that is nice bonus change
Malzone Gets The Bump
Because way too many people my age think Kanye wrote a great horn line for "Touch The Sky"
After updating their top 100 on Monday, Rivals continued this week with a revised Rivals250 and newly minted four-star prospects. In the former, Shaun Crawford (#111) and Tyree Kinnel (#193) both had very minor drops, while Darrin Kirkland Jr. moved up from #183 to #167. In the latter, Alex Malzone led off the list of non-Rivals250 prospects to earn the four-star bump:
Malzone has consistently upped his play over the last year, doing so again most recently at the RCS Detroit, where he brought home the quarterback MVP award. We already knew he had a strong arm and his team's state title last fall showed he has the intangibles as well. What Malzone showed at the Rivals Camp was pinpoint accuracy on his throws, showing he has taken ownership of his arm mechanics. College coaches were also impressed by his workout this spring, and he accepted an offer from Michigan in May. - Josh Helmholdt, Rivals.com Midwest Recruiting Analyst
While the Michigan commitment certainly earned Malzone a closer look from recruiting analysts, it sounds like he was well on his way to that fourth star with or without the Wolverine pledge. As I said in yesterday's roundtable, I expect ESPN and 247 to follow suit eventually. Either way, Malzone is now officially ineligible for MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year status.
Crawford Update: Mixed Messages
According to Josh Helmholdt, after speaking with the coaches, Shaun Crawford still considers himself a Michigan commit:
— Michael Spath (@Spath_Wolverine) May 22, 2014
Considering he visited Notre Dame last weekend, that'd be a departure from the usual way the coaches have handled these situations—if a prospect takes visits, they're not considered a commitment—but perhaps they've reevaluated how they'd like to handle this type of scenario.
Or, potentially, not. Rumors abound that the Crawfords aren't at all pleased about Michigan's visit policy, and Sam Webb no longer considers Shaun a commit:
— nezz21〽 (@nezzy21) May 19, 2014
I doubt that is just Sam's opinion. Notably, Crawford is no longer listed among Michigan's 2015 class on Scout. There's a rumor on the GBW board that Crawford may not visit Ohio State, which would be good news; that may also be an indication he's leaning towards ND, however. Hopefully this situation clears up one way or the other before too long, as I dislike the soap opera aspect of recruiting as much as anybody.
[Hit THE JUMP for news on several new offers, updates on top targets in both the 2015 and 2016 classes, and much more.]
Camps are forming around Malzone: is he a program savior who just happened to be born in the right state rooting for the right team, or is he a Plan B kind of guy you'd expect to go to State in a heretofore "normal" year? Where would you put him on the Cone-Henson Scale?
Explanation of the Cone-Henson Scale of Quarterback Recruit Excitement Level:
Cone is the guy you get when Henne just completed his freshman season, and you only hope to see in freestyle rap videos or junk time against Delaware State; Henson was the late-'90s equivalent of top overall player in the country. He who cannot be charted not charted--went back to '98 so it won't be the "Cone-Mallett" scale. I have them ranked worst to first within the categories, which are:
- Need the Dudes: David Cone ('05), Justin Feagin ('08), Jermaine Gonzalez ('00), Spencer Brinton ('01transfer), Russell Bellomy ('11), Jason Forcier ('06)
- Seems Like Our Kind of Guy: Steve Threet ('07 transfer), Wilton Speight ('13), Tate Forcier ('09), Clayton Richard ('03), Andy Mignery ('99), Matt Gutierrez ('02), John Navarre ('99), Shane Morris ('13)
- Hey-O!: Devin Gardner ('10), Chad Henne ('04), Ryan Mallett ('07), Drew Henson ('98)
Ace: I'd say Malzone fits snugly into the middle category. I expect that by the end of the recruiting cycle, if not sooner, he'll be a four-star or close to it on all of the recruiting services—Scout already has him there, the Rivals guys are hinting he'll get the bump when the non-Rivals250 four-stars are released Wednesday, and ESPN left him entirely unranked despite a glowing evaluation. 247 at least ranks Malzone, but has him behind a few players with very limited offers—the pro-style QB three spots in front of him on their position rankings holds this offer sheet: Arkansas State, Charleston Southern, Georgia State, Marshall, Middle Tennessee State. I think Malzone's gonna jump that guy.
|In '96, Jason Kapsner was a recruit on par with Mallett. Michigan didn't take a QB in '97 but people figured with Kaps, Dreisbach and Brady on the roster, Henson might have to wait until 2001 for the roster to clear out. [SI]|
Also supporting Malzone as an "our kind of guy" recruit is the timing of his commitment; if Michigan didn't feel he was capable of being a quality college starter, they wouldn't have offered him eight months before Signing Day in a class with room for just one quarterback. Also, Malzone seemed like a prospect who would've committed to Michigan regardless of when they offered—being a Wolverine was clearly a lifelong dream of his—and U-M evaluated plenty of highly ranked QB prospects; there was no reason to offer when they did if they didn't believe he'd be able to supplant Morris (or Speight) when the time comes.
Finally, there's his film, various camp evaluations, and recent offers; all point to Malzone as an accurate passer with solid arm strength and the intelligence to quickly absorb and take command of a playbook. The area most cited for improvement last fall, Malzone's baseball-influenced mechanics, had become a source of praise by this spring's camp season. His height (6'2") and lack of a Henne/Mallett/Morris-level cannon will probably keep him from being an NFL prospect; that doesn't so much matter at the college level, however, and I see no reason he can't succeed as a starter at Michigan.
From Darrin Kirkland's junior highlights, which you should watch.
Four-star IN ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. became Michigan's seventh 2015 commit, and second in the last week, when he made his pledge while visiting campus yesterday. You can find his Hello post here, and Brandon caught up with him for an interview posted this morning. A pleasant bit of news that didn't make either post appeared in a short piece in the Indy Star—Kirkland plans to enroll early:
"I feel good and my family is extremely proud," Kirkland said. "I can't wait to graduate and head over there in the winter time."
Kirkland plans to graduate in December and take part in Michigan's spring practice in 2015. Kirkland had 71 solo tackles, 40 assisted tackles and three sacks last season.
Even though there are plenty of inside linebackers on the roster in the classes ahead of him, making early PT something of a longshot, it never hurts to get a head start on navigating both the playbook and college life in general.
When we left off last week, Shaun Crawford had told the coaches of his plans to visit Notre Dame and Ohio State. Now we can add another school to that list:
DB Shaun Crawford says he will also be visiting Miami in June. Hasn't talked to Hoke yet
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 17, 2014
Right on the heels of that Crawford news comes word that Michigan has offered another 2015 cornerback:
2015 DB Cameron Ordway (Pulaski, Tenn.) says Michigan offered.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 19, 2014
Ordway is a four-star and the #21-ranked cornerback in the class according to the 247 Composite, and his offer sheet—which includes Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, FSU, LSU, Notre Dame, OSU, Ole Miss, PSU, and Tennessee—is quite impressive.
Tennessee and Ole Miss are currently favored on the Crystal Ball. Given that list of interested parties, I'll believe Ordway has serious interest if, and only if, he makes it to campus.
Speaking of offers to highly sought prospects that probably won't come here, Michigan offered the nation's #10 WDE, Georgia prospect Arden Key, according to 247's Kipp Adams. Key's already named a powerhouse-laden top five:
Last week Key named a top 5, in order, of Oregon, Miami, LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina.
There's time for U-M to get involved, as Key plans to decide at the Army AA Bowl, but I'd put him in the same category as Ordway—until there's word of a visit, I wouldn't get too optimistic.
The 2015 Rivals100 got an update today, and it features a lone Michigan commit: Garrett Taylor, who took a slight dip from #41 to #48 overall, though he remains the #6 corner in their position rankings. A few of U-M's top targets were among the biggest movers, both good and bad:
- FL RB Jacques Patrick jumped 26 spots to #18 overall and picked up a fifth star. He's now the second-ranked running back on the list, behind only Damien Harris (#4 overall).
- FL WR George Campbell lost his fifth star and tumbled 26 spots to #42 overall; Rivals cited continued concerns about his catching ability.
- CA WDE Keisean Lucier-South moved up 40 spots to #35 overall after being "virtually unstoppable" at multiple camps this spring.
- NC SDE Darien Roseboro, who recently named U-M to his top ten and may very well have the Wolverines out in front, moved down from #45 to #79. With Roseboro now weighing 283 pounds, Rivals pegs him as a tweener who may have to move inside.
Other prospects of interest include IL DT Terry Beckner Jr. (#32), OH OLB Justin Hilliard (#49), UT OLB Osa Masina (#58), MN DE Jashon Cornell (#76), and VA DE Clelin Ferrell (#77).
Rivals named Tyree Kinnel as the #10 performer among defensive backs who participated in one of their camps, citing his ability to cover like a cornerback ($):
The 6-foot, 190-pound Kinnel is a safety prospect, but he was able to show off the coverage skills of a cornerback en route to winning MVP honors at RCS Columbus. Not surprising considering he is a safety, Kinnel was physical at the line of scrimmage and bumped wide receivers off their routes. He was also able to open his hips and run with them down the field. Kinnel is headed to Michigan, making a commitment to the Wolverines last summer.
IL DT Terry Beckner Jr. has been quiet on the recruiting trail—so far, the only visit he's made was to nearly Mizzou—but he told Tim Sullivan that he plans to visit a couple familiar schools ($):
"I'll go to camp June 1 at Ohio State," Beckner explained. I'm excited to get there.
"I haven't made it up to Michigan yet. I'm going to try to go there. Their coach was just at the school, I think coach Hecklinski. I really haven't had a chance to talk to him yet though."
We'll see here—the fact that the OSU date is set and the Michigan one isn't is of some concern.
Tip o' the cap to Rice for winning the recruiting game. Shut it down. We can all go home now.
Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. told me on Thursday that there was no way he was going to commit while visiting Michigan this weekend. He said he wanted to stick to his decision date which was set for August. He also said that this weekend’s visit was just a small opportunity for his family to get a feel for what Michigan has to offer. Sunday morning he had one more thing to say and verbally pledged to the Wolverines.
Just getting onto campus I had that gut feeling. I just felt it when I looked at the Block M on the stadium. I knew I could not say no to this place.
Kirkland Jr. said that the visit was all he’d hoped for in regards to his parents and that the family atmosphere was exactly what he was looking for.
This visit was all about spending time with the staff and their families. I wanted to do that for my parents and myself to see how we all worked together. First we sat down with Coach Hoke and his wife and just talked for a while. Then we went to lunch with Coach Mattison and his wife and Coach Mallory and his son. When we got back Coach Mattison showed me exactly how they would like to use me in the defense. All of that was just great for me and my family. It was just a great fit for us.
The family fit was obviously there, but what about the schematic fit? Kirkland Jr. is prototypically built for the MIKE linebacker position but Coach Mattison told him that he has some other plans for him early on in his career.
I will eventually be groomed into being the MIKE backer of the defense but he said early in my career I will have the opportunity to earn a spot playing WILL and in specific blitzing positions.
Once Darrin decided in his mind that he could see himself playing for Coach Mattison and living in Ann Arbor, he actually had to say the words. Commitments happen in a lot of different ways, but Kirkland Jr.’s is surely one of a kind.
(Laughs) I called Coach Hoke but he was in church so him and his wife ran out of church and I told him that I’m committing. His wife actually screamed out loud in church about it. (Laughs) It was pretty crazy!
Kirkland Jr. is now a Michigan recruit and they have had a recent history of becoming recruiters themselves. Darrin knows that he now has a job to do well before he ever arrives on campus.
My job is to help recruit the best class in 2015. That’s my mission. I’m trying to bring guys in to help win a National Championship. Coach Mattison really wants Keisean Lucier-South and Darian Roseboro to be in front of me. I talked to Keisean a little bit today but I’ll be checking in with a lot more guys soon. I’d really like Miles Boykin and Brian Cole on board too, personally. You always need weapons on offense!
With a recruiting mentality in place, Kirkland Jr. must also focus on performance and preparation.
I’ll be hitting hitting up the Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit this summer, as well as the NFTC camp in Columbus. Most of all I’ll be getting ready for my senior season. We are trying to go out on top.
As for the Columbus mention, some people have voiced concerns about whether interest from the Buckeyes would cause Kirkland Jr. to develop wandering eyes. He had a clear message for those worried about him.
I’m 100% committed to the University of Michigan. I’m a Michigan man and I am true to my word. That is the type of person I am. GO BLUE!
According to multiple sources, including himself, Indianapolis (IN) Lawrence Central ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. committed to Michigan while on an unofficial visit today. The Wolverines got in on Kirkland at just the right time; after Michigan offered in early April, he picked up subsequent offers from Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Oregon, and appeared on the verge of many more.
Kirkland originally planned to make a May 30th decision, but called that off after fielding the Texas offer. Once again, though, the coaches made a huge impact during a campus visit:
The importance of getting a prospect on campus. Darrin Kirkland Jr. said he didn't go up to Ann Arbor with plans to commit today.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 18, 2014
So did Michigan, period, per 247's Steve Wiltfong:
"As soon as I saw the Block M on campus, I knew I was committing on this trip," Kirkland said. "I felt great about Michigan. My parents really like Michigan and I'm excited to be a part of the Michigan program."
Kirkland becomes the seventh member of the 2015 class and the first at linebacker.
4*, #5 MLB,
4*, #6 ILB,
4*, 81, #7 ILB,
|4*, 90, #7 ILB||
4*, #5 ILB,
Kirkland is universally considered one of the top seven inside linebackers in his class, with the only variance being how highly each service considers that position group as a whole—the #5 ILB spot on Rivals puts him at #153 overall, while only the top four ILBs crack the Top247. Put it all together and Kirkland falls just within the top 200 prospects nationally.
The services are in general agreement about his size, with all but Rivals (6'1", 233 lbs.) listing him at 6'2" and 220-228 pounds, a very solid frame for a rising senior linebacker.
What stands out most when reading Kirkland's scouting reports are the repeated mentions of his excellent instincts. Here's the free report from Scout, which lists discipline, instincts, and tackling technique as strengths with shedding ability as an area for improvement:
Very smart, instinctive player who always seems to be in good position and around the football. Takes good angles to the ball, rarely takes false steps and shows good closing ability. Has gotten stronger and thicker over the last year and needs to continue to do that. - Allen Trieu
Rivals analyst Josh Helmholdt noticed the same when he watched Kirkland and Lawrence Central take on eventual state runner-up Carmel last September, ranking him as the top underclassman prospect from a weekend featuring two big-time matchups ($):
4. DARRIN KIRKLAND JR., LB, INDIANAPOLIS (IND.) LAWRENCE CENTRAL (2015)
It was a fast start for the Rivals250 to Watch presented by Under Armour prospect, as he tallied five tackles and a forced fumble in the first quarter. Kirkland was fairly quiet after that, however, although Lawrence Central's defense stayed stout throughout the game. Kirkland transferred to Lawrence Central from Park Tudor over the summer to play in the same linebacker corps as Lee, and they make a formidable duo. Kirkland will play a MIKE and a WILL role in Lawrence Central's defense, and he does both equally well. He has sideline-to-sideline speed and gets great depth in his pass drops. What stood out most in this game, however, was Kirkland's football IQ. His play recognition is well ahead of the others on that defense, and he sniffed out several counters and screen passes.
ESPN's profile features two evaluations—one from his junior season, and a longer evaluation done more recently—that had to be done by two different people. They agree that he's a forceful run-stopper who's better in confined space than the open field. Then we get incongruous statements like this from the first eval...
Closing burst is just average. Did not see explosive power at the point of attack or strong hands and take-on skills.
...and this from the more recent one:
Powers through blockers and scrapes well with square shoulder pads getting over and under blocks; closes off-tackle with deceptive burst for his size.
Explosive on his final steps of contact. Runs through ball carriers with good force.
They did agree that Kirkland's hand usage could be better. Then there's perhaps the biggest point of contention regarding his game—his ability in coverage. Here's ESPN again:
Can turn and get adequate depth in his zone drops while displaying a nose for the ball and the strength to collision and reroute shorter crossing routes. He does show some wasted motion breaking forward. We do not see the hip fluidity that projects well as a man-to-man linebacker at the college level. Shows limitations in space. Flashes good timing, closing burst and effort as a blitzer and appears to have more upside in this facet than in coverage on 3rd down.
While this doesn't totally answer the questions about Kirkland's man-to-man ability—especially in pads vs. no pads—247's J.C. Shurburtt repeated the praise for his ball skills after the 2013 Columbus NFTC:
Top247 prospect Darrin Kirkland Jr. (Indianapolis, Ind./Park Tudor) surprised with his outstanding coverage ability- batting down ball after ball.
This spring, at the Rivals camp in Columbus, Kirkland took home position MVP honors and the top ranking among defenders at the camp by once again showing off his coverage ability ($):
Kirkland proved to be the best linebacker in a loaded group. The Rivals250 member has excellent footwork and was putting on a clinic during the position drills portion for the camp. When it came time for one-on-ones, Kirkland stepped up to every challenger. He showed that he has the speed to run with any running back or tight end and was able to make some plays on the ball while it was in the air. Kirkland broke up a number of passes en route to winning the linebacker MVP award.
It sounds like Kirkland may have some limitations athletically, namely concerning his hip flexibility and straight-line speed, but he appears to make up for a lot of that with his technique and instincts.
Meanwhile, there's little question about what he can do as a run-stuffer. From 247's Clint Brewster's film evaluation ($):
Kirkland Jr. doesn’t miss tackles and plays with his head up. Stays square and drives through the ball-carrier when he tackles. Good form and gets underneath his opponent.
Striking Ability 8
Shows nice explosive power when he makes contact and stays the attacker. Closes on the ball-carrier quickly.
Brewster concludes that while Kirkland is "not the most talented all around linebacker," he "does everything right and constantly diagnoses action correctly," then chooses for his player comparison... David Harris. Yes, please. I'll have another.
If everything above screams MIDDLE LINEBACKER to you, you're not alone. A squat, powerful run-stuffer with great instincts but perhaps not the most fluid athleticism is a MIKE until proven otherwise, and given his blitzing ability he should be able to fit there whether U-M sticks with the 4-3 over or goes back to an under front.
As mentioned above, Michigan got in on Kirkland just as he started to blow up on the recruiting trail. His other offers included Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Mississippi, NC State, Nebraska, North Carolina, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin.
According to TomVH, that list was likely to grow when Kirkland made his pledge:
Darrin Kirkland Jr had started to get some big offers and interest, it's a big deal for Michigan to get him now.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) May 18, 2014
While U-M may have to sweat out Kirkland fielding prestigious offers until Signing Day, the fact that he committed despite recent offers from the likes of Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas—the last of which he called a "game changer" when it came through in late April—is a very good sign.
Lawrence Central plays in Indiana's largest division, and they've been a relatively successful program in recent years, winning the state championship in 2012. Kirkland transferred to LC for the 2013 season, and after losing several key pieces they fell to a 3-7 record last season.
Kirkland is the first four-star produced by the school in the Rivals era. The most prominent prospect to come out of the school in recent years is current Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson.
Kirkland recorded 110 tackles and eight sacks en route to All-State honors in 2013, per 247.
FAKE 40 TIME
Kirkland supposedly ran a 4.58 at Louisville's camp last summer, though it's unclear whether that's hand-timed or electronic. That'd be quite fast for a linebacker his size, though he does display impressive burst; I'll give it three FAKEs out of five.
Junior highlights and single-game cut-ups are available on Kirkland's Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
With Michigan's glut of linebacker prospects from recent classes, Kirkland will almost certainly be afforded a redshirt year in 2015, when the open spots vacated by Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan will be competed for by Ben Gedeon, Joe Bolden, Michael Ferns, and Ben Gedeon, in all likelihood.
With Kirkland slotting in to the MIKE spot, he's either going to have to beat out an older player or wait his turn for a couple years before grabbing a starting spot. Program depth is a beautiful thing. He certainly has the size and instincts necessary to play early if necessary, though, so don't rule out the possibilty that he grabs some early PT.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan now has seven commits in the 2015 class and, according to our count, five scholarships remaining—that number will assuredly grow by NSD. With Kirkland in the fold, they're set at inside linebacker. Positions of need moving forward include running back, receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, weakside DE, and outside linebacker; Michigan may also look to add another defensive back if Shaun Crawford eventually decommits, though the need there isn't huge either way.
Darrin Kirkland Jr. has been a frequent visitor to Ann Arbor and this weekend he’ll stop by again as he announced on Twitter.
Just talked with Coach Mallory, I'll be at Michigan this weekend for a visit! 〽️Ⓜ️ #GoBlue
— Darrin Kirkland Jr. (@_KIRKjunior) May 15, 2014
Michigan is solidly in Kirkland’s top ten and an overnight stay in Ann Arbor this weekend could put the Wolverines near or at the top of that list. Darrin’s mom and dad will accompany him on the trip but will stay in Toledo with family while he bunks up with Mike McCray on campus. His plans for the visit sound promising and Michigan is in good shape with him regardless of the specifics.
“I just want to spend some quality time on campus with the players and have my family get a good personal feel for Michigan,” he said. “Michigan has done well recruiting me. My relationship with Coach Mattison is one of my best.”
Kirkland Jr. will spend just Saturday night in Ann Arbor and while all things are trending in a positive direction he told me that a commitment will not happen. He will stick to his timeline of an August decision date but another positive experience on campus definitely helps Michigan’s cause as these types of visits work wonders with recruits.