Two more gentlemen are good. PFF extended its list of the top X players in the country by ten and hit on another two Wolverines. Taco Charlton:
- Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
The Wolverines’ defensive line is absolutely loaded for 2016. Taco Charlton provides them with pass rush production from either defensive end position. Charlton generated 41 total pressures on 213 snaps in 2015 and his 15.1 pass rushing productivity rating ranks No. 1 among all returning FBS 4-3 defensive ends.
I did not realize Charlton's snap count was that limited. I mean, I knew it was limited because of Wormley, but that count is barely more than a third of Wormley's snap count, half of Hurst's, and about 33% lower than Glasgow, who got knocked out for the year against Rutgers. If Charlton 1) gets a bunch more snaps, 2) gets even a little better, and 3) gets most of his snaps at the WDE spot that is the glory position for most 4-3 defenses, he's going to blow up.
Butt is one of the premier pass-catching tight ends in college football. Butt showed in 2015 that he could line up in the backfield, in the slot or in-line and still get open. Butt’s +10.1 receiving grade ranks No.1 among returning FBS tight ends.
You'll note the lack of mention of Butt's blocking prowess. IIRC he came out negatively for the year, albeit slightly. I don't expect that to improve much since adding much more weight to his frame will detract from his killer receiving ability.
Meanwhile PFF surveys the state of Big Ten quarterbacking:
- C.J. Beathard, Iowa
C.J. Beathard is the only returning Big Ten signal-caller with a positive passing grade from last season.
Woooooooooof. Wes Lunt and Mitch Leidner are #4 and #5 on this list. Michigan's quarterback situation is already better than the vast majority of the league simply by virtue of having Jim Harbaugh.
It does look like Charlton will flip back to the weakside. Baumgardner profiles Charlton and gets some interesting quotes about this year's defense versus last year's:
"Last year we played in the 3-4 and (I was at a) tackle-type position. Now I'm back outside in a 4-3 defense doing what I'm more comfortable doing. Now I can get back to rushing that passer on the outside and using my speed a little bit more."
That doesn't fit with what my conception of a 3-4 is but whatever. Here Charlton seems to confirm the Sam Webb report that Michigan's starting DL is likely to read Gary/Glasgow/Wormley/Charlton from strongside end to weak; Charlton spent the spring at SDE with Chase Winovich trying to display his qualities on the weakside.
More defensive line praise. Bruce Feldman kicks off a list of the country's top DLs and leads it off with Michigan. Ryan Glasgow comes in for some praise, described as "pretty salty" by a Big Ten OL coach, and the addition of Don Brown veritably looms:
"What he does from a schematic standpoint because he's so outside the box with the way that he packages his pressures where they're bringing five, six every snap trying to get ready for all that stuff in one week's time is a bitch," one veteran offensive line coach said. "The scheme will definitely help their production."
OSU comes in tenth despite some questions at DT; MSU is an honorable mention largely because of Malik McDowell.
This bad thing is actually a good thing probably, but the good thing is a bad thing maybe. ESPN evaluates reasons Michigan will make the playoff, and I'm a little dubious about where a couple of them are classified. Michigan's schedule is not particularly hard:
Easier path to the playoff: Based on FPI, Michigan has the second-easiest schedule of any Power-5 team. (Oklahoma has the easiest.) The Wolverines will leave the state only once prior to Nov. 6, and that’s to take on Rutgers in New Jersey. Their three non-conference opponents -- Hawaii, UCF, Colorado -- went a combined 7-31 last season. That’s not to say the schedule is without challenges, but those challenges appear to be the exception. That’s why Michigan is expected to have some of the most blowout wins in the country based on ESPN analytics.
This is judged a good thing, and it is for Michigan's chances of getting through the season undefeated. It's not a good thing once the hairs start to get split amongst one-loss teams. It's not hard to see one-loss teams from virtually every other conference jumping Michigan in the queue if M is 12-1.
Meanwhile this bad thing is not necessarily a bad thing:
Wrong side of the turnover battle: Last season, only Notre Dame fared worse than Michigan in the turnover battle while still pulling off double-digit wins. Neither team was very good in that department. On offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over 16 times -- but the defense forced just 12 turnovers. Michigan ranked No. 92 nationally in turnover differential (minus-4) and ranked No. 117 in turnovers gained. Defensive coordinator Don Brown is banking on a more aggressive unit to increase those numbers, but a new quarterback also has the potential to cancel out any defensive gain. At any rate, it’s rare for a playoff team to wind up on the wrong side of the turnover battle. That’s something Michigan needs to correct.
Michigan's lack of turnovers was freakish for a defense as proficient as the 2015 unit. Michigan only forced five fumbles all of last year, 123rd nationally, despite finishing well above average in sacks. (They recovered two.) Judging from PFF's take on Michigan's DL they were probably even better at getting pressures. QB pressure is the single most important factor in forcing turnovers. Sacked QBs fumble; pressured QBs throw passes where they shouldn't. Michigan should be quite good at getting to the QB again, and should do much better in TOs acquired.
Going from DJ Durkin to Don Brown is promising as well. Durkin was content throwing an absolute buttload of man coverage at opponents. Brown will mix that up with various zones that have the potential to put people in places the QB does not expect them to go, and blitzes that promise to up the chaos factor even further.
This is so dumb but it might help recruiting. Every year there is a new batch of articles featuring NFL coaches complaining about spread offenses. SI has one as part of a series on developing quarterbacks. Its lead example? Marcus Mariota:
…in the months leading up to the draft, Mariota faced questions over his viability as a pro passer. The main gripe—from the perspective of TV analyst X, anonymous scout Y and a parade of others weighing in on that year's collection of quarterbacks—was that Mariota may have difficulty transitioning to the NFL because of his history playing in Oregon's spread offense as opposed to a pro-style attack. The criticism didn't just obscure Mariota's illustrious college track record, but the top-line speed and improvisational playmaking that made him such a highly regarded prospect.
All of it must have felt like a wake-up call for the growing number of college coaches who hope to attract elite high school quarterbacks to run their spread offenses.
Mariota evaporates from the article at this point, which is a shame because the skepticism directed his way was a perfect example of how overblown this chatter is. Mariota completed 62% of his passes for 7.6 YPA as a rookie. His QBR was 61, indicating he was an above-average NFL QB as a rookie coming out of a the most spread system in the land.
A lot of quarterbacks bust for a lot of reasons. NFL people say it's college's fault because their jobs are at stake, but there's little relation to reality there. Even so their complaining helps places like Michigan, Stanford, and Georgia:
Clemson co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Jeff Scott, who helped lead the Tigers to the national title game last season, says he has heard a similar line trotted out. "Just guys that say, 'You don't want to go play in that offense because it's a spread, gimmick offense, and it's not going to prepare you for the NFL.'"
There are increasingly few programs that can sell NFL-shaped QBs that they are the best place for them. Michigan is one of them. They're already two thirds of the way through a QB recruiting triptych matched only once in the star era of recruiting. Michigan pulled in Clayton Richard, Matt Gutierrez, and Chad Henne back to back to back in the early aughts. If Michigan grabs one of the guys they're in on early in the 2018 class they'll match that, and then they'll probably continue going. Lloyd Carr did not: his next two QBs after those three were Jason Forcier and David Cone.