Hello: Mazi Smith Comment Count

Ace June 26th, 2018 at 12:54 PM

In a weekend full of big pickups, East Kentwood (MI) defensive tackle Mazi Smith was the literal biggest, and you could make a strong argument for figurative, too. It's always good to grab a 6'3", 295-pound interior lineman with shades of Hurst burst; it's especially good when that guy is an in-stater with offers from Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Penn State.

Smith fills a major need as the first DT among Michigan's [refreshes Twitter] 16 commits in the 2019 class, which now ranks fifth in the country and first in the Big Ten.


Rivals ESPN 247 247 Comp
4*, 5.8, #9 DT,
#7 MI, #160 Ovr
4*, 86, #2 DT,
#3 MI, #29 Ovr
4*, 91, #14 DT,
#5 MI, #225 Ovr
4*, #7 DT,
#4 MI, #123 Ovr

ESPN is good now!

Smith is well-regarded. How well-regarded appears to depend on when—or how often—each service saw him in action, as perhaps the primary knock on Smith is his consistency. ESPN loves him, putting him on the verge of five-star status. 247 is on the low end, though in this case that's still within the top 250 overall.

One reason his floor is so high is his size; he's listed at 6'3" and in the range of 285-302 pounds, and he doesn't look to be carrying much, if any, bad weight. He's likely ticketed for Mo Hurst's role as a penetrating three-tech who can slide to nose in certain schemes, and he's got a lot of upside there.

[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and the rest.]


We'll start with ESPN's underclassman eval, which brings up the consistency thing even though they have him on the verge of a fifth star:

STRENGTHS: Good size and flashes quick first-step. When stays low can generate good push with bull rush and when shoots hands demonstrates strength to press blockers. Flashes ability to attack half-man... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Demonstrates good power when stays low, but needs to work on being more consistent with pad level and can lose hands at times and needs to continue to work on usage.... BOTTOM LINE: Smith needs to continue to develop and improve consistency in areas, but displays he can be a quick, disruptive defender with good power.

The single-game reports, which we're fortunate to have in this case from three outlets (one of which is us), demonstrate the upside and the need for improvement. The Wolverine's Brandon Brown scouted a 21-0 East Kentwood win over Orchard Lake St. Mary's last September in which Smith's strength and size/quickness combination stood out... when he wasn't getting neutralized by cut-blocks and doubles:

There didn't seem to be a glaring weakness in Smith's game against St. Mary's. The Eaglets run a tough scheme for defensive linemen to deal with and it played out that way albeit in a losing effort. Smith was cut a lot and double teamed often making it tough for him to make plays but he still acquitted himself well.

There are always things young linemen can work on and with Smith it would be play recognition and his utilizing his hands a bit better. Coming into a game against an opponent like St. Mary's, players need to know what to expect and while Smith tried to avoid the cut blocks and combos, he still got lost in the wash too much. That's more on the East Kentwood coaching staff than it is Smith but he still let it happen a bit too often. He's got long arms and is extremely powerful but let offensive linemen get into his body a bit too much

OLSM is a very well-coached program and those are fixable issues, especially once Greg Mattison gets his hands on Smith; they're still worth watching.

A few weeks later, Rivals Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt posted a video evaluation of one of Smith's more phenomenal performances:

That's a half-season worth of explosive highlights for some prospects.

Shortly after that, then-Scout analyst Allen Trieu caught a quieter outing against West Ottawa:

Also highly-recruited is defensive tackle Mazi Smith. A big, powerful interior prospect, the Panthers did a solid job keeping Smith from disrupting their offense, but he did make a couple tackles on the night.

Given the other reports around, I'm guessing West Ottawa paid Smith a fair amount of attention, but you'd still like to see more productivity.

Our own Adam Schnepp and Dave Nasternak got out to see one of Smith's late-season games, and this was a good one. The every-snap defense video is above, the full scouting report is free and detailed, and here's Adam's takeaway:

Smith has the current skillset and upside to play 3-technique, and though I won’t go so far as to Dwumfour him up and call him the next Hurst, there’s certainly some resemblance there. On the most basic level, Smith checks all the boxes you want in an underclassman HS lineman: size, speed, and strength. His hand usage is advanced and he diagnoses the run well for a player his age. His biggest strength at this point is his speed off the ball at 6’3” and 290 pounds. Smith doesn’t look like he weighs 290—there’s no evidence of bad weight here—and he certainly doesn’t move like he weighs that much, but he blows through blocks and tackles backs like it.

Considering his height and weight, Smith is almost certainly slated for the interior of the defensive line. He looks like a prototypical 3-tech, but put on a few good pounds and he could possibly play some nose tackle as well. If he ends up at nose, though, he’ll need more seasoning: there’s a huge difference between beating one blocker and holding up against a double team, and Smith is far better suited to win one-on-one battles than to plug away.

After the season, Rivals gave Smith a big boost in their rankings, and a familiar refrain kept him from making an even bigger leap:

“I saw Smith play a game live this season and he was quick, strong, a constant presence in the backfield and tracked plays down sideline to sideline. Now, had he shown that play this season on a more consistent basis we would be talking about an even bigger bump, but as it is we will be looking to see those performances more regularly as he grows and matures as a player. He has visited Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin, where his teammate is committed, already in the recruiting process.” - Rivals.com Midwest Recruiting Analyst Josh Helmholdt

247's Allen Trieu summed it up in his post-commitment evaluation:

High upside, high talent, and a kid whose coaches say works hard in the weight room. He is a smart kid as well who brings intangibles to the table. They get after in East Kentwood's weight room, so he should be ready for what Michigan's strength program would be like. It is not out of the question this kid could play early. The physical gifts are there, it will just depend on him picking up the nuances of the position at Michigan. Even if he does not play right away, he projects as an impact guy in college.

If he keeps his pads low and learns how to use his hands to fight off cut blocks, he should be an excellent three-tech. He could develop into a solid nose, as well, if he can better anchor against double-teams, but his ceiling is highest at the other tackle spot.


Smith holds offers from Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Minnesota, Pitt, and Vanderbilt, among others.


While East Kentwood hasn't been a major talent producer in the past, they have two of the gems of this in-state class in Smith and top-100 tackle Logan Brown, a Wisconsin commit. They're the first two Power 5 commits from the program in the Rivals era (2002-present) but they won't be alone for long: rising juniors DE Bryce Mostella and OG Dallas Fincher already hold Michigan and other Big Ten offers.


None available.


Smith's Hudl page lists an unverified 5.2, which gets two FAKEs out of five; it's not a specific number but it's quite believable. He also claims a 32-inch vertical and 315-pound bench press.


Junior highlights:

Sophomore highlights and single-game reels can be found on his Hudl page.


It wouldn't surprise me at all if Smith sees the field as a freshman in a similar fashion as Aubrey Solomon did last year, slowly working his way into the rotation as he gets accustomed to facing college linemen and playing every down with good technique. There will be plenty of opportunity to make an impact as a rotation player behind, presumably, Solomon and Mike Dwumfour; he'll be in competition with Donovan Jeter, Deron Irving-Bey, and any other DTs in the 2019 class.

Smith has a lot of upside with his college-ready frame and first step. I like Mattison's chances of harnessing that ability and developing Smith into an all-conference-caliber tackle.


It has a very good defensive tackle and we'll let the dust settle before figuring out the rest.


Space Coyote

June 26th, 2018 at 1:55 PM ^

I think Mazi is a NT for Michigan more than a 3-tech, personally. He isn't limited to that role because he isn't just a space-eating NT, but hat's because, as you hinted, Don Brown doesn't really utilize that as much. That's why Mone is really more of a role player in certain down/distance/tendency situations. Brown's system is all about getting penetration or setting up other players for penetration with movement/stunts. A guy like Mazi fits much better into that system than a space-eating NT.


June 27th, 2018 at 7:11 AM ^

Greg Mattison as well.  They both love them some stunts and positional versatility.  My memory tells me I think one or the other even flat-out said that nose and 3T were basically interchangeable in the Brown-Mattison system, because a good portion of the time they'll stunt the two anyway.

Ditto the SDE, even, as long as they've got a Wormley or a Gary there with the requisite power to play 3-tech.  They've even been getting Solomon to slim down.  Not that they'll stunt anyone along the D-line on every down, but I think they discovered they really like having three quick guys in the 280-300 range who can cause confusion by being able to both penetrate and shift.


June 26th, 2018 at 1:04 PM ^

"which now ranks fifth in the country and first in the Big Ten."

It's interesting that a loud and incessant critic of Harbaugh's recruiting is absent from the Hello posts for Smith and Charbonnet. A cynic might suspect it's because the successful recruitment of these talented players doesn't support his narrative.


June 26th, 2018 at 1:31 PM ^

To be fair, those rankings are mainly volume based at this point are they not? 

And isn't Smith the first top-150 recruit the staff has locked up in quite some time?

Recruiting concerns are legitimate given how our in conference rivals are doing and how last season panned out. 

I think the ship will right itself next year with a big season and the last year will be a blip, but its been disappointing (both recruiting and last year's play) given Harbaugh's reputation. 


June 26th, 2018 at 2:31 PM ^

The total size of the class does play a role in it, but on a per-player basis of 89.99 still puts them in the top-10 in the country, and some of those other teams have really small classes thus far and are likely to fill them out with lower-rated recruits along the way.  

So I guess my point is that Michigan is doing a good job regardless of how you measure it, and a lot of the complaints seemed based on premature assumptions about Michigan never again convincing good players to come here.


June 26th, 2018 at 5:25 PM ^

"a lot of the complaints seemed based on premature assumptions about Michigan never again convincing good players to come here."

It's a given that the fan base of any Power 5 program like Michigan includes a segment determined to indulge in pant-crapping recruiting hysteria, regardless of context.


June 26th, 2018 at 6:05 PM ^

This is probably an unfair way of looking at it, but I think the concern people have over recruiting stems from a time period starting with Hinton's commitment on August 5th 2017 till today. 

From that point on, what would the player average be for the typical Michigan commit in both the 2018 and 2019 classes? How would it compare to Ohio State and Penn State's over that same period? Given that Mazi Smith is Michigan's first top 150 player since then, I imagine the gap would be much larger than what we are looking at for the 2019 class. 

It just seems strange. Everything appeared to humming along fine and then it just stopped. Recruiting, coaching, offense...it was all just off once the season started last year. Maybe a weekend like this is a turning point. 



June 26th, 2018 at 3:06 PM ^

Yes and no. Their average star rating is still decent but more importantly, there are lower rates guys who have a high likelihood of success. For example, the Don Brown recruits. Can we agree that Don Brown singling out a guy who isn't necessarily at the top of the recruiting food chain gives him a much higher chance of success than his rating indicates? And what about the Fullbacks and Tight Ends that Harbaugh recruits?


June 27th, 2018 at 7:19 AM ^

Yeah thanks to Brown we've been pulling in a lot of 3-stars from New England, but they can ball so I'm all for it.  Let our class rank drop if it's because Brown found a Dude who's officially a 3-star because literally the only guy who saw him play was an ESPN intern.  It's called Moneyball; you don't have to fight Alabama and OSU for every damn hyped recruit if you can find talent in fields they're not even looking at.


June 26th, 2018 at 5:57 PM ^

Michigan’s average rank per recruit is higher than their 2016 class which finished #8 in the country and has provided multiple high impact players to the current team. 

The recruiting woes are being blown extremely out of proportion, especially when you look at the fact that a number of commits are only ranked as low as they are because they haven’t hit the camp circuit very much.


June 26th, 2018 at 1:46 PM ^

Team rankings don't really mean much this early in the recruiting process because teams with a lot of recruits get ranked higher than teams with fewer but better recruits.


For example, Purdue is above Penn State in the 247 team rankings right now.  However, Purdue has 19 recruits and Penn State only has 9.  Nobody actually believes Purdue will have a better class than Penn State once both teams fill in their classes.  


June 26th, 2018 at 3:03 PM ^

"Nobody actually believes Purdue will have a better class than Penn State once both teams fill in their classes."

No argument on that. By average star ranking according to 247, Michigan is at 89.99, which is 12th in the country currently. 

GA 95.16; AL 93.81; OSU 92.55; TX 92.37; FSU 92.17; OU 92.14; PSU 91.81; OR 91.18 ND 90.34; AUB 90.82; TN 90.32 UM 89.99

Is there a huge qualitative difference between 89.99 and 95.16 on a per-player basis? Perhaps, but I'm skeptical the difference per player between 91.81 and 89.99 is all that significant. Depends on who the specific players are, and what needs they fill for what team. 

Looking at the team rankings on 247, there isn't a single time in the last 18 years when Wisconsin's recruiting class was within hailing distance of Michigan's, even during the dark years of RR and Hoke. For 2016-18, Michigan is ranked 8, 5, and 21, while Wisconsin is 35, 39, and 44. Yet it's Wisconsin who is thought by some to be worthy of playoff berth consideration for the coming season. If you conclude on that basis that Wisconsin's staff has done a better job of maximizing its talent than Michigan has, fine, but then it's also an argument that numerical rankings by themselves aren't the sole predictive indicator of success. In Wisconsin's case, they've had program stability in terms of how they approach offense over three decades, and currently they benefit by playing in a weaker division.


June 26th, 2018 at 5:18 PM ^

MSU's class rankings haven't been much better than Wisconsin's over the past decade, yet somehow since MSU has been in the BIG East, Dantonio has managed to win two against Urban Meyer, has lost two other games by one point, and got to the CFP along the way. And in every case, they were playing OSU teams with a vastly higher recruiting ranking.

Yes, Michigan should aspire to more than getting to the playoff and getting an Alabama beat-down, but a look at Wisconsin and MSU's recruiting in comparison to their season records would suggest to a reasonable person that recruiting ranking numbers alone aren't the sum total of success.


June 26th, 2018 at 6:03 PM ^

To help you out a bit on the average player rank...

.9181- #204 in the country

.8999- #304 in the country

So the class with an average recruit rank of .9181 has their recruits ranked on average as the #204 player in the country. While Michigan at .8999 has their recruits ranked on average as the #304 player in the country. 


June 26th, 2018 at 1:05 PM ^

Am I the only one to notice we haven't had a commit yet today? Harbaugh is clearly losing his touch, I think he should be on the hot seat this year for sure. We should at the very least fire the entire recruiting staff.


June 26th, 2018 at 2:32 PM ^

He really does look like the perfect type of tackle for Don Brown.  And considering some past struggles getting tackles onto campus, it's nice to see Michigan lock up a really good one and still be in the hunt for another.


June 26th, 2018 at 3:10 PM ^

Brown is reloading his defense. That is the sign of great coaching ... recruit top players that fit your scheme.  Mazi is a perfect DT fit for Brown's attacking style.  Hope we can hang on to Herron because this could be one of the best single-year DL hauls in a while.  Each - of Hinton, Herron and Brown - could be in the rotation as true freshmen. 

micheal honcho

June 26th, 2018 at 9:03 PM ^

Coming from the OK Red & wearing #58 if he settles in at an interior position he could be a 2nd coming of Rob Renes. I saw him play WO and he was definitely the full focus of their O-line scheme. Mattison was at that game as well. Same guy that recruited Renes.