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

Submitted by Ace on 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 8:11 PM ^

Having the talent is a necessary but not sufficient condition to being a world class athlete.  Not even fast people are world class sprinters without training.  So you can teach speed within a window of natural capacity, just as you can teach certain physical skills within a natural capacity. But you can't just teach anyone to be a top juggler or gymnast.

To put it another way, imagine if football didn't allow running.  Everyone had to walk and you made sure all WRs were the same height, so speed and size were removed from the equation.

Are you saying you could turn anyone into an elite receiver under those conditions? You couldn't.  The people that have the natural superior capacity for jumping into the air with body control and catching a football would rise to the top.


May 17th, 2017 at 4:13 PM ^

I mean, "speed" can be taught as well within the context of football.  That's basically what "separation" is, in addition to barely-legal offensive pass interference.  Nobody cares if you can run a 4.3 dash if you run in a straight line and the safety comes over and boxes you in.  Some of it is natural ability, obviously, but Darboh got a bit better/"faster" as he physically matured, but he also just got better at running his routes, making himself into a usable target, and hauling in the balls thrown to him.  A number of his wide-open situations this year weren't because he just out-raced as a guy as much as he made subtle movements that got the corner off-balance and gave him that window to get open.  

It's simplistic, I know, but good football coaches teach players how to be good at football and maximize the physical gifts they have.  You have to have some basic level of physical ability, but beyond that running a 4.6 or a 4.45 probably isn't super-relevant. 


May 17th, 2017 at 6:03 PM ^

What counts as "speed" in football isn't necessarily straight line a-to-b running, but getting "open". Hence why I get annoyed with the trite "you can't teach speed", because the world is full of fast guys who can't get open and slower guys who can because, at the margins, being a fraction of a second faster usually doesn't matter.

And beyond that point, you can absolutely make a kid faster through better diets, technique refinements, and strength training. So yes, you can teach speed as much as anything else.

The Man Down T…

May 17th, 2017 at 2:50 PM ^

about the past coaching staff I wonder how the hell they were able to get any job in football.  Even the ball boy and the fisr down marker carriers know that speed is very important.  Damn, what a wasted 4 years.


May 17th, 2017 at 3:26 PM ^

Because Dave Brandon wanted to be the HC himself and had to hire someone he knew more than and could, more or less, control.. enter Brady Hoke and Al Borgess.

Regardless, it is incredibly depressing to think about that staff, where they are now is the clearest indication they had no idea what they were doing (save for Hoke finding DL). Thank God Jim Hackett is a smart man and brought us Harbaugh.


May 17th, 2017 at 3:37 PM ^

To be fair, Da'Mario Jones and Drake Harris also had speed, but they just didn't develop like Chesson did (or got derailed by injuries) .  I recall Darboh having a 4.5 in high school, and his combine 40 showed that he wasn't slow by any means.

To me, it's more a combination of things: not recruiting enough speedy WRs to account for hit rate and not adequately developing them.  Harbaugh is thankfully addressing both issues.


May 17th, 2017 at 3:46 PM ^

I just want to check to make sure I understand this right - 

MGoBlog is one of the more popular college athletic blogs in the country, yes?
Michigan has a successful Baseball and a not-as-successful-as-we'd-like-but-still-successful softball team about to head into their sport's tournaments, both worth at least looking at during spring doldrums.
Michigan has other spring sports.
MGoBlog has multiple staff writers.

Yet the only article of the day is a piece that beats a horse that died two and a half years ago, that this site beat to death six months before Hoke left, and has beat the carcass unrecognizable since then?

What happens to those receivers if Rodriguez had recruited even the basics of an offensive line to protect poor shattered Gardner or a run game?  

I get that late spring is a slow time, and I get that you guys hated Hoke (not wholely unjustifiably), but if you need some ideas, what about a quick run-down on other spring sports, do an article on what it's like to be a grad assistant or a scout player or you did your tickets to the team, what about a quick rundown of the players you're sure we're NOT going to see until next year.  How about instead of articles that crap on former players/teams you find a few topics that celebrate?  Rank top receiving corps and compare them with the incoming freshmen, compare 97's defense with last year?  I gotta get back to work, but I was really hoping for a distraction, and all I got was a maggoty pile of festering chum. 




May 17th, 2017 at 4:03 PM ^

Dont sugar-coat it Tai.  Brian and the team are big boy writers here who dont need you to tap-dance around an issue when you see one.  If you've got a problem with the totally free content they provide by all means let them know exactly what you're thinking and next time stop trying to be "fake nice."

You see while I could read between the lines of your post and tell you didnt care for it much  they may not pick up on your delicate subtility in your comments will think you actually enjoyed the post.  Next time be more direct.


May 17th, 2017 at 4:16 PM ^

They do have the occassional write-ups about the other teams, but honestly, my guess is few people read them.  Heck, the hockey posts that weren't "Fire Red and bury him in the damn ground" barely got any comments or discussion.

It's free content.  The Diaries have some good content about the other squads, and I'm sure you could provide some content if it matters that much to you.  Or maybe look for said content somewhere less full of chum, festering or not.


May 17th, 2017 at 4:42 PM ^

If you staked your site on focusing on those things that you are both fiercely passionate and knowledgable about... it's probably not a good idea to start producing "Content" for content's sake about the things that you don't have that same history with.  

They do regularly bump diary posts when a knowledgable Mgoblogger takes an in depth look at other Michigan sports, so if one of the softball/baseball superfans are so inclined, I'd definitely read it.


May 18th, 2017 at 10:48 AM ^

People don't come to the blog to read about all the other spring sports. It's all about football and a little basketball. Do you see 100,000 plus people at any of the spring sporting events? No. They just don't have the draw like football. If this site was all about spring sports, it wouldn't be the size it is today. Don't get me wrong, I love all the sports at Michigan, but football is what the people follow. 


May 17th, 2017 at 5:31 PM ^

speed is the most critical raw physical element in play in the game of football. Size is all fine and dandy but this game is about speed. I think it would be funny/exciting as hell to see some innovative coach attempt to completly revolutionize how the game is played by drawing up an offense utilizing only "4.5/6" or better guys. Student-body left and right would take on a whole new meaning...or Milton out of the shotgun with only a center.