Previously: Last year's profiles, CB Brandon Watson, CB Jabrill Peppers, LB Jared Wangler, LB Chase Winovich, LB Noah Furbush, LB Michael Ferns, DL Brady Pallante, DL Bryan Mone, DL Lawrence Marshall, OL Mason Cole, OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty.
|Beverly Hills, MI – 6'4", 195|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#61 WR. #6 MI
|ESPN||4*, NR overall
#59 WR, #5 MI
|24/7||3*, NR overall
#91 WR, #10 MI
|Other Suitors||Iowa, Kansas, Pitt, Rutgers|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from me(!).|
|Notes||Detroit Country Day (Kenny Demens).|
Also junior highlights.
If you listened to our recruiting podcast way back in February, you know that I'm super enthused about this class's wide receiving corps. Freddy Canteen's quick emergence into a guy to be excited about has already put the class ahead of the curve, and he is only #2 on my list of wide receivers I expect to exceed expectations.
Er. Other's expectations. I'm not trying to pull the he's-underrated-says-recruiting-ranker thing.
Anyway. #1 is Mo Ways, who only got three stars on most sites despite being 6'4", fast enough to take the top off a defense, and extremely productive. With future Iowa QB Tyler Wiegers throwing to him, Ways had 51 catches for almost 1,000 yards as a junior and upped his numbers to 55 and 1300 as a senior, with 25 touchdowns in there.
Let's get the bad bit out of the way first.
The primary issue with with Ways as a prospect is his hands. As a junior he had a tendency to make facepalm-worthy drops. This one was from his opener:
3. Maurice Ways, WR, Detroit Country Day (2014): Ways would have been in strong consideration for the top overall spot on this list except for a key drop on 4th and 15 with his team down a point. The pattern was a post and Ways had separated from the defensive back. His quarterback put it on his number, but he simply dropped it and U-D Jesuit went on for the win.
This was a pattern. Only the guys who were around consistently knew about it and they had to be diplomatic about it because they were around consistently. They gently suggested that Ways should catch the damn ball. Most of these assertions were on message boards, because message boards are ephemeral and that's the reasonable way to approach things.
But like this is some Real Talk from Tim Sullivan here:
"He's basically a high school version of Braylon Edwards, where he drops easy passes but then makes the astounding play. He's just inexperienced. But it'll come, and when it does, he'll be really, really good."
You can see an echo of that in this later Sullivan eval:
There has been a major question about Ways' hands in the past. There should not be anymore.
Inherent in that is the good news. Ways's senior season saw him leave the drops behind; that's why you can say "major questions" without getting exiled to the land of people who don't get interviews. Ways started making the easy plays while continuing his tendency to make crazy stabs on impossible balls. Sullivan again:
…he was catching balls high over the middle - including several behind him - without any bobbles or "fighting the ball." The accuracy of his quarterback Tyler Wiegers was only OK on this night, but Ways made him look excellent. Whether it's mastering the over-the-shoulder deep ball, a screen pass in traffic, or even a sideline route, Ways made every catch asked of him.
I'm generally skeptical of hands evaluations; once you get a reputation you're always considered iffy in that department because the frequency of drops is so low. See Steve Breaston, who got a rep as a guy who drops passes because he did drop a bunch over his shoulder but was otherwise excellent in his career. (Braylon absolutely deserved his rep, sadly.)
That skepticism tends towards favoring the player, but it's balanced out by the tendency of recruiting analysts to do the same. So let's go to the evaluations that are just looking at the guy as a senior. 247:
Ways has excellent hands. He catches the ball away from his body and really plucks it out of the air.
Very, very good. Has strong, big hands. Excels in a crowd or on the jump ball. Can elevate and shows body control and sideline awareness. Shows toughness in a crowd. Makes difficult grabs look easy. Consistently catches the ball in stride and away from his frame. Hands are soft and extremely reliable.
That's great. I love that pattern: guy gets a lot better, ratings hang on to some preconceived notions, people who pay close attention or who just look at him as a senior are like "wow." The reason this series exists is because I think assembling all the data on a guy with an eye towards the flaws in the rankings is a useful exercise; a guy like Ways is right in the heart of that.
Ways's inexperience helps us understand his trajectory. Ways arrived at Country Day a basketball player and only took up football because you're required to play two sports there. He didn't break through until he was a junior:
"This was actually my third year playing football and my first year playing varsity," Ways said.
He's been steadily improving since. The summer before his senior year he hit a bunch of the camps in an effort to up his game. The resulting articles were a bunch of "this guy is a lot better than he was when I saw him before":
- "really improved since his junior season and has made big strides in the areas he needed to"
- "noticeably improved in his overall grasp of the position"
- "much more sure-handed at the Chicago RCS than when we saw him in the fall"
- "I barely recognized him this summer at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp after seeing him in his junior season."
Michigan coaches are pleased, as Ways himself relates:
"Coach Hoke talked about how impressed they are with me and my development on the field and off the field physically. When talking with Coach Hecklinski, he alluded to the fact that my film this season really showed him that I improved on the things I got to work with him on at the camp this off-season and that it's really encouraging to know that I'm putting in the necessary work off the field in my free time."
+2 points for using "alluded"
-1 point for being unnecessarily fancy when Heck probably just said it instead of vaguely gestured in its direction
Ways may or may not be able to rip downfield a la Braylon. There is much conflict on this point. Well, part of it. Everyone thinks he's got the frame and basketball rebounding skills to sky over defensive backs productively. Kyle Bogenschutz reported from Ways's standout performance at Michigan's camp:
…he ran a straight-line deep streak down the sideline. The ball was very underthrown - and looked as though it would be intercepted. But Ways adjusted to the ball, twisting his body as he leapt toward the ball. He snagged it over the cornerback's head, falling to the five-yard line for a 35-yard gain.
Ways is a big, strong, outside receiver that can stretch the field and go up and get the deep ball. Athletic-looking frame with prototypical length and thickness. … Locates the ball in the air well and adjusts his body to position for the catch while shielding off the defender. Displays strong hands to secure high-velocity throws off his frame.
He is one of those guys who isn't particularly covered even when he's covered. "Huge target"; "wide catching radius"; that ESPN stuff I bolded above about playing in a crowd. On this there is no disagreement.
There is disagreement about how threatening Ways will be downfield. ESPN's evaluation says he's going to be more of an underneath guy…
Speed is above average, but he looks to be quicker than top end fast. …More of a possession type that will catch everything and has red zone upside. His size gives him big play ability when the ball is in the air in contested match-ups. May never be a guy that wins consistent foot races, but he is a smooth athlete who can extend plays.
…as does 247's eval immediately after his commit:
Ways isn’t the fastest kid on the field and some are concerned about his overall speed. He doesn’t have great moves to get past defenders after the catch but shows he can break tackles with good strength.
On the other side of the ledger is another section in that same ESPN scouting report:
Is a cut above this level of competition in this area. Is a smooth glider that can eat cushion quickly given his size. Can cut and shows burst into and out of the break. Will sink hips, but must be careful of pad level. Fluid stride makes speed tough to gauge for DBs.
Tim Sullivan was impressed after an in-person evaluation against Notre Dame prep:
Ways' initial burst off the line also looked improved. He has always had good speed, but it has taken him a few steps to build up a head of steam and really get moving. …was beating defensive backs in press or off-coverage with his speed, something he'd had trouble with in the past. Of course, that hasn't stopped him from being speedy after that burst, either. He was routinely burning the opposing defensive back downfield.
Some of this is probably an artifact of when you saw him. 247's evaluation notes that Ways "really improved his straight-line speed" since his junior year and pegs him as a 4.6 guy in a laser-timed 40—equivalent to 4.4 by the standards of FAKE that are generally applied to HS 40s.
As we've learned with Devin Funchess, when you're huge and leapy you don't have to have elite burst and quickness to be open enough downfield. Manningham works; Edwards works; Funchess works.
As a bonus, Ways is an excellent blocker on the edge. WR evaluations rarely mention anything about what happens when the kid doesn't have the ball, but Ways was impressive enough to get repeated mentions from the evaluators. Sullivan:
He was not just a capable blocker, but went the extra mile to take pride in his blocking in the run game. He has developed physically and should be a devastating player on the edge at the college level.
Brewster says he's got "great work effort" and is a "relentless" blocker. Add that to your list of reasons Ways isn't getting the hype he probably should.
Etc.: Really wanted to be at M:
"I think playing in front of 115,000 people on Saturdays," Ways said. "But not just that, the tradition. What it wins to wear the winged helmet and put that jersey on. Just being a Michigan Man. I'm looking forward to it all."
Okay one more description of a circus catch:
…had a few highlight plays throughout the day, reeling in a one handed grab in the morning session, corralling the football with one of his big mitts and bringing it into his body as he hit the turf, and catching a go route over both a corner and safety in the 7-on-7 skeleton.
Touch The Banner was a fan. Is a fan, I imagine.
Why Braylon Edwards? Yes, that is a big name to put on Ways. But he's an instate kid with a modest recruiting profile who has the size, speed, and leaping ability to be a top flight downfield threat. Ways also has the hands questions, though he seems to have put them to bed. Edwards ran a probably-FAKE 4.48 HS 40, FWIW.
Junior Hemingway is another comparable as a guy who absolutely excels in a crowd but didn't get consistent separation on deep routes. His hands were better; his speed was worse; he is three or four inches shorter than Ways.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. I think their rankings did not keep pace with Ways's improvement. Everyone was like "this is a different player" and no one made the adjustments. Ton of scouting, though—this post was 5k words before I cut a lot of stuff out—and he was at camp and healthy.
Variance: Moderate. Speed and hands questions may limit him to being a solid contributor; if he hits the high end of the upside he's a star.
Ceiling: High. Junior Hemingway plus four inches! Braylon Edwards with hands! Both of them put together so that he's got four hands to catch the ball with!
General Excitement Level: Due to Hoke's level of recruiting success it's been difficult to find anyone even qualified to be "Sleeper Of The Year" based on our previous criteria of no four-star rankings, so this year we're allowing guys with one four-star in. So, surprise! Mo Ways is our Sleeper Of The Year.
I love the guy's frame, I think his year-to-year improvement bodes very well, and watching him on film it seems like he does have the athleticism to give defensive backs a hard choice. He should be at least a solid #2 over the course of his career and I wouldn't put his ceiling there. This is an entirely different kind of three-star than the ones they brought in in the previous class.
Projection: Normally I'd think the guy plays, but Michigan does have a lot of depth on the outside this year: Funchess, Darboh, Chesson, Canteen, Dukes, and maybe Jones unless he's a slot. That's a lot of guys, and Ways may top out as the kind of receiver who the NFL likes but not enough to induce an early entry. 50/50 on a redshirt; getting one is no slight.