Michigan's annual BBQ at the Big House is on Sunday, and the Wolverines will also host visitors on Saturday — or, in LA RB Leonard Fournette's case, starting today. All of the major sites have published expected visitor lists, and in the grand tradition of attempting to pin down the plans of teenagers, there are slight discrepancies between them. Here's a rundown of the top targets who will be on campus this weekend and a general idea of where Michigan stands with each of them:
Ian Bunting, Freddy Canteen, Mason Cole, Michael Ferns, Drake Harris, Lawrence Marshall, Wilton Speight, Brandon Watson, Maurice Ways, and Chase Winovich are all expected to be in attendance. Jabrill Peppers is trying to make it into town, as well — his presence would only help Michigan's efforts with the uncommitted recruits, and especially fellow blue-chip Fournette.
Fournette is obviously the big fish here; the nation's top running back — and #1 overall prospect on the 247 Composite — arrives in Ann Arbor today and will stay all the way through Sunday's BBQ. If you regularly read this roundup, you've seen his highlight tape. A video released by ESPN this week shows more of his personal side, and none of it will make you want him at Michigan any less. The broken record on Fournette is that, despite his assertions of being wide open, he'll inevitably end up in the SEC, likely at LSU. GBW's Kyle Bogenshutz talked to Fournette's father, and NOPE NOPE NOPE I REFUSE TO GET MY HOPES UP ($):
As a father that knows his son’s game and how it might translate to the college level, he can see what the portrait might look like in the Maize & Blue.
“For sure he would be a good fit for Michigan,” said Fournette’s father. “I know for sure he would be a great fit for Michigan. He’ll fit right in.”
“Me and my wife are real high on education, first of all,” Fournette’s father said. “And we have to feel like our child is going to be in good hands, from a family aspect, not just coaches, but a friend and a father figure on the field and off the field.”
Fournette will be accompanied by his parents on the trip; he'll undoubtedly get the full tour of both the academic and football side of things, and it'll be very interesting to see where Michigan stands after this weekend.
NJ RB Jonathan Hilliman is listed as attending in some places and not in others; assuming he shows, this will be Michigan's best chance to chip away at Ohio State's lead for the three-star boasting a very impressive offer sheet. [EDIT: Per 247, Hilliman won't be visiting for the BBQ. That ship appears to have sailed; it's Fournette or bust at running back, reportedly, with Kalen Ballage being recruited as an athlete-slash-backup plan.]
MI DL Malik McDowell is always tough to pin down when it comes to his recruitment plans; he's another potential visitor. While he's attempted to stay quiet about where things stand, he's let slip a couple times that the Wolverines are out in front, and the general opinion is that he'll stay in-state.
Cass Tech DE Josh Alabi and RB Mike Weber will visit Ann Arbor together for the umpteenth time. Both are early four-stars with a high level of interest in the Wolverines.
FL WR George Campbell is the top-ranked 2015 recruit who'll be on campus, coming in at #7 in the 247 Composite. He'll have his high school teammate, Cole, giving him the full sales pitch. How he reacts to this latest trip to Ann Arbor should give a good indication of where the Wolverines stand now that fellow East Lake receiver Artavis Scott chose Clemson over Michigan.
OH CB Shaun Crawford has long held Michigan as his leader, with many even expecting that he'd commit during an earlier visit this offseason. Crawford will have his family in tow, and his mother makes it sound like he's the best possibility of a commitment this weekend, per TomVH ($):
"Michigan is definitely at the top of the list, because it's a wonderful school. It's been a favorite for a long time and he grew up a Michigan fan," Crawford's mother said. "I think this type of event will kind of answer any questions we all may have and bring it all together for him. It's definitely something that's worthwhile in the decision process."
In this early stage of the 247 Composite rankings (only 247 and ESPN have released 2015 rankings), Crawford is listed as the #92 overall player, #9 corner, and #4 prospect in Ohio. He'd be a very nice early pickup, obviously.
OH LB Justin Hilliard ranks one spot above Crawford in the Ohio state rankings. His recruitment could come down to a big Midwestern battle — his older brother plays for Iowa and he already holds offers from all the Big Ten powers and some national schools, as well.
At 6'8", 305 pounds, four-star PA OT Sterling Jenkins is exactly what Michigan is searching for in an offensive lineman — tackle is the biggest, and potentially only, need left on the offensive line. Michigan is among his top schools, and despite lots of national interest they could very well be in the lead.
Michigan has experienced recent success recruiting in Utah, landing Sione Houma in 2012 and Bryan Mone for the 2014 class. They'll try to replicate that with four-star UT LB Osa Masina, though the Wolverines could be facing an uphill battle against the in-state Utes, where Masina's older brother signed in 2013.
The above players are confirmed for this weekend by multiple outlets; other potential visitors include MI ATH Brian Cole, OH DT Hjalte Froholdt, and NY TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr. — Michigan is in very good shape with all three prospects.
If Crawford isn't the most likely to commit this weekend, then it's 2016 IL OL Erik Swenson, who's stated in no uncertain terms that a Michigan pledge is all but inevitable — he nearly pulled the trigger when he camped here last month.
Swenson is the only rising sophomore slated to attend who currently holds an offer, but that could change; MD LB De'le Harding is expected to join his older teammates, Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson, on this weekend's visit, and he's a player who should earn an offer sooner or later. OH QB Messiah DeWeaver, who's shown very strong interest in Michigan, will also be at the BBQ, though I'd be surprised if a 2016 quarterback pulled an offer this early.
[Hit THE JUMP for updates on Parrker Westphal, JuJu Smith, Dravon Henry, and more.]
I'm back from parts unknown—okay, Phoenix—with definitive proof that TomVH, not myself, is the recruiting analyst with the vacation-commitment curse (or gift, depending on your perspective). It's been mostly quiet on the recruiting front for the past week, save for Michigan finally pinning down a big-time visit.
Roll Out The
Red Blue Carpet
LA RB Leonard Fournette would like some extra barbeque with his barbeque, please:
New Orleans (LA) St. Augustine 2014 running back Leonard Fournette has been talking about visiting Michigan for some time now.
On Sunday, Wolverine247 insider Steve Lorenz confirmed that Fournette, the Nations top running back, will visit Michigan for an extended visit next week.
This year's BBQ at the Big House is a two-day event slated for Saturday/Sunday; Fournette will arrive in Ann Arbor on Thursday and spend the weekend — accompanied by both of his parents, per GBW's Kyle Bogenschutz ($). Fournette and his family remain adamant that the nation's top back doesn't have any leaders despite everyone expecting the Louisiana native to stay in the Southeast. Michigan is still a longshot and I will continue saying that until there's very concrete evidence to the contrary; Fournette staying for a long weekend with his parents, however, certainly indicates serious interest.
Fournette won't be the only 2014 running back in attendance at the BBQ; Michigan has long been among the top schools for New Jersey three-star Jonathan Hilliman, whose offer sheet far outstrips his current rankings — he'll be in town this weekend, but the Wolverines have ground to cover, per Rivals's Adam Friedman ($):
Hilliman's top five schools were, in no order, Ohio State, Alabama, Rutgers, Michigan and Vanderbilt but he already knows of one school that will make it to the next round.
"I'm going to cut down to three," he said. "Ohio State is still the leader. We're keeping in contact and it's easy for me to see how interested they are. I know Ohio State is going to make the cut and most likely Rutgers will also but I want to see how the visit goes. I'm not sure of which school will be that third one.
The BBQ gives Michigan a good chance to be that third school; Ohio State is obviously the team to beat. I'll have the full rundown on BBQ visitors on Thursday, once I've had a chance to settle back in and more recruits confirm whether or not they'll attend.
[Hit THE JUMP for news on early enrollees, the latest on Adoree' Jackson, and updates on several underclassmen, including Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and the two choice eliminations from his recruitment.]
Ian Bunting: Tall
Bunting and Funchess: Hopefully the football version of this minus the disappointment.
Tight end Ian Bunting was Michigan's lone representative* at Nike's invite-only camp The Opening, which wrapped up over the weekend. While he didn't crack any of the top performer lists I've seen, Bunting stood out in a more literal fashion, leading off 247's rundown of players with "eye-popping" measurements:
At 6-foot-6, Bunting measured in as the tallest prospect in attendance at The Opening. He also weighed in at 223 pounds and has added some strength to his frame, starting to look like a college tight end.
Bunting dealt with a balky hamstring during the combine and 7-on-7 sessions; with the injury, he recorded a 33-inch vertical leap and 5.0-second 40-yard dash ($). Assuming that 40 time improves when healthy, Bunting has some tantalizing measurables — combining that hamstring-hampered leap with his height puts Bunting at 9'3" off the ground, by my math, before he even puts his hands in the air. Putting him and Devin Funchess on the field at the same time could cause total matchup chaos for future Michigan opponents, especially in the red zone.
While slot receiver commit Freddy Canteen wasn't invited to The Opening, four-star CB Jalen Tabor told Sam Webb($) that he would've shined — a notable shout-out considering Tabor is one of the few to face Canteen in person:
“He’s got good routes. I definitely respect Freddy Canteen. We go at it all the time. That’s my man. We just had 7-on-7 at Maryland. The whole championship game it was just me and him. My coach said, ‘go get (Canteen).’ And they were testing me. We were going at each other. So I’ve definitely got a lot of respect for Freddy Canteen. He is going to be good in college.”
Asked if Canteen would've done well at The Opening, Tabor replied "without a doubt, yes." He also spoke highly of fellow corner Brandon Watson, specifically for his ability to jam receivers at the line: "I've seen him jam some people up... real good." Unsolicited praise about Michigan commits from a prospect who's not considering Michigan is always nice to see. This is your weekly Rank Our Guys Higher For Reasons update.
The Opening Recruiting Updates: It's Real, And It's Spectacular
(via SBNation Recruiting)
PA S Montae Nicholson could be Michigan's most realistic possibility to fill the final spot in the secondary, depending upon your thoughts—or the coaches', really—about Parrker Westphal's prospects as a safety. He continues to play his cards close to the vest, telling SBNation in the above video that he's still open to several schools, including Florida State and Stanford (skip to 1:48 for recruiting talk unless you want to hear Nicholson's thoughts on sneakers). Nicholson's recruitment should extend through official visits, and in a good sign for Michigan, the only one of those he's set up so far is for Michigan-ND in September. Penn State is another school that could make a run; Michigan being one of the first schools to recruit Nicholson should help them be in the mix until the very end.
Meanwhile, five-star CA ATH Juju Smith told GBW's Kyle Bogenschutz at The Opening that, despite the distance factor, Michigan is very much a player in his recruitment ($):
For Michigan, the interest on Smith’s end is sincere, with an official visit to Ann Arbor set in stone this fall.
“It’s really real,” Smith told GoBlueWolverine. “On an honest level, Michigan is up there. They’re one of my top five, I’m taking an official visit, and hopefully I can see what they have for me.
Smith originally planned to take an official for the Notre Dame game but instead will be in Ann Arbor for The Game. Michigan would likely take him as a safety who could moonlight as a receiver; Smith's top schools—including Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, UCLA, and USC—have all mentioned the possibility of playing on both sides of the ball. While expectations should always be held in check when it comes to top-flight West Coast prospects, the Wolverines have a legitimate shot here.
Michigan also has a real chance at another top California product, four-star OLB Dwight Williams, who confirmed to Bogenschutz that he'll take an official for the Notre Dame game ($). Florida, the only other school scheduled to receive an official from Williams, may be the biggest competition for the Wolverines.
Four-star GA DE Andrew Williams — Do I consistently get him confused with Dwight Williams? Yes. — also attended The Opening; not only is Michigan among his leaders, but he'll be on campus soon, per Sam Webb ($):
Though not yet ready at the time of this interview to lay out his entire list of finalists, he did open up a bit regarding the Wolverines’ standing.
“They’re up there,” Williams replied when asked if Michigan is in his top five.
“I would love to get down there for the 19th. That’s definitely one visit I personally plan on taking. I’m definitely interested in Michigan.”
Michigan is firmly in the mix for Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell; Williams is quite the contingency plan should one (or both) of those two end up elsewhere.
*Drake Harris also received an invite, but couldn't attend due to summer school — if you missed the news, he did that to ensure that he can enroll early.
[Hit THE JUMP for LEONARD FOURNETTE VISIT POSSIBILITY (sirens), the latest on Shaun Crawford, and more.]
Catching Up, Three Commits Later
Michigan hauled in three 2014 commits in the last three days in Freddy Canteen, Brandon Watson, and Noah Furbush — if you missed any of their Hello posts, simply click on their name. While I initially couldn't find any film of Canteen in game action, a poster helpfully noted (though I forget where and can't find the link) that he shows up plenty in ECA quarterback David Sills' highlight tape. The focus of the video is obviously on Sills, so we don't get to see Canteen's vaunted route-running; he does, however, make several impressive grabs — look for him in the #19 jersey:
That's a solid body of work for just three games, and is evidence that Canteen has the hands and ball skills to complement his footwork.
In a post-commitment interview with Sam Webb, Watson revealed that despite talking about committing together, he and Canteen actually decided to pull the trigger independently; he also threw out a juicy morsel about another offer ($):
“We’ve been talking about (committing to Michigan) since we got the offer,” said Watson. “Freddy was looking at a couple of schools, and I was kind of leaning toward USC and Michigan. I just wanted to go out to SC and see what that felt like. When I came back I talked to coach I just said, ‘I want to go to Michigan.’ Freddy called about two minutes after and said, ‘yo, are you committing tomorrow?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ He said, ‘oh yeah? Me too!’ We basically told Coach Hoke ten minutes apart.”
“It’s funny I just got the Tennessee offer this morning,” Watson later added. “I told him ,’it’s a little too late… I’ve already made up my mind to go to Michigan.”
Watson's coach had previously mentioned that a USC offer was forthcoming until he committed to Michigan, adding to the growing pile of evidence that he and Canteen are better prospects than their rankings would indicate.
Landing two prospects from Eastern Christian Academy gives the Wolverines a potential edge with 2016 ECA LB De'le Harding, whose coach said he earned rave reviews at camp, per Sam Webb ($):
“He is the best rising sophomore in the country,” ECA coach Dwayne Thomas said. “I took him to Tennessee’s camp he was dominant and he got an offer. I took him to Michigan’s camp and no one would have even known he was 14 years old unless I told them. They’re going to offer him. Brady told me, ‘coach, we love that dude.’ The defensive coordinator told me, ‘we love that dude.’ I’ve been doing this a long time. I coached in college for 17 years and I don’t blow smoke. He will be the best player I’ve ever had. I’ve coached a lot of great ones. I’ve got two at USC and one already committed; I’ve got them at Auburn… I’ve got a lot of kids over the last three years at a lot of places, and he will be the best one, no doubt.”
Harding already has offers from Tennessee and USC after dominant performances at their respective camps; he's poised to be one of the top players in his class, and a Michigan offer should come sooner or later. Canteen and Watson both say they'll be giving their younger teammate their best recruiting pitch.
With the commitment of Furbush, meanwhile, Michigan is looking for one more linebacker prospect, specifically an outside linebacker, to complete their 2014 recruiting of that position group. Four-star CA OLB Dwight Williams is rumored to favor Florida, though Michigan also has a good shot; he told 247 that he's locked in officials to Florida, Michigan, and Hawaii, and the Wolverines are speculated to be the Gators' biggest competition ($). Three-star MO OLB Jimmie Swain, the other most-likely target, told Rivals that he's looking to cut two schools from his top five to ensure he can take officials to each of his finalists ($). Michigan is joined in that group by TCU, Michigan State, Oregon, and Stanford; the two Pac-12 school have yet to offer, and it appears the Horned Frogs currently hold the edge:
"TCU is the only one of the top five I've visited already. When I went down there, I just enjoyed the campus and the team and the way they practice. Coach Patterson and I talk on a regular basis. I just loved what I saw when I went down there. Ever since then, I have just been all about TCU. I just loved the atmosphere and everything about that school."
Swain says he hopes to decide in September; his visit, should he make it, will obviously be of great importance if Michigan hopes to land him.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on a trio of five-star prospects, an overview of the 2014 running back situation, and more.]
Won't be needing that lanyard anymore.
Michigan picked up their third commitment in three days when Kenton (OH) linebacker Noah Furbush made the call for the Wolverines this morning, according to multiple outlets. Furbush becomes the 14th commit in the 2014 class and the third at linebacker, joining Michael Ferns and Chase Winovich.
|Scout||Rivals||ESPN||247 Sports||247 Comp.|
|3*, #59 OLB||NR OLB||4*, 80, #21 ILB||3*, 87, #53 OLB||
3*, #43 OLB,
Michigan has gone from zero MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year candidates to three in a matter of days, as Furbush is the last four-star inside linebacker on ESPN and gets middle-of-the-road three-star ratings from Scout and 247, with Rivals yet to evaluate him.
There is some disparity over his future college position: while ESPN pegs him as an inside linebacker, the other sites list him on the outside, with 247 even listing a secondary position of weakside defensive end. That probably has to do with his size — Furbush is listed by all four services at 6'4" and 230-240 pounds. Michigan is reportedly recruiting Furbush as an inside guy, which just happens to be the spot where he's ranked the highest.
Furbush was an unknown quantity even to Ohio insiders as recently as last fall, until his junior tape started drawing attention. When Bucknuts compiled their initial 2014 top 50 list for the state of Ohio, Furbush landed at #22 thanks in large part to some impressive hits on his highlight reel ($):
"With Furbush, you like his explosion and the way he just destroys the ball carriers with his first four or five plays (on video). He really strikes people and strikes them pure. That’s harder to do than you think. He has that innate ability to destroy people when he hits them. He’s put on 40 pounds in the last year. I think he can be a pretty good defensive end.
“He has just come out of nowhere. I didn’t really see him during the season or even in the month or two after the season. We first saw (his video) in the last month or two.”
Furbush's physical play doesn't just come through on tape; Allen Trieu praised his strength when he went to Purdue's camp last month ($):
Noah Furbush, a linebacker for Kenton with several offers is a big kid who looks like he will only get bigger. He is strong and physical, throwing a few would be receivers to the ground off the line. We think with his size and growth potential, he may end up putting his hand down at the next level or potentially being a hybrid type guy.
That's two evaluations mentioning Furbush as a potential defensive end. With Michigan recruiting him as an inside linebacker, that could raise concerns about his coverage, but he performed well in that regard at a Toledo 7-on-7 camp last month, per Scout's Bill Greene ($):
A 2014 linebacker prospect out of Kenton, Ohio. Furbush was all over the field, showing speed and also leaping ability. His man-to-man coverage was excellent and he also got great depth in his drops. One to watch this year at one of Ohio's fine programs.
With the wide-open style of 7-on-7 football, being able to cover man-up as an oversized (for high school) linebacker is impressive. 247's Clint Brewster took a look at Furbush's tape and also came away impressed with his coverage, among other things ($):
He has excellent instincts and plays with a very high football I.Q. He doesn’t over pursue and does his job on each play. Furbush has outstanding pass rush technique and excels coming off the edge, getting after the quarterback. He shows excellent first-step-quickness. At 6-foot-4, and 230-pounds, Furbush runs well for his size and uses his long frame to his advantage, particularly well in the passing game, getting in between passing lanes and breaking up passes. He also uses his length to get off blocks very well. He does not stay blocked.
Aggressiveness and consistent, hard-hitting tackling are also mentioned as positives, which is in line with other evaluations. Brewster's notes the all-important pad level as an area for improvement, no surprise both because of Furbush's height and the fact that this has been said about every high school front seven prospect in the history of high school front seven prospects.
Furbush's high school coach thinks his athleticism helps set him apart from other prospects, per ESPN's Chantel Jennings ($):
“He runs like a defensive back,” [Kenton coach Mike] Mauk said. “He moves and changes direction very well. He’s physical and very aggressive. He has a great nose for the football and a great burst, and he makes plays. I think his best years of football are still ahead of him.”
Oh, and you can check off the box:
“He’s a tremendous leader and a great person,” Mauk said. “It’s just a great fit.”
If that wasn't enough, Mauk also spoke about Furbush with Scout's Dave Berk back in May, praising his work ethic first and foremost ($):
“Number one Noah is a tremendously hard worker and give his best to improve his strength, flexibility, speed and his conditioning,” said Mauk. “He’s always working to try and get better and I think that is what sets him apart.
“Sometimes, when you’re gifted with the abilities that he has, you look for days when he just goes through the motions. He never does and is always doing the very best that he can. I watch him go through training and I’m amazed at how strong he is and how hard he works to get better.”
Mauk notes in that article that Furbush was a wide receiver(!) for his freshman and sophomore years before moving to outside linebacker last year; at that point, Furbush weighed "195 to 200" pounds. Putting on 40 pounds of muscle and learning a new position in the course of a year definitely backs up what Mauk says about Furbush above — his effort in the weight room won't be an issue.
What jumps out about Furbush is his potential to line up at multiple positions. His coverage ability and hard-hitting nature make him a fit at inside linebacker, where Michigan plans to use him. His large frame, aggressiveness, and pass-rushing skill could lead to a move to strongside linebacker or even defensive end, depending on how much he bulks up over the course of the next few years.
Furbush isn't the highest-ranked guy in the class (obviously) and I'd guess we'd hear more negatives about his game if he were more highly-scouted and played better high school competition — Kenton played in Ohio's fourth-largest division last year, though they're moving up to Division III this fall despite a male enrollment of just 285 students — but his versatility gives him a good chance of finding a home somewhere on the depth chart.
Furbush chose Michigan over offers from Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Mizzou, Northwestern, Pitt, Purdue, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and a handful of MAC offers. He also camped at Ohio State but did not pick up a Buckeye offer.
As said above, Kenton has played in Ohio's Division IV, so Furbush hasn't faced top competition in his high school career. Kenton hasn't produced a four-star prospect in the Rivals era, but they have produced two Division I quarterbacks: brothers Ben (Wake Forest) and Maty (Mizzou) Mauk, sons of the head coach.
Furbush finished his junior year with 115 tackles and a forced fumble, per 247.
FAKE 40 TIME
None of the recruiting services list a real or fake 40 time.
Junior highlights from ScoutingOhio — it takes, well, not long to see why people mention hitting first when talking about Furbush:
Furbush also has a slightly longer reel that features almost the exact same set of plays and lacks the handy pre-snap arrow. He's not on Hudl, unfortunately, so there aren't extensive cut-ups that I can find; those would be nice, as we don't get to see much at all of Furbush in coverage above.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
He'll end up somewhere! That's my bold prediction.
Okay, that's probably insufficient. I like how Michigan's coaches are thinking of using Furbush; if he's good enough in coverage, having an inside linebacker who can come downhill and lay the wood is always a plus, and Furbush looks like he could wreak havoc blitzing up the middle when Greg Mattison dials it up. If that's the position group of choice, Furbush will compete for one of the MLB/WLB spots — with his size, probably MLB — along with Michael Ferns and Ben Gedeon once James Ross and Joe Bolden matriculate through the program. That affords Furbush a redshirt year and a season as a backup and special teams player before he competes for a starting spot.
Furbush could also end up at strongside linebacker or even weakside defensive end, depending both on his growth and how the roster looks in a couple of years.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
While Furbush is the third linebacker in the class — and could potentially help out with depth on the strong side — his commitment doesn't spell the end of Michigan recruiting that position group for 2014, according to Sam Webb. The Wolverines are still pursuing four-star CA OLB Dwight Williams, who's scheduled to take an official visit for the Notre Dame game, and borderline 3/4-star MO OLB Jimmie Swain, who recently named Michigan to his top four. Look for the coaches to make a hard push to land one of those two, and we could see some late offers go out for a strongside LB should neither commit.
EDIT: Almost forgot to include the news that led to this commit watch — Furbush's commitment means camp standout Drue Tranquill is unlikely to get an offer ($):
“I spoke with Michigan (Thursday) and they previously offered a kid at my position, and he might commit soon,” he stated. “If he does commit then they’re not going to offer me. If he doesn’t then they (will consider Tranquill). So if he does commit, Michigan will drop out there.”
Happy trails, likely to Cincinnati or Purdue unless Notre Dame comes through with an offer.
As for the rest of the class, Michigan is still looking for a third offensive lineman (preferably a tackle), a safety, and a couple more defensive linemen. Top priority prospects include VA WDE DaShawn Hand, MI DT/SDE Malik McDowell, PA S Montae Nicholson, IL CB/S Parrker Westphal, and CA CB Adoree' Jackson. The Wolverines could also look to take a running back, though landing one isn't vital after last year's haul and with Michigan looking good at that position the 2015 class.
If you missed the news that's now been pushed down the front page, Michigan received commitments from Elkton (MD) Eastern Christian Academy teammates Brandon Watson (CB) and Freddy Canteen (WR/SLOT) this morning; both players were offered at Michigan's camp two weeks ago.
Canteen's commitment post went up earlier this afternoon. Now it's time to take a look at Watson, who—like his teammate—currently has a large disparity between his camp performances and his recruiting rankings.
I'm writing on a Saturday and these guys are from the same school so, yes, this is word-for-word what was in Canteen's Hello post.
I'm moving this section up to the top because it'll help explain everything below. I'll also be lazy (again) and blockquote what I posted in a previous recruiting roundup:
Both prospects attend Elkton (MD) Eastern Christian Academy, which is essentially this sport's answer to hoops factory Oak Hill Academy—the academy itself is built entirely around the football program and attendees take their coursework through a larger online program. Their quarterback is David Sills, whom you may remember as the (then-)13-year-old who committed to USC, and now you exactly why USC offered such a player so early: his father, David Sills IV, is the founder of ECA. The program only played three games in 2012, as five opponents cancelled planned matchups, so what you see above—serious technique work (that's Canteen talking at the start of the video)—is what largely constituted their season, and now they're hitting the camp circuit very hard.
As ECA coach Dwayne Thomas explained to ESPN's Chantel Jennings after his players' commitments this morning, their under-the-radar status can be attributed to factors even beyond the lack of a real season last year:
So while the headquarters for Eastern Christian Academy is in Maryland, the two boys are actually from Delaware, which has been a reason why the two prospects haven’t had a ton of attention, according to their coach.
“Being that we’re from Delaware, a lot of coaches don’t get a chance to see them in the spring because there is no spring football,” Thomas said. “So as they get out and get to camps, schools get a chance to see what their talent is.”
Camps have been the only real chance these players have had to get themselves noticed, what with the mostly-cancelled season and no spring ball.
|Scout||Rivals||ESPN||247 Sports||247 Comp.|
|NR CB||3*, #56 CB||NR CB||2*, 79, #120 CB||3*, #116 CB|
Watson is well off the four-star pace on Rivals (last four-star CB ranked #29) and is either unranked or, in 247's case, might as well be, on the other three services. His listed height ranges from 5'11" (Rivals, ESPN) to 6'1" (Scout) with 247 splitting the difference; his weight is between 180 and 190 pounds. Reports out of Michigan's camp unfortunately don't provide a ton of clarity here; Scout had him at 6'1", 190, while Rivals called him 5'11", 185 (in the same article that listed Canteen at a probably-exaggerated 6'3", FWIW).
Watson first earned mention on the camp scene as a rising junior last summer, earning the #6 top performer spot from Rivals' Josh Helmholdt at an NLA 7-on-7 camp after making several big plays ($):
Auburn commit Jahmere Irvin-Sills was holding down the cornerback position opposite Watson on Sunday, and few teams were throwing Irvin-Sills' way. That gave the 6-foot, 175-pound Watson his opportunity to make a statement, and he did just that by recording several interceptions on the day, including two in one game. ECA eventually won Sunday's New Level Athletics National Championship game over Michigan Elite, and Watson's ability to make plays on his side of the field was a key factor in that win.
Then came this spring's PA SWAG 7-on-7 competition, where Watson more than held his own against four-star Penn State WR commit Chris Godwin, earning the #2 top performer spot (behind Godwin, interestingly) from 247's Tom Loy...
While most knew about Watson heading into the weekend, nobody expected the show that he put on. The 6-foot-0, 187-pounds cornerback rarely got beat and won the matchup against Godwin in the semi-finals. He displayed terrific ball skills, great speed and excellent footwork. Watson holds offers from Boston College, Connecticut, Temple and Rutgers with heavy interest coming from Syracuse and Maryland.
...and the top overall spot from Rivals, which gave quite a glowing review of his game ($):
Whenever the football was in the vicinity of Watson, it was either getting intercepted or it was going to be an incompletion. As Flash Training worked toward another 7 on 7 title, Watson was dominant in coverage. He consistently got a good punch at the line of scrimmage in man coverage, and when playing off he closed quickly on the football. As receivers attempted double moves, Watson ran with the opposition step for step, showing great change of direction. The most impressive part of Watson's day was successfully defending a number of jump balls in the end zone against taller receivers.
It's worth noting that four-star WR/S (and early Michigan offer recipient) Montae Nicholson finished third on Rivals' list at the same event, while offered receiver K.J. Williams came in at #11 (four spots behind Canteen, incidentally).
Watson showed off his physical play in earning an offer at Michigan's technique camp; Kyle Bogenschutz's camp report makes him sound like the big, aggressive type of corner that the Wolverines have put a major emphasis on targeting ($):
Watson was by far the most physical corner at the camp Tuesday and brings physical tools to the table that most high school defensive backs just aren’t privy to. 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, it’s hard to believe Watson only had four offers to his name heading into Michigan’s camp, but with several pass break-ups made throughout the day, the Wolverines threw their name into the hat. Watson showed nice discipline against the wide receivers, timing his break in order to avoid a penalty and never being burned deep in press coverage, adding speed to his above average size.
There's no mention of Watson's hips, often an area of weakness in bigger corners; his ability to stick with receivers on deep routes leads one to believe he can turn and run with enough fluidity to allow his size and speed to take over. His high school coach, for what it's worth, cites hip flexibility as one of Watson's strengths:
“Freddy Canteen is, in my opinion, the best route-runner in the country. I think every camp that he goes to, people get a chance to find that out,” Thomas said. “And Brandon has this unique combination of speed, strength and hip flexibility that will allow him to be physical with the big receivers, and he’s agile enough to run and defend the smaller receivers as well.”
Without anything in the way of game film (or games, really) to go on, Watson's ability in run support is a mystery. The Wolverine's crew did mention his "thick build" at Michigan's camp, so he should be able to hold up physically on the edge; with his body type, it'd be ideal if he could play boundary corner, but he'll only be able to do so if his run defense is up to snuff.
With what little info we have to go on, it looks like Michigan has picked up another big, physical corner to add to the ever-growing pile of big, physical corners on the roster. If Watson truly has shutdown coverage ability, too, then he should be poised for a significant jump in the rankings.
Watson's other offers came from Boston College, UConn, Maryland, Rutgers, and Temple — the same list at Canteen's minus Hawaii and Tennessee.
Watson's high school coach mentioned a very intriguing potential offer to Sam Webb($) after his two pupils committed today, as well:
“In Brandon Watson you get this extremely extremely gifted athlete who can run and is physical. He can run with the quickest receivers and can be physical and bump it up with the big receivers. He did well at the USC camp. Coach (Clancy) Pendergast told me that he was going to offer Brandon this week. They were going to have a meeting sometime this week to evaluate the talent from the camp and they were going to offer him, but as we were riding back Brandon said, ‘I think I just like Michigan better.’"
If that's true—and there's little reason to believe his coach is making that up—then Watson's offer sheet was poised to expand significantly before his Michigan commitment.
I can't find stats on Watson; again, his team played three games last season, so this section wasn't going to be very telling anyway.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals lists a time of 4.5 seconds; that's high-end speed without a second decimal place or a cited source, so it gets four FAKEs out of five. Watson is said to have good speed but I haven't seen him called a burner.
I can't find high school highlights, a Brandon Watson Hudl page that belongs to this particular Brandon Watson (0-for-4 in that regard), or anything more than one clip of him running drills from a post-camp interview:
That video was posted just a few days ago, and at least confirms that Watson is very well-built for a high school corner. Otherwise... please play an actual season, ECA, and make sure to film it.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
I'm punting on any sort of prediction given the flimsier evidence than usual. Here's what the coaches told Watson when they gave him his offer, per 247's Steve Lorenz:
"The coaches told me to imagine myself coming out of the tunnel in a Michigan uniform," he said. "They told me to imagine me playing corner on one side and Jabrill Peppers playing on the other side. Being in the Big House was an overwhelming experience. I've seen it on TV, but being there in person was really great."
With Peppers probably destined for the boundary corner spot (after an apprenticeship at nickel, potentially), that would put Watson at field corner. Watson could also play that slot corner spot if he can hold up in run support and show some blitzing ability.
A few people have been spooked by the nature of ECA, especially from an academic perspective—though, rest assured, Hoke and Co. have done their due diligence in making sure these guys will pass muster with admissions. From the same Sam Webb article cited in the offers section comes this choice quote from ECA's coach:
“The first thing is Michigan is getting is two great kids,” he said proudly. “They’re kids that you’re never going to read about in the paper in a negative way. They’re kids that are not going to miss class. Kids that are not going to be a disruption to any program. Kids that are extremely positive and extremely focused on being the best that they could possibly be in every aspect of their life. Kids that I would let date my daughter if she was of age. So you’re getting high quality individuals with extremely extremely high work ethic.”
[checks off the "glowing character quote" box]
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Watson, unlike some of Michigan's other defensive back commits, seems like a pure cornerback prospect. That gives them two corners in the class assuming Peppers sticks there, so bringing in a player who could project to safety becomes the big priority for recruiting in the secondary. The pipe dream prospect here is five-star CA ATH JuJu Smith, who's scheduled to take an official visit for the Ohio State game. The more realistic options are four-star PA ATH Montae Nicholson and IL CB/S Parrker Westphal.
Other needs in the class going forward include one more offensive lineman (probably a tackle), a couple defensive linemen (you all know the main targets there), and another linebacker. Michigan could also look to take a running back, but unless an elite talent wants to commit they could just as easily use that scholarship elsewhere — there's not a big need to bring one in this year, especially with the Wolverines in very good shape for a couple top 2015 backs in Damien Harris and Mike Weber.