DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- CB Jourdan Lewis. Two-time All-American has case for second-best cover corner in school history. Various excellent stats, none better than this: over his last two years throwing it in the dirt and throwing at Jourdan Lewis were equally productive in terms of QB rating.
- DE Taco Charlton. Rampant in the second half of the season against both run and pass and destined for the first round of the draft. Charlton was the rare WDE to play at 280 pounds and gave Michigan's run defense oomph it will miss even if his replacement keeps up the pass rush productivity.
- SAM Jabrill Peppers. Massively overrated nonentity will be mysteriously drafted in first round this April and have decade-long NFL career. Absence in bowl game went completely unnoticed and did not pave the way for almost all of Dalvin Cook's yards.
- NT Ryan Glasgow. Robot Viking finally started getting appropriately rated as a senior, when he was again an excellent penetrator and disruptor of all things run and pass.
- SDE Chris Wormley. TE obliterator and utterly steady; maybe a hair less than explosive. Pass rush not a huge strength, but that went unnoticed since everyone else was picking QB out of their teeth. Elite run defender capable of playing inside or out.
- CB Channing Stribling. Outstanding year in coverage; if he was any easier to hit with a completion than Lewis it was a narrow thing indeed. Run support an Area For Improvement, as they say. Should still go early in the NFL draft, as he's a legit 6-foot.
- Safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. Close to interchangeable, so addressed together: capable of deep zones and slot coverage, these two kept Jabrill Peppers out of coverage almost all year. Tremendous luxury to be able to do that and flip 'em on motion. Thomas did bust a few times for big plays (most prominently against UCF and FSU), but as safety tandems go this might be tops in recent Michigan history.
- ILB Ben Gedeon. Sideline to sideline ILB who couldn't carry wheel routes downfield. Consistent tackler who showed up in the right spot almost every time; took on blocks with aplomb and shed them with authority. Lack of playing time early in career got more inexplicable every game.
- DT Matt Godin. Played well enough early in the season, when Hurst was laid up with a minor injury, to maintain that status for the duration. Was solid in his role; provided little pass rush but effective run defender. Least productive rotation DL by some distance but still meaningfully positive per PFF.
get in his belly [Fuller]
- DT Maurice Hurst. Technically not a starter but whatever man. Per PFF, the most productive interior pass rusher in the nation. Huge grades to both them and this sites UFR; with serious uptick in snaps should have breakout senior year and contend for AA status.
- ILB Mike McCray. Resurrected career after long-term injury threatened it and was about 80% revelation. Superior blitzer, tough customer on the inside. Struggled to contain edge runs for much of the year; late improvement in that department.
- CB Jeremy Clark. Injured in game four and Michigan will try to get a sixth year for him. If that comes through Clark is a bolt of experience in a secondary that will otherwise have almost none. Lost his starting job to Stribling but started anyway since Lewis was out for the first three games; has a year of solid starts under his belt and should be a draftable guy.
- DE Rashan Gary. Snaps limited by guys in front of him; impressive and productive when he did get on the field. Physical potential limitless, and should take The Leap as a sophomore.
- DE Chase Winovich. Crazy productive pass rusher who'd show up for a handful of snaps in big-time games and come away with a sack anyway. Per PFF had 27 pressure events in 277 snaps, which is almost precisely the same rate at which Charlton racked them up. Run D occasionally wobbly. Potential breakout player.
- DT Bryan Mone. Second straight injury-plagued year. As a result barely got over the 100-snap threshold that we're using to distinguish "new" from "what's left." Struggled when he did get snaps much of the year, hopefully because he was not 100%. Flashed ability against OSU.
- FS Tyree Kinnel. Promising safety candidate was dimeback for much of the year and did well in that role. Had a couple of Kovacsian TFLs where he'd fly up from outside the picture to kill a guy dead. Coverage, which was reputed to be a strength when he was a recruit, didn't get tested.
- CB Brandon Watson. Nickel corner was beat with some regularity when tested. Doesn't seem to have much upside.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
dread level: rising [Patrick Barron]
Everything! Almost everything, anyway. The DL has some guys who have established a certain level of performance, to the point where only one of them is even sort of "new," that a redshirt junior who would be old except for terrible injury luck.
Dudes flanking McCray. Devin Bush figures to draw into the starting lineup next to McCray since he was the clear #3 ILB last year. That should push the bulkier McCray to MLB and give Bush WLB. Hopefully that would allow McCray to focus more on getting vertical instead of lateral. Bush is very much a spread ILB.
Meanwhile at SAM/Viper(!!!), many different things could happen. Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow got Don Brown praise for their work at Viper(!!!) during bowl practices; Noah Furbush is a more traditional LB option at the spot; Khaleke Hudson still seems like a perfect fit as an emphatically box safety; if Michigan can get Willie Gay, recruiting types report that he is an instant impact player.
Either all of the secondary or all but one guy in the secondary. Michigan has a ton of cornerback talent pushing through at a spot where you can get by decently on athleticism. Safety has guys with scattered snaps a year ago and really needs a couple of players to come through.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1977
omar comin' [Fuller]
Still the defensive line. Michigan graduates all four starters but this is very much a reload situation, not a rebuild. Michigan figures to start:
- Maurice Hurst, who produced just as much as last year's top starters in 60-70% of their snaps. He is going to be elite.
- Rashan Gary, who was +13 in about 300 snaps as a true freshman and is a holy lock to be real good as the #1 recruit in the country.
- Chase Winovich, who would be coming off a double-digit sack season if he had as many snaps as Charlton, in his first year as a WDE.
- Bryan Mone, who had a series of injury struggles the last two years but flashed his ability on a critical third and short stop against the Buckeyes.
Those guys are very much in contention for the best line in the conference.
Probably cornerback? If Michigan gets Clark back that's a veteran who will be of interest to the NFL as a Sherman-type jumbo CB; I thought he was a B+ guy in 2015 and should get better if allowed to return. Surely Michigan can find Lewis 2.0 from the pile of recruits in shiny wrapping paper they've accumulated.
Don Dang Brown. Brown lived up to the hype and then some. Michigan LBs totaled 43 TFLs as he solved problems with aggression; Michigan is at or near the top of any defensive metric you care to look at. While the copious talent had a lot to do with that, those guys were around last year and Brown still just about halved S&P+'s expected points allowed metric from 13.7 to 7.7.
While there's going to be some regression, Brown's defenses tend to take a year before kicking in to high gear. Increased familiarity with the system should help mitigate the personnel losses.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2017
Is Kemp ready to play? Is anyone? [Fuller]
Defensive line depth. Seven different guys saw 250+ snaps last year, with Bryan Mone getting 117 of his own. Four of those guys are gone. There is a shortage of gentlemen ready to step in. This site constantly says that nose tackle is a spot with two starters. Starter #2 at NT is...?
DE is probably fine. Between Reuben Jones, Carlo Kemp, Lawrence Marshall, and Ron Johnson Michigan can find a couple guys to spell the starters. The only DT on the roster other than the projected starters is Mike Dwumfour, a middling three star coming off an injury redshirt. Michigan's bringing in a ton of DT types in this recruiting class but even if they get a top guy like Jay Tufele or Aubrey Solomon, relying on a true freshman in the two deep is alarming. Michigan might have no choice but to move Gary to DT.
Going from Peppers to Not Peppers. The silver lining of his absence almost certainly costing Michigan the Orange Bowl is that I don't have to spend much time explaining why Peppers's departure will be costly. Yes, he tended to go on a ride when he got blocked. Michigan was delighted to take that tradeoff if it meant that you could not outrun Michigan's front seven with Usain Bolt.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
Safety. You know, I'm almost sanguine about safety these days. After a solid decade of safeties topping out at "eh, he hasn't set his head on fire" and frequently dipping into "welp, he set his head on fire again," Michigan's on a run of guys who are actual positives. It is at this moment that we must have maximum vigilance, for this is when Angry Michigan Safety Hating God loves to strike.
Michigan clearly likes Kinnel. Unfortunately they have few alternatives; it looks like both Hudson and Metellus are tracking towards hits, but are both of those guys box safeties who you don't want to see in deep coverage? I dunno. Mental issues for a couple of true sophomores could pop up as well.
Outside linebackering. Bush will probably be at least all right and could verge on good by the end of the season. SAM/Viper(!!!) could see just about any level of performance and it wouldn't be much of a surprise.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
What looks like another excellent starting DL and cornerbacks that should pick up the departed's mantle without too much trouble is a good baseline to work from. And while the unit is going to be young—just three seniors are currently projected in the starting lineup—it isn't going to be troublingly so. The only spots at which freshmen are likely to contend are backup DT and maybe somewhere in the secondary.
So while they aren't going to be this year's outfit, which was neck and neck with Alabama for the nation's best, neither are they going to drop off to average. Unfortunately, this is not a fully Harbaugh-ized program so there are some sore spots at which one injury could radically reshape the outlook—someone please wrap the DL starters in cotton until fall—so I reserve the right to repeal the prediction if the wrong guy goes down, but this should be a top 15 S&P+ defense and top 20-ish in YPP and the like.
Talk about the play last game of the corners. Those guys just seemed to be right on.
“Yeah, they’re playing well. They’re working hard in practice preparing themselves week in and week out and they just gotta continue, and it’s paying off in the games. So, we’ll keep on that same path and just try to keep building it.”
Lewis interception ranks where in the pick offs that you’ve seen?
“It’s insane. I mean, I haven’t seen anything like that from a defensive player. Seen a few guys offensively do it, but nothing like that defensively. That was a hell of a play.”
Besides that, the way that he’s closing in the run game and getting to the ball, just talk about how good he’s been.
“Yeah, he’s a complete player on the defensive side of the ball. The kid’s very competitive, very feisty, he’s very good at man-to-man coverage, very good at zone coverage when asked to drop, and he knows how to get off blocks and he knows how to make tackles. I mean, he can do it all. He’s a pretty good player.”
You’ve coached Jourdan now for a year and a half. How many times can you recall during a game where he made a technical mistake?
“Well, we all make mistakes and he has made a few. Even last week, him and Channing made a few technical mistakes that we’re trying to clear up and we will clear up. They’re few and far between with him. And the thing is, when he does it, he knows it and he gets pretty upset about it. He tries to figure it out real quick.”
Obviously not having Jeremy [Clark] you guys are kind of on thin ice with just two guys, even as good as they are. With the other two [freshmen], are they ready?
“I feel so bad for Jeremy. Really practiced so hard and played so well in the games he was in, and everybody’s talking about him and hoping the best for him. Brandon Watson had a hell of a camp. Really since spring. Played well in the spring, played well all through camp, and he’s going in, filling in just fine. Lavert Hill: extremely talented young man. He’s just got to grow and mature. He’s young. David Long, same way. His injury held him up a little bit, but now we’re starting to see some things out of him. It’s very unfortunate we lost Jeremy—you never want to lose a guy like that—but those guys, those three guys I think in time and if in need can fill in and play.”
[After THE JUMP: discussing soil conditions in the garden]
Asiasi-asi! Oy! Oy! Oy! [Bryan Fuller]
Our weekly roundtable.
How are our pre-season predictions on new starters and heavy rotation guys holding up? Eligible players are anyone getting significantly more snaps this year than last.
I looked back through the last few defensive UFRs and he received increasingly more snaps, hovering around +1 while being relevant on only a few plays. After Clark got hurt Kinnel seemed to be the DB of choice to take his spot and shift others around as necessary. Kinnel has also been used on special teams and blocked a kick. While he's not going to be a starter just yet (hopefully), his work load should increase, and for the moment it looks like that will come without a drop-off. I'm not thinking that anyone ever has serious doubts about whether he could contribute on this team, but he's at least met expectations so far.
On the other end of the secondary spectrum appears to be Brandon Watson. He hasn't played a ton, but he definitely saw his snaps go up for the Hawaii and Colorado games. In the UFR he was -2 and -3, respectively, for those games. He was put in the slot against Colorado for the first couple of quarters and definitely looked overmatched. He's always been a guy who could potentially succeed if he got a good jam on a WR...however, when that does not happen, he looks lost in space. With Michigan's current and future set of CBs, its not looking like Watson will see too much extra time in close games, or not on defense anyway. It looks as if he could be destined for special teams duty for the long term.
[Hit THE JUMP for MGoBlog contributors trying very hard to find something that hasn’t gone right so far.]
9/17/2016 – Michigan 45, Colorado 28 – 3-0
linebacker on fire [Patrick Barron]
Let's say you're on the sideline of a football game. You've got a job to do, and you're doing it. This job involves looking at things other than the field, so you rely on your colleagues to let you know when the action threatens to spill over into your area of the sideline.
This is a fine system. You've honed it over the years. People move at a certain speed, you see, and when you hear "heads up" you get your head up, evaluate the situation, and avoid the brunt of the contact. Tried, and true, this system. Damn near infallible, in fact. At no point have you looked winged death straight in the facemask.
Then, this Saturday. Just after your team has taken a very unexpected second-half lead, the system kicks in. "Heads up." Head goes up. This is a process, though, and as you are in the midst of this process your brain starts signaling to you that something is wrong. The tone of voice, maybe? An ominous breeze? What's that thing with the sirens going by? Doppler effect? Whatever it is, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up straight. The process is complete now. Your head is up.
The system has failed.
The system was designed with certain tolerances and Jabrill Peppers has just blown through all of them. You are now staring winged death straight in the facemask. What a terrible time for it to be, now. Before is good. Later is good, assuming that there will in fact be a later. Now… now is bad. You spin the fight or flight wheel and land on "soil yourself."
And who can blame you, really?
Sphincters are also designed with certain tolerances. In your own way you've just blown through as many of them as Jabrill Peppers has in the realm of physics. So you've got that going for you.
There is a certain kind of person—usually a rival fan with a brain that could be cooled down to meat-locker temperatures without any discernible ill effect—who spent most of the offseason bleating about excessive hype for Jabrill Peppers. Peppers didn't have a bunch of shiny counting stats, you see, and therefore he was worse than other people who did.
This argument, already dead in the water to any slightly objective person with eyes, is now beyond repair. Peppers has a decent season's worth of linebacker stats three games in: 9.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, three QB hurries, and a forced fumble. He leads Michigan with 28 tackles, 19 of them solo. He's got 173 punt return yards—an average of 22 yards a pop!—and has just started contributing on offense.
Linear extrapolation of these numbers gets to territory so uncharted that Captain Janeway and her crew of morons show up to survey it. We probably shouldn't do that. Spicy stats will get rarer as the competition level increases… insofar as it does. Rutgers is still on the schedule, after all. Maryland—which just went to double OT with Central Florida—is also on the docket. Penn State and Wisconsin have offensive lines that are, uh, in flux. Peppers might not might meet significantly more resistance except in a few games.
So screw it! Linear extrapolation: 112 tackles, 38 for loss, 10 sacks, a thousand return yards and however many touchdowns, and whatever he chips in on offense. Ahahahahahaha.
PICTURED: THE BIG TEN CONFERENCE
This was a concerning game for several reasons, not least of them the fact that a middling-at-best Pac-12 school was driving to go up 28-7 in front of a shocked Michigan Stadium. Post Traumatic Hoke Disorder was in full effect amongst the 110,000 gathered. Personally, I was not having a real good time. I went into emotional shutoff mode, as is my wont, and contemplated how I was going to break it to MGoBlog readers that I was moving to Bolivia, as is also my wont.
Peppers didn't rescue that himself. I had a fist pump after Rashan Gary came around the corner and a ragged exhalation when Amara Darboh dismissed a couple tacklers to turn a tunnel screen into a touchdown. Michigan's rebound from a game they certainly lose in the previous regime was a collective effort. That collective effort was mostly accepted on mute.
The one guy who pierced right through that attempted stoicism was Peppers. Because BANG he's thumping some dude in the backfield and BANG he's just slashed upfield through the first wave of punt defenders and BANG he has sacked the quarterback before he's even finished his drop. Even when you're trying not to feel anything in case the feelings are horrible, it's impossible to see Peppers and not think OH HELL YES SOMETHING 'BOUT TO BE ON FIRE I CAN'T FEEL MY FAAAACE LET'S GO PUNCH A LEOPARD WOO.
Offense or defense, doesn't matter. He's the best lion. He sinks his meaty claws into anyone with the temerity to test his edge. He's the best gazelle. He slashes through a line of claws without ill effect. He is sui generis, the scourge of sphincters, and someone put him in a winged helmet to rouse the inert from their stupors and send them to their local superstores in search of an axe appropriate for crazed berserking. Check.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jabrill Peppers is an easy selection after 3.5 TFLs, a sack, two rushes for 24 yards, a kickoff return to the Colorado 45, and four punt returns averaging 25 yards a pop including the game-sealing touchdown. Peppers has been everything he's been hyped up to be so far this year. The busted coverage is a demerit, and this is still an easy pick.
#2 Jake Butt was the one consistently positive target in Michigan's passing game, with seven catches for 87 yards; I also caught a couple of positive run-blocking events on Michigan's big plays.
#3 Ben Gedeon had 12 tackles, a critical sack early in the game, and was a major component of Michigan's interior run defense. Pop pass issues may have been on him and McCray but asking LBs to respond to RPOs like that is asking for trouble; I'm assuming those are on the safeties.
Honorable mention: Khalid Hill would have made it if I wasn't pretty sure he got Speight killed on the sack/strip. Rashan Gary, Chris Wormley, and Ryan Glasgow were key components of a stout interior run defense.
5: Jabrill Peppers((T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF).
2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3, Colorado).
0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Peppers finally gets his return touchdown and seals the game.
Honorable mention: Matching 45 yard touchdowns down the edge by De'Veon Smith and Amara Darboh; various other Peppers things.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
A blown protection gets Wilton Speight blindsided for a 14-0 Colorado lead and a first quarter of deep panic.
Honorable mention: A blown coverage results in a long post touchdown to open things up for CU; Colorado strikes back at the beginning of the first half with a 70-yard bomb.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
[After THE JUMP: SPEIGHTDOWN, also bad thing discussion]
SPONSOR NOTES: Homesure Lending returns to sponsor this post, and as a bonus he's sent the blog to Iowa by finding us a block of five together. This will create glorious road trip content. (Matt has stipulated that I clarify he is not to blame if the Iowa game turns out like that stupid triple overtime Penn State game; we have agreed to collectively blame the first commenter on this post.)
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, he is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS NOTES: Good news, everybody: we've purchased PFF's Michigan and opponent data for the season, which will allow us to do a bunch of things previously impractical. We've got snap counts, for one, and their grades, and some drill-down stuff I'll reference when it seems relevant to what I'm saying.
One important disclaimer: I'm not looking at this stuff until I go over the game myself, to prevent confirmation bias.
FORMATION NOTES: Normal Brian is super happy Don Brown is Michigan's defensive coordinator. UFR Brian is frickin' pissed. I'm going to split the next UFR's "Formation" column into "personnel" and "formation" because I give up trying to jam that all into a few words. Even that figures to be insufficient.
About halfway through this game I decided that:
- Michigan is a 4-2-5 defense.
- Sometimes they run a 3-2-6.
- I need a "box" column denoting persons in said box with maybe a .5 for gray area guys.
- I need to stop bothering with even-odd stuff since that's not actually important for this level of analysis.
And then momentum carried me through. You improve the most between week one and week two; I'll endeavor to do so.
Anyway. I'm going to try to call out safeties and depth, insofar as this is possible. This is nickel one-high:
And this was 4-3 over two high:
These are the same personnel packages. Hill is the gray area guy kind of over the slot and Stribling has dropped to be the nominal second safety. Everyone in this secondary has to be able to play multiple roles.
Nickel two high:
And honestly I don't know what to term this:
That is two "safeties" at like six yards. Peppers would bail into a deep zone until he read run, FWIW. Nickel two low, I called it. /shakes fist at Don Brown.
I don't even want to get into the various fronts yet.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Deep breath. The back seven was pretty static and has a clear depth chart. Without Lewis, Stribling (45 snaps) and Clark(51) went just about the whole way until garbage time. Ditto Thomas(54), Hill(54), Peppers(54), McCray(44), and Gedeon(54). Brandon Watson (28 snaps but most of those late) had scattered snaps as a nickel corner on passing downs. Usually Michigan lifted a DL when this happened. Tyree Kinnel did get five snaps before the backups came in en masse.
The backups at all these spots are also clear: Kinnel and Hudson at safety, Long and Lavert Hill at corner, Devin Bush and Wroblewski at LB, File Not Found for Peppers.
The line started out with Wormley, Glasgow, Mone, and Charlton across it. Once Mone was out Michigan played a lot of Matt Godin, and they yanked Chris Wormley early. Gary actually got 32 snaps to Wormley's 27. Winovich went the whole way after Taco exited and actually racked up more DL snaps than anyone else with 40.
About midway through the third quarter Michigan unearthed Lawrence Marshall, Michael Dwumfour, Michael Onwenu, and redshirt junior walk-on Garrett Miller. Miller actually played 21 snaps and graded out well per PFF but at 271 on the roster it is highly unlikely he's going to be a contributor going forward unless things are in the darkest timeline. I didn't grade him well, FWIW.
[After THE JUMP: Viking raiders from across the sea / they've come to plunder you and me / oh no i've been stabbed / but our defense makes me glad]
Are you not entertained by PBUs? [Bryan Fuller]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Channing Stribling||Sr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Sr.*||David Long||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.|
|Keith Washington||Fr.*||LaVert Hill||Fr.||Brandon Watson||So.*|
Last year's secondary was sort of good. Michigan led the nation in yards per attempt allowed at 5.4 and opposition passer rating. S&P+ had them 11th nationally because Big Ten quarterbacks were double plus ungood a year ago, but that's still near-elite.
There's about to be some hedging about non-Jourdan Lewis corners because they weren't straight-up killers when they showed up on your television, but keep those numbers in mind when expectations are (slightly) tamped. Michigan gets back five of the six guys who spearheaded those stats. If you consider Jabrill Peppers a member of this unit, which you should, you have to back to 1997 for a comparable.
NOPE [Patrick Barron]
I'm about to write a lot about JOURDAN LEWIS, but you can skip it. The tl;dr version is "is Jourdan Lewis." He's an All-American. He's a perfect cover corner minus a few inches. He was all but impossible to escape a year ago:
He will be this again in 2016. The end.
Our probably unnecessary epilogue kicks off with an assertion from Don Brown that is both unexpected and extremely important:
Don Brown says of Jourdan Lewis on @SiriusXMCollege "may be one of the best run defenders at corner I've been around. Flat out"
— angelique (@chengelis) August 24, 2016
This is a weird thing for Jourdan Lewis to be since his run responsibilities a year ago were 404 file not found. Lewis was constantly locked in man coverage and almost never involved in the opposition's run game, which turned out to be much to Michigan's detriment against good spread offenses like Indiana and Ohio State.
As a result I don't have much of anything in which Lewis is active as run defender. He had a decent play against Florida when he was forced into the Peppers role:
And he ended up mirroring a WR in space effectively on a screen in the Maryland game. That's it. If that seems like an incredibly small sample size, it is. Lewis had probably under 20 tackles that weren't a direct result of a guy managing to catch the ball on him. We simply don't know how he's going to do when activated against the run.
Everything else is established. If you complete a pass on Lewis 90% of the time it's going to be like this:
Good luck creating an offense around that. For some reason, opponents kept testing Lewis despite this invariably being the result. PFF:
The top-graded cornerback in the nation last year at +22.3, Lewis broke out by leading the FBS with 15 passes defensed while surrendering only 36.7 percent of his targets to be completed, good for fifth-best. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to maintain his strong play from start to finish in 2015, despite facing 90 targets, 10th-most in the nation.
Lewis grades out like this because he is super quick and always in the pocket of whoever he's matched up against. By midseason I was clipping literally any completion on him that wasn't heavily contested for the sheer novelty. In addition to being impossible to shake, Lewis has mastered the craft of not quite interfering. One of his best traits is an sense of when to grab the receiver's hand such that his only option is to go up for a circus catch:
And that cat-quickness allows him to recover on routes that should be RPS minuses:
That should work. Lewis should not even be in position to get a little bit of hand on the waist and then extend through for a PBU. He is set up outside and has to make up a ton of ground in not much time. He does.
Lewis's main—only?—flaw is not being 6'1". A 6'1" version of Jourdan Lewis is a 15-year NFL All Pro. The 5'11" or 5'10" version is a good longterm starter. This didn't come up much last year. When Lewis was challenged by 6'5" quasi-TEs he won.
If it was a factor it was probably in Lewis's epic battle against Aaron Burbridge and Connor Cook. Lewis narrowly won that battle despite Burbridge going over 100 yards because it took almost 20 attempts to get there, but a hypothetical version of Lewis that is just as mobile and has another few inches of reach turns difficult completions into international-sign-of-no waving and punts.
Lewis's lack of size also occasionally figured in as opponents muscled through him, like on this completion in the bowl game:
Lewis has done an A+ job against lumbering 6'5" guys over the past two years but occasionally he will get ripped off balance by larger guys. That will continue.
Also in the tiny pile of areas for improvement is off coverage. Lewis wasn't bad at it, per se, but when opponents wriggled free it was often because they'd been issued breathing room.
Interceptions are not an issue. Some folks have asserted that Lewis got thrown at a bunch because he's not a threat to intercept the ball. He had just two a year ago, and one was against Maryland so that barely counts. I don't buy it; that feels like an answer to an unanswerable question. Q: Why do you do something that doesn't make sense? A: Well, here's something else that doesn't make sense.
Michigan's approach had a lot to do with the minimal INTs. Michigan rarely switched up their coverages and didn't run much zone, so opportunities to bait a quarterback a la Blake Countess were few and far between. Lewis ended up in a ton of trail coverage on which he could either secure a PBU or "get his head around" and potentially lose the plot.
It'll be fascinating to see how Don Brown changes this dynamic. Either way, Lewis is an All-American ticketed for the late first round of the NFL draft.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! Seriously this time!]