his own in sporadic rotation snaps and short-yardage situations.
5. MICHAEL FERNS, ILB (6'3, 235; 4*, #6 ILB)
Another early enrollee, Ferns isn't likely to see much early action on defense. James Ross and Desmond Morgan have the two ILB spots locked down, and both have viable backups with playing experience in Ben Gedeon and Joe Bolden. If there's an injury, however, Ferns is the incoming linebacker best suited to see the field with his size and status as an EE.
Ferns also fits right in on special teams—with his athleticism, he could make an immediate impact on coverage units. This will be a frustrating way to burn a redshirt if Ferns doesn't get some in-game experience at linebacker, but it's inevitable that the coaches will burn a linebacker's redshirt for special teams, and it may as well be the one most ready to see the field.
HONORABLE MENTION: WRs DRAKE HARRIS & MOE WAYS
Both Harris and Ways look like college-ready receivers; Harris benefits from enrolling early, while Ways has the bulk and blocking ability to see the field as a freshman. They'd be higher on the list if playing time on the outside wasn't so hard to come by. Funchess and Jehu Chesson should lock down the starting spots, Amara Darboh is another starting candidate now that he's healthy, and two other options come off redshirts in Jaron Dukes and Csont'e York.
Harris is coming off a hamstring injury that cost him his entire senior season. Ways made great strides from his junior to senior seasons but could still use some, er, seasoning. It'd be great if Michigan was able to redshirt both of these guys, especially if Canteen can also contribute on the outside.
McDowell's: Still Open For Business
Malik McDowell committed to Michigan State last Wednesday, so why is he leading off another recruiting roundup? Well, his mother still refuses to sign a LOI that will send him to East Lansing, leaving his recruitment at an impasse. Now it appears McDowell may not end up a Spartan after all; 247's Steve Wiltfong has the latest ($):
The elder McDowell says all four schools remain in play and that they are in the process of scheduling unofficial visits back to the Buckeyes, Seminoles and Wolverines campuses. He added a return trip to Michigan State is not necessary for the family.
“He wants Michigan State, he wants that,” Greg McDowell said. “I know he wants that.”
Greg McDowell says he’s fine with his son attending Michigan State if that’s what he truly wants, while McDowell’s mother Joya Crowe has yet to come around on the Spartans.
In case matters weren't complicated enough, the News' Tom Markowski caught up with McDowell's high school coach, who said the visits are "something his dad is wishing for, but Malik hasn’t said anything but MSU."
It still looks like Michigan is on the outside looking in, but it also looks a lot less likely McDowell will end up at Michigan State than it did just a few days ago.
New 2015 and 2016 Offers
A couple more offers went out in recent days as Michigan continues to go after more and more underclassmen targets.
Four-star 2015 IN ILB Josh Barajas (junior highlights) told Wiltfong he was "still in shock" shortly after receiving his Michigan offer ($). UPDATE: Brandon spoke to him. The Wolverines appear to have timed this offer well; despite fielding recent interest from Michigan State and Notre Dame, only Illinois and Purdue offered Barajas before Michigan. He's got visits scheduled to U-M, MSU, and ND in the next month.
Michigan also offered 2016 TX OL Greg Little, who's quickly transition from tight end to burgeoning tackle prospect, per Steve Lorenz ($). His offer list—which includes the likes of Arizona State, Baylor, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech—suggests he's one of the top tackle prospects in his class; while Little says he will try to visit Michigan, he could be a very tough pull.
PSA: Phones Can (And Should) Film Horizontally
Jabrill Peppers released the first of an unspecified number of YouTube videos documenting his visit to Michigan and why he chose the Wolverines. I haven't had the chance to go through the 15-minute episode above, but a quick scan reveals that arrrrrgghhh vertical video whyyyyyyyyy. Aside from that poor choice, however, this should be a very interesting watch.
In other commit news, here's a fun quote from 2015 CB Shaun Crawford:
On Wednesday, during an interview with Cleveland.com, Crawford was once again asked about his Buckeye offer and what it meant to him.
Without much hesitation, Crawford reached for a Michigan hat, put it atop his head and fully declared where his heart resides at the moment.
"I'm Michigan all the way," Crawford said. "Picking up the Ohio State offer was great.
"But they were a little too late."
Ali-esque rhyming dig right there. I like it.
Recently offered four-star NJ OT Grant Newsome told Sam Webb he will "definitely" visit Michigan and placed the Wolverines among the top schools he plans to visit ($):
Sam Webb: Aside from Michigan, do you know off the top of your head some of the other schools that you for sure are going to visit?
Grant Newsome: “I haven’t really set the list yet. I will probably be taking a visit to Penn State and Northwestern, maybe South Carolina. I think those are four I will probably take visits to but I really haven’t set the list.”
Newsome wants to make a decision before his senior year; with his recruitment picking up steam, Michigan looks to be a strong contender.
Another recent OL offer, 2015 PA four-star Ryan Bates, told Webb that new offers from Michigan and Michigan State will be compared to his current favorites, Penn State and South Carolina; that should happen soon, as he plans to decide in the spring or early summer ($).
Michigan made the top ten for four-star TX dual-threat QB Jarrett Stidham, though Texas Tech is still regarded as his early leader.
Scout updated their top 300 for the 2015 class. Shaun Crawford comes in at #65 (#8 CB), Tyree Kinnel at #220 (#27 CB), and Jon Runyan Jr. at #294 (#20 OG).
Signing Day: It Happened, I Guess
OFFICIALLY OURS NOW
By the time I was able to get my laptop to start yesterday*, Michigan had already received LOIs from every committed prospect, and Malik McDowell had announced his intention to attend Michigan State. Brandon caught up with all the freshly inked signees on Tuesday night; other than the usual coachspeak-filled presser, there was little else of note to happen on the recruiting front yesterday for the Wolverines.
Of course, there's the McDowell situation, which is a mess. He committed to MSU in a ceremony at Southfield High School. His father attended, though he's still not a big fan of the decision; his mother did not. As of now, McDowell's LOI remains unsigned, and potentially could for a while:
“I’m not legally able to do it because I’m not the custodial parent,” Greg [McDowell, Malik's father] told The Detroit News, noting that Malik is only 17. “[Joya Crowe, Malik's mother] has to sign it and I have to sign it, too. I don’t know when it will happen. Malik has to handle that with his Mom. I’m willing to do whatever my son wants. It’s been a long process and an uneasy process.
“That’s something he’ll have to deal with, because at the end of the day it’s all about him and he has to work it out.”
State's coaches sounded confident that he'll be a Spartan eventually—if worst comes to worst, McDowell doesn't even need a LOI in order to get his scholarship and enroll in the fall, though that leaves MSU in the unenviable position of hoping he sticks to his commitment without any binding document.
Could Michigan potentially get back into his recruitment in the meantime? It's highly unlikely. Malik is obviously intent on going to MSU; if he's forced to compromise with his mother, FSU and OSU are also possibilities—and there's also the matter of whether or not the coaches would want a player who may not really want to be in the program. Usually in these types of situations, the prospect eventually gets his wish, and that's what I expect to happen here.
As for actual newsworthy bits regarding Michigan's commits, there's one worth reprinting: Drake Harris, who missed his senior season with a torn hamstring, is "feeling more and more 100 percent," according to Jeff Hecklinski, and should be healthy for spring practice.
[Hit THE JUMP for a great Bo Schembechler story, Bo Pelini's unusual recruiting methods, lolTimBeckman, actual evidence that tweeting at recruits doesn't work, and more.]
Gonna start around 10 a.m.
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― Neil Gaiman
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Left: The Perfect Spartan [Fuller]. Right: Drake Harris [Josh Hemholdt/Rivals]
Tomorrow is Signing Day. If you live in the state of Michigan, that means you'll be hearing from your nearest Spartan about their Top 25, better-than-Michigan's (on one of the four sites) class, and how they always get the best player in the state no matter how far the definition of that must be stretched to achieve it.
2012-'13: Return of the Normal
Left: Burbridge, Funchess and Ojemudia. Right: Shane Morris; yes we got him a better hat.
|Touted Recruits||Head to Head||Signee Rankings|
|2013||5||1||1||3||2||1,2,3,6,7,11,13, 17||4, 8, 14|
Michigan wins: James Ross, Ben Braden, Dennis Norfleet, Matt Godin, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Mario Ojemudia, Terry Richardson, Devin Funchess, Shane Morris (though extremely early), Wyatt Shallman, and David Dawson
MSU wins: Aaron Burbridge, Jon Reschke, Dennis Finley
Elsewhere: DT Danny O'Brien (Tennessee), OT Steve Elmer (ND)
MSU never got around to offering Jourdan Lewis before that legendary February commitment blitz. In both of these classes once Michigan was done with what they wanted there just wasn't much left.
MSU's solitary victory in 2012 was Burbridge, who tired of Michigan's wait-'n-see approach with his academic eligibility. Both of State's head-to-head 2013 wins were guys Michigan gave extremely cursory offers after they were already committed to MSU: legacy Jon Reschke, and OT Dennis Finley, a Cass Tech kid who was passed on earlier and then was offered during David Dawson's vision quest.
|Touted Recruits||Head to Head||Signee Rankings|
|2014||2||0 or 1||1 or 2||3||0 or 1||3,4,8,14||(1?),5,7,10,16,24,25|
This year the two mitten rivals had more than a few battles outside of the state. Montae Nicholson had lots of national offers and was a Michigan target until Michigan told him they were filled up at his position in August. Wisconsin DT Craig Evans, who flipped from the Badgers to the Spartans "not because of academics" yesterday, claimed a doubtable Michigan offer. On the flipside Michigan's entire LB class (Michael Ferns, Chase Winovich and Noah Furbush, plus our in-state legacy) and Juwaan Bushell-Beatty held unrequited offers to attend MSU.
But this isn't about that. It's about who owns the State of Michigan. And that is…
Head-to-Head Wins for MSU:
- If DL Malik McDowell chooses MSU (against his parents' wishes) they would have one.
Head-to-Head Wins for Michigan:
|Marshall on the sidelines during Seaholm's late playoff comeback. [Me!!!]|
- WR Drake Harris: Committed to MSU as 2-sport athlete, switched to Michigan when he decided on football.
- WDE Lawrence Marshall: Committed to OSU, then was thought an MSU lock, then switched to Michigan last spring. "The best players in Michigan go to Michigan" will go in bucket of all-time Sparty trolls. Other offers: Neb, Okla, Ole Miss. Bama and USC interest, but no offers.
- WLB Jared Wangler: A 2-star with offer from…LSU?--oh right, he's Johnny Wang's kid. Was first a Penn State commit over MSU (also Cincy and Yale), who flipped on the offer to dad's school.
Michigan Commit who Michigan State Didn't Offer:
- WR Mo Ways: MSU coaches visited, wanted him to camp again before extending their offer. ND coaches came that day too. He took an unofficial to M right after those meetings, got an offer, and pulled the trigger. Iowa, Rutgers were other offers, OSU, NWern were interested too.
Michigan State commits who Michigan didn't offer:
- ATH (WR/CB) Jalen Watts-Jackson: SMSB camp offer, previously just had EMU and CMU interest. My neighbor's kid plays with Jalen at OLSM, and apparently he was the kid throwing the ball around on my street all the time; I didn't pay attention because I had no idea he was a D-I recruit before it got too cold, so I have nothing to offer.
- LB Byron Bullough: Is a Bullough.
- NT David Beedle: MAC offers, committed on offer after SMSB camp.
- LB Deon Drake: Cass Tech kid Michigan passed on. Knee issues last summer.
- OL Nick Padla: Illinois, MAC offers. M never showed interest.
- TE Matt Sokol: Illinois and Wisconsin sent offers, Michigan never got involved.
Guys who went somewhere else:
CB Damon Webb: Urban getting the top-rated Cass Tech kid would be like Michigan doing the same from Glenville.
- OL Tommy Doles: Academic-minded, early on looked like a Michigan lock; seems like there was a mutual parting last spring. MSU was interested, but never in it.
- If Malik chooses OSU or FSU he goes here.
- DE Jhonathan Williams: MSU was involved as a two-sport before he committed to Mizzou. ND flipped him in late November. Michigan had an offer in after losing Hand.
2015: The Year of Hover Cars and Mr. Fusion
Is next year! Great heavy this is scott.
Power laces: alright!
So far MSU has commitments from OT/DT Kyonta Stallworth, CB Tyson Smith, and Jayru Campbell if he can right himself, but none of those were really Michigan targets. Campbell's Cass Tech teammates RB Michael Weber and OT Joshua Alabi both seem to be MSU leans at this point; again, Michigan hasn't been as involved. The big battle will be over Brian Cole, one of the country's top cornerbacks, and Michigan State seems to be in good position there right now. The other in-stater being fought over is SAM-like object Tyriq Thompson. I reiterate my completely non-professional preference that they offer Brother Rice QB Alex Malzone now.
Michigan Out For McDowell?
Michigan entered last weekend with one last shot at impressing Malik McDowell before the top-50 prospect from Detroit made his Signing Day decision. With McDowell's parents firmly in Michigan's corner, the hope was that they'd help the coaches sway Malik from an apparent Michigan State lean during the Wolverines' in-home visit.
Michigan made their final push, and McDowell's recruitment still looks like it will come down to his wishes to attend MSU versus his parents' desire for him to go elsewhere. One problem: "elsewhere" now appears to mean "out of state," per TomVH ($):
“As far as myself, I think he should leave town. I think he should leave the state because he has some friends who aren’t athletes,” [Malik's father] Greg said. “I don’t want them to be a distraction. If he stays close to home, they’re capable of driving up and distracting him. I want him to establish himself on his own.”
McDowell's parents are pushing hard for him to choose either Florida State or Ohio State, Malik's two finalists not located in the state of Michigan. 247's Steve Wiltfong notes that Malik still wants to attend MSU; again, his father is quoted as being strongly against this ($):
“From when we talked Friday he’s coming around because he knows how adamant we are about him not attending Michigan State,” the elder McDowell said. “I don’t have anything bad to say against Michigan State but I don’t think they’re the school for my son. I think the coaches are cool and they’re establishing a good program, but this is my son and I choose to not want him there. If he were to choose Michigan State I don’t know what I would do. It is what it is. I just want my son away from this environment and Michigan. I want him out of here.”
Malik himself hasn't been available for comment in quite some time (aside from tweeting his top four last week) and that's unlikely to change before his planned 9:30am NSD announcement. All indications, however, point to him choosing any of the three schools besides Michigan.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest wave of 2015 offers, Jashon Cornell's visit plans, ALABAMA DANCEOFF, and more.]