Preview 2014: Linebacker

Preview 2014: Linebacker

Submitted by Brian on August 28th, 2014 at 12:54 PM

Previously: Podcast 6.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle.

Depth Chart
James Ross Jr. Jake Ryan Sr.* Joe Bolden Jr.
Royce Jenkins-Stone Jr. Desmond Morgan Sr. Desmond Morgan Sr.
Allen Gant So.* Mike McCray Fr.* Ben Gedeon So.

Despite the move to a 4-3 over we're going to keep the convention we've had in previous years where two of the linebackers are designated "inside" and addressed together while the third gets separate mention. In both cases the WLB and the MLB are designated "inside" and the strongside backer is addressed separately. In the under it's because the SAM is half DE; in the over it's because he's half DB.

Michigan returns their entire linebacking corps save backup-ish SAM Cam Gordon, and they now have a healthy Jake Ryan instead of one fresh off an ACL tear midseason. This is good. Better still is their depth: no freshmen on this three-deep and one guy getting praised to the moon when a very solid returning starter is available. If the DL improves these guys are going to seem shockingly better.

There's just that thing about moving that guy to a place…




please be this guy again somehow [Eric Upchurch]

Man, I do now know what to expect from JAKE RYAN this year. He was every bit the flaming meteorite your memory suggests he was in 2012. We've been talking up Willie Henry and Frank Clark based on UFR scores that were consistently positive and encouraging. Make no mistake, though: those are not star-level performances. Jake Ryan's 2012 is the last time a member of the Michigan front seven turned one of those in:

Opponent + - TOT Notes
Alabama 4.5 3.5 1 I may have not picked up some things he was doing that were bad.
Air Force 13 2.5 10.5 Ran up the score with +4 on final three plays. Option blame fell elsewhere.
UMass 8.5 - 8.5 Essentially a DE in this game.
Notre Dame 8.5 3 5.5 Great tackle on screen.
Purdue 10 - 10 I call him mini Clay Matthews.
Illinois 14 3 11 I call Clay Matthews mini Jake Ryan.
Nebraska 10 7.5 2.5 Got edged a lot; Nebraska used his aggression against him successfully.
Minnesota 14 6 8 JMFR; did get edged a couple times.
Northwestern 8.5 4 4.5 A bit of a quiet day, only 4 tackles, no TFLs.
Iowa 5.5 - 5.5 Nearly had an explosive sack.

That is a star, and that is a guy on the verge of writing his name in sloppy red ink across college football. That's the kind of season before the season that Brandon Graham had as a senior, that Mike Martin had as a senior. Screw you, ACLs. Because that Ryan was not this Ryan:

Game Opponent + - TOT Note
6 Penn State 3.5 2 1.5 …this gentleman.
7 Indiana 5 2 3 Coming on a bit.
8 MSU 6 3 3 Good until ARGH RYAN on final play, still doesn't seem all the way back.
9 Nebraska 4 1 3 One RYAN BACK play, but not every-down impactful yet.
10 Northwestern 6 3 3 Showing that crazy redirect a little more often.
11 Iowa 6.5 - 6.5 Created free touchdown.

And while that's still a respectable player, I'm not into Jake Ryan because he's really respectful and mom likes him, you know? I would prefer Jake Ryan to mount his Harley and run roughshod across the league wearing a thirty-inch skull on his back. And maybe his forehead. As many skulls as possible, really. I mean, I didn't feel this quote from a 2012 Big Ten OL in 2013:

"We were watching film and our coach stopped it and said, 'Where's he at?' And it took you a second to realize he was lined up at defensive end. Then he hits the play button, and it's like the guy gets shot out of a cannon. He has speed, and he just has this ability to know where the football is and he attacks it. "

So there's that. And now he's a middle linebacker. Hooray?

Look… I can't tell you this is a great idea. The way Ryan plays is 80% chaos, 20% hair metal, and he's kind of tall and weird-shaped for middle linebacker. It's easy to envision a guard getting under his pads and taking him for a ride. And it's easy to envision him failing to funnel to his help, because at SAM your help is always very easy to figure out: inside. Chaos!

Chaos is probably not great for a MLB.

But it might not be a bad one. Ryan has taken on a lot of blocks in his time and even if he has to invent and patent ways to get rid of them, he generally does. The guy does not stay blocked.

When Michigan had problems with wide receiver screens a couple years ago they slid Ryan over the slot; problem solved. That combination of tackling and the ability to get to the productive side of a block is encouraging. It's going to be a bigger project against OL instead of TEs, but he's been a defensive end an awful lot—he's not going to be surprised.

The concern at MLB is that his tendency to shed at all costs will put him on the wrong side of a blocker. That concern is considerably less urgent than the prospect of lining up a 256-pound strongside end, but your evaluation should be in that context: this is a move about what is best for the defense as a whole, not necessarily Jake Ryan's individual fit.

That said… healthy Jake Ryan.

Healthy Jake Ryan is a menace shot out of a cannon who impacts you fiercely and rocks you back and then runs really fast at the guy with the ball. While middle linebacker may be an awkward fit, there are not many Jake Ryans out there, and when the guy is sent on a blitz, opponents are going to feel it.

It is not going to feel good.

[After THE JUMP: the Bolden Question, the Morgan Binkie, the Ross Explanation]

Dear Diary Does the Michigan Drill

Dear Diary Does the Michigan Drill

Submitted by Seth on August 22nd, 2014 at 10:30 AM

The highlight of the pre-season, right here:

At the link LSA Superstar broke down every rep from the above, though the times seem off. I don't know why De'Veon Smith wasn't in them at all. There's one where Ross is going against Samuelson with Ty Isaac the RB, and…

REP 15 @ 1:43

O: D. Samuelson (OL)
D: J. Ross III (LB)
T: T. Isaac (RB)

Ross pops into Samuelson, who is slow to react.  Ross is in control but HOLY SHIT Isaac squares and totally buries Ross with a shoulder shiver.  Isaac is running with extreme power here - Ross didn't have a chance.

That happens at 1:16 actually. Takeaways from a single drill that the offense is supposed to win: Samuelson is still a ways away from figuring (that's totally expected), Ross is what he is (smart, great at anticipating, still smallish), and whoa Ty Isaac; I'm not 100% sure the outcome would have been different if you replaced Ross with Pipkins there.

14694783437_ff2a775458_z (1)
Guessing we'll be doing a lot of RB rating this season as Michigan tries to settle on which of the four backs is more effective. [Fuller]

FYI yes it's Isaac; Smith wears #4 and for some reason that could be "don't injure the starter" he doesn't appear in the drill. By the way his nickname is "Honey Badger" now.

Speaking of rating rushers. Hero of the diaries MCalibur graced us with 2,800 words to create a metric for rating rushers—RBs/QBs/FBs/etc.—by mixing the touchdown rate and fumble rate with adjusted yards per attempt. I was particularly impressed by how he elegantly challenged the longstanding arbitrary assumption that 20 yards was a "big" play by showing the standard deviation on runs is 7.5 and the average run is about 4 yards, so a "big" play can be defined as one that goes beyond the standard deviation, i.e. 12 yards or more should be the standard for a  breakaway run.

The result is something like a passer rating for RBs, and a chart with the contributing factors broken out. Unfortunately scheme and opponent and skill around the player etc. have a major influence: Toussaint's 68% went-forward rate is probably 15% his fault. Ameer Abdullah's fumble rate and low TD rate appeared to damage him, but how much of that is on Nebraska being so bend-don't-break and then trying to Abdullah their way across the 50 yard line before letting Tommy pass?

So it's not ready to enter the pantheon of stats yet, but it's still a remarkable example of what people will accomplish when you give them free stats to work with.

Speaking of tons of fascinating and useful data, for free… MCalibur mentioned cfbstats as his resource but I'm guessing he downloaded his data awhile ago, since going there now just sends you to data hoarding company Marty now works for.

The good news is last time I mentioned that in this space a reader offered to help us scrub NCAA data and reproduce that, and Mathlete jumped on the project, and there's now a very long email chain that I'm CC'ed on but has gotten way beyond my comprehension that should sometime in the coming months result in a comprehensive stats page on this site, with all of our base data available to download for free. Finally there will be a place you can go on the internet to get free, sane football stats (other than FO) that treat sacks as passing plays and tempo as something that exists. It also converts "ATH"s to positions, and will classify an Arizona "SB" as a running back and a Northwestern "SB" as a tight end. That place will be here. #ilovemyreaders!

There's a thread on the board about other changes that are coming to the site this season, what you'd like to see.

Etc. Ace is tracking the blowout tour of Italy. Lanyard Program is cutting back on the programs. Get your off-topic topics out of your system by tomorrow. Remember the Hindenberg and the other thing like it wallpaper. A more elegant wallpaper.

[Jump for the best of the board]

Hokepoints Goes Over: Level II

Hokepoints Goes Over: Level II

Submitted by Seth on June 17th, 2014 at 11:16 AM

Read Level I: The Defensive Line

4-3 Overunder

Click to big. Right-click to open in a separate window so you can reference it as you go.

A few weeks ago I promised to finish this piece on the differences for Michigan's personnel in the 4-3 over. Sorry.

Refresher: What's a 4-3 Over? What you're looking at are alignments of the front seven. The "under" shifts the defensive line away from the strength of the defense and the linebackers swing the opposite way to compensate. Michigan would often align this to the hash rather than the offense, shifting the DL toward the sideline.

The "over" shifts the line the opposite way, but not to such an extreme. The linebackers wind up centered over the ball, and the DL spread across the formation. There is nothing 3-4 about it except the nose tackle.

Last time I talked about how going from a base under to a base over will demand the WDE and 3-tech play a little bigger, the SDE can play more like a rush end, and the nose's job stays pretty much the same except he's now the backside DT. Now on to the second level.

Strongside Linebacker (SAM): James Ross/Royce Jenkins-Stone



IZiz vs 4-3under

The 4-3 under is tough to run against—often they wind up blocking the backside DE in hopes of getting something from a cutback, since it's hard for the LT to get to anybody else. That meant the WLB could be a free hitter

On inside zone that strongside (right) tackle is trying to get a free release. The 3-tech could get aggressive and slow him up but the danger of playing aggressively on the DL against a zone running team is you open up the backside. The faster the OT gets out to the second level the more room there's going to be for the running back to dodge around the DT. A SAM who can read IZ quickly will be all up in that OT's face, able to affect both frontside gaps without opening up the backside cut. Every half-second of delay on the SAM's part is another yard for the offense.

But the SAM can't get crazy-aggressive attacking the OT or the C gap because that tight end is an eligible receiver, and there's another receiver on that side of the formation who could be slanting or dragging. Since the guess is Michigan wants Jake Ryan to be aggressive in the middle, Ross will end up in a lot of zone drops or in man-to-man on the tight end.

The fit: The WLB in the 4-3 under that James Ross played last year isn't hugely different, but it wound up playing differently because Ross was constantly having to take on blockers thanks to Michigan's Jibreel-Black-is-a-NT stunt-a-thon. His quick-twitch reads will be an asset, and his speed and coverage ability will be also. Michigan State's defense had Denicos Allen blitz a ton from this position, and got away with it because the handsy press coverage took care of the slant/drag passes that punish it, and because they had Max Bullough to read and react at MLB. Ross will get to blitz more than he did as the backside linebacker, but I'm guessing Michigan would rather he be the read-react-hit-spill dude so Jake Ryan can go viking.

[jump for the other two spots]

Draftageddon: What The Hell, Peppers Time

Draftageddon: What The Hell, Peppers Time

Submitted by Brian on June 11th, 2014 at 11:17 AM


The goal of Draftageddon is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT DRAFTAGEDDON.

I'm hearing this is incorrect. I see. The goal of Draftageddon is to draft a team of Big Ten players that seems generally more impressive than that of your competitors. Along the way, we'll learn a lot of alarming things, like maybe Maryland is good? Full details are in the first post.


  1. Everyone not grabbing dual-threat senior QBs grabs defensive linemen
  2. Seth takes Venric Mark in front of just about everyone
  3. Nothing terribly remarkable happens
  4. BISB takes all the guys I want
  5. A ridiculous amount of time is spent discussing the merits of one particular interior lineman from Rutgers
  6. WILDCARD TIME as Brian takes a quarterback despite already having a quarterback.



ROUND 13 - PICK 2: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

Michigan St Iowa Football

O: QB Connor Cook (MSU), RB Ameer Abdullah (NE), WR Devin Funchess (U-M), TE Maxx Williams (MN), LT Brandon Scherff (IA), LG Kaleb Johnson (RU)

D: DE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), DE/DT Andre Monroe (MD), NT Darius Kilgo (MD), OLB Chi Chi Ariguzo (NW), OLB Matt Robinson (MD), CB Desmond King (IA), S John Lowdermilk (IA)

ST: KR/PR Ameer Adbullah (NE)

ACE: Heiko lives!

Brian's decision to draft a, uh, third-and-long quarterback put an end to the staring contest between me and Seth. I'd like a full-time starter, thanks, and not of the Rudock/Stave/Siemain caliber.

Oh, look, it's the Rose Bowl MVP.

Connor Cook took the reins of an offense so laughable it was being outscored by its own defense, took a couple games to settle in, and proceeded to make the Spartan O downright respectable. He put up excellent numbers for a redshirt sophomore, averaging 7.3 YPA with a 22:6 TD-to-INT ratio. Those numbers were in spite of a receiving corps that didn't feature anything resembling a true #1 receiver, and didn't have much quality from there, either. Using Seth's pet stat, RYPR, here's what Cook was working with in 2013:

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 11.39.21 AM

​His #1 receiver performed like an average #2. His #4 receiver averaged 3.8 yards per target. The rest of it isn't so great, either. Click over to Seth's post and look at Michigan's 2013 receiving corps. Even with their lack of production from the #3 spot, the Wolverines were far superior.

BISB: /Microphone... getting so hot... must... let... go...

ROUND 13 - PICK 3: Jabrill Peppers, CB (and S/RB/WR/Nickel/WILL/KR/PR/BMOC/GGTK), Michigan


he will fix everything

O: QB Devin Gardner (UM), RB Jeremy Langford (MSU) WR Kenny Bell (Neb), WR Shane Wynn (IU), OT Donovan Smith (PSU), C Austin Blythe (Iowa)
DE Joey Bosa (OSU), DE Noah Spence (OSU), LB Jake Ryan (UM), LB Mike Hull (PSU) CB Sojourn Shelton (Wisky), CB Jabrill Peppers (UM), S Kurtis Drummond (MSU)

BISB: I still needed a corner, a safety, a nickelback, a running back, and a wide receiver. So I took one.

Everyone is aware of the story of Jabrill Peppers. He is the highest ranked (and possibly the most highly-touted) recruit to hit a Big Ten campus in the last decade. If Sojourn Shelton is the prototypical field corner, Peppers is the archetypal boundary corner. Big for a corner at 6'1", 210 lbs, he hits like a linebacker but nevertheless shows sprinter speed and acceleration that translates to the football field. He's as quick-twitch of a human being as you'll ever find; he's basically Venric Mark. But after an 80's-style Rocky training montage. And five inches taller.

I know, I know. Recruiting hype stars don't matter never played a snap in college blah blah. Screw that. What are the usual concerns about freshmen? Physical preparedness, mental preparedness, and how the game translates to the next level. Physically, I'll defer to the unnamed assistant coach from USC:

"I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that," the USC coach says, "and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."

As far as translating to the next level, watch the burst and acceleration in these two clips. Translation, my ass. I don't care what level of competition he's playing (though his competition is pretty good) or what kind of stuff doesn't show up on the highlight reels (though his full game cut-ups are equally impressive). This kid is basically a glitch in the physics engine. And sure, there's gonna be a mental transition, and sure both of my corners are young. Fortunately I have the best free safety in the Big Ten over the top to erase any youthful mistakes.

[AFTER THE JUMP: Seth drafts Troy Woolfolk, Ace with the Big Red Block.]

This Week's Obsession: How to Watch a Spring Game

This Week's Obsession: How to Watch a Spring Game

Submitted by Seth on April 2nd, 2014 at 11:32 AM



It is spring, the season with all the rebirth and egg-laying rabbits and such. In this pastel, paschal period of the year, everything is positive. Your baseball team could win the World Series, your backups arrived with 20 lbs more muscle/less fat ready to decapitate enemies, and your linebackers exploding everything in the backfield says everything about your linebackers and nothing about your offensive line. So question:

I am about to devote all of my attention to Spring Football. What can I learn about this team with this exercise? Is there anything that my eyes can show me that the hype is hiding?


Ace: In previous years, I've had the opportunity to see a few spring practices (in the RichRod days, which coincided with my internship at The Wolverine) and get to know a few players both on Michigan's squad and at other levels of college football. Almost universally, the first thing I've been told about spring practices, and the spring game in particular, is to expect the defense to look well ahead of the offense—and that, if this is the case, it's a good thing. That's especially true when installing a new offense, as Michigan is this season.

Mmmm true freshmen dominating walk-ons. [Fuller]

If you're skeptical, think back to those Rodriguez spring games and the general excitement they brought as Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson slashed through the defense with ease. Those were fun games. Those were also bad defenses. It's a whole lot easier to install and run a base defense than to get the offense fully up to speed, even with a limited playbook; if the offense looks like they know what they're supposed to be doing better than the defense, it's a point of concern.

So, strangely, I'm hoping for an ugly spring game—if it even resembles a "game" at all, which it hasn't for years. That's not to say I hope the offensive line looks totally overmatched—quite the contrary—but with a Doug Nussmeier's system still being put in place, the defense should more than hold their own at this juncture. Since we'll be seeing a very unfinished product on offense, I think more than anything we'll learn where the defense stands as they also make a transition, albeit a smaller one, to playing more 4-3 over with a reshuffled coaching staff.

[After the jump: preparing for platitudes]

Piles Of Position Moves

Piles Of Position Moves

Submitted by Brian on February 25th, 2014 at 7:15 PM


ROTATE [Bryan Fuller]

Per first spring presser:

James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone to SAM. Probably inevitable once Ryan move was announced. Obviously Michigan thinking more along the lines of the Stevie Brown style LB/S hybrid there, as Allen Gant is your other SAM at the moment.

And with this shift comes another:

That means the line shifts towards the tight end and the linebackers away. Instead of this:


Last year 5 was Clark, 3 Black, 1 Washington/Pipkins, 5 Heitzman/Beyer, LB Ryan, W Ross, M Morgan.

Michigan will run more of this:


Upshot is the MLB gets significantly more protection, the WLB has to be able to take on more blocks (everyone has to take on blocks) and the SAM can be a lighter player as long as the three-tech and SDE create trouble when single-teamed.

This is a significant change, as you can see by everyone flopping about on the depth charts. While it's not switching to a 3-3-5 and back six times in three years, it does signal uncertainty.

A move to the over does make the Ryan move make a bit more sense but either DE spot is probably a better location for him unless he's suddenly a savant.

Heitzman to TE. With Henry seemingly locking down three-tech that potentially bounces out one of Strobel/Wormley/Godin to SDE, where Brennen Beyer is probably your starter anyway. Heitzman gives Michigan a shot at blocking someone, anyone, and won't be missed.

This would be a good time to remind you that Hoke told the gathered folks at the Detroit Athletic Club that Jake Butt would be back by game three; even if that's a weirdly specific prediction this far out given Jake Ryan's recovery timeine that would be about right.

Shallman to H-back. He wasn't already at H-back?

Ross Douglas to RB. Supposedly had been running there on the scout team and impressing. Michigan does need another bullet there with the loss of Rawls and Toussaint and no recruits filling in the gaps, and meanwhile Ross was at best sixth on the CB depth chart. Kind of doubt he makes much impact this year with Hayes presumably a lot like him and more experienced.

David Dawson to (left) tackle. I'd been telling people Dawson was likely to be the G/T tweener thrust outside by a lack of depth, but even I thought he'd be assigned right tackle duties since he's 6'4". Nope. According to Hoke, the current and incredibly nominal first team line reads Dawson-Bosch-Glasgow-Kalis-Braden.

Erik Magnuson is all but certain to side into that LT spot when he returns, leaving Bosch and Dawson to duke it out on the right. You can read Dawson on the left as an endorsement since that's the most important spot, or you can read Braden on the right as an endorsement since they may expect him to start and want to get him settled in at the position he'll play.

The other guy to watch out for is Patrick Kugler, who could bounce Glasgow out to one of the guard spots and give Michigan some depth.

Logan Tuley-Tillman is out right now, FWIW.

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs Nebraska

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs Nebraska

Submitted by Brian on November 14th, 2013 at 5:08 PM

FORMATION NOTES: Michigan abandoned the two-high look for most of this game in favor of seven or seven and a half man fronts depending on whether Nebraska was in standard or three-wide personnel. Against 2TEs and a back:


Against three wide they would often go with a straight up 4-3 under on plausible run downs. This is a four-wide formation on which Michigan has 4-3 personnel on the field (that's Cam Gordon over the slot) and only gets out of their 4-3 under because Nebraska splits a TE.


This is a wide shot of a fairly typical one-high setup:


All of this was great for jamming up Nebraska's inside run game and very bad for option pitches.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Avery and Furman started at safety, with Wilson frequently subbing in. He was in the same role Bolden was, essentially a third starter. Thomas Gordon did not play. Countess went out in the first quarter, which put Dymonte Thomas on the field in the nickel and Stribling on the field on all downs. Lewis played only a little early and then was out.

Linebackers were the usual. Ryan/Gordon at SAM, Ross/Bolden/Morgan three guys for two spots at ILB. On the line, Jibreel Black(!) was your starting nose tackle with Washington rotating in. Henry and Glasgow were at the three tech, Clark went almost the whole way at WDE with Ojemudia in a clear backup role, and the same thing happened at SDE with Beyer and Wormley. On nickel packages, Taco Charlton came in as a DT. This was probably not a good move.

[After THE JUMP: 17 points should be good enough.]

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs MSU

Upon Further Review 2013: Defense vs MSU

Submitted by Brian on November 6th, 2013 at 3:10 PM

FORMATION NOTES: On passing downs Michigan sometimes went with this 3-3-5-ish look with the line in a wide three-man front and the SAM hanging out next to one of the ends;


They also went with a weird wide even line against Ace, once:


M rolled down Gordon in their under early:


And occasionally split their nickel package, leaving just one LB. I called this 5-1.


Oh and on the final drive MSU pulled out an unbalanced formation with two inline TEs to the same side of the line.


Deliberately trolling Borges's unbalanced lines? Probably not, but I hope so.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Taylor, Countess, and Gordon went the whole way. When Michigan went to a nickel it was always Jourdan Lewis; Michigan also brought in Avery from time to time to spot Wilson, with iffy success.

Linebacker was the usual, except Brennen Beyer was moved to SDE, leaving SAM mostly Ryan with Cam Gordon backing; the three-man ILB rotation was still in place. Gedeon was sent to the bench again.

On the line Michigan did some weird stuff. Black(!) played nose tackle to open the game and would end up there periodically. Henry flipped between nose and three-tech; when it was Washington and Henry Michigan seemed to regard them as interchangeable. Clark went almost the whole way at WDE; very little Ojemudia. At SDE it was Beyer and some Wormley; no or very little Heitzman. Glasgow made a cameo or two.

[After THE JUMP: I mean, what did you expect?]

This Week's Obsession: What's the Matter With Kids Today?

This Week's Obsession: What's the Matter With Kids Today?

Submitted by Seth on October 30th, 2013 at 10:45 AM


Watch the birdie.

In my day freshmen appeared on the scene knocking down Bobby Hoying passes, shutting down Terry Glenn, and cleaving Eddie George. Then they'd switch to offense and fold Mike Vrabel in twain. What's the matter with kids today? The cast today:

  • Ann-Margret as Brian Cook
  • Dick Van Dyke as Seth Fisher
  • Bobby Rydell as Ace Anbender
  • Jesse Pearson as Brandon "Birdie" Brown

Of the young linebackers, we've seen a lot of Bolden but not much from him. [Upchurch]

The Q:

It's an expectation (or a conceit) at Michigan that recruits follow a "track" of progression that should see them all-conference and worth drafting after four years in the program. Of the 2012 class and the few '13 guys who've seen action, who do you see as ahead of schedule, or worryingly behind?

Ace: I'm not even going to bother with the 2013 class because it's beyond too early to discuss their progression versus expectations; frankly, that's the case for the 2012 class as well, but they at least have a handful of guys who have broken through and seen extensive time.

Three players who are clearly ahead of schedule are Devin Funchess, James Ross, and Willie Henry. Funchess has gone from dangerous-but-terrible-at-blocking tight end to dangerous-and-oh-god-so-dangerous wide receiver, and he's got an NFL future even if his blocking never develops as much as we'd hope. Ross has had an up-and-down year but still has a stranglehold on the weakside LB starting job; he's a future all-conference player once he adds a little more weight to take on blocks—his instincts are already there. Henry's initial expectations weren't as high as the other two, nor has he played at their level consistently, but he's easily exceeded expectations for a late three-star pickup just by seeing the field and holding his own.

[Jump like a Funchess]