What could have been.....Michigan alumni

Submitted by AC1997 on September 30th, 2009 at 1:10 PM
There were two motivations for me writing this diary.  The first was a discussion I was having with friends about the top three former Michigan players at each position based on their NFL resume (the subject of a future diary perhaps?).  The second was a previous diary that Misopogon had written a few days ago: 


The subject of that diary was about how Cissoko looks to be the second coming of Todd Howard.  In some ways that will give you nightmares and in others it might leave you feeling mildly content a couple of years from now.  But that wasn't what struck me when I read that Diary.

What struck me was that in the past 15 years Michigan has always had a lock-down corner on the field in every year but three.  Here's the rundown:
  • '92 - '94 = Ty Law
  • '95 - '97 = Charles Woodson
  • '98 - '00 = ??? 
  • '01 - '04 = Marlin Jackson
  • '03 - '06 = Leon Hall
  • '07 - ?? = Donovan Warren

The two primary corners during that gap in '98-'00 were James Whitley and Todd Howard.  Whitley was supposed to be a stud recruit and I remember a quote from Woodson where he talked about Whitley potentially being better than he was.  Well, that obviously didn't happen.  Whitley will forever be known as a guy with decent speed and size who could run step for step with recievers but never make a play on the ball. 

You'll also remember this era as when Plexico "Rikers" Buress dominated Michigan to the point where Carr desperately put David Terrell in the game at CB in an attempt to slow him down.  This did not go well:

So why am I bringing this up?  Well, there was an interesting Detroit Lions Notebook today in the Detroit News: 

(Sidenote - Who knew that Carson Butler was only now being cut from an NFL practice squad?  And who knew that he is still considered a defensive end instead of a tight end?  Ahh Carson, what a weird trajectory your life has taken.) 

But the shocking thing to me from this notebook is that the Lions starting corner named Will James is the former Will Peterson of the 1997 Michigan National Championship team.  He left the program for reasons I can't recall (academics?) and went to Western Kentucky.  Since then he's been in the NFL for 8 seasons and has been a starter for part of that time. 

If you look at that original chart I put up you'll see that he would have been on the team during that post-Woodson void of a lock-down corner.  Maybe he would have been that guy?  It made me wonder what would have been different for Michigan had he been able to stay on the team.  Whitley would have been a good #2 CB and Howard would have been an excellent nickel back. 

So I end this diary with a challenge to the readers:  What other former UM players can you think of who ended up having solid careers but didn't last at Michigan?  Imagine how things could have been different if these players had stayed a full four years.  I'll get you started with some classics:

  • Trevor Pryce - He turned into a dominant NFL pass rusher after leaving Michigan.  If you look at the lack of elite pass rushers in Michigan history you have to wonder how great he could have been had he stayed. 
  • Justin Fargas - Probably the most memorable Michigan defectors of all time, he's had a solid NFL career at RB after he could never figure it out at Michigan and actually spent time at safety before transferring to USC.  I still can't figure out what happened (besides the injury) with his inability to be an effective RB for us.
  • Jon Ritchie - Despite being somewhat of a tool (personal experience from living in West Quad at the same time as him), he became an excellent NFL fullback and would have been a valuable asset for Carr had he finished his career there. 



September 30th, 2009 at 2:43 PM ^

Michigan might well have been a national title contender if Henson had returned for his senior year. Many have indicated that one of the reasons that Steinbrenner was so gung ho to re-acquire and sign Henson to a bigger contract was to ensure that he was not available for the OSU game that year.

03 Blue 07

September 30th, 2009 at 2:19 PM ^

I see a +1 by the guy who said "Boom, Mallett'd." I hope that's not what you're thinking, because, honestly, there are more painful defections. Heck, Boren is a more painful defection- he was considered OSU's best lineman before getting hurt. Mallett wouldn't have made enough of a difference, IME, to improve the team to above .500 last year, and his attitude and overall demeanor make him a net negative to this program. In a time when we needed/still need guys to "buy in" to what we're doing, I just can't see him as being anything more than a cancer who had to go. Hell, Lloyd couldn't stand him. Who knows if he'd had a reformation like Braylon or Crable if Lloyd hadn't retired (Lloyd asked Crable to transfer like 5 times, legend has it) but I think it's highly unlikely Mallett would've ever flourished under Rich Rod. The entire "zone read" concept, which seems to be the backbone of Coach Rod's offense, would have to be either taken out or radically altered given Mallett's slow footspeed. The D end would crash every time, they would tighten up on the bubble screen receiver, and make Mallett challenge the middle linebacker, d linemen, and everyone else on defense to a footrace to the corner. Which would end badly most of the time, I'd imagine. And that's assuming Mallett would buy in, which, well, he wouldn't, given that he transferred once RR was named coach.

If Mallett is the most painful defection, then you're not actually considering "Ryan Mallett" as the defection, because Ryan Mallett is the whole package- including what's between his ears. If it's "Ryan Mallett's talent," well, then perhaps.


September 30th, 2009 at 6:21 PM ^

After previously stealing from a stripper. Later, he was on the verge of being reinstated when he was arrested on drug distribution charges. It was a shame - he was a very talented corner and actually a bright guy (academically speaking).


September 30th, 2009 at 1:34 PM ^

IIRC, made the final tackle in the 1998 Rose Bowl on a hook and ladder pass play which was completed, and WP tackled the trailer after the lateral. Thanks to Will for the tackle and to the OP for the update.

Not to be disagreeable, but I'd bet the most memorable Michigan defector of all time is an offensive lineman from Ohio whose dad played for Bo.


September 30th, 2009 at 1:38 PM ^

that you're thinking that Boubacar might take neagtively to being benched and transfers and ends up with a so so career in the NFL, are you?

I certainly hope you're not going there. He has talent, he's just green and needs better technique.

Pulling him saturday is like pulling a starting pitcher who's getting shelled. You don't want him to lose confidence, but you want him to keep fighting, while trying not to hurt the team's chances of winning.


September 30th, 2009 at 1:42 PM ^

I excluded the likes of Mallet and Boren from this conversation because we have no idea how their careers are going to turn out yet. Though we can all speculate about how much they would have helped last year.

I'm not in any way saying what is going to happen to Cissoko. The previous Diary entry that I linked covers that in far more detail. I still think he'll turn into a competent contributor to the team this year and in the future, though I'm not sure any of us expect him to ever be a shut-down corner.


September 30th, 2009 at 1:43 PM ^

Bowens was one of my favorite players when he was still at Michigan. He came in with DiAllo Johnson from Orchard Lake St. Mary's and was a complete monster. He ended up transferring to Western Illinois after his sophomore year.

He played under Jim Hermann as a LB for the Jets for the last two years and is now with Mangini again as a member of the Browns.

He's never been awesome in the NFL, but he had 40 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception and 2 FF last year.


September 30th, 2009 at 10:28 PM ^

You're missing the point. Why would a player who has spent three years playing wide receiver suddenly decide to switch to quarterback (the hardest position of all to learn) as a senior when he was already a star (and he would have been) at his old position?

QBs may become WRs, but the reverse does not happen. At most, he might've been a wildcat QB last year.


October 1st, 2009 at 12:12 AM ^

He played back up qb for Carr as a freshmen. Lloyd used him as the opposing qb in practice everyday to try and get rid of the whole "We can't defend against a spread qb thing." And the answer is yes with his athleticism he would have been better than threet/sheridan. He would have been a better option than Feagin who unlike Bass wasn't even a good highschool qb.


September 30th, 2009 at 1:50 PM ^

You're correct - he did spend a year at safety and I think he's even played a little safety in the NFL for the Colts.

I think Carr was hoping to end the "Michigan safety-hating-god" era and try to survive with other people at corner so that we could upgrade at safety. Obviously it was a somewhat failed experiment.

It really shows you how bad our safety situation has been over the years when Justin Fargas (a starting NFL RB) and Marlin Jackson (a starting NFL CB) have been tried at the position. That's not to mention two of the safeties Michigan did use (Tommy Hendricks and Cato June) were moved to LB once they got to the NFL.

When will this torture from the safety position end! I long for the days of Tripp Welbourne and Vada Murray!


September 30th, 2009 at 1:52 PM ^

Am I only one that thinks Donavon wasnt a lock down corner last year, and leon Hall wasnt lock down ever. Maybe I just remember getting tooled on by Dewayne Jarrett in the USC game.

Ellerbe is Yoda

September 30th, 2009 at 2:23 PM ^

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you that Hall wasn't quite a "lock-down" corner at Michigan, but has anyone else noticed what he's doing in the NFL this year?

Last two games he matched up against Greg Jennings and then Santonio Holmes. The two of them combined for ONE catch against him. Pretty impressive stuff.


September 30th, 2009 at 2:17 PM ^

Agreed. Not sure some of these guys were "lock-down" corners. Fact is, the list tells us more about our 2nd CBs than it does abour our primary CBs. I think Warren is legit, and really good, and I thought the same of Hall... but the fact that teams rarely challenge(d) those guys says a lot about the lack of depth past our "top tier" CB.


September 30th, 2009 at 2:22 PM ^

If my memory serves me correctly, Fargas broke his leg and the other RB's (A-Train??) stepped up thier games and became dominant. Fargas then had to deal with lingering injury issues and couldn't crack/couldn't get back in the RB rotation. In order to get playing time, he was offered and accepted the DB role.

When he fully healed, and realized he would rather play RB than DB, he transferred to USC.

It wasn't that he couldn't have been effective - we just were loaded at RB at the time and there was no playing time left to share.


September 30th, 2009 at 3:21 PM ^

I remember Fargas being a bone of contention btw the coaching staff and the fans while he was here.

Lloyd would only ever run him outside -- it was so obvious opponents were ready for it and he'd have these long runs to the wide-side sideline for 2 yards.

He had that one breakout game against Northwestern in '98 as a freshman, and fans imagined him as a change-of-pace back for A-Train. Instead, Thomas became a workhorse back while other guys (Clarence Williams, Walter Cross, Fargas) rode the bench. In 2000, however, Chris Perry emerged as junk-time superstar and heir apparent, and Fargas saw the writing on the wall.


September 30th, 2009 at 3:35 PM ^

and was 3rd or 4th on the depth chart his freshman year, getting carries late in game like Vincent Smith this year. He broke his leg against Wisconsin, 10th game of 1998 season. Sat out 1999 rehab, came back to find himself no higher on the depth chart; behind AT, Chris Perry and Walter Cross. Wanted to see the field, asked for switch to defense and then decided to head back to Cali to finish his college career.


September 30th, 2009 at 3:12 PM ^

Thanks for the shout-out.

Here's some guys I've heard about:

Eugene Germany Is a DII star, and has Minnesota-Duluth a surprise in the Top 10.

Cobrani Mixon Was the MAC player of the week for Kent State earlier this year.

Taylor Hill earned a starting job with ISU

Marcus Witherspoon redshirted and has not seen the field (so much for playing early at Rutgers)

James McKinney was dismissed from Louisville before ever playing a down. Don't know where he is now.

The Unmentionable Former Defensive Lineman plays arena football for The Mahoning Valley Thunder. According to local press, he found religion and is a positive role model. Good for him.

Matt Gutierrez played as a backup for the Pats last year and is now a backup QB on the KC Chiefs.

Pierre Rembert who was a fantastic pass blocking RB for M, transferred to Illinois State and was a legendary workhorse back for them. He hung around a few NFL scout teams last year (Green Bay mostly). Don't know where he is this year.

Keston Cheathem was kicked off Oregon State's team for a gun charge.

Avery Horn is the star feature tailback for Reedley College.

Clayton Richard was a stalwart out of the bullpen this year for the Chicago White Sox, before being traded (with others) to the San Diego Padres for Cy Young winner Jake Peavey.

Quintin Patilla is a star at Grand Valley State, and has been playing both ways (DE and TE)

Boren and Mallett you know.

Ali G Bomaye

September 30th, 2009 at 3:30 PM ^

I lived with his cousin in college. Dude said Trevor smoked high quantities of high quality weed. And his cousin seemed to know his way around high quality weed.

Could be unrelated, or it could be one of the reasons he left Michigan (if the coaches got wise to his lifestyle).


September 30th, 2009 at 4:32 PM ^

I hadn't considered Henson for this post but in many ways that's a good one. I think his early departure set Michigan back for a while. Navarre had a pretty impressive overall career but he got thrust into the starting spot long before he should have. And Michigan avoided recruiting some big-name QB's to appease Henson early in his career.

That whole fiasco really annoyed me at the time because of the way Henson handled it. In the end I think he was probably scarred more by the way things turned out than anything....though I'm sure he still rolls around in a pile of money every day.

The Yankees rushed him through the minors too fast because of his price tag, he switched back to the NFL and went to a coach that didn't want him, he got sold out by that coach by getting thrown into playing time with little preparation, and then he's been left for dead by the rest of the league because he's too old to be a prospect.

Hard to turn down the money he did, but it would have been amazing to see what he could have done as a senior and then in the NFL.


October 1st, 2009 at 9:22 AM ^

There was a CONSPIRACY! theory at the time that Steinbrenner, being an OSU man, offered Henson an over-large contract partly to dissuade him from being Michigan's quarterback for what would almost certainly have been a Heisman campaign (did Terrell leave before Henson made his decision, or after?)

Of all CONSPIRACY! theories out there, I have tended to believe this one the most, but that's because I thought Henson was awesome and I hated Steinbrenner and the Yankees, so I'm not the least biased guy out there.

When I was working at Pizza Bobs, Henson would come in every morning of the summer of 2000. He and I would open the place. He wouldn't chat. Anyway, one day he comes in on crutches (the injury would be announced that afternoon) and wearing a Yankees t-shirt, and I'm like "You're killing me, Drew." I kind of knew then that he wouldn't return for his senior season.

FWIW, in baseball circles, by the time he signed that contract there was already deep concern about his plate discipline, and his long swing (YMRMFSPA: Eric Munson), as well as his defensive limitations, which would have likely seen him end up at 1st base or right field. This makes the Steinbrenner thing more plausible -- Cincy was already down on him when he was traded to the Yanks.