I had just been complaining to Seth about Michigan overlooking the diminutive speedster in their backyard, and lo and behold Detroit King's Dennis Norfleet woke up and faxed a letter of intent to Michigan. Norfleet is 5'6" on a good day but "simply electric."
If you're wondering how a guy like that fits into a pro-style offense, think Darren Sproles. When Michigan has a passing offense to be feared, a guy like Norfleet can take advantage of the space underneath to tear up defenses trying to defend against four verts.
More later as I assemble a full post here.
4*, #19 RB, #163 overall
4*, #5 APB #236 overall
3*, 75, #81 RB
4*, #7 APB #169 overall
Dennis Norfleet is not tall! He is short. When sites are being generous they say he's 5'7"; when they're not he's 5'6". Only one source, that SpartanMag, has bent the truth all the way to 5'9".
But who cares? If you're 5'9" or 5'6" the only way you latch on to a major scholarship offer is by being the quarkiest of quarkbacks. Norfleet is that:
One of the most explosive players in the class, Norfleet has great acceleration, open field elusiveness and a natural knack for making defenders miss. Has excellent skills in the pass game, and is a dangerous receiver. Is also a great return man. He is not the biggest back, although solidly built, but he is a guy who can be used in a variety of roles, including slot receiver.
Three out of four scouting services agree with that assesment; ESPN is notably less enthused. Their evaluation was last updated in early June, though, before Norfleeet tore through a bunch of 7 on 7s and his senior year. Since he didn't go to an All Star Game (by choice—Norfleet runs track and going to one would kill his eligibility thanks to some outdated MHSAA regulations), ESPN never checked back in.
Flashes good quickness and explosive but lacks great top-end speed and a second gear. … For his smaller size you would like to see more elusiveness and speed in the open-field. Looks to lack really loose hips. Does not appear to have difference-maker qualities when projecting at the major college level or the size to handle high carries and run between the tackles.
This is an opinion shared by no one. Select highlights from his 7 on 7 tour of the country:
PITTSBURGH: "There are a select few players who can make defenders in position totally whiff in one-hand touch, 7-on-7 football. There may be only one Dennis Norfleet, who seems to make a play or two like that every game. On one particular play, Norfleet put a move on two defenders at one time, splitting the pair and taking the ball in for a touchdown"
RUTGERS: "Norfleet also has good hands out of the backfield, makes people miss even in touch football and he was also solid on defense. He may not be big, but he can be a special scat back in a spread offense."
SOME PLACE CALLED BADGERSPORTS: "Norfleet is one of the better pass-catching running backs in the country. He was comfortable running the wheel route and taking it deep as well as catching swing passes and turning them into yards. He is incredibly quick after the catch, showing great burst in getting to the edge."[Caveat: does say "not the fastest player for his size."]
MIDWEST SHOWCASE: "Although small in stature, Norfleet is hard to check in press coverage because defensive backs have trouble getting their hands on him. After creating separation at the line of scrimmage, Norfleet's speed and quickness in and out of his cuts usually allow him to find plenty of space to catch the football."
And those were just the camps that recruiting analysts were at. Last summer Norfleet hit up 7 on 7s($) at Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Mississippi State as well. A lack of offers from those schools should dampen your enthusiasm, but I don't care much. Tiny backs get lost in the shuffle all the time.
After all that, Norfleet put some pads on and annihilated Brother Rice($) in the Big Day Prep Showdown event at Eastern, causing Josh Helmholdt to deploy all the love he'd saved up by not thinking Chris Wormley is great:
The open-field jukes and stop-and-start plays he breaks off into long gains make the highlight reel, but what is less recognized is that Norfleet is a great between-the-tackles runner. He has powerful legs and the burst to exploit the smallest of holes. Norfleet showed once again that he can be an every down back, carrying 34 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Helmholdt is alone in his belief that Norfleet can work within the tackles, but he has seen him an awful lot, and calls him a "phenomenal receiver" in that electric article linked above.
"He's better than anybody we got, he looks like Barry Sanders of high school to me," said Allen Park coach Tom Hoover. "He's for real. We don't have anybody good enough to catch him. He was beating our guys, and we haven't seen that all year. The flow goes there, you have to get here. You've got to go 5 feet, he's got to go 20, and he beats you there."
Until yesterday, Norfleet had been a Cincinnati commit, selecting the Bearcats over Michigan State and Tennessee presumably because he felt the UC spread was a better fit for his talents.
This year he rushed for 2,033 yards and 27 touchdowns as King reached the D2 semifinals. As a junior it was 1880 yards and 31 touchdowns.
FAKE 40 TIME
Norfleet also put up outstanding testing numbers at Alabama, running a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 4.17 shuttle and posting a 33-inch vertical jump. His play impressed Crimson Tide running backs coach Bobby Williams and had several other coaches on staff commenting on his play.
I give it two fakes out of five.
Senior clips are above. Here's his junior highlight reel:
Yessssss. Schools should recruit guys like Norfleet like they do kickers: have at least one on the roster at all times and maybe stash a second away so you've always got a quality specialist. With Justice Hayes Michigan now has two bullets in the space-player chamber.
Norfleet will instantly be in the mix for both return jobs. While Jeremy Gallon is likely to hold on to punt return duties, kickoff returns could use a jolt of athleticism after Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith split duties this year.
As far as a role on offense, he'll probably spend a year backing up Vincent Smith before fighting with Hayes for third down back. If Michigan really is moving to a "pro style" offense they'll have to define whether that means aimlessly running power over and over or pairing guys like Hayes and Norfleet with Shane Morris to create a Brees/Brady-style deadly passing spread. Survey says: some of both. Norfleet could have an impact in the former and will be a centerpiece in the latter.
Note: if you're one of the folks hoping that Michigan will retain some spread aspects to its offense even after Denard is gone, this is the kind of player who can force that to happen. I would greatly enjoy an offense that used Morris and the crew of receivers he's busy recruiting for 2013 as an every-play weapon you have to react to and then hit you underneath with Norfleet when you did.
Jake sucks. He has padded stats. His 5 month old son needs him to stay home and in his life. Stop chasing dreams. You are a dad. The opening players couldn't understand how he even made it there. OADDED STATS, he is no QB.
Jake Rodrigues is a California quarterback who committed to Oregon. He apparently has a kid, and some people aren't too happy about him going to college out of state and abandoning his fatherly duties...