Alex Malzone is the other half of the passing combination that led Brother Rice to the state championship and ensconced Grant Perry into the MHSAA record books; he was the more highly touted bit. He hit a ton of camps and popped up to a solid four star on all the sites (24/7 later dropped him to a three star) despite not having any whiz-bang physical traits.
You probably know where this is going already: heady, polished, etc. You are correct. When Ace and Dave scouted Malzone against De La Salle they came back with the video above and impressions beyond the fact that Malzone was zinging highly accurate balls all night:
The film is impressive enough; what it doesn't show is how much Malzone is in command of the offense. He directed an attack that often went no-huddle, made protection and route checks that I could hear all the way from the top rows of the bleachers, and most importantly, made the correct pre-snap reads. Check out the 1:13 mark, when he sees De La Salle lining up to blitz, changes the protection and has his running back shift sides—the RB is in perfect position to pick up a blitzer and Malzone has enough time to fire off a slant to Perry for a first down.
Scouting reports continually hone in on Malzone's consistency, command, and timing.
Allen Trieu, Scout: “…good velocity on his passes, shows excellent timing and is very accurate. … May not have ideal dropback QB height, but is a gamer and a winner.”
Jordan Palmer, Elite 11 coach: "That guy is sponge. … he’s not necessarily physically big. He doesn’t throw the ball like this guy. He’s not as fast as that guy. But man, is he consistent."
Barton Simmons, 24/7, comparing Malzone to OSU commit Joe Burrow: "a little bit undersized but has outstanding feet in the pocket and a really live arm. He doesn’t have the ceiling of Burrow but he’s the more college ready player right now."
ESPN: "…marginal athlete for the position. …Really shows good command of the scheme. … Throws a tight, snappy ball. Sticks the ball right on target. … gifted rhythm and timing thrower … Release is quick and over the top. Does show a slight draw back where the bottom point of the ball points backwards as he pulls back to deliver. … ball jumps off his hand."
Josh Helmholdt, Rivals, after a 7 on 7: "Malzone was in total command … The ball did not seem to come off his hand with as much pop as we're used to seeing, yet he still got it there with plenty of velocity and was pinpoint accurate with his throws."
Helmholdt: "I watched him lead Brother Rice to the state championship and saw his leadership qualities, the intangibles like managing an offense, how he moved the team down the field. … When we saw him at Rivals camps, he was spotting his passes extremely well, throwing guys open instead of just hitting the open guy. Every pass was on the money."
Jamie Uyeama, 24/7 and SBN: "When Malzone has a clean pocket and is properly balanced, I don’t know if there are too many other quarterbacks his age that can chuck it like him. … can flat out zip the ball and it’s really pretty. He has the arm strength to fit the ball into tight windows and to make all the deep throws imaginable."
These are the things that allowed Malzone to complete 65% of his passes en route to a state title.
[After THE JUMP: some funk in the delivery and spring concerns.]
People don't know what to make of Zach Gentry. Presented with a quarterback pushing 6'8" playing New Mexico football that resembles Godzilla versus Assorted Oompa-Loompas, they are intrigued. When Godzilla roars past the Oompa-Loompas for consecutive80-yard rushing touchdowns, they start looking around for Morpheus. I mean:
A dual-threat quarterback trapped in the body of a prototypical pocket passer … one of the more unique quarterback prospects I've ever seen. There's really not a good comparison out there for him because he's such a rare breed, but the comparison he's been given of havingRyan Mallett'ssize with running ability is as accurate as anything I've heard.
Gentry completed 60 percent of his passes during a 12-game season and threw for 2,978 yards and 26 touchdown passes while rushing for 1,057 yards and 22 scores. An athletic quarterback, Gentry concluded his high school career with 55 passing touchdowns and 47 touchdowns on the ground.
He breaks things, including English: multiple recruiting sites deployed modifiers in front of "unique" in an attempt to grasp what was going on.
As a result, Gentry was hotly pursued by a number of major programs. Texas, obviously, was one. Tennessee was highly interested in making him Tyler Bray 2.0 (this time he's sane!). And yes, the Bama offer was very much legit. 247 reported in May that the Tide's QB recruiting was "primarily focused" on Gentry, and when he dropped to Texas the question there was "where do we go from here" because they didn't really have many other targets. (Bama, being Bama, did okay for itself by snaking five star Blake Barnett away from Notre Dame.) Michigan was interested during Hoke's final year but did not offer after observing him in person.
[After THE JUMP: lots of disagreement dispersed by FINAL JUDGMENT.]
Karan Higdon was part of the Mike Weber signing day chaos. With Weber's decision balanced on a molecule-wide knife edge, Higdon's signing day flip from Iowa pushed him over to the dark side, until he went back to the light side, until he went back to the dark side, and so forth and so on. That doesn't have anything to do with him as a prospect, but you can be sure the two guys will be compared to each other by Michigan fans for the duration of their careers.
As far as Hidgon himself goes, he is a compact, darting runner with a smooth jump cut. Running back highlight tape is the most useful of all highlight tapes because it gives you a pretty good sense of what Back X is like when he's running good, and Higdon is somewhat reminiscent of Fitzgerald Toussaint—sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint, before he was Poor Damn Toussaint and then Pass Blocking Double Agent Toussaint. He also gives off a bit of a Mike Hart aura, though I hesitate to invoke him in comparisons because Hart was sui generis.
But Hart must be mentioned when a 5'10" guy under 200 pounds is so frequently described as a power back. Scout Florida guy Corey Bender:
“Karan Higdon is more your North and South type runner. He's not a home run hitter. He’s well put together."
…sturdy and durable. Shows above average speed in the second level but not elite … wastes little time getting North and hitting the downhill seam. Shows better than adequate vision to stretch and cut back in the second level. … Shows good feet in the hole to jump-cut and make the first defender miss. … Hits the hole with authority and runs hard North-South. Does a good job lowering his pads on contact, absorbing the hit and continuing his forward progress. …productive inside runner with the burst to open up the run game outside but we do not see a big-play element at this stage.
"Better than adequate" is ESPN's funny way of saying "good."
…runs hard and is decisive. He’s not a dancer and you won’t see him going east-west but north-south … has good feet, quick feet. Higdon has a strong lower body and runs with deceptive power. … I also like his vision. Higdon possesses good speed and quickness. He can also make defenders miss. … not an explosive, home run hitter.
Higdon is a between-the-tackles hard nosed running back with excellent vision. He waits patiently on the hole and plants and drives upfield with good toughness. Higdon should fit well in Harbaugh's ground and pound running game, with his tough and rugged style. Higdon shows good lateral movement through the hole and a good quick twitch once he gets out in the open, although he's not a back with long speed.
"Karan is a power back, a physical runner -- he's got great instinct and football awareness with real good vision. He does a great job of lowering his pads especially when he's entering the goal line area. He is a real smart young man who had a 4.0 in high school."
These all say the same very positive things; like Grant Perry the ensuing rankings are underwhelming largely because of a lack of wow experience in his physical package. Running backs Higdon's size are almost always placed in the meh bin unless they have the game-breaking ability each one of these scouting reports strives to point out he does not.
The exception is 247, which had him a four star. Josh Newberg, who works for the USF 247 site, gives an indication as to why when Higdon was a Bulls commit:
5. Every class seems to come down to a few make-or-break kids… Who are those kids for the Bulls…?
USF has an incredible player committed to them in Karan Higdon. He's a running back that could make an even bigger impact than Marlon Mack has. Higdon is explosive, strong and has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. He also has excellent hands and could even be a slot receiver if he wanted to.
Right now there isn't a more talented player that USF is recruiting.
Though it may be odd for a guy everyone just described as a power back, I wouldn't be surprised to see Higdon get a serious look as a third down back as early as next year. Squat guys with good short-area burst are often the best pass blockers, as they can get to the spot they need to get and then undercut the blitzer they've been tasked with picking up. Vincent Smith and Mike Hart, Michigan's best blitz pickup guys in recent memory, both fit that mold.
Even when he was committed to USF, Higdon praised the Iowa program. Now that he's officially committed to the Hawkeyes though, you really can't ask for a better spokesperson.
Higdon watches every game and he always has something good to say, even when Iowa loses. He believes in the program and he believes in what he can do with the Hawkeyes. In fact, he has so much faith in Iowa that he's already creating some lofty goals for himself. … He's clearly all-in with the Hawkeyes, and that's not something you see out of recruits all that often.
Why Mike Hart? Mostly explained above. Higdon is a compact, shifty gentleman with uncanny power for a player his size. If he never fumbles, always squeezes out two more yards than is reasonable, ruthlessly destroys blitzing linebackers, and recovers Ryan Mallett fumbles for first downs, then he can be Mike Hart.
Fitzgerald Toussaint is also a reasonable comparable. Toussaint was a one-cut zone back with an explosive burst. Higdon sounds less likely to break a long one and more likely to squeeze out an extra yard or two after contact.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. No projection but big spread here from four star to "not even in the top 100 in Florida."
Variance: Low. Projects to HS position, reportedly has excellent vision already, healthy.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. Not a gamebreaker, quoth everyone. Still could end up a highly efficient Harbaugh back.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Like Perry, seems like a good bet to be a contributor for an extended period of time. Good late pickup in the situation M found themselves in because he gives a relatively high floor at the position going forward.
Projection: With four backs in front of him, none of whom are seniors, you'd have to think a redshirt is an option. Excellent backs can bust through legions of upperclassmen, though, and it's not like anyone currently on the roster has established much of a claim on the job. If he impresses in fall camp could definitely get a 100 or so carries… and signal that the RB spot is going to experience some attrition.
As a prospect, Grant Perry is the exact opposite of the two guys we just covered. Tyrone Wheatley and Brian Cole are physical marvels with little production; Grant Perry is an average-sized guy with a ten-minute highlight reel as a high school wide receiver—a ten minute highlight reel that isn't padded out with blocking or replays. There are only two screens!
As Michigan-bound Alex Malzone's favorite target, Perry was targeted about every seven seconds at Brother Rice. He made the most of those opportunities with 105(!!!) catches for 1727 yards. That is a state of Michigan all-time, any-class record for catches and a four-year career for a lot of high school wideouts. His prolific senior season landed him on a Scout All-American list mostly populated with OMG shirtless types. Experience: he has it.
Perry had an outstanding game, hauling in seven of his nine targets; one of those incompletions was uncatchable, while the second would've required a difficult one-handed catch. He and Malzone are clearly very comfortable playing with each other—they connected on several timing routes and when Malzone was in trouble, Perry was often the receiver working his way back to the ball to bail him out.
Perry runs precise routes and plucks the ball out of the air; he showed off soft hands. While he's not a gamebreaking athlete, he gets separation on defensive backs with sharp cuts and does a nice job getting upfield after the catch; he doesn't look like a major threat to juke a safety, but he finds a way to get solid yardage after the catch.
…a technician who runs great routes and has sure hands. I've often said, I think you could put him on just about any team in America and he will find a way to contribute because he knows how to get open, catches everything and is a competitive kid. He catches the ball naturally away from his hands, is crisp in his routes and quick out of his breaks.
After Perry dominated the 1v1 session at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp last year, one college assistant said he was the "most technically sound" receiver he had seen at the high school level. A high school coach from a top program says Michigan should have been on him from the beginning.
"Perry is the type of player Michigan needs more of," he said. "He would run through a wall to put on the winged helmet."
…He’s an absolute technician with his routes, getting in and out of breaks with smooth and sharp cuts and cat-like quickness. He’s got the balance, body control, and agility to change directions and turn his body. …He’s got great field sense and awareness to get to his landmarks in the passing game and finds a way for his quarterback to see him. … start and stop ability make his extremely tough to cover, and he’s got a good hesitation move on longer routes. … Perry can change gears and accelerate to top speed in flash.
You get the idea. Grant Perry has had the sandpaper and finish applied already. There will be an adjustment period, as there always is, but that's mostly about learning the playbook and acquiring whatever slight refinements his WR coach would like him to absorb. The amount of projection here, especially compared to a guy like Cole, is minimal. This is why Scout named him one of the ten most likely recruits to have an "instant impact" back when he was a Northwestern recruit.
That's the good news. The bad news is that until Northwestern came forth with an offer late in his senior year, no Power 5 school saw fit to give him an opportunity to play for them. That's remarkable. Perry had zero off-field red flags, was very, very productive, and was a standout at the massive SMSB camp:
There were a plethora of big names on offense at the Adidas Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy on Thursday, when talking running backs, receivers and offensive line, however it was an unheralded in-state receiver that put on a show at Chandler Park Academy.
Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) Brother Rice 2015 receiver Grant Perrygets the game ball from 247Sports for his phenomenal showing in 1-on-1s. …
Perry gets separation, he’s strong for a slender senior-to-be, he fights jams and has natural hands. Had a couple major highlight reel catches, but he was open most of the time.
Schools like Northwestern and Indiana and Purdue and, hell, Iowa should have been in this guy's grill long before the Wildcats stepped to the plate.
247Sports recruiting insider Steve Wiltfong said "Northwestern made one of the smartest moves in the country" by offering Perry when it did.
Northwestern offered Grant Perry, an outstanding player with great hands, route-running skills and all around football ability. This is his first Big Ten offer, as some questioned his size and speed, but he answered those questions and then-some this season.
…but it remains a thing that is true.
The only conclusions is that Perry did not wow coaches with his physical package—he has literally everything else. ESPN addressed those weaknesses more thoroughly than most others:
Is quicker than fast, but also very shifty. … A very nuanced route runner that is quick in and out of break…. Hand-eye coordination and body control as a pass catcher are very good. Makes the over-the-shoulder grab and difficult catch look easy and he is a natural plucker. … could struggle to excel as a vertical threat and after the catch at the power five conference level.
And even that sounds like an excellent evaluation until the end when they say he is a "tweener Power 5/Group of 5 prospect." I feel that this set of evaluations is somewhat lacking in Real Talk.
We are forced to read between the lines, then: coaches, and to some extent recruiting analysts, don't think Perry is going to be able to get away from defenders at the next level. The lack of high level offers says that pretty emphatically.
What Perry continues to show this season is an explosive burst after the catch, allowing him to get downfield in a hurry and pick up yardage. For a 6-0, 185-pounder, that quickness and ability to gain yards with the ball in his hands will be important. … His punt return touchdown showed off his awareness of the blocking developing around him, as well as the speed up the sideline, to make big plays happen.
That is an outlying report in a sea of "not the biggest or the fastest but just MAKES PLAYS" and should be taken as such, but it is possible a lot of people made up their minds about him too early.
In any case, for the role Michigan needs him for I'm not sure how much the size and speed matter. In Ann Arbor, Perry is destined for the slot:
"They said they see me at the Z position. Z is more of a slot, I think what Dennis Norfleet is playing. They said they don't have many Z guys and need more to fill that."
As mentioned in the Brian Cole piece, that creates some overlap between the two receivers in this class. That's an overlap that will likely be resolved by Cole moving outside in a year or two; Perry is going to be a long-term resident.
As people watching MSU against actual offenses discovered last year, it is quite nice to have slot receivers that can blaze down the middle past your safeties. Perry apparently does not bring that. But as a guy who gets matched up against a linebacker or a nickelback (non-Peppers version) or goes hunting for holes in a zone, his athleticism will be good enough as long as those routes are as on point as they suggest. Drew Dileo was ample evidence of that. Here is the canonical Drew Dileo video.
Anyone who can wrong-foot a defender's got a chance, and it sounds and looks like Perry is a guy who can do that. His coach:
“Grant always could catch well, but I think his route running and ability to find the open areas are what separate him from most good receivers,” Sofran said. “He seems able, as he’s watched film and developed, to understand the game (thoroughly).”
Here's to moaning "throw it to PERRY" after a failed third and medium conversion. Unless there aren't any third and mediums because HARBAUGH.
"I grew up watching Michigan play," Perry said. "I remember being on the field, watching Chad Henne's TD pass to Mario Manningham on the final play to beat Penn State (27-25, Oct. 15, 2005). Now, I'm going to be playing at Michigan. I'm thrilled all the hard work has paid off and my dream has come true."
Why Drew Dileo? The sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome was the perfect slot receiver on third and six and in the redzone, capable of shaking most defensive backs with his craft and utterly reliable once the ball arrived. Dileo was also a generic three star recruit and his playing time and stats didn't defy that much—his efficiency, however, did. That is why I spent multiple years complaining about his underutilization.
Perry is a couple inches taller than Dileo; otherwise this looks like a pretty tight fit, even down to the fact that I might complain he is underutilized what with all the tight ends.
Guru Reliability: High. They may have seen him catch a ball or two.
Variance: Low. Very polished already, doesn't appear to have huge upside.
Ceiling: Moderate. Not likely to be on NFL draft boards. Could develop into a highly reliable #2 WR.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Doubt he will ever be a star but seems like a very good bet to be a guy who helps you out for multiple years. He is this year's Sleeper of The Year.
Projection: Likely to play as a freshman given the state of the WR corps and his advanced skillset. Some overlap with Cole in terms of (short term) position, but they fill different kinds of roles from the slot, and Michigan distinctly lacks a chain-mover there right now.
Cole will probably move outside after this year, leaving Perry the leading contender for the bulk of the slot snaps—however many of those there are. Those are likely to be concentrated on third and five or more, leaving Perry a not-quite-starter for the bulk of his career.
Cole is an incredibly versatile athlete who did just about everything but drive the team bus and cook the pregame meal at Saginaw Heritage. He played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back and returned kicks. He was even a punter.
And he drove the bus and cooked the pregame meal.
In Brian Cole, Michigan has an… uh… well, an athlete. But more like an ATHLETE! Here are some people going "like wow dang":
Bud Elliott, SBNation: "…absolutely fantastic athlete, easily one of the best in the country … deadly on the football field … quick-twitch to the max. His ability to stop, and then get right back up to top speed is excellent. He can sky to get the football as a receiver if any defender has managed to keep up with his top-end speed, and he snatches the football well with his hands, naturally."
ESPN: "…really impressive on the hoof. Big, strong and fast. Good height, long arms and has huge upside for frame development over time. He is an explosive 0 to 60 player with great feet and a second gear. Possesses an ideal combination of physical prowess and speed with excellent agility on both sides of the football. … When he gets to the second level he can be a hold your breath type of guy."
Josh Helmholdt, Rivals: "[has] a combination of great size - he's built like a guy who could grow into a linebacker - but he has the speed and athleticism of a top-end wide receiver … it's the run-after-catch ability. He'll be a threat with the football once he has it in his hands."
Allen Trieu, Scout (evaluating a single game in which Cole was a tailback): "…[showed] good feet and elusiveness for a kid of his size. He can make people miss and cut back and change directions like a smaller player. Defensively, where he had 10 tackles, he showed excellent closing speed and a lot of effort in pursuit. That extra gear and acceleration was surprising and impressive."
"Cole is a bigger/stronger wide receiver that is more in the possession type of receiver mold. He runs outstanding routes and has un-matched physicality and competitiveness catching the ball in traffic or in one-on-one coverage. … game at wide receiver really reminds me of the NFL’s Anquan Boldin"
I dunno man. There's always one evaluation that seems like it's of another player, even if it's generally positive.
One thing about that scouting report that is echoed by others is heavy praise for Cole's ball skills. Anquan Boldin is a human vacuum and may be taking things too far, but both ESPN…
…will high point the ball from his safety position, naturally plucks the ball in contested match-ups and is not a player that fights the football or allows it to get into his frame. Shows good hand-eye coordination to time jumps, elevate in a crowd and pull ball away from receivers. Shows very good body control in conjunction with his ball skills."
The guy should be a senior in high school and he goes out there and I told him, I said, ‘Your ball skills are unbelievable. When you actually know what you’re doing it’s going to be unreal,’ because he makes some plays that are just tremendous.
…are on board.
Of course, there is that catch in there: "when you actually know what you're doing." Cole's high school team had little passing game and he missed a couple games because he got ejected. When he was on the field, his team wasn't helping him much. That tape Dave got at the top of the post is the exact opposite of Ty Isaac's high school film: you can't tell anything because there are 11 guys around him instead of 0.
So he's raw at whichever position you'd like to project him to, including wide receiver. Take it from a man named Brian Cole:
“To be honest, I’m not even the best route runner … I’ve progressed and gotten better at it. But I’m still not where I want to be.”
Helmholdt echoed that in his evaluation, saying "he gets by mostly on pure athleticism" and that "route-running is something [he wants] to see more of from him." When Ace and Dave scouted Cole in person, this was the extent of what they saw from him at his college position:
Cole was far and away the best athlete on the field, made a few spectacular plays, a couple poor ones, and couldn't find any space to maneuver against a defense hell-bent on containing him. Unfortunately, the only half-decent look we got of him as a receiver—he's expected to play the slot at Michigan—came when he torched a corner off the line, got over the top of the safety, and... that's it, because his quarterback couldn't get the ball to him.
His coach at the Under Armor game even suggested he would end up redshirting. That is both an uncommon opinion and one that's based on the coach's projection that he'd play safety. Which he probably will at some point, because HARBAUGH, but given Michigan's crying need at WR—crying need for anyone who can outrun a traffic cone on offense—this evaluation isn't going to consider that.
"He defeated double coverage, caught the ball with both hands with no fear, came down with it, hit a burst, split the safeties, scored a touchdown and got up and celebrated with his teammates. That was one of those plays where if you’re a parent or a recruit standing there and you’re over there talking about whatever and (someone says), ‘did you guys just see that play?’ It got your attention. He’s going to be a difference maker."
247's Steve Lorenz also heard the chatter, saying Cole was "looking more and more like" the true freshman who makes the biggest impact this fall. His teammates (and future teammates) also felt it:
"Cole looks like a natural out there," Swenson said. "He must have made about six or seven plays when I was watching practice. He's just really smooth in running his routes and the way he was playing the game. He's definitely the guy that stood out to me overall on offense. It was really impressive."
Hoke's staff planned on starting Cole off in the slot, and Harbaugh seemed to go along with that—probably because in the absence of Dennis Norfleet, the list of scholarship slot receivers this spring consisted of "maybe Freddy Canteen unless we need him on the outside" and walkons.
Cole certainly has the skillset to play on the outside eventually. 6'2" leaping athletes generally get stuck out there, and if Cole comes close to matching his hype he will be on the field with a lot of tight ends, thus making him an outside receiver by default.
As far as this year goes… well, there's freshman receiver hype and freshman receiver reality. Cole did little in the spring game. The most recent true freshman wideout to make any sort of impact was Mario Manningham. Manningham spent his high school career demolishing secondaries across Ohio and would develop into one of the smoothest, most natural wide receivers Michigan has ever had; he still did not crack 30 catches his first year. An athlete(!) like Cole, even one who comes with an exclamation point attached, will do well to see the field on actual passing plays.
I mean, remember last year and Freddy Canteen? Yeah. I'd be way less surprised if Canteen started delivering this year and people were momentarily disappointed in Cole. Momentarily.
Early in the first quarter – Cole who is also Heritage’s punter – botched a low snap, and then, well, he improvised. First he ran left, no room, so then he ran right and took his speed to a new level as he outran the entire Arthur Hill defense for an electrifying 59 yard touchdown run.
If we run out of Australians, worth a try.
Why Braxton Miller, WR Edition? Miller is a 6'2", 220-pound-ish freak of an athlete with full-throttle speed and agility he should not have. Also he has spent the bulk of his career in the backfield so no one knows if he can play wide receiver. I mean, you'd think… but Darryl Stonum never got the hang of it so clearly there are hurdles to overcome.
Miller was a bigger recruit than Cole, around 30th nationally, but not by that much and since he clearly projected to a college position and played tougher competition sites were more comfortable sliding him up the list. Athleticism may be (should be?)comparable.
Braylon? Not as tall, might be as fast, needs some work his freshman year, can go get the dang ball.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Mostly same thing, but ATH gonna ATH.
Variance: Very high. ATH gonna ATH and in this case you could see Cole never figuring out any position in particular and fading away or being ridiculous.
Ceiling: Huge. Clearly the guy with the most upside in this class unless Zach Gentry is 6'8" Denard.
General Excitement Level: High. Daddy needs a new pair of Braylons.
Projection: He's probably going to play, because Michigan needs something slot receiver-shaped. While Grant Perry may fit the bill in the Drew Dileo way, they need something more Breaston-esque with an offense that doesn't look like it has a lot of big play potential. I'm still skeptical he gets heavily involved just because of the precedents. Also I think Canteen will be pretty good.
With zero seniors in this year's receiving corps, Cole will face a slightly uphill battle for playing time in year two. It's not one he couldn't easily overcome if he hits the exponential section of his growth curve on the early side. 30/70 he passes someone to start; as a junior the depth chart will be open and the world will hopefully be his oyster.
The second consecutive junior on our recruiting profile series is also the son of a Wolverine legend, one who happens to be the running backs coach. Tyrone Wheatley's kid is not a sprinter, though: he's a 6'6", 260 pound jumbo athlete who could play on either side of the ball.
This sounds like a person fated to play for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. It is possible Wheatley Jr's very existence set in motion the series of events that ended with Jim Harbaugh stumbling to the podium in January. But for the longest time it didn't seem like the younger Wheatley was particularly interested in Michigan. It was in fact USC, UCLA and Alabama that were thought to lead until his dad was hired. Michigan wasn't even on his list for a minute there.
But all's well that ends well, and Michigan has a… large gentleman. The recruiting sites don't really know what position he's going to be; neither do I. They generally came around to the idea he'd be a tight end late, with a couple flipping his position in their last updates. The impetus for this appears to be his appearance at the Semper Fi game, where he demonstrated a certain skill($) Michigan has been badly lacking in their tight ends for a while now:
He's a big, strong, physical tight end prospect … I talked to an analyst who watched him all week at the Semper Fidelis All-Star game practices and said he was knocking people off the ball and dominating other elite defensive end prospects at the line of scrimmage. … got the length and athleticism to block a speed rusher or a quicker outside linebacker and can hold his own against a big 3-4 defensive end. In the passing game, Wheatley is still raw but he's got very soft and secure hands.
Neither the blocking proficiency or the receiving inexperience is much of a surprise. Wheatley caught just 11 passes as a senior on a team that barely threw the ball. Just about all of them are in the reel above. The elder Wheatley talked to Sam Webb about it:
"…you really won’t see him blossom as a tight end because of the offense that they’re in. … when they do target him, he is double covered and the ball is sometimes overthrown, underthrown. You really won’t see him blossom in that regard. The kid has mitts. He can catch the ball. He has great range for a big fellow. He has great catching radius. He can catch the ball over his shoulder, adjust."
Wheatley Jr. is a menace. He has a wide body and impressive strength. And while he usually shines as a blocker, he made his presence known in the passing attack on Friday. He didn't look pretty catching passes at all times. In fact, he fought the ball on occasions, but he always made the catch when targeted.
ESPN described something similar to "fighting the ball" in their report, citing some "tightness" when he tries to adjust to a ball in flight. That seems to be the inverse of when a guy gets praised for his body control. Wheatley might not be the most agile guy, and that is why the recruiting sites don't have a ranking for him commensurate with his offers.
I was under the impression that Wheatley Jr was a bigger deal in the rankings than he actually was. When you have an offer list like that out of New York you're usually a no-doubter. So it's a surprise that he makes a top 300 just once and ESPN offers up a three star rating.
Those offers were seemingly sincere. I went back and checked out some 247 articles from schools in pursuit and there was no mention of whether he was a "take" or not, just excitement and optimism they might lock him down. I mean, he took an official to Tuscaloosa in late January.
But I get it. If Wheatley's a TE there's a lot of projection you have to make from that particular offense in upstate New York to one that throws in college. Scout put him on their list of the top five kids "best served to redshirt":
… has a world of talent. If he plays tight end in college, he will have to drop some weight. If he plays defensive end, he will need to refine his technique.
And Wheatley does not demonstrate the ability to blow the top off the defense like a Fleener or an OJ Howard. (Or a Funchess, if Funchess was a tight end, which he is emphatically not.) ESPN is the only service to give him three stars and that lack appears to be their main issue with him:
very good height and a lengthy frame that can still support more good mass … Doesn't demonstrate the burst or top-end speed to stretch the field … Size and reach can make a tough match-up, but doesn't display great burst out of breaks to consistently run away from defenders and create separation. … good hands with the ability to extend and catch away from his frame. Displays ability to reach up and snag passes thrown above his head. …not always natural when having to open up frame and adjust.
The snippets of Wheatley as a receiver above confirm that, but there is still some upside here. Wheatley pushed up to 270 at points during high school before getting back down to 260. He is still developing physically, and might drop to 250 and up his quicks, or he might end up 280 and be a road grader (or DE).
"His dad has been on record as saying he's a better defensive player. I would probably go there. I think he's an amazing defensive end. He's a great tight end as well, but the things he's able to do, he's able to dominate games at defensive end."
Early in his high school days he mostly chose DE when he went to camps, and his showings there spurred the flood of early offers from heavy hitters:
…far and away the best player at the camp. The Rivals250 defensive end has added a lot of strength to his core and it helped him play with good leverage. Wheatley used that strength to help push offensive linemen out of the way en route to the quarterback. He also showed very good technique, beating offensive linemen inside and outside.
His stats are certainly more impressive at that spot, although mostly because they don't hand out stats for making kids two dimensional.
Given what we saw this spring, I guarantee that in 2016 we get reports that Wheatley is playing on both sides of the ball. You know, just in case. Whether he sticks there will depends partially on how he's doing as a DE and partially on how much Harbaugh likes Bunting, Hill, McKeon, et al. versus Wormley, Johnson, Marshall, et al. Given the two DEs in this recruiting class and Harbaugh's predilection for TEs, the bet here is that he stays on offense. You never know, though.
Why Tyler Ecker or Levine Tiololo? Ecker is your Michigan comparison: a hefty but reasonably agile tight end able to be a dual threat. Ecker is infamous for the end of that Nebraska bowl game, but when he was not doing that he was a B+ athlete who was a solid starter for Michigan. Wheatley is a bit bigger, and Ecker was not regarded as an especially punishing blocker. Hopefully Wheatley would be Ecker++.
Tiololo is the Harbaugh comparison. At his Cardinal apex, Harbaugh's three-headed TE troika included Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo, all of whom went in the the NFL draft. The 6'8", 260 pound Toilolo was the biggest and most ponderous of the group—Fleener ran a 4.52 40 at 250 pounds!—but still a highly effective weapon thanks to his catching radius and the fact that he could generally outrun people who started the play going the wrong way.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. General consensus seems based on a shruggie emoticon about where he'll play. Level of competition and style of offense makes TE evaluation difficult. Did hit a number of camps as an underclassman and played in Semper Fi game.
Variance: High. Could be a killer. Could be just okay.
Ceiling: High. At either end or TE has the ability to play in the NFL.
General Excitement Level: High. Harbaugh/Drevno TEs tend to be excellent and Wheatley provides enticing clay for them to work with. None of Harbaugh's NFL TE troika were ranked anywhere near Wheatley.
Projection: Likely he plays as a freshman. Harbaugh loves him some tight ends and Wheatley may be better prepared to be a second blocker than Ian Bunting, who is still listed 20 pounds lighter than Wheatley is. Khalid Hill was out this spring, as well, so Harbaugh is unfamiliar with him. Easy to see Wheatley as the second inline tight end in goal line/Harbaugh packages.
From there, he'll probably continue being the blocky sidekick to Michigan's slightly quicker tight ends. Butt has another year left after this one and Bunting should be rounding into a Michigan version of Fleener or Ertz; Wheatley will get a ton of time and will hopefully be the unsung hero that gets ++++ in UFR.
Twitter. Son of—surprise!—Jon Runyan, Sr., Michigan All Big Ten tackle and longtime NFL player.
Don't let the "none" in other suitors put you off too much. When Jon Runyan, Jr., camped at Michigan in 2013, an offer came. Runyan took approximately 1.5 looks at his dad, Jon Runyan, Sr., and committed. Nobody else had an opportunity to take a crack at him.
All OL take a lot of projection; when Michigan took Runyan the squinting at the future was even more strained than usual. Hoke and staff offered a 6'3", 245-pound sophomore based on his camp performance and the guy next to him in the picture above. Runyan didn't go to many camps—I found a mention of him at a local Nike camp and nothing else—and isn't the kind of player to physically wow you, so recruiting sites filed him as a generic three star and mostly forgot about him.
The good news is that Runyan made up about half the difference between the sophomore version of himself and a Big Ten offensive lineman, adding 30 pounds. Sullivan also listed Runyan at 6'5", which is just on the edge of "plausible tackle" territory. Sullivan still saw a future interior OL, one that needed to up the HULK SMASH:
In the run game, Runyan was solid at standing up the opposing defensive lineman, but didn't always get quite as much push out of a player headed to Michigan… has developed the physical attributes needed to become a top lineman, but doesn't always know exactly how to use them. …. too willing at times to deliver a blow with his forearm, letting the defender take control of their individual battle, rather than using his hands to move the defender where he wants him to go. … his positioning and angles left him chasing the linebacker, rather than getting between him and the play, walling off and creating a big hole.
That would be the less good news. There's still a lot of projection there.
Judging by the fact it's followed by an "underclassman evaluation," ESPN's undated scouting report does seem to be based on senior film. Here are a few of the bits that don't seem to feature in every middling OL prospect's profile:
…needs to add bulk while improving playing strength, pop and explosion when run blocking; his quickness, balance and agility allow him to play on his feet and adjust to tight space movement. …nimble feet and hand quickness are assets; sets quickly showing good flexibility; can bend and slide to the top of the pocket … needs to play stouter vs. the bull rush … athletic guy with a quick first step; can handle quick inside movement, protecting his inside gap; … initial pop and surge must improve;… effective trap blocker.
In that evaluation, Runyan sounds like a center, one that Rich Rodriguez would have enthusiastically recruited.
I'm not sure how much credence to lend scouting reports from 247 and Scout, as they are old. Brian Dohn had an evaluation post from October of 2013 that praised his athleticism and feet but notices that he is not 300 pounds. He's trying his best to project:
knows how to position his body and he does a fantastic job of recognizing whom to block, even if it is on the second level. …has the athleticism to play guard and be effective pulling as a lead blocker … His ability to move his feet and sit back in his base in pass protection is already an asset.
He took in a St. Peter's game last year as well, but was scouting a half dozen guys in that game. The resulting post only briefly touches on Runyan, mentioning that he was "solid, but not overwhelming" and offering a back-handed compliment that echoes what Sullivan said: "when he was able to engage the defensive player, Runyan did a good job of finishing the block."
Clint Brewster had a take based on junior film. His numerical evaluations are Lake Wobegone grades in which everyone's above average—it's a ten point scale and I can't remember ever seeing a 4 or lower—and the big question is right there first:
Frame gets a 7, though, so… yeah. Numbers are tough with recruiting because so many people are waiting to yell at you. More text-type stuff:
Runyan has plus athleticism but it looks as if he is still getting used to his body. … Very good footwork for a young player and always takes the right steps. He’s got a smooth kick back in pass protection and has pretty quick feet. He does great job of staying infront of his man in pass protection. …very smart player with high ceiling and great technique.
There's obviously some disagreement here about just how much of a technician Runyan is at this stage. Brewster's instant eval after his commit called him a "pure technician" who "does everything right with flawless technique," which is completely impossible. That was a discussion of a kid who had just finished his sophomore year of high school.
The more recent reports indicate a coachable kid who is going to need plenty of said coaching and time in the weight room. He has the genes; he's got a path to reasonable size; it is completely understandable that recruiting sites filed him in the vast pile of offensive linemen who have a chance but only a chance.
Etc.: If Runyan doesn't work out—or if, like, anyone doesn't work out, this will be your most longstanding ARRRGH BRADY HOKE issue. Runyan camped next to Chuma Edoga, future top 50 interior line recruit and USC commit, and Edoga was chomping at the bit to commit. But no offer came.
Why Dave Pearson? Pearson overcame some serious size limitations (he entered college 6'3", 240) to be a reliable, heady starting center in the mid-aughts. He was undrafted and had a cup of coffee in the NFL.
Pearson was actually a weakside end to recruiting sites before packing on the necessary weight to be an OL; Runyan has a head start on him in that department since he'll enter at around 275. Still, acquiring the necessary size and strength will be Runyan's biggest challenge.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Peripheral OL prospects don't get a ton of attention and a lot of the scouting here is really old. But they're all in approximate agreement and the things they say make sense.
Variance: High. Is OL. Is sleeper OL.
Ceiling: Moderate. Sounds like he's a better fit for a zone system; under Harbaugh he's probably a center and a center only, and one that gets by instead of being David Molk.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. Those genes though.
Projection: Is OL, redshirt. Can compete for the starting C job as early as next year; more realistically that will be someone else's job—probably Patrick Kugler. Runyan's first real crack at time is likely to be as a redshirt junior, when he'll be big and strong enough to play for Harbaugh.
Brady Hoke recruited a lot of offensive linemen, but had trouble finding tackles. Some of that was just bad luck—a few months after he acquired top 100 tackle Chris Fox his knee turned into jello. Some of it was a reliance on developing guys like Logan Tuley-Tillman. Hoke's player development was… let's say subpar.
As a result, Grant Newsome walks into a depth chart where he may already be on the two-deep, depending on where exactly Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson end up. That's because he is very much a tackle, and probably that rarest of man-mountain: the natural left tackle. After Newsome played in the Semper Fi game, Tim Sullivan tracked down his coach for an extensive article:
"First of all, you can't teach 6-7," Hansen said. "I think it's a frame that coach is going to be enthralled with. Knowing Coach Harbaugh like I do, I know that he likes big dudes who can move. His work ethic is great, his understanding of offensive concepts is great, he'll learn quickly.
"It's not that I was not expecting it, but I think his pass protection was something that was ahead of his run blocking at this stage of the game," Hansen said. "A lot of times, you get the opposite for a high school kid, where they're more comfortable run blocking. He was more versed in protection part of it."
247's Barton Simmons calls him a "future left tackle" with "outstanding" size, echoing the implication that he's got great feet but needs to work on pad level/leverage/run blocking. Colleague Steve Wiltfong had a similar take after seeing him at an Opening regional:
…could have easily won offensive line MVP honors and … Perhaps he still will. Has the ideal frame one wants in a left tackle, has nice length, he can bend, he keeps defensive linemen off him, not letting them get their hands on him.
And so it goes.
Clint Brewster, 247: "Newsome is a long, athletic offensive tackle that has the body frame and range to play on the left side. … reminds me of current Michigan offensive lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman, who has a similar body type and playing style. Newsome does a great job in pass protection because of his long arms and quick feet. … could be more physical in the running game and but dominates at the high school level with his size and technique. Keeps his hands inside and has an excellent base- always staying in his hips and driving through."
ESPN: "Displays good bend and flexibility in his stance. … his big, lengthy frame can present a detour for rushers. … doesn't consistently deliver a good initial pop and roll hips and can get stalemated. … Newsome has good size and ability to work with and develop. Little raw and inconsistent in areas and needs to continue to fill out."
Adam Friedman, Rivals: "definitely lived up to the hype. He's a huge offensive lineman with great feet and excellent patience. It was also impressive to see how much of a leader he was. Even in warm-ups, he was talking to his players making sure they were ready. Overall strength is an issue for Newsome."
Brian Dohn, Scout: "long and athletic, and he has a good initial punch. …doesa very good job of getting to the second level, and he also understands how to sit in pass protection and not reach."
There is not much dissension in the ranks here, though ESPN turns in another evaluation that doesn't seem to fit their ranking. Some previous recruits in this class had highly encouraging reports coupled with generic three-star rankings; in this case they give a four-star guy a tepid review with a lot of "flashes ability X."
The general impression is that Newsome is an ideal left tackle who doesn't seem likely to become the kind of donkey-hating asset in the run game that a Taylor Lewan or a Jake Long was.
One caveat: Dohn notes that Newsome attends an "exclusive boarding school," which in retrospect yeah, it's called "The Lawrenceville School," of course. This means he hasn't gone up against quality competition. Most of the defensive ends he's faced aspire to be C-blank-Os instead of face-mashing NFL players. That seems to have put a hard ceiling on his rankings since recruiting analysts don't have much, if any, opportunity to see him against top competition.
That's a negative, but it's one that helped Michigan retain a much-needed asset. Newsome never wavered despite everything. The boarding school plays into that. On top of his physical qualities, Newsome is also an excellent student, carrying a 3.65 GPA at a serious school. He has an unusual background for anyone other than that dude with a ponytail from Good Will Hunting:
Academics are huge to Newsome, who plans on majoring in history. Both of his parents, and one of his grandfathers, graduated from Princeton with degrees in history.
“I guess it’s something that just runs in the family,” the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Newsome said. “I’m really interested in the Civil War reconstruction period.
Newsome and Lloyd Carr are going to be best buds.
This is good for any player since it means they'll probably be coachable, stick around, and help out the APR; for OL it's even more important since OL is extraordinarily complicated. OL consistently score the highest on the NFL's wonderlic test. Newsome should be able to handle the mental aspect of the game, and relatively quickly.
The question here is whether Harbaugh can make him mean.
Why Adam Stenavich? Stenavich was not quite the level of prospect Lewan and Long were but he was a quality left tackle who was first team All Big Ten for two consecutive years and kicked around NFL practice squads for five years after he graduated. Stenavich was a high quality pass protector in college but only decent as a run blocker.
One important difference: Stenavich was only 6'4". Newsome has higher upside.
Guru Reliability: High-minus. High profile player with approximate rankings consensus. Did do a few camps, but not many.
Variance: Moderate-plus. Newsome's close to the correct size already, has no academic question marks, and has a definite spot he projects to. Still needs all of the OL stuff, and level of competition is in question.
Ceiling: High. Not elite since he doesn't seem to be the kind of mean, mashing run blocker that Long and Lewan were.
General Excitement Level: High-minus. Excellent package at a very important position, but is OL.
Projection: Is OL, redshirt.
After, Michigan doesn't need him right away unless injury strikes. He probably has another year as a backup waiting for him since Mason Cole isn't going anywhere and whoever locks down the right tackle job this year should maintain it. If that's Erik Magnuson—my current guess—then Newsome will be one of the prime candidates to replace him 2017.
Cole's job could also come open then if he's good enough to leave for the draft, but since he's not one of those 6'8" Lewan-shaped guys that's not particularly likely. So in 2018 a redshirt junior Newsome is probably going to be the top option at left tackle to replace a four-year starter.
Nolan Ulizio was a bit of a weird pickup even in the context that Michigan acquired him in. That context was a pre-Signing Day scramble after a coach was hired in late December. While that situation often provides opportunities for sleepers, a four star guy had just decommitted from Wisconsin and was all but banging the door down for a Michigan offer; Michigan said nah and swooped in on a guy who was committed to UConn… and also considering Kentucky. Sam Madden ended up at Georgia. Nolan Ulizio is the focus of this post.
That is not a complaint. Far be it from me or anyone short of Steve Hutchinson to question the offensive line bonafides of Jim Harbaugh and Tim Drevno. According to his coach, Drevno likes:
“D.J. called me this morning and said the offensive line coach really, really liked what he saw on film of Nolan and said he fits his scheme. He said he’s really aggressive and plays with a nasty attitude and conceptualizes the game really well.”
"The great part about Nolan is he's a very physical, aggressive player," said Cox. "He plays with a nasty attitude and enjoys being an offensive lineman. … He plays with a chip on his shoulder, he plays to the whistle, and he finishes really really well. Secondly, I think Nolan does a great job of conceptualizing what you're trying to do offensively. He can think on his feet, with the defense a moving object that he reacts to quickly."
When Michigan fans scrambled to Hudl in an effort to see what the coaches saw they saw a guy who put together a nice tape in the top division of Ohio football. I normally dismiss highlight tapes for OL, but you may as well watch this one. There's not a whole lot of scouting on him, and almost all of it was after the fact of his Michigan commitment. On the tape, Ulizio looks mean and agile.
That tape and a major senior-year improvement were enough for a couple of the sites to bump him into quality three-star range. He's only a few slots away from a fourth star on Scout; ESPN has him farther down but still in the "he's got a shot" range. Rivals and 247 not so much.
Some of the disparity comes from the late improvement. Ulizio was not on D-I radars until late in his senior year, when UConn stepped in. Kentucky, Pitt, and Michigan followed relatively quickly afterwards.
Scout was the only site that seemed to think this was coming. They'd already ranked him a high three star by the time of his commitment; other sites' evaluations consisted of shruggie emoticons across the board. Scout's Dave Berk on why they were relatively high on him:
One of the more improved prospects from junior to senior year. Ulizio is a strong drive blocker with above average feet and the strength to compete early. Must work on overall flexibility, but showed great improvement in past year. Plays tackle in high school but projects as a guard with the ability to pull or a power tackle. Must get lower to get more power out of his hips.
Possesses very good overall size and may even be little bigger than what is listed. Demonstrates excellent playing strength. … needs to watch pad level as he can set high … Big, physical kid that can deliver a good initial pop and demonstrating a very good lower body strength and knee drive can generate good push. … Can be inconsistent and a beat slow off the ball, but does demonstrate he can use angles well to help him get into position and get the job done. …better football player then he is overall athlete and ceiling may not be real high.
… good looking frame for an offensive tackle, with solid arm length and wingspan. He shows fluid movement getting out of his stance and displays a natural lateral shuffle to stay in front of defenders. Ulizio has the tenacity and aggressiveness you like to see on the offensive line, driving defenders back and putting them on skates. He does a great job on his drive blocks, getting underneath opponents and pushing them back.
"Honestly I didn't see anything there that would have predicted the offers he's received in the last month or so, from the likes of Michigan and Kentucky. … I have seen his senior film and there are some good plays on there and that's what senior film is supposed to be, it's supposed to be your best plays. When I saw him in a full game setting and the camp setting against other Division I prospects, what we saw out of him was a 2-star level prospect."
Etc., etc. The courtesy bump thing is partially CYA on the part of recruiting services, but it's also partially taking new information into account and reconsidering. Helmholdt does not play that game, for better or worse.
A lack of athleticism is consistently mentioned in the negative areas of Ulizio's scouting reports. I wonder what that even means in the context of an offensive lineman, where functional speed is dictated almost entirely by technique except in rare cases like getting out on screens. If Michigan was going to be outside zone heavy that might be a problem. Since they're not going to be, eh.
Ulizio is a guard or a right tackle down the road, depending on whose take on his feet is correct and how much development Harbaugh and Drevno can drag out of him. This was a guy Michigan chose over not only Madden but in-state three/four star borderline OL David Moorman, so Michigan thinks there's something there even if the recruiting sites are generally skeptical.
Given the track records here, you would be justified to deploy Trust The Coaches. Reading all these exhortations for Ulizio to get lower reminded me of Dann O'Neill, a massively hyped in-state prospect who transferred almost immediately because he was reportedly just about unable to bend his legs. He was an All-MAC player at WMU and had a cup of coffee in the NFL, which just goes to show that nobody ever knows anything about OL. Except maybe Tim Drevno.
Why Reuben Riley? Riley was a big thumping right tackle with pass protection issues who may have been better off at guard. Riley was considerably more touted out of high school than Ulizio is, but underperformed expectations and was just all right as a college player.
Guru Reliability: Low. Nobody was paying attention to him before the flurry of offers except Scout.
Variance: High. Is OL. Is sleeper OL.
Ceiling: Moderate. I don't know. He's certainly big enough to play. There are many people with reservations. He is OL.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. I like him better than his rankings and offers because of that context he was acquired in, and I like his tape. I wouldn't go so far as to say THESE RANKINGS ARE CRAZY, but when guys rise late as seniors they are often undervalued.
Projection: Is OL and is not Mason Cole, so redshirt. After, could compete at either guard slot or RT. Is OL. Nobody knows.
"Sometimes his desire to be challenged drove me crazy as a football coach. There were some classes that he was taking and he was so locked into his honors classes and AP courses that he'd stay up to 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning to take care of homework and deal with everything in his life. Some of the AP classes were really kicking his butt but he would never get out of them.
"We talked to his mom and he was adamant that he was going to stay in those classes. Once his senior year rolled around he got out of the AP classes and hung in there with the honors classes to make it a little easier on him. His big thing is that he just loves a challenge. He wants to be challenged in everything he does. You can't tell Reuben that he can't do something. He will work hard enough to make sure to show you that he can do it."
…Jones is crazy like Harbaugh. Like Keith Washington, this is a recruit who does not have fancy stars. He does have the approval of Bo Pelini, Mark Dantonio, and Jim Harbaugh—all guys who know a defensive end when they see one. The scouting below is not going to be enthralling, but keep that in mind before you get too down.
Jones burst on to the scene through sheer chance. He grabbed a Rivals camp invite because it was going on at his high school and made the most of his opportunity, blowing through every offensive lineman put opposite him. Rivals ranked him just below five star Byron Cowart on the day and he nailed down his first offers. Analyst Woody Womack on his performance:
"We really liked him, especially in a camp setting because he's so fast off the ball. He's long and lean, and really gives bigger slower guys a hard time with explosion off the edge. In a camp setting, he doesn't lose many reps at all."
That made him into a high major recruit, albeit not a highly touted one. He did lock down two offers from teams you may be familiar with, eventually committing to Nebraska over Michigan State in November. That was just two weeks before Bo Pelini was controversially axed. He was not shy when asked to react:
"I've called players on the team, I've called recruits and we're all talking about what we're going to do," he said. "A lot of guys are saying they want to open up their recruitment. Nebraska is probably going to lose this class because they don't know what they're doing."
Jones was asked if he still wants to be listed as a commitment to Nebraska and he replied: "Yeah, as of right now. Because I don't want to de-commit and be looking crazy if I end up going to Nebraska."
Michigan got in touch through DJ Durkin, he visited, he flipped, and Harbaugh had his first commit.
In Jones, Michigan has acquired another defensive end they'll have to put a bunch of weight on and then see what they've got. Usually such prospects come with universal praise about their explosiveness because that's what gets an undersized guy major college looks. In Jones's case the scouting is more mixed. On the one hand, here's a scouting report from a Nebraska site after his commit:
Jones off of the edge can just get up the field faster than the offensive tackle can kickstep and just runs around the lineman. You see the speed when he shoots the C gap and again when he lines up at the three and basically comes free (running back tries to pick him up).
We see a prospect with tight space and change of direction mobility; does an outstanding job of pursuing the football. … can play with strength at the point of attack, shedding blockers, fighting pressure and working back to the football; this guy doesn't get stuck on blocks. … dominant pass rusher with the explosive first step needed to get even and blow pass offensive tackles; plays with a low center of gravity which allows him to squeeze the top of the pocket. Displays the straight on power needed to knock blockers back on their heels; combines active feet and hand quickness to change up and work back to the inside when seemingly stymied.
Not the most fleet-footed but Jones has solid straight-line speed down the field. …not much finesse in his game or pure athleticism or lateral agility. More of a heavy-footed guy. … Very solid burst off the ball and can explode through the quarterback or ball carriers. Excellent tenacity. … plays with outstanding toughness and finds a way to win against the offensive tackle.
I am not a scout but I watched the Hudl film in an effort to have an opinion on this divide. I come down on the more reserved end of the spectrum. Jones does have some burst, but even in the highlights it seems like the tackle has coped with it and will push Jones wide of the pocket. His hits and sacks off the edge rush usually come in situations where his pursuit and motor become relevant.
"He was very, very physical at defensive end. He plays the run very well but he has the great speed off the edge. A lot of times we'd double-team him with a tight end or an h-back.
"He doesn't get blown off the ball. He's very explosive and very strong even when getting double teamed. He's going to hold his ground on the line of scrimmage and you are going to have to try and get around him but that's where his quickness comes in. He's tough to handle."
It was odd watching a 220 pound DE prospect and being considerably more impressed by his work as a DT, but here we are.
Jones is going to be an excellent early indicator of Harbaugh's ability to find and develop talent. This is a thing he is excellent at doing, and other than the AP classes the most impressive thing on his resume is the attention he drew from guys who have made three-star DEs into killers.
Reuben Jones is one of those guys that you'll be watching on Saturday and the announcer says, "wonder how this guy got out of Florida".
There's work to do here, as Jones told Sam Webb that he's currently 225 and that:
"I’m not looking to try to get a lot bigger, just trying to get a lot faster while I’m here, get a lot quicker. I’m probably going to be at 230 or 232 something like that. Right now, they say I have a great possibility of playing early. ”
That is what they tell all the girls who want to play DL at 230. It's going to be some time before we see what the finished product here is; Jones and Harbaugh and Mattison should combine to make it whatever the best finished product can be.
Jones recorded 71 tackles and 10 sacks last season as a senior at Lake Gibson, and finished with 27 1/2 sacks during his varsity career.
Why Mario Ojemudia? Explosive but undersized defensive end who needs to add a lot of weight to be plausible and may top out around 250. Jones, like Ojemudia, spent a significant amount of time in high school playing a DT spot. Both were ranked as three stars because of questions about their size. Ojemudia's high school film was a lot more impressive, but Jones is probably playing against better players.
Craig Roh is another potential comparable. Roh was a much bigger recruit but did not live up to that hype. After he stopped bouncing around to linebacker—which was depressing for him and us—and found a place on the defensive line he rounded into a solid run-stopping end. Heady and high motor are two attributes you could apply to both players.
Guru Reliability: High-minus. Healthy guy playing approximately his spot. Didn't go to camps much and will have to put on some weight.
Variance: Moderate. He'll probably work out in some form; he probably won't be an electric star.
Ceiling: Moderate. Size will be an issue and doesn't seem to have the kind of explosiveness that would help mitigate that.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. Jones seems like a good bet to be a contributor and maybe a starter. Hard to see a star, but Harbaugh's made hay with these kinds of dudes before.
Projection: I keep saying redshirt redshirt redshirt and Jones is another guy you'd figure is in line for one at 225 or 230. After either a redshirt or sparing time this year, Jones will be in the mixer at WDE (or "buck") and maybe SAM if he ends up Jake Ryan-ish. With Lawrence Marshall and probably Taco Charlton in front of him it'll be year three before Michigan will be banking of Jones to deliver.