Monday, July 14, 2014

2014 Season Countdown: #42 Justice Hayes

Justice Hayes
Name: Justice Hayes
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 190 lbs.
High school: Grand Blanc (MI) Grand Blanc
Position: Running back
Class: Redshirt junior
Jersey number: #5
Last year: I ranked Hayes #55 and said he would have 15 carries for 60 yards as a backup. He had 2 carries for 6 yards, 6 catches for 40 yards, and 1 kick return for 8 yards.

Hayes had quite a roller coaster of a year last year. To begin the season, he was buried on the depth chart at running back. In the middle of the year, the coaches stated publicly that Hayes would move to wide receiver permanently. At the end of the year, he started the bowl game against Kansas State - at running back. Despite starting a game at running back, he finished the year with 2 carries. How many running backs in history have started a game but finished with fewer than 3 carries in the whole season?

Hayes's problem seems to be that he's not quick enough to be a scat back, and he's not big enough to power through tackles. And while Michigan hasn't exactly been rife with running back talent over the past couple years, they have had guys who were either quick or big, who were enticing enough to put on the field regularly. One big obstacle in his way was Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is now trying to make it in the NFL. Another medium-sized obstacle was Thomas Rawls, who will be pounding away behind Central Michigan's line this season. That leaves two boulder-sized barriers (and a potential third) in sophomores Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith (and Ty Isaac, who will probably be forced to redshirt after transferring from USC). Normally, I would probably put the third-string running back lower in the countdown, but Hayes is supposedly the best pass protector of the bunch and could carve out a role as a Vincent Smith-style blocker and designated screen guy. Redshirt freshman Ross Douglas is a small, quick guy and Dennis Norfleet could catch some screens, but both are inexperienced at playing running back in college. Hayes will probably once again have more receptions than carries.

Prediction: Backup running back, third down guy; 10 carries for 35 yards, 12 receptions for 100 yards and 1 touchdown


  1. Do you think he'd be a decent slot receiver?

    1. I think he could play the position, but I don't really think he'd be an upgrade over the other guys we have to play that position.

  2. Vincent Smith ..... pause and reflect ...... sigh!

  3. Wow I am a little surprised by this...he seemed to me like one of the best backs in the spring game. Guess this is why I don't have a job as a talent evaluator...

  4. It's a little disappointing that a guy in his fourth year, who's hardly done a thing, is ahead of Thomas on this list. I have to say that I think even the modest numbers you project for him are very optimistic, even if Isaac doesn't play. If he does, and with Drake Johnson also in the mix, I'd be surprised to see Hayes get any touches, except in deep garbage time (which we haven't had much of lately).

  5. Way underrated. There isn't another back on the team who can do the things he does, so he's bordering on irreplaceable. At the very least, he's our third-down back until someone else proves they can block and catch. He could get zero carries all year and still deserve to be the highest-ranked RB on this list. I'd put him somewhere in the 20s.

    In a world where our OL can block, this wouldn't be the case - more talented ball-carriers like Smith and Green - should/could/would be above him. But in the world not made of fairydust and blind optimism, we have one of the most incompetant OLs in all of college football and will need help from TEs and RBs to not get the QB murdered. What we saw last year will probably hold again - it doesn't really matter who carries the ball because they'll be lucky to get 3 ypc. We will have to pass (and scramble) to open up the traditional run game.

    In this context, what separates the RBs is the ability to block and catch, and that's what the RB does most plays anyway. Hayes looks like the best option, by far. He ain't Vincent Smith (XOXO) but he seems to know what he's doing and have a tangible skillset. Even if you don't consider him a starter, he'll be at least as valuable as, say, the top option at nickelback.

    Smith and Green lose value because they can replace each other, as they seem to be, more or less, the same guy. Hayes may have a low-ceiling, but nobody has shown they can do what he does, which is why he started last year. If Fitz wasn't around we might view Hayes as flat-out the returning starter. Hayes will play, and he'll get a chance to expand on that role, potentially developing into the closest thing this team has to a feature back - something the coaches clearly strive for.

    Going back to Dymonte Thomas for a second, there is a tendency for us to overhype talented recruits in general. We tend to stick with those expectations for too long, even when they don't show up in terms of production. It's one thing if a guy is blocked for playing time (a la our CB situation) and another when the guys playing don't do much. We all hope they will step up and answer the team needs and live up to the talent/hype, but our recent (and not so recent) history is filled with promising 4-stars who don't pan out. Doesn't mean you call them busts after a year, but it does mean you recognize this guy isn't that likely to be an all-american or NFL stud. Adjust expectations...

    Marvin Robinson and Josh Furman come to mind as recent examples. Clearly, they had talent, but ultimately they were cast aside in favor of less exciting Thomas Gordon and Jordan Kovacs. Two-three years ago it was just a matter of time before Robinson and Furman were going to emerge. They never did. I wouldn't discard the idea that Smith/Green are the offenses version of Robinson/Furman and that Hayes is similar to Gordon - competent, solid, maybe a little undersized but there's enough skill and smarts there to hold off the bigger profile talents in the end. Hopefully Smith and Green are superstars just waiting for OL competency - maybe they are - but that seems like an exceedingly optimistic view to take.


    1. That's a very long defense for a guy who has never done much of anything in a Michigan uniform. He started one game because we had no one else, and he still didn't do anything.

      And this: "He could get zero carries all year and still deserve to be the highest-ranked RB on this list."

      If I thought that was remotely true, I'd just shoot myself now and avoid the agony of living through a 12 game season.

    2. Bottom line is that Hayes is just not a starter-level talent for UM at RB. Only way he gets significant carries as a RB is if UM's other backs get hurt or completely tank.

    3. He hasn't done much, it's true, yet he has been ahead of Green and Smith, who have done even less. The talent is there - 4 star pedigree - and he's looked good as a pass-catcher.

      The coaches have been wrong before - you can take that either way here. One way is to think that Green/Smith will develop the blocking and pass-catching skills. The other is to think Hayes will earn more carries. I'd bet on the latter,as they have a size-bias for RBs that may take some time to overcome.

      IF I WAS THE COACH, I'd start Hayes and then use either Green or Smith (as powerful change-of-pace back), and Norfleet as my RB rotation. IF the OL proved it could consistently block, I'd give the ball to Green/Smith more. But until then...

    4. "He started one game because we had no one else, "

      We had Green, Smith, and Fitz. Unless you think Johnson is better than Fitz, we'll have less this season than last year, when he started.

    5. He may or may not get significant carries, but even if he doesn't he could lead the RBs in yardage. Green/Smith will probably get theirs against the cupcakes, but against MSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, there's a very good chance that Hayes replaces Fitz and gets the bulk of snaps.

    6. If Hayes were so clearly superior to Green/Smith, they wouldn't have tried to move Hayes to wide receiver. I don't put much stock in the fact that he started the bowl game. That may have just been a situational start, like a nickel corner starting the game because the offense came out with five wide receivers. Shane Morris, Devin Funchess, DeVeon Smith, and Fitzgerald Toussaint all ended up with more carries than Hayes in that game, and Derrick Green/Jeremy Gallon each matched his carry total. Meanwhile, all but Gallon (-5 yards) bested Hayes's -1 YPC average.

    7. I was wondering how long it would take for you to bring up the YPC based on sample size of 2.

      It's clear the staff WANTS Green and/or Smith to be the feature back. They also WANT big burly LBs, tall CBs, giant DTs, jump-balling WRs, and long-striding safeties. So far, speed and skill has beaten out size more often than not, despite the coach's preference.

      Their desires are not always in line with reality. Every year, the Kovacs,' Avery's, Ross', Gallons', Lewis', Dileo's, Toussaint's fend off the bigger guys this staff recruited. Canteen is on the verge of leapfrogging the 6'3 and 6'4 mammoths. Some of this, heck maybe most of it, can be attributed to seniority and Rodriguez, but I suspect that the coaches are a bit misguided in their approach. Luckily, we have some guys who are both tall AND fast like Funchess, Canteen, Gardner, Wilson and (i think/hope) Isaac, Peppers, Stribling, Bunting... We all love it when a plan comes together.

      I agree that Hayes might have been a situational start, but Fitz filled a very important role on the team and the most likely candidate to replace his snaps seems like Hayes to me.

      I never said Hayes was clearly superior to Green/Smith. I said he's the top returning back and I think he'd be missed the most if he got hurt. Green and Smith have not shown enough to be viewed as superior options, though I agree they do look like better ball-carriers.

    8. But he's not the top returning back, unless "top" is used in the most subjective possible way.

    9. Well he started - the last game and in spring, so that's one more-than-subjective criteria. He's also the most experienced back.

      The leading ball-carrier from last season is gone. Now I'll start being subjective: Hayes is his likely replacement in many of the roles.

      I don't expect Hayes to lead the team in carries, I think the coaches clearly prefer to give the ball to Smith and Green, but I'd be a little surprised if Hayes didn't get the most snaps unless the OL makes a leap.

  6. Note: My love and appreciation for Vincent Smith could be causing me to project talents and abilities on Hayes that he doesn't in fact have...but him starting in the bowl game when Morris needed to be protected told me a lot, and his position may have strengthened through the offseason (as indicated by the Spring Practice Event "Game").

    1. I'm actually getting a little concerned. Most of that novel is either irrelevant or factually wrong.

      Maybe you should head to Florida and propose marriage.

    2. Irrelevant, perhaps. Factually wrong?

      Florida sucks.