From the man himself, it's official—USC running back transfer Ty Isaac is coming to Michigan:
I will be attending the University of Michigan this year
— Ty Isaac (@TyIsaac) June 5, 2014
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Ty Isaac's Twitter background is the album cover of Biggie's Ready To Die, making this transfer even more full of win than originally thought.
We still await word on whether Isaac will receive a hardship waiver that allows him to play this fall or if he'll have to sit out a year. Even though Michigan is outside the 100-mile radius that's the normal NCAA standard for granting a hardship, the reason Isaac transferred was so his mother—who's developed an ear condition that prevents her from flying—could drive to his games, something she can do from their Illinois home.
I thought I'd written a Hello post draft back in 2012, when Isaac was down to USC or Michigan in his recruitment. Turns out, the running back whose commitment post never saw the light of day was Bri'onte Dunn. An informative update is forthcoming.
5*, #7 RB,
5*, #4 RB,
4*, 83, #13 ATH,
4*, 95, #5 APB,
4*, #8 RB,
Coming out of high school, the recruiting services regarded Isaac as either one of the very best running backs in the country or a top-100-ish athlete. Naturally, ESPN ranks him the lowest despite an extremely positive scouting report (more on that below).
We don't have to take a guess as to his size; Isaac clocked in at 6'3", 225 pounds as a freshman last season at USC. He's a tall, upright back with the bulk to mash between the tackles and the height/hands combination to be a really dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield.
While Isaac had grabbed the attention of scouts as soon as he played on Joliet Catholic's varsity squad as a freshman, it's hard not to start this section with his record-shattering performance as a junior in the Illinois 5A state championship game, because GOOD GOD:
With 6 minutes and 40 seconds left in the first half, Isaac had already broken the Class 5A title record of 210 yards, set by Rock Island’s Alonzo Wise in 1997. With 48 seconds left until halftime, he had 376 yards, breaking a school record and the all-time IHSA rushing record for yards in a state title game regardless of class. Maine South’s Matt Perez had the previous mark in a Class 8A title game with 316 yards against Marist in 2009.
Isaac finished with 515 YARDS AND SIX TOUCHDOWNS ON 26 CARRIES, which definitely merits ALL-CAPS treatment. Search YouTube for "Ty Isaac state championship" and you get a series of clips like this, in which he makes one cut and then explodes past everybody for a touchdown:
Fits zone running scheme: check.
The massive amount of attention Isaac received for his performance didn't please him, however, as Joliet Catholic's defense collapsed and the team fell to Montini, 70-45:
"It wasn’t even something you could enjoy, it was something we needed," Isaac said. "We had to put points up. At the end of the day, it was really irrelevant."
Fits The Pattern™: check.
Aside from his eye-popping numbers, Isaac most impressed scouts with his combination of size, athleticism, and receiving ability. Scout's profile listed his strengths as breakaway speed, change-of-direction, and hands—blocking was the sole area for improvement—accompanied by this scouting report:
Tall, good sized back with the speed to break long runs. Is very smooth, changes directions well and has deceptive elusiveness. Is an excellent route runner and receiver out of the backfield who occasionally can split out or play in the slot. Does a lot of running from the wingback position, so he'll likely have to get used to inside running and blitz pick-up from a more traditional tailback spot in college. - Allen Trieu
"There was some talk that maybe Ty would flash out to the wide receiver position in college because of his size," said Rivals.com Midwest Recruiting Analyst Josh Helmholdt. "I definitely think his upside is at running back, but that attests to his abilities as a receiver.
"He is a natural pass catcher with soft hands and obviously the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He could flash out into the slot at times and create mismatches with linebackers and safeties."
That could make him a great complement to Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, both of whom are much more accomplished runners than receivers. That's not to say Isaac doesn't hold his own as a runner; Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated said there was "not much to critique" in the room for improvement area of this scouting report, while the positives were... quite positive ($):
A polished, fundamentally sound, shifty, explosive running back with excellent size, athleticism and an even-keeled demeanor on and off the football field. A long, explosive, gliding stride with excellent knee lift. Great vision and a find-the-hole, hit-the-hole mentality with the ability to anticipate where the next wave of tacklers is coming from and cut it back against the grain. Weaves through traffic with the greatest of ease.
A naturally instinctive running back. Has the unusual ability for a prep running back to hit the hole square, and then make cuts off a wide, balanced base. Has an explosive gear once the path to paydirt comes in his radar. Nice forward lean with the football. Appears to protect the football well.
Hi. I would like ALL OF THAT. Prister went on to compare Isaac to Eddie George, another big upright back whom you may remember winning the Heisman at Ohio State.
There were concerns coming out of college, given Isaac's film heavy on untouched bursts into the secondary—sorry for being so good, I guess—that he lacked between-the-tackles power or the willingness to run though contact. That's not what ESPN saw when they updated their scouting report for Signing Day 2013 ($):
More of a one-cut-and-get-north type of back, but his vision reading linebacker flow and balance going against the grain are impressive. Has lateral quicks to slip pursuit. He has good feet for his size and the patience needed to follow blocks and let the hole open up. Very good initial take off with a long stride burst to turn the corner. While he can exploit a crease and accelerate through the second level, he makes his mark on strength and will likely do so at the next level. This is a strong runner who can be a load to wrap up solidly, particularly high, when he gets square to the line and utilizes his good downhill burst. Needs to be conscious of pad level and improve lean, but shows good body balance at contact. He's a hard runner who can finish and get the tough yard. Has a sturdy frame with high toughness for multiple carries.
Isaac's stock dropped a little bit as a senior, though Scout's Allen Trieu chalked this up to nagging injuries and less-than-stellar competition when he ranked Isaac as the #2 Illinois prospect in his class behind (sigh) Laquon Treadwell ($):
Isaac had a lot to battle this year. He had to fight injury as well as a growing sentiment that he did not play great competition in high school. Maybe those folks forgot about what he did as a junior, or his six touchdowns in the state title game against a good Montini team. He has good size, speed, and a smooth running style that has him compared with some of the USC greats that he now inherits the mantle from. He's also a great receiver out of the backfield, another asset he will bring to SoCal.
So that gets us through his high school career. Isaac's college career got off to a slow start, as he received just ten carries through the first nine games in a crowded backfield. After a breakout performance against Cal (11 carries, 87 yards, 2 TDs) in the tenth game, he mentioned one of the primary reasons it took him a while to get into gear:
Arriving on campus this summer after a storied high school career in which he rushed for a total of 5,305 yards out of a prolific double-wing attack, Isaac had some difficulties early on as he made the switch from wingback to tailback in USC’s intricate pro-style scheme.
“It was a shock to the system,” Isaac said. “I ran about five plays in high school, and now I’ve got five different reads on one play, so that was definitely something that I had to adjust to.”
Even though he must switch systems once again, it'll be far less of a transition than going from a very simple high school offense that utilized him as a wingback to a complicated pro-style attack with him as a traditional tailback.
Programs to offer Isaac out of high school included Arizona, Auburn, Clemson, Illinois, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Penn State, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
If you're really curious, you can read a remarkably extensive history of Joliet Catholic football here.
As a high school junior, Isaac rushed for 2629 yards and 42 touchdowns on 203 carries, posting a ridiculous 13 yards per carry, while adding 360 yards and seven more TDs on 16 receptions (22.5 ypc). I can't find senior stats more specific than 1500 yards and 22 touchdowns on an unknown number of rushes—still not bad for an injury-plagued year.
At USC, he toted the rock 40 times for 236 yards (5.9 ypc) and two TDs, and chipped in four receptions for 57 yards.
FAKE 40 TIME
247 lists a 40 time of 4.45. I can't find the source of the time, so I'll give it four FAKEs out of five. That would be very impressive for a back of that size, and while Isaac shows off solid top-end speed, he's not a pure burner.
Junior highlights, featuring a whole lot of that state title game:
While Cal's defense was, well, bad, you're still going to want to check out his second touchdown run in that game:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
A lot of this depends on the status of Isaac's redshirt. If he receives his NCAA waiver and is allowed to play right away, he should factor in immediately to Michigan's running back rotation—he has a size/skill combination, especially when it comes to receiving, that no other U-M back can boast.
If he doesn't get the waiver, that might actually work out best for U-M, as it would put Isaac a year of eligibility behind Green and Smith and give him a clear shot at the full-time starting gig in a few years. Of course, he may very well earn that role before Green and Smith graduate; there's a lot of unknown when it comes to the running backs given the state of the offensive line. No matter what, he should see the field whenever he's allowed to.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
This is where the NCAA waiver really comes into play. If Isaac redshirts this season, the need to land an elite back in the 2015 class is somewhat alleviated. If he doesn't, getting a back who will be ready to start in a few years will still be very important. Michigan should take a back regardless, but a potential extra year of Isaac on the roster would soften the blow of possibly missing out on both Damien Harris and Mike Weber.