Saturday, December 10, 2016

Michigan's Top Pro Prospects

Most non-starters and any first-year players are not included on this list, and there are definitely no freshmen. There simply isn't enough information on those guys like that yet to make an honest evaluation, and most of them are not even eligible to enter the draft anyway. Also, not all these guys will be declaring for the draft this year, so expect some guys come back to attempt raising their draft stock.

Jabrill Peppers #5
1. LB/DB Jabrill Peppers (RSo) - There is no better athlete and football player on the team right now, and there are very few in the country in his class. And although he did say he wasn't "leaving Ann Arbor without a degree", it would be hard to hold it against him if he does decide to come out after this year. He looks like a sure-fire first rounder who will blow scouts away in workouts. He is a natural defender with the strength to consistently play up in the box and the speed and quickness to make plays in deep space. He will probably be more of a safety in the pros, but playing linebacker, cornerback, or running back aren't out of the realm of possibilities either. He can return kicks too, having lead the nation in punt return yards. Projection: Top 15


Jourdan Lewis #6
2. CB Jourdan Lewis (Sr) - You won't find a better guy in coverage than Lewis, and he can stick a tackle on most ballcarriers. His size has been somewhat of a concern for pro scouts and it might keep him out of the first round. At worst he looks like a second rounder. Personally, I believe he has been the best player on the Michigan roster since his sophomore year. He will perform well at the combine too, mark my words, and some team picking late on day one will be willing to add him to thier roster. Projection: First Round
Taco Charlton #33

3. DE Taco Charlton (Sr) - Another guy that could go early, Charlton has all the size (6'6"/276lbs) and ability that the scouts are looking for in an end prospect. He has played second fiddle as a backup throughout his career - with only four starts to his resume before 2016, but he has always made the most of his opportunities. To top it all off, he just put up a big senior campaign that saw him nab nine sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. He had his biggest game against rival Ohio State, in which he posted 2.5 sacks and three TFL's. That will get not get lost on NFL coaches and scouts. Projection: First Round 

Chris Wormley #43
4.  DL Chris Wormley (5th) - Has been an active defender as a strong-side end and tackle for the Wolverines over the last three years and he had a big senior campaign, posting 5.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, and two blocked kicks. He has the size (6'5"/300lbs), athleticism, and versatility that gets pro scouts excited. If all goes well for him between now and April he could go somewhere in the middle to late first round. He looks like a safe bet to at least go early in the second and I would consider him a steal in the third. If he shows off some natural strength and athleticism at the combine he could soar high on draft boards. Projection: Second Round


Jake Butt #88
5. TE Jake Butt (Sr) - No other tight end in the conference ran better routes or made plays on jump balls better than Butt over the last three years. He is sneaky fast with just enough speed to create space downfield and he adjusts very well to the ball. Most of his work comes in the short and intermediate range against linebackers and safeties but he possesses enough athleticism to make plays on the perimeter against good college corners. A selection in the late first round or early second seems probable, but a sub-par workout at the combine could drop him into the third. Projection: Jake Butt's draft projection is up in the air at this point due to the fact that he injured his knee in the Orange Bowl. It was rather a cheap low shot by an FSU player that was later ejected for targeting in the second half. Good thing Butt took out a $4 million insurance policy before the game. He will start collecting on some of it if he slides past the second round. 

5.  DT Maurice Hurst Jr. (RJr) - Not the biggest guy at 6'2"/285lbs, but he has a lot of quickness and a seemingly non-stop motor. He hasn't gotten as much of an opportunity to showcase his skills this year due to the abundance of talent along the line, but he still made a case for himself to enter the draft this winter. Like Cole, Hurst is another guy that would benefit from coming back for his final year of eligibility to prove that he can be a team leader and winner in his own right. If all goes well his stock could soar in 2018, thus earning him millions more than he would as a third or fourth round pick. Projection: Hurst is coming back for his final season of eligibility. With another good showing he could push himself into being a first round pick in 2018.

6. OC Mason Cole (Jr) - The Wolverines' best lineman has started every game at either left tackle and center since stepping foot on campus three years ago. Cole is a technician who understands the game and rarely makes the same mistake twice. He could be a first-round selection if he stays another year and keeps improving, but he has a shot at getting drafted early right now. Projection: Cole has opted to stay for another season. That is huge for a team that is looking quite thin on the line at the moment. He too could sniff the first round with a stellar senior campaign.


8. NT Ryan Glasgow (5th) - Isn't necessarily an imposing nose tackle at 6'3"/295lbs, but Glasgow is a lunchpail guy who possesses all the hustle, strength, and technique to be a disruptive on a any level of play. If he stays healthy and continues on his current trajectory he should go in the third round. Like his brother Graham, he has gone from a walk-on at Michigan to one of the best overall players at his position in the Big Ten. That should say a lot to most people about his work ethic, especially when you consider how loaded the Wolverines have been at defesnsive tackle over the last few years. Projection: Fourth Round

9. WR Amara Darboh (5th) - Got overshadowed by Chesson late last season but still led the team in receptions (58), including two 100-yard games. He capped off his career at Michigan with a great final year under Harbaugh, leading the team in all major receiving categories. He was fourth in the conference with 826 yards and seven TD's. He possesses very good size (6'2"/215lbs) and just enough speed to compete downfield. He is also considered a leader on and off the field. If he tests out well enough and runs a sub 4.5 forty then he could go as high as the second round. I am willing to bet he doesn't make it past the fourth. Projection: Fourth Round

10. LB Ben Gedeon (Sr) - The team leader in tackles for his final year, Gedeon is another player that hasn't been a fulltime starter throughout most of his career at Michigan. He has always made the most of his opportunities though, and has garnered playing time since he arrived in Ann Arbor. A big-time combine performance could really elevate his stock. At the moment he seems destined for mid-to-late round consideration and he will initially make a roster based on very good special teams play. Projection: Sixth Round 

11. WR Jehu Chesson (5th) - There were high expectations on Chesson having a big senior year. Unfortunately, he struggled while recovering from an injury sustained back in January and never seemed to get into a groove. If he runs a sub 4.4 forty at the combine - he is reportedly Michigan's fastest player - and jumps out of the gym in all of his pre-draft workouts, he could go as high as the third round, but his lack of consistency is a little bit concerning for NFL scouts. The most overlooked part of his game is his ability and willingness to block on the perimeter. That will help his stock. Projection: Sixth Round 

12. Channing Stribling (Sr) - With good size (6'2"/183lbs), Stribling plays well in zone coverages and can also play man well enough to not be a liability. He doesn't really jump off the screen at you and has been prone to some miscues and injuries, but he has all the raw ingredients to become a mid to late round steal. Harbaugh himself said he could see Stribling playing 10 years in the NFL. Projection: Seventh Round

13. FB/TE Kahlid Hill (RJr) - Hill appears to be able to do it all and he will get his fair share of opportunities blocking, receiving, and rushing the ball. He currently is the team leader in rushing TD's (8) and Harbaugh has already given him endorsement as an NFL-quality player. Some day soon he will take that to the bank, but with another year of eligibility left there is a good chance it won't be this winter. Projection: Hill is coming back to help lead the team for his final season.
14. RB De'Veon Smith (Sr) - Though his stats do not jump off the page at you, Smith has been a steady player since his freshman year and has led the team in rushing three years in a row. His ten touchdowns in 2016 coupled with some dominant perfomances against Florida, Penn State, and Indiana in the last year will help his stock. He lacks the elite athleticism and speed to be a top prospect at the position, but he possesses a lot of natural strength and balance. He has always displayed good hands too, rarely fumbling and catching 32 passes (one receiving TD) over the last two years. Somebody will give him a chance to prove he can carry the ball for them. Projection: Seventh Round

15. OT Erik Magnusson (5th) - A solid veteran player with decent size (6'6"/305lbs), mobility, and versatility to play inside or out. Don't expect him to be able to handle starting left tackle duties against the NFL's elite pass-rushers or move 350lbs nose tackles off the line of scrimmage, but he could be a backup swingman or find a home as a starting right tackle in the right system. He could also play guard and possibly even center. He doesn't do anything extremely well but he doesn't really make a lot of mistakes either. If he can clean up some technique issues he could tourn out to be a late round steal. Projection: Seventh Round 

Rookie Free Agents:

  • CB Jeremy Clark
  • RB Ty Isaac
  • LB Mike McCray II - Coming back
  • DT Bryan Mone (RSo) - Coming back
  • OG Kyle Kalis (5th)
  • OG Ben Braden (5th)
  • S Delano Hill (5th)
  • S Dymonte Thomas (Sr)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The season is over, and I still don't want to talk about it. It's time to look towards Florida State.

Go Blue!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Midseason Report

Key Injuries:

CB Jeremy Clark and OT Grant Newsome are out for the season.
RB Drake Johnson is questionable going forward.
DT Bryan Mone and LB Noah Furbush are cleared to play.
RB Kareem Walker is out due to academic issues and will most-likely redshirt this year.

Losing Clark, one of the top corners so far in the Big Ten this year, is indeed a big loss. He will be missed in nickel and dime packages. The starting lineup doesn't change though (Lewis and Stribling), and there are several viable candidates that can step up to fill the void behind them. Newsome's loss could have more of an impact on the team, particularly the offense. Beyond those two players the team should be at full strength coming out of the bye week.


Offense:

Starting quarterback Wilton Speight keeps growing into his role and is producing more than Jake Rudock was at this time last year. If he keeps on the same trajectory he will be primed for a big finish. As it stands, Michigan is second in the nation with 50 points per game and Speight is fourth in the conference with an 11-2 TD to INT ratio, which is tops in the conference. And if he ever stumbles or falls due to injury we need not worry too much, as both Shane Morris and John O'Korn have received playing time with an average passer rating of about 151 between the two of them. And let's not forget that Jabrill Peppers has taken some snaps at QB too. While he has not completed a pass, he has rushed the ball five times for 98 yards and two scores. The argument could easily be made that there is no team in the Big Ten with as much depth at the position as Michigan.

The running backs have been outstanding. Freshman Chris Evans leads the team with 400 yards and three scores. His 8.3 yards per carry average is good enough for 10th in the nation. Starter De'Veon Smith is second on the team with 336 yards and two TD's (5.5 yards per carry), which is a big improvement over the last two years as the team's primary back. Expect to see more production from him as we move into the second half of the season. Ty Isaac has four TD's and is averaging an additional 50 yards per game on the ground. The biggest surprises, however, have been starting fullback Kahlid Hill and second-year back Karan Higdon. Hill actually leads the team with seven rushing TD's and Higdon is second on the team with five. Higdon also has 7.2 yards per carry on 35 attempts, which puts him at 29th in the nation in that category. Needless to say, this group has been ultra-productive and has negated the need for any huge passing performances from the quarterbacks. Of course, a lot of credit should go to the O-line for providing a lot of push up front and opening up some holes big enough to drive a truck through.

At receiver, Amara Darboh is having a fantastic season. He currently leads the team in all major categories, including receptions (25), yards (400), and TD's (5). He has really stepped up as opposing defenses have tried to focus on stopping the run. TE Jake Butt is just behind him with 23 receptions and three TD's. Jehu Chessson, last year's team MVP, has had a slow start to the season with only 15 catches and one score. He does have another score on a reverse, but his lack of production has some fans bothered. There is no need to worry though, as he had a slow start to the season last year before having a monster finish. There simply just isn't enough balls to go around at the moment, as 17 different players have caught at least one pass and six different players have caught at least one TD. The fact that the coaches are seeking to spread the ball around so well bodes well for the remainder of the season, as defenses will be scrambling to figure out who to focus on covering.

The offensive line has been very impressive. They have repeatedly shown the ability to adjust to various defensive schemes and appear to be as equally adept at run-blocking as they are pass-blocking. With Newsome out the depth begins to run a little thin, but the coaches do have options if somebody else were to go down. Juwann Bushell-Beatty has done a good job filling in at left tackle, and backups Patrick Kugler, Ben Bredeson, Michael Onwenu, and David Dawson have all performed well when given a chance to play. Everybody played against Rutgers and gained a little experience albeit against a terrible defense. Every little bit of experience will count as the season moves along.

The Bottom Line: Harbaugh and his staff are proving themselves to be offensive geniuses. Just two years ago this was one of the worst offensive teams in the country. Today they are simply one of the most efficient in the game. They simply produce a lot of points, which is the overall goal of the offense right? Indeed.


Defense:

Right now - at the midseason mark - the Wolverines' defense is statistically the best in the nation. They rank first in scoring by allowing only 10.3 points per game. They also rank first against the pass with 113.7 yards allowed per game through the air. And while they are not ranked quite as high against the run, they are still ninth in the nation with 99.17 yards allowed per game on the ground. Those are outstanding numbers regardless of who the team has played thus far this season. And just to make things interesting, if you add the Citrus Bowl win against the reigning SEC East Champ Florida Gators back in January, the defense is still only allowing 119.6 passing yards and 101.8 rushing yards per game in their last seven outings. The numbers actually improve in the scoring category by dropping to 9.9 points allowed per game. I wouldn't expect those number to stay that low with some quality offenses still ahead on the schedule, but the unit as a whole is primed to carry the team through the rest of the season.

Even without Clark in the lineup, this secondary is one of the best in the nation. They have continuously shutdown opponents and come up with big plays. CB Jourdan Lewis has returned to his All-American form with three pass breakups, one tackle for a loss, and one highlight reel INT to close out the game against Wisconsin. Opposing teams tried to test him immediately after he sat out the first three games with an injury, but he held his own and has made everybody think twice about looking his way. The problem is that the guy on the other side of the field, Channing Stribling, has also been playing at an All-Conference level. He currently leads the team with three INT's, including one pick-six, and five pass breakups. Look for those numbers to improve as teams avoid throwing at Lewis down the stretch. The one spot in the secondary where at least one team, being Colorado, has had some real success is deep down the middle over the safies. The Buffaloes hit on a few big plays over there and put up 21 points on them, but they have since shutdown that area of the field once conference play opened up. It is worth mentioning here that the Buffs are currently ranked 22nd in passing yards and 13th in total offense, so giving up some big plays to them is not as bad as it might seem. Dymonte Thomas is fourth on the team in tackles (29) and he also has three pass breakups and QB hurry. Fellow safety Delano Hill has been a leader and is currently the only other player besides Stribling with a pick-six. Look for teams to attempt testing the safeties a little more through the final six games as they search desperately for a weakness to exploit.

The problem with looking to go deep on this defense though, is that nobody is getting much time to look downfield. Because as good as the secondary has been, the D-line has been even better. They have simply blown up blocking schemes and terrorized QB's, as they are tied with the Washington Huskies for tops in the nation with four sacks per game. Taco Charlton paces the team with four, despite missing the first few games with an injury. He is looking more like a high draft pick with every game he plays. Chris Wormley is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. Maurice Hurst leads the D-line tackles for a loss (5.5) while Chase Winovich is fifth on the team in tackles (22). The most amazing thing about those stats is that only Wormley and Charlton are actually considered full-time starters. In other words, the coaches have been rotating players and getting production from everybody that is playing. Though starting nose tackle Ryan Glasgow might not lead the team in any statistical categories, his leadership off the field and play on it have been crucial components to any success the defense is experiencing. He too is raising his own NFL draft stock with each passing week. The biggest surprise of all though, might be the play of fifth-year senior Matt Godin. He has started some games and garnered a lot of playing time the last few weeks. He currently ranks seventh on the team with 17 tackles and also has 2.5 TFL's and one sack. Not bad for a guy that was on nobody's radar for being an impact player on this defense. Freshman Rashan Gary has also been good and is helping to make this the deepest line in the conference.

Of course, you cannot mention Michigan's defense without talking about Jabrill Peppers. He has been all over the field as a linebacker/safety, leading the team with 10 tackles for a loss. He also has 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five QB hurries, and a forced fumble. Nobody has even attempted to challenge him in the passing game yet so no real opportunities for pass break-ups or INT's have come up. That is probably a smart move by opposing QB's and offensive coordinators. Fellow linebacker Ben Gedeon is the only player that has more tackles than Peppers with 47 to his credit. Gedeon also has three sacks, one QB hurry, one pass breakup, and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He too could be an All-Conference selection. Mike McCray is third in tackles (31) and is the only linebacker with an INT. He also has three pass breakups, five tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble while placing third on the team with 31 total tackles. Overall, the linebackers have been a major strength for the team and they are much improved after returning no starters from last year's squad.


Special Teams:

Jabrill Peppers still leads the nation with 249 punt return yards. He also has one TD and was close to bringing a couple more to the house. To put it simply, it's just a bad idea to punt the ball to this guy. If he keeps it up he will go down as Michigan's greatest return man of all-time.

Kenny Allen has been great as the team's punter, with a 43 yard per punt average. However, he has had a lot of struggles kicking field goals, hitting on only four of his eight attempts. He is not the only one though, as Ryan Tice missed his only attempt too. Every fan in Wolverine Nation is just hoping that gets resolved and doesn't come back to bite us all in the ass. Allen did hit on 81% of his attempts last season, so there is a good chance he bounces back in the second half of the season. If not, the kicking duties might fall on the shoulders of true freshman Quinn Nordin, who has yet to play due to an injury. Ryan Tice is the only other player besides Allen with a field goal attempt thus far, and he missed it too.

The Bottom Line: The Wolverines can return kicks and have no problem kicking the ball to the other team, but they desperately need to find some consistency in hitting field goals. We have already seen Harbaugh go for it on fourth downs a few times this year already, and with the success they've been having it would come as no shock to see them continue to do it more over the course of the season. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Season Update: Final Thoughts Before the Big Ten Schedule

Injuries: 

Jourdan Lewis, Taco Charlton, David Long, Bryan Mone, Drake Johnson are all questionable.
Noah Furbush is doubtful.
Kareem Walker is out due to an academic issue.

What do all these injuries mean? In the grand scheme of things, they really don't mean much. None of them seem to be season-ending. I like to think that the coaches have been extra cautious. There is no reason to rush a player in to "knock off the rust off", especially any All-Americans. That would be ludicrous. It's a long season. We need those guys later in the year and we were able to get by Hawaii, UCF, and Colorado just fine without them.

Offense:

The offense has shown a level of proficiency that we have not seen in a very long time, particularly in the passing game. QB Wilton Speight has proven to possess very good patience and awareness in the pocket, hitting on 64% of his passes for 8.5 yards per attempt, eight TD's, and only one INT. Though he did look shaky in the first half against a fired up Colorado defense, he settled down and helped the offense put up 37 points on the board.

Say what you want about the level of talent on the Buff's roster, that defense looks like it could be a formidable unit in the Pac-12 this year. They currently rank 4th in the country in yards allowed. Cheers to the offense for figuring out how to beat them.

Speaking of beatings, De'Veon Smith is quietly having a great start to the season. The guy has split carries with Chris Evans, Ty Issac, Karan Higdon, and Kahlid Hill, but he has provided some signature highlight plays that epitomize exactly what his game is all about. Despite a light work-load of just 27 carries in three games, Smith has averaged 5.6 yards per rush. He delivered a beautiful 42 yard TD run to help seal the win in the second half against the Buffs. Look for his production to improve in regards to yards and TD's, especially if defenses start respecting the passing game a little more. Smith has sustained lower body injuries the last two years. There is hope that with more rest early in the season that he will be more effective deeper in the conference schedule.

Speaking of the passing game, All-American tight end Jake Butt and wide-outs Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Grant Perry have all lived up to their billing as potential All-Conference players this season. Nobody has been able to contain this group since last November. Collectively, they are averaging 204 yards per game and 2.5 TD's per game over the course of their last four games, dating back to the Citrus Bowl win over the Gators on New Year's Day.

The one thorn some fans and talking heads have festering in their sides is in regards to the offensive line. It has been expressed that they don't look physical enough, particularly in the run-game. They have also allowed five sacks. However, I see no need to worry. The unit has done a very good job adjusting to everything that has been thrown at them. It was obvious that UCF and Colorado were committed to stopping the run. Both teams attempted to clog up running lanes with eight, and even nine defenders, and utilizing stunts and run-blitzes to attack the line of scrimmage. There has just been very little room to run over the last three games, so the offense has had to take advantage of the mismatches downfield. Overall, the offensive line has been solidly doing their job. It's hard to argue against me when you consider that the Wolverines average margin of victory over their last four opponents - Florida, Hawaii, UCF, and Colorado - is a whopping 37 points, and the run-game has averaged 204.5 rushing yards and nearly three (2.75) rushing TD's per game in that same stretch. And despite all the odds, the Wolverines are currently averaging 4.9 yards per carry as a team thus far on the season. Those are not the statistics of a terrible offensive line. This unit should be a strength moving forward into the season, especially during the team's busy road schedule in the later portion of the schedule.

Some of the early offensive standouts include:
  • WR Amara Darboh - Averaging 20.4 yards per catch on 10 receptions; has 4 receiving TD's
  • TE Jake Butt - Averaging 5 receptions and one TD per game; has 192 yards; has been wide open a lot on underneath crossing routes
  • RB Chris Evans - Averaging 7.5 yards per carry on 21 attempts; leads the team with 157 yards rushing; has 2 rushing TD's
  • RB De'Veon Smith - (see above)
  • FB Kahlid Hill - 3 rushing TD's; provided not one but TWO key blocks on Smith's 42 yard TD run last Saturday
  • QB Wilton Speight - Averaging 229 passing yards per game while only playing 3/4 of each game; has 8 TD's to only one INT; has completed 51 straight passes without an INT (his first pass attempt of the season was the only INT)
  • RB Karan Higdon - Is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 4 attempts per game; has one TD
  • WR Eddie McDoom - Is averaging 11 yards per carry while running reverses (5 attempts)

Defense:

Well, first things first here, let's start with the obvious: Jabrill Peppers is indeed the real-deal-Holyfield. He is currently ranked 1st in the nation in tackles for a loss with 9.5 to his credit. He is also 4th in the nation in punt returns, with 21.6 yards per return. He actually beats every other player ranked in the top 10 by two more total returns. The next closest is six. The three players ranked ahead of him in terms of average yards per return have a much smaller sample with only 16 total returns between them all. Jabrill has half that by himself. That tells me that the Wolverine defense is doing its job. They are forcing teams to punt and therefore putting Peppers in a position to make a play. This could very well be a real problem for opponents all year long. Oh, and Peppers also has a TD on a punt return already this year, as well as 24 yards on only two carries on offense. The guy is dangerous in all phases of the game. And anybody worried about him getting worn down might want to consider the fact that the defense overall is currently ranked #1 in the nation on third down, allowing only a 10.5% conversion rate. They are also #1 in the red zone having only allowed opponents three total trips down down there and only giving up one score. They are also #3 in total tackles for a loss with 31 and are tied for 10th in the nation in sacks (11). Those are great numbers.

Some early standouts have been:
  • LB/S Jabrill Pepeprs - (see above)
  • LB Mike McCray II - Tied for 3rd in the conference in sacks (2.5); tied for 9th in the entire nation in tackles for a loss (4.5); has a forced fumble; #3 in conference with 3 passes defended
  • LB Ben Gedeon - 2nd on the team and 4th in the conference in tackles (25); 8th in the conference in tackles for a loss (4); 2 sacks
  • DL Rashan Gary - The Freshman All-American candidate is averaging 4 tackles per game; has 3.5 tackles for a loss and a half sack - he is everything he was said to have been as the #1 recruit coming out of high school.
  • DE Chase Winovich - 2 tackles for a loss; 4th on the team with 1.5 sacks; 3 QB hurries; one forced fumble - outstanding work for the "dude" filling in while Taco Charlton is out.
  • DL Chris Wormley - 9 tackles; 1.5 tackles for a loss; one sack; blocked two field goal attempts

McCray has proven to be quite an asset - just as I predicted. Let's see if you can hold up to an entire season of grinding on Saturdays after missing the entire season last year.

At any rate, I thought the defense looked impressive, especially considering that three possible starters haven't played at all the last two weeks. Of course, those players are DT Bryan Mone, DE Taco Charlton, and All-American CB Jourdan Lewis. Lewis has yet to take a snap this season. You may have heard of these guys. Yeah, let's talk about the defense in November after these guys have all played together for a while at full strength. However, give some credit to both Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark for holding down the fort on the perimeter while Lewis was out. Pro Football Focus has them rated as the top two corners in the Big Ten right now. Both guys will probably get drafted. At any rate, it's fair to say that our coverage of the back end of the field will improve with Lewis back in the fold too.

When its all said and done, this could very well be the best defensive unit in the country.

Go Blue!

Friday, July 29, 2016

On the Rise: Breakout Candidates for 2016

Here are several players that have been on the roster for at least one full year and will see a significant bump in their respective playing time. Most of these guys did not play much - if even a single snap - in 2015 and none of them were fulltime starters. Some were backups that got their pads a little dirty once or twice, but they were only scratching the surface of their potential. To most passive observers their performances this year will appear to be from out of nowhere. All of these guys should be fulltime starters by 2017, if they haven't cracked the starting lineup this season already.

I left certain names of this list, such as Ben Gedeon, Grant Perry, and Channing Stribling, because they don't fit the profile of a true breakout candidate. In other words, they have already broken out (IMO) and shown their worth as potential starters or primary backups already. To be on this list you must be a relative unknown or major question mark going into the season.

Mike McCray II #9
LB Mike McCray II (RJr) - The linebacker from Trotwood, Ohio missed the entire 2015 season with a shoulder injury. With the lack of depth currently at the linebacker position it was crucial for him to be ready to compete in camp this summer. Luckily, he showed up back in spring practices, and not only did he reportedly compete well during all of the offseason sessions, he also led the spring game with nine tackles (2 TFLs). There might not be another player on the defense that will see a bigger spike in the stat sheet this season. When you consider the type of prospect Michigan recruited in McCray II back in 2013 many of us fans have been waiting for him to emerge. He was a consensus 4-Star prospect who had eight Big Ten offers and four from the SEC. He looked promising as a redshirt freshman backup in 2014 and he could be a huge improvement over Desmend Morgan at the weak-side position. I've actually been shocked to see a lot of national and regional publications not mentioning his presence, but I believe that shows their lack of scouting and research more than it actually reflects upon his ability.

OT Grant Newsome (So) - Newsome (6'7"/300lbs) proved to be so good as a true freshman that the coaches had to find a way to get him on the field. So, as any innovative staff would do, they went as far as employing a six man front line to start the game against Minnesota, and moved other players (Mason Cole) around to get him in other games and take advantage of any mismatches. Coming out of spring, Newsome is the guy to beat at left tackle and it would take a truly unforeseen breakthrough performance by another player to pry the job away from him. I expect him to be protecting from that position for the next three years at a very high level. Do not be surprised if he becomes an All-Big Ten player and future NFL draft pick.


Tyree Kinnel #23
DB Tyree Kinnel (So) - While Kinnel won't be a starter this year, it looks like he has a bright future at safety. He garnered the respect and trust of the coaching staff enough to get some playing time as a true freshman and he appears to be in the mix as the team's dime-back. If either Thomas or Hill can't go at either safety spot then Kinnel will most-likely be the the guy who fills their roles this year. He stood out in the spring game while helping to lead the Maize team over the Blue, and he continues to do all the right things throughout his development. Expect to hear his name more this fall on both special teams and defense, and expect him to be a team leader in the years to come.

TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (RFr) - Very few players impressed in the spring more than Wheatley Jr. His size alone catches everyone's eye at 6'6"/285lbs, and he provided one of the biggest highlights of spring practices - a one-handed catch and run that turned into a 75 yard score at Ford Field. Yes, it was practice, but it's hard not to take note of such things from a guy with his measurables. The coaches mentioned him a lot since the bowl practices last December as a player that has shown tremendous improvement, so it's fair to say that any hype building up over him is at least somewhat warranted. I for one will be surprised if he doesn't take over A.J. Williams' blocking role and provide a couple big plays this fall.


Ty Issac #32
RB Ty Issac (RJr) - Issac's story has been well documented in regards to his status as a 5-Star prospect who transferred to Michigan after spending one year at USC. He had a couple breakout moments early last season after sitting out one year, but his season went off the rails after a couple key fumbles and some off-field issues that remain undisclosed. He has apparently worked his butt off since then though, and has found himself in the good graces of the coaching staff. Coach Harbaugh had even given Issac praise throughout spring training, as well as at the Big Ten Media Days when he stated that "Ty Issac has a really good chance to make something happen". With his combination of size (6'2"/225lbs) and speed (4.5 forty), there is little doubt in his physical ability. Now it's just a matter of him finding his groove and becoming more consistent on the field. Of course, he still has to battle with returning starter De'Veon Smith and top backup Drake Johnson before he can get a chance on Saturdays. It won't be easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

DE's Chase Winovich and Lawrence Marshall (RSo) - This one is a twofer as both guys will be counted on to provide some depth at the end positions this season. Marshall got high praise from Harbaugh coming out of his first spring last year, but he failed to make an impact in the fall. He continues to grow and mature, and with a strong summer this year he could get his chance to compete on Saturdays. On the other hand, Winovich has proven to be a bit of a disappointment at both linebacker and tight end. The coaches moved him to the weak-side end spot for spring practices and he responded well. He got a lot of props from the staff, including defensive coordinator Don Brown. These coaches are no dummies. They know they are about to lose most of their top players along the line. They will need to get some of the younger guys a little game work in order to prepare for the future. And with Hawaii (3-10), Central Florida (0-12), and Colorado (4-8) all at home to kick off the season one would have to think that some backups will get plenty of opportunities to play. Just as much, the Wolverines could use another pass-rusher in the mix, and both Winovich and Marshall should get a chance to prove themselves worthy of playing time very soon.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Updated Basketball Depth Report

Point Guard

1. Derrick Walton Jr. (Sr) 6'1"/190lbs
2. Xavier Simpson (Fr) 6'0"/180lbs
3. Andrew Dakich (Sr) 6'2"/190lbs

QA: Walton Jr. returns for his fourth and final season in Ann Arbor, and there are a lot of expectations for him to be a team leader. He has struggled with consistency but has shown the ability to beat teams in a number of different ways. If he can put an end to his streakiness he could be First Team All-Big Ten performer. Simpson has all the raw ability to be a killer guard. He should get a lot of time on the floor at the point, as well as at the two-guard spot. Dakich will most-likely be nothing more than a mop-up player, though his minutes will probably increase slightly due to all the defections that have occurred this past off-season.

Shooting Guard (2-Guard)

1. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (Jr) 6'4"/190lbs
2. Ibi Watson (Fr) 6'5"/185lbs
3. Fred Wright-Jones (So) 5'11"/170lbs

QA: Nobody on the team is more athletic or has a flare for the big-play as Abdur-Rahkman, who was simply amazing at times last season. However, he too struggled with consistency. Look for him to rebound and have a big campaign at the #2 spot. Watson might be forced into more action than the coaches would like due to other players transferring, but he appears to be an underrated prospect that could surprise in his first season. Don't expect to see anything from Wright-Jones, a former team manager turned walk-on, despite the fact that he has earned himself a scholarship.

Small Forward (3-Guard)

1. Zach Irvin (Sr) 6'6"/215lbs
2. Sean Lonergan (RJr) 6'5"/210lbs
3. Ibi Watson (Fr) 6'5"/185lbs

QA: Irvin will be looked upon as the team leader and should be a captain in his final season. He had his moments last year but also struggled to string together big games. This is his last chance to prove that his lofty rankings as an in-coming recruit four years ago were deserved, and he will get his opportunities as I don't expect him to leave the floor much considering the lack of proven depth behind him.

Power Forward (4-Guard)

1. Duncan Robinson (RJr) 6'8"/215lbs
2. D.J. Wilson (RSo) 6'10"/240lbs
3. Austin Davis (Fr) 6'10"/240lbs

QA: Robinson is more of a small forward/shooting guard-type player but he fits the four-spot in coach Beilein's scheme. He proved himself worthy last season, playing in all 36 games and starting 27.  He averaged nearly 30 minutes per game and was often deadly from three-point range, hitting on 95 from the arc for the season (2.6 per game). Some of his best play came late in the year, including a tournament win over Tulsa. Expect more from him this season as he settles into his role. Wilson will probably play around 10 mintues per game and will be used to match up against bigger opponents. He should develop into a decent defender but don't expect too much from him on the offensive end.

Center

1. Moritz Wagner (So) 6'10"/235lbs
2. Mark Donnal (Sr) 6'9"/240lbs
3. Jon Teske (Fr) 7'0"/245lbs

QA: Wagner was the break-out star of the Big Ten and NCAA tournament for the Wolverines while stringing together some inspired performances. He has reportedly gained a solid 15lbs since then and will be counted on to be the spark plug and fan-favorite of the roster. Hopefully he can provide enough presence under the net to draw attention away from the shooters out on the perimeter. Donnal has been solid if unspectacular thus far in his UM career. Expect to see him getting 12 to 15 minutes per game in relief of Wagner. Teske has nice size and length, but it is not clear whether or not he is ready to compete for minutes just yet. If he shows any type of spark it would go a long way towards providing depth up front.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Top 10 Remaining Recruiting Targets - Revised

With 18 commitments currently in place for the 2017 recruiting cycle, Harbuagh and his staff will look to fill the remaining holes with some of the nation's top talent. There appears to be as many as a dozen spots remaining, so here is an updated list of the top 12 candidates to fill them. If all these kids listed here were to be added to the Wolverines' recruiting class it would most-definitely put them in the running for the top class in the nation.

  1. RB Najee Harris - As of late July I did not think Harris was a possiblity to join the Wolverines, but that was before he decided to make the trip the BBQ at the Big House. Despite his commitment to 'Bama, all bets are off now that Harbaugh and crew have gotten him on campus. It sounds like things went very well.
  2. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones - All the signs are pointing to one of the best overall athletes and receivers to be playing at Michigan for the next four years. If he truly wants to be a surgeon he couldn't pick a better place to start his education.
  3. OT Isiah Wilson - He could fill a spot in the starting lineup from day one as Michigan will be losing at least three starters after this season. He has all the size (6'7"/350lbs) and ability to be a major force up front. He also attended the BBQ and got a lot of love from the offensive staff.
  4. CB Darnay Holmes - Last week I didn't think UM had much of a chance with this kid. Then he came to the BBQ and walked away smiling. It really sounds like Harbaugh and company knocked it out of the park once again this past weekend.
  5. LB Baron Browning - One of the top prospects coming out of Texas seems to like the Wolverines. If they can get him to visit during the season then they will have a good chance of stealing him out of the Longhorn state. He could play immediately.
  6. OL/DT Tedarrell Slaton - Versatility and size (6'6"/330lbs) would be a huge asset for the team along the front line. Could he and Wilson line up next to each other for four straight years? It is not out of the realm of possibilities. Although, his recruitment seems to have lost some steam as of late.
  7. DT Jay Tufele - The Wolverines will have to reload with all the attrition that will occur along the D-line after this season. It is a relatively weak year for tackles but Tufele is one of the best available.
  8. WR Nico Collins - Would be a huge steal right out of Alabama and add another potential star to the receiving corps. He too had another great visit at the BBQ and keeps the Wolverines at #1 on his list.
  9. OC Cesar Ruiz - Top center prospect could be an All-Big Ten player some day at Michigan. A lot of other schools are after him hard, but Harbaugh and Drevno will do everything in their power to sway him their way. 
  10. CB Ambry Thomas - Is much-needed for depth with so many guys graduating this year. He surprised many people by standing out at Nike's The Opening in July, playing both offense and defense. 
  11. S Jaylen Kelly-Powell - A top in-state prospect would help reload in the middle of the secondary with Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas both moving on next year.
  12. OT Toryque Bateman - Harbaugh has said that they "could take as many as seven linemen in this class and still not have enough numbers". I would not be surprised to see eight get signed. This kid, who reportedly stands at 6'8"/305lbs, sounds like he could be the next to commit.
Others to Consider:
  • WR Oliver Martin - Was highly under-rated and under-recruited before his breakout performance at The Opening. The UM commits that were there lobbied for him to get an offer and the coaches responded. He looks like a great prospect to play the slot.
  • OT Aaron Banks - Although I think this is a longshot, he keeps Michigan in the mix. What the hell do I know anyway?
  • LB Drew Singleton - One of the best 'backer prospects in the country has narrowed his list down to 12 schools. Michigan is in that group but it feels like there is a long way to go in his recruitment, though if he wants to go to Ann Arbor he is more than welcome.
  • ATH Markquese Bell - Would be a huge win over the Buckeyes in the on-going recruiting war and fill a major need at safety.
  • LB Jordan Anthony - Another kid that seems to really like Michigan and there is definitely a spot for him, but there are several other schools that are in just as good position for his services.
  • LB De'Andre Wilder - Looks like a good fit for the Sam position in Don Brown's defense. It will probably be hard to get him out of the state of Florida. Hell, it will be hard just to get him out of the city of Miami. 
  • CB Jaylon Redd - Another solid corner prospect that would help fill out the depth chart.