The "Speed Is Overrated" Era Is, Mercifully, Over Comment Count

Ace May 17th, 2017 at 12:40 PM

The successes. [Patrick Barron]

In his four-year tenure at Michigan, Brady Hoke accepted commitments from eight recruits who entered the program as wide receivers. With Drake Harris' move to cornerback, one remains at the position on the current roster: senior Moe Ways, who has five career receptions and doesn't appear likely to play a significant role this fall.

After the Harris news broke, The Mathlete posed a question to the group in the mgo-slack chat:

Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are obvious; both just went in the NFL draft after productive college careers. If we take this question literally—including only players who were recruited as wide receivers—then the third answer tells you all you need to know about Hoke's recruiting at the position: Moe Ways, he of the five career catches.

Here are Hoke's recruits ranked by receiving yards. I've listed them by the position they began their careers playing, because this staff well and truly thought Devin Funchess was a tight end for two years before getting it right:

  1. WR Amara Darboh, 2062
  2. TE/WR Devin Funchess, 1715
  3. TE Jake Butt, 1646
  4. WR Jehu Chesson, 1639
  5. RB De'Veon Smith, 251
  6. TE/FB Khalid Hill, 226
  7. TE AJ Williams, 164
  8. RB/WR Dennis Norfleet, 157
  9. FB Joe Kerridge, 123
  10. TE Ian Bunting, 118
  11. RB Drake Johnson, 107
  12. RB Justice Hayes, 105
  13. FB Sione Houma, 91
  14. S Jabrill Peppers, 82
  15. WR Moe Ways, 64
  16. RB Ty Isaac, 54
  17. WR Drake Harris, 50
  18. FB Henry Poggi, 47

It's understandable, in this relatively short time period, to have the type of chasm that exists between Chesson and Smith—a team can only have so many top targets. Having not one, not two, but three fullbacks rank ahead of the next player recruited as a wide receiver (and a fourth threatening to pass him), however, is not.

You may note that the entire 2013 wide receiver class—Jaron Dukes, Da'Mario Jones, and Csont'e York—is missing from the above list. The trio produced two catches for 13 yards at Michigan, all by Jones. In retrospect, perhaps this wasn't the best recruiting strategy:

Michigan signed three receivers last week, none of whom ranks better than a three star.

They seem to be big on size, but lack elite speed.

That doesn't concern receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski.

"Speed is overrated," he said last week. "Obviously, it's something we have to have. But speed is overrated. How can you truly judge the speed of a high school kid on the perimeter when maybe he touches the ball three times a game?

This is how a true sophomore, Kekoa Crawford, wound up as the old man among expected two-deep contributors at receiver this year. Thankfully, Jim Harbaugh followed up on a strong 2016 receiver haul with, by recruiting rankings, the best receiver class in program history. One look at Donovan Peoples-Jones will dispel any notion that this staff believes speed is overrated. Thank the football gods.



May 17th, 2017 at 12:52 PM ^

"Speed is overrated"

"Winning is just a statistic"

"Aware but not fully aware"

My god, how the FUCK that staff ever made it to D1, let alone Michigan, is pure insanity. Fuck you Dave Brandon! I'm a patient man, it takes a lot for me to not like someone, but I will forever loath Brandon. 


May 17th, 2017 at 1:05 PM ^

Also bears mentioning that the majority of receptions for the first two years of Hoke's tenure were getting handled by the likes of Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree, and Drew Dileo, all guys recruited by Rodriguez. 

Still, I don't want to give the perception that I'm defending Brady Hoke, because that's abysmal recruiting at a posiiton that has become increasingly important in recent years.

I'm so glad those days are behind us.


May 17th, 2017 at 1:16 PM ^

in the first two years of the Harbaugh era the majority of receptions were getting handled by guys Hoke recruited.  When a new coach takes over a program it's almost guaranteed the first couple of years are going to be heavily dependent upon players the previous staff recruited.

Pepto Bismol

May 17th, 2017 at 1:39 PM ^

Through 2 full seasons, the top-5 receivers recruited by Jim Harbaugh are:

Chris Evans - 6 catches, 87 yards

McDoom - 5 for 59 yards

Crawford - 4 for 47

Wheatley - 3 for 35

Asiasi - 2 for 18


This would be an interesting comparison in two years. 


May 17th, 2017 at 1:18 PM ^

Absolutely. I found myself asking: how many playmakers, at any skill position, did Hoke's staff recruit? Funchess? He was alright, but I don't know if he was a playmaker in the same way many of the RR guys were. Butt was pretty good before Harbaugh, I guess you could include him. Darboh and Chesson didn't really show much before the new staff, maybe Darboh a bit. 

RR wasn't a Michigan caliber coach to be sure, but he recruited guys that could play and make plays a lot more than Hoke did, despite Hoke's overall recruiting success being quite good.


May 17th, 2017 at 1:11 PM ^

one of the hottest takes of all-time....speed is overrated. I think everyone can agree there is a difference between acceleration, top end speed, and shiftiness. But, WOW, has anyone seen the movie Forrest Gump? Top end speed was clearly the biggest reason he was so successful. 


May 17th, 2017 at 1:15 PM ^

Hoke valued size over speed, the complete opposite of Richrod era. Top recruiters can get players with both and neither of those staff could recruit at Harbaugh level.

The FannMan

May 17th, 2017 at 1:31 PM ^

This may be a case of putting too much weight on one comment by a position coach.  Especially, since the question that got the quoted response was probably a variant of "How bad does it suck that you are stuck with all these slow kids?"  He gave the only answer he could - size is better than speed.  I am sure Heck would have loved a five star burner.  He just didn't get one.

I also don't recall that Hoke avoided going after guys with speed.  He just didn't get them.  Recall that he was an 50% MAC coach with a defensive background, at a program that endured three crap years.  I also recall much uncertainty about the QB situation.  (Can Denard drop back and throw the ball?  Is Devin a WR?  Will Shane Morris recover from mono?)

Bottom line - I am not sure that the absence of speedy receivers was a choice as much as five and four stars deciding to go to play for winning teams with better QB pipelines and coaches with proven records developing said QBs.  Actually, that sounds familiar in a very comforting way, doesn't it?


May 17th, 2017 at 4:05 PM ^

Part of the issue is that Hoke focused most of his recruiting around the Midwest.  There were the occasional out of region gems like Jabrill Peppers.  However, for the most part, his skill players were not from Florida, California and elsewhere.

The best skill players are outside the Midwest.  Yes, there are some like DPJ who come out of Detroit and some from Ohio.  However, Michigan absolutely needs to recruit nationally.



May 17th, 2017 at 1:32 PM ^

And the fringe classes that Hoke recruited, 2011 and 2015. The only WR in the 2015 class was Grant Perry who verballed to JH. The 2011 class didn't sign a SINGLE receiver.


May 17th, 2017 at 1:38 PM ^

After Funchess left, I remember feeling down about the receiving group, because it didn't seem like Chesson and Darboh had much star quality. Credit to those guys and new coaching staff for getting it done.

Also, Moe Ways will contribute (something) this season!!


Barn Animal

May 17th, 2017 at 3:40 PM ^

DPJ and Black obviously play. And while I think both Collins and Martin could (and maybe should) redshirt, Harbaugh has shown he will play true freshman. So based off that I got to think 1 will see the field this year.


May 17th, 2017 at 1:50 PM ^

the idea behind the argument and that 2013 WR class is shockingly bad, but I do have to give Hoke some credit.  Funchess wasn't recruited as a WR, but he spread wide quite a bit and was drafted as a WR.  Three NFL players drafted as WRs in his four years is pretty good.  Throw in Butt and that's four NFL pass catchers recruited by Hoke.  

Now, would either Chesson or Darboh have been drafted if they hadn't gotten two years of Harbaugh?  Tough to say (I say no).  

Regardless, couldn't be more excited about our WR classes last year and this year.  


May 17th, 2017 at 1:53 PM ^

The 2013 class was bad, and the staff did seem to prefer taller WRs, but it's not like they didn't recruit speed at all. Hoke recruited Freddy Canteen, who was pretty fast although he didn't pan out, and he had George Campbell committed, who is a 4.4 burner (problems with hands notwithstanding) and was a 5* and #1 WR in the class at the time...


May 17th, 2017 at 3:01 PM ^

Hoke inherited Gallon and Roundtree and then gave us Funchess, Butt, Chesson, and Darboh. He far from failed at WR and I disagree with Ace's narrative. He surrounded himself with a shit coaching staff but that dude could poop gold on the recruiting trail


May 17th, 2017 at 7:37 PM ^

This blog is way too obsessed with that one public quote by Hecklinski.  

What is he supposed to say after signing that 2013 class: "Yeah, we tried to get speed but we didn't so we might as well just quit football"?  He admitted that you'd like speed, and they obviously recruited speed while there (Darboh, Chesson, Canteen, targetted other burners).  They just had a mediocre class of WRs - not necessarily because of philosphy - and had to publically rationalize it.

Hecklinski had to say some things to give the players he did get some confidence.  Of course, all other things equal, they wanted speed, and they got it sometimes.

The only legitimate knock on Hoke's recruiting (look at all the Hoke recruits that just got drafted fergodsakes!) was the failure to bring in more QBs.  You need to see more guys at the most important position, and you can't assume that a highly rated guy is going to pan out.  With a position so hard to project to the college level, gotta take more guys and play the numbers game.



May 17th, 2017 at 11:03 PM ^

They're supposed to get speed so you don't have to say stupid stuff like that. Butch Jones' quote about winning at life is dumb, but stuff like that comes out when you have to talk about your crappy team without admitting you're doing a horrible job.

"The only legitimate knock on Hoke's recruiting (look at all the Hoke recruits that just got drafted fergodsakes!) was the failure to bring in more QBs."

...and the entire rest of the offense.


May 17th, 2017 at 2:14 PM ^

I know that quote by Hecklinski is catnip for people, but I disagree with the narrative that Michigan's recruiting at WR was bad because of what the Hoke staff focused on.  Harbaugh gets grilled for going after taller corners, but that's just a style choice.  Hoke wanted big guys, but he recruited fast guys when it made sense.  Chesson was a track start, Harris had 4.4 speed when healthy, Canteen was about the same speed.  Dukes and Yorke were big guys with decent size; there's a school of thought that you don't need to be a blazer if you have an effective height difference of a foot and a half.

I think Hoke's recruiting on offense was mediocre, but it's also not as much a science to it as we want to think, so one bad recruiting cycle on one position group doesn't strike me as an "era".

Monocle Smile

May 17th, 2017 at 2:34 PM ^

Who's grilling Harbaugh for going after taller corners?

Neither Dukes nor York was ever that close to seeing the field, Jones had all of two catches, Ways is now a senior and still probably only a garbage time player. The criticism is more than the "speed is overrated" crack; it's more targeting the "being good at the wide receiver position is overrated as long as you are large" ideology.


May 17th, 2017 at 4:02 PM ^

I don't think that was his quote at all; Canteen was ranked about where Darboh (just as a comparison) was; Chesson was ranked below Dukes and York.  And honestly, I don't know how good York was as a player - he was booted from the team after his freshman year, so it's hard to judge how he would have turned out.  For generally, I think all this showed was they just recruited guys that didn't work out for a cycle; there wasn't more to it than that in my opinion.  

As for people grilling Harbaugh for taller corners, people have complained both here and elsewhere that the Green brothers (considering they are a major part of the small class's secondary recruiting) are slower, taller corners, and Sims is not a burner by any stretch.  It has never mattered much to me, but there are always people who will take issue with the recruiting predelicitions of a coach; witness the Dallas Gant article yesterday where people complained he isn't recruiting Ohio hard enough.

Monocle Smile

May 17th, 2017 at 5:58 PM ^

Darboh was always going to be at least a good contributor; Chesson was a nice find, but didn't do much until Harbaugh. I guess you can give some developmental credit to Hoke's staff. It just seemed like a rather disproportionate number of Hoke WR recruits ended up contributing nothing.

As far as the Gant article: Maizen was upset, not "people." Significant difference.

I don't read comments about recruits until a few months out from signing day because it feels a bit creepy and some folks are waaaaaay too invested, but the Green brothers are coveted by more than just Michigan and for good reason.


May 17th, 2017 at 7:17 PM ^

I'd argue Chesson always showed flashes as a blocker, and while he got better under year 1 of Harbaugh he was worse his second. So it might be a wash. Darboh turned out fine, but you dig through here and you saw predictions that Darboh would be no better than a spot filler who got a couple of catches as a senior.

The Gant complaint was spearheaded by Maizen, but others agreed in the comments and Sam Webb, amongst others, have complained about Harbaugh's recruiting efforts in Ohio. It isn't new.

I think the Green brothers are solid players, but both fit a particular type of secondary player that some people don't agree with. My point was simply that people complain about anything if given the opportunity, even if there is no real argument to or for one being better. It's all philosophical.


May 17th, 2017 at 3:57 PM ^

I agree that the quote is being blown out of proportion a bit.  At the same time, I do think Harbaugh priortizes speed a bit more than the previous regime.  I don't think Csonte York or Jaron Dukes would have ever received an offer from the current regime.

Harbaugh also recruits more skill position numbers than Hoke did.  QB is the best example.  Where Hoke was comfortable promising Shane Morris that a QB would not be recruited his or the subsequent year.  There is absolutely no way that Harbaugh would ever promise that and in fact promises the exact opposite.

WR is another example.  Hoke probably would have been content with having just DPJ and one or two other WRs given Kekoa and McDoom are already on the roster.  However, Harbaugh was obviously not content with the depth of skill players and basically feasted on as many athletic WRs he could get his hands on.

I strongly prefer Harbaugh's approach.


May 17th, 2017 at 4:52 PM ^

the flat out foot speed and then football speed. You don't always have to be a burner to play the game quickly. Being able to disect a play quickly and take proper angles or a WR running great routes and having great hands is much better then some guy who can out run everyone, but can't catch the ball.

Nice to have flat out foot speed, but I will take a guy who plays football fast over him every time.


May 17th, 2017 at 2:19 PM ^

Speed is overrated if a received can't get separation, run good routes, catch the ball, and not fumble, not to mention run block. 

It's also overrated if your offensive gameplan is predictable and poorly devised.

Shop Smart Sho…

May 17th, 2017 at 3:48 PM ^

I would have addressed it if the person who I was responding to had mentioned it.

And while size can't be taught, playing to your height can be taught.  You'd be amazed at how many tall kids don't take advantage of their height.

And if you think AJ Williams got appreciably faster after Harbaugh told him to run faster, I have some amazing ocean-front property in Indiana to sell you.