HTTV, David Harris, and Kenny Demens

Submitted by Magnus on August 5th, 2012 at 5:40 PM

I've seen many references to this in recent times, including when I was reading HTTV. There seems to be some sentiment around here that Kenny Demens is better than Obi Ezeh but he won't make anyone forget about David Harris. I'm kind of confused why people are down on Demens in that way. He's not Ray Lewis, but David Harris wasn't Ray Lewis, either.

As a junior, David Harris had 88 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, .5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles.

In a comparison of junior seasons, Kenny Demens had 94 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 2 pass breakups.

Those are pretty similar statistics, and while Harris did more in the turnover department, I'm not sure why people are insisting that David Harris was so much better. Demens still has a year to get to that level. He may or may not get there, but I don't think it's really a fair argument to compare the two careers right now.


Blue boy johnson

August 5th, 2012 at 5:49 PM ^

It's called an opinion; you should be quite familiar with the concept.

Much fairer to rip on a high school kid, predicting quitting team because of what you saw on a few minutes worth of video. Now that's fair.


August 5th, 2012 at 6:36 PM ^

I for 1 appreciate it. I had no idea Demons was as close to David Harris, stat wise, his junior year. Pretty cool. I would never take the time to look that kind of info up, so I like having this type of contribution. And even when I disagree, it doesn't mean I don't value the discussion.


August 5th, 2012 at 6:03 PM ^

How is it less fair?  It's equally fair...  You just use the information available to make your best prediction.  Now you can say that there isn't as much information available, which is obviously true, but that doesn't mean it's not fair.  All high school kids have the ability to put tape out there, and the fact of the matter is that's what they are evalutated on.  It's a level playing field.

Telling people what you really think, if you are qualified (which I think Magnus is, since he is a coach) cannot possibly be a bad thing.  Magnus has also always prefaced that he is simply a coach and a fan, not a professional evaluator.  The net effect of having another educated opinion on recruiting is definitely a positive, especially since he doesn't cast everything in a positive light just to get pageviews since he isn't getting paid for doing it.

Should we expect every recruit to not quit the team/pan out/stay out of trouble and be the next Woodson?  Let's just face reality instead of deluding ourselves.


August 5th, 2012 at 5:55 PM ^

I must be completely lost on why people are all over Magnus all of the sudden?  He was talking about a David Harris and Kenny Demens comparison.  What does him watching tape on a high school player have to do with this comparison?  Absolutely nothing.  I appreciate what Magnus contributes to the MGO community.  If you don't like it, then maybe you should review all the game film on high school players and give your opinion.  FWIW, Demens is somewhat of a beast IMO.  I'm excited to see how he has improved this offseason.


August 5th, 2012 at 9:57 PM ^

Agreed. I have never commented much and overall am a fairly new member but the amount of shit he gets is ridiculous. He gives his opinion, one that I like because he is how I would want a coach to be! He doesn't need to say how great players are because he is trying to get interviews from those same players like most evaluators.

The amount of banter on this site is getting out of hand and needs to stop. i recommend either a new points system or bringing back the old "popular" system.

Phil Brickma

August 5th, 2012 at 5:59 PM ^

I think Demens - unfairly - is stuck with a negative stigma because of the GERG defense. Demens is an underrated asset to the defense.

Also, his stache is awesome.

magnus_caerulus (not verified)

August 5th, 2012 at 6:14 PM ^

He is underrated by most of us. Demens really improved last year in my mind. He was much more physical at the point of attack. His coverage skills really improved over the year especially crossing routes and his zone drops.

His second year with Mattison and co. I see more consistency and doing better against spread teams. I am really excited to see him play against Air Force. LB's and CB's can have a lot fun against option teams.

I firmly submit he could be a 2nd rounder in the right circumstances, most likely 3-4 rounder.


August 5th, 2012 at 6:03 PM ^

1. The 2006 defense was loaded with NFL level talent making it harder to come by tackles.

2. Stats don't show where those tackles were made or how they were made. Harris was almost always in the right place and a major reason why team rushed for almost nothing week after week.

3. Stats don't show blown assignments. Demens missed his assignment on numerous occasions or got blocked clean out of the play plenty of times. Harris was a machine and even if couldn't make the tackle he held his spot better than most college LB's I have seen. He almost never made major mistakes and controlled the defense.

David Harris is a pro bowl LB for a reason and one of the most underrated players ever to wear a Michigan uniform. Demens career isn't over yet but it will take an enormous leap for him to get to Harris' level, in my opinion.


August 5th, 2012 at 6:08 PM ^

Good points; I would only argue about the first one.

You could argue that other good players means they are taking tackles away from the LB, but you could also argue that having a better defense around you doing their jobs (e.g. line occupying blockers) puts the LB in a better position to make the tackle.

I'm not sure which is necessarily true, but I can see it either way, especially since my understanding is that most defenses are meant to free up LBs to make the tackle.


August 5th, 2012 at 6:09 PM ^

1. I could argue that Demens had to make more tackles than he should have because of less talent around him, so maybe he had to run farther or maybe he couldn't make some tackles on the interior because Jake Ryan couldn't hold the edge.  I don't see this as a viable argument.

2. Some stats show where those tackles were made.  Demens had more sacks, meaning he took down the QB behind the line.  They had the same number of tackles for loss.

3. Do you have a UFR that tells you how many times Harris blew an assignment during his junior season?  He may have been a "machine" and "held his spot better," but are you remembering a junior David Harris or a senior David Harris?


August 5th, 2012 at 8:17 PM ^

I read all the '05 UFRs.  By my recollection,  Harris and Branch were the breakout players on that defense, obviously so.  Pat Massey was perhaps the worst defensive tackle in the UFR era and that was deeply problematic for that defense, particularly for Harris.

I also wrote in the '08 HTTV specifically about the level of talent Harris represented and how difficult replacing him would be.  I scouted a number of games from '05 and '06 specifically to write the thing.

Now, the difference between what I know about football now and then is pretty great.  But I would be very surprised if Demens measured up to Harris.  Neither his instincts nor his athleticism are as good Harris to my eye.  Harris' ability to avoid blocks remains as good as I've seen since I've been tracking M football.

Demens is not a bad football player, but David Harris was remarkable and his talent was as obvious as you'd guess from a player drafted as high as he was and who's since gone on to such accolades.


August 5th, 2012 at 8:46 PM ^

Massey had 31 tackles, 1 sack, 2 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble in 2005.

His counterpart (Heininger) had 23 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pass breakup in 2011.

Obviously, statistics don't tell the whole story.  But it's not like the 3-tech was stellar in 2011.  And besides that, the NT and SDE have more of an impact on the MLB than the 3-tech does.  Plays run toward the 3-tech/WDE are going to be more in the area of the WILL (a.k.a. Desmond Morgan), although obviously it's going to overlap a bit.


August 5th, 2012 at 9:26 PM ^

I went back and re-read some of the UFRs and I think it's fair to say I overstated my case re: Harris' instincts somewhat.  But not at all the case against Massey.  Brian makes it abundantly clear that he was the biggest culprit on that defense, with injury and Burgess as runners up.

From Brian's '06 preview:

Harris was a player. He led the team in tackles, making a fair number of them near or behind the line of scrimmage. He was tasked with spying Drew Stanton during the Michigan State game and flashed his speed against Penn State when he tracked down Derrick F-ing Williamson an end around. His UFR number was +8 that game, a monster. Though Harris tailed off towards the end of the year, he's established himself as one of the Big Ten's better linebackers and certainly the best Michigan has.

(Oh snap mgoblogspot nostalgia flashback.) The last sentence is pretty much the claim that I'd make.  I'm not sure I'd say the same for Demens last season or not, but I lean towards "not".  They are decidedly different athletes.  Harris ran a 4.6 at the combine and he was evidently just about that fast as a junior.  From an instincts perspective, Harris showed flashes that I don't think Demens matched.  



August 5th, 2012 at 9:46 PM ^

This is also enlightening re: your use of tackle numbers.  From the PSU '05 UFR:

Why does Mason lead the team in tackles? Because he can't tackle. Is this causing a spiritual awakening in anyone? Someone should be getting enlightened around about... now. What the hell am I talking about? Well, Penn State made a concerted effort to throw short routes against him, relying on their ability to break his tackles to pick up significant yards. This worked. Wait until you see the chart. I think this has been happening with increasng frequency as the year moves along and more and more film of Mason lunging ineffectually at people dashing past him become available. Mason is facing a ton of short routes run at him by teams looking for easy yards. He's pretty good in coverage but I think he's another reason our outside containment on running plays has ranged from abominable to "don't look at the Ark" this year.

That is, making tackles is not the same thing as being good at tackling.  Teams run plays in order to exploit the worst defenders.  Burgess, Massey and the non-Hall secondary members struggled to make tackles.

You have tackle totals.  You don't have opportunities to make a tackle.  Without the appropriate denominator, we can't normalize the totals appropriately and we can't really be sure what they mean.  Scouting data is far more valuble in these situations and what we have here are in favor of Harris.  Similarly, what we know about Harris' subsequent career absolutely should color our perception of his '05, adjusted for aging.  Athletes across most sports seem to peak from 25-29, improving somewhat until then and declining thereafter.  

So just because we don't know what Demens will do doesn't mean we shouldn't assume he won't ever be--or has been--as good as Harris.  So few athletes perform to Harris' level that assuming that Demens hasn't been as good until he proves otherwise is sound.  At least that's what I'm pretty sure a Bayesian would say.


August 5th, 2012 at 10:05 PM ^

I see what you're saying in regard to cornerbacks, but I don't think it applies so much when talking about middle linebackers.  The ball must be run left, right, or up the middle.  I know you're making a general point, but the cases are different.

It's fine to assume that Demens won't be as good, but the individual players' statistics don't back you up.  You're sort of relying on philosophy and probability rather than what has happened with the subjects in question.

Overall, I get what you're saying.  And you're basically admitting that you don't really have an argument outside of "I've seen them both play, and Harris was better."  That's perfectly fine and an honest response, and I mean no offense by putting it that way.  But when it comes down to it, I think a lot of people who might say "Demens is nowhere near David Harris" are speaking more out of nostalgia for Harris than any true insight into how their talents compare.

And yes, that last sentence is just as presumptuous as the statement I'm questioning.  I realize that.

EDIT: By the way, Colin, I always appreciate your comments.  You're a very thoughtful contributor, even if we don't quite see eye to eye.


August 6th, 2012 at 12:48 AM ^

Same, I read TTB all the time.

I just deleted a whole bunch of paragraphs that just rehashed the whole thing and it added annoyingly little clarity. Instead, I summarize the issue like so:

You feel you're working with what feels like concrete data so you're not likely to be swayed by what seems like a lot of guesswork. I'd argue the opposite is actually true given what we collectively know for certain: I'm working with more concrete (but non-numerical) data. Given your prior assumptions, my approach wasn't going to be very convincing. If I really wanted to convince you, I'd delve into the variance of tackling numbers and that just doesn't seem that appealing.

But, if it interests you, the data is online at bentley. If tackles per game correlate significantly year to year and correspond to draft status, I might be swayed. It's a complex undertaking, so feel free to say fuck that noise like I did.

Sten Carlson

August 5th, 2012 at 6:17 PM ^

@ Ari,

I agree, for the most part, with one issue.

In re: #1, I think the quality of the 2006 defense, as a whole, could be looked at from the other side of the coin, i.e., there were so many great players on that defense, that Harris looked better than he might have been simply by the squad being so talented.  I am not saying I ascribe to this idea, just that it could be looked at that way.  Further, it brings up what Phil brought up -- Kenny's game is a product of being on the worst defense in Michigan history.

All that said, I agree with you Ari that Harris was far superior to Kenny thus far -- and agree with your points about the specifics of his game/talents.  I wish Kenny had been able to learn under Mattison since he was a freshman.  I think he's a heck of an instinctive LB, but his game lacks the polish that having top quality coaching would have developed.  However, I expect big things from him this season despite his limitations.  If there is a DC out there knows how to get the most out of an LB, while not asking him to do things that he cannot do, it is Mattison. 


August 5th, 2012 at 6:38 PM ^

And I should have posted my feelings on that point in the first post. While you can argue that better complimenting players help the defense as a whole I believe that when the majority of the players around you are bad, decent to good players tend to make a LOT of plays simply because nobody else is there to make them. Case in point is Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs is a good player but do you think he would be about to break the all-time tackle record for a DB at Michigan if he didn't play on some terrible defenses? I don't think so.


August 5th, 2012 at 7:16 PM ^

Yes, safeties making a lot of tackles is bad but having a stud D-line that made a ton of tackles didn't help Harris' stats.

I also completely disagree that bad middle LB's make a ton of tackles. They make more tackles than say a bad cornerback but they certainly make a lot less than a good middle LB.


August 5th, 2012 at 7:30 PM ^

Terrance Taylor (2006): 23 tackles
Alan Branch (2006): 25 tackles
LaMarr Woodley (2006): 36 tackles
Rondell Biggs (2006): 16 tackles
TOTAL: 90 tackles

Mike Martin (2011): 64 tackles
Will Heininger (2011): 23 tackles
Ryan Van Bergen (2011): 45 tackles
Craig Roh (2011): 32 tackles
TOTAL: 164 tackles Harris's defensive line sucked up a ton of his tackle opportunities, but somehow Demens's starting defensive line made 74 more tackles?

The statistics aren't really backing up your argument.  In fact, the statistics indicate that Demens made more tackles DESPITE the fact that his defensive line was much more productive.


August 5th, 2012 at 7:59 PM ^

What if the D-line was more productive last year because we have 3 coaches who love linemen. English was a secondary guy from what I remember. Mattison loves the line if I remember correctly, and we all know Hoke was a d-line coach and we have Montgomery. I would imagine the d-line gets more in depth time nowadays. I do agree that Demens has been quietly very productive and he compares favorably with Harris.

Also, it's hard for anyone to argue against Demens by lauding Harris' NFL production. Demens hasn't made it that far yet, so we have no baseline to compare them on. With the comparisons we can make, the statistical edge has to go to Demens. In 5 years we can all come back and rehash this after we see if Demens has been productive in the NFL.


August 5th, 2012 at 10:09 PM ^

serious question..did we have any 5 tech d-lineman to compare to Martin?... I dont think we used true nose tackles in the past..and it seems that more gap responsibility would equal more tackes for a good player.  Also i feel like teams pushed the run against us alot ove the last few years


August 5th, 2012 at 8:40 PM ^

"Demens is no where near David in comparing both Junior campaigns and therefor Kenny Skeptic will exist until he does something about it."

...except Demens's statistics were on par with Harris's in every category except creating/forcing fumbles.