Previously: Last year's profiles. S J'Marick Woods, S Jaylen Kelly-Powell, S Brad Hawkins, CB Ambry Thomas, CB Benjamin St-Juste, LB Drew Singleton, LB Jordan Anthony, LB Josh Ross, DE Kwity Paye, DE Luiji Vilain,
DE Corey Malone-Hatcher, DE Deron Irving-Bey, DT Donovan Jeter.
|Berrien Springs, MI – 6'4" 280|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#20 OG, #10 MI
|ESPN||4*, NR overall
#30 DT, #10 MI
|24/7||3*, #383 overall
#31 DT, #8 MI
|Other Suitors||Oregon, ND, MSU, USC-ish, BYU|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace. Adam scouted him at Berrien.|
|Notes||Twitter. Cousins with Bryan Mone.|
Guys like Phil Paea tend to burst out of nowhere because they live in the middle of it. Paea's hometown, Berrien Springs, has just 1800 people; he spent his high school years taking on Paw Paw, Otsego, Dowagiac, and the like. He was not on the radar. Paea was such a total unknown that he was getting major offers before he even had a profile at any site. His first mention on this here site came a couple weeks after last year's Signing Day, noting that Michigan, MSU, and Oregon had suddenly come in for this guy right here. Notre Dame and USC(-ish) offered in the weeks afterward.
None could hold off Michigan. Paea committed shortly after a visit on which he was proverbially blown away, and that was that. Paea's recruitment lasted six weeks from first major offer to commitment, with not a waver after.
The quick decision on Michigan eliminated Paea's desire to camp anywhere, so recruiting sites were a bit handcuffed. Paea's definitely a D-I athlete with a burst of impressive offers, but the only football he's played is against cities named after obscure fruits. Everyone seemed to settle on the same conclusion: let's put this guy right on the 3/4 star borderline. He's the #29 DT on Scout; 28 got four stars. He's the #20 OG on Rivals; 18 got four stars. He's on barely the right side of the line at ESPN and about 50 spots away from it at 24/7. It's a shruggie consensus.
I do like a very specific thing that pops up in a couple of scouting reports. Paea appears to be a natural at the weirdest thing about football. Coach Tony Scaccia:
"Phillip has the innate ability to extend his hips and get great leverage and power out of his lower body. He is as strong as you can be with his lower body and he's got some things that he can do better too.
"He can use his hands better, he can play with better leverage in terms of his pad level, but in terms of unlocking the hips and playing with great force, he is as strong as I've ever seen and I've been coaching high school football for 10 years now."
That's not just coach hype, as ESPN picked up on the same trait:
…very good overall size. …thick, sturdy base … excellent playing strength with adequate first-step quickness. … tools to be a stout run defender. Demonstrates ability to fire out with pad level and uncoil and win the leverage battle and when he does is a player with a powerful base that can hold ground. Flashes heavy hands that can jolt blockers, but needs to continue to develop hand usage. … Powerful player that can fire out and push blockers back. … Looks to rely on raw ability and effort.
As did Clint Brewster:
…powerful frame with a dense lower body. …ability to get out of his stance and fire off the ball make him a dominant athlete in the trenches. He’s got the knee-bend and fluid movements you like to see from big lineman. He generates good power from his legs and hips. … comes out of his stance with good bend, pad level, and explosion into his opponent. He’s got heavy hands and can really move people. The power in his upper body and ability to strike people once he gets going on the move is impressive. …nastiness you like to see in the trenches.
Anyone who's read a significant number of these knows how unusual these takes are. "Pad level sucks" is such a high school scouting trope that if it gets mentioned at all in these pieces it's a tossed off "negatives are the usual pad level stuff." (Naturally, amongst these many positive takes here's Scout listing pad level as an area for improvement.) Many touted linemen have seen their careers founder because they could not do the weird football thing where you run around in a crouch and then explode on contact. Paea appears to be the rare guy who's got it down already.
That doesn't necessarily mean he's polished or ready to play. He just does the weird football thing good. Other aspects of his game are as raw as you'd expect coming from a small-school guy who hasn't actually played any DT yet. (When Adam scouted him Berrien Springs had him lining up a yard off the line of scrimmage as a standup end.) ESPN references that in the evaluation above and it's another frequent theme. After catching Paea in person, Allen Trieu returned with a high-upside, long-way-to-go take:
The bottom line on Paea is, he has great physical tools and he is raw technically. For a big kid, he can not only chase and pursue, but he shows quick twitch and athleticism that is rare in his body. He is strong. …plays hard and did that all game despite going both ways and never seemed to tire. Having watched linemen go both ways all season and not always last until the final bell, it was impressive to see his level of conditioning.
When Rivals took a look at his film they saw him "simply firing off at the snap and then figuring out what to do" and said he "has to learn to play with leverage and use his hands." Later Brandon Brown would note that "he's just bigger, stronger, and more athletic" than anyone else on the field. This is a situation where technique is difficult to acquire because everything works.
The final Paea theme is that he's a Harbaugh kind of guy. Trieu mentioned his impressive conditioning as a two-way lineman, and that pops up repeatedly. Adam noted that he "never takes a play off, and he’s always looking for the ball"; ND's 24/7 site praised his "terrific stamina," strength, physicality, and toughness. Helmholdt:
"He has ideal size for either position, ideal athleticism, and just has that mentality you look for from a guy playing in the trenches. He has that healthy aggression and plays with a level of intensity and aggressiveness that you’re looking for out of a young high school lineman."
And the intangible intangibles seem in order:
"He's got great athleticism, great work ethic, great family support system. He's a die-hard football kid, he just loves everything about it. He's a great teammate. ... He's our unquestioned leader. All those things added together makes a pretty special kid."
It says something about something that Paea is one of the five lowest-ranked kids in the class. It says this is an awesome class.
Paea is a genuine two-way lineman. Any DT taller than 6'2" will garner some mentions about his potential on the other side of the ball, but in Paea's case his versatility is real. Sixty pounds ago Paea started his high school career as a running back and linebacker, and he's got more relevant OL experience than DT. He was an end after moving down to the DL. When he committed to Michigan the first words out of Scaccia's mouth were about blocking:
"He's a dominant run blocker, a tough, physical kid who is a great athlete for his size and relentless."
Later Scaccia would tell MLive that he thinks Paea has more upside on offense, an opinion that's shared by many. Rivals actually ranks him as a guard; 247 mentioned that there's "no question he could be an outstanding guard or center"; ESPN asserted that he's "a little more comfortable on offense." Brown caught Paea in person and came away impressed with his ability on offense:
…long, strong arms, and a very proportional lower body that allows him to run and move in a way that people his size usually cannot. During one play on offense he drove block a defender into the ground and while the opponent was doing backwards somersaults, Paea hurdled him and kept running down the field. …devastating run blocker. His size, strength, and mobility were very apparent on plays where he pulled. He was nimble enough to get out in front of running plays and powerful enough to put defenders on the ground routinely.
Michigan has consistently said they will start Paea at DL, and that makes sense. He could be an early rotation piece on a DL that needs depth; he is unlikely to be a quick starter on offense. Berrien Springs doesn't even have a seven step drop in their offense. The OL version of Paea is starting from ground zero in pass protection.
Paea will get a look on offense if and when Michigan has a solid grasp on where the 2017 class is going to play and what the depth chart looks like at DT—ie, if and when Michigan is confident they've got a three deep.
Etc.: Leads haka. Very Harbaugh:
2017 DT Phillip Paea (MI) just told me that he and #Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh had a wrestling match during his visit Wednesday night.
— Brandon Justice (@BrandonBJustice) February 26, 2016
Why Matt Godin? Instate player who lives on the 3/4 star borderline with good size and middling explosiveness. Godin was a couple inches taller than Paea but only got up to 294 by his fifth year. Paea should be able to hit that weight or more in a slightly more compact package, which will make him plausible as a nose tackle.
Other comparables include Terrance Taylor, who was the kind of neutron-star dense interior DL who anchored his ass off against the run but couldn't offer much pass rush, and Will Johnson. On offense, Paea projects similarly to Kyle Kalis as a rough and tumble guard who will move people once he gets latched on. Paea probably won't have the incessant missed assignment issue Kalis had—certainly not if he's starting.
Guru Reliability: Moderate-plus. Lockstep evaluations on the 3/4 star borderline, but a lot of projection from class B football and positional uncertainty. A number of reports were along the lines of "we like this guy but need more information" and then the rankings folk didn't go out and get it.
Variance: Moderate. Tiny school to college is a big leap. Size won't be an issue, and apparently neither is natural bend. Family stuff a positive.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. Big body with middling quickness does not often pan out into stardom on the DL. Could be a productive snap-eater, especially if surrounded by the folks it looks like he will be surrounded by. Upside as a guard could be very high.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Praise Harbaugh that this is what the back end of the class looks like. Paea has an encouraging suite of offers, a lot of reasons for optimism, and seems lost in the rankings largely because of his circumstances.
Projection: One of the most obvious redshirts in the class unless he pulls a huge upset in fall camp. From there just about anything is on the table. Michigan will give him a test drive at guard during the bowl practices and/or spring and decide where to go from there.
If he sticks on defense he's probably going to end up as a plugger and rotation piece early, potentially maturing into a starter in his last year or two. He is likely to evolve into a nose tackle based on the roster, which has a number of young three-tech candidates in Irving-Bey, Jeter, Dwumfour, and Hudson. The fit at nose tackle is less than ideal for most of those folks, leaving just Solomon as a pure NT.
Paea also has a wait in front of him if he ends up at guard. Both projected starters will still be around in three years, knock on wood, so Paea's first shot at starting on offense will be as a redshirt junior. Unless Cesar Ruiz busts, Bredeson flipping out to tackle would be the only way to open up an interior OL slot before then.