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Stadium and Main: 2007 Recruiting Wrap-Up

Saturday, February 10, 2007

2007 Recruiting Wrap-Up

I know I’m late to the party here, but since these guys haven’t even suited up yet, I figure I can still provide some comments that will make me look foolish in the months and years to come. I sometimes like to pretend that I’m an “expert,” and as such, I’ve broken down the class based not only on talent, but also Michigan’s ability (or inability) to fill needs at each position. Starting with best, and descending from there.

And if you’re wondering why Michigan had such bad luck with state of Michigan recruits this year, see my take in the “Random Thoughts” section near the bottom. Thanks for reading, and thanks for visiting after my way-too-long hiatus. On to the show…

The Cream of the Crop

Quarterback

QB Ryan Mallett’s talents have been discussed ad nauseam, so I’ll refrain from fawning over him. After Lloyd announced that he expects Mallett to play this year, the question becomes whether he’ll be a 3-year starter after Henne graduates, or leave early for the NFL after 2009. Since the 2009 schedule looks easier than usual, and the talent level will be high again that year (after a potential “down” year in 2008), it doesn’t seem improbable that Mallett leads us to a BCS Championship (or close to one) and heads to the pros. Prepare yourself mentally now. But I digress…

In short, we filled an urgent need at football’s most important position with a super-tall, strong-armed QB who has the potential to be a legend if he stays healthy and works hard.

Wide Receiver

WRs Junior (a.k.a. “J.R.”) Hemingway and Toney Clemons should end up being major contributors down the road, with Hemingway potentially seeing the field this year. As Brian from mgoblog pointed out, the recruiting rankings and offer lists for these two guys are a bit odd. Hemingway dropped from a 4-star to a 3-star on Rivals for no apparent reason (other than the fact that he committed to a school from the North and them good ol’ boys from the South don’t like that?). Clemons, on the other hand, was a consensus 4-star guy (discounting ESPN, because they’re goofy) but didn’t claim many impressive offers. Rumors that his coach didn’t send out his film because he was pushing Clemons to Pitt, coupled with my Pittsburgh-area friends stating that he is “Braylon Part II” give me a feeling that he will be good. Now, about that Braylon thing... After being suspended for a playoff game, Clemons said:
"It was just a walk-through [practice]. We knew our assignments. We thought we could get a little pass. It was a short walk-through anyway. We went to practices all week and all season. We didn't think they'd mind too much."
To which Lloyd responded:
"Braylon Edwards Toney Clemons and I are not on the same page. And Braylon Toney is a very good reader, so what he needs to do is find what page I'm on and get there. That's all I'm going to say."
Let’s hope he stays out of the doghouse and earns the #1 jersey in the process. Is that too much to ask? Probably.

Technically, WR Zion Babb rounds out the group, but I’m operating under the assumption that Zion Babb eventually moves to Safety, so I’ve included him in the DB group. After watching some video on Babb, it’s clear that he has much more speed than his 4.67 second 40-yard dash would lead you to believe. Unfortunately, there’s only so much playing time to go around. Hence the projected move to Defense.

Even if this WR class only ends up having 2 members, I think it’s best 1-2 punch since David Terrell and Marquise Walker joined the 1997 class. It also leaves room to take a few superstars in the 2008 class, in which Michigan seems to be sitting pretty with WRs.

Wheat, not Chaff

Defensive Back

CB Donovan Warren was thought to be a USC lock, but his commitment to Michigan gave the Wolverines their second and final 5-star recruit. Warren will certainly get playing time this year, it’s just a matter of how much. If I controlled the universe, Warren would have enrolled early, because I think he will be the most important recruit this year. Others will shine down the road, but Warren will be forced to contribute early and often.

CB Michael Williams is projected for the Nickel Back spot, currently occupied by Brandon Harrison. Along with Warren and Mallett, Williams was an Army All-American this year, and seems like a good bet to see the field in 2007. I’m a bit surprised at how unenthusiastic some Michigan fans were about Williams. Any time you can pull a consensus 4-star CB out of California, whilst keeping him away from Notre Dame at the same time, you should be happy. I am.

CB Troy Woolfolk is the son of former Michigan RB Butch Woolfolk, so many fans are just thinking “legacy recruit.” Like his dad, though, he’s pretty fast (another track guy). Speaking of fast dudes, CB James Rogers won the Smokehouse Award as the fastest player at Michigan’s summer camp. Rogers was primarily a RB/WR in High School, but Lloyd announced that he will play CB at Michigan, at least for now. Woolfolk and Rogers will, at least, provide some much-needed speed and depth in the Secondary.

The only true Safety recruit this year is Artis Chamber. Chambers is not a high-level prospect, but somebody thinks he is a great one:
"We think the best kid in the state who got away was the kid out of Fort Wayne (Chambers)," (Purdue Coach Joe) Tiller said. "We really liked him, but he had the Big Blue in his sights. If they offered, no one else was going to get him."
Considering that super-recruit and Michigan de-commitment Jerimy Finch (also a Safety) was from Indiana, too, this is high praise. Let’s hope Tiller knows what he’s talking about. Chambers joins Austin Panter, Ryan Mallett, and Vince Helmuth (discussed below) as an early enrollee. I had originally projected a Redshirt season for him, but he could be another in the long line of Michigan DBs who play Special Teams as Freshmen before seeing any meaningful time in the Secondary.

As mentioned above, I expect WR recruit Zion Babb to move to Safety at some point in his career. While that would put Michigan at 6 DB recruits for this class, Michigan will still be looking for more DB talent in 2008, especially after losing out on top in-state CB recruit Ronald Johnson in what was one of the weirdest recruiting dramas in recent memory. However, the additions of Warren and Williams makes this a very good DB haul.

Defensive Line

DE Ryan Van Bergen was an early commit who might be my favorite recruit this year (not that that means anything). Van Bergen gained more notoriety as the year went on, eventually earning a 4th star from Rivals. Insiders and scouts continually harped on how underrated Van Bergen is/was, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

DT Renaldo Sagesse was originally committed to Illinois, but there was allegedly some issue with their admission of Canadian students (he’s from Quebec) that gave him pause. So, Sagesse gave Michigan a look when the coaches came calling, and changed his allegiance to the Wolverines. He’ll be 20 as a Freshman, which is helpful. It’s just hard to tell how good he is (or could be) since he was playing in the Great White North against presumably sub-par competition. However, there is no knocking his size and speed (6’4”, 320, 4.9 second 40-yard dash). If he has the work ethic, he’ll be a great last-minute addition to the class.

DT Marques Slocum is a name you’ll recognize from the past. Originally unable to get past admissions at Michigan in 2005, Slocum went to Prep School to get his grades up, and is currently a student in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, Slocum will not be able to compete in Spring Practice, but he will play in the Fall, with 4 full years of eligibility to use. A monster of a man, Slocum is projected as an OL by some (especially considering our lack of depth at OT). I just think he’s too good on the DL to make the switch. We shall see. Regardless, I’m very happy he’s a part of this class.

You can never have too much talent on the DL, they say, and I think Michigan has done a good job of stock-piling the players over the past few years. Although this DL class was small, it is high-quality, in my opinion, especially considering the NFL frames on these guys. Long gone are the days of Pat Massey at DT, it seems (that was a cheap shot, I know). Anyway, I’m probably more excited about our DL recruits than most Michigan fans, but you can attribute that to my Van Bergen fanboy status.

Whole Grain Oatmeal

Linebacker

MLB Austin Panter is Michigan’s first Junior College recruit since the infamous WR Russell Shaw (who made more key catches in 1997 than he gets credit for). Nearly a decade after Shaw, Panter is at Michigan, already enrolled in classes, and looks to get lots of playing time this season. Replacing David Harris will be no easy task, and Michigan fans are hoping that Junior John Thompson can fill that role, but if he can’t, Panter will be there to shoulder the load. A JUCO All-American, Panter did not go to Junior College because of grade issues (like most players do), but rather because he grew up playing 8-man football in a small Kansas town. So, he isn’t your average throw-away JUCO recruit, having earned 4 stars from Rivals. Unfortunately, he is your average JUCO recruit in that he only has 2 years of eligibility left. Panter needs to be able to step in and play like a champ, quickly, and his measurables (6’4”, 240, 4.6(!) second 40-yard dash) make him appear to be capable of doing so. Finger’s crossed…

LB Marell Evans is arguably the most “raw” recruit this year. I don’t know much about him other than that he’s from RB Brandon Minor’s High School, and is our only 2-star commit. So, not much to talk about here except the dreaded “upside.” LB Brandon Herron hails from the same High School as CB commit Troy Woolfolk and 2008 WR recruit Darryl Stonum. These two relative unknowns provide depth, but lack the “wow” factor that many Michigan fans were looking for at LB this year. As such, 2008 is “the year of the LB” for Michigan recruiting purposes.

Tight End

TE Martell Webb is ye olde “athletic freak TE who also plays basketball,” while TE Steve Watson is more of a prototypical TE. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Watson grew into an Offensive Lineman (OT?) at some point, but I’d be a bit surprised because his dad was a WR and is the Receivers coach for the Denver Broncos, so I’m assuming the family wants and expects Steve to have the football thrown his way. Webb’s athleticism earned him 4 stars from the two major recruiting services, while Tom Lemming had him as the #34 player overall. These two are good complements to each other (good athleticism and good bloodlines), and fill what was a minor need at TE.

Running Back

RB Avery Horn and FB Vince Helmuth are likely a bit underrated. Fullbacks are rarely highly-rated, but considering Michigan got possibly the best Fullback in the country, who also happens to be a workout nut, I’m satisfied. In the days following Signing Day, Horn has popped up on many Michigan fans’ “most underrated” lists, especially after they took the time to watch his video highlights. His short stature leads to Mike Hart comparisons, but it looks like Horn has more speed and less cutting ability. If he has the vision and instincts to play in a zone blocking scheme at the college level, he could be the surprise of the class.

There was not a huge need at RB this year, with Brandon Minor showing signs that he can be a big contributor. But because Michigan was unable to get a top-rated RB in 2007, they’ll be looking for one or two in 2008.

Curds, but no Whey

Offensive Line

Curds. Just doesn’t sound appetizing, does it? I’m sure that the casein protein contained therein is quite nutritious, but count me out. And count Michigan out when it comes to OL recruiting this year. Center David Molk is a good one, but OT Mark Huyge is a relative unknown. Looking at the depth chart, this puts immense pressure on Michigan to get a few standout OTs in the 2008 recruiting class. If Molk can be our “Center of the future,” as some have stated, or even a quality Guard, and if Huyge can prove to be a diamond in the rough, then this OL class won’t be a complete bust. With Molk having the proverbial “nasty streak,” and Huyge possessing the “good feet” that you look for in an OT, these guys probably deserve a grade of “Incomplete” for now (especially considering that OL is the hardest position to evaluate/project with High School players). Regardless, with only 2 players and 1 OT in the class, Michigan will need both quality and numbers this recruiting season. I prematurely said that 2008 would be “the year of the LB” for Michigan recruiting. Let’s change that to “the year of the OT.”

Random Thoughts

- While this class is ranked lower than many Michigan fans (including myself) had hoped for, it is a decent class. We filled our need at QB with a potentially great one, and we got a CB who should be able to make a difference in the near future. Another super high-quality CB, some more LB help, and one or two highly-ranked OTs would have made it a Top-5 class. As it stands, most experts place the class around 10th or 12th in the nation. I’ll take it. [Note: Recruiting class rankings are inherently flawed, with too much weight being given to quantity over quality (Tennessee signed 32(!) players), but that is a topic for another day.]

- Michigan seems to be continuing to recruit more speed than in the past, and not necessarily worrying about where guys played in High School, or will play at Michigan. Zion Babb and James Rogers fit this mold.

- The state of Michigan had a lot of talent this year, but Michigan was largely shut out. While some view this as a cause for concern, let’s look at some of these players quickly and see what the deal was. I’ll use the Rivals.com Top 13 for the state of Michigan, since these represent the recruits who were given a ranking of 4 stars or higher:

(1) CB Ronald Johnson – Some drama here, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever know the whole story. Michigan was in the driver’s seat, with an alleged “silent verbal,” but then something happened, which allegedly was not Michigan’s fault. Blame his mom, blame “RoJo” himself, blame Lloyd if you really want to. But let’s just move on. He committed to USC.

(2) CB Dionte Allen – Rumored to be a “silent verbal” to Michigan early on. But, he grew up loving Florida State. He visits FSU, Bowden pulls out the preacher song and dance, and Dionte’s gone. Can you blame a kid for committing to his childhood favorite?

(3) DT Joseph Barksdale – Fairly early in the process, Barksdale and Michigan “parted ways.” Was he not “Michigan material?” To suggest so seems arrogant, but as time went on it became clear that Barksdale wanted to get away from home. Hence LSU.

(4) QB Keith Nichol – We wanted Mallett. We got Mallett. Nichol’s very good, but we had bigger fish to fry (no offense to Nichol).

(5) OL Darris Sawtelle – His grandfather played for Tennessee, and he was destined to go there from the start.

(6) LB Chris Colasanti – From Brother Rice, where Michigan traditionally struggles (for some odd reason). A Linebacker who was overwhelmed by the whole “Linebacker U” thing at Penn State.

(7) WR Mark Dell – Michigan never offered him. Again, bigger fish (Hemingway, Clemons).

(8) CB Cedric Everson – Notorious amongst recruitniks for claiming offers that he didn’t have. Michigan never offered. He committed to Georgia Tech. Decommitted for Michigan State. Then decommitted for Iowa on Signing Day. A kid that the coaches were probably told to stay away from, in my opinion.

(9) QB Steven Threet – Many think he would have gotten an offer and would have committed in any other year. But, again, no offer because of Mallett.

(10) DL Ryan Van Bergen – Committed to Michigan fairly early in the process.

(11) WR Taurian Washington – Another “bigger fish” situation. Washington did have a Michigan offer, but some insiders claim that Michigan stopped recruiting him once Hemingway and Clemons committed. There’s other stuff that went on here, but the bottom line is we didn’t really need him.

(12) TE Martell Webb – Committed to Michigan fairly early in the process.

(13) S Quincy Landingham – Michigan never offered him, choosing to go after Chambers and Finch instead.

The final breakdown of the Top 13 in Michigan:
5 of the 13 were never pursued by Michigan for one reason or another (other priorities, lack of talent, character concerns, etc.).

3 of the 13 had “dream schools” that weren’t Michigan. Allen to FSU. Sawtelle to Tennessee. Colasanti to PSU. Once those three stepped foot on those respective campuses, it was game over.

2 of the 13 were initially pursued by Michigan, but ties were eventually severed (more abruptly and clearly in one case (Barksdale) than the other (Washington)).

2 of the 13 committed to Michigan. Both Van Bergen and Webb are possibly the most underrated players on the list, at #10 and #12, respectively. This sounds like homerism, but it’s supported by other rankings (Scout, Tom Lemming, etc.).

1 of the 13 (Johnson) allegedly committed to the Michigan coaches at least once, and all signs pointed to Michigan up until 4 days or so before he announced his college choice. Something happened, but that’s recruiting for you. Stuff happens.
So there you have it. A crazy year, for sure, but also an apparent outlier. If things continue this way in 2008, I’ll have second thoughts. But with Michigan already receiving a verbal commitment from Detroit CB Boubacar Cissoko (the best 2008 recruit in the state, by far) and being high on the lists of players such as OL Dann O’Neill and RB Jonas Gray, I’ll save my meltdown for another day.

Saying “Goodbye”

Farewell, 2007 recruiting. You were exhilarating, frustrating, entertaining, disappointing, and intriguing. Quite similar to the 2006 Michigan Football season, if you ask me. Here’s to a more productive, less stressful 2008.

2 Comments:

Blogger Gorilla said...

Wolverines struggle with Brother Rice because of the coaches and program itself. They are friendlier towards Notre Dame and I believe one of the coaches has a Penn State connection.

Exact opposit of the dearly departed Bishop Gallegher/Trinity, which basically promised PSL kids a shot at Michigan if they played there -- Braylon Edwards, the Curry brothers, etc.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for the insight. I'd always thought the Brother Rice connection to Notre Dame "made sense," but it's still annoying. At least we got Steve Morrison from them.

6:36 PM  

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