Hello: Dennis Norfleet

Submitted by Brian on February 1st, 2012 at 10:07 AM

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I had just been complaining to Seth about Michigan overlooking the diminutive speedster in their backyard, and lo and behold Detroit King's Dennis Norfleet woke up and faxed a letter of intent to Michigan. Norfleet is 5'6" on a good day but "simply electric."

If you're wondering how a guy like that fits into a pro-style offense, think Darren Sproles. When Michigan has a passing offense to be feared, a guy like Norfleet can take advantage of the space underneath to tear up defenses trying to defend against four verts.

More later as I assemble a full post here.

INFORMATIVE UPDATE.

GURU RATINGS

Scout Rivals ESPN 24/7 Sports
4*, #19 RB,
#163 overall
4*, #5 APB
#236 overall
3*, 75,
#81 RB
4*, #7 APB
#169 overall

Dennis Norfleet is not tall! He is short. When sites are being generous they say he's 5'7"; when they're not he's 5'6". Only one source, that SpartanMag, has bent the truth all the way to 5'9".

But who cares? If you're 5'9" or 5'6" the only way you latch on to a major scholarship offer is by being the quarkiest of quarkbacks. Norfleet is that:

One of the most explosive players in the class, Norfleet has great acceleration, open field elusiveness and a natural knack for making defenders miss. Has excellent skills in the pass game, and is a dangerous receiver. Is also a great return man. He is not the biggest back, although solidly built, but he is a guy who can be used in a variety of roles, including slot receiver.

Three out of four scouting services agree with that assesment; ESPN is notably less enthused. Their evaluation was last updated in early June, though, before Norfleeet tore through a bunch of 7 on 7s and his senior year. Since he didn't go to an All Star Game (by choice—Norfleet runs track and going to one would kill his eligibility thanks to some outdated MHSAA regulations), ESPN never checked back in.

Anyway, they think he's Dennis Norfleet except not explosive:

Flashes good quickness and explosive but lacks great top-end speed and a second gear. … For his smaller size you would like to see more elusiveness and speed in the open-field. Looks to lack really loose hips. Does not appear to have difference-maker qualities when projecting at the major college level or the size to handle high carries and run between the tackles.

This is an opinion shared by no one. Select highlights from his 7 on 7 tour of the country:

  • PITTSBURGH: "There are a select few players who can make defenders in position totally whiff in one-hand touch, 7-on-7 football. There may be only one Dennis Norfleet, who seems to make a play or two like that every game. On one particular play, Norfleet put a move on two defenders at one time, splitting the pair and taking the ball in for a touchdown"
  • RUTGERS: "Norfleet also has good hands out of the backfield, makes people miss even in touch football and he was also solid on defense. He may not be big, but he can be a special scat back in a spread offense."
  • SOME PLACE CALLED BADGERSPORTS: "Norfleet is one of the better pass-catching running backs in the country. He was comfortable running the wheel route and taking it deep as well as catching swing passes and turning them into yards. He is incredibly quick after the catch, showing great burst in getting to the edge."[Caveat: does say "not the fastest player for his size."]
  • MIDWEST SHOWCASE: "Although small in stature, Norfleet is hard to check in press coverage because defensive backs have trouble getting their hands on him. After creating separation at the line of scrimmage, Norfleet's speed and quickness in and out of his cuts usually allow him to find plenty of space to catch the football."

And those were just the camps that recruiting analysts were at. Last summer Norfleet hit up 7 on 7s($) at Florida, LSU, Alabama, and Mississippi State as well. A lack of offers from those schools should dampen your enthusiasm, but I don't care much. Tiny backs get lost in the shuffle all the time.

After all that, Norfleet put some pads on and annihilated Brother Rice($) in the Big Day Prep Showdown event at Eastern, causing Josh Helmholdt to deploy all the love he'd saved up by not thinking Chris Wormley is great:

The open-field jukes and stop-and-start plays he breaks off into long gains make the highlight reel, but what is less recognized is that Norfleet is a great between-the-tackles runner. He has powerful legs and the burst to exploit the smallest of holes. Norfleet showed once again that he can be an every down back, carrying 34 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

Helmholdt is alone in his belief that Norfleet can work within the tackles, but he has seen him an awful lot, and calls him a "phenomenal receiver" in that electric article linked above.

Finally, high school opponent coach quote:

"He's better than anybody we got, he looks like Barry Sanders of high school to me," said Allen Park coach Tom Hoover. "He's for real. We don't have anybody good enough to catch him. He was beating our guys, and we haven't seen that all year. The flow goes there, you have to get here. You've got to go 5 feet, he's got to go 20, and he beats you there."

OFFERS

Until yesterday, Norfleet had been a Cincinnati commit, selecting the Bearcats over Michigan State and Tennessee presumably because he felt the UC spread was a better fit for his talents.

STATS

This year he rushed for 2,033 yards and 27 touchdowns as King reached the D2 semifinals. As a junior it was 1880 yards and 31 touchdowns.

FAKE 40 TIME

Bam:

Norfleet also put up outstanding testing numbers at Alabama, running a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 4.17 shuttle and posting a 33-inch vertical jump. His play impressed Crimson Tide running backs coach Bobby Williams and had several other coaches on staff commenting on his play.

I give it two fakes out of five.

VIDEO

Senior clips are above. Here's his junior highlight reel:

He's also got sophomore film up.

PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE

Yessssss. Schools should recruit guys like Norfleet like they do kickers: have at least one on the roster at all times and maybe stash a second away so you've always got a quality specialist. With Justice Hayes Michigan now has two bullets in the space-player chamber.

Norfleet will instantly be in the mix for both return jobs. While Jeremy Gallon is likely to hold on to punt return duties, kickoff returns could use a jolt of athleticism after Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith split duties this year.

As far as a role on offense, he'll probably spend a year backing up Vincent Smith before fighting with Hayes for third down back. If Michigan really is moving to a "pro style" offense they'll have to define whether that means aimlessly running power over and over or pairing guys like Hayes and Norfleet with Shane Morris to create a Brees/Brady-style deadly passing spread. Survey says: some of both. Norfleet could have an impact in the former and will be a centerpiece in the latter.

Note: if you're one of the folks hoping that Michigan will retain some spread aspects to its offense even after Denard is gone, this is the kind of player who can force that to happen. I would greatly enjoy an offense that used Morris and the crew of receivers he's busy recruiting for 2013 as an every-play weapon you have to react to and then hit you underneath with Norfleet when you did.

UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS

What rest of the class?

Etc.: Cincinnati was really excited about him but can't even be mad because of Stacey. TTB doesn't like the way he jogs into the endzone. I'll take that as an issue. This has nothing to do with anything but when you run across a comment like this about Jake Rodrigues  in a "Summer Camp Risers" article, well… man:

Jennifer Cwb Hairstylist

Jake sucks. He has padded stats. His 5 month old son needs him to stay home and in his life. Stop chasing dreams. You are a dad. The opening players couldn't understand how he even made it there. OADDED STATS, he is no QB.

Reply · Like · Follow Post · August 13, 2011 at 1:01am

Jennifer Hairstylist would like to be Jennifer Rodrigues, and that ain't happening. Rodrigues signed with Oregon.

Comments

Mr. Yost

February 1st, 2012 at 10:26 AM ^

I don't think it would be far fetched to say Vincent Smith and Jeremy Gallon had something to do with a scholarship being given to Norfleet.

This staff was pretty dead set about getting bigger. Even the RBs they're looking at next year...Wyatt Shallman and Ty Issac are BIG! VERY Big.

Norfleet said himself "I didn't even get a look from Michigan."

I could definitely see a situation where we lost out on a few guys and Norfleet was still out there and the coaching staff looked back Smith and Gallon and Odoms this season and said, WTF, we can win with these guys.

I don't think we'll have 8 on the team at once anymore (Don't forget about TRob with his special teams plays...Drew Dileo, Kelvin Grady, etc.) But to have a couple change of pace players...hey, that's not a bad thing.

Having a stamp of approval from Sugar Shane couldn't have hurt...but I'm in no way implying that our coaches are looking to a 16-17 High School kid for recruiting help.

Blueroller

February 1st, 2012 at 4:22 PM ^

If he's even close to Sproles… I watched Sproles play one game at Kansas State and I thought whoever drafts this kid is going to be really happy. He was a steal – 130th overall pick.

I just tried to find how Sproles was ranked coming out of high school. No luck there, but I did learn that he was nicknamed Tank after weighing 10 lb. at birth.

Mr. Yost

February 1st, 2012 at 10:18 AM ^

14. Dennis Norfleet

Detroit King

RB, KR/5-6, 180

Commitment: Cincinnati

Best recruiting experience: I enjoyed the whole process. I had the chance to talk to so many coaches and so many D-1 prospects. Just all of the excitement of getting a chance to play in college made it special.

Worst recruiting experience: I enjoyed everything.

Why not MSU? There's not really a reason. Some people say the Big East isn't as good as the Big Ten. That's not it. Michigan State is a great school. It just didn't fit.

Why not U-M? I didn't even get a look from Michigan

AC1997

February 1st, 2012 at 10:21 AM ^

I think if he can fill Vincent Smith's role but have more elusiveness then it is an excellent signing.  I'm hoping that he continues the trend of our diminutive players and is a mountain goat when it comes to blocking, determination, effort, etc.  Even if we sacrifice some of Smith's blocking for Norfleet's speed I think that's a great signing.  He can watch Smith light guys up in pass protection this year and then take over the year after. 

GoWings2008

February 1st, 2012 at 10:25 AM ^

mentions a knack for making people miss.  I'm thinking a good possibility at a return man, too. 

Ed:  Oh, duh...mentions return skills later in the write up. 

I'll sit down now...

Alumnus93

February 1st, 2012 at 10:44 AM ^

I recall when he won some MVP  camp, I thought that he'll likely go to MSU as Michigan had no interest.  What would be INTERESTING is WHEN Michigan actually turned their head here...  was it from Morris pushing?    It just seems so bizzarre that they show NO interest at all, then offer him.  Im ignorant here, but is this ever a strategy?  

BursleysFinest

February 1st, 2012 at 11:05 AM ^

Imagine ur a linebacker with 6'5" -ish giant offensive linemen coming at you...

and then a big strong 5'7" dude with lightning quick speed popping out of nowhere and before you see him, he's 10 yards past you to the endzone...with his vision and quickness, that's what we could be looking at, 3rd down back/PR/Slot ninja is this kid's floor/worst-case scenario   

MaizeHornet

February 1st, 2012 at 11:17 AM ^

that Norfleet may be my favorite recruit of this class, just from watching his film.  "Speedy Gonzalez" guys like him who are short and fast (ex. Darren Sproles, Steve Smith, etc.) are  hella fun to watch.  He'll obviously have to get a bit bigger than 170 pounds, but I'm very excited to see what this guy can do with the ball in the open field. 

 

jethro34

February 1st, 2012 at 11:20 AM ^

I didn't read the other thread (because reading 26 posts seemed better than 265), so this may be a repeat, but didn't he and Shane play on the same team in 7 on 7 this past summer and Norfleet was generally his favorite target?

JohnnyBlue

February 1st, 2012 at 11:48 AM ^

why is everyone saying 170 is light? he is 5'6 think about that. denard is what 190 as a Junior and has 6 inches on the kid?  Look at the pics of that kid, this is no "skinny kid" he is ripped already. prolly puts on at most 15 pounds by his senior year maybe 20.

reshp1

February 1st, 2012 at 11:52 AM ^

Re: Jogging into the endzone..... If he leaves the closest defender in his dust 10 yards behind him, he can moon-walk into the endzone for all I care.

Nice pick-up. Michigan's domination of the top in state talent is unbelievable.

I Bleed Maize N Blue

February 1st, 2012 at 12:11 PM ^

I wonder if he can learn to carry the ball in his left hand.

Speed is nice, but I especially liked the play about 0:50 in where it looked like he was going to be tackled, but he kept his legs going and broke through the line.

Bo Knows

February 1st, 2012 at 2:24 PM ^

I'd be okay with having one of the guys in each class, next year it can be Berkley Edwards.  These little quick guys can come in and really change the game.  Not sure how the coaches will use both Hayes and Norfleet though.  Seems kind of like they are giving Hayes the shaft.