2010 Recruiting: Cullen Christian

Submitted by Brian on May 4th, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Previously: S Carvin Johnson, S Ray Vinopal, S Marvin Robinson, CB Courtney Avery, CB Terrence Talbott.

Pittsburgh, PA - 6'1" 180

via Pittsburghlive.

Scout 4*, #3 CB, #56 overall
Rivals 4*, #8 CB, #99 overall
ESPN 4*, 79, #18 CB
Others #41 to TAKKLE, #75 to TSN, #92 to Lemming.
Other Suitors UCLA, Pitt, WVU, Ohio State, Alabama(?), Florida(?)
YMRMFSPA Marlin Jackson
Previously On MGoBlog Commitment post.

Cullen Christian was the first of two highly-touted corner recruits to commit to Michigan at excruciatingly long press conferences. But where Demar Dorsey's announcement came with a considerable amount of suspense, Christian had proclaimed Michigan his leader from his first appearance on recruitniks' radar and entered his marathon press conference capable of surprising no one. The result was zazzle snark:

Zazzle snark and Michigan's lone consensus(-ish) top-100 recruit, that is.

Christian's most attractive asset is his size. At 6'1" he has four or five fade-swatting inches on the less hyped corners already profiled in this series. He adds an ability to sky to that size. Here's the Pittsburgh Sports Report running down the top 25 players in PA last year:

7. Cullen Christian, Penn Hills HS (Pittsburgh) CB- A former track performer who is relatively new to playing cornerback. He’s excellent corner size at 6'0" and 180 pounds, but does need to add some muscle. Christian has long arms to go along with his good speed and excellent athleticism. Has had a combine measured vertical jump of over 39". He plays tough and aggressive. … Bottom line- His height, long arms, athleticism, and aggressiveness can't be taught. Once he gets more muscle and experience, he could be a big time lockdown corner.

With Justin Turner struggling to get past JT Floyd because he has "outgrown the position" according to some observers (although not the recently graduated punter/space emperor), the average Michigan fan is probably fretting about the same sort of thing happening to Christian. Take whatever solace you can in SPARQ numbers, as Christian is the sort of kid who shows up at combines and takes home plaques:

One of the top names heading into the event was Penn Hills cornerback Cullen Christian, who is already approaching 10 scholarship offers and did nothing to diminish his rising star Saturday. He posted outstanding marks of 39.3 inches in the vertical jump and 4.25 seconds in the shuttle on the way to a 102.57 SPARQ rating.

That shuttle is just a tenth worse than Terrence Talbott's standout number despite Christian's extra four inches and twenty pounds. A second ESPN article from the same combine echoes the above numbers and praises his ability to "run, change direction, and jump."

There is one consistent flaw cited by scout assessing Christian's ability: raw speed. Rivals' Mike Farrell after Christian took home DB MVP honors at the Penn State NIKE camp:

“He's not a burner but he can turn and run, has nice hips and is physical,” Farrell said. “His size allows him to match up well with big receivers and he gets his head around to play the ball.”

Meanwhile, ESPN's evaluation($) starts by saying "The only asset Christian is missing is great speed" and Rivals' Barry Every says his main "area for improvement" is… yes… speed. So he's not Denard Robinson.

Despite that commonly-cited flaw, Christian graded out extremely well because of his size, length, technique, and leaping ability. A portion of the assets ESPN believes he possesses:

He has coveted size, quickness, fluidity and savvy as a D-I corner prospect. Utilizes his long arms and frame well jamming and pressing receivers off the line. Consistently forces receivers to the outside in zone, Cover 2 schemes and takes away inside leverage when locked up in press-man. Displays a fluid pedal and good sink for a taller corner. Hips and turns are smooth and he has good change of direction quickness mirroring in off-man. … Closes fast and covers a lot of area in underneath zone schemes. Has good range on both run and pass support. Very difficult matchup on the jump-ball with his good height, long arms and understanding of body positioning and adjustment. … Christian will enter college ahead of the curve in terms of technique, understanding of coverages and size.

That assessment is echoed by Every ("hips on a swivel, excellent ball skills and the ability to steer receivers off their intended route by using his long arms as weapons … long arms also allow him to reach around receivers and bat down balls that smaller corners couldn't even reach") and Athlon("outstanding hips and can get into and out of his pedal quickly … excellent ball skills … tough to beat in one-on-one situations"). Scout's Bob Lichtenfels goes for seemingly inaccurate cliches about a "very physical football player" that we'll see are fiction even in Christian's eyes.

The fiction: according to Magnus/Thunder, Christian's tackling needs plenty of work:

My biggest reservation about playing him at safety is that he doesn't seem to be a very good tackler. He has decent size at 6' and 180 pounds, but on his highlight films - which are supposed to be his best plays, naturally - his "highlight" tackles are of him diving at the feet of ballcarriers. Even when he has the opportunity for a solid tackle, he goes low.

This is something Christian himself recognizes is a flaw in his game:

“I want to improve my speed,” Christian said. “That’s the main thing and I also want to make more of an impact when I hit. I need to be more physical when I tackle.”

It's possible that Christian has absorbed the 'not a blazer' meme from the gurus and is parroting it back, but the tackling criticism is not something I came across anywhere else. That's something coaches have told him. On the plus side, Touch The Banner echoes the other praise of Christian and says that speed thing may be overrated as a concern, providing a solid thumbs-up. His coach also eschews the conventional wisdom when it comes to his speed…

He’s a very gifted corner,” Penn Hills coach Ron Graham said. “He’s explosive to the ball, he has all the tools of quickness, speed, ball reaction, vertical. Very quick feet."

…but high school coaches are always super-enthusiastic about their players.

All that added up to a ton of offers, with Christian claiming Florida, Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, and a host of others on signing day. Whether that's true only Christian and those schools know. I admit to being slightly skeptical since Christian's final list was Michigan, Pitt, West Virginia, Maryland, and UCLA. It is possible his very public Michigan lead submarined his recruitment by schools who can move on to the next touted 6'1" corner prospect when they feel someone's not seriously interested, I suppose. It does appear that an Ohio State offer was on the table for a while before the two parties unceremoniously parted ways just before Christian was supposed to take an official visit.

After his commitment, Christian ended up starting in the starting at the Army game after doing very did well in practice:

Michigan commit Cullen Christian had his best practice. He had two very noticeable plays one when he leaped up and batted a ball away from Christian Green. The second play Christian came up and pressed Kyle Prater and put the nation's No. 2 wide receiver on the ground.

And he's coming to play:

"The opportunity up there's great," Christian said. "I’m going to come up there and I’m going to start. They told me I got an opportunity to come up and play, but I’m going to come up there, I'm going to start. I'm going to come up there and work hard, do whatever I got to do to get on the field and I'm going to help Michigan out."

Why Marlin Jackson? Michigan hasn't had a lot of press-happy 6'1" corners in recent history, so Jackson is the closest approximation of Christian's size, speed, length, and recruiting hype. The comparison falls flat when it comes to tackling, where it seems that Christian is indifferent at best coming into college and Jackson was the best run support corner I've seen at Michigan. Christian seems capable of repeating that crazy game against Washington where Jackson was in Reggie Williams's grill from the first snap and set an all-time Michigan record for most PBUs in a game, though, and that's not something you can say about an Avery or a Talbott.

FWIW, GMBW compares Christian to Jeremy LeSueur.

Etc.: Watch him run at a combine… if you want to wonder what you're doing with your life. Photo gallery.

Guru Reliability: Very high. Lots of combines, high profile school, no health issues, exactingly consistent descriptions of Christian's assets and flaws. Main disagreement seems to be how much his lack of blazing speed will hurt him.
General Excitement Level: High but not electric. Lack of blazing speed is kind of a scary issue in a corner; everything else sounds outstanding. Will be an interesting test case for the Cult of Barwis. Can he actually improve his "explosion"?
Projection: Least outlandish "I will start from day one" semi-prediction in a long time. He might not start but given his advanced understanding of zones—which Michigan is set to play a ton of—and physical talent the chance of a redshirt is zero. He will be on the two-deep as soon as he hits campus and should press JT Floyd and Justin Turner in the battle to start opposite Woolfolk. I think he's at least on even footing with them even as a true freshman.