Better settle in. We are reaching the end of our Players of the Big Ten Preview to the Death.
Previously on Draftageddon:
Rounds 1-2: A Heisman candidate QB and the reigning Thorpe winner go after two members of Michigan's secondary. (M players: Peppers, Lewis, Butt)
Rounds 3-4: An underwhelming first swing through receivers, and lots of linemen. (Chesson, Cole, Wormley, Glasgow)
Rounds 5-6: A Michigan second-teamer goes before Purdue J.J. Watt. (Charlton, Hurst)
Rounds 7-8: Hodor. (Mone, Darboh)
Rounds 9-11: We go on a mini Iowa binge, and Brian takes a true freshman (YTTF).
Rounds 12-14: A grueling three-rounder with safeties, RBs, and MSU legacies flexing. (O'Korn, Braden).
Rounds 15-16: We break out laughing at Tommy Armstrong. (Dymonte, Kenny Allen)
Rounds 17-18: Cheese and tackles. (Magnuson, Delano Hill)
Rounds 19-20: Tight ends, a boring Iowa safety, and Brian finally believes a Michigan coach quote over his own eyes. (Stribling)
Rounds 21-22: Slot Receivers (but no Grant Perry sorry)
How Things Stand:
We have four more rounds, and a few big needs. For example the guy who kept questioning why drafting interior offensive linemen is important just looked at what's remaining among interior OL and realized he's really going to need a…
ACE: Round 23, Pick 1: Cameron Johnston, punter, Ohio State
[Draftageddon 2015, Draftageddon 2014]
OFFENSE: QB CJ Beathard (IA), RB Saquon Barkley (PSU), WR Jehu Chesson (M), WR Noah Brown (OSU), SLOT Curtis Samuel (OSU), SLOT Mitchell Paige (IU), TE George Kittle (IA), OT Nick Gates (NE), OT Kodi Kieler (MSU), OG Jacob Bailey (IU), C Michael Dieter (UW), WEAPON Jabrill Peppers (M)
DEFENSE: NT Ryan Glasgow (M), DT Jake Replogle (PU), DE Sam Hubbard (OSU), DE Demetrius Cooper (MSU), MLB Josey Jewell (IA), OLB Brandon Bell (PSU), OLB/NICKEL Jabrill Peppers (M), CB Jalen Myrick (MN), CB Vayante Copeland (MSU), S Nate Gerry (NE), S Malik Hooker (OSU)
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Cameron Johnston (OSU), KR Jabrill Peppers (M), PR Jabrill Peppers (M)
While it’s tradition around here to forego a real punter selection in order to hoard an extra roster spot, having someone who can reliably flip field position is valuable enough to merit a selection—Michigan fans saw that first-hand last year with Blake O’Neill.
Johnston is an Aussie import who’s been good enough over the last few years that he needed to clarify he wouldn’t join the horde of Buckeyes entering the NFL Draft early. In 2015, 22 of his 58 punts pinned opponents inside the 20 against only seven touchbacks, and he forced 21 fair catches; he was even better as a sophomore, putting opponents inside the 20 on 26 of his 48 boots with only five touchbacks. He’ll be in contention for Ray Guy honors for the third straight year.
Seth: Also tradition:
[After the JUMP: lots of picks, and some people in the comments who hate everything]
[Ed—Seth: Every year, by tradition, Mike Spath (@MichaelSpath198), one of the best journalists on the Michigan beat and bar none the best source of Michigan hockey info, also generates the only content I ever care about from Big Ten Media Days, offering anonymity to opposing players in return for their unvarnished opinions on Michigan players.
Spath has departed The Wolverine, but he still went to Media Days and got those golden quotes. He was at WTKA this morning and shared some of them with Sam Webb. You can listen to the entire segment on WTKA's website here. With their permission, Adam and I transcribed the parts that were paraphrased from those players.
Note: "paraphrased." Note again: I SAID PARAPHRASED. On a lot of these Spath is combining several players' thoughts, and he was talking on the radio. Please don't construe that into misquotations that result in me being chased by a tall blond man who in turn is being chased by a Big Ten athlete.
If you want more Spath, he'll be contributing some at Badgerblitz.com, and is expected to become a regular contributor on WTKA.]
HOW THIS WORKS: So I’ve gotten some harsh feedback on Twitter saying “you know, if I was going to say something critical I’d put my name to it,” but that’s not the way that it goes. I don’t go up to them and say “Sam, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to put your name on it.” I’ll say “Sam, I want to ask you some really honest feedback about Michigan football,” and the only way you’re going to give it to me is if I don’t quote you—if I don’t use your name.”
And so that’s how I do it and I would say this: if you’re a pretty smart person you can probably figure out that I went up to Indiana players, I went to Minnesota players, Rutgers players, Illinois players … and Northwestern.
So those are the five teams I was able to approach. It was a little more difficult this year—Sam you were there, and they didn’t go into roundtables where you have a lot more one-on-one times. So you really had to wait these guys out, and I waited until the last five minutes when they were completely empty, or I wasn’t afraid to—when a guy was getting up and leaving the podium when he’s done with his hour, or walking down the hallway with him. Because that’s when you’re gonna get the good stuff: when there’s nobody else around, and you have to really assure him: “I’m NOT gonna use your name.” You can see the light bulb going on in their head for that first second like: “I don’t know about this...do I really wanna do this?”
But eventually, and here’s the thing too, is that when you ask these questions—and I’ve seen other people try to do it—I think if you ask generic questions you get generic answers. If you ask specific questions, you get specific answers. And so a lot of the time what I’ve focused on is specific players.
“The player that they played against in November: we had six games of film on him from earlier in the season, and who was that player? This was a guy that caught everything, was a big play waiting to happen. There’s a play where he caught the ball in the middle of the field against us, and we had two guys right there, and we thought we had the angle on him, and he pulled away!”
“There’s track speed and there’s football speed, and this guy’s got football speed. I couldn’t believe how unbelievably fast this guy was, and how much of a difference he made over the course of the second half of the season.”
I posted some of these things to Twitter and there’s already this Jourdan Lewis thing that blew up big time:
Note from rival on @JourdanJD, even though they didn't complete much throwing at him, he didn't have many INTs so there was no fear factor.
— Michael Spath (@MichaelSpath198) July 26, 2016
One guy said that the reason they throw at Jourdan Lewis is there’s not a fear factor. And I immediately got jumped on and ripped on. I think when you read the whole quote it’s a little more understanding.
The guy was talking about how they didn’t complete much last year—they only completed 36% of their passes that they threw at him. But they did throw at him, because he had 90 targets according to Pro Football Focus, and that’s the tenth most at any specific defensive back in the country. So I mean you’re talking about 127 teams, talking about four defensive backs for the most part on every team, so you’re looking at 400 players and he’s the tenth-most thrown-at? That’s pretty crazy for a guy who’s only giving up a 36% completion. And the guy said to me:
“You know we didn’t complete much, but he didn’t get many interceptions.” So I asked him a little bit more—why did you keep throwing at him, and he said “What did he have interceptions-wise compared to Desmond King? Two or three?” (The answer’s two). “You weren’t going to complete many passes if you threw his way, but he wasn’t going to pick you off either. You didn’t have to fear the turnover if you threw it.”
And I said “So you didn’t fear him?”
And he’s like “We didn’t fear him: no.”
So when I’m trying to present this as “there wasn’t a fear factor” that’s not really how the quote comes off. [Sam and Spath talked a bit about man-to-man versus cover 2. Upshot: the difference with Desmond King is cover 2 cornerbacks are facing the ball the whole play.]
[Hit THE JUMP for Victims of Glasgow and Wormley Anonymous, Glasgows, Guards, and Peppers]
It lives! When Homesure Lending sponsored these posts, Matt admonished me that his sponsorship was contingent on me actually doing all of them. So, yeah, next time you see him buy him a beer and get a mortgage. Matt just pinged me in case a refi made sense, demonstrating that 1) he's always on the lookout if he can save you money and 2) rates must be even more absurdly low than they were a couple years ago.
Formation notes: I'm not sure if we've seen this before at M:
There are three tight ends to the right side of the formation. "Ace trip TE."
This mess was "tight FB big" and went about how you'd expect:
And this is an example of how Florida spent a big chunk of the first half. Check out the defensive line. That is a huge split between the nose tackle and the defensive end to the bottom of your screen. Michigan had a hard time dealing with it for a couple snaps and then blasted it until UF abandoned it.
Substitution notes: As expected. Rudock, the starting OL, and the FB/RB corps all went the distance. Smith, Houma, and Johnson were your only RBs—no Higdon, no Isaac. I don't think Newsome got any 6th OL time. WR/TE was all Darboh/Chesson/Perry/Butt/Williams until the game was salted away. Michigan put in Ways and Harris in place of the outside WRs, continued playing Perry, and gave Ian Bunting some run.
[After The JUMP: rather big JUMPS forward for a half-dozen guys.]
First, a little feelingsball
Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.
It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.
A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.
Drake Johnson collapses on the field after his team gets stopped on a potential game-winning 2-pt. conversion. pic.twitter.com/Beyur1LaIW
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) April 4, 2016
I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.
This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.
This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.
*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]
[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]
Where have you seen the biggest growth in your offense over the last couple of weeks?
“I just think that people understand the concepts. Really the passing game’s come along with the precision and timing. You know, making corrections. People understand what you’re trying to correct and they’re fixing it the next day you come out.”
Coach Harbaugh said that his quarterbacks were making ‘one big mistake’ per day right now. Is that still—I mean, what do you need to see from them this week and then going through the summer?
“I think just, you know, in terms of where they need to go with the ball, the progressions of their reads, when there’s no play to be made make a play. And that goes for any type of quarterback in any system. That’s not just this particular system here. That’s what you’re looking for.”
Have you seen a difference between John [O’Korn] being in his first year being in a competitive situation and the other two guys, Shane [Morris] and Wilton [Speight]?
“I think John’s a real competitor. I don’t think if he’s a redshirt it doesn’t matter to him. He’s a guy who comes out, wants to compete every day, and wants to be at his best.”
How do you distinguish between making a play when there isn’t one and trying to do too much? Where’s the line that gets drawn between those two?
“I think those guys just kind of naturally have it. They know when to make a play. They know when to step up and find a spot in the pocket. They know when to scramble. They know when to get rid of the ball not to take a sack. You know, I think it’s just kind of part of their DNA. It’s in there, you’ve just got to get it out of them.”
Was moving Mason [Cole] more about the importance of that center position or just getting the top five on the field?
“You know, you just really want to get the top five in however you do that. We’re still evaluating if that’s the best position for him. He’s done a very, very nice job this spring. That’s a hard thing to do is stand there with the ball in your hand and you’ve got a 300-pound guy breathing down your neck and you’ve got to snap it, you know. He’s really handled it beautifully. He’s done a really, really nice job with it.”
Do you guys feel like Newsome’s ready to start if need be?
“Yeah! When we played him last year as a true freshman we believed that he’s ready to do that if that’s how it all pans out.”
What’s different about him? You’ve talked about football lenses opening. Was his already a little more open than most?
“He’s very intelligent. He gets it. He can make a correction once [and] he can fix it. He understands what you’re talking about when you talk to him in the room. The screen doesn’t got fuzzy with him. He stays with you in a conversation.”
[After THE JUMP: Others in the OL rotation, Ty Isaac’s spring, and what Don Brown’s scheme does for the O-line]
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- QB Jake Rudock. Iowa transfer was a jittery mess for the first half and Andrew Luck Jr for the second. Cracked 3,000 passing yards with good efficiency and a solid TD/INT ratio; ended year by dicing up three top-ten pass defenses. Will be missed unless Harbaugh just Harbaughs himself another excellent QB, which is Harbaugh likely.
- C Graham Glasgow. Three year starter was always good even if it was near-impossible to tell without going into UFR-level depth. Stepped up as a senior and was, IMO, an All Big Ten-level performer. Michigan has a couple promising options to replace him; don't underrate his loss.
- TE AJ Williams. Went from symbol of the flaccid Hoke era to symbol of the player development Jim Harbaugh brings to the table. Improved his blocking immensely, quadrupled career receiving stats, was no longer a one-dimensional tight end who did not actually deliver on that dimension, blew guys off ball with consistency. I don't think I've ever seen a senior get that much better since… Bennie Joppru? Probably Bennie Joppru.
- FBs Sione Houma and Joe Kerridge. Treated as a unit. Solid to excellent blockers both with Kerridge a capable receiver and captain and Houma a promising mooseback capable of juking Florida linebackers. Normally a position met with a shrug these days, it's a much bigger deal under Harbaugh. Henry Poggi returns but hasn't touched a ball in anger yet.
- As of yet unknown attrition. Departures are on the way. Some of those will undoubtedly be on offense. Guys not playing at WR, RB, and QB are likely to be amongst the departures. None project to have significant 2016 roles unless the wild Rivals rumor about a starting OL not being asked back pans out. I'm skeptical about that.
- TE Jake Butt. 654 receiving yards a year ago with two-count-em-two drops all year. Blocking was finesse but relatively effective. Smoked touted Florida CB on route in bowl game. Should be nation's top receiving tight end and get that Mackey award he was inexplicably denied this year. A bit more oomph on the ground would be nice.
- OL Mason Cole. Emerged into a top-shelf run blocker in year two. Pass blocking was generally good but there were struggles against elite edge rushers like Yannick Ngakoue and Joey Bosa. Smart, technical player could get moved inside if Grant Newsome is Michigan's #5 OL.
- WR Jehu Chesson. Comparisons went from Stonum to Breaston to Manningham over the course of the season. Multi-use threat effective as a runner, blocker, and increasingly as a receiver. 764 yards and 9 TDs despite being chronically missed for the first half of the season, plus a KOR TD and a number of jet sweeps that went a long way. Has his shit together.
- WR Amara Darboh. Avant comparisons were on point, as he amply demonstrated on that catch. You know. That one. Solid intermediate threat with excellent hands and a large catching radius. Avant-esque. Like Avant. Reminiscent of Avant.
- RB De'Veon Smith. Nuclear-powered icebreaker back was frustrating much of the year but great against the Gators. If proverbial click has clicked and he knows where to go most of the time can be prototypical Harbaugh back. Superior blocker; may get drafted at fullback part-time a la BJ Askew.
- OLs Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden. All thrown into the same lump because they were more or less the same guy. All had their struggles, particularly the guards; all had their successes. All are likely to get incrementally better as senior returning starters, but it wouldn't be out of the question for one of them to get knocked out of the lineup if Kugler and Newsome emerge or Michigan picks up Texas grad transfer Jake Raulerson.
- FB/TE Henry Poggi. Last year's version of early AJ Williams. Had one catch for two yards, did not carry the ball, was a blocker and only a blocker. As a blocker he was generally effective when he made contact with a person. He failed to accomplish this with understandable frequency since he was flipped from the DL in spring. Should improve significantly in that department but must be more of a threat to have the ball.
- RB Drake Johnson. Michigan's quickest back by far but career has been limited by injury.
- RB/WR Jabrill Peppers. Oh right that guy. In year two under Harbaugh should emerge as a guy who gets ten touches a game on a variety of screens, sweeps, and straight-up runs and throws.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
O'Korn is generally considered the leader at QB [Fuller]
Probably John O'Korn. Michigan's QB derby is currently a five-way battle that will add a sixth contender in Brandon Peters and maybe a seventh if Harbaugh goes back to the grad-transfer well, but after a season of scout-team hype anyone other than Houston transfer O'Korn would be a moderate surprise.
O'Korn is the platonic opposite of Jake Rudock. He is Ryan Mallett, more or less, capable of throwing for 3,000 yards as a true freshman and equally capable of going full Hackenberg on WR screens in an increasingly frustrating situation and getting deservedly benched as a sophomore. He is a big, strapping fellow with good wheels who can uncork pinpoint 40-yard passes on the run. He threw an array of insane interceptions and made other mistakes in bunches at Houston, but given a year of understudy under Harbaugh both the natural maturation process and the coaching upgrade promise big things.
Half the running back rotation. This space projects that De'Veon Smith ends up absorbing most of the carries from the fullback spot and plays enough RB to remain Michigan's leading rusher. That will leave about half the total carries available. Peppers, Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac, and freshmen Kareem Walker and Kingston Davis figure to scrap over the remainder.
Only Peppers is a lock to get a bunch of touches, because he is Peppers. The rest could go anywhere; Michigan fans are hoping the freshmen step up immediately. It could happen.
An offensive lineman, maybe two. Grant Newsome is a heavy favorite to be the fifth starter on the offensive line after Michigan burned his redshirt midseason so he could be a sixth OL in heavy packages. Newsome is an ideal left tackle, though, and Michigan has an incumbent. Look for Mason Cole to move inside, as his run blocking is considerably ahead of his pass protection.
It is possible that Michigan could mix things up more extensively if they feel their best five includes Patrick Kugler or Raulerson, potentially bumping Mason Cole to guard instead of center. If that happens it's probably a good thing.
Receivers and blocky/catchy types past the Big Three. We're filing Grant Perry as "new" since he made little impact last year except in the first and last games. In the former case that impact was massively negative; in the latter a pleasant surprise. Perry, Drake Harris, Moe Ways, and tight ends Ian Bunting and Khalid Hill will compete to fill snaps vacated by Williams and the departing fullbacks.
Unless there's an injury none will emerge into prime targets; the goal there is for Michigan to have guys ready to step in when Darboh, Chesson, and Butt all depart after next year.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1976
The peripheral nature of most of the previous section's bullet points. Michigan needs to find a QB, an OL, and half a running back. They have less to replace than 95% of D-I programs.
Three Amigos 2016. Butt, Darboh, and Chesson are a receiving trio that might be on par with the famous Braylon/Avant/Breaston set. If Chesson continues his development he is a legit #1; Butt probably would have been the second tight end off the board if he announced for the NFL draft; Darboh is a circus-catch wizard and burly possession guy to move the chains. Nobody in the league is going to have a set of pass-catchers like that.
Continuity. Hey look Michigan has the same coaching staff for the second consecutive year, running the same offense. They have the same players running it, for the most part. This has been a rare treasure of late.
Experience. Michigan projects to have seniors start at eight of eleven positions, and one of the exceptions is Mason Cole.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2016
how much better can these gentlemen get? [Upchurch]
Blocking upside. I thought Michigan had two very good offensive linemen and three guys who were meh. One of the very good guys is gone; the three meh guys are all going to be redshirt seniors. I'm not sure how much any of them will improve. I mean, they should improve, but the kind of leap Cole took last year from meh to very good is unlikely.
Similarly, I don't think Jake Butt is suddenly going to be a murderous blocker. This doesn't feel like a run game that gets amazing unless it was really all targeting issues.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The O'Kornininging, or Speightininging, or Whoeverining. New quarterback is always a worry, albeit less so when Jim Harbaugh is his quarterback coach. O'Korn has all the tools you could want and seemingly went to Houston because he was wild and unrefined. He could be Ryan Mallett or he could be Ryan Mallett, if you get my drift.
Will the tailbacks be any good? I'd give that position group a D for the year. Kareem Walker may not be the quick fix everyone was vaguely hoping for when they heard the #1 back in the country was going to decommit from OSU and flip to Michigan. Recruiting consensus on Walker has dipped to the point where he's a good, not great prospect. (This might actually be good for Michigan given the track record of five-star backs in Ann Arbor.)
Smith and Johnson gave a glimmer of hope in the bowl game, enough to bump this from bad to dunno.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
It all hinges on INSERT QB HERE. If he comes in hot and we get a year of Late Rudock production this should be an offense that takes a major step forward. Whoever does get the job is going to have a terrific receiving corps, solid or better pass protection, and Jabrill Peppers hanging around.
The run game is a bit of a question mark still. Michigan has no slam-dunk back and probably won't see their OL take a quantum leap forward. Real improvement is likely, though. Michigan gets four OL back and will have continuity, plus both returning tailbacks who played in the bowl showed major improvement.
For context, Michigan finished 30th in offensive S&P+ this year, 43rd on the ground and 8th(!!!) in the air. They should be able to push the ground number up 10 to 20 spots, and if O'Korn hits the ground running and maintains that passing number—somewhat tough but he'll be operating in a friendly environment—Michigan should get into the top 20 teams statistically.
I'd say maintaining the passing production is unlikely, but a quick glance at Jim Harbaugh's track record with quarterbacks suggests it is anything but.