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(!).|
|Notes||IS NOT NAMED DENNIS "NORTHFLEET" LET'S NOT WOLFORK THIS OKAY|
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.
1. DENNIS NORFLEET, APB, DETROIT KING
…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."
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.
"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?
High on Norfleet am I yes.
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.