How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Todd HowardNOTE: Major edits made 9/18 to fix statistical errors -- used the opportunity to do a little clarification, and add some context for the "you knocked on boobie -- die mthrfkr!" contingent, which I realize I kind of brought on myself by not adding any context.ALSO NOTE: This is e-pinion, not empirical fact.
Alas, again, I have begun to write a long Misopo-reply, only to upgrade mid-writing to a Diary.
This one goes out to MGoHero jg2112's "Support Boubacar Cissoko this Saturday
" post, in which 'jg' posited that Boubacar Cissoko is this year's Martavious Odoms, i.e. a great player who gets the general M fan negbang beyond his actual faults.*
Cissoko is not Odoms.
For one, "Tay" is your vintage Rich-Rod slot ninja, a guy recruited for a system position. Cornerback, however, doesn't change much from Hermann to Robinson -- coverage, at the college level at least, is coverage, and every system puts cornerbacks in multiple roles during a game. In other words, Cissoko's size or jet-engine-ness are not something to get used to because of the coaching shift; he's a Carr recruit playing a position that fundamentally requires the same skill set.
His problems in the Notre Dame game, as noted in Brian's UFR
, were not just size. He was bailing and leaving large cushions. This could be underclassman-y stuff from a true sophomore left out to dry with no safety help, but the mental mistakes, I think, were not what you expect from a lock-down corner. Or more importantly, not what you'd expect from a guy you might expect to join the ranks of the post-Bo pantheon of great corners.
Hey, Misopogon. It's Brian's bolded subconscious. Guess what I'm here for?
You know me too well...
That's Boubacar's stats through two games into his sophomore season.
Now lets compare with other Michigan cornerbacks who
started played extensively
(subsequent edits) earned a fair share of playing time their respedtive freshman years before starting as sophomores (all stats through 2nd game of true sophomore season):
True freshmen who became serviceable-to-good late in their careers:
The Late-'90s/Early '00s Backfield of Horrors
And just so they don't feel left out, here's the stats after 2 games of true sophomores or redshirt freshmen who didn't start until their second years:
So what does this tell us? Well, it's not good, but it's also not much. Among the stars, the only one close to Cissoko's numbers (but still better by a solid margin) was Leon Hall. Hall, like Cissoko, was mostly a nickelback his freshman year, but Leon beat out upperclassman versions of 5-stars Markus Curry and Jeremy LeSueur for the starting gig as a sophomore. Without similar talent to compare Cissoko against, it has to be assumed that Cissoko's playing time wasn't as hard to earn as Hall's.
I think at this point, Cissoko has not demonstrated that he belongs with that group, who all:
- Were 6 feet or taller
- Earned starts as freshmen over returning starters
- Showed an early aptitude for generating tackles.
Why tackles? That was a surprise to me, but it seems to check out career-wise as well. I don't think this is some anomaly; if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that cornerback is a position that relies a lot on pure talent and instinct, meaning strong talent will generally show up early in stats and playing time.
The stars-are-big-and-get-lots-of-playing-time-and-tackles-early lesson is the only relatively solid (and that has been questioned
) thing I found in the statistics available (if anyone has access to better stats for corners, I'm all ears!
So What Have We Here?
We've established that Cissoko isn't likely to be Woodson or Law (which, like, it's not like it's a sin to not be a Heisman winner or an NFL All-Pro
). So then what is he?
As for the guys who became serviceable/good later in their careers, they generated those stats in a lot fewer snaps (e.g. Weathers didn't start playing regularly in '94 until late in the season; M.Curry was mostly a backup his freshman year).
Markus Curry is a possibility. Like Cissoko, he was a kick/punt returner his freshman year. A well-hyped recruit, he played early his freshman year but lost playing time to classmate Marlin Jackson's emergence early in the Big Ten season. Curry was a starter early his sophomore year, but then fell behind LeSeuer and Zia Combs (until that horrible injury -- G-d bless him wherever he is today).
The big difference between Cissoko and Curry the Younger, I think, is size, which has a big effect on either player's game. Curry was hyped as fast, but on the field his speed and agility turned out to be overrated, while after what we've seen of Cissoko, he definitely has the quicks and flat-out speed to keep up with anyone. Boubacar, however, is probably a good inch shorter than his listed height of 5'9", while Curry was just under 6.
Overall, Curry is a good comparison, but not great. Curry was bigger, and when he finally broke into the depth chart as a junior, the major difference IIRC was that he played "bigger," i.e. he was at his best when leaving a cushion, closing the gap, and popping the ball out, as opposed to pressing at the line, staying between the receiver and the ball, then trying to get his hands in the way.
Cissoko is never going to play, act, or be a big cornerback. He's a cover guy. In gauging his career arc, then, I would think that he will become exactly what he wasn't in the Notre Dame game. I can't fault him for giving Floyd a cushion (and there was only one fade which was pretty undefendable). But that's never going to be Boubacar's bread and butter.
The guys that Boubacar charts out closest to: I hate myself for doing this, but it's Whitley and Howard. Both are short (like Boubacar). Both were highly regarded recruits. Both were forced into lots of early playing time. Both were labeled Future Stars of the XFL by their sophomore years.
Of these two guys, Cissoko's early numbers are more like Whitley, but he strikes me as more Howard-esque than Whitley-esque. Todd was the smaller of the two, but also the faster, and more effective. He was owned early his sophomore year
against Plaxico Burress, mirroring Cissoko's game against Floyd, when Todd was forced to give a cushion and keep the big guy underneath. Eventually that game, Howard was moved over for David Terrell, who had the height and ups to run with Plaxico in man.
By his (Todd Howard's) senior year, he was a poor man's Morgan Trent, necessitating early starting time for freshmen Markus Curry, Jeremy LeSueur (RS) and Marlin Jackson. But he was world's more effective than he had been as a sophomore.
Howard, I remember vividly, also probably was more overrated than any other Wolverine -- every year -- in progressive versions of EA Sports's NCAA Football Series.
Unlike Whitley, Todd Howard was fast, and wasn't relegated to the short side. He was out-manned against top talent, but help up pretty well against receivers who weren't 6'8" or could leap small buildings in a single bound, or ran NFL routes, or scurried around in free space underneath thanks to Northwestern's spread, or had Drew Brees bullseyes coming at them, or were named Charles Rogers.
That's not to say that his career potential is lifelong bomb threat. Remember, after all, Whitley was the one who generated the bulk of M fan ire. Howard, on the other hand, covered the wide side, made the occasional great play (especially against Ohio State -- that photo below was a key PBU in the '01 game) and fared well when he wasn't going against future NFL talent. Like you, I was hoping for a lot more. But Todd Howard isn't all that bad.
It's perfectly okay to be Todd Howard -- so long as the guy opposite him isn't Whitley. And fortunately for us, barring early NFL, Donovan Warren is probably only just past the half-way mark of his career, and between Turner and the guys we look pretty good for next year, I think M's chances of scoring another one of those top-end guys ain't too shabby.
What's in Store?
In Year 2, Game 3 of Todd Howard's career, he had a breakout game at Syracuse minus McNabb,
with 10 tackles, 1 sack for 15 yards, 2 PBUs and a forced fumble.
Eastern Michigan isn't Syracuse '99, but hey, if Cissoko is all over the field on Saturday, remember you heard it here first.
There's a lot of time left in Cissoko's career. This is just an early analysis, and I think only made possible because he plays a position which, at least at Michigan, has tended to show its cards early.
Still, provided the other side of the field has Day 1 Draft Pick caliber guy opposite him, another Todd Howard isn't that bad of a prospect, really. What did Brian say in his secondary preview
My go-to (and now rapidly aging) comparison was Arkansas corner Chris
Houston, who I once saw battle the South Carolina star receiver before
Kenny McKinley (his name escapes me) in a pitched Thursday night
battle. Houston lined up two inches from his cover's grill and rode him
into fades all night, some of which the opponent brought in
spectacularly. That's life with feisty dwarves.
P.S. If Cissoko is Howard, this only adds fuel to the "Justin Turner is Jeremy LeSueur" contingent, which does not yet exist, and thus probably can't use fuel. But now it's out there.* The whole "folks tend to knock on Odoms" thing is played out, IMHO, as evidenced by every show of Odoms support being met with a cascade of "I've always liked the guy" posts. I don't remember ever wanting to knock him, except to yell "take your gloves off!" into a couple of monsoons.