Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
Where to start, really? [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
In Brady Hoke's fourth year at the helm, Michigan heads into fall camp with far fewer questions about the starting lineup than we're used to hearing this time of year; even the offensive line looks pretty much set, though of course concerns about their ability will follow this team well into the season. Today I'm taking a look at the five players—some penciled in as starters, some not—whose emergence is critical to Michigan's success in 2014, either due to the depth at their position, their potential to become a real difference-maker, or both.
You'll be shocked to see that the list begins with an offensive lineman.
RT Ben Braden
Braden is #1 with a bullet for me. He replaces an NFL draft pick at a critical spot on a line in need of a whole lot of improvement, and the options behind him are very limited. Braden has great potential due to his Lewan-wowing combination of size (6'6", 322 lbs.) and athleticism, but there are also significant concerns—that same Lewan article, from last August, stated the starting left guard spot was Braden's to lose, but even in a season when the guards rotated with alarming frequency he played just two games, both as a reserve.
While it's far too early to say a lineman heading into his redshirt sophomore season has panned out or not, the fact that a true freshman and a 6'1" walk-on—Kyle Bosch and Joey Burzynski, respectively—saw the field over Braden last year is certainly worrisome. Adding to that concern is the depth at tackle this season. If Braden can't lock down his spot at right tackle, the first tackle off the bench looks likely to be another true freshman, Mason Cole, if the spring is any indication. A trio of redshirt freshmen provide depth, but none are close to sure things: Logan Tuley-Tillman likely needs at least another year of development, Chris Fox mostly spent last year rehabbing an ACL tear, and David Dawson seems more suited to guard.
It's true that any of Michigan's O-linemen could be on this list—in fact, there's another later—but Braden's spot in the lineup appears the least certain, and he just happens to be in a spot that could cause a complete reshuffling of the line if he can't hold the job.
NT Ondre Pipkins
There are really four interior defensive linemen that could go here; Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, and Maurice Hurst were under serious consideration, but Henry seems like he'll be at least a passable starter, and the three-tech spot—where Wormley and Hurst are slated to play—doesn't have the same importance as the nose (while boasting more depth on this roster). Also, only one of these guys was a five-star All-American out of high school, and it's Pee Wee Pipkins.
Pipkins is, rather shockingly, already a true junior, and his time to make that five-star impact is quickly running out after he blew out an ACL against Minnesota last year, just as he was showing signs of reaching his potential. He's reportedly fully recovered from that injury, though there's no telling how it'll affect him until he's back playing in actual games. If he's healthy, he could develop into some unholy combination of Gabe Watson and Alan Branch; he could also be the next Will Campbell, and that's without accounting for the potential that he's not fully comfortable on that knee.
While Michigan doesn't necessarily need Pipkins in the starting lineup—Henry can start at the nose next to a three-tech platoon of Wormley/Hurst/others—they need him to be healthy and productive enough to rotate in a good deal, unless Bryan Mone is remarkably ahead of the curve for a true freshman nose tackle. It'd also, of course, be really nice to see the affable Pipkins return to the how-the-hell-is-that-blob-chasing-down-Stefon Diggs form he showed in his standout Army AA Game performance a couple years ago.
WR Amara Darboh
|"Today in practice I witnessed the single greatest catch I've ever seen in person." — Devin Gardner|
We got a couple tantalizing looks at Darboh before he missed the 2013 season with a foot injury: the amazing catch from a 2012 Outback Bowl practice (right) and a nice deep sideline grab in the 2013 Spring Game. While Jehu Chesson did a solid job as the #3 receiver last year, Darboh was considered the clear leader for that role—really the #2 receiver role at the time, before everyone figured out Devin Funchess was a tight end in name only—and he also garnered more hype as a recruit.
This admittedly isn't an area of significant need for Michigan; Freddy Canteen, Moe Ways, Jaron Dukes, and DaMario Jones provide plenty of depth and talent at receiver.* None of those guys possess the combination of talent, physical development, and knowledge of the offense that Darboh has right now, however, and the capable-of-catching-anything aspect to Darboh's game is something I'd like to see on the field.
Having a sure-handed possession receiver across from Devin Funchess could make Michigan's passing game downright scary, and early in the season it could also help cover for the absence of a receiving threat at tight end while Jake Butt recovers from his ACL injury. Darboh, who's now listed at 6'2", 211 pounds, potentially fits that bill better than anyone on the roster.
*I'd include Drake Harris, too, but he's coming off a lost senior season of high school due to a hamstring injury and he needs to gain weight, so a redshirt hopefully beckons.
RG Kyle Kalis
This should probably be Jake Butt's spot, but I'm going with Kalis here, since he's a five-star talent on a line in need of that, and after one rough year it appears he's been written off by many. I mean, this was in Brian's post-spring 27 Tickets, when he (ever so jinxfully) assumed now-Buckeye Chad Lindsay would transfer from Alabama to Michigan and take over the center spot:
27. G Kyle Bosch, So. [Last time: 25]
Under assumption that Lindsay comes in, Glasgow displaces one of Braden/Bosch/Kalis. Random guess here is that it's Kalis because Bosch should improve more as younger guy but your guess is as good as mine. So is Hoke's.
Kalis was left out of the top 27.
While I realize Kalis underperformed last year, and not all of that can be chalked up to coaching ... well, you all saw the mess on the line, and assigning individual blame for that tire fire is a difficult, if not impossible, endeavor. Kalis was thrust into a starting job as a redshirt freshman, then moved in and out of the lineup as the coaches tried (and failed) to find something that would work—not exactly a recipe for success for a first-year starter regardless of talent.
And boy, does Kalis have talent. Offensive linemen are the toughest prospects to project with much accuracy, but he looked like the surest of sure things out of high school. Many of his issues last year appeared to stem from uncertainty about his assignment; given his freshmandom and the sheer number of schemes Michigan tried to run last year, that's understandable. The simplified, inside zone-centric offense under Doug Nussmeier should suit him well; if he's confident enough in his knowledge of the playbook to stop thinking and starting clobbering, we could see a huge step forward from him this fall.
NICKEL/S/CB Jabrill Peppers
Braden is the #1 X-factor, in my opinion, because of his importance to the team's success this year; if you think of X-factors as players who can make an impact in a number of ways, however, the obvious choice is Peppers. Obviously.
The coaches maintain that they'll start him out at nickel, and he could make a huge difference there as a prototype hybrid space player who's equally adept in coverage and run support. He could very well start from day one at strong safety, the only spot in the secondary with any real uncertainty, and the way Greg Mattison utilized that spot in the Spring Game—aggressively rolling the SS into the box often—is ideally suited for a player like Peppers. He could even challenge Raymon Taylor at boundary corner, though with the rise of Jourdan Lewis the need for Peppers at corner appears less than the two other defensive positions he could play this year.
Personally, I'm hoping that sooner or later he starts at strong safety, where he could bring a level of playmaking Michigan hasn't had back there since... uh... let's go with "a while ago." I don't believe the coaches will ask Peppers to make an impact on offense this year, but special teams is another story—his potential as a return man is massive, and I have a hard time believing the coaches won't try to get the ball in his hands one way or another.
The rosters are here! The rosters are here! The big news is Blake Countess will be #2 cause…
(artist: Ted Watts)
That’s got to be a new legends number, right? Nobody got 11 or 21, FWIW.
The incoming freshmen were all bequeathed their digits as well. I give them here with a few notables to have worn the digit at that position in the past. I’ve chosen to include the freshmen who were here in spring; a list of just the fall arrivals is here, courtesy Wolverine Devotee. Burn these into your memory so that it will hurt more when they’re changed to Legends numbers in a few years.
|Ian Bunting||94||TE||6'7"||223||Matt Studenski was the last TE. Massey, Horn.|
|Juwann Bushell-Beatty||76||OL||6'5"||295||Steve Hutchinson, and Brandstatter|
|Freddy Canteen||17||WR||6'1"||170||Forgotten great end (1930s version of WR) Ted Petoskey. Personal fav Carl Tabb.|
|Mason Cole||52||OL||6'5"||275||Rod Payne. Schilling.|
|Michael Ferns||51||LB||6'3"||233||John Duerr and a Brackins. (Everitt on offense)|
|Noah Furbush||59||LB||6'4"||229||89-90 linebacker Alex Marshall. The Sarantos my friend dated.|
|Drake Harris||14||WR||6'4"||180||Closest I can think of to a receiver getting PT is Andy Mignery.|
|Lawrence Marshall||93||DE||6'4"||230||Hoban and Jackson in the '70s. I see 93 I think Sam Sword.|
|Bryan Mone||90||DT||6'4"||315||Norm Heuer was a DT. Feazell, Jamison, DeFelice.|
|Brady Pallante||54||DT||6'1"||255||Donnie Warner. Imagine if Rudy actually become a really good starter, and was real.|
|Jabrill Peppers||5||DB||6'1"||210||Jersey manufacturers, start your presses. Coleman Wallace is the best CB, competition is Whitley. Think Jabrill will keep it all 4 years?|
|Wilton Speight||19||QB||6'6"||230||The other Forcier. And Harry Newman's backup.|
|Jared Wangler||19||LB||6'2"||215||Early '70s "Wolf" safety Darrell Truitt|
|Brandon Watson||28||DB||5'11"||185||Early '90s hard-hitter Deon Johnson.|
|Maurice Ways||85||WR||6'3"||192||Curt Stephenson and Marcus Knight|
|Chase Winovich||58||LB||6'3"||216||Dave Brandon Endowed This Position With His Own Name Not Kidding Cornerbacks Coach Roy Manning. Also '80s OLB Keith Cowan|
Please only give this number to tiny safeties and huge running backs from now on forever kthx.
Heitzman Expansion Principle
This is the corollary to the Heininger Certainty Principle: a person, once removed from Hoke’s defensive line, will apparently grow 1 or more inches in height as his body adjusts to the difference in pressure. Heitzman is now listed 6’4”, one inch taller than he was in spring.
Didn’t spot any. Weights haven’t been updated yet.
THE GOAL OF DRAFTAGEDDON
The goal of Draftageddon is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT DRAFTAGEDDON.
I'm hearing this is incorrect. I see. The goal of Draftageddon is to draft a team of Big Ten players that seems generally more impressive than that of your competitors. Along the way, we'll learn a lot of alarming things, like maybe Maryland is good? Full details are in the first post.
PREVIOUSLY ON DRAFTAGEDDON
- Everyone not grabbing dual-threat senior QBs grabs defensive linemen
- Seth takes Venric Mark in front of just about everyone
- Nothing terribly remarkable happens
- BISB takes all the guys I want
- A ridiculous amount of time is spent discussing the merits of one particular interior lineman from Rutgers
- WILDCARD TIME as Brian takes a quarterback despite already having a quarterback.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
ROUND 13 - PICK 2: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
O: QB Connor Cook (MSU), RB Ameer Abdullah (NE), WR Devin Funchess (U-M), TE Maxx Williams (MN), LT Brandon Scherff (IA), LG Kaleb Johnson (RU)
D: DE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), DE/DT Andre Monroe (MD), NT Darius Kilgo (MD), OLB Chi Chi Ariguzo (NW), OLB Matt Robinson (MD), CB Desmond King (IA), S John Lowdermilk (IA)
ST: KR/PR Ameer Adbullah (NE)
ACE: Heiko lives!
Brian's decision to draft a, uh, third-and-long quarterback put an end to the staring contest between me and Seth. I'd like a full-time starter, thanks, and not of the Rudock/Stave/Siemain caliber.
Oh, look, it's the Rose Bowl MVP.
Connor Cook took the reins of an offense so laughable it was being outscored by its own defense, took a couple games to settle in, and proceeded to make the Spartan O downright respectable. He put up excellent numbers for a redshirt sophomore, averaging 7.3 YPA with a 22:6 TD-to-INT ratio. Those numbers were in spite of a receiving corps that didn't feature anything resembling a true #1 receiver, and didn't have much quality from there, either. Using Seth's pet stat, RYPR, here's what Cook was working with in 2013:
His #1 receiver performed like an average #2. His #4 receiver averaged 3.8 yards per target. The rest of it isn't so great, either. Click over to Seth's post and look at Michigan's 2013 receiving corps. Even with their lack of production from the #3 spot, the Wolverines were far superior.
BISB: /Microphone... getting so hot... must... let... go...
ROUND 13 - PICK 3: Jabrill Peppers, CB (and S/RB/WR/Nickel/WILL/KR/PR/BMOC/GGTK), Michigan
he will fix everything
O: QB Devin Gardner (UM), RB Jeremy Langford (MSU) WR Kenny Bell (Neb), WR Shane Wynn (IU), OT Donovan Smith (PSU), C Austin Blythe (Iowa)
D: DE Joey Bosa (OSU), DE Noah Spence (OSU), LB Jake Ryan (UM), LB Mike Hull (PSU) CB Sojourn Shelton (Wisky), CB Jabrill Peppers (UM), S Kurtis Drummond (MSU)
BISB: I still needed a corner, a safety, a nickelback, a running back, and a wide receiver. So I took one.
Everyone is aware of the story of Jabrill Peppers. He is the highest ranked (and possibly the most highly-touted) recruit to hit a Big Ten campus in the last decade. If Sojourn Shelton is the prototypical field corner, Peppers is the archetypal boundary corner. Big for a corner at 6'1", 210 lbs, he hits like a linebacker but nevertheless shows sprinter speed and acceleration that translates to the football field. He's as quick-twitch of a human being as you'll ever find; he's basically Venric Mark. But after an 80's-style Rocky training montage. And five inches taller.
I know, I know. Recruiting hype stars don't matter never played a snap in college blah blah. Screw that. What are the usual concerns about freshmen? Physical preparedness, mental preparedness, and how the game translates to the next level. Physically, I'll defer to the unnamed assistant coach from USC:
"I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that," the USC coach says, "and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
As far as translating to the next level, watch the burst and acceleration in these two clips. Translation, my ass. I don't care what level of competition he's playing (though his competition is pretty good) or what kind of stuff doesn't show up on the highlight reels (though his full game cut-ups are equally impressive). This kid is basically a glitch in the physics engine. And sure, there's gonna be a mental transition, and sure both of my corners are young. Fortunately I have the best free safety in the Big Ten over the top to erase any youthful mistakes.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Seth drafts Troy Woolfolk, Ace with the Big Red Block.]
Let's feel good! Here's a danged good college football hype video that features Michigan a surprising amount:
YEAH LET'S GET HYPED FOR THE OPENER AGAINST [record SCRATCHHHHHHHH]
Well, that didn't last long. A casino has set an over/under for Michigan football wins next year…
At the moment, 5Dimes has Michigan's over/under for wins in 2014 set at 7 1/2. Presently, the money line is set at -170 on the over of 7 1/2 wins, which means most bettors are going with at least eight wins for the Wolverines in 2014.
…ugh. Not hitting that number would mean losing all three rivalry games and two more from the pu-pu platter that is the rest of the schedule.
Let's feel good again! Jabrill Peppers ran a 100 meter dash in 10.52 seconds, a veritably Denardian high-school-meet destruction.
He wiped out fellow touted corner recruit Minkah Fitzpatrick by a half-second.
Well, that didn't last long. Peppers is still slower than a robot velociraptor. Ugh.
Now you're just rubbing it in. ESPN gentlemen are trying to make college football better, and two of them say Michigan has to stop sucking. Thanks. We agree. And then there's this:
From the day that Bo Schembechler died in 2006, on the eve of No. 2 Michigan's 42-39 loss at its archrival, No. 1 Ohio State, the Wolverines have a record of 50-41 (.549). That's an average of 7-6, pretty much the definition of mediocrity.
Thank you for coming, now go away. Florida's president was trying to say something about how he doesn't like the graduate transfer rule and ended up saying something about his latest incoming graduate transfer:
"If they really wanted to transfer somewhere else, they should sit out a year,” Machen said Friday at the SEC spring meetings. “Why didn't Horford stay at Michigan another year? Because he had a free pass." …
“Go to grad school at Michigan," Machen said. "They have some pretty good grad schools. … It’s really just a way for a school to fill a void at the very last minute, or a player going to get more playing time without having to sit out.”
Is that bad? I mean, it's bad for Michigan. But the guy's already got a degree, which is the tenuous reason transfers are discouraged by forcing kids to a sit out a year.
I do think it's unfortunate that guys are now transferring upwards with frequency; that would really grind your gears as a low-level coach who developed this player for four years only to see him depart. Now you've got a bizarre incentive to not have your players graduate before their eligibility expires.
At least there's a trend. Florida's done playing FCS games, albeit for the same reason Michigan is. More interestingly, Nick Saban is hoping to cut out the lesser schools entirely:
Nick Saban wants Power 5 conferences to play only games against other P5 schools. “Better for fans & for players"
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) May 27, 2014
It's better for Saban, too, as there will be fewer pretenders with shiny records to compete against for playoff spots. The difficulty there is that everyone needs their seven home games even if two of them are necessarily bad.
HELLO. South Carolina president Harris Pastides:
“I think we're holding the fort,” Pastides said. “If we allow this reform to fail, the obvious next step would be to give up amateurism.”
I'm pretty sure that was intended to be the rhetorical nuclear weapon that makes everyone gasp whilst Mark Emmert is fanned by the people near him, moaning "lawdy." But someone said it.
Incoming? USC transfer and former five-star Ty Isaac is on campus… uh, now. Isaac is seeking a hardship waiver to play immediately, which would make him a slightly awkward fit for Michigan for two reasons: 1) you need a waiver for your waiver if the school you pick is more than 100 miles from home and 2) that would put him in the same class as De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green.
So, if Isaac does get his waiver it's more likely he ends up at Northwestern or Illinois or Notre Dame, which was supposed to be restricted to him but may not be because of a paperwork error on USC's part. While Illinois and ND are technically outside of the 100-mile radius they're outside by a few miles and would probably get meta-waivers. Michigan would be a harder sell.
If Isaac doesn't end up getting a waiver then Michigan has an excellent shot—they finished second for Isaac. And they didn't bring in a tailback last year.
Ohio State is apparently trying to get involved, but they'd be in a similar situation with the waiver.
Etc.: Sherman built this system, now Sherman's going to burn it down. NCAA #2 is getting out of dodge. Congrats to Bruce Madej, who won a major award. Guess who's mad about harmless spicetweets from Alex Malzone.
|Paramus, NJ – 6'1", 210|
5*, #3 overall
#1 CB, #1 NJ
5*, #3 overall
#1 CB, #1 NJ
5*, #2 overall
#1 CB, #1 NJ
5*, #4 overall
#1 CB, #1 NJ
|Other Suitors||Alabama, OSU, ND, Florida, LSU, everyone else|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace. One Frame At A Time on the run. Picture Pages on the run. Comparing Peppers to hyped dudes past.|
|Notes||Paramus Catholic (Juwann Bushell-Beatty)|
And you're probably familiar with this one:
Do I actually need to write this one? Surely you are full to the brim with Jabrill Peppers information. Eighteen years ago he sliced open his father's head with a sword and leapt forth, fully formed, ready to wreak havoc upon Persians and Carthaginians alike. After shoving the Indian subcontinent into an aesthetically pleasing location he wandered the world, dispensing sage advice to operators of wheeled vehicles of all descriptions everywhere. He decided to go to Michigan to win the Heisman as a defensive back and did so twice in the future forever and ever amen.
The end. Hooray.
If you are not sated yet, here's all this other stuff. Let's start with the various "room for improvement" sections found in scouting reports. Clint Brewster:
Improvements: It is very hard to find a flaw or a glaring area for improvement in Peppers game.
What Needs Work
I’m sure when Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, there must have been one bad step during it, so it leaves room for Peppers, the No. 4 prospect in the nation, with things to improve upon.
Does anyone have an actual criticism? Second chance time, Mr. Dohn.
The only thing with Peppers is sometimes he is so aggressive and wants to make a play so badly, he will bust an assignment in the passing game or guess which hole to fill in the running game rather than just wait for the play to develop and do his one-eleventh.
All right, then. These are the… uh… multiple and serious negatives of Jabrill Peppers. Offsetting these are some meager positives that may one day see him squeeze onto a Division I football field.
- Brewster, 247: "Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."
- Dohn, Scout: "Peppers has it all. The speed, acceleration, change of direction, ability to turn his hips and cover down or across the field, leadership, competitiveness, physicality, strength and a high football IQ."
- Adam Friedman, Rivals: "Peppers' incredible natural athleticism combined with his big frame and tireless work ethic has helped him become a true lockdown cornerback. "
- Scott Kennedy, Scout: "…could play four to five different positions and excel at them. He is a strong running back. He is as fluid as a good corner. He hits like a linebacker. He could play safety. You could honestly take him and put him in an outside linebacker position and he would flourish. He is going to return kicks. He is going to return punts. He catches anything that is near him. He is spectacular."
- Tom Luginbill, ESPN: "…in the past nine classes we are not quite sure we have seen a skilled athlete on defense like Peppers. He is as naturally gifted and explosive of an athlete as we can recall and he could play five positions."
- ESPN evaluation: "Has sudden movements but can also accelerate at a premium level with great top-end speed. … Will arrive with or shortly after the ball before the receiver can react. Naturally gets his head around to locate the ball and competes for it like a WR when it's in the air. Shows really good tracking and ball skills and a natural awareness around the football in all three phases of the game. … Shines in tight coverage … Takes sharp angles, closes strong with great burst and will wrap and pop as a tackler. … game changer."
- Tim Sullivan, Rivals: "While he's not his listed 6-1 (more like a shade under 6-0), Peppers' weight won't be in question. He is already built like an NFL defensive back, and hits with the force you'd expect. Throughout the week in practice, he could barely prevent himself from laying a big hit in the run game or against a wide receiver while playing coverage … also every bit the explosive athlete we expected him to be. "
- USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
"Is that all?" you scowl whilst raising a glass of cognac to your lips. "I had heard he was rather something." You're such an elitist.
Anyway, everyone who has seen Peppers has come away fanning themselves and trying to jam more stars into the guy's profile. There is no dissention here, except as to where he will play.
Two of the above evaluations mention he could play four or five positions (RB, WR, CB, S, and maybe OLB is how that breaks down), and several articles bat that possibility about. 247's JC Shurburtt asserts that he's a surer thing on offense because there's no denying his ability there ("electric and dynamic") and he may outgrow the corner spot if he's not enough of a freak athlete to outgrow the corner spot and still play corner. On the other hand, Rivals suggests he's more of a sure thing on D, and everyone ranks him there.
This was not at cornerback
So then where does he end up? We've already had a rather long comedy breakdown of something Peppers did on offense on this site. Meanwhile, poke an analyst in the right mood, as Sam Webb did, and you'll find yourself asking a follow-up question like so:
You mentioned he could play five positions at the next level. At what position do you think he would have the greatest impact?
And the floodgates veritably open with comparisons to other players. Most are corners, but some don't make any sense so the ones that do make sense are split between CB, S, and offense: Take your pick from:
- Joe Haden, CB, Florida/Cleveland Browns. This was Rivals' rather bizarre shot at a comparison, one that starts out with "physically, Haden and Peppers aren't very similar." They do assert that Haden and Peppers are both "strong, physical cornerbacks" who will come up against the run. Haden was a HS QB, just about exclusively.
- Greg Reid, CB, FSU/St Louis Rams. Reid is apparently the nouveau Antione Winfield since he is 5'8" but Peppers's UA coach brought him up as a comparison point because he levels people: "He reminded me of Greg Reid. I’ve never seen a corner come down that fast underneath -- that aggressive. He is a corner that I think can hit like a linebacker. He wants to hit. He doesn’t want to stray from a hit. To be that muscular he has great fundamentals. I think he’s probably the most physical corner we have here.” This gentlemen then said he was going to be a safety/rover/hybrid guy after comparing him to a 5'8" corner.
- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU/Arizona. The most sensible CB comparison comes from Peppers himself, who notes their almost identical size. 247's Clint Brewster also cites Peterson in his evaluations.
- Reggie Bush, RB, USC/Lions. Since no one ventured a specific player who made sense when talking about Peppers's vast offensive potential, this one's mine. When searching for an offensive comparison, Scout's Scott Kennedy started talking about De'Anthony Thomas, a 165-pound dude when he entered college. Bush is now listed at 203 on his NFL bio and has the same height as Peppers; Peppers can make a legit claim to his explosiveness. Peppers projects as a RB/WR space hybrid type guy more than a Green-style pounder.
- Eric Berry, S, Tennessee/Chiefs. Kennedy did bring up an interesting name whilst fighting himself about where to play Peppers: Berry, a box safety/hybrid space player/all-around-pain: "I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss. He is that kind of a player. Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”
Meanwhile, the guy you may have heard of mentioned above in You May Remember Me From Such Players as spans all of these things: a corner, return guy, and occasional wide receiver at Michigan, Charles Woodson spent time at corner, safety, and nickel in the NFL, excelling at all three. As the NFL game became more spread out, Woodson flipped inside to provide the triple threat skills the ideal HSP manages: blitz, cover, and support the run. A former Stanford player lays out Peppers' ability in that department:
Peppers shows on video to be a very tough player and a violent tackler. If he does, as most expect, end up on the defensive side of the ball, his reaction skills could place him in the role of a top-end cornerback. However, his willingness and ability to strike and his blitzing competence could make Peppers an excellent safety, given that he is already around six feet tall and 200 pounds, or a corner who could master the nickelback role when necessary. He closes well on run plays and does so with a purpose, making him an all-around football player well worthy of his gaudy offer list.
Erase the first word in that evaluation and it may as well read "Woodson."
Now… take a look at the Michigan roster and think back to what they were doing with the defense in spring: one high safety, cornerbacks in your grill, one definitively box safety plunging down to the line to disrupt things. Generally it is harder to make the big game-changing impact from a safety spot, but if you've got the skillset it is possible—Berry was the fifth pick in the draft—and Peppers seems to have it.
What about next year? Expect a bit of a slow start if Peppers does slot in at corner. Paramus used Peppers mostly as a safety, so the finer points of tight coverage are things he'll have to develop. His UA position coach:
“Maybe he needs to work on just the biggest fundamentals of a cornerback,” Cox said. “We all know he’s aggressive now so it’s now work on reading the routes a little quicker, reading the quarterback drops, understanding the pass drops a little better.
“He’s more run oriented. You can tell he wants to play run, run, run -- sit back a little more and work on your passing routes, work on the quarterback drops and your receiver breaks.”
"I definitely want to improve on my hip flexibility," Peppers said. "I know that I've been ranked and seen as the top cornerback in the country, but people don't realize that it's actually a pretty new position for me. I don't have a lot of experience there. Given that, I know I need to continue to learn about the position and learn how to understand it. Once I really understand and grasp it and am able to combine it with my athletic ability, the sky will be the limit for me at the position."
Perhaps this would be arrogant, except literally everyone else who has described Peppers's potential has echoed it. So it's just normal.
Don't expect him to take too long, though. Unlike Brandon Watson he's had to do a variety of things in a variety of ways. As a bonus, various coaches say he picks things up quickly. His high school coach:
“He's playing safety for us and our defense is really a complicated type defense. We don’t sit in one thing. We combo cover. He’s used as a robber, he blitzes, he makes calls on the field himself, the check coverages. We tried to broaden his football horizon and say you know what, you’re one of the top-rated kids in the country, you’re going to learn the game big time and we’re going to put a lot on you.”
If Michigan does chuck him in at safety he could win the starting job opposite Wilson quickly. Probably not opener quickly; Big Ten play is a possibility.
I was in Camp Boundary Corner before doing this evaluation and now I'm torn between that and Safety Of Doom who moves down to play nickel/SAM against spread teams, sort of like Stevie Brown except riding an avalanche of dinosaurs. I won't regard any move as a bad sign, but rather an an attempt to get him on the field.
"I treat Jabrill like he's one of our coaches," Partridge says. "I'll tell him things that I would never tell other players. I treat him like one of the coaches because he can handle it, he gets it."
Why Charles Woodson? You're damn right I'm breaking out the big one. If not for Peppers, then for who?
And it is a super-tight comparison anyway. Peppers and Woodson are both burly boundary corner types with the physicality to get in the box and put a guy on the ground. Peppers was the top cornerback in the country; Woodson was also but just wasn't rated like it. Dynamic skills extend to offense, where return jobs and opportunities to moonlight as a slot receiver beckon. Same size, same skillset, same everything.
Guru Reliability: High. All say the same thing, was scouted top to bottom for years, all star game appearance.
Variance: Low. Already physically ready. Some question about experience at the cornerback spot but CB is a location about athleticism above all. Has 87 backup options if CB doesn't work out.
Ceiling: Can't hold us.
General Excitement Level: Yowza.
Projection: Michigan's jam-packed corner situation makes things a little questionable in year one. Is he displacing one of Taylor/Countess/Lewis? Well… maybe. None of those guys bring the size Peppers does to the table and that boundary corner spot is just begging for a guy who has the size and athleticism he does. But that'll happen gradually, as has been the case for all Michigan cornerback standouts past: about half a year working his way into the lineup before a mid-season promotion to the starting job.
Taylor departs after this year so the boundary spot should be his for the next two or three years, probably two.
The other option is for Peppers to be a heavily box-oriented safety and hybrid space player. It is not a terrible idea what with Michigan in possession of Lewis and Stribling for the next three years plus Countess for the next two; guys like Peppers can have the same level of impact elite corners do and the potential upgrade at SS looks like a bigger one than the potential upgrade at CB.
And what about the other side of the ball? He'll be given every opportunity to take kickoff and punts from day one; Norfleet is going to have to hold him off. Working him into the offense is probably something for 2015 and beyond. Once that milestone is hit, though, you'd have to be nuts not to at least explore the possibility.
OR: JABRILL PEPPERS AND COMFORTING UNCERTAINTY
Three receivers make this post. This guy isn't one of them.
For the first time in years, Michigan's depth chart isn't patched together with duct tape and hope, so the incoming freshmen of 2014 don't have as many opportunities for early playing time as past classes. This is worth celebrating, especially when one particular freshman is poised to make a big impact at a position with some experienced depth anyway.
After Jabrill Peppers, there isn't a clear role for any of the incoming freshmen, and getting this list up to five involved a few reach picks. Again, this is good. Without further ado, here's the list.
1. JABRILL PEPPERS, CB/KR/PR (6'1, 210; 5*, 247 Composite #1 ATH/CB)
Surprise! Despite the presence of four older cornerbacks with significant game experience (Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Jourdan Lewis, and Channing Stribling), Peppers is simply too talented to keep off the field. He should see immediate time in Michigan's nickel package, either as the nickelback or playing on the outside with Countess in the slot, and as the season progresses he'll challenge Taylor for a starting spot—with his size, athleticism, and ability in run support, Peppers is an ideal fit on the boundary.
With apologies to Fearless Leader, I believe Peppers will make an instant impact in the return game, as well. While Dennis Norfleet consistently threatened to break long returns, they rarely materialized last year. Michigan had just one kickoff return of 40+ yards (T-89th nationally) and none of 50+; just two punt returns went for 20+ (T-58th), one 30+, and zero 40+. Averages were middling at best: 49th in kickoff returns and 91st in punt returns. Fielding kickoff returns, at the very least, would be a great way to get Peppers the ball without overwhelming him with too much responsibility. If he has a role on offense this year, it'll likely be limited to just a handful of plays.
2. FREDDY CANTEEN, SLOT (6'1, 170; 4*, #41 WR)
Canteen is the player going solo/the one with insanely quick feet
Slot receiver is one of a small number of spots with total uncertainly on the depth chart. Just two players return there: Norfleet (six career "catches" that were actually end-arounds) and sophomore Da'Mario Jones, who only saw time on special teams last year. While Doug Nussmeier may have a different outlook, thus far the coaches have been hesitant to give Norfleet a significant role. A relative unknown committed to Central Michigan before Michigan came calling, Jones never rose above middling three-star even after flipping his commitment. This spot is wide open.
Enter Freddy Canteen, who went from completely off the radar when his high school didn't play actual games in 2012 to a hot camp commodity with ever-rising rankings in 2013. At 6'1, he's got the size this coaching staff covets, and his route-running is very advanced for an incoming freshman. On top of that, he's got speed to burn and a phenomenal name. What more can one ask for? It wouldn't surprise me at all if Canteen, an early enrollee, is the starter in the slot from day one.
3. IAN BUNTING, TE/FUNCHESS (6'7, 233; 4*, #11 TE)
Photo credit: J. Geil/Chicago Sun-Times
Bunting wouldn't have cracked this list a couple weeks ago; then Jake Butt went down with a torn ACL. Now Michigan is down to one tight end that actually catches passes, and that's only if you believe Devin Funchess is still a tight end. AJ Williams is almost exclusively a blocker (and he's still working on that), while Jordan Paskorz is a former linebacker without a catch to his name. Khalid Hill comes off a redshirt and could factor in as an H-back, but that's about it as far as tight end depth goes. There's room for another pass-catcher.
The question is whether or not Bunting will be at all ready to put his hand in the dirt; even in high school, he did most of his damage split out wide. At 233 pounds (on a 6'7 frame), he needs to bulk up significantly to be able to hold his own as a blocker. As an enormous receiver with great hands, however, he can at least see the field as a third-down/red-zone specialist; putting him on the field with Funchess poses major matchup problems for opposing defenses.
4. BRYAN MONE, NT (6'4, 328; 4*, #8 DT)
Another player on the list due to injury on the current roster, Mone could be forced into duty at nose tackle if Ondre Pipkins is limited in his return from a torn ACL. The only other true NT on the roster is redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst, who was listed at 270 pounds on last year's roster.
Mone's stock fell from near-consensus top-50 player to borderline top-100 prospect (or, in Rivals' case, flat-out three-star) after he looked overweight and out of shape at the Under Armour game. Mone put on a ton of weight in a short period of time before his senior season and it clearly affected his conditioning. Luckily for Michigan, he's enrolled early, so efforts to turn bad weight into good are already underway. It's highly unlikely Mone is ready to play a major role, but Michigan might need him to hold his own in sporadic rotation snaps and short-yardage situations.
5. MICHAEL FERNS, ILB (6'3, 235; 4*, #6 ILB)
Another early enrollee, Ferns isn't likely to see much early action on defense. James Ross and Desmond Morgan have the two ILB spots locked down, and both have viable backups with playing experience in Ben Gedeon and Joe Bolden. If there's an injury, however, Ferns is the incoming linebacker best suited to see the field with his size and status as an EE.
Ferns also fits right in on special teams—with his athleticism, he could make an immediate impact on coverage units. This will be a frustrating way to burn a redshirt if Ferns doesn't get some in-game experience at linebacker, but it's inevitable that the coaches will burn a linebacker's redshirt for special teams, and it may as well be the one most ready to see the field.
HONORABLE MENTION: WRs DRAKE HARRIS & MOE WAYS
Both Harris and Ways look like college-ready receivers; Harris benefits from enrolling early, while Ways has the bulk and blocking ability to see the field as a freshman. They'd be higher on the list if playing time on the outside wasn't so hard to come by. Funchess and Jehu Chesson should lock down the starting spots, Amara Darboh is another starting candidate now that he's healthy, and two other options come off redshirts in Jaron Dukes and Csont'e York.
Harris is coming off a hamstring injury that cost him his entire senior season. Ways made great strides from his junior to senior seasons but could still use some, er, seasoning. It'd be great if Michigan was able to redshirt both of these guys, especially if Canteen can also contribute on the outside.