Paramus (N.J.) Catholic 2017 linebacker Drew Singleton is a “no doubt” prospect when his time comes, according to his head coach Chris Partridge.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Singleton played as a freshman in a run to a state championship last fall, and will blossom this fall as a starter.
“He’s special,” Partridge said. “He’s a freak.”
Chris Partridge would move on to Michigan, where he's now the linebackers coach, after Drew Singleton's sophomore season. This evening, Singleton announced that he'll once again be Partridge's pupil, choosing Michigan over Clemson, Michigan State, and a host of top-tier offers. Even though Singleton missed the vast majority of his senior season with an ACL tear, his rankings suggest he's still regarded as a "no doubt" prospect.
Singleton has maintained a lofty standing in the rankings despite missing the majority of his senior season. Only ESPN has him outside the top 100 overall; they ranked him 201st in their initial release and had him as high as #125 in their April update. Encouragingly, the site that has by far the most scouting available on Singleton, Rivals, is the one that ranks him the highest; he made it as high as #33 overall in their rankings before sliding back while sidelined with the knee injury.
There's a tighter consensus on Singleton's size: he's listed at 6'2" and 214-218 pounds on each of the four sites. He'll probably be a WILL at Michigan, though he's got the range and coverage ability to potentially play SAM.
Commitmas continues unabated as four-star IMG Academy linebacker Jordan Anthony announced his commitment to Michigan this evening via video. The Wolverines beat out fellow finalists Auburn, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Penn State.
Anthony is the 25th commit in the 2017 class and the fifth to make his pledge in the last eight days, following Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cesar Ruiz, and Deron Irving-Bey—all of them are composite four-star recruits or, in the case of Peoples-Jones, even better. If you happen to agree with Rivals, Anthony is also a five-star talent.
4*, #13 OLB,
5*, #1 ILB,
4*, 83, #9 ATH,
4*, 92, #12 OLB,
4*, #6 OLB,
There's a significant outlier here: Rivals, which already had Anthony at 70th overall, moved him into five-star range in their latest update. ESPN, which likes Anthony as both a running back and linebacker, also has him a little higher than the other two. He's was primarily a running back as a freshman and junior; he was primarily a linebacker as a sophomore and senior. ESPN is the only site that spends much time discussing his potential on offense:
Quite honestly it would be easy to immediately slot this guy into a linebacker role for the next level which he likely is, but the more you watch him on offense the more belief you have that he may be able to remain on offense in the right scheme as a load carrier.
They expect him to wind up at linebacker and Michigan's needs indicate he'll play defense, too. I don't believe the position-switching explains the split in his rankings; IMG is too well-scouted for sites to fire-and-forget on their highly touted guys.
Every site save 247 (6'0", 220) lists Anthony at 6'1" and 220-226 pounds. Depending on how Don Brown utilizes the SAM spot post-Peppers, Anthony could wind up at either the WILL or SAM; he's got the athleticism and coverage ability you want in an outside linebacker.
Per a source, Michigan State had the lead for Irving-Bey even before he had an offer from MSU. Michigan State co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett has been in touch with Irving-Bey since January and has done an outstanding job recruiting him. Irving-Bey plans to visit Michigan State again very soon. A source added that if MSU stays on Irving-Bey that he’ll end up a Spartan soon.
Some recruiting insiders are hearing Irving-Bey is leaning towards Michigan, but a source close to him told Spartan Tailgate, "I know he loves Michigan State and I'm surprised he hasn't already committed." Irving-Bey plans to take an official visit Tennessee later on this month. We are also told Irving-Bey plans to visit Michigan State again in the near future. Irving-Bey is a high priority for Michigan State because he has the ability to play the same positions for MSU as Malik McDowell does. He can play multiple positions on the defensive line and with McDowell likely to declare for the NFL after his junior season, Irving-Bey is a must get for the Spartans in the class of 2017.
By that time, however, Irving-Bey had become an increasingly frequent visitor to Ann Arbor. A visit to East Lansing (for the Michigan game, incidentally) was sandwiched between an October unofficial and December official visit to Michigan. As Crystal Ball picks to Michigan came flooding in, SpartanTailgate sources changed their tune:
According to a Wolverine source, "The only way Michigan doesn't get Irving-Bey is if he waits too long."
Irving-Bey has taken official visits to Maryland on Dec. 3 and Michigan on Dec. 10. Irving-Bey is announcing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and likely to select Michigan but could still visit MSU.
A source close to Irving-Bey said, "Deron is still looking at Michigan State and plans to visit there in January."
A separate source said, "A darkhorse in Irving-Bey's recruitment is Maryland." ...
247Sports ranks Irving-Bey as the No. 5 strong-side defensive end in the country. Michigan State is recruiting to Irving-Bey play defensive tackle.
A source added that, "Irving-Bey's senior film wasn't that impressive and doesn't play with a high motor."
Spartan Tailgate was told Irving-Bey is not likely to end up at Michigan State unless they miss out on several other defensive linemen targets ahead of him. That's one of the reasons why Irving-Bey hasn't taken an official visit to Michigan State yet.
Here are a couple totally unrelated screenshots:
Here is a full list of 2017 Michigan State commits on the defensive line along with their 247 Composite rankings:
The Spartans do not have a defensive tackle in the class and zero of the 13 DTs in the 247 database holding offers from MSU are listed with more than "cool" interest in the Spartans. Seven of them have already committed to other schools, including Michigan commit Phil Paea. The remaining six don't have a single MSU Crystal Ball selection between them. The only strongside end listed as "warm" for MSU weighs 215 pounds and is ranked 1240th overall. They're expected to pick up a commitment from a 230-pound weakside end they offered yesterday who's ranked 2106th.
But, yeah, I'm sure they passed on the consensus four-star from Flint because he was too far down their board.
A source tells me Irving-Bey is not expected to make that January visit to East Lansing.
*The rest of the list: #5 Christian Cumber (Colorado State commit), #4 Lynn Bowden (Kentucky holds large lead on Crystal Ball), #3 Ambry Thomas (heh), and #2 KJ Hamler (Penn State). I'm noting this both for the lols and to save for posterity in case it mysteriously disappears from SpartanTailgate's archives.
4*, #24 DE,
3*, #18 SDE
4*, 81, #18 DT,
4*, 93, #5 SDE,
4*, #9 SDE,
Scout and ESPN both have Irving-Bey at the tail end of their top 300 lists; 247 is the bullish outlier, Rivals the bearish. His position rankings are all over the place because there isn't a consensus on whether he'll wind up on the inside or outside of the defensive line. Like fellow 2017 commits James Hudson and Donovan Jeter, Irving-Bey could be a DT or SDE at Michigan, and like Hudson he even has some potential as an offensive tackle.
Irving-Bey is listed at 6'5" by every site save ESPN (6'4") and somewhere between 265 and 284 pounds to every site save Rivals (a comically low/outdated 245).
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, highlights, and more.]
The nation's consensus top center, IMG Academy's Cesar Ruiz, committed to Michigan this afternoon over Auburn and Florida, who I found out were the other finalists only when Ruiz made his announcement. This may have been a foregone conclusion. You should watch his announcement video if you're into such things:
Michigan beat out a significant portion of the country's best programs to land Ruiz. He's the 23rd commit in the class and the fifth on the offensive line.
4*, #2 OC,
4*, #1 OC,
4*, 84, #1 OC,
4*, 95, #1 OC,
4*, #1 OC,
Ruiz is the nation's #1 center to every site save Scout, which lists him one spot below Texas Tech commit Jack Anderson. Scout is a minor outlier in Ruiz's rankings and still has him in the top 100, and his rankings are in such a tight range that his composite ranking is higher than any individual ranking. There's a strong consensus on Ruiz's talent.
There's also a strong consensus on his size: he's listed at 6'3" and 313-321 pounds. He's got the ideal build for a center and enough bulk to play guard.
Ruiz has been a well-regarded prospect since his time at Camden (NJ), where he was teammates with freshman DE Ron Johnson and incoming WR Brad Hawkins. He picked up his first offers, from South Carolina and Temple, in March of 2015, and was one of the underclassman standouts at the RCS New Jersey a month later. By the beginning of May, he held offers from Alabama, Auburn, and LSU, and Bama's 247 site listed him as the starting center on their fantasy two-deep for 2018.
Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy center Cesar Ruiz was the smallest offensive lineman on hand on Friday, but the four-star prospect looked natural snapping the ball and handling bigger defensive tackles. He was able to sit back with a wide base and stay in front of pass rushers using his feet.
Ruiz was his usual steady self. The four-star prospect is a well-rounded lineman that can play center or guard. He moves well for a player of his size and has been well-coached throughout his career. He will continue to improve rapidly as he gets stronger.
He earned an invite to the Opening finals at the Orlando regional with a performance Scout considered the best of any offensive lineman in attendance:
Ruiz worked at guard in the Final Five, but he is a center, and that is where he did most of his damage Sunday. He is very strong at the point of attack, he set a great base, and at times he wasn't moved. If Scout had to name a Top OL, it would have been him.
He soundly won two of three reps in that Final Five while working at guard:
Ruiz didn't draw much mention from the Rivals Five-Star Challenge save for in Mike Farrell's awards column, when the recruiting analyst praised Ruiz for missing only one rep after taking a nasty poke to the eye.
Ruiz was stoning defensive lineman after defensive lineman last week. He has great lower body strength, he showed great punch, and he was rarely pushed backwards. It is hard to find a better center out there in 2017. Ruiz is considered to be a strong Alabama lean at this time, but there are others involved here. One to watch is Michigan, but like the Wolverines, all others are chasing the Crimson Tide right now.
I didn't realize Ruiz was this good. He just couldn't be moved. It's not that he's a massive guy on the inside, it's just that he plays with such good leverage, such good hand placement and such tenacity that he won almost every rep. Even massive bodies like Marvin Wilson and Tyler Shelvin weren't able to overpower Ruiz but the more active defenders like Jay Tufele couldn't out-quick him either.
There's surprisingly little out there on Ruiz from his senior season even though he played at the most heavily scouted high school program in the country. This recap of IMG's win over Georgia powerhouse Grayson from 247's Steve Wiltfong is the closest thing to a single-game scouting report from the 2016 season:
I thought the left side of IMG’s offensive line played well in the second half in Notre Dame commit Robert Hainsey, Top247 2018 offensive guard Curtis Dunlap and the nation’s No. 1 ranked center in 2017 Cesar Ruiz. Mond did some damage running behind those three.
“Ruiz boasts an incredibly strong upper body with massive legs and a great base. Still, his true worth is in his versatility. He can easily play guard at the next level but is also capable of remaining at center, where he has a heap of experience. Ruiz will likely go north for college. Michigan is the heavy favorite to land his pledge, but North Carolina and Penn State are also options.” – Cassidy
ESPN's evaluation concludes that Ruiz could be an early contributor and should be a multi-year starter at center:
Ruiz is a very good center prospect with good experience at the position. Looks to be progressing well and continuing to get better and has experience working against good competition on a daily basis. With continued growth as a player has potential to come in and compete for time as freshman, but if not in the big picture can be a guy who anchors a line for several seasons for a Power-5 program.
Scout's free evaluation praises his pad level(!) and doesn't have too much to critique:
Ruiz plays with a low pad level and explodes well. He is quick to the second level and his agility allows him to manipulate his body and make square blocks on smaller targets. He has a strong initial punch and once engaged, he drives his legs and turns the defensive play to open a hole. He retreats well in pass protection and he reads blitzes well. Adding more knee bend and getting his hands inside more are key to his development. -- Brian Dohn
Body Control and Balance
Quickness Off Ball
Areas to Improve
Ruiz is the rare true center prospect who's considered such not because he's undersized, but because he's a great fit for the position. He's much more experienced at the position than most high-level high school prospects—who often play tackle no matter what in high school—and he's proven he can hold up on the interior against the best competition in his class.
Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Louisville, LSU, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech, among others.
IMG is a sports academy in Florida with a crap-ton of top-flight talent. Michigan held their spring practice there last year for reasons that should be obvious by now.
Is OL, no stats.
FAKE 40 TIME
ESPN lists a combine time of 5.26 seconds, which gets zero FAKEs out of five. That was less than a tenth of a second off the top SPARQ-recorded time for a center in this cycle. He had one of the better shuttle times among centers at 4.66, posted a solid 28.7" vertical, and missed the best powerball throw by half a foot at 42'0". His 97.92 SPARQ score is best among centers in the class, per ESPN. His Hudl profile also lists a 375-pound bench press and 610-pound squat. That is a lot more than I can do.
Ruiz probably won't get a chance to play right away unless Mason Cole goes pro and Patrick Kugler is needed at guard—let's not do that, please—but once Cole graduates there's a good chance he takes over the center spot as early as 2018.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Ruiz is the only center commit Michigan needs, and he's the fifth total commit along the offense line; M could take up to three more OL to round out a class that should reach 32. Their next commitment could (probably should) come at 4 pm today, when in-state DL Deron Irving-Bey makes his announcement. More could come later this week. Ruiz's IMG teammate, four-star LB Jordan Anthony, is scheduled to announce on Thursday, and there are rumors that more decisions could be bumped up to this week.
Other top targets include five-star CA RB Najee Harris, five-star GA DT Aubrey Solomon, top-100 UT DT Jay Tufele, top-100 NJ OLB Drew Singleton, top-100 TX OT Chuck Filiaga, and four-star MS OLB Willie Gay.
Donovan Peoples-Jones was billed as the next Detroit-produced superstar practically from the moment he set foot on the field for Cass Tech as a freshman in 2013. If anything, he surpassed those lofty expectations during a superlative high school career that culminated last month in a state championship blowout of Catholic Central—Peoples-Jones led the way with six catches for 119 yards and a touchdown.
In the interim, his reputation reached near-mythical status as absurd feat of athleticism after absurd feat of athleticism went viral. Here's Peoples-Jones fooling around on Vine in the summer before his sophomore year:
Here he makes a 52-inch box jump look effortless in front of Devin Gardner and several stunned onlookers:
Despite possessing so much natural physical talent that he could probably skate by without doing homework for the rest of his life, he's also a straight-A student and aspiring orthopedic surgeon; reports surfaced over the summer that he was shadowing doctors at Michigan's medical school. Even for a mom quote, this is a hell of a mom quote:
“His focus and determination, sometimes, especially during football season he’ll stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning doing homework,” Rozlyn said. “I’ll ask him if he wants any help and he says no it’s my responsibility to get the work done.
“His character. I watch him every day just want to be the best. He’s taken everything I’ve put into him and multiplied it three times over. He’s just a gift. Definitely a gift. He has the kind of determination and focus, I look at him and he’s teaching me. He’s leading and guiding me. As Christian people we’re taught that sometimes the children will lead you. He’s one of those, he’s gifted.”
While Peoples-Jones had long been considered a heavy Michigan lean, he never let on as much publicly, which led to a dramatic final couple weeks of his recruitment. Florida State and Ohio State emerged as serious contenders. Tonight, in a nationally televised announcement on ESPN2, he chose to stay home.
[*it's not, sorry.]
5*, #4 WR,
5*, #2 WR,
4*, 87, #4 WR,
5*, 98, #1 WR,
5*, #1 WR,
The only site that doesn't rate Peoples-Jones as a five-star (ESPN) has him ranked higher than one that does (Scout). All consider him somewhere between great and super-great; as a result, he's the top receiver in the composite rankings.
Peoples-Jones is listed at 6'2" (or 6'2.5") and 190-200 pounds on every site save Rivals (6'1", 188), which has an outdated figure—he measured in at 6'2", 200 at this year's Opening finals. While not imposingly tall, he's done a great job of filling out his frame over the last couple years; he already looks like a college wideout.
[Hit THE JUMP for what is without a doubt the longest Hello post I've ever written.]
After some minor technical difficulties, four-star Cheshire Academy (CT) WR Tarik Black committed to Michigan today in a ceremony at his school, choosing the Wolverines over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame, and many others. Black is the second wide receiver in the 2017 class, joining Brad Hawkins, and the 21st commit in the class overall.
4*, #13 WR,
4*, #10 WR,
4*, 81, #31 WR,
4*, 92, #29 WR,
4*, #17 WR,
We have another prospect whose rankings fall into two distinct groups. Scout and Rivals both consider Black a top-100 prospect; ESPN and 247 still regard him as a four-star but place him in the ~200 overall range. There are multiple possiblities for why this split exists. Notably, Black participated in a bunch of the Rivals-only camps, which could mean Rivals has the best read on his game—or they could be rewarding him rankings-wise for participating in their camps. (This is why I hate the Rivals camps that only Rivals can cover.) There's hope it's the former, as Scout—the other site to rank him in the top 100—got out to one of his games this fall while ESPN and 247 lack much in the way of in-person scouting reports.
The four sites are in general agreement on Black's measureables, listing him at a strapping 6'3" or 6'4" (Scout splits the difference) and somewhere between 201 and 208 pounds. He's got great size for a possession receiver who can also be a contested-ball threat downfield.
Black is about as well-scouted as a prospect from Connecticut is ever going to be in large part because he's hit the camp scene hard since at least 2014, when mentions of him started popping up on Rivals. Black was an immediate contributor on varsity as a freshman in 2013, scoring nine touchdowns. Rivals named him one of the top underclassmen at the RCS New Jersey the following spring and invited him to their Underclassmen Challenge, where he also made the top performer list:
Black came all the way from the Nutmeg State and stood out with his size and route-running in a large group of wide receivers. He has very good size for his age and showed good hands as well. Syracuse and Temple have offered and he will be one to watch in New England.
Black impressed onlookers at Penn State's Junior Elite Camp that summer; he was one of three 2017 wideouts (Donovan Peoples-Jones was another) to earn mention from 247's Sean Fitz as one of that summer's PSU camp standouts:
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound prospect is smooth and adjusts well to the ball in the air. He's a natural athlete and should continue to improve his numbers as he adds explosiveness.
After a productive sophomore season, Black hit the camp circuit again. Josh Helmholdt ranked him higher than any other underclassman in a loaded field at the 2015 RCS New Jersey:
Of all the top wide receiver talent in attendance, Black may have as much upside as any of them. Another tall, fluid receiver who measures 6-foot-2 and 184 pounds, the class of 2017 four-star glides down the field and is very clean in and out of his breaks. Maybe his best attributes, however, are his hands, which were on display when a quarterback led him too far across the middle and Black had to reel in a fingertips grab while maintaining his balance.
The rankings split appears to stem from last summer. Black got only passing mention from 247's Steve Wiltfong after the New Jersey Opening regional and he wasn't invited to the Opening finals, where all four of the recruiting outlets would've had a chance to scout him in depth against top competition. Black once again was a top performer at the RCS New Jersey, however, which earned him an invite to the Rivals-only elite camp, the Five-Star Challenge. Before the Challenge, he participated in Michigan's satellite camp in Connecticut, where he won the shuttle drills competition, per TMI's Eugene Hankerson.
At the Five-Star Challenge, Black's performance ranked behind only top-50 OSU commit Tyjon Lindsay's and ahead of the likes of five-star Alabama commit Jerry Jeudy's among pass-catchers:
Black was the second-most consistent wide receiver at the event and managed to shine in both the morning and the evening sessions. Black’s length allowed him to grab a couple of overthrown balls and his crisp routes allowed him to create gobs of separation on intermediate routes. There were faster wide receivers at the camp, but few were as consistent downfield.
247, which didn't get to see Black at the Five-Star Challenge (or, obviously, at the Opening finals), moved him down from #119 overall to #186 in their July update. The perception of Black very much depends on which camp—and how many camps—a particular outlet attended where he was present.
[UPDATE: Tim Sullivan hopped into the comments to provide a helpful explanation for why Black didn't get many mentions after the Opening regional:
Black didn't do the full day of workouts at the New Jersey Opening camp (he skipped the testing, IIRC), but he did get picked to the elite group when they separated them out for the 7-on-7 portion of the day. He was solid there, but had a much more notable performance the day before at the New Jersey Rivals Camp.
A lot of kids who were great at one of those two were just OK at the other - the nature of camps on back-to-back days.
That's far preferable to Black participating in full in the Opening regional and not making an impact, obviously.]
Scout, thankfully, got out to a game of his this fall, and even though the opposing defense gameplanned to keep the ball out of Black's hands, Brian Dohn found him worthy of his top-100 ranking:
Black is not targeted much because teams bracket him in coverage, but the Scout 100 receiver is still impressive to watch. He gets off the line of scrimmage in a flash, is smooth in the open field and high points the ball well.
Black is a big target who tracks the ball well and high-points his catches. He goes over the middle and can also get down the field. He has big hands to secure the ball and tucks it quickly. He gets off the line well and is quick in and out of breaks. He knows how to use his size against the defensive backs. He needs to add strength to be more physical down the field and also to be a more effective blocker. -- Brian Dohn
Looks to have big hands and the ball rarely gets to frame. Times jumps well and high points the ball better than most. Above average body control opening up and adjusting to throws outside strike zone. Tracks deep ball well and fields over the shoulder throws naturally. Has upside as a jump ball or redzone pass catcher from a size advantage. Is a wide target capable of adjusting to errant throws.
Lacks top flight elite speed, but is very effective after the catch and fast enough. Is elusive in traffic flashing the ability to make first tackler miss while his smooth stride and tough finishing effort can eat up chunks of yardage. Is difficult to tackle and difficult to be on the jump ball. Probably at his best as a run and catch guy using his size to win downfield. Works hard to catch the football and is reliable. Will make his fair share of big plays particularly in the red zone.
Black is a quality guy. He's got terrific measurables, he is sneaky athletic and rangy and he catches the football very well the vertical passing game. Can play on the inside and outside which gives him value. Shows toughness and once he develops more savvy as a route runner he could be a polished guy. Will have to adjust to level of competition in college. A prospect for the top five conference programs.
Minor route running issues and a lack of elite speed are his main issues and his ability to catch contested balls helps make up for both of them. There could be concerns about consistency given his somewhat uneven camp performances—unfortunately there's little available detail on his Opening regional showing—but he looks like an excellent possession receiver with some big-play and red-zone upside. Amara Darboh with an extra inch or two isn't a bad comparison.
Black holds an elite offer sheet featuring Alabama, Auburn, Arizona State, Georgia, Louisville, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee, UCLA, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin, among others.
Black and classmate CJ Holmes, a four-star Notre Dame commit, are the second and third four-stars from Cheshire Academy in the Rivals database, following 2009 North Carolina signee Joshua Adams. The program has produced a healthy number of three-stars who usually wind up staying in the East; current Penn State safety Malik Golden is a Cheshire Academy product.
Black's Hudl page lists an unsourced 4.48 40 time, which gets four FAKEs out of five. That would be a near-elite electronic time, which doesn't fit with the scouting reports. He's certainly not slow, however.
Like the other receivers who will be in this class, Black will get a chance to see the field right away following the departures of Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. His ability to play on the outside or in the slot should get him more reps. As a bigger possession guy, I like his chances of carving out a role relatively early in his career; he's a very different receiver from this year's freshmen.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Black is Michigan's 21st commit in the class and their second at wide receiver, joining Brad Hawkins, who was originally a member of the 2016 class before taking a prep year. The Wolverines should take two more receivers in the class; we'll find out Thursday night if they get in-state five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones, which is the expectation, and four-star AL WR Nico Collins is a Signing Day decision.
Other positions of need include offensive line, defensive tackle, and linebacker. The pace of commitments should pick up considerably in the very near future: DPJ, as mentioned, announces tomorrow, and that's followed in quick succession by decisions from offensive linemen Isaiah Wilson (Friday) and Cesar Ruiz (Monday).
Rather athletic. [Left: 247Sports; Right: Bill Rapai/MGoBlog]
Four-star Detroit King cornerback Ambry Thomas, the #2 player in the state, committed to Michigan last night via video announcement.
An Army All-American and two-time state champion, Thomas chose the Wolverines over Michigan State in a recruitment that was very reminiscent of that of his former King teammate and current Michigan corner Lavert Hill. While the Spartans made a late push to try to convince Thomas he could be a program savior, Thomas chose a tougher path to the field and everything else that comes with being a student-athlete at Michigan:
"Grew up a Michigan fan," Thomas told 247Sports shortly after announcing his verbal. "I'm willing to accept Coach (Jim) Harbaugh's challenge and you can't go wrong with the life after football there."
Thomas is Michigan's 21st commit in the 2017 class and their second at cornerback, joining four-star Canadian prospect Benjamin St-Juste. Thomas also joins his cousin, Cass Tech safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, whose commitment to Michigan played a big role in Thomas's decision. Michigan now has four of the top five in-state recruits in the class, and they're expected to land the fifth, five-star Cass Tech WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, who will take his official visit to Ann Arbor this weekend.
4*, #5 CB,
4*, #17 CB,
4*, 81, #22 CB,
4*, 93, #3 CB,
4*, #11 CB,
There's quite a split between the bullish Scout/247 rankings and the bearish Rivals/ESPN ones, and I've seen enough of Thomas in person and on film to confidently side with the former. I'd understand the Rivals/ESPN rankings if Thomas were being evaluated as a wide receiver, a position for which he's a bit undersized but still excelled playing at The Opening against the nation's top competition—and he's been quite a two-way threat for King over the last few years.
Thomas is a superior defensive prospect, however, and while 247's ranking may be a little lofty—he does need to fill out and improve his run support—I don't get how you can keep a player with his ability and versatility out of the top 100. If Thomas reaches his potential, he could be a lockdown cornerback who contributes in all three phases.
The sites are in general agreement on Thomas's size, listing him between 5'11" and 6'0" (Scout and 247 put him at 5'11.5") and 165-174 pounds. The consensus is Thomas is on the heavier end of that range; he'll still need to bulk up before he's an effective run defender at the college level.
There's a ton out there on Thomas, who first emerged as a promising two-way player as a sophomore at King. He was listed ahead of older Power 5 players like Demetric Vance among top performers at the 2015 Pylon 7-on-7 tournament by Rivals's Josh Helmholdt, and he was barely edged out by Lavert Hill as the best DB at that spring's RCS Cleveland camp:
Thomas showed some quick footwork during position drills and he was able to get in and out of his breaks with a strong burst. During one-on-one competition, he was at the top of his game. He was blanketed receiver after receiver. He was able to stick with the quicker guys and he was able to handle the physical play of the bigger guys. He had a few pass break-ups and made a very strong push for the defensive back MVP award.
He impressed at that summer's Friday Night Light's camp at Ohio State, where Tim Sullivan concluded that with more experience "his physical skills will allow him to be a special player."
King's four-star junior Ambry Thomas had the big play of the day, an electrifying touchdown catch where he made numerous players miss in the open field. He's gotten a little bigger himself and his length and blazing speed make him an elite prospect.
He was instrumental in King's state championship, playing both receiver and cornerback. This spring, he earned an invite to The Opening finals by proving he could hang with the best of the best at the Columbus regional, per 247's Steve Wiltfong:
247Sports Director of Scouting Barton Simmons’s favorite player was Detroit (Mich.) King cornerback Ambry Thomas, who not only was invited to The Opening but also received his invite to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The day started off for the 5-foot-11 ½, 174-pound Thomas who posted one of the fastest 40-yard dash marks of the day, a laser-timed 4.48. Thomas was ready to go during 1-on-1s checking the top receivers at the event and it carried over to 7-on-7. Thomas has big-time make-up speed and went back and forth with five-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Scout's Bill Greene, at the same event, called Thomas "wiry and combative, never giving an inch in coverage"
Thomas was the most physically impressive player on the field. He's got solid height for a corner—perhaps a shade under six-foot even—with long arms, and he uses that length to play a physical brand of man coverage even in an unpadded setting. Even though he was bigger than most of the other corners, he had the smoothest backpedal and hip turn in drills—it wasn't hard to pick out the best athlete of the bunch even before one-on-ones began.
Thomas lost an early rep to [KJ] Hamler, then battled him to a relative draw in their next matchup; Thomas used his hands well to disrupt the route before Hamler broke free for a tough catch—one that probably doesn't get made in a game setting because the quarterback couldn't wait that long on one read. Thomas jammed another receiver so hard at the line of scrimmage that the QB didn't even bother with a throw, a rarity in that drill. He displayed great recovery speed and ball skills when a receiver got off the line—both are on full display in this video.
While cornerback is his future, Thomas also took a couple reps at receiver, torching the corner for an easy long completion on the first rep and high-pointing an underthrow on the second. He's got the potential to be as good as any corner from the state in recent years. Yes, that includes Jourdan Lewis—Thomas isn't quite as twitchy, but he's got better size. Like Hamler, he was itching to get back onto the field after each rep.
Thomas is another with fantastic speed, moves very well laterally, a fluid, long athlete that plays with toughness and confidence.
Wiltfong suggested Thomas may be a five-star talent; of the four sites, 247 is closest to bestowing him that honor.
Thomas didn't plan to participate in Michigan's Bright Lights Big House camp in June, but his competitive spirit won out when he saw that top-100 AL WR Nico Collins was taking part, per 247's Isaiah Hole:
Collins also got to go up against Detroit (MI) Martin Luther King CB Ambry Thomas -- who was attending the camp as a spectator, but decided to lace up his cleats once he saw Collins there.
His competitiveness stood out all summer; he only wanted the top matchups at SMSB, took as many reps as he could, and clearly relished testing his ability against the very best receivers he could find.
Thomas was one of the more reliable targets of any team at the Opening, able to work the underneath routes with quickness before breaking out during deep shots with his top end speed. The 4.43 he clicked Friday was no hoax.
He's on here on the defensive side but Thomas made his mark as our best two-way threat. He was a lock-down guy at cornerback but on a [team] hampered by injuries on offense, he was one of the day's top deep threat at wide receiver too.
Notably, Thomas was catching those passes from Dylan McCaffrey, Michigan's 2017 QB commit.
Thomas tore up The Opening, especially in 7-on-7 play. The Detroit prospect is well-known around the Midwest and is an ESPN 300 prospect, but he wasn't talked about as much nationally as other recruits. Normally a defensive back, Thomas played both offense and defense at The Opening and he scored multiple touchdowns for his team. He showed off his speed and athleticism that most around the state of Michigan knew he had.
Then they didn't move him into the top 200, because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 247, in stark contrast, shot Thomas up from #113 to #32 in their post-Opening re-rank, and he's remained in that range ever since.
Thomas was not thrown at virtually all day. His length, speed, and quickness made it very tough for any receivers to get separation and quarterbacks did not want to test the four-star cover man even in a scrimmage.
Even though he's slight at 165 pounds, Thomas showed an ability and an eagerness to come up and help against the run. He'll never be a big-time hitter or a physical presence, but he will keep contain and tackle in space when he needs to.
Thomas was featured twice in Future Blue Originals posts on this here site this season, first after his Prep Kickoff Classic game against Southfield A&T. Adam's takeaway from that game:
Thomas has been lauded for his camp performances over the summer, and it seems that the skill he showed on that circuit is translating well to the field. He’s excellent in press man and off coverage, and as a receiver he ran great routes; he’s a technician. He has the football IQ, speed, and athleticism you’d want in a CB who, should he commit to Michigan, will likely spend his college career primarily as a press man corner. As for his downside, it seems to be nothing that a college strength and conditioning program can’t fix.
All told, he’s incredibly athletic and seems to be a more legitimate two-way threat than I thought he was after our first viewing. Thomas is talented enough as a receiver to at least merit experimenting with him on offense if he eventually chooses Michigan.
To say Thomas has the highest ceiling, coming out of high school, of that whole group [of Detroit defensive backs], is not a stretch.
"I’ve watched a number of big time defensive back prospects come out of Detroit over the past 15 years, and Ambry Thomas has the talent and heart to be the best of them all," said The Michigan Insider's Sam Webb. "I think he is a taller, faster version of Jourdan Lewis. He is an excellent bump and run defender. He has great feet, loose hips, recovery speed, and tremendous ball skills.Lewis was better technically at the same stage of development, but Thomas is more physical. Jourdan grew into being physical and is now one of the best tackling corners in the country.
"I think Ambry can make the same leap with his technique. Once he does that I think you’ll see him start impacting the game on offense. He told me his wants to immerse himself in the defense for a season or two before trying his hand at receiver. When he is ready Michigan will definitely give the opportunity because he has shown himself to be a big play threat every time he touches the ball.
Thomas should be able to make an early impact at cornerback and he's got the potential to do a whole lot more down the road. Despite his lofty composite ranking, I think he's a little underrated; he's in the top handful of prospects I've seen in the state in the last six years.
Thomas holds notable offers from Arkansas, Arizona State, Auburn, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisville, LSU, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, Pitt, South Carolina, Tennessee, UCLA, USC, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, among several others.
You're probably well-acquainted with Detroit Martin Luther King, which has developed quite a rivalry with Cass Tech in the PSL. The Crusaders repeated as Division 2 state champions this season, albeit in less dramatic fashion than last year. Notable recent King recruits include four-star 2016 CB Lavert Hill (Michigan), four-star 2016 WR/CB Donnie Corley (MSU), three-star 2016 RB Martell Pettaway (West Virginia), four-star 2015 OL Kyonta Stallworth (MSU), three-star 2015 OLB Tyriq Thompson (MSU), four-star 2012 RB Dennis Norfleet (Michigan), four-star 2008 DE Nick Perry (USC), and four-star 2002 DT Larry Harrison (Michigan).
As you can see, MSU has done quite well recruiting King in recent years, in no small part because two prominent recruiting staffers—Curtis Blackwell and Butler Benton—are MLK grads. Michigan has grabbed a lot of momentum back by winning head-to-head battles for Lavert Hill and now Thomas, though losing out to State for Donnie Corley is going to sting for a couple years.
None that were easily googleable.
FAKE 40 TIME
Thomas ran one of the ten fastest 40s at The Opening finals, posting an electronically timed 4.43, which gets zero FAKEs out of five. He also posted one of the better shuttle times (3.90), a measure of agility that is of particular importance for a cornerback, and a solid 35.9-inch vertical leap.
Thomas will get the opportunity to see the field at cornerback immediately upon his arrival, especially if Jeremy Clark isn't granted a sixth year of eligibility. He'll have the chance to prepare both physically and mentally by enrolling early. At the very least, I expect him to get his feet wet like Lavert Hill did this year, and he's more college-ready than Hill was coming out of high school. With Hill, Thomas, St-Juste, and David Long, Michigan has some very exciting young prospects at cornerback. The battle for playing time between them will be fun to watch.
As Sam mentioned in his evaluation, Thomas should ease his way into an expanded role as a potential triple-threat: cornerback, wide receiver, and return man. While it may be hard to crack the receiver rotation with the talent Michigan is bringing in there, Thomas is skilled and athletic enough to earn snaps on offense anyway.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan sits at 21 commits in a class that is projected to get up to 32 or so. They'd like to take one more cornerback. Darnay Holmes, who cancelled a planned official for this weekend, looks likely to end up at UCLA, so Michigan will probably move on to other options like Notre Dame commit Elijah Hicks. Other positions of need include wide receiver, a few more offensive linemen, defensive tackle, and outside linebacker. Here's the class as it currently stands:
While most of the focus yesterday rightly centered on Rashan Gary, Michigan pulled off a Signing Day coup when Concord (CA) De La Salle TE Devin Asiasi chose the Wolverines in the afternoon. Asiasi had planned to attend the same school as four-star DT teammate Boss Tagaloa, who committed to UCLA in the same ceremony, and there was considerable pull from his family to stay close to home; in the end, Asiasi's desire to go to Michigan overcame those factors.
Asiasi is the third tight end in Michigan's 2016 class, joining Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks. Even though McKeon is already on campus, Asiasi is the most likely of the group to make an immediate contribution; he's the highest-ranked and the biggest, most well-rounded prospect of the three.
4*, #4 TE,
4*, #2 TE,
4*, 85, #3 TE-Y,
4*, 92, #8 TE,
4*, #3 TE,
Asiasi is a top-75 overall prospect to everyone except 247, which still has him as a top-ten tight end but ranks him considerably lower than the other three sites. My assumption is 247 is concerned about whether Asiasi can stick at tight end; if he gets much bigger, he may outgrow the position, and while he's also got excellent potential at defensive end they may not like the positional uncertainty.
About that size: Asiasi is listed anywhere from 6'3" to 6'5" and 253-272 pounds, and he looked to be on the higher end of those listings in the Army All-American Game. He's got the build to see the field right away as an in-line tight end.
The top-ranked kicker in the country is staying home.
Rockford (MI) K Quinn Nordin announced his long-expected commitment to Michigan yesterday morning after a high-profile recruitment that included an over-the-top commitment video to Penn State and, yes, a Jim Harbaugh sleepover visit. Those have been discusses ad nauseam, so let's focus on football, and how good Nordin is at kicking one.
4*, #1 K
3*, #1 K
3*, 76, #9 K
3*, 83, #1 K
3*, #1 K
Nordin is the top-ranked kicker in the country to every recruiting site save ESPN, which still has him as a top-ten prospect at the position. He's listed at either 6'1" or 6'2" and 200 pounds.
Kinda like Signing of the Stars but none of us hung on as a bad middle infielder for way too long [photo: Bryan Fuller]
In our annual rite we pose the standard boring questions about the lately received class to our panel of writers, who by nature of being asked questions may appear like experts. One of us might even be one. The lineup:
Brian: Not a real journalist.
Ace: Chief enunciator, lead reporter, recruiting/basketball guy.
Seth: Associate editor/site business guy
BiSB, esquire. A lawyer who occasionally does lawyer work at his attorney job.
Adam Schnepp: Press correspondent (Heiko's old job) and hockey guy.
Dave Nasternak: J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Lead Backend Logistics Strategist and Associate Vice President of Signs Holding Up Of.
Best recruit other than Gary?
Brian: Give me David Long. Long's a legit six-foot corner ranked in the top 100 everywhere. Originally he was thought of as a wide receiver recruit but everyone flipped him to defense after he tore up camps with a combination of acceleration, size, agility, and smarts. He's handsy, he's going to excel at the press coverage Michigan will continue to use, and he is A+ off the field. If you're asking me who other than Gary is the most likely to go in the first round of the draft I'll ride with Long.
Harbaugh can pick ‘em. [Bryan Fuller]
Ace: I’ll take Brandon Peters. I had the chance to watch him in two full games this past season—one in person, one on TV—and in both he excelled against high-level competition. Peters has a live, accurate arm, enough athleticism to break the pocket and make plays on the run, and an advanced understanding of how to put touch on the ball to get his receiver in the best possible position to make a big play. Given he enrolled early, I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a push for the starting job, and even if John O’Korn wins it this year (which I expect), Peters should give him a serious run in 2017 before he’s the odds-on favorite to win the job in 2018.
Seth: I'm with Ace on Peters. As long as the physical tools are good enough rating a QB is about how well he sees the game, and he sees it very very well.
Adam: I'm going with Ben Bredeson. I wholeheartedly endorse his billing as Mason Cole 2.0, but versatility doesn't make you the best recruit in the class outside of one of nature's anomalies. Bredeson looks like he's zone blocking on every play because of how quickly he hits the second level; when I realized there was actually a sniveling defensive lineman across from Bredeson that he had just taken for a ride I was sold.
BiSB: Peters. His tape is just throw after throw that isn’t just a good ball, but is also the right kind of ball. I described it at one point as the “lollipop, lollipop, MURDERDEATHLASER” approach; he is extremely adept at putting touch on the ball (which is the right play when playing with high school receivers), but can fire bullets when need be. He’s mobile, and he can move around the pocket. The only real question is how he will adapt to life under center, and as an early enrollee he can probably figure that out. I’m really, really excited to see what Harbaugh can do with him.
[After the JUMP: things we will unwrap sooner and later, and Ace and Seth turn Name of the Year into an argument because that’s how we ‘geddon around here.]