While there's a great deal of anticipation for Michigan's 2019 recruiting class, they entered today's BBQ at the Big House with only one commit. Four-star Ohio offensive lineman Nolan Rumler became the second pledge this morning. Moments ago, five-star Louisville (KY) Trinity defensive end Stephen Herron Jr. became the third.
— Stephen Jr (@stephenherron_) July 30, 2017
Herron is currently ranked as the #4 WDE in the 2019 class. He chose Michigan over an extensive list of power programs that included Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Stanford, and Texas.
4*, #5 WDE,
|4* WDE||NR DE||
4*, 94, #4 WDE,
5*, #4 WDE,
While Herron was given four-star ratings in the early going, he's in normal five-star range by numerical ranking, so he adds the coveted fifth star in the composite. Rivals included him in their initial, unordered list of four-stars, and hinted at the possibility of moving him into five-star territory after the Rivals camp in Columbus this summer. ESPN fired an eval and forgot to rank him.
Herron is listed at 6'3" or 6'4" (Scout and 247 split the difference) and somewhere in the range of 225 (Rivals) to 244 (ESPN) pounds. He looks lanky on film; there's plenty of room on that frame for him to add weight until he's big enough to play weakside defensive end, and it'll help that he's played on a three-man line in a high school. He told Scout's Allen Trieu after a visit in February that Michigan said they envisioned him as another Taco Charlton, so the coaches may even believe he has the potential to bulk up and play SDE.
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Herron's been square on the recruiting radar since his freshman year. The spring after his first high school season, he stood out to Irish247's Evan Sharpley as one of the best players at Notre Dame's Irish Invasion camp regardless of age:
-I want to show Herron more love. He was one of our top performers from Invasion, but I believe he needs a little extra credit for how he competed. Explosive lower half. Tremendous footwork. Earned praise of Gilmore on several occasions. Lower half is rock solid. Young pup has a bright future.
-Extremely athletic. Fit right in with the rest of the defensive line group on site for Invasion. Certainly did not play like a freshman. Great to see an understanding of footwork drills, body angles, and technique.
The only major point for improvement, other than growing into his frame, was improving his first step.
Vandy247's Jesse Johnson saw him in early-season game action last August in which he justified his lofty early ranking by forcing a quality opponent to gameplan around a sophomore:
Ranked as the nation's No. 15 overall player for the 2019 class, the 6-4, 220-pound defensive end certainly made his presence felt when the game got underway and Ensworth tried to run away from the heralded sophomore. Herron was very explosive and showed the fluid feet that has grabbed him so much attention on the recruiting trail. Though Herron was kept in check at times during the game, he also forced the Tigers to go into the heart of Trinity's defense, setting up for several minimal gains and potentially even attributing to a few false start penalties the Tigers line drew during different stages of the game. Herron made a handful of tackles during the game including two that resulted in lost yardage. The four-star prospect also showed off some of his pass rush skills. Herron's size, explosiveness and instincts have made him a very attractive prospect for the 2019 cycle.
Now we enter the Rivals section, as Herron participated in their camp circuit this year, and those camps are closed to other outlets. In their initial rankings, released in March, Southeast analyst Woody Wommack saw Herron as a pass-rusher who could end up as a hybrid DE/OLB:
“Talent in the state of Kentucky continues to get better on a yearly basis and Herron is the next big star to come out of the state," Rivals.com Southeast Recruiting Analyst Woody Wommack said. "Herron is a tall, lean defensive end currently, but looks like the type of guy that could develop into an excellent hybrid player at the next level. Pass rushers like him are in high demand and that's why Ohio State, Michigan and Louisville are already fighting for his commitment."
At the Rivals Columbus camp in May, Herron earned an invite to the Five-Star Challenge (their version of The Opening), and the assembled staff said he made a case for adding that fifth star:
Herron was fighting for reps all day and did a great job of battling some of the event’s top offensive linemen. Plenty of younger linemen have made their five-star case at the Columbus stop of the camp in the past, and Herron laid out some pretty convincing evidence on Sunday.
We have been watching Herron since early in his freshman season, and the growth from the rising junior is definitely noticeable. An early Rivals100 prospect for the 2019 class, Herron has always had the tools – great size and athleticism first and foremost – and he is learning how to use them to a greater ability every time we see him. He can still learn to handle the point of attack better, but that will come with physical growth and fundamental maturity.
Once at the Five-Star Challenge, Herron had a little more trouble with some of the stronger linemen in attendence, according to Mike Farrell, who said he "looked more like a big linebacker." Rivals still kept his stock level while still focusing on the positional uncertainty:
At this point in his career, Herron could grow into a defensive end or end up playing linebacker at the next level. Right now, he’s a bit of a tweener, but clearly has the skills to excel at either position. With Ohio State, Michigan, Texas and several others in the mix it will be interesting to see how he develops going forward.
I'm not particularly concerned about that aspect given his age and frame. It's hardly uncommon for a young pass-rusher to require some physical projection and it's not like Herron needs to completely reshape his body to fit as a weakside end. If that's truly a concern, he should still have a Furbush/Uche role as a situational pass-rushing OLB.
ESPN, the only site not to rank Herron, has a relatively detailed and positive evaluation:
STRENGTHS: Possesses good blend of height and bulk with continued physical upside. Inconsistent snap anticipation, but flashes good first-step. Can do a good job of shooting hands and using length to fight to keep blockers off his frame.... WEAKNESSES: Can continue to improve functional strength. Shows flashes, but can continue to develop hand usage and plan as a pass rusher... BOTTOM LINE: Herron is a good player with room to continue to develop and possesses continued upside to develop into very productive Power-5 defender.
Herron is athletic with a good frame, and the areas he needs to improve—anticipating the snap, using his hands, and adding strength—are quite coachable.
Herron also holds offers from Alabama, Georgia, Louisville, Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Purdue, Syracuse, and Vanderbilt.
Trinity is one of the power programs in Kentucky. They've produced such notables as Brian Brohm, Jason Hatcher, and James Quick.
According to his sophomore highlight tape, Herron recorded 51 tackles (34 solo), 16 TFLs, and ten sacks last season. He was named first-team all-state. Per 247, Herron had 75 tackles (22 solo), five TFLs, five sacks, 12 QB pressure, and three blocked kicks as a freshman.
FAKE 40 TIME
Herron's Hudl page lists an unsourced 4.63 40 time, when gets four FAKEs out of five. According to ESPN, he's recorded a powerball throw (one of the four SPARQ elements) of 44 feet, only two feet short of the best mark by a 2019 DE.
A handful of reps and some discussion of his potential from the Rivals Columbus camp:
Freshman highlights and single-game reels can be found on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
There's a lot to be settled before a clear projection for Herron is possible, but I like his potential to fit in at weakside end. As we've learned, Jim Harbaugh isn't big on redshirting top recruits. Even though Herron has plenty of physical development to go, he's got over two years before his first game, and I'd bet he sees the field as a true freshman. He'll compete for snaps with Luiji Vilain, Ron Johnson, Kwity Paye, and Reuben Jones at WDE, and perhaps with Josh Uche as a situational rush linebacker.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
It's gonna be good.