so much for that
"East Lansing's Big Ten Team" Doesn't Have The Same Allure, For Some Reason
It's been a quiet week, relatively speaking, for Michigan recruiting, so today's roundup kicks off with an update on the program making a serious run for the #3 spot in the Big Ten recruiting rankings: Northwestern.
Yes, you read that right.
No, seriously, you read that right.
The Wildcats built upon their on-field success under Pat Fitzgerald with a solid recruiting class in 2013, landing consensus four-star QB Matt Alviti, underrated RB Godwin Igwebuike, and a solid group of three-stars—not just Midwest kids, either, with signees hailing from Texas (3), California (3), Florida, and New Jersey.
On the heels of a ten-win season and their first bowl win in 63 years, Northwestern is now poised to put together their best recruiting class in... ever? The Wildcats have already hauled in another four-star signal-caller, Clayton Thorson, giving Northwestern future four-star depth at quarterback, a position where they've already managed to turn an array of middling recruits with varying levels of scrambling ability into competent (at the very least) conductors of their up-tempo spread in recent years. Now the Wildcats have jumped up to 19th(!) in the 247 Composite Team Rankings after reeling in MI OL Tommy Doles and OH ATH Dareian Watkins in the last week.
Doles, of course, was long thought to be a heavy Michigan lean—I lost count of the number of times the Grand Rapids Christian product has been on campus in the last year. Given his other offers—Army, Air Force, Iowa State, and Northwestern—and the fact that he seemed on the verge of committing for months, it appears Doles' choice has as much to do with Michigan backing off as Northwestern coming on strong; regardless, the Wolverines should be fine when it comes to O-line recruiting, and the academic-minded Doles found a great fit from an on- and off-field perspective in Evanston.
Watkins, who announced his choice this morning, is the more interesting example of a prospect choosing the Wildcats over several Big Ten (and beyond) options previously thought to be more desirable. Michigan State was his other finalist, and he also held offers from Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Maryland, NC State, Penn State, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, among others. When Watkins' father explained his choice, Northwestern's academics were cited as a huge reason for the commitment, but the football reasons played a large role as well ($) [emphasis mine]:
"We're all very very excited about the chance to go to Northwestern. We think it's not just an amazing academic opportunity, but an amazing football opportunity. The academics overshadow the football part sometimes, but Coach Fitz has turned the program around. They were 10-3 last year, won the Gator Bowl against an SEC football team, and he was 2-0 against the SEC last year. We think it's undervalued what they are as a football program. As much he chose a life path, he's also very competitive. He wants to be part of a Big Ten Championship and compete for national championships and we think that can be done at Northwestern."
We'll, um, see about the national championships, but there's no question Fitzgerald has put the program in a position to contend for conference titles.
Unlike me, Brian is willing to wade into the shallow end* of the RCMB, and he passed along this glorious response to the usual unhinged ranting following Watkins pledging to Not Michigan State:
*There is no deep end, thankfully. It's actually an inflatable kiddie pool filled with horse manure.
[For the rest of the roundup, including updates on Jamarco Jones, Clifton Garrett, and Jae'Sean Tate, hit THE JUMP.]
J-Reall Recognize Real, That Is
Jabrill Peppers is doing pretty well for himself. The five-star recruit is one of the most sought-after prospects in the country. His highlight tape is 12 minutes of filth, in a good way. Before too long he'll likely choose whether he wants to attend Michigan or Stanford, two of the finest schools—not to mention football programs—in the country.
It's no surprise, then, that USA Today chose Peppers to pen a blog detailing his recruitment and personal life, and some kids have such an overabundance of talent that the rest of us feel bad:
Most people don't know that I'm a music artist. They only know that I play football, but I've been singing and rapping as long as I've been playing football; since the age of 4 or 5.
Being the type of guy that I am I really take rap as a challenge. I'm from the hood, but I'm very well educated and I keep my verses clean. At the same time I appeal to the guys that I grew up with. I don't degrade women or rap dirty or anything like that I'm just real about my experiences.
This is what I really do. That's why my name is J-Reall. My cousin, Tiyahnn Bryant, gave me that name in third grade and it kinda stuck.
Normally, when I read about a high school kid's burgeoning music career, I move along before clicking on anything that could cause permanent hearing damage or complete loss of faith in the next generation*. This time, though, I clicked on the link to Peppers' song (the YouTube video above), and... it's pretty solid. Great beat selection (MF DOOM), solid flow—he sounds like a sober Curren$y, which does not exist in nature—and surprisingly polished lyrics ("I had it restless/during my adolescence/not having my pops mad depressin'"); I gave it two listens and didn't regret it, which I can't say about 85% of newly-released rap.
Oh, right, the part you really care about:
I do feel like I'm gonna be coming to a decision soon though. I just want it all to be over and done with.
Peppers further clarified that point to Sam Webb, saying he hopes to move up his Stanford visit so he can make a decision in June ($). When asked what made such a strong impact on him during his visit to Michigan, Peppers summed it up in the best possible way [emphasis mine]:
It wasn’t the “red carpet treatment” that allowed the Wolverines to set the visit standard by which others are now being measured. Turns out, it was exact opposite.
“Real recognize real,” Peppers said matter-of-factly. “That’s the shortest and sweetest way you can say it. Real recognize real. They didn’t put on a show and they just kept it 100. Basically who they are -- they remind me of my coaches right now. That’s how comfortable we felt there. It was like wow, it was like we were still at (Paramus Catholic). That was the main thing, just the comfort level and just how down-to-earth those guys are. How they are with their players. They coach you hard and just everything. It was a great visit.”
Peppers also has plenty of good things to say about Michigan in a free interview over at The M Block. His recent interviews, as we've gleefully pointed out at every opportunity, point strongly towards Michigan being in command of his recruitment; I've heard very promising things that haven't been printed (and won't), as well. How do you feel about all this, Stanford coach David Shaw?
Their education is almost as good as Stanford's? When is almost enough for a true competitor? 3 BCS in a row, #1 education in D1 #gostanford
— David Shaw (@CoachDavidShaw) April 30, 2013
He took it personal, I guess.
*I say this as a former member of a high school ska band. I've self-inflicted enough damage.
[For the latest on K.J. Williams, Alex Bars, Kalen Ballage, Kyron Watson, and much more, hit THE JUMP.]
According to Sam Webb, Michigan just picked up their eighth commitment of the 2014 class—and third in the last week—in Paramus (NJ) Catholic OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Bushell-Beatty joins Mason Cole among offensive line commits in the class; like Cole, he also has an elite high school teammate being recruited heavily by the Wolverines—in his case, five-star corner Jabrill Peppers, for whom the recruiting tides appear to be shifting in Michigan's favor.
Update of the informative variety:
|3*, #45 OT||3*, #29 OT||
4*, 83, #10 OT,
4*, 90, #17 OT,
There's a clear split in Bushell-Beatty's rankings, though Scout is more of an outlier here than they initially appear—the #28 OT on Rivals is a four-star, so JBB is just one spot away there. ESPN and 247, meanwhile, have him easily within their top n lists. The reason for the divide is almost certainly that Bushell-Beatty has played all of one season at the varsity level; until he amasses more game film and hits the camp circuit, opinions could be all over the place.
There's a similar disparity when it comes to his measurables: Rivals and Scout both list JBB at 6'5", 295 pounds, while ESPN and 247 both have him at 6'7", with the former listing him all the way up at 330 lbs. and the latter at 310.
You'll be shocked to read that a player who's got one season of varsity football under his belt is described as "raw"—here by NJVarsity.com, which listed JBB as #14 in-state junior in March ($):
14.) OL Juwan Bushell-Beatty - Paramus Catholic
Bushell-Beatty has a Division 1 frame and moves decently for someone his size. He is still a bit on the raw side, but last year was only his first playing at the high school varsity level. What he showed last year was just a glimpse as he has plenty of room to grow as an offensive tackle. He is just learning the finer points of the game but has enough athletic ability and natural tools to be considered a solid BCS-level prospect.
ESPN's evaluation suggests that Bushell-Beatty could end up at either guard or tackle in college, depending on his development in pass protection ($) [emphasis mine]:
Bushell-Beatty possesses good height and bulk as an O-Line prospect and with some time in a college weight program looks to have a frame that can still support a little more good size. In the run game he can smother defenders and gain more positional leverage, but when he gets good placement with his hands and keeps his pad level down he can push defenders off the line. He does need to work to improve placement and pad level as he can pop up, get tall, not roll his hips into blocks, stop his feet on contact and not consistently create the push he is capable of. When blocking down can wash defenders down the line of scrimmage. Can work to second level with good control and get a hat on targets in his track. In pass pro can use his length and strength well. Uses his reach well and displays very good upper-body strength and can deliver a violent punch that can knock edge rushes off course. Flashes the ability to punch and lock on, but would like to see that more from him. His kick step is effective enough, though he can turn shoulders a little quickly and be a bit of a waist bender but makes it tough for rushers to get into his frame. Flashes the ability to slide with rushers once locked on but demonstrates adequate lateral mobility. Displays good awareness and some finishing nastiness.
It's not a surprise to see pad level as an issue for a raw tackle prospect who may still be growing; that's something that should improve with experience, and same goes for most of the technical issues that ESPN points out in JBB's game. It sounds like his run blocking is currently ahead of his pass blocking, which is typical for a player at this stage and also bodes well should he kick down to guard.
Given this quote from Bushell-Beatty's head coach, it sounds like he's taken quite strongly to football after some initial trepidation, per 247's Steve Wiltfong ($):
“We were like listen buddy you’re playing football,” [Paramus Catholic head coach Chris] Partridge said. “I give him all the credit in the world. We weren’t easy on him. He pushed through it and it wasn’t easy for him. He pushed through it and he’s mean and he’s getting it and it’s good to see that as a coach. We took a chance with starting him and giving him that spot and it worked out.”
“He was very raw,” Partridge began. “He’s now getting better and better. He’s a kid that can develop and be a big-time national kid. If he makes the strides he made from last year to this year he’ll blow up.”
In case you're non sensing the theme at this point, JBB is very much a developmental prospect. With his frame and raw potential, he could grow into a special player, but he's going to need a few years to refine technique—with Michigan's recent offensive line recruiting, there are few places better suited to letting a prospect marinate for a while before they're ready to see the field.
Bushell-Beatty's list reveals that Michigan isn't the only school that sees big-time potential in him—Florida, Florida State, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, Rutgers, Tennessee, and West Virginia also extended offers before his commitment, and he also fielded interest from Ohio State, Penn State, and Pitt.
Led by Jabrill Peppers, Paramus Catholic won last year's state title in the New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 division, which includes football powerhouses like Don Bosco Prep. Despite their recent success, Paramus Catholic hasn't produced a ton in the way of BCS recruits—before this 2014 group, only 2011 four-star DT Marquise Wright (Rutgers) and 2010 three-star OL Dan Foose (Florida State) committed to BCS schools since 2002, per the Rivals recruiting database.
Offensive lineman, no stats.
FAKE 40 TIME
No available 40 time, not that offensive linemen tend to run 40 yards in a straight line during game situations unless they happen to be donkey-riding Manti Te'o.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
It's hard to say anything definitive about a prospect who's played one year of varsity football. That said, I like what I see from Bushell-Beatty, who's got an ideal lineman frame and appears to be a natural when it comes to certain aspects of line play, most especially in how he uses his hands. He'll have to develop significantly in pass protection to become a blindside tackle option; the potential is there, but it seems more likely he'll slot in at right tackle (or left, if lefty Shane Morris is the QB) or bump down to guard.
Regardless of where he ends up, JBB will assuredly take a redshirt year and likely a couple years after that before he competes for a spot on the two-deep; Michigan has too much depth and talent on the line to expect a relative football newcomer to make a serious push for early playing time.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
The Wolverines now have a couple of commits who could play multiple positions on the line: Mason Cole is likely a guard but could also play tackle, while JBB is ideally the opposite if he develops. Michigan should take one, perhaps two, more lineman and be set for this class, especially considering they took a sixth OL last year.
The other upshot, of course, is that Michigan has another edge in the recruitment of Peppers. At worst, the Wolverines appear to be neck-and-neck with Stanford, and only one of those schools has Peppers' high school teammate in the fold. I still expect Peppers to visit Palo Alto before making a decision, but it's looking increasingly likely that he ends up in Ann Arbor. Yes, that would be very nice indeed.
Today's recruiting roundup is short on length but long on top-two overall prospects with heavy interest in Michigan. That works for me. If you're looking for more on the Drake Harris commitment, click here for the Hello post.
Heavy Leanin' (No Purple Stuff, Though)
Many thanks to the board for posting the latest on five-star NJ CB Jabrill Peppers, as I can no longer stand to follow Mike Farrell's Twitter interactions with his "haters" in order to see the occasional nugget of Michigan-related info. Sometimes, though, you pan through the gravel and come up with this:
— Mike Farrell (@rivalsmike) April 15, 2013
This would be good news no matter what, but the timing in this case is particularly promising: in the last two weeks, Peppers has visited Michigan, Ohio State, and LSU. Stanford is still a major player in Peppers' recruitment, and right now it looks like this will come down to whether his summer visit to the Cardinal lives up to his time in Ann Arbor. 247 just unveiled a (very impressive) overhaul to their database*—player pages now include updated expert predictions on where a player will commit, and all six of the 247 experts familiar with Peppers' recruitment have him pegged for Ann Arbor.
Farrell's info on #1 overall recruit VA DL Da'Shawn Hand seems a little less concrete, but nevertheless is good news for the Wolverines:
— Mike Farrell (@rivalsmike) April 15, 2013
Virginia Tech has long been the presumed leader for Hand—they're his home-state school and he has a very strong relationship with Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster. 247's experts, FWIW, are split 75-25 between VT and U-M as Hand's eventual destination. In my non-insider opinion, I think Michigan has a very good chance to close that gap; Hand is very familiar with VT but is still learning about Michigan, and he'll be back in Ann Arbor for the Notre Dame game and perhaps once more before making a decision. Being in the mix for other five-star prospects certainly doesn't hurt, either.
Because the above certainly won't cause enough over-excitedness, 247's experts are 7-for-7 in picking MI DE Malik McDowell to Michigan. Please remember that it's still early. You still have permission to feel very, very good about Brady Hoke's recruiting prowess, though.
[Hit THE JUMP for Spring Game visit reactions and more.]
Grand Rapids (MI) Christian wide receiver Drake Harris announced his commitment to Michigan today on Twitter:
Just officially committed to The University Of Michigan!
— Drake Harris™ (@drizzygetbusy01) April 14, 2013
Harris, of course, initially committed to Michigan State as a two-sport athlete—he's also an excellent basketball player—but decided to open up his recruitment when he chose to focus on football in college, saying he wanted to compete for a national championship. It appears that Harris believes he's got a better shot of doing that in Ann Arbor than East Lansing.
Harris was in Columbus on Friday. As in, like, two days ago. But sure, Buckeye fans, there's no chance this ends in disappointment:
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) April 14, 2013
Something tells me that next trip isn't actually happening.
Anyway, informative update ahoy!
4*, #3 WR,
4*, #4 WR,
4*, 97, #3 WR,
Harris is regarded as one of the four best receivers in the country by each of the services that have released rankings; if he maintained his overall ranking on Scout and 247, he'd be in position to earn a fifth star by Signing Day (he's just one spot away on Scout as it is). All but Scout (6'3", 175 lbs.) list Harris at 6'4" and 180-185 lbs.—he fits the Borges ideal of a big, athletic outside receiver.
On Harris' Scout profile page, his strengths are listed as "Body Control", "Hands and Concentration", and "Route-Running Skills", with strength his only listed area for improvement. Midwest analyst Allen Trieu provides this free scouting report:
Has truly elite ball skills. Height, leaping ability and body control allow him to go up and adjust to passes most would not come down with. Is a glider on the field, and as a result, is faster than most will give him credit for. Can get deep, and is also good after the catch. Smooth, polished route runner who understands how to set up defenders and create separation. Willing and effective blocker, but must add weight and strength. - Allen Trieu
When putting together a list of each region's top prospects, Scout's staff mentioned Harris as one of the Midwest's best players ($):
Harris is a great athlete who is very natural at going up and getting the ball and does everything on the field as smooth as can be. He answered questions about his level of competition in the state title game, where he dominated despite being double teamed by a good team.
About that state title game...
Grand Rapids Christian’s Drake Harris set an MHSAA championship game record with 243 yards and one touchdown on eight receptions. Harris finished with over 2,000 receiving yards for the season; only the 12th person nationally to do so.
Grand Rapids Christian defeated a very solid Orchard Lake St. Mary's squad in that game; OLSM featured a very solid junior corner named Jalen Watts-Jackson, who has an Idaho offer and could see increased D-I interest. Harris, well, destroyed everything.
ESPN's evaluation echoes Scout's discussion of deceptive speed; again, strength and bulk are the only major areas of concern ($):
Possesses great height and wingspan with below average bulk, average strength and deceptively good top-end speed. Can build the speed off the line of scrimmage to run past defenders if given cushion. Can cover five yards in two strides consistently. Long-legged athlete with above-average quickness that will improve with increased strength, but he already has the initial quickness to escape press. Will run the short crossing routes and make catches with good concentration in contact situations. Has very good hand-eye coordination and focus. Snatches the ball out of the air in awkward positions. He is a natural hand plucker away from his frame, but will cradle some catches at times. Has shown quick feet and good body control to provide definition at the break point and to get his feet down on the sideline and end line. Not much wiggle, but surprising acceleration to outrun defender's angles.
His ability to haul in jump balls also comes in for high praise.
Tim Sullivan caught Harris last fall against East Grand Rapids; despite needing to add strength, Harris displayed good toughness, and Tim correctly predicted that he'd end up focusing on the gridiron over the hardwood ($):
His combination of height and speed made him an excellent deep threat for the Eagles, and though East Grand Rapids spent a lot of time bracketing him in coverage, he still managed to get behind the secondary on a couple occasions. Often, when an athlete considers himself a basketball player first and a football player second, you expect a bit of toughness to be lacking. That wasn't the case with Harris, who was willing to go over the middle and take a hit while still holding onto the ball. He also put in full effort on the rare occasion that he was asked to block. ... In all, it might not be long before Harris considers himself a football player first and a basketball player second - he's just that good on the gridiron.
Harris showed the ability to catch the ball away from his body, as well. To sum it up, Harris is a lanky, deceptively fast athlete who provides a solid deep threat, jump ball ability, and even the willingness to block and run routes over the middle. Once he gets into a college weight program, it appears he'll be the complete package at wide receiver.
In addition to Michigan, Harris held offers from Alabama, Cal, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, among several others.
Grand Rapids Christian won the Division 3 state championship last fall, led by Harris and 2014 offensive lineman Tommy Doles, who also holds a Michigan offer. Despite their recent success, GRC hasn't produced a BCS commit—or anyone ranked above a two-star—in the Rivals era.
According to 247, Harris caught 91 passes for 2015 yards (22.1 ypc) and 25 touchdowns in his junior season, numbers that are impressive to say the least. As a sophomore, he hauled in a mere 45 receptions for 950 yards (21.1 ypc) and ten TDs.
FAKE 40 TIME
Because of his focus on basketball until recently, Harris hasn't hit the football camp circuit hard, and there's not a readily-available 40 time for him based on a quick Googlestalk. His highlight tape lists a 4.39-second 40, which I'm giving four FAKEs out of five (that's an elite electronic time for an NFL wide receiver).
There's also a highlight package from last year's state title game:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
There's going to be plenty of opportunity for Harris to make an immediate impact when he steps on campus; in 2014, Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, and Jeremy Jackson will have graduated, leaving an as-of-yet unproven group of receivers, none of whom have Harris' blue-chip recruiting profile. It also helps that he plans to enroll early, per TomVH. If he lives up to the hype, Harris should at least compete with Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and perhaps one or more of the 2013 wide receiver signees for a starting role, and it'd be a surprise if he didn't see the field as a freshman. From there, he's got NFL potential and should be a big-impact player for Michigan.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Harris is Michigan's fifth commit—the first at wide receiver—in a class that currently is expected to have around 16 members, at least until that number goes up due to attrition. Harris fills the biggest need in the class as an elite, field-stretching receiver; other needs include strongside DE (where Michigan is in good shape for five-stars Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell) and inside linebacker (Michael Ferns projects to the strong side, and M will take one more). Otherwise, the coaches can largely focus on bringing in elite talent regardless of position, as Brady Hoke and Co. have done an extremely impressive job of filling in the many holes on the depth chart in the last couple of classes.
Today's recruiting roundup attempts to catch on everything that's gone down in the Michigan recruiting world since last Tuesday, when certain other events precluded any coverage involving high school athletes.
Schembechler Hall Presumably Now Covered In Brains
As Michigan's basketball team made their run to the national title game, the football team hosted some big-time recruiting visitors over the past week. The biggest name on campus was five-star Paramus (NJ) Catholic CB Jabrill Peppers, the #2 overall player (behind Da'Shawn Hand) on the Rivals100 and a consensus top-ten recruit. Peppers told Rivals' Adam Friedman that the trip to Ann Arbor was his "best visit"($) and changed his expectations for any school he'll check out:
"Now I don't even know what to expect anymore," Peppers laughed. "Michigan just completely exceeded my expectations. I'm just going to have to see how Michigan and Ohio State pair up and it should be a great experience but Michigan was probably one of the best visits I've been on without a doubt. Everything felt right."
According to his interview with 247's Steve Wiltfong, Peppers plans to be back, too ($):
“All in all, it was a really, really great visit and they exceeded expectations. I definitely didn’t think it would be that mind-blowing. I’ll definitely have to take a trip back.”
Peppers was joined on his visit by Paramus Catholic teammate and four-star OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty*—after the pair checked out Ohio State following the Michigan trip, their high school coach gave the update on where both stand to Friedman ($) [emphasis mine]:
"I don't know about Jabrill," [Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge] said. "He's still kind of evaluating everything, and he's got LSU and Stanford to look at. I know Juwan's top school is Michigan right now. He's pretty fired up about them. Ohio State didn't offer [Bushell-Beatty], so who knows. Jabrill is a pretty loyal guy, so I don't know if it left a sour taste in his mouth. I know Juwan loved Michigan and it's a great fit for him, too.
So Michigan is in the lead for Bushell-Beatty (whom they have offered, to be clear) and made a very strong impression on Peppers, at the very least. The only direct quote from Peppers on his Ohio State trip—the rest were handled by his coach—is from this Wiltfong article ($):
"I really think that the Coach (Kerry) Coombs is a great coach," Peppers said. "I love him and enjoy being around him. Obviously Urban Meyer is an incredible, smart, proven winner. They let me meet the athletic director and the president of the school and it's really cool to see how everyone is behind the Ohio State football team."
High praise, yes, but not the over-the-moon review that he gave Michigan. Of course, visit reactions often depend on the interviewer, the questions they ask, and what they choose to print—in this case, however, Wiltfong got two very different post-visit reactions from Peppers. Read into that what you will.
Four-star PA ATH K.J. Williams also checked out campus last week, and there's no need to read between the lines of his post-visit reaction:
Michigan is by far my top school now!! #BlewMyMind
— TheWorldsGreatest#2 (@KJWilliams2) April 8, 2013
Another young mind destroyed by Michigan's overwhelming recruiting tactics. They show no respect for these recruits, I say. /RCMB'd
Two familar names also made appearances in Ann Arbor. Detroit Country Day WR Maurice Ways was there for the second straight weekend and the coaches have him "very high on their radar," per an interview with Tim Sullivan ($). Ways doesn't have an offer but it seems like one will come sooner or later—if he gets one, Michigan should be in the driver's seat. Meanwhile, Southfield DE Lawrence Marshall (offer) told GBW's Josh Newkirk($) that "everything was good" as he checked out a spring practice, and he came away impressed with Frank Clark, who plays the same weakside DE spot that Michigan hopes Marshall will play for them.
[Hit THE JUMP for a rundown of Spring Game visitors, a new offer, the latest on Drake Harris, a couple happy trails, and more.]