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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Names You Should Know: Returning Leaders

2016 Edition
Jourdan Lewis #26

1. Jourdan Lewis CB (Sr) - Lewis was my number one player coming back last year and he did not disappoint. His presence in the secondary is pivotal, as he presents a real threat to opposing passers. Honestly, there might not be a better corner in the country. He is a willing tackler who will come up to help in run support, but his real forte is coverage. Without him on the field the defense as a whole would look a bit different. He is also a very good kick returner and he genuinely looks for ways to contribute as a player.
2. Jake Butt TE (Sr) - Butt already ranks among the best tight ends to ever play at Michigan, and he could have been a second round pick in this year's draft. The team is privileged to have him back for his senior year, just as much as they are to get Lewis back. Butt has been and will continue to be a huge factor as a team leader on the field and in the lockerroom. Everybody is expecting a monster season from him now that the offense has two full off-seasons under Harbaugh and company.
3. Chris Wormley DL (5th) - Wormley is a another returning player that already has a ton of quality experience on his resume and could've been a high draft pick this year. Just like Lewis and Butt, he is choosing to come back for one more season. He will be among the best defenders in the conference, and possibly the country. He will get a ton of attention from pro scouts and I would not be shocked if he was taken in the first round next spring.
4. Jehu Chesson (5th) - As the reigning team MVP, nobody saw a greater jump in productivity over the course of the last year than Chesson. He is one of the fastest players on the team that has always given good effort while blocking on the perimeter. He came alive as a receiver and a kick returner midway through the season and then he tore apart the Gators' vaunted secondary in the Citrus Bowl. More is now expected from him in his final campaign. Could he too be a top draft pick next spring? Yes, I believe he could.
Jabrill Peppers #5
5. Jabrill Peppers LB/DB (RSo) - Everybody knows there isn't a better athlete on the team than Peppers. He can and actually will do everything in all three phases of the game. He is known as having a great attitude and being a hard worker every day, and if he returns for 2017 he will no doubt top this list. The fact that he is not number one is a testament to the quality of the senior leadership on this team.
6. Mason Cole OT/C (Jr) - Cole is the best lineman on the team and he can actually play all five positions up front. He has two years of starting experience at left tackle but he should be the next great Michigan center after moving there this spring. He should be a First Team All-Conference player before his career is over.
7. Ryan Glasgow NT (5th) - A former walk-on, Glasgow has a non-stop motor and he uses great technique to beat guys that are more athletically gifted than him. As soon as he went down with an injury the defense really started to suffer up front. He will be depended on as much as Wormley to be a leader on defense.
8. De'Veon Smith RB (Sr) - Smith is the returning statistical leader in the backfield for the second year in a row despite suffering some nagging lower leg injuries. If he can maintain optimal health he could finally rush for 1,000 yards and score double digit TD's. While he definitely won't beat many safeties in a foot race, he generally makes good reads and allows his blockers to do a lot of the heavy lifting. He is and will remain the starter.
9. Amara Darboh WR (5th) - Darboh was expected to be the number one guy last season, but Chesson kinda stole the show. That's not to say that he had a bad year or that he didn't have his own highlights. He actually did lead the team with 58 catches and he should have a big senior year. He should also be a mid-round draft pick too.
10. Erik Magnusson OT (5th) - Mags has carved out a nice niche as a tough, versatile lineman. As a fifth-year player he will be counted on to be a leader too. He has started 24 games at both guard and tackle over the last three years, so the experience is there for him to draw from. With a mistake-free year he will get drafted.
Taco Charlton #33
11. Taco Charlton DE (Sr) - With a name like Taco and an ability to make plays in the backfield (nine sacks and 14 tackles for a loss as a top reserve over the last two years), it's no wonder why he is a fan favorite. He has a lot of experience (four starts) to his credit and rumor has it that he is a good teammate that loves the game as much as anybody. Many of us fans are expecting BIG things from him this fall.
12. Drake Johnson RB (5th) - As one of the fastest and most experienced running backs on the roster, it will be hard to keep Johnson off the field. There is some young talent looking to make an impact right away, but they can wait a year while Smith and Johnson finish out their legacies with a bang. And while Smith is a big jack-hammer-type back, Johnson brings more finesse and speed. He is also a decent receiver out of the backfield. Don't be surprised if they both make NFL rosters someday.
13. Kyle Kalis OG (5th) - Kalis hasn't quite lived up to expectations as one of the top recruits in the class of 2011, but he hasn't been horrible either. I would just like to see a little more push along the front line from the right guard. He did improve over the course of the year and probably had his best game against Florida. He now has 28 starts to his credit so it's probably about time he put it all together for a dominant year from start to finish.
14. Ben Gedeon MLB (Sr) - Gedeon is a former four-star athlete that has been a primary backup since stepping foot on campus four years ago. He has garnered a lot of playing time and will now be one of the fulltime starters. The reports on him out of spring practices were very good, so there is a lot to be excited about with him next to Peppers.
15. Bryan Mone (RSo) - After sitting out the entire 2015 season with an ankle injury, Mone will be returning to have a huge impact on the D-line. If both he and Glasgow have injury free years it will be an uphill battle for most offenses to establish any kind of inside running game. Both guys are future NFL'ers.
16. Channing Stribling CB (Sr) - Has been getting reps in games since his freshman year and he should be 'the other starting corner' opposite Lewis. Stribling had a very strong spring and asserted himself back into the starting lineup. If he does take his play to another level and stay healthy there will be very little hope for the majority of Big Ten wide-outs against the Wolverines.
17. Delano Hill SS (5th) - With his younger brother now entering the mix out at corner as a true freshman, Delano needs to set the example as a veteran player at safety. He already has 13 starts to his credit over the last two years and the coaches are counting on him to have a good season as they move Peppers to LB.
Dymonte Thomas #25
18. Dymonte Thomas FS (Sr)Started making a name for himself on the team midway through the season and looks like a starter at safety for his final year of eligibility. He was a highly regarded four-star athlete coming out of high school, and with the defense as good as it is around him he now has a chance to make a name for himself in the conference too.
19. Jeremy Clark DB (5th) - With multiple starts at both safety and cornerback, Clark brings a lot of experience to the table. At 6'4"/205lbs, he possesses the type of size to create matchup nightmares for offenses. He also runs a 4.4 forty. Whether or not he starts or is used primarily as a nickel player, it is of no consequence to us fans. He will be on the field a lot this fall and he will be a big-time contributor. He does have some pro potential too, which tells you a lot about the quality of depth on this defense.
20. Ben Braden OG/T (5th) - Another lineman that has two dozen starts but has not been too overwhelming for opponents...yet. At 6'5"/336lbs, Braden is surprisingly athletic and he could be a key player on one of the nation's best O-lines. A lot is riding on him performing at a high level in his 5th year and the coaches seem confident that he is taking that next step in his respective development. It's fair to argue that he should be bumped up this list a little bit, considering how much experience he has in the trenches.

Notable Mention:

Mike McCray II LB (RJr)After being MIA for most of the past 12 months, McCray II is now my pick to have a break-out year in 2016. It is unclear exactly what type of player he will be for Michigan, but the little bit we have seen from the former four-star our of Ohio at least gives me some hope. He was heavily recruited and in 2014 was a top backup on the nation's #7 defense. He earned playing time in 11 games that year with one tackle, one tackle for a loss, and a blocked punt. Yes, that is minimal stuff, but it's a good sign from a guy in a limited role. All the reports on him this spring were positive and he topped it off by being the leading tackler in the spring game, including two for a loss. If he does indeed stay healthy he could team up with Gedeon and Peppers to actually form one of the best linebacking units this team has had in nearly two decades.


Top Role Players, Contributors, and the Best off the Bench:

Kahlid Hill #80
Henry Poggi FB/HB (RJr) - At 6'4"/270lbs he could be a real handful for any defender that he is targeting on a lead block. He could also help out at defensive end if another body is ever needed over there.
Kahlid Hill FB/HB - Will play a number of roles going forward, but he will primarily be a fullback/H-back role. Has shown good hands and some sneaky moves for a guy his size (6'2"/263lbs).
Grant Perry WR (So) - Should be the top guy in the slot and the number three receiver overall. He isn't the fastest guy on the field but he knows how to play ball. And that's all that really matters.
Maurice Hurst Jr. DT (RJr) - Could start for a lot of teams and will be one of the top backups along the DL who will get a lot of PT. He too had a monster spring game too.
Ian Bunting TE (RSo) - Did earn playing time in his second year on campus and looks like a top backup right now for Jake Butt. He is expected to contribute more this season and compete for a more prominent role next year.
Patrick Kugler (RJr) - Appears to be the top backup at guard and center heading into spring. If Cole has to play tackle Kugler will be the center.
Drake Harris (RSo) - Now that he 's gotten some experience on the field and has gone almost a year without injury, it could be a breakout year for the speedy and athletic Harris.
Mo' Ways (RSo) - Has made improvements each of the last two off-seasons and contributed quite a bit as a redshirt freshman. He will be a top backup at receiver if he recovers from foot surgery that derailed his spring.
Shane Morris QB (RJr) - Morris took a redshirt in Harbaugh's first year and was not considered a favorite to win the starting job going into spring. His arm is legit though, and he is a decent athlete that has surprisingly good quickness with the ball in his hands, so he could end up being one of the biggest surprises of 2016.


On the Rise:

Grant Newsome #77
Grant Newsome OT (So) - Looks like a prototypical Michigan tackle and he has quickly established himself with the coaching staff as a player they can rely on. He is already listed as the starter in spring after getting one nod as a true freshman (as a sixth lineman). His ceiling is high.
Ty Issac RB (RJr) - As a fan, I wasn't particularly happy about Issac's fumbles early in 2015, so I wasn't that surprised when he got benched. He looks like he is in better shape though and the reports have been positive so far in the offseason. If he does in fact make a statement for himself this spring and summer there might not be enough balls to go around in the backfield for the freshmen.
Wilton Speight QB (RSo) - This big passer got some experience as the top backup last season, but he will face a lot more competition for any work this year. He did look like the best QB on the field during the spring game, so there is a chance he could be turning a corner in his development to win the job by September 3rd.
T.J. Weatley Jr. TE (RFr) - At 6'5"/290lbs, T.J. will take over where A.J. (Williams) left off in the blocking schemes. He looks like he is a little more athletic that Williams too, so he should get more looks as a receiver than his predecessor. Again, all the reports on him out of spring have been positive. Wheatley was the highest rated prospects that the Wolverines nabbed in the class of 2015.
Noah Furbush LB (RSo) - The Ohio native contributed on special teams in 2015 after redshirting the year before. He has put on nearly 25 lbs since getting on campus and the coaches have high hopes of him being a top reserve at linebacker this year, as well as playing on special teams. If he can get some good experience this year it would go a long way towards helping him prepare for a possible starting gig in 2017.
Tyree Kinnel #23
Tyree Kinnel S (So) - Earned some playing time as a freshman, particularly on special teams. He will be depended on as a top backup this year and an eventual starter in 2017. He has enough size (5'10"/200lbs), speed, and coverage skills to be a multi-dimensional defender for the Wolverines. He might even have enough skills to be a full-time corner someday. He too had a good day in the spring game, helping the Maize Team to a win.
Rueben Jones LB (RFr) - This is one guy that is going to have to bake a little bit, but the former defensive end from the Sunshine State has a lot of the right ingredients to work with at linebacker. He has enough speed and hustle to chase ballcarriers and enough strength to grapple with blockers. He just doesn't quite know what he's doing yet in regards to playing linebacker. With some diligent coaching and continued hard work he could help the team with any depth issues this fall and then compete for a starting job in another year or two. He could be a very good special teams player right away so keep your eyes peeled for him on coverage teams in the fall.

Five Instant Impact Freshmen:

Rashan Gary DL - The number one player in the country is expected to at least be a top backup and garner lots of playing time this season. It will be a lot tougher to get on the field than most people realize, as the D-line returns lots of good talent, but there is very little doubt in anybody's mind that Gary will be out there a lot this season. He has displayed a quick first step and top end speed for a guy that brings a solid 6'4"/290lbs frame. He also showed good natural strength early on in high school and now is reportedly benching 375+lbs. Could he be a top NFL prospect in three years?
Devin Bush Jr. LB - Has displayed his quickness in the spring and brings some decent pop when making contact. He could be good enough to be a starter by fall, but he will probably have to settle for a backup role behind the starters. That is okay though, as the coaches like to rotate guys to try to keep the defense on the field stocked with fresh legs.
Ben Bredeson OL - Although the staff hopes they can redshirt him, the numbers might dictate something else for Bredeson. There isn't very much depth along the line right now. So if Bredeson is as good of a prospect as we all think he is he could come in and instantly establish himself as the sixth or seventh best lineman on the roster much like Grant Newsome did last year.
Quinn Nordin K - Returning 5th-year senior Kenny Allen is solid and will get a lot of work as both a kicker and a punter. Nordin, who is the highest rated kicker that Michigan has ever recruited, should be good enough to help relieve some of the pressure. He could be the starting kicker so Allen can solely focus on punting, or vice versa. Either way, I am willing to bet that he plays as a freshman.
Khaleke Hudson LB/S - Hudson looks like one of the most underrated players in the country. He is a gifted athlete that seems to know how to really play football. I would not be shocked if he was the top backup at either SAM linebacker or at safety. I see him as the eventual successor to Peppers after he leaves for the NFL. Whenever that happens anyway.

Monday, March 21, 2016

After Another Season Derailed By Injuries, Basketball Team Regroups

With everything that went on this past season with the Michigan basketball team, it was honestly a nice surprise to still see them standing when the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament opened up last Friday. The team was left without any senior leadership on the floor with both Caris Lavert and Spike Albrecht both on the sidelines since December, but they still somehow managed to win 23 games. Juniors Zack Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. did well enough upon being thrust into the role of the veterans among a roster loaded with underclamssmen. In fact, Michigan sported the youngest roster in the Conference. And being the Optimistic Fan that I am, I won't hesitate to look to next season.

So, here's the never-too-early roster report for the 2016-'17 season:


Derrick Walton Jr. #10
Point Guard:

1. Derrick Walton Jr. (Sr) 6'1"/190lbs
2. Xavier Simpson (Fr) 5'10"/160lbs
3. Andrew Dakich (Sr) 6'2"/190lbs

Outlook: With the range to hit the big threes and the quickness to beat many defenders to the basket, Walton Jr. has produced a lot of highlight moments on film. However, he has been way too inconsistent to really lead this team to a Big Ten title just yet. To his defense, there was very little relief for him with Lavert and Albrecht both out. He and his fellow back-court mates got worn down by deeper opponents, and probably felt the lingering effects of a long season come February when the team lost five games. Incoming freshman Xavier Simpson, recently crowned Ohio's Mr. Basketball, will immediately help relieve some of that pressure. Although he might be somewhat of a liability on defense due to his size, Simpson has the talent to score from anywhere on the floor. He also displays an innate ability to create opportunities for others with precision passes. Fans are hoping he can provide a much-needed spark off the bench at the pivot. Dakich, a senior, will not be relied upon much at all, but he should be good enough to handle a couple minutes per game to help keep guys fresh throughout the season.

Preseason Grade: B


Guard:

Muhammad-Ali
Abdur-Rahkman #12
1. Muhammad Ali-Abdur-Rahkman (Jr) 6'4"/185lbs
2. Xavier Simpson (Fr) 5'10"/160lbs
3. Ibi Watson (Fr) 6'4"/180lbs

Outlook: This was another position that struggled with depth, but the Wolverines have at least found one nice diamond in the rough with an ability to create scoring opportunities on his own. Nobody on the team drives to the basket better than Abdur-Rahkman, so look for him to improve upon his 8.6 points per game and continue making highlight reel plays. If his postseason play is any indication he should be scouring somewhere around 15 points per game next season. If Simpson proves to be a deadly scorer he could get some looks here too, but fellow freshman Ibi Watson could be one of those under-the-radar-type of prospects like Lavert was four years ago. He appears to have a very nice stroke from three-point range but needs to add strength if he wants to truly compete at the next level. Without the two freshmen this spot begins to look extremely thin.

Preseason Grade: B-


Guard/Forward:
Zach Irvin #21

1. Zach Irvin (Sr) 6'6"/215lbs
2. Kam Chatman (Jr) 6'8"/215lbs

Outlook: Irvin was the de facto scoring leader this past season, but his percentages were nothing to brag about (41%FG, 30%3ptFG, 68%FT). He drastically needs to improve in those areas if he truly wants to lead this team. Dawkins provided some solid relief with over 15 minutes per game last season, but he is now gone via transfer to play for his dad at UCF. Irvin will no doubt need to gobble up over 30 minutes per game, but Kam Chatman should help relieve some of the pressure.

Preseason Grade: B-


Guard/Forward:

Duncan Robinson #22
1. Duncan Robinson (RJr) 6'8"/210lbs
2. Kam Chatman (Jr) 6'8"/215lbs
3. D.J. Wilson (RSo) 6'9"/240lbs
4. Sean Lonergan (Sr) 6'5"/210lbs

Outlook: Robinson appears to be emerging as a star in Ann Arbor. He shot 46% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc, and he was the second-leading scorer on the team (402pts) with just under 29 minutes per game. He is also the team's best free-throw shooter and will be a leader going forward. Chatman hit a huge three-pointer in the Big Ten Tourney to beat Indiana after only garnering seven minutes per game all season. He should get an increased role, particularly now that Dawkins is gone. The presence of Wilson and Lonergan helps with depth, but without Robinson in the starting lineup it could get ugly real quick. More rebounds from this group as a whole would be nice too.

Preseason Grade: B-


Power Forward/Center:

Moritz Wagner #13
1. Mark Donnal (RJr) 6'9"/240lbs
2. Moritz Wagner (So) 6'10"/225lbs
3. Jon Teske (Fr) 6'11"/210lbs/Austin Davis (Fr) 6'10"/240lbs

Outlook: The Wolverines struggled the last couple years to establish a strong front-court. Mark Donnal (25starts) and Ricky Doyle (11starts) have garnered most of the playing time but neither guy was a force on rebounds. Donnal did lead the team with 25 blocks, but he also lead the team in personal fouls (84) while managing only 3.7 boards per game. Those are not the type of numbers you really want to see from a starting center. Look for him to improve in those areas and be more of a leader in his fourth season with the program. Moritz Wagner proved to be a real spark plug off the bench down the stretch in his first season at Michigan. He needs to add some bulk to his frame and work on a lot of the little things during the off-season, but with some improvement in his game he could be on the verge of becoming a standout player for the Wolverines. And to be honest, I believe his development this off-season will be crucial to next year's successes. Teske and Davis will both spend time on the bench in 2016, but if either one shows a propensity for nabbing rebounds and blocking shots they will get a chance to play early and often.

Preseason Grade: B


Big Keys to Success? 

Depth - If the young guys and veteran reserves can step their games up and provide more quality minutes off the bench, then the sky could be the limit for this roster. There simply wasn't enough depth to make a sustained run at the Big Ten title or in the NCAA Tourney this past year, but the core talent was there to compete with most teams throughout the season. With all the kids that got good experience the last few months coming back and a top 25 recruiting class coming in, it's hard to argue that the team isn't headed in the right direction going into the off-season.

Rebounds - If there is one stat that needs to improve it is this one. It's not rocket science, it's basketball. A team cannot expect to have much success if it doesn't provide second chances for itself on the offensive end of the floor, or take away second chances from opponents on defense. Guys like Donnal, Robinson, Chatman, Wagner, and Doyle all need to play with a little more athleticism and crash the boards with more authority in 2016. It actually wouldn't take much, as they were only out-rebounded by 39 total rebounds all year, so with all the returning guys along the front court I feel like one should EXPECT them to drastically improve in this area.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Top Wolverine Pro Prospects

2016

Willie Henry DT 6'3"/311lbs - Henry was one of my favorite Wolverines over the last three seasons. He can battle it out in the trenches and come up with big plays. He has had issues with injuries and probably made a good choice to come out early. Risking another injury could damage his stock, and after the season the Wolverine's had it is reasonable to think that it can't get too much higher. He has shown good production over the years but is just now turning 21, so there is a chance he is still has some room to grow as a player. He could go as high as round two, but with the quality of mid-round talent and overall depth at the position he could possibly slip all the way down to the fifth or sixth.
Prediction: 4th Round

Graham Glasgow G/C 6'6"/307lbs - Easily was Michigan's best and most consistent lineman over the last three years after making the team as a walk-on five years ago. He has a lot of work to do in regards to strength and technique, particularly hand placement, but he could carve out a niche somewhere if a team is willing to develop him.
Prediction: 5th Round

Jake Rudock 6'3"/207lbs - Even I overlooked Rudock as a pro prospect, and I thought he was great all season long. After his pro day I am convinced that he has the necessary tools to be a solid late-round pickup for a team looking for depth at the quarterback position. He could eventually develop into a starter. Being that it's a thin year for passers helps Rudock's cause a little bit.
Prediction: 5th Round

James Ross III 5'11"/230lbs - Might not really have the size that most scouts are looking for, but he has enough potential as a pro to warrant someone to burn a late pick on him. He could be a very good special teams player.
Early Prediction: 7th Round

Joe Bolden 6'2"/239lbs - Played well early in his career but didn't quite develop into the real play-maker the defense could have used in his senior year. He still has potential to make a roster and contribute but might be too slow-footed to really breakthrough as a starter in the pros.
Early Prediction: Undrafted Free Agent

Desmond Morgan 6'1"/236lbs - There were a couple occasions were Morgan looked like the best defender on the field, but he disappeared quite a bit and faced some injury issues. He could possibly make a team and contribute on special teams though.
Early Prediction: Undrafted Free Agent

Jarrod Wilson 6'1"/210lbs - Solid if unspectacular college player that has enough in terms of measurables and good experience to get pro scouts interested enough to make him a rookie free agent offer. If he does get drafted it won't be until late Sunday.

A.J. Williams 6'5"/280lbs - Williams showed that he can utilize his unique size to block in the trenches or catch linebackers and safety by surprise with a catch downfield every now and then. He was the leading receiver against Northwestern with four catches for 48 yards. Don't expect any production like that from him against NFL defenses, but he could be a good role-player on offense. He could also be a decent special teams player in some capacity.

2017 Draft

Chris Wormley DT 6'5"/300lbs - Probably the best pro prospect on the team right now. A smart player who shows up when it matters the most and has his best games against the best competition. With an ability to play strong-side end or tackle, he brings a lot of versatility and athleticism to the table. Expect him to be a big-time player and a leader on the team during his final year in Ann Arbor. If he has a monster season he could be among the top D-linemen taken.
Early Prediction: 1st Round, Pick 21

Jake Butt TE 6'5"/245lbs - With ideal size, good hands, and an ability to adjust to the ball to make a play, Butt is about to as close to a prototypical receiving tight end as there is available for the 2017 draft. He should be among the top two or three players at the position on every NFL team's board, so he could go as high as the mid-first round. Teams will be looking to see him get a little stronger and improve his overall blocking, but he should be good for 50+ catches and another 500 yards of offense in his final campaign. Although it's early, I would be fairly disappointed if he slips into the third round.
Early Predicton: 1st Round, Pick 29

Jehu Chesson WR 6'3"/207lbs - The reigning MVP returns for a one more year at Michigan. He is a smart player that does a lot of little things right and always gives good effort. He has appeared in every game since redshirting his freshman year and will have over 30 starts to his credit before its all said and done. If he shows up as big this season as he did against Ohio State and Florida then he could be a first round pick.
Early Prediction: 1st Round, Pick 32

Jourdan Lewis CB 5'10"/176lbs - Although he does not have the ideal size that NFL teams covet on the perimeter, his athleticism and ball skills are among the best available at the position. He can lock onto receivers in coverage or use good angles and speed to chase them down from the opposite side of the field. He isn't a punishing tackle but he is capable of coming up and assisting in the run game. He could be a late first round pick, but he will most-likely be a nice day two pick up for somebody.
Early Prediction: 2nd Round, Pick 37

Ryan Glasgow NT 6'2"/297lbs -
Early Prediction: 3rd Round

Kyle Kalis
Early Prediction: 4th Round

Taco Charlton
Early Prediction: 4th Round

Amara Darboh
Early Prediction: 5th Round

Erik Magnusson
Early Prediction: 5th Round

De'Veon Smith
Early Prediction: 6th Round

Ben Braden
Early Prediction: 7th Round

Delano Hill
Early Prediction: FA

Drake Johnson
Early Prediction: FA

2018 Draft

Jabrill Peppers DB
Mason Cole C/T
John O'Korn QB
Bryan Mone DT
Maurice Hurst Jr. DT