2014 Recruiting: Wilton Speight

Submitted by Brian on August 19th, 2014 at 10:19 AM

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, WR Moe Ways, WR Freddy Canteen, WR Drake Harris, TE Ian Bunting.

Richmond, VA – 6'6", 234



Scout 3*, NR overall
#30 QB
Rivals 3*, NR overall
NR QB, #27 VA
ESPN 4*, #257 overall
#13 pro QB, #8 VA               
24/7 3*, NR overall
#23 pro QB, #16 VA
Other Suitors Miami, NC State
YMRMFSPA John Navarre
Previously On MGoBlog Hello post from Ace.
Notes Twitter.


Also senior highlights on hudl.


It's back. The Michigan Artillery Piece QB has been revived and recruited in the form of Wilton Speight. Yes, Shane Morris before him is a pro-style guy. He is not a 6'6" man-mountain who will only cross the line of scrimmage in the event of an emergency or Buffalo Stampede.

Wilton Speight is. Seriously. Compare him to someone, ESPN!

Physically he reminds us of Brock Osweiler (the Arizona State Osweiler, not the high school version).

I think you mean "the 6'8" Brock Osweiler—the 6'8" Arizona Osweiler, not the 6'8" high school version." This is your context.

When we're talking about artillery pieces, it's about fitting footballs into tight windows at high velocity 99 times out of 100. That's why Tom Brady is married to a Brazilian supermodel; it's why people still put up with Ben Roethlisberger. Can Speight reach those heights? It's a bit murky right now.

Speight was going all out in high school, flying out to be tutored by Noted Quarterback Guru Steve Clarkson monthly. This is dedication.  Dedication is good, and it comes with impressive quotes from Clarkson:

"His arm is every bit as strong as Ben Roethlisberger, and I've worked with Ben. … I've known Al Borges for well over 20 years, so we actually talked quite a bit before the commitment. He wanted to know what kind of player Wilton was.."

"His football IQ is very high, and he's just deadly accurate. … This is a kid that I think plays on Sundays, that's how good he is. I don't throw that around that often, but this kid, I think he plays on Sundays."

Clarkson and Speight did collectively take a radical step forward from his destiny. Scout's Greg Biggins:

At the time,  I was at one of Steve’s camps and I was thinking, okay this guy is kind of tall, gawky, does not really look the par, kind of really over the head release.  I thought he is a nice enough guy, maybe he will go to lower level MAC school if he is lucky kind of a thing.

And then!

I saw him again last year at the camp and he was incredible.  It was a night and day difference in terms of just being comfortable as a quarterback. ….   just from three years ago to today, it is like it is a different sport he is playing.”

This was not enough to get him a bump but recruiting sites succumb to momentum like any other human endeavor; it's generally the case that guys who improve a lot late remain underrated.

[After the JUMP: arm strength not in Morris's league, surprising mobility, Borges's horrific QB recruiting track record.]

I'm just not sure how much that happened. I get a little leery when Speight's getting a nigh-Forcier level of preparation and things don't go so well when he shows up at an All Star game after his senior year.

It's been about as pretty as a child's preschool fingerpainting, but the quarterback situation on Team Nitro is progressing, albeit slowly.

Calling the group's play "consistent" would be stretching it, but the passes being thrown during the event's third practice were better than the ones being slopped around on day No. 1. And at this point, that counts for something.

Ouch. Speight was "spotty at best" competing with Arkansas commit Rafe Peavey. When something that… uh… blunt is said you tend to notice that a lot of the great quotes about him come from a guy paid to get him to college.

Even ESPN, our primary Speight advocate, saw the UA game and dropped him 124 spots. In the past ESPN has been known as a service that tends to overrate players that go to their all-star game. Here it of seems like they dropped him as far as they possibly could without causing a major stir. And when Speight attended a regional Elite 11 camp he was listed outside the top five—not particularly close to an invite.

Also a bit of a worry: Speight essentially took a redshirt year in high school. He repeated his junior year after a nasty collarbone injury. He'll turn 20 before the bowl game. So with the coaching and the extra year you'd hope by the time he got to the All Star game he was at he'd be moving up, not down. In general, the older you are the slower progress you make.

Meanwhile, Clarkson's evaluation of Speight's arm strength is not shared by others. Biggins says he "doesn't have a huge arm but it is strong enough"; Scout's Brian Dohn starts his evaluation by suggesting ways in which he can tinker with his mechanics to get that velocity up. It starts off by stating "there is a lot to work with in Speight," and he means "fix." Later he makes reference to windows:

There are a lot of throws Speight makes in which his weight is on his back feet, and it causes his arm and feet not to work in unison. Also, he is not fitting a lot of balls into small windows, nor does he completely air it out on any of his passes.

However, he does make quick decisions and gets rid of the ball quickly. Once Michigan's staff gets a hold of him and irons out his mechanics, he may turn into a very good player.

He does have a trajectory of improvement; that and his frame are his best assets.

Tim Sullivan generally gives you the most unvarnished look at any particular prospect and he did take in a Speight game this fall:

The question with Speight has been about his arm strength. … While he's never going to be a gunner, Speight does have the arm to push the ball downfield, and is particularly strong in the short game. The 15-yard out may be questionable at times …

Speight's throwing motion is compact, and he fires from a high release point, both positives. Part of the reason his arm strength is questioned is because he seems to struggle throwing a consistent spiral at times. The ball gets from point A to point B, but it's not always the prettiest. That makes passes seem like they're moving slower than they are - and can also reduce the velocity at times.

ESPN's evaluation is between the Clarkson and Sullivan takes:

Possesses great size and adequate bulk. Very strong with deceptively good mobility and athleticism. … Has good fluidity and subtle pocket movements to evade and create a second passing chance.  … Good accuracy, firm throws and has shown touch as needed on short arc throws. Ball will wobble some and he is still developing ball control and consistent zip.

We feel Speight has a very good arm, but not a Matthew Stafford-Ryan Mallett type arm. Is a dropback/play-action passer with the movement to change a launch point.

He does have a major technical asset. That mention of "surprising mobility" is echoed by many. His coach:

"I think Wilton is actually pretty diverse with what he's capable of doing," said Collegiate coach Mark Palyo. "He's actually a good runner - he has officially run in the 4.6s. I know he runs well. … He's a big physical kid who won't shy away from contact."

The net effect of this mobility is about getting passes off and buying time, not rumbling downfield. The opposition:

"He's not a tuck-it-and-run kind of kid, but he does have outstanding awareness in the pocket and he's tough to bring down …He won't be the Oregon zone-read quarterback but he will extend a play and throw on the run, which I think is critical to any offense in today's game."


For a kid that big, he can slide around in the pocket, make rushers miss and throw on the move. He isn't a dual threat, but he isn't a statue either. He does a nice job of keeping plays alive.

His UA coach said he had "surprisingly good feet" for a guy his size and while he's not going to scare you on a zone read, he does a nice job of moving in the pocket. Connor Cook seems like the maximum possible upside there when it comes to running-running, but the ability to make throws out of situations in which you're pressured is #2 on the list of important things to have when you're a pocket passer. (#1: telepathic knowledge of who will be where at what time on both sides of the ball.)

And there are a couple more positive evaluations, one from a coach who faced off against Speight. He is particularly enthused:

"He has a gun, and anyone that says otherwise hasn't seen him in person and hasn't tried to defend him," Blake noted. "He just picks you apart with his arm. If you want him to throw the deep out on a dime, he can do that. If you need him to throw the bomb, he does that. You need him to rifle one to the tight end in between two linebackers, and he'll do that too. He can make every throw."

Scout's Scott Kennedy had a totally different take from the UA game:

He is setting his feet well.  The ball is coming out.  It is coming out hot.  It is coming out with a tight spiral.  It is coming out accurate.  What more could you possibly look for? 

So there is not consensus here.

And then there's the Borges thing. I was curious about his QB recruiting, because when Speight was on the verge of being offered he was very straightforward about what was going down:

"In their eyes, myself, David Cornwell, and this kid from IMG Academy Michael O'Connor are the best quarterbacks in the nation in this class," Speight said. "All this Michigan coaches are going to meet on Monday and discuss what they're going to do with the three of us."

This was a Borges call, helped by the fact that Borges and Clarkson have known each other for 20 years. O'Connor ended up at then-still-sanctioned Penn State without drawing any elite offers unless MSU counts now; Cornwell committed to Alabama and saw his rating slide from five-star-ish to solid top 100.

So I went back and looked at everyone Borges had recruited as an OC/QB coach in the stars era. The results are incredible. Despite being a long-time offensive coordinator there is almost no evidence he can identify QB talent. Since 2002 he recruited 11 guys to Indiana, Auburn, and San Diego State; zero (zero!) became regular starters*. The one guy who got a full season as a starting QB in was moved to tight end the next year. Then he decided to swoop in on Russell Bellomy when he arrived at Michigan; Bellomy has already been passed by the two guys recruited after him.

If Al Borges recruits a guy the recruiting sites like, okay. If he's taking a flier I get worried. I don't think this touches Morris because Morris was a duh recruit who would have ended up at Michigan no matter who the coach was; I can't say the same for Speight.

There wasn't a whole lot about Speight coming out of spring. That's not unexpected what with Gardner the clear starter and Morris presumably ahead of him. There were a few boilerplate mentions but this article is already getting lengthy, so they're omitted. You know what they say: picking up the offense, can play, etc. I didn't think he looked that good doing the spring game stuff, but Lord don't put any stock in that.

Speight seems to need a significant amount of additional work. He'll get at least one year of it in, and then he'll be competing. Seems like year two might be a bit early to do so seriously.

Etc.: Ain't no reason to be embarrassed about Patsy Cline, son. Daily profile.

Why John Navarre? Inevitable that your 6'6" battleship type gets compared to Navarre. Speight also is reputed to have something of a 3/4ths delivery, which compromises his height. If there's one thing that still rankles about an ABT QB who beat OSU silly as a senior, it's the fact that he got a ton of passes batted down.

Navarre was also in the same range as a recruit, and something of a flier: he was famously recruited as a defensive end everywhere except Northwestern and Michigan.

Guru Reliability: High-minus. QBs are always heavily evaluated and Speight had two years, an Elite 11 regional appearance, and a UA game after his collarbone injury to display his wares. He does seem to have come a long way so some of the older evaluations may be excessively pessimistic.

Variance: Moderate. Still has significant work to do, seems like arm strength is going to cap his ability short of Mallett.

Ceiling: Moderate. Obligatory quotes about HS 40s aside he is strictly a pocket guy and one who seems to be a long way away from Tom Brady. In one sense literally any 6'6" pocket QB has huge upside because he does not have to move, but it seems wrong to say he's got great upside when that's the only qualification, and he's a year older than most guys entering college.

General Excitement Level: Low. He was healthy for his last two years of high school and working. But no one moved him as a senior and he attended an All Star game which was generally rough, one that saw ESPN knock him down a long way after being his single advocate for more than a year.

Projection: Redshirt. Competes with Morris for the starting job next year, probably loses, probably is the #2 guy for the next couple years, has second shot after Morris graduates against Alex Malzone and Messiah DeWeaver. That outcome is unknown.


  • INDIANA: Graeme McFarland (career backup), Allen Webb (transfer to KSU, split time with Allan Evridge), and Blake Powers (started as sophomore, moved to TE next year).
  • AUBURN: Calvin Booker (transferred to GT), Blake Field (transferred to Valdosta State), Steve Ensminger (career backup), Neil Caudle (29 career attempts), Kodi Burns (179 attempts at 5.9 a pop as sophomore, moved to WR as senior). Worth noting that the Auburn QB for this period was the completely uninspiring Brandon Cox and his degenerative muscle disease.
  • SAN DIEGO STATE: Jake Bernards (never played), Colton Morrison (transferred because he was behind two other guys on this list), Adam Dingwell (lost job to in game two of last year, retired due to back injury).

Then Bellomy upon his arrival at M. Sweet fancy Moses. Good news for Alex Malzone though.]



August 19th, 2014 at 10:34 AM ^

Got to see him twice in his senior season at Collegiate. The guy was clearly better than every other player on the field to a level I hadn't seen before (even outta Derek Green, David Terrell, Rudi Johnson, and a couple of other guys I got to see play HS ball) fwiw.


August 19th, 2014 at 12:10 PM ^

I'll admit, I don't think Borges was that bad of an offensive coordinator.  He made some big mistakes and had some awful games, yes--but he also had some brilliant performances that didn't seem possible with some of the performance issues our team had shown.  I do think Nussmeier is an upgrade, but if the Nussmeier thing hadn't happened and Borges was still our OC, I wouldn't be complaining.  

That being said, these new Al-Borges-can't-identify-QB-talent revelations are damning.  While I do hope Speight turn out to have been his one fluky success, that particular weakness could have really undermined the program had Borges remained our OC long-term.


August 19th, 2014 at 10:48 AM ^

There's a guy who won a NC for Notre Dame and three Super Bowls for the 49ers who didn't have anything resembling a cannon for an arm. There's a former Michigan QB who's won some SBs with an arm that's never been described as being a "cannon." Michigan won its last NC with a QB who nobody would say had a "cannon."

What's far more important is having the ability to make quick, good decisions and then getting the ball off accurately to the right receiver. Speight seems to have displayed that ability, at least at the HS level.

If Speight doesn't become a notable QB at Michigan, it won't be because he doesn't have a "cannon"—it will be because he makes poor decisions under pressure and isn't accurate enough in key situations.


August 19th, 2014 at 11:26 AM ^

Which is rather ironic, since Mr. Terrifying Force jumped the UM ship for a crappy MLB career.

Come to think of it, the other notable Mr. Badass Cannon Arm Ryan Mallett also booted, albeit for very different reasons.

As far as having "the brains to match" goes, Henson would probably have been no worse than a top 5 pick in the NFL draft, and very possibly #1. I bet his first NFL contract would have far exceeded what he got from Steinbrenner.


August 19th, 2014 at 3:15 PM ^

No.  In Henson's case it was an awful decision.  He got $17 Million for a six year contract.  David Carr, the first pick in the '02 NFL draft, got $46.2 Million for 7 years, with $10.9 of that guaranteed.  Henson probably would have gotten that amount.  He was likely to be the first pick.  Plus, he had no future in baseball.  He was a mediocre pro prospect, at best.  His upside in the NFL was insane.  He could still be playing right now like Tom Brady is.  Bolting school to play baseball was a huge and short-sighted mistake. 


August 19th, 2014 at 3:34 PM ^

How much is it worth not to take NFL pounding? And I didn't follow baseball prospects closely at the time but I find it hard to believe they give out $17 Million to mediocre pro prospects. Got anything you can cite on that? Also...$17 Million guaranteed > $10.2 Million gauranteed. 


August 19th, 2014 at 4:48 PM ^

You've got to be extremely risk averse to go for the guaranteed money when all you need is about two or three years just on an NFL roster (max) to exceed that.  Given that first round picks are a huge investment, that's pretty much a guarantee even if you are massive bust like Ryan Leaf.  And then there's massive upside to it. 

Mr Miggle

August 19th, 2014 at 1:41 PM ^

the sport he loved most. The worst case scenario basically happened. Instead he might have made more in the NFL. The only risks were injury before the draft, his stock falling, non-guaranteed contracts, taking way too many hits, etc. Maybe those risks are justifiable if he loved football more, but I don't think there is any question that he made a smart decision.


August 19th, 2014 at 10:55 AM ^

Spot on ... it's about what's between the ears more than what's in the arm.

The higher you go in terms of competition, the more important this becomes.

It's why, as you say, Brady and Montana did so well. 

It's why Russell Wilson has a ring.  He's smart enough to use his brain first, then his legs.

It's in the same category as what Desmond Howard said about athletic quarterbacks -- it's important for really athletic quarterbacks to be a good quarterback first, then be athletic.

I hope Speight does well.  He seems a good kid.


August 19th, 2014 at 11:08 AM ^

You'd be surprised.  I have read a lot of message board posts (and main page posts) on various OSU blogs that would make you think the overwhelming majority of their fans never saw a single game coached by John Cooper.  One staff writer even wrote something like (paraphrasing) "I never saw an OSU game until 2002, I honestly couldn't tell you anything about them in the 1990's."

And the overall tone of the comments in general makes you think that most of them have no idea it was only a little over 10 seasons ago that Michigan was coming off a 10-2-1 run against them.  No, OSU dominating Michigan like this is not "business as usual" despite what most of their fans seem to think.


August 19th, 2014 at 11:12 AM ^

It is a friendly joke just as you would say Ohio instead of Ohio State. Yes, I watched football before Rich Rod? I meant after the last couple seasons which I believe if you guys were coached by anyone else would've been great years because both Robinson and Gardner are great players and I see plenty of success coming from what you guys have started with the mobile QB's but if you took that as an insult that is fine I really don't care.


August 19th, 2014 at 11:22 AM ^

and the type of other skill players that are developing out of HS, I'd say mobile...but only if those are my only two choices.  I think a mix of the two is important, as Johnny Football is learning right about now.  You need to be able to move, but you also need to stand in the pocket when its warranted.


August 19th, 2014 at 1:37 PM ^

>> what would you rather have? Mobile or pocket passer?

All else equal, then of course you want the mobile.  That's not even a debate.

The key is the "all else equal" qualifier.

What would you rather have -- a pocket passer who has an uncanny ability to read defenses and possesses pinpoint accuracy, or a mobile QB who opts to run too often and makes bad pass decisions?  Well, the pocket passer, of course.

A QB needs to be mobile enough to evade pressure and pose a credible running threat.  Beyond that, passing skills and football intelligence is far, far more valuable.