Proud to say im a Michigan Wolverine! 〽️ pic.twitter.com/TLMcQMPR7Q
— B.Cole... (@Young__Kid__) July 26, 2014
Michigan has picked up their first commit from the Barbecue at the Big House weekend, even though the actual event doesn't start until tomorrow. Top-100 athlete Brian Cole, a receiver/cornerback from Saginaw (MI) Heritage whom Michigan recruited as a wideout, is the ninth commitment in the 2015 class, and a huge head-to-head win for the Wolverines over Michigan State.
As Lawrence Marshall once said, the best players from Michigan gotta go to Michigan, and the Wolverines just landed the #1 in-state prospect for 2015.
4*, #5 WR,
4*, #7 ATH,
4*, 82, #8 ATH,
4*, 97, #2 ATH,
4*, #5 ATH,
Cole is generally regarded as one of the best athletes in the 2015 class, and while his best college position is the matter of some debate, there's no question he's a heck of a talent, as the rankings indicate.
All four sites list Cole at 6'2" with weights ranging from 190 pounds (247, Rivals) to 210 (Scout); more recent articles on Cole have him listed near the top end of that range. He's got the build to play receiver, running back, cornerback, or safety, with a solid enough frame that some even suggest he could bulk up and play outside linebacker. Michigan, however, is bringing him in as a wide receiver.
It's apparent from both his film and scouting reports that Cole is the level of athlete you get the field wherever you can, and work out the details later. He's played running back, receiver, and deep safety for Heritage, and he's a BCS-level prospect at cornerback, too.
There are two common threads in his scouting reports. One is that he's a remarkable athlete. The other is that his highest ceiling is most likely at receiver. Here's Scout's Allen Trieu after taking in a Heritage game against Midland Dow last fall ($):
He did show good feet and elusiveness for a kid of his size. He can make people miss and cut back and change directions like a smaller player. Defensively, where he had 10 tackles, he showed excellent closing speed and a lot of effort in pursuit. That extra gear and acceleration was surprising and impressive.
The question becomes, what is he at the next level? He could play on offensive as a wide receiver or even a slot/running back hybrid. On defense, he could be a safety or even an outside linebacker. In our opinion, given his size and skill set, wide receiver or linebacker are where his upside may be greatest.
ESPN's evaluation calls him an "explosive 0 to 60 player" and a "hold your breath type guy" in the open field, praises his natural catching and jump-ball skills, and projects he'll be more ready to contribute right away on offense ($):
It is really easy to like Cole athletically. He can flat out run and already possesses impressive measurables that are only going to get better. Defensively he needs to become a little more football savvy, disciplined and show more consistent production. He is much more college ready on the offensive side of the football but his skill set will tempt coaches to play him on defense. Time will tell just how much he develops in terms of a little nuances of the game. If he can become the football player that his talent level indicates over time the sky's the limit for his development.
After seeing him at May's Midwest Elite 7-on-7 tourney, Rivals' Josh Helmholdt also thought Cole was a more natural receiver than defender while ranking him as the top overall performer at the event ($):
Cole, a Rivals250 prospect, has been out of the off-season camp and combine scene dealing with an injury, but he looked 100 percent on Saturday. College coaches are recruiting the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Cole at both defensive back and wide receiver, and we saw him play both. He looks more natural at wide receiver right now, and burned defensive backs deep for touchdowns all day long. But Cole is such a gifted athlete that he was around the football consistently on defense as well.
The Wolverine's Tim Sullivan concurred after seeing Cole score two touchdowns in a rivalry game victory over Saginaw Arthur Hill last October ($):
Cole stars for Heritage on both sides of the ball, but his college future looks brightest on offense. He's simply too exciting with the ball in his hands to limit those opportunities. In a game where his offensive line didn't open many holes, he made the most of everything they gave him - and contributed much more with field-reversing runs.
His size means he's not likely to play running back at the next level, but what little we saw of him playing receiver showed that he has the skills to make the move full-time in college. That is his preference at this time, as well. He catches the ball well, and although he's not running complex routes, he is agile enough and smart enough to add that to his repertoire. When the ball is in his hands - particularly in the open field - he can make plays.
Scout's free evaluation focuses entirely on his ability as a receiver, noting strengths of size, speed, and elusiveness while pointing only to route-running as an area for improvement:
Good sized kid who carries his 200+ pounds very well. Shows very good ability in space and change of direction for a bigger kid. He is a good open field runner with legitimate speed. He has played a lot of tailback and safety, but shows good natural hands and ball skills. Having not played as much receiver, refining his route running is key but he has the tools to project to multiple positions in college. - Allen Trieu
Trieu ranked Cole as the #1 in-state prospect in March, as well as the #4 prospect in the entire Midwest region, behind only Damien Harris, Jashon Cornell, and Justin Hilliard. The Wolverine placed Cole just ahead of Mike Weber for top propsect honors in the state, as well.
Cole held offers from Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, among a few others, as well as interest from Alabama, Notre Dame, and UCLA. He's the type of prospect who may have pulled in more out-of-region offers if he hadn't shown such high interest in the local schools from the start.
Saginaw Heritage didn't exist as a school until 1988, and their history of producing college football players is short—Cole is the only Heritage product to commit to a D-I school in the Rivals database (2002-present), and a quick U-M roster search shows only two Wolverines from the school (Jake Malacos and Matt Sygo), both of whom only were on the team for one season in the 1990s.
Michigan does have a nice history with Saginaw players, however, as the town produced S Shonte Peoples, LB Sam Sword, TE Shawn Thompson, LB Roy Manning, RB Jerome Jackson, DE LaMarr Woodley, and FB John McColgan over the last few decades.
The only stats I can find on Cole are that he made 47 tackles and five interceptions last year en route to earning all-state honors.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals lists a 40 time of 4.5, which gets three FAKEs out of five for being generally in the area one would expect but lacking specificity.
Offense-only highlights from Cole's first four games of his junior season:
Defense-only highlights from the first seven games of 2013:
Single game cut-ups from his junior and sophomore seasons are available on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
This gets complicated since Cole could very conceivably play any of three spots at Michigan—receiver, cornerback, or safety—even if the current plan is to start him out on offense. At both receiver and corner, there's a good deal of depth in the classes in front of Cole, which would allow him a redshirt before competing for playing time. That would be ideal given Cole hasn't narrowed his focus to one side of the ball in high school and will need to refine his technique wherever he ends up playing.
If he ends up at safety, there could be opportunity for more early playing time, though if Jabrill Peppers stays in that group I'd be surprised if Cole was needed back there—he appears to have more upside on offense, anyway.
Wherever he ends up, Cole should play; he's not as raw as the "athlete" label often indicates, and his versatility should give him ample opportunity to earn snaps and eventually a starting role.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Cole's versatility also gives Michigan some flexibility in filling out the dwindling number of spots remaining in the 2015 class (we project four remaining open scholarships, with the usual caveat that the number should rise with normal attrition). There are two sure-fire needs at defensive end and outside linebacker. If Cole and the coaches stick with the current plan, Michigan should bring in another defensive back. If they decide he's better suited on defense, U-M can continue to pursue a big wideout like Auden Tate.