2012 Recruiting: Dennis Norfleet

Submitted by Brian on August 24th, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Previously: S Jeremy Clark, S Allen Gant, S Jarrod Wilson, CB Terry Richardson, LB James Ross, LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, LB Kaleb Ringer, LB Joe Bolden, DE Chris Wormley, DE Tom Strobel, DE Mario Ojemudia, DT Matt Godin, DT Willie Henry, DT Ondre Pipkins, OL Ben Braden, OL Erik Magnuson, OL Blake Bars, OL leKyle Kalis, TE AJ Williams, TE Devin Funchess, WR Jehu Chesson, WR Amara Darboh, and FB Sione Houma.

Detroit, MI – 5'7", 161


Scout 4*, #19 RB, #163 overall
Rivals 4*, #5 APB, #6 MI, #236 overall
ESPN 3*, #80 RB, #26 MI
24/7 4*, #7 APB, #4 MI, #169 overall
Other Suitors Cinci, MSU, Pitt, Tennessee
YMRMFSPA Darren Sproles, or what you always hoped Vincent Smith would be
Previously On MGoBlog Hello post from me(!).


Senior highlights:

I got way behind on these thanks to book stuff and knee stuff, so I apologize that this is going to sound like a broken record a day after I mentioned Michigan's acquisition of offensive weapons in all shapes and sizes for the third time in little over a week. But…

Dennis Norfleet is another guy who Michigan can plug into their offense to jar opponents out of comfort zones and exploit weaknesses. Whipsaw, Swiss army knife, etc., the null offense, whatever you want to call it, Norfleet is a guy who fulfills a role. He is a specialist.

That specialty is being in space, where the bugger is impossible to catch. Norfleet rose to prominence as a wildly productive midget RB as a sophomore but really caught recruiting services' eyes when he annihilated a swathe of 7-on-7 competitions last summer. He was the MVP of the IMG Madden tourney and the NLA tourney, both attended by legions of top recruits. How does a 5'6" guy do that($)?

There are a select few players who can make defenders in position totally whiff in one-hand touch, 7-on-7 football. There may be only one Dennis Norfleet who seems to make a play or two like that every game. On one particular play, Norfleet put a move on two defenders at one time, splitting the pair and taking the ball in for a touchdown. He is electric with the football in his hands.

By splitting defenders in one-hand touch.

If 7 on 7 was football, Norfleet would have been the top prospect in the country. I've waded through rapturous report after rapturous report to assemble this post. A sampling:

  • "…so explosive, incredibly elusive and runs with an energy that you don’t often see. Even in the one-hand-touch setting, Norfleet was making multiple players grasp at air, sometimes many in the same play."
  • "…just keeps showing up at events and making people take notice. He is without a doubt one of the most exciting players in this 2012 class."
  • "…in 100-degree plus weather, he never subbed out on offense and defense. He demanded the ball on offense on every snap. He has a relentless motor."
  • The NLA MVP "really wasn’t even a difficult call" because Norfleet "was demanding the football on offense, was nearly uncoverable in man-to-man and then wouldn’t miss a beat as a lock-down cornerback on defense."
  • "…a natural leader and showed great energy when everyone else was exhausted."
  • "…is actually an outstanding receiver, and defensive backs could not hang with his speed. After creating separation, Norfleet also displays excellent hands to finish the play."
  • "…Norfleet and Morris [yes that Morris] were running neck and neck for the MVP for the tournament, but Norfleet separated himself from his teammate after elevating for a pass that was well over thrown and landing on a brick lined sidewalk with an audible thud.

Comparisons abound, from Sproles to Jock Sanders (WVU's all-purpose slotback) to Danny Woodhead (the ridiculously productive DII dwarf now with the Patriots) to Jacquizz Rogers. The recipe is simple: get him in space and get the popcorn.

[after THE JUMP: "that guy can do anything" & ESPN poops the party. PLUS LINK TO RIHANNA SONG.]

The 7-on-7 spree resulted in big rankings upgrades from a couple services and high expectations when offensive linemen got invovled. Norfleet met those and then some when King took on Brother Rice to open the season, ripping off 230 yards and getting top billing from Josh Helmholdt.


…surpassed the hype in the opening game of his senior season against Brother Rice. The open-field jukes and stop-and-start plays he breaks off into long gains make the highlight reel, but what is less recognized is that Norfleet is a great between-the-tackles runner. He has powerful legs and the burst to exploit the smallest of holes.

King and Brother Rice would meet again in the state semifinals. King scored a touchdown to bring themselves within one and went for it:

Norfleet, who finished with 178 yards and three touchdowns, was stuffed by an armada of Rice defenders led by junior linebacker Lucas Cherocci.

"I probably would have done the same thing," Fracassa said.  "With that running back that they have, that guy can do anything.  If I had him I probably would have done the same thing.  I'm not gonna criticize anybody."

Norfleet put up video game numbers, cracking 2000 yards as a senior, 1800 as a junior, and totaling 58 touchdowns in those two years.

ESPN($) is the only one with a jaundiced eye:

…explosive but lacks great top-end speed and a second gear. … very quick to and through the first level showing very good lateral footwork and agility. … For his smaller size you would like to see more elusiveness and speed in the open-field. Looks to lack really loose hips. Does not appear to have difference-maker qualities when projecting at the major college level or the size to handle high carries and run between the tackles.

That's all you get from the WWL, though, and it's hard to tell when or if it was ever updated after they looked at his junior film.


At Michigan, Norfleet has been told he'll be a kick return specialist, etc., but the man in the box sees possibilities spreading out before him when he considers his new toy:

"He brings a lot to the table, he’s a touchdown scorer and you always need touchdown scorers,” said Borges. “He could do a multitude of things from an offensive perspective, he could be an every down back if he proves he can. Excellent receiver out of the backfield, maneuvers on linebackers, difficult to cover in space. Once we get him here and see how he stacks up we’ll kind of go from there.”

Sproles Sproles Sproles Sproles Sproles. When Shane Morris hits campus he will already know that the Norfleet checkdown is a quality option. This will come up in practice, Borges will test-drive it in a game, and then we'll see if Norfleet is High School Sproles or College Sproles.

It is also not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Norfleet gets regular carries or even develops into a feature back. The kid was a workhorse in every way in high school and frequently got praised for his between-the-tackles running:

…had several runs that made the crowd oooh and awww, including a 29-yard touchdown scamper that ended with an ankle-breaking cut on the safety that allowed him to walk into the end zone. Super quick with good speed, Norfleet is also strong and can be a workhorse on the next level … When the defense finally corrals Norfleet, he’s so strong in the lower-body that he pushes the pile forward as he always keeps his legs churning.

That's the most likely thing for Norfleet to lose in the transition to a higher level of competition, but it's been done before. Jacquizz Rogers and Garrett Wolfe are examples of little guys darting between the tackles with outrageous effectiveness. Michigan wants to be big, big, big but sometimes there's a man… I won't say a hero, because what's a hero?

Etc.: Has a twitter. JC Shurburtt goes Yoda:

High on Norfleet am I yes.

Quite a high school point guard. (He's #2 in this clip from the PSL playoffs.) Popped up on Kyle Warber's radar as a sophomore. Numbers($) from a 'Bama camp he attended:

Norfleet also put up outstanding testing numbers at Alabama, running a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 4.17 shuttle and posting a 33-inch vertical jump.

In contrast to many of the kids in the class, Norfleet has had a rough home life.

For Norfleet, his father is in jail, his mother isn’t doing well and his grandfather has been the one active in his life.

"Area for improvement: size."

Why Darren Sproles? I think this is understood, but when you pull out the Sproles it's good to reinforce it: "you may remember me from such players as" isn't supposed to be a prediction of how good a player is, but rather a playing-style comparison. The question it tries to answer is "if this player works out really well, who will he remind me of?" Sproles is probably the best 5'6" back in the history of modern football; Norfleet is probably not Sproles.

But I have to go to the Sproles because there's no one in recent Michigan history even vaguely comparable. Jamie Morris is literally the only RB anywhere near his size who contributed, and that was in the long-long ago when football offenses were grinding run things and "space players" hadn't been invented. Vincent Smith is a good comparable in terms of size, but never had the kind of hype Norfleet did.

Guru Reliability:  High. Bunch of camps, all of them are in agreement save ESPN, usual business about not really caring when ESPN is lone outlier.

Variance: Moderate. Could bust; always a threat when you're 5'6".

Ceiling: Moderate. Probably never going to be a feature back.

General Excitement Level: Very high. Is this rational? Absolutely not. He's my favorite recruit in the class who isn't five stars somewhere. I won't even try to justify it.

Projection: Norfleet was recruited as a return specialist and Hoke has said he leads for that job. If that's all he's going to do I'd prefer a redshirt since kickoffs are about to be not very relevant; I do not get a vote. Sparing snaps as a return specialist and maybe some third down stuff in garbage time beckon.

In year two, two things happen that should help: 7 on 7 co-conspirator Shane Morris arrives and third down back Vincent Smith departs. Norfleet will go head to head with Justice Hayes for Smith's snaps; either one could also see time as a slot receiver. If Toussaint heads for the NFL draft there will also be a lot of change of pace rushing snaps available; the main job could also be on the line if Rawls doesn't turn out to be MechaIngram.



August 24th, 2012 at 12:07 PM ^

I love that you can tell that he really wants to be at Michigan.  Norfleet will be the Percy Harvin-type player Urban Meyer wishes he had on the OSU roster.

ND Sux

August 24th, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

Yoda, Is that you? 

Watching him return punts reminds me of Dave Meggett (sp?).  Yes I am old.

I guarantee Coach Jackson is riding this kid about moving the ball to his outside arm...I never saw him do that even once in the film.  Granted, it wasn't necessary on some of the runs, but still should get in the habit. 

Love the "3.4 GPA", but did anyone else notice "Top 50 baskball player in State" ?


August 24th, 2012 at 12:47 PM ^



General Excitement Level: AAAAIIEEEE! Man... this offense is McGuffie'sjam, man, and the Church Of Barwis will excommunicate anyone who doubts his his's ability to get up to 200-some pounds without compromising his lightning quicks. Steve Slaton says what.
Projection: He's the man, man. Will battle Brown and Grady for carries at first; probably a Noel Devine role his first year.


August 24th, 2012 at 12:15 PM ^

Obviously I noticed there was mention of his above average hands and catching ability bu it still would have been nice to see this in the highlight reel. He won't be able to run up the middle on B1G defenses the way he did in many clips, but if he has the hands he could certainly make for a potent weapon running around the edge on check downs as eluded to. It'd be nice if he could replicate the production in the return game also.


August 24th, 2012 at 1:12 PM ^

not to say that norfleet doesn't have that fearless ability, but it's a lot easier to do that when it's one-hand touch instead of a safety coming to take your head off.  definitely hoping he does posess that necessary slot ninja skill.

Yinka Double Dare

August 24th, 2012 at 12:21 PM ^

If Gallon is a starting receiver I wouldn't mind getting a look at Norfleet at punt returner as well as long as he can HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.  Would make not redshirting him less of a potential waste if he was both a kick returner and handling some of the punt return duties.


August 24th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

provide anything that Hayes doesn't? Hayes was a top 100 recruit, small, quick and fast, seemingly very similar to Norfleet. Unless Norfleet has exceptional vision, provides impact in return game, better blocker, or is an overall upgrade, wouldn't it make sense for a redshirt year to gain a year of seperation?

I guess when you are recruiting like Hoke, gaining a redshirt year is not that significant as 2 or 3 years down the line the next highly toughted APB will be on campus.


August 24th, 2012 at 1:02 PM ^

Norfleet is more elusive, more powerful, and probably faster than Hayes.  I think Norfleet will immediately be an upgrade.  Hayes can be a role player at some point and get some carries/receptions, but Norfleet is a potential game changer.

In my opinion.


August 24th, 2012 at 12:35 PM ^

If you like watching people get tackled, his highlight reel is not for you.  Just a bunch of long TD runs.    I mean, who wants to see that?  (THIS GUY!)


August 24th, 2012 at 12:43 PM ^

This guy has that hard to define "it" quality that comes from your gut. From his background, to his all around excellence in whatever he does, to the hell on wheels energy in those highlights. It's like he is seeing things that aren't being seen by the guys chasing him and also 5 steps ahead.  

I'll lay money with anyone that wants to go a beer on it that when this class graduates fully and finally in 4 years, he'll be one of the guys we'll really miss and never forget.   

Don't forget people scoffed at Bo when he was bragging up Desmond Howard before he ever saw the field. He was too small as well.



August 24th, 2012 at 12:47 PM ^

Watching Morris's 7v7 highlights around November or December and thinking, "who is that little guy Morris keeps checking down to? He is sweet!" This was a good Hoke Signing Day surprise.


August 24th, 2012 at 1:09 PM ^

"And don't forget little Gordy Bell ... he can run 15 minutes in a phone booth and never touch the sides!" -- Bob Ufer

I read about Norfleet I think of Bell ... shows how old I am.


August 24th, 2012 at 1:11 PM ^

I love the idea of a small, super shifty guy running behind a towering OL. Norfleet should be all but hidden behind the incoming OL and able to exploit any seams that open up. Also, it'll be nice to have a legitimate homerun threat in a return man again. So, I'm in agreement with the general excitement level


August 24th, 2012 at 1:24 PM ^

His productivity as a return specialist at Michigan is my excitement ceiling right now. Whole different story if we ran an air-raid offense with more chances to get him catches out of the backfield. I just don't think we'll be playing with spread schemes that much. Borges' offense seems to want a "U-Back" in the backfield to run power on most 1st and 2nd down situations, not a slot.

That makes Norfleet a 3rd down back in our offense, and a situational 3rd down back at that. But then again, he's got that Darren Sproles/Brian Westbrook kind of swagger.

I'd say, if he's going to be Darren Sproles or Brian Westbrook, he's gonna have to show up big, and be able to be a feature back. After Touissant is gone, he's gotta beat out Rawls, Hayes, (D.Green?), and any other POWER option that we have at the time (MANBALL!).

But it's a lot of fun to think about, because the starter at RB colors a different comparison picture re: Shane Morris and his potential "pro counterparts". If Norfleet becomes "the man", will that make Shane Drew Brees? If Rawls is the man, can Shane be Eli Manning? If it's Hayes, can he be Tom Brady?

In any event, I think Norfleet will be most useful to stretch the defense in trips sets, probably as the inside receiver on stick-routes, and will have that burst to occassionally turn a 5 yard reception into a 15 yard reception. I think he'll be great on screens, and if he's a viable blocker (a'la V. Smith) he'll be a threat as a shovel option in two TE sets.

$0.02 deposited. I don't need a receipt.


August 24th, 2012 at 1:27 PM ^

"... probably as the inside receiver on stick-routes, and will have that burst to occassionally turn a 5 yard reception into a 15 yard reception."

Bingo ... thinking something similar ... and particularly since by all appearances it seems Shane Morris has pretty good pocket presence ... so if he has protection and stands tall, he can reach deep routes or check down to Norfleet.

Would not want to be DC planning against that.


August 24th, 2012 at 2:07 PM ^

I think of all the 2012 recruits... the recruit who will make me go "goo-goo-ga-ga" the most upon seeing their presence on the field will be Norfleet. I don't care if they blow his redshirt by only playing him on special teams this year, i just want to see him play. And I don't want to wait. I have a serious man-crush on this kid. And Sproles, so maybe that explains it... Yep, it does. Sproles = Norfleet = <3