JT Floyd wears 8, Chris Floyd wore 7.
A-Train, Perry, Hart. Photos archived from MGoBlue.com
Here is what has Michigan football fans all aflutter this week: With two 4-star running backs committed to our class, do we still have room for a 5-star running back? #firstworldproblems. Since this is our concern, I thought we'd take a look at the prospective depth charts that past Michigan RBs committed to and see if the prospective mountain for 2013 prospects is any harder than the typical Michigan starting tailback's, prospectively speaking.
When the next class arrives in 2013 Toussaint and Hopkins—a permanent fullback I mention because he's the B.J. Askew type of fullback who will eat up carries—will be seniors, and Vincent Smith will be gone. Barring attrition, the next generation, i.e. the guys an additional 2013 commit should expect to be competing with, will then look something like this:
Three RBs in the 2013 class gives us potentially five freshmen competing for carries with a sophomore and a junior. "Barring attrition" would almost be a fool's gamble given the history of the position in all my years of following Michigan, except Hoke's program has so far (very small sample) been actually kind of remarkable in holding onto guys—policy is to give them all the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway we have the dudes; if Iowa RBHG gets bored one day he will find too many sacrifices for even his mighty, smite-y hand. This means Michigan is doubtful to take any more add-on running backs to pack the roster unless they or someone on the list is switching to defense. However there is absolutely room—even a need perhaps—for a high-profile back in this class.
The recruiting profiles of a lot of these guys suggests any could be beatable by a hypothetical freshman 5-star. Norfleet and Johnson were both very under-the-radar guys. The former and Justice Hayes are more like scat-backs who could as easily end up as slot-kick returners (though from yesterday's Spring video it looked like Hayes has bulked up a bit since last year, or else someone else is wearing 5. Insiders?). Asking if Shallman is really a running back is entering the realm of media cottage industry. Rawls is so Kevin Grady. At this point Smith is a 4-star to Scout, an Anton Campbell Memorial "no idea, but I guess he committed to Michigan" 3-star to Rivals and a guy named Smith to the other sites. Throw a dart at that group in two years and you could hit anything from (respectively) Mark Ingram/Steve Breaston/Barry Sanders/Mike Hart/Ron Dayne/Eddie George Except Faster to six Brackenses.
Of all positions tailback seems the most freshman-friendly, so it's not as necessary to stockpile today for 2017. On the other hand if you look at Michigan history the lesson is MOAR TAILBACKS. In fact Michigan's great running backs of the last two decades have mostly committed to apparent depth charts way more jammed with highly rated players and established starters:
The thing that's readily apparent is the youth. Michigan averaged about two recruits per year at RB, and graduated one a year. Some didn't move far—Chris Floyd, B.J. Askew, and more recently Stephen Hopkins switched to a type of ball-carrying fullback. A good many switched to defense. A good many quit the team too. But look at the depth charts so many highly rated backs committed to:
The list of guys who didn't commit to imposing depth charts full of established and/or hyped underclassmen reads thusly: Kelly Baraka, David Underwood, Pierre Rembert, Darnell Hood, Alijah Bradley, Jerome Jackson. The moral: if you want to be the starting tailback for Michigan you always have to compete against other highly rated backs. This isn't coach speak; it's the standard. A running back who commits here is almost 50% likely to end up at another position or another school. Standard operating procedure is to arrive behind an established junior star and last year's freshman phenom, and if you manage to earn carries against those guys there's still two more classes of blue chip backs arriving after you to steal them.
Enough Carries to Go Around
So two things are true: Michigan has for a long time recruited many more guys than they need at the running back position, and the position has experienced a lot of attrition and position switches. The latter was probably by design; Lloyd Carr recruited at least Weathers, Woody Hankins (who was an RB as a freshman and as a junior), Ian Gold, Jon Shaw, Charles Drake and Darnell Hood with the idea of a defensive swap in mind. Anyway it never stopped the parade of hyped backs to Ann Arbor, despite the fact that until 2008 the coaches always preferred a feature back kind of system. A quick look at the numbers shows there were a lot of carries slipping through the starters' grasps:
|Year||Starting Tailback||Class||Carries||ALL RB Carries||% RB Carries|
|Total||ALL STARTERS (not itals)||--||3,832||6,881||55.7%|
Note: In years with two players listed, the one in italics is the nominal backup who got carries due to the nominal starter's injury. Their stories are intricate and known. Anyhoo, speaking to this year's freshmen, if anything it's not the other backs they should be worried about; it's Denard taking carries away from the entire RB corps.
The closest comparison to the situation for a hypothetical three-man 2013 class is probably 2004 (the year Hart won the job), since there's a lot of guys on the roster now whose profiles would suggest "just a guy" more than "future star." Any year between 1997 and 2000 makes a good case study for a seemingly insurmountable climb for any one recruit, but even in the heart of the A-Train years there were plenty of carries that went to guys like Justin Fargas and B.J. Askew. There were also plenty of Ryan Beard/Walter Cross/Ray Jackson/Pat McCall types who came with hype and couldn't crack the depth chart.
This is what Wyatt Shallman and Deveon Smith are signing up for. Given Michigan's history of stockpiling talent at this position, adding a five-star to this class is no deviation from the norm; in fact it would probably bring us closer to a "typical" depth chart. Fitz will be a senior when these guys arrive, and none of Drake Johnson/Dennis Norfleet/Justice Hayes/Thomas Rawls at this point should seem more insurmountable than, say, a Jerome Jackson. On the other hand an Isaac commit would mean carrying eight scholarship backs in 2013, something we haven't done since 1997. It's way too early to predict this kind of stuff but I'm sure jamiemac wouldn't call you crazy for a Justice Hayes to receiver prop. And while we can't ever plan for transfers, busts, or injuries, and I certainly hope all of these guys play out their eligibility, I don't think anybody is willing to bet on that. If Michigan wants to take another blue chip, history says there is room and opportunities available. However it's not the year Michigan can afford a scholarship for a depthy flier dude to keep up alumni relations or something like that.
JT Floyd wears 8, Chris Floyd wore 7.
You're right it's Howard. That was supposed to be a mean picture of Floyd though -- I don't know how I uploaded the wrong one.
Do not taunt the Iowa RBHG! His wrath is boundless!
That was definitely a Berkley Edwards reference at the end correct?
Haha I busted out laughing at that little dig...
Great analysis. Put a stamp on it, and mail it to Ty Isaac.
After watching every one of Woodson's games in High School, I was so excited to see what he could do offensively at the next level. It's not every year that someone puts up 2000+ yards and 38 TDs in Division I football in Ohio. He was a High School All-American at Running Back along with DeAndre Hardeman (Texas A&M) and Ahman Green (Nebraska). Looking at the 1994, 1995 and 1996 running back commits, he easily was the best of the bunch and I have no doubt he would have dominated. I don't think it would be out of the question to think he could have put up a Heisman campaign at RB as well. Alas, he chose defense, that's too bad...
I wouldn't say it was THAT bad.
I'm still not sure if he was serious...
I obviously love what CW brought to Michigan. Most of all dominating OSU (being from Ohio and all). I just always wondered what could have been. It's not like Clarence Williams was highly recruited or anything nor did he really produce that much during his Michigan career so he had no competition in his own class.
I'm not saying Freshman Woodson would have played in front of Junior Biakabutuka, but he would have split carries, no doubt. Then in 1996 and 1997 he would have been the star. I was never really impressed with Chris Howard or Chris Floyd, they were just bodies in my opinion.
I understand he enjoyed defense. No one was going to watch him play safety in High School, I'll tell you that much. I certainly remember him running for 335 yards and 7 TDs against Oregon Clay. He also dominated Massillon Washington in the playoffs for 200+ yards, unfortunately they lost. Can't say I remember one stand out defensive play, he looked adequate, but he didn't look like the superstar he became.
The only defensive football player to win the Heisman. A historic first that can never be repeated for himself and for Michigan. He also was a devastating offense weapon on key downs.
While I'm sure he would have been a great back, I was at the 1998 Rose Bowl and was awed by him. His interception is a moment that I will remember forever. The television coverage did not do that interception justice, watching from the 50 you would have sworn that man could fly.
A man who played on both sides of the ball at a level to which only a few of the best players can aspire. Alas? I must disagree. He showed us greatness across different facets of the game rarely found in a single player in the modern era. I need not pine for what might have been, Woodson created more joy and splendor in his play, than any of us had any right to expect.
If I remember my Woodson lore correctly (I think this was the BTN special on him) the fact that Michigan was offering him as a defensive back was a big seller. Most schools figured he'd want to be an RB but Woodson wanted the challenge of DB. I think he was a little tall and lean for the Big Ten of his day -- with all the great defenses M played against I'm not sure how his body would have stood up.
He was far more valuable as, oh, the best corner in the history of the conference.
will make Braylon Edwards quite unhappy.
Seth, simply an awesome pile of work. So glad you're a contributor here.
The only area where I have any issue is in that which you glossed over with the Hopkins-Askew reference, fullbacks. I think I understand your distinction -- that Hopkins, Askew (and the Rodriguez-era Grady) are ball-carrying fullbacks, whereas a Shea or a Dudley were never allowed to touch it unless it was thrown to them. Shea and Dudley also happened to be huge, peaking out at 251 and 249 respectively.
And then there's Shallman, a junior in HS already bigger than either of those guys when they were seniors in college. He's even heavier, already, than Ron Dayne. Seth, I'm just not buying he's a ball carrier.
I tracked FB carries in the spreadsheet but the piece was getting long and I didn't want to overly muddle things. I did take out the players who were recruited as fullbacks. We're also talking about radically different carry numbers. Here's the FBs who got 10 or more carries:
It's Askew the year Chris Perry got hurt and B.J. became the starter, and Askew the year Chris Perry was inconsistent and B.J. was the team MVP, then a big drop to RAWWWR Chris FLOYD!!! range. So really it's Chris Floyd and B.J. Askew. If you make Askew a running back (we used a lot of split sets anyway) then the fullbacks can safely be kept out of the equation. Hopkins's usage is more like Grady or Ray Jackson if you remember him. Less than 50 touches is not a major component of the offense. Less that 11 and it's Moundros (both of 'em)/Potempa/Dudley time.
I might get more into Shallman's size if I do another one of those things like I did for D-line. At first I thought he only looks gargantuan right now because we went from four years of Hart right into four years of spread offenses. But then Wyatt versus other big RBs:*
* These are recruiting weights. Many of these guys were listed an inch shorter on the Bentley Library.
Demetrius Smith is the closest in size. Among palyers who stated at RB there's Chris Perry and Anthony Thomas, both of whom were listed an inch shorter and 25-30 lbs. ligher, and both of whom were very fast: A-Train returned kicks as a freshman, and Perry exploded onto the depth chart with long runs as a freshman when he got big separation from pursuing safeties.
Among other big backs in recent B10 memory, Ron Dayne was about 235 as a freshman and was also 5'10. Duckett was 6'0 and 240. Eddie George was 6'3 but was built more like B.J. Askew than Wyatt Shallman.
However there is a possibleAl Borges connection to Brandon Jacobs, who won a Superbowl with the Giants in '07. Jacobs was legitimately Shallman's size or more and was used as a third man behind Cadillac and Ronnie at Auburn the year before Borges arrived. Jacobs transferred, but it's possible while watching in prep for taking over the Tigers offense that Borges noticed how they used Jacobs (who had 6.1 YPC in '03) and kept that in the back of his mind for what he'd like to do in the future.
I'm going to add him to my fantasy list of what Shallman becomes: Okoye, Gerhart, Dayne, Blount, Bunch
Yes, indeed these are "recruiting weights" and Shallman is just now learning how to parallel park. No reason to think he won't be even bigger in 18 months.
This discussion of RB size reminds me of Bob Perryman. He played RB for Michigan in the mid-eighties and was a third round draft pick of the Patriots. Back in those days, you could get a free program outside the stadium with rosters, a couple short features, and lots and lots of ads. In Perryman's first year, they had a typo on the roster and listed him at 275 pounds instead of 225. Remember, back in the mid-eighties, most offensive linemen were around 270-280 pounds. It would be the equivalent of seeing a 310 pound fullback today. Anyway, I remember seeing that and thinking we had an enormous RB that would just run over anyone in his path. I was a little disappointed to find out he was only 225, but Big Bob had a very nice M career. I think he ended up playing some fullback when Bo was messing around with the wishbone.
That we have really had a one-two punch at running back. And that year one of our punches got hurt for the rest of his (Michigan) career. And you have to go back to '94 for some really terrifying depth. Where you could put in 3 guys who would have been starters for a lot of the non-Hart last decade. Often with different running styles. The cut off just eliminates guys like Jesse "Housecat" Johnson, Vaughn-Powers, or the Boles-Hoard years...man we need more gold poop and get back to that, too.
I don't think it's right to say the profile is the same for Norfleet, a Rivals 4-star with offers from MSU and Tennessee, and Drake Johnson - a 2-star bumped up to 3 post-commitment, whose only offer outside of Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti was....no one.
At Winnfield Senior High School, Thomas starred on the basketball, track, and football teams. He set a state record with 106 career touchdowns while playing both running back and placekicker. He was named a first-team All-American and rated as the second-best running back in the country by the Prep Football Report.
Personally, I recall him being a huge recruiting get.
I was about to say the same. He was a big-time recruit, not the sleeper that the OP suggests he was.
I didn't suggest he was a sleeper at all. What I meant by that was he had three other guys in his class who were national recruits at RB, though two could be considered fullbacks. McCall was the more hyped between the two, but you're right: Thomas was a huge get.
1. "Demetrius Smith, FB, Oak Lawn, Illinois. 6'2", 270 lbs, 4.7 40. Smith is one of the top prospects in Illinois and the Midwest, and is ranked nationally at both the FB and DL positions. He is expected to challenge for playing time at FB as a freshman. Ranked as one of the top players in the nation in the NRA's preseason publication. Outstanding athlete who has returned kicks for his team. Smith reportedly has very little body fat despite his 270 lbs. Played his entire senior year despite a torn ACL, and still managed to rush for 417 yards and 6 TD's in a tailback dominated offense; on defense, made 92 tackles and 7 sacks. Has had knee surgery and is expected to recover completely."
no wonder perry had no NFL career, he was the only capable one on the roster for three years. his body must have been shot. i know he didn't get the most carries with Askew that one year, but i would wager he is right there for #2.
Rob Lytle, Harlan Huckaby, Gordie Bell, Russell Davis. All good (to great) RBs.
I always thought this was a concern about depth related to injuries, but I think it has more to do with recognizing high attrition rates for the position. These guys are all coming in as stars and they have to be patient in most cases.
I wonder if Michigan recruited fewer backs if there would be a significant drop in production. Some players are clearly duds (Underwood/Jackson/Grady) but others seem like they would have done will if given consistent opportunities (Fargas, even a guy like Mike Cox). Is some of the depth redundant? Would we have been better off if Underwood panned out and Hart sat behind him for a year? I suspect this position is over-recruited and that can be blamed for some of the deficienies the team had at various times along the lines and in the secondary.
An interesting extension would be comparing their relative success to recruiting rankings. Hard to find for years past, but I remember Fargas, Thomas, Gold, Baraka, Martin, Jackson, Underwood being highly pursued, while Hart and Biakabatuka were notable as success stories for under-the-radar types. I'd suspect its like anything else - recruiting hype has some correlation to success but is far from reliable.
so few answers.
Shocking to see how many RB's brought in were turned around into secondary kinds of guys. Not saying that they didn't have the skills in HS or didn't play those positions, but to see Charles Drake (Who hates the Drake? I LOVE the Drake!), et al coming in as RB's...maybe explains how Michigan has had, shall we say, less than stellar DB performance for going on a decade. (Not looking for an overly snarked or "BUT YOU FORGOT ERNEST SHAZOR!" responses...just noting that, we've dreamt/wanted CWoodson, and gotten a slew of James Whitleys...or worse...instead.)
We have no clue how the coaches felt about those recruits, where other needs arose, etc. How many got homesick? How many went through the motions?
Interesting to see the rise, fall, and resurrection in just the one position recruitment history, eh?
for focusing on speed backs rather than power guys. It's easier to transfer speed guys like Drake and Gold and Norfleet to other positions. Not many power RBs are turning into anything other than FB.
I honestly feel that preparing for Fitz to leave after this year is probably the smart thing to do. If he progresses and builds even decently well from last season, I think he's gone to the NFL. He will have already earned his degree, the shelf-life for NFL RBs isn't all that long, and doesn't he have a kid too? I expect him to have a good season, and thus I'm expecting him to leave.
Thus we then have Rawls, Hopkins, Johnson, Hayes, Norfleet, and incoming Smith and Shallman. Hopkins is more of a fullback type at this point, and Shallman may very well turn into a very situational runner. Then Hayes and Norfleet seem like those 'space' players and I'm not sure they're going to be the type to carry 20 times a game (caveat is if Hayes has indeed bluked up and is still as effective a runner). That leaves Rawls, Johnson, and Smith as more 'pure' RBs, and frankly I don't think you can totally bank on Johnson's game translating to the college level. So bascially, I think that taking another RB is probably a good idea, especially if you can get a guy like Isaac.
Yeah, the idea of fitz jumping for the NFL seems a bit of a stretch until you add the part about the kid. I'd do it. You'd do it. He probably will too.
1) What a great post. It had tons of facts and numbers, but still got to its point quickly Thank you.
2) Tyrone never got more than 50% of the carries! I am really surprised by that. He was a total beast. I can't remember if he was injured or just lost carries to Powers and Timmy.
This is a theory of mine, but I think it is sound.
One thing to remember about recruiting throughout the 90's and early 2000's is it was different then than now. With all of the coverage recruiting has developed over the past 5-7 years I think players have become specialized earlier in their careers. You could tell a 5 star talent that you were going to see where he would best be used once he got on campus then. I think it is harder for coaches to do that now because everyone assumes a highly rated RB is going to play running back. So it was easier to take multiple highly rated running backs every year because there was less expectation that they would stay there.
On a separate note, I would be interested to hear what Ty Isaac's or DeVeon Smith's thoughts would be about both committing with the understanding that the one who does not win out at RB would have to move to another position to just share carries.
I think what it's done is push more kids to move/transfer/whatever to play in the big programs in any given state so they'll get the notice and the hype and the offers and the better coaching. I probably followed recruiting the strongest before Rivals.com or Scout -- it was ESPN. I also remember lots and lots and lots more rated running backs.
My guess--and this is based off of zero analysis, just a hypothesis I wish we could test against the pre-Insider database--is that when everyone went to their local high school that one kid who was way more athletic than everyone else played running back or quarterback because that's how you made sure he had the ball all the time.
Southfield wasn't a small school but when they played us they had a package to make Gabe Watson the RB. This was a very not nice thing to do at all. My buddy played with a future OT for Kentucky whom they called "FQ" for "Fat Quarterback" because he looked like Jake Long playing quarterback. He could throw a little, but so what: they just ran QB Isos with him and the nicotine-saturated kids in Eastern Kentucky fell over like bowling pins.
You still see lots and lots of high schoolers who play two-way, but it's interesting that many (especially in Texas) don't. Perhaps 20% of Nofuckwhereville High's erstwhile running backs are now playing linebacker or safety or tight end or whatever for Big City De La Salle Tech.
This is great work! Thanks for the time you put in this, it's very insightful.
Unclefred, I had seats in the south end zone at the Rose Bowl that day, and yeah, just a sight to behold. Not as spectacular as his INT in EL that season (which I also saw in person), but still quite the moment, especially given the circumstances.
Seth - this is great work. Thank you for putting it together.