|Saint Clairsville, OH – 6'3", 230|
|Scout||4*, #179 overall
#8 ILB, #9 OH
|Rivals||4*, #211 overall
#14 ILB, #7 OH
|ESPN||4*, #129 overall
#7 ILB, #2 OH
|24/7||4*, #198 overall
#7 ILB, #9 OH
|Other Suitors||Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, 'Bama, MSU, Stanford, Wisconsin|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Ace gets a big ol' I See What You Did There for his Hello post.|
|Notes||Twitter. Enrolled early. Participated in UA game.|
Hudl also has stuff from the first half of his senior year.
Michael Ferns is the recruit most likely to be known by random people who watch Good Morning America or read the kind of sports blog that's mostly pictures of taut young ladies. The former know Ferns because he did a very nice thing.
…Ferns took a sweep 52 yards down the left sideline and had nothing in the way of him and a touchdown.
But he slowed down as he approached the end zone and walked out of bounds at the 1-yard line. …
Two days earlier, freshman Logan Thompson’s father, Paul, died from a sudden stroke. Once McLean learned that Logan would indeed suit up for Friday’s game against Edison, McLean began to formulate a plan to help his freshman wide receiver “honor his father.”
Secretly, McLean instructed Ferns and the other skill players, if given the chance, to stop short on a touchdown so they could get Logan in. … McLean simplified the isolation play call with three words: “Just follow Ferns.”
“Mike and the line opened up a huge hole for Logan and he ran it right in,” McLean said.
The latter group of people knows Ferns because he's a baller, as Ferns posted Mississippi State's best effort to his Instagram account.
He did not appear to be swayed.
He was not even moved when Mississippi State asserted that they had a truckload of swag in Stark-Vegas.
Before he was twice-viral, Ferns was a big-time prospect playing at a small high school near the Ohio-West Virginia border who was picking up offers super early. Notre Dame issued him his second before he'd finished his sophomore year of high school, with Stanford, OSU, PSU, and Michigan following suit within a few weeks. After a round of visits, Ferns was down to Michigan, ND, and Penn State. He pulled the trigger in early August, with almost 20 months to go before signing day.
This early recruitment has taken off in the last few years, but the difference with Ferns is that teams were eager to have him on campus and have him commit—these days an "offer" often deserves scare quotes. Ferns was a sure thing, though:
“He showed up at 6-3, 220,” Saint Clairsville coach Brett McLean said today of Ferns, who is up to 235 pounds. “He played junior high football for us as a quarterback in the seventh and eighth grade. We knew we had a special player.”
He'll gradually add 10-15 pounds over the course of his career, but he's about as physically ready as you can be as a freshman, and he has been for years.
As a result, Ferns was placed in everyone's top 100 early before dropping about a hundred spots most places. (ESPN, as per usual, moves people less.) Because of the early commitment, small school, and inopportunely timed injuries, there's surprisingly little scouting out there for a consensus top-200 guy. But here goes anyway.
Ferns gets described as a "throwback" a lot, and while any highly-touted white linebacker is going to get hit with that term Ferns earned it. He played through the state playoffs his junior year severely compromised by injury. Bucknuts' Mark Porter:
“He is a throwback type. He is very physical. Obviously, everyone watched him play hurt in the playoffs and play through the pain and show off his toughness there. I think he could be an All-Big Ten linebacker up at Michigan.”
Mike Farrell of Rivals didn't quite invoke "throwback" but offered a slightly backhanded compliment in that vein:
"He is the stereotypical Big Ten linebacker," Farrell said. "He is explosive to the football and takes great angles. He is hard-nosed and physically impressive. He is exactly what you expect when you think of a major prospect from this area at that position."
It was when Ferns struggled through the early part of the Rivals Five-Star challenge before withdrawing with a leg injury that Rivals dropped him, stating the backhanded part of the above quote directly:
…at his best when he is playing downhill and stuffing the run. Camp/7-on-7 settings do not showcase that element of the game, but they give a good sense of how a player moves in space and plays coverage. Those are the aspects of Ferns' game he needs to work on. He had trouble changing direction and turning to run with backs and tight ends down the field.
They also mentioned that flaw after an earlier Rivals camp that got Ferns his invite to their fancycamp, saying he was "stiff" in one on ones and such.
While both of those evals came in situations where only one set of eyes was there, there are echoes of that criticism a couple other places. ESPN mentions that he is "not real fluid opening his hips" as he attempts to get depth; they do credit him for being instinctive and "athletic enough to get to his spot" in zone. Allen Trieu puts in a mention that he "needs to work on coverage" in a brief scouting report.
That is the main—seemingly only—drawback. Everyone else praises his "great size and good closing speed," or things along those lines. Trieu's report mentions his track career and loves everything except the coverage:
…ready for the college game. As a track kid, he has the straight line speed to run down ball carriers and is great when he’s coming forward… he’s a great blitzer and run defender.
“He is a guy who gets into his drops quickly. He can survey what’s going on in front of him quickly. He can get to the ball quickly. He is a great athlete and a lot of top schools were recruiting him as a tight end. … He brings great size to the linebacker position.”
Tall, well built with great bulk and solid functional strength. Possesses good range and straight-line speed to go sideline-to-sideline.
Is at his best filling downhill inside the tackles. Plays smart, reads keys and sees plays develop leading to very few false steps. Quick to get off the mark and fit his inside run gaps. Generates good short-area power. Plays square with adequate leverage and is difficult to turn out of the hole at his size. …appears much more effective pursuing downhill than laterally.
He has the mass to stop runners dead in their tracks, but is also athletic enough to make plays on the edge of the line. He has good hands and is very knowledgeable between the lines. … not the type of player to chase running backs down outside the box. … classic run-stuffer more so than a spread-capable linebacker at this stage in his development."
… baller. Balls out with truckloads of swag. When balling out, balls further, reaching new frontiers of balling. Skee Lo was thinking of this guy. …Swagtruck baller. Six-hundred star recruit.
Thanks, Mississippi State.
So… Ferns is a guy who goes and hits people hard if they don't run away from him.
Ferns enrolled in January. Alarmingly, a hamstring injury slowed his progress. Count up the "injury" mentions in this article and… yeah. Two is probably a coincidence. Four is getting a bit alarming.
As a result of the hamstring, Ferns was held out much of the spring and did not seem particularly close to breaking into the two deep what with Michigan returning five players with meaningful experience.
Given that depth chart it would make sense to redshirt Ferns. Michigan has Ryan, Gedeon, Morgan, Bolden, and probably Mike McCray in front of him at the MLB and WLB spots. Linebackers tend to play on special teams, though. He's a strong candidate for Argh Why U No Redshirt of the year.
Etc.: Graduated high school in three years. Had a 4.0 at one point. The Pattern: yup.
Why Desmond Morgan? Ferns is a high-IQ thumper that limits YAC and played all over the field as a high school player at a small school. This fits closely with Morgan, who was actually the QB for his high school team. Both are at their best reading and going hard in restricted spaces.
Ferns is much higher ranked but Morgan has clearly outperformed his recruiting rankings in college; while no one will confuse Morgan with a coverage specialist he has generally gotten to the right spot at the right time for Michigan. He's adequate or maybe a little bit better there.
A potential area where this comparison falls down: a lot of people say Ferns is an excellent blitzer and has some of that vertical explosion Jake Ryan does.
Guru Reliability: Medium. Near-consensus on the rankings but injury held him out or slowed him down at some critical points where he could have confirmed his early offer flood and top-100 rankings. Played for a small school against iffy competition.
Variance: Medium. Advanced physically (thus the early offers), little positional projection, high IQ. On the other hand, low level of competition and he has had a lot of injuries, to the point where he may actually be injury-prone instead of just unlucky.
Ceiling: High-minus. Seems to lack the bit of athleticism necessary to warrant a "high"—like Morgan may top out as a B+ player. Does have that A- upside if he can blitz.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. I'm a little down on Ferns relative to his rankings because he can't seem to stay healthy. If that recedes there's a good chance he contributes.
Projection: Doesn't redshirt, causing my mandibles to clack angrily every time I look at a depth chart by class for the next four years. Sees special teams time almost exclusively.
In year two, backs up either Gedeon or Bolden at MLB; will take a run at a starting spot vacated by Bolden in year three, and then has another shot a year after. Pretty much exclusively an MLB/WLB prospect, with MLB more likely since it somewhat limits exposure to coverage issues.