Michigan's Potential 2014 Impact Freshmen Comment Count

Ace February 19th, 2014 at 3:00 PM


Three receivers make this post. This guy isn't one of them.

For the first time in years, Michigan's depth chart isn't patched together with duct tape and hope, so the incoming freshmen of 2014 don't have as many opportunities for early playing time as past classes. This is worth celebrating, especially when one particular freshman is poised to make a big impact at a position with some experienced depth anyway.

After Jabrill Peppers, there isn't a clear role for any of the incoming freshmen, and getting this list up to five involved a few reach picks. Again, this is good. Without further ado, here's the list.

1. JABRILL PEPPERS, CB/KR/PR (6'1, 210; 5*, 247 Composite #1 ATH/CB)

Surprise! Despite the presence of four older cornerbacks with significant game experience (Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Jourdan Lewis, and Channing Stribling), Peppers is simply too talented to keep off the field. He should see immediate time in Michigan's nickel package, either as the nickelback or playing on the outside with Countess in the slot, and as the season progresses he'll challenge Taylor for a starting spot—with his size, athleticism, and ability in run support, Peppers is an ideal fit on the boundary.

With apologies to Fearless Leader, I believe Peppers will make an instant impact in the return game, as well. While Dennis Norfleet consistently threatened to break long returns, they rarely materialized last year. Michigan had just one kickoff return of 40+ yards (T-89th nationally) and none of 50+; just two punt returns went for 20+ (T-58th), one 30+, and zero 40+. Averages were middling at best: 49th in kickoff returns and 91st in punt returns. Fielding kickoff returns, at the very least, would be a great way to get Peppers the ball without overwhelming him with too much responsibility. If he has a role on offense this year, it'll likely be limited to just a handful of plays.

2. FREDDY CANTEEN, SLOT (6'1, 170; 4*, #41 WR)

Canteen is the player going solo/the one with insanely quick feet

Slot receiver is one of a small number of spots with total uncertainly on the depth chart. Just two players return there: Norfleet (six career "catches" that were actually end-arounds) and sophomore Da'Mario Jones, who only saw time on special teams last year. While Doug Nussmeier may have a different outlook, thus far the coaches have been hesitant to give Norfleet a significant role. A relative unknown committed to Central Michigan before Michigan came calling, Jones never rose above middling three-star even after flipping his commitment. This spot is wide open.

Enter Freddy Canteen, who went from completely off the radar when his high school didn't play actual games in 2012 to a hot camp commodity with ever-rising rankings in 2013. At 6'1, he's got the size this coaching staff covets, and his route-running is very advanced for an incoming freshman. On top of that, he's got speed to burn and a phenomenal name. What more can one ask for? It wouldn't surprise me at all if Canteen, an early enrollee, is the starter in the slot from day one.

3. IAN BUNTING, TE/FUNCHESS (6'7, 233; 4*, #11 TE)

Photo credit: J. Geil/Chicago Sun-Times

Bunting wouldn't have cracked this list a couple weeks ago; then Jake Butt went down with a torn ACL. Now Michigan is down to one tight end that actually catches passes, and that's only if you believe Devin Funchess is still a tight end. AJ Williams is almost exclusively a blocker (and he's still working on that), while Jordan Paskorz is a former linebacker without a catch to his name. Khalid Hill comes off a redshirt and could factor in as an H-back, but that's about it as far as tight end depth goes. There's room for another pass-catcher.

The question is whether or not Bunting will be at all ready to put his hand in the dirt; even in high school, he did most of his damage split out wide. At 233 pounds (on a 6'7 frame), he needs to bulk up significantly to be able to hold his own as a blocker. As an enormous receiver with great hands, however, he can at least see the field as a third-down/red-zone specialist; putting him on the field with Funchess poses major matchup problems for opposing defenses.

4. BRYAN MONE, NT (6'4, 328; 4*, #8 DT)

Another player on the list due to injury on the current roster, Mone could be forced into duty at nose tackle if Ondre Pipkins is limited in his return from a torn ACL. The only other true NT on the roster is redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst, who was listed at 270 pounds on last year's roster.

Mone's stock fell from near-consensus top-50 player to borderline top-100 prospect (or, in Rivals' case, flat-out three-star) after he looked overweight and out of shape at the Under Armour game. Mone put on a ton of weight in a short period of time before his senior season and it clearly affected his conditioning. Luckily for Michigan, he's enrolled early, so efforts to turn bad weight into good are already underway. It's highly unlikely Mone is ready to play a major role, but Michigan might need him to hold his own in sporadic rotation snaps and short-yardage situations.

5. MICHAEL FERNS, ILB (6'3, 235; 4*, #6 ILB)

Another early enrollee, Ferns isn't likely to see much early action on defense. James Ross and Desmond Morgan have the two ILB spots locked down, and both have viable backups with playing experience in Ben Gedeon and Joe Bolden. If there's an injury, however, Ferns is the incoming linebacker best suited to see the field with his size and status as an EE.

Ferns also fits right in on special teams—with his athleticism, he could make an immediate impact on coverage units. This will be a frustrating way to burn a redshirt if Ferns doesn't get some in-game experience at linebacker, but it's inevitable that the coaches will burn a linebacker's redshirt for special teams, and it may as well be the one most ready to see the field.


Both Harris and Ways look like college-ready receivers; Harris benefits from enrolling early, while Ways has the bulk and blocking ability to see the field as a freshman. They'd be higher on the list if playing time on the outside wasn't so hard to come by. Funchess and Jehu Chesson should lock down the starting spots, Amara Darboh is another starting candidate now that he's healthy, and two other options come off redshirts in Jaron Dukes and Csont'e York.

Harris is coming off a hamstring injury that cost him his entire senior season. Ways made great strides from his junior to senior seasons but could still use some, er, seasoning. It'd be great if Michigan was able to redshirt both of these guys, especially if Canteen can also contribute on the outside. 



February 19th, 2014 at 7:28 PM ^

I don't think Bunting is a lock.

There was a post on the Rivals board saying that they would be surprised to see Bunting see significant playing time because he doesn't have the build or the ability to block.

The source also went on to say that Butt was a rare talent and that Bunting is not at the same level as Butt coming in.

Butt had the advantage of being an early enrollee and I think Bunting could have benefited most from being an early enrollee.


February 20th, 2014 at 12:14 PM ^

He couldn't block either, but there was a while where teams didn't know that and there matchups to be exploited.

Bunting shouldn't start, but will probably get some time and may make some "surprise, this guy lining up at TE can fly, guess we should cover him" opportunities.  Like Funchess in his true freshman year, he'll get shut down once scouted, but can make some big plays.


February 19th, 2014 at 3:11 PM ^

It feels like it's been a long time since we haven't been having to force true freshman into the two-deep (how many burn their redshirts on special teams is ytbd). Aside from the injuries to Pipkins and Butt, we really don't need any of the freshman to contribute. Even Peppers isn't needed - he's just going to be that good (likely)

A nice change from the past 6 or so years.

Space Coyote

February 19th, 2014 at 3:35 PM ^

There are certainly enough bodies on the OL now where burning a RS is all but useless unless that guy is obviously the best of the bunch. No more 5 scholarship OL in-front of purely FR and walk-ons. So the depth chart itself is fine, but the skill level to date of the numbers filling that depth chart are potentially cause for worry for a variety of reasons not related to number of bodies.


February 20th, 2014 at 12:19 PM ^

Yeah, guys #7-9 are now on scholarship, but that description remains appropriate.  It is a distinct possibility that a freshman is needed "the best of the bunch" if injuries hit.  The depth argument was made last year and it didn't go well, because the guys weren't proven and that remains this year.


February 19th, 2014 at 3:32 PM ^

With assumed/praying that our Oline will be better this year, I think our offense has a ton of talent to have a really good year. Call me crazy but I just don't see us coming close to the debacle we had last year.

Feels good to have that spark of optimism again, first time in a long time.

marco dane

February 19th, 2014 at 3:47 PM ^

I'd like to see him take the field this upcoming season. Showing up at UnderArmour All Star game,not in shape hurt his final ranking. Goodthing he ee...gonna need him.


February 19th, 2014 at 4:18 PM ^

Back in the day, we had short-nub turf shoes (for our old astro-turf type field), longer turf shoes for rainy days, and grass cleats for when we were playing a team on grass.  However, now we play on field turf which is a lot like grass, and most players use the screw-in "spikes". 

How could he put on the wrong pair of spikes?  How many different types do they keep in their locker these days?


February 19th, 2014 at 3:52 PM ^

Norfleet was pretty good at consistently getting 20+ while looking like he could break and going down at the slightest gust of wind, Peppers seems like he could be a real threat back there to actually break a couple.


February 19th, 2014 at 9:42 PM ^

Every time he touched the ball (in space) he seemed like he could go all the way. He's electric. He was dead in the water in a Borges offense but his returns were special. It's distressing to see perhaps this potential and nothing done to utilize it. Basically, I'm in the Norfleet, flee err- boat.


February 20th, 2014 at 11:05 AM ^

you haven't been watching tape of Desmond Howard?

Dennis Norfleet was at #5 for KO receiving attempts, his average return distance was 49th last year.  His longest return (44 yds) ties him at 137 of returners, and at that he had the most attempts of those tied at 137.   49 KO returners had at least one TD.  Norfleet had zero.

Norfleet, as a KO returner was quite consistent, not electric.


February 20th, 2014 at 12:01 PM ^

I don't know, I don't think stats for that position tell a whole lot.  I thought Norfleet was a lot of fun to watch returning kicks, and it seemed like almost any kick might be taken back.  None were, but that's not really the point (because it's rare to house a KO).  

Wolverine 73

February 19th, 2014 at 4:01 PM ^

If he is as good as people say he is, I expect Harris to play by the mid point of the year.  No one from the grouping of Chesson, Darboh, York, Jones and Dukes who has played has looked elite, although Chesson did some things well and Darboh was ahead of him before the injury.  But if Harris is elite, I think he will move ahead of all of them before the year is up.  If Mario could do it, Harris can do it.


February 19th, 2014 at 4:18 PM ^

It would be a good thing because he would be beating out decent players. Not many receivers have great freshmen years. I know there are exceptions. Most take time to develop. I expect much more from many of the returning receivers.


February 19th, 2014 at 4:02 PM ^

Did he enroll early?

I think one of the things which helped Butt see the field was he enrolled early.  When fall camp started, he already had a decent grasp/knowledge of the offense and the playbook.


February 19th, 2014 at 4:05 PM ^

If Harris is as good as his press clippings, then I expect him to contribute right away.  Out of our returning receivers, the only guy that I would say has been productive enough to lock down a starting spot would be Funchess. 


February 20th, 2014 at 8:53 AM ^

Yeah I hope that he makes it all the way back from that injury.  But you never know.  Even with two really good receivers in Darboh and Funchess though, there is a lot of room for a third guy to make big contributions.  We have a long history of freshman receivers getting lots of playing time, even with good looking depth charts. 

Zone Left

February 19th, 2014 at 4:26 PM ^

I'm expecting a lot of no tight end sets this year with two split ends and 1 or more H-Back types. I don't see any of the tight ends outside Butt being able to stay on the field. Bunting is probably too light and too far behind the receivers to play standing up.


February 19th, 2014 at 6:47 PM ^

Ace - 

I don't agree with Ferns at all.  He is behind a full two-deep at his position right now and I can't see them blowing his redshirt.  

In his place I would have used Lawrence Marshal.  This staff has a history of playing WDE guys who are raw in situational pass rushing roles (Mario, Taco).  In addition, we're lacking for pass rush and they announced that Taco is moving to SDE.  I think Marshal gets a chance at some snaps and maybe a bigger role if he steps up.  That seems far more likely than Ferns offering anything more than a cameo.

I'm not sold on Bunting either, but I didn't realize his weight was over 230 now.  Last I heard he was a rail thin 220 and still trying to adapt from WR to TE.  My guess is that the new OC puts more proven WR on the field and only uses TE when he needs blocking.  Between Funchess part-time, Williams, Paskorz, Hill, and maybe even Shallman I think we can survive without asking a position-switch, undersized, true freshman to play.  We'll see how long Butt takes to heal I guess....


February 20th, 2014 at 12:23 PM ^

If it weren't for the EE I would agree more strongly, but I do hope Ferns can red-shirt.  RJS wasn't mentioned, but he's on the depth chart too and if Ferns passes him by he may not stick around.

Meanwhile, SAM is still very open and Winovich seems like he may fit there.

Marshall may play but sounds similar to Ojemudia, plus the other returners...


February 20th, 2014 at 10:28 AM ^

...the o-line is a mystery to me. How can athletic guys that are all around 300 lbs not get decent push when they know the snap count and the blocking assignments? Is it faulty coaching? I mean, all these D1 athletes are pretty talented, or am I mistaken?

Painter Smurf

February 20th, 2014 at 12:08 PM ^

I think it is more likely that one of the SAM / WDE propects plays than an ILB.  SAM / WDE was a major recruiting target this year and of course they have both starters going into their final seasons, with shaky back-ups.  If a guy like Furbush comes in ready to contribute, he will play.