|Manlius, NY – 6'6", 260|
|Scout||4*, #279 overall
#25 DE, #1 NY
|Rivals||4*, NR overall
#13 TE, #1 NY
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#12 TE, #1 NY
|24/7||4*, #323 overall
#13 TE, #1 NY
|Other Suitors||Bama, UCLA, USC, UF, FSU, Oregon, PSU, Wisconsin|
|YMRMFSPA||Tyler Ecker or Levine Toilolo|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Semper Fi game. Son of—surprise!—Tyrone Wheatley.|
The second consecutive junior on our recruiting profile series is also the son of a Wolverine legend, one who happens to be the running backs coach. Tyrone Wheatley's kid is not a sprinter, though: he's a 6'6", 260 pound jumbo athlete who could play on either side of the ball.
This sounds like a person fated to play for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. It is possible Wheatley Jr's very existence set in motion the series of events that ended with Jim Harbaugh stumbling to the podium in January. But for the longest time it didn't seem like the younger Wheatley was particularly interested in Michigan. It was in fact USC, UCLA and Alabama that were thought to lead until his dad was hired. Michigan wasn't even on his list for a minute there.
But all's well that ends well, and Michigan has a… large gentleman. The recruiting sites don't really know what position he's going to be; neither do I. They generally came around to the idea he'd be a tight end late, with a couple flipping his position in their last updates. The impetus for this appears to be his appearance at the Semper Fi game, where he demonstrated a certain skill($) Michigan has been badly lacking in their tight ends for a while now:
He's a big, strong, physical tight end prospect … I talked to an analyst who watched him all week at the Semper Fidelis All-Star game practices and said he was knocking people off the ball and dominating other elite defensive end prospects at the line of scrimmage. … got the length and athleticism to block a speed rusher or a quicker outside linebacker and can hold his own against a big 3-4 defensive end. In the passing game, Wheatley is still raw but he's got very soft and secure hands.
Neither the blocking proficiency or the receiving inexperience is much of a surprise. Wheatley caught just 11 passes as a senior on a team that barely threw the ball. Just about all of them are in the reel above. The elder Wheatley talked to Sam Webb about it:
"…you really won’t see him blossom as a tight end because of the offense that they’re in. … when they do target him, he is double covered and the ball is sometimes overthrown, underthrown. You really won’t see him blossom in that regard. The kid has mitts. He can catch the ball. He has great range for a big fellow. He has great catching radius. He can catch the ball over his shoulder, adjust."
That was mostly confirmed by other scouting reports. This one is a bit wobbly but I mean basically:
Wheatley Jr. is a menace. He has a wide body and impressive strength. And while he usually shines as a blocker, he made his presence known in the passing attack on Friday. He didn't look pretty catching passes at all times. In fact, he fought the ball on occasions, but he always made the catch when targeted.
ESPN described something similar to "fighting the ball" in their report, citing some "tightness" when he tries to adjust to a ball in flight. That seems to be the inverse of when a guy gets praised for his body control. Wheatley might not be the most agile guy, and that is why the recruiting sites don't have a ranking for him commensurate with his offers.
I was under the impression that Wheatley Jr was a bigger deal in the rankings than he actually was. When you have an offer list like that out of New York you're usually a no-doubter. So it's a surprise that he makes a top 300 just once and ESPN offers up a three star rating.
Those offers were seemingly sincere. I went back and checked out some 247 articles from schools in pursuit and there was no mention of whether he was a "take" or not, just excitement and optimism they might lock him down. I mean, he took an official to Tuscaloosa in late January.
But I get it. If Wheatley's a TE there's a lot of projection you have to make from that particular offense in upstate New York to one that throws in college. Scout put him on their list of the top five kids "best served to redshirt":
… has a world of talent. If he plays tight end in college, he will have to drop some weight. If he plays defensive end, he will need to refine his technique.
And Wheatley does not demonstrate the ability to blow the top off the defense like a Fleener or an OJ Howard. (Or a Funchess, if Funchess was a tight end, which he is emphatically not.) ESPN is the only service to give him three stars and that lack appears to be their main issue with him:
very good height and a lengthy frame that can still support more good mass … Doesn't demonstrate the burst or top-end speed to stretch the field … Size and reach can make a tough match-up, but doesn't display great burst out of breaks to consistently run away from defenders and create separation. … good hands with the ability to extend and catch away from his frame. Displays ability to reach up and snag passes thrown above his head. …not always natural when having to open up frame and adjust.
The snippets of Wheatley as a receiver above confirm that, but there is still some upside here. Wheatley pushed up to 270 at points during high school before getting back down to 260. He is still developing physically, and might drop to 250 and up his quicks, or he might end up 280 and be a road grader (or DE).
And what about defensive end? Certainly a possibility. Both his dad and his coach think his maximum upside is there:
"His dad has been on record as saying he's a better defensive player. I would probably go there. I think he's an amazing defensive end. He's a great tight end as well, but the things he's able to do, he's able to dominate games at defensive end."
Early in his high school days he mostly chose DE when he went to camps, and his showings there spurred the flood of early offers from heavy hitters:
…far and away the best player at the camp. The Rivals250 defensive end has added a lot of strength to his core and it helped him play with good leverage. Wheatley used that strength to help push offensive linemen out of the way en route to the quarterback. He also showed very good technique, beating offensive linemen inside and outside.
His stats are certainly more impressive at that spot, although mostly because they don't hand out stats for making kids two dimensional.
Given what we saw this spring, I guarantee that in 2016 we get reports that Wheatley is playing on both sides of the ball. You know, just in case. Whether he sticks there will depends partially on how he's doing as a DE and partially on how much Harbaugh likes Bunting, Hill, McKeon, et al. versus Wormley, Johnson, Marshall, et al. Given the two DEs in this recruiting class and Harbaugh's predilection for TEs, the bet here is that he stays on offense. You never know, though.
Why Tyler Ecker or Levine Tiololo? Ecker is your Michigan comparison: a hefty but reasonably agile tight end able to be a dual threat. Ecker is infamous for the end of that Nebraska bowl game, but when he was not doing that he was a B+ athlete who was a solid starter for Michigan. Wheatley is a bit bigger, and Ecker was not regarded as an especially punishing blocker. Hopefully Wheatley would be Ecker++.
Tiololo is the Harbaugh comparison. At his Cardinal apex, Harbaugh's three-headed TE troika included Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, and Levine Toilolo, all of whom went in the the NFL draft. The 6'8", 260 pound Toilolo was the biggest and most ponderous of the group—Fleener ran a 4.52 40 at 250 pounds!—but still a highly effective weapon thanks to his catching radius and the fact that he could generally outrun people who started the play going the wrong way.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. General consensus seems based on a shruggie emoticon about where he'll play. Level of competition and style of offense makes TE evaluation difficult. Did hit a number of camps as an underclassman and played in Semper Fi game.
Variance: High. Could be a killer. Could be just okay.
Ceiling: High. At either end or TE has the ability to play in the NFL.
General Excitement Level: High. Harbaugh/Drevno TEs tend to be excellent and Wheatley provides enticing clay for them to work with. None of Harbaugh's NFL TE troika were ranked anywhere near Wheatley.
Projection: Likely he plays as a freshman. Harbaugh loves him some tight ends and Wheatley may be better prepared to be a second blocker than Ian Bunting, who is still listed 20 pounds lighter than Wheatley is. Khalid Hill was out this spring, as well, so Harbaugh is unfamiliar with him. Easy to see Wheatley as the second inline tight end in goal line/Harbaugh packages.
From there, he'll probably continue being the blocky sidekick to Michigan's slightly quicker tight ends. Butt has another year left after this one and Bunting should be rounding into a Michigan version of Fleener or Ertz; Wheatley will get a ton of time and will hopefully be the unsung hero that gets ++++ in UFR.