Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thomas Rawls, Wolverine

Thomas Rawls (with ball) joins the Battles of the Stiff-Arm

Thomas Rawls, a 5'10", 210 lb. running back from Northern High School in Flint, MI, has committed to Michigan.  Rawls played high school ball for the son of running backs coach Fred Jackson.  He had long been a Michigan fan and it was well known that he would choose the Wolverines if given an offer.  Unfortunately, that took awhile, because his academic success left things a little bit murky.  Rawls needed a qualifying score on a recent standardized test to firm up the offer.  Once that happened Brady Hoke quickly sent him an official offer.

Rawls is a 3-star recruit to all three major recruiting services.  Scout.com ranks him as the #77 running back in the country.  He had other offers from Central Michigan, Cincinnati (where he was recruited by former Michigan defensive line coach Steve Stripling), and Toledo.  If Rawls hadn't received the offer from the Wolverines, he most likely would have become a Chippewa.

As a junior Rawls had 138 carries for 1,056 yards and 16 touchdowns.  Due to a senior year injury, he only played seven games; however, he still rushed the ball 150 times for 1,582 yards and 18 touchdowns.  That's 10.55 yards per carry and 226 yards per game.  He also caught 4 passes for 85 yards and 1 touchdown.  As a linebacker, he had 101 tackles as a junior and 37 as a senior.

Rawls definitely has some good qualities.  He's a big kid with thick legs, built powerfully and low to the ground.  He has patience and allows blocks to develop in front of him, which also shows good vision to see cutbacks and running lanes.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about him as a high school runner is the way he keeps his shoulders facing north and south when he makes his cuts; this allows him to break some tackles that other running backs wouldn't.

However, as mentioned above, Rawls is only a 3-star prospect to all three services.  For some odd reason, Michigan fans think his low star rating is due to his academic difficulties.  On the heels of the Demar Dorsey fiasco, I'm not sure how Michigan fans could get that confused about star ratings.  Scout, Rivals, and ESPN don't care about players' ACT scores.  If a kid is a 5-star talent on the field, he could be dumber than a fencepost and still garner a 5-star rating.  There are plenty of highly rated kids who go to prep school, junior college, etc.  I don't understand why the scouting services would suddenly be holding an academic grudge against a random kid from Flint.

Many fans want to compare Rawls to Mark Ingram, the Flint product who won the Heisman for Alabama in 2009.  Admittedly, Rawls and Ingram have some physical similarities.  Both are approximately the same height and even have similar gaits.  But Ingram (who was a 4-star recruit) is and was quicker than Rawls.  Michigan fans might not like me for saying this, but Rawls reminds me of Kevin Grady.  Grady broke state records for rushing, but he ended his four-year Michigan career in 2009 with 200 career carries for 783 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns.  He simply didn't have the speed or elusiveness to succeed in the Big Ten; luckily for him, his power got him on the field as a senior . . . at fullback.

Perhaps Rawls can contribute at fullback or in goal line situations at Michigan, but I'm not expecting Rawls to be a star for the Wolverines.  I would be glad to be wrong, because he worked hard to get qualified.  But he deserves his 3-star rating, and I think he's more of a role player than a feature back.

Rawls gives Michigan 18 commitments and a second running back (Justice Hayes is the other) in the 2011 class.  There are approximately five other players who might announce for Michigan in the coming days - Chris Barnett, Frank Clark, Darian Cooper, Jake Fisher, and Leilon Willingham.  According to some insiders, Michigan would take all five if every one of them wanted to commit.

TTB Rating: 68

30 comments:

  1. I'm like you -- kind of wondering why everyone is so excited about a 3* back whose best competing offer is Cincinnati. The "he's only three stars because of grades" statement doesn't make any sense. There are bunches of highly rated prospects with crappy grades who end up not qualifying and/or going Juco. We already have a halfway decent short yardage/big guy running back in Stephen Hopkins.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "For some odd reason, Michigan fans think his low star rating is due to his academic difficulties... If a kid is a 5-star talent on the field, he could be dumber than a fencepost and still garner a 5-star rating... I don't understand why the scouting services would suddenly be holding an academic grudge against a random kid from Flint."

    Thank you! and Yes!

    The Hoke-A-Mania absurdity on MGoBlog and other sites is out of control right now. Hoke has done a good job but the big picture remains gloomy for this class. Michigan missed out on most of the top prospects in the state, which is fine if they make up ground somewhere else, but this class is still going to be on the lower half of the top 30 nationwide. The bottom line is that it's a down year for recruiting, even if Hoke recovered well given the circumstances.

    Going back to Rawls - I don't understand why they're taking him if Hayes is a RB (as rumored) and Rawls is an academic risk. Michigan may face APR issue so needs to watch what prospects it takes, and Rawls skills doesn't seem to warrant such a risk.

    On the other hand he seems passionate about being a Michigan so it's not like I expect him to go the route of Forcier. Still, this is a questionable addition in my mind. RB is a deep position. Like WR, there simply isn't much need for another guy, so why they'd take Rawls and not Lucien is a little mysterious.

    OTOH, maybe Rawls can red-shirt, get comfortable academically, and become an asset down the line. He wouldn't be the first 3-star back to buck the odds and become a star at Michigan. I wouldn't bet on it though.

    -Lank

    ReplyDelete
  3. @ Lankownia 12:19 p.m.

    I don't fully understand the Rawls offer, either. Like you said, it's a deep position. The only thing I can think of is that they might want to make him a fullback and aren't going to count on walk-ons to fill that position like Rodriguez did

    ReplyDelete
  4. First off nobody was high on Mike Hart when he committed to Michigan. We all saw how that turned out. If Rawls was able to work hard to get his grades up, who's saying that he can't do so in the weight room and on the football field? The star rankings make sense to me, but I do think he has the potential to be more than just a role player.

    Second I don't know why we're against more RBs. There are ZERO studs in the RB group. Smith and Shaw are mediocre at best and nobody really knows how good Cox, Fitz and Hopkins are as they never played a prominent role against good teams. Until we find someone (or 2) who can bust out at least 1000 yards in a year I think we should continue to be hesitant about our RBs.

    The WRs on the other hand have proven themselves a lot more. There is worry after Stonum and Hemingway depart, but Roundtree, Stokes, and one other 4 freshman from last year should be able to fill in the gaps.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Alex,

    Mike Hart is the exception, not the rule. Same with Slaton.

    I don't think it's necessary for a single runner to get 1000 yards in a season and I'm a little confused...you're not the only one fixated on this. Not a single RB had 1000 yards in 1997. UConnn had two 1000-yard rushers in 2009...and went 8-5.

    The running game is much more about having an adequate back (or multiple) with decent vision and a line and receivers that block well. Having a stud is a luxury. Mike Shanahan has pretty much proven this...I don't know if he's ever not had a running back rush for 1000 yards, and that includes guys like Ryan Torain and Reuben Droughns.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That being said, I'm as sick of running Smith into a stack of humanity on 3rd and short as Magnus is. I realize there's a major difference between guys who just aren't studs and guys who just can't get yards period.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Magnus,

    I understand your point about not needing a 1000 yard back to win but most offenses in the top 25 have them. Think about how good that 97 team would've been with Wheatley, an older A-Train or Biakabatuka at the helm. Furthermore the 97 offense was very mediocre; Griese was good at not turning the ball over and they relied heavily on Charles Woodson for big plays not to mention his special teams contribution. The defense was what won that championship.

    Your last paragraph of your comment in combination with the description of Rawls in the post above make me think that he could be successful. I'm not trying to say it's guaranteed but I think he fits the mold more so than some of the other backs already on the roster. Also, what makes Justice Hayes all that much better than Rawls?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Unless I have read wrong Rawls is anywhere from 215 to 225 runs in the 4.4 range and is a 10.7 hundred guy.he also broke some of ingrams records this and is clearly a better back than justice Hayes . And Sam Webb is the guy who said if guys are far from qaulifying that they sometimes don't get ranked high.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oops didn't realize that was David and not Magnus my bad...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Not having a stud running back has hurt us badly the last two years. Especially in 2010. I dont' see anyone in this class solving that problem.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Obviously Fred Jackson thinks this guy is something special,they haven't really even pursued any other backs.

    ReplyDelete
  12. @ Anonymous 1:30 p.m.

    I sincerely doubt any reports that have Rawls running a 4.4 forty or a 10.7 hundred. Those numbers are ridiculously fast, Bo Jackson-type numbers. Rawls isn't Bo Jackson.

    And not to diminish the records that Rawls broke, but Kevin Grady is the state's all-time leading rusher. And as I mentioned, he didn't do much in college. Like any single measurement, record breaking performances should be taken with a grain of salt.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @ Anonymous 1:52 p.m.

    Fred Jackson thinks EVERYONE is something special.

    And Michigan pursued at least a dozen other backs.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This guy ran for over 1500 yards in half a season,if he played all year he would have been rated higher, and yes Sam Webb reports that Rawls does run in the 4.4s the reason they switched him from linebacker to runningback is because of his speed hope this guy pans out go blue!

    ReplyDelete
  15. @Alex

    Actually, a lot of people were pretty high on Hart even though he was a 3-star. Everyone in the Syracuse area raved (which usually happens but still...) and his production was very good. Many saw his recruitment as a boom/bust proposition. It worked out. But thats beside the point. Its a probability, not a guarantee.

    @David
    Running into a stack is as much about OL as the RB. Michigan's OL was a disaster in '08, a weakness in '09, and even in '10 was young and relatively undersized. Their strength was mobility, not power football. Its no surprise that short-yardage was a weakness. Even B.Minor was getting stuffed. I don't blame this on the running backs even though, clearly, none of them were ready to be stars yet in 2010.

    @Thunder

    I still agree with you about academics and rankings but Scout's Allen Trieu explicitly said they were a factor with Rawls FWIW:

    ""We rate guys conservatively who have not fully qualified yet," said Trieu. "So he's about ranked 13th in the state and a three-star. I think he could be higher, but our national rule across the board is we wait until they've qualified. Purely on the merits of his talent and what he's done throughout his career though, I think he's a top-10 player in the state and borderline four-star-type kid. He's had a fantastic senior season." via Detroit News

    -Lank

    ReplyDelete
  16. @ Lankownia 2:09 p.m.

    Trieu might say that, but that doesn't jive with the rankings of guys like Dexter Staley and Demar Dorsey. To me that sounds like a cop-out so they can say later when he's a star "Well, yeah, we only gave him 3 stars, but that's only because of his academics"...

    ...and if he doesn't pan out, they can say "We told you he was only a so-so recruit!"

    I call shenanigans.

    ReplyDelete
  17. @ Anonymous 2:01 p.m.

    Are you the Micro Machines guy?

    ReplyDelete
  18. We didn't have a problem on short yardage in 2010 most of the time. Whenever we had first and goal inside the five, we scored a TD almost every time unless we committed a penalty. I remember most of Carr's teams having more problems on short yardage than our 2010 team.

    ReplyDelete
  19. @ Thunder

    Agree with you on Trieu. Its his job to manufacture interest. Also, as a regional analyst he's going to have a bias towards players in his region. That said, I also don't exactly expect them to be consistent in their methodology.

    The important thing is that the services are unanimous in their 3 star ranking and I think most would say grades are a non-factor in their assessment.

    @Anon 2:41
    You're crazy if you think we didnt have problems in 2010. I can't back this up, but I think we've had trouble in short yardage ever since we started zone blocking.

    -Lank

    ReplyDelete
  20. Lank,

    Someone on MGoBlog did an analysis of average OL size in the Big Ten. Michigan wasn't relatively undersized in 2010. I think technique and pad level were bigger concerns. I think the 2011 OL will have a pretty perfect mix of veterans and underclassmen.

    I think the strength of a team's run game is more about the OL as well, but you can't tell me you'd rather have Smith run the iso on 3rd and 1 than Hopkins.


    Alex,

    I'm not saying having a 1000-yard rusher is a bad thing. I just think it's overrated.

    ReplyDelete
  21. @ Anon 2:54 PM

    When did we have trouble on short yardage? What games? Purdue, yes. But the weather was terrible and we had trouble with everything. In other games, Michigan repeatedly smashed the ball into the end zone from inside the five yard. Look at all of the short TD runs that Shaw, Robinson, and Hopkins had. The only other game I remember short yardage really being a problem was Penn State, but I don't think that O-line leverage or technique had anything to do with that.

    Here's the play-by-play from the Wisconsin game.

    http://espn.go.com/ncf/playbyplay?gameId=303240130

    Look at all of the times that we ran for a first down on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th down and less than 4 yards.

    We did well against Ohio State too.

    http://espn.go.com/ncf/playbyplay?gameId=303310194

    We rushed for 250 yards a game in 2010. You don't do that without a great offensive line.

    Also, if you think that all of Carr's teams were great on short yardage, then you have a distorted memory of the Carr era.

    ReplyDelete
  22. @David

    In short yardage, I guess I'd prefer to have Hopkins than Smith, but I'd rather have Smith than Shaw. I'd rather have Barry Sanders or Maurice Jones Drew or Chris Johnson than any of them though. I don't think RB size matters a great deal in those situations, but obviously, with all being equal physics dictate that size helps.

    Agree about the 2011 OL - they should be older/bigger than last year and I suspect Coach Hoke will place a bigger emphasis on short-yardage situations than Rodriguez. For the 2nd straight year I expect the OL to be the strongest unit on the team, even without Schilling and Dorrestein. Even if they were average sized, they didn't seem to be well-versed in straight-ahead power runs.

    @anon 2:54

    Its great you disagree with me but pay attention. I didn't say the OL was bad or that Carr couldn't convert short yardage his whole career. I said the OL was bad in certain situations and that Carr was bad after a scheme change in those same situations.

    It felt like a lot of our drives in 2010 stalled out in the redzone and part of that was the inability to convert short yardage situations.

    Our 3rd down % ranks 36th and 4th down % was 77th. That doesn't necessarily say anything conclusive about short-yardage but it points to an offense that doesn't get it done, especially since by most metrics we were a top 10 offense overall.

    I certainly wasn't saying our running game was ineffective overall.

    -Lank

    ReplyDelete
  23. is there a 2012 stud at his school? ill look at his tape later

    -horn

    ReplyDelete
  24. @ horn 9:15 p.m.

    As far as I know, there are no Michigan-caliber recruits at Flint Northern in the 2012 class.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Lank,

    I don't know...if Smith was Barry Sanders, things would change. Sanders is also the exception, not the rule.

    Shaw is considerably more powerful and much faster than Smith, if not quite as shifty. Smith's a smarter runner, but that only goes so far, IMO. I just think Smith is slightly above mediocre...there were so many times on his 5-8 yard runs (not many of those) where if he was just a little bigger or faster, he could break a 30-yarder.

    ReplyDelete
  26. David,

    I don't see any power to Shaws game and he rarely breaks tackles. Anyway, this Shaw vs Smith ground has been covered endlessly. I don't think anyone's going to change anyone elses mind and I don't care to see Thunder whip out his YPC stats again.

    I think we all can agree that Smith is mediocre. I just think all our other backs are as well, though I'm hoping that with the new staff Cox gets his shot.

    -Lank

    ReplyDelete
  27. @ Lankownia 1:50 p.m.

    You sure seem to be in a foul mood today. Have a beer.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I don't care to see Thunder whip out anything.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Guess all u clowns were wrong!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How were any of us wrong? He hasn't done anything at Michigan yet.

      Delete