2012 Recruiting: Ben Braden
Previously: S Jeremy Clark, S Allen Gant, S Jarrod Wilson, CB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB Kaleb Ringer, LB Joe Bolden, DE Chris Wormley, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, DT Matt Godin, DT Willie Henry, and DT Ondre Pipkins.
|Rockford, MI – 6'6", 308|
|Scout||3*, #40 OT|
|Rivals||3*, #38 OT, #8 MI|
|ESPN||3*, #50 OT, #7 MI|
|24/7||3*, #40 OT, #10 MI|
|Other Suitors||Michigan State, Wisconsin, Syracuse|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Tim. Ace scouts Braden vs. East Kentwood. wresler120 does the same vs Lowell.|
Ace scouts Rockford v. East Kentwood:
There was a time long ago in a galaxy that seems far away but is actually this one that Brady Hoke's ability to recruit was a big question mark. Almost two months after Signing Day, other schools had started locking down their classes but Michigan was bereft. Ben Braden and Caleb Stacey changed that by committing on the same day. Stacey would later decommit and end up at Cincinnati, which is close to home; Braden had no such thoughts. Braden's commitment anniversary was noted by mgouser uniqenam on the message board:
I thought it interesting to note that a year ago today Michigan got its first 2012 commit, and by this time in 2013 we're already more than halway done with this class. Really highlights the speed with which this class has been built.
Now is not then. But that's not really about Ben Braden.
Things about Ben Braden: he is large, and raw, and raw, and large. I can't tell you how many articles I've waded through that note his late transition from hockey to football($) after a massive growth spurt turned him into Zdeno Chara and his skating couldn't keep up. He first drew attention when he showed up at Michigan's camp having never played a snap of high school football; when he committed he had all of one season on the OL($) under his belt.
So it's reasonable that the scouting services were a little cautious about ranking him highly, and reasonable that they'd make technique concerns a major issue in their analysis. Here's Allen Trieu:
Power And Strength
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
A kid who has really grown into his body and now has the type of body that could allow him to play early in college. Moves well at that size, showing surprising athleticism for a bigger kid. Naturally strong and a good drive blocker, he has improved as a pass blocker, but is still working on his technique.
We detect some lower body stiffness however his balance and agility allow him effectively play in space; from a three point stance this prospect comes off the ball low and hard when drive blocking; displays good initial quickness and explosion; his fit and pad level along with a sound blocking base and persistent leg drive usually results in immediate movement. … demonstrates the quickness and agility to gain leverage when reaching on shaded down linemen and we feel he is capable of consistently getting a hat on active 1st and 2nd level defenders. This is a tough aggressive finisher who should be able to successfully execute all the run blocks at the next level. His long arms should be an asset in pass protection… his overall posture and balance will need to improve. Although we like his upper body playing strength, all areas of hand use will need refinement.
And… that is fine by me. Technique is dead last on my list of things that are important to find in your offensive linemen. They all redshirt, very few get decent position coaching, and even fewer ever get rocked enough to have a Come To Technique moment. You get 90% of your technique in college.
More important in my book are—hey!—feet, power, strength, and size. The evaluations that come along with the three-star ratings offered by those scouting services sound downright great. If you're thinking there's a disconnect between those evaluations and his rankings, I'm with you. There's even a disconnect between the rankings and this awesome opposing coach quote:
"I've never seen a human being move as well as that Ben Braden at this level. I was standing on that field, and I didn't feel good about putting my kids in front of him. He's huge, and he's a really good player."
Or this nearly as awesome opposing coach quote($):
"He is a specimen. That guy is the best offensive lineman I've seen, hands down," Zengunis said. "He's phenomenal, and a rare occurrence where you get a 6-7, 300-pound kid that can move with that kind of athleticism."
Or this pretty good plain ol' coach quote:
Ben is just a massive people moving machine. His rare combination of size and strength that is growing by the month allows him to be a physically imposing presence. He is an aggressive force with great straight-ahead and lateral speed."
I have an operative theory: Braden only showed at Michigan's camp after his commitment, and while he did very well there the only guys who saw him were the local experts and they did not have enough pull to get him bumped once the season started and Braden started taking on iffy smallish West Michigan competition.
So here's the camp stuff. From Rivals' summer wrap series($):
…showed up in Ann Arbor for Michigan's summer camp at 6-7, 315 pounds with little fat and a lot of muscle. His increased strength was evident in one-on-ones where several Division I-caliber defensive linemen were stopped cold immediately after locking on with Braden.
The talk of the town so far has been Michigan commit Ben Braden. The Rockford product is now up to 319-lbs and moving well enough that we have changed our stance on him. Previously thought to be a right tackle or guard prospect, we believe he has a chance to be a college left tackle. He was excellent in 1-1s. He is very strong, evident in his initial punch and ability to lock on and control defensive linemen. He put more than a few guys in the dirt and was very very good today.
…dedicated himself in the weight room this offseason, adding good weight and getting up to 319-lbs. Even at that size, he was moving well enough to be considered a left tackle prospect. He's strong, technique is improving and he's more athletic than previously thought. He has a chance to move into the top 7-8 in-state and the four-star range when rankings are updated.
And here's what the local guys said during the season. Helmholdt($):
We continue to be amazed at how well put together physically Braden is. At 6-7 and 320 pounds he almost looks lean. His weight is proportioned well throughout his body, and he all muscle with very little extra weight. Trotting him out against high school competition is almost unfair. … He fires out fast and low, and is able to get into defensive linemen before they are able to react. From there, he simply overwhelms defensive linemen who either do their best to stay on their feet or concede and get pancaked.
Braden is not a complete lineman yet, though. While his initial burst is good, he is still a little heavy on his feet and this comes out in his pass pro. Speed rushers do have the ability to beat him around the outside, and as the game goes on his feet appear to slow down.
That scouting report had Braden above Terry Richardson and Shane Morris as Helmholdt ranked the most impressive players he'd seen over the past few weeks. (FWIW, a kid who signed with CMU was #1, so maybe not 100% predictive of college success.)
…had a great game out there, showing excellent feet, technique and strength, particularly in pass protection. … a people mover. A kid who's big enough, strong enough and athletic enough to lock on and drive defenders out of the play. As I've said before, the biggest thing I'd like to see him add is more of a mean streak. He has fantastic tools though, and he showed tonight that he is much farther along technically than most kids who have only been playing the position for two years. Wolverine fans should be excited about this one.
And here's the rating: unchanged, three stars, next OL we can't really predict that well. This is the point during hypothetical recruiting gymnastics where we pay up front for the judges to take a second look at things. I protest!
Okay, it's not all sunshine and roses. When Ace checked out Braden against East Kentwood he came back impressed with Braden's hugeness but a little worried about its relative lack of impact on the game:
Along with Braden's size, his quick feet appear to be his best asset. Rockford pulled Braden on many of their running plays, and he's very fast in getting off the ball, through the hole, and into the second level, where he can ideally crush the poor linebacker standing in his way. While the latter part happened a couple times, there were several instances in which Braden simply did not find a man to block—I am by no means an expert on offensive line play, but it was disconcerting how many plays ended with him running five or ten yards downfield looking for someone to hit.
This brings me to my biggest point of concern about Braden—one that has been voiced elsewhere—and that's the lack of the proverbial 'mean streak'. In a game in which Braden regularly was called upon to pull and block linebackers, all of whom he outweighed by at least 100 pounds, I counted exactly two plays in which he put a defender on his backside.
…Braden showed why he's a Michigan recruit—his combination of size and quickness is really tough to match—but he's definitely a work-in-progress.
Tim Sullivan scouted Braden's game against Lowell($), coming back with this hilarious picture…
#26: "I told you I was going to get my older brother to beat you up."
TomVH: "I'm totally taller than #26."
…and some Real Talk scouting:
He looked very solid as a pulling lineman and on outside zone running plays. For a guy as enormous as he is, the agility he demonstrated was outstanding.
… There were a few times he had a defensive lineman under control, and one big burst could have buried the kid. He only did that on a couple of occasions, and missed some opportunities to deliver a knockout blow.
His pass protection was also just okay. … [got] a little complacent in his protection, just leaning up against the kid to not give any ground. It did the trick last night, but against better competition, he's going to have to be sure to keep his blocking base underneath his upper body.
Trieu also noted a desire to see Braden display "a little more fire and nastiness" after seeing his as a senior amongst the usual slate of praise ("all the tools" physically, pass protection seems "effortless"). Maybe that's just an artifact of playing against guys a lot smaller than him.
These days Michigan's only recruiting guys that the services think are tackles—of the nine guys Michigan has acquired in the Hoke era, only David Dawson is listed as a guard by Rivals—so most of these OL evaluations are going to have to figure out how you fit all those guys in a line by judging each player's potential at guard. (Center seems taken care of between Jack Miller and Patrick Kugler.)
Braden's guard potential is low. While there were very occasional mentions of the possibility in my tab thicket, the guy is 6'7" with long arms and decent or better feet. He'll compete at both tackle positions first, with guard a plan B if that doesn't work out.
"He's kind of a brawler. He's big, powerful, and he's quick," Rockford coach Ralph Munger said. "He blocks well on the run inside and outside, and his pass protection technique is excellent. He's just a big old, rough, tough, lunch-pail type of young man."
Why Jon Runyan? There's a lot of conflicting information above about how mean Braden is, but everyone agrees he's an amazingly large person with good agility. He arrives at Michigan at 308, but the sort of 308 that will see coaches continue to put pounds on a not-at-all sloppy frame. So now we're searching for truly huge right tackle types, and 6'7", 330-pound John Runyan seems to fit the bill best. Braden will have to significantly amp up the mean streak and get his technique down to reach those heights, obviously.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. They all agree, but then they open their mouths and they don't agree with themselves.
Variance: High. Has the frame to be a star, but is a long way from that ceiling with just two years of football under his belt. Also as a general rule, OL are less predictable than any other spot.
Ceiling: High. Maybe doesn't have the agility to be a killer left tackle, but can be an All Conference type on the right. (Shane Morris lefty complications are ignored for purposes of not confusing people.)
General Excitement Level: High. A boom or bust type-ish but I like him better than the recruiting services do. Meh rankings offset by early Wisconsin offer, since Wisconsin knows what they're doing when it comes to OL, and the glabdanged recruiting analysts themselves, who talked about him like he was a much higher-rated guy.
Projection: Redshirt unless disaster strikes the tackles, and even then chances are Kalis is more likely to see the field this year. He concurs, FWIW. After that, another year of cooling his heels behind Schofield and Lewan unless Lewan changes his mind and enters the draft. We'll take him at his word and assume that doesn't happen.
In 2014 both tackle spots open up, then. Magnuson will be the top candidate on the left, and Kalis will either be the top candidate on the right or a returning starter at guard. If it's the latter, Braden will have a year on the various tackles Michigan has committed and seems like the favorite to lock down the spot. If not, he's probably stuck as a career backup. Anyone surveying the current depth chart finds that a reassuring prospect. The bet here is Kalis ends up at guard and Braden is a quality three-year starter.
I've changed my mind from earlier: Ben Braden is the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year.