Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2014 Season Countdown: #21 De'Veon Smith

De'Veon Smith
Name: De'Veon Smith
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 220 lbs.
High school: Warren (OH) Howland
Position: Running back
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #4
Last year: I ranked Smith #86 and said he would redshirt. He played in four games at running back and had 26 carries for 117 yards.

With an established starter (Fitzgerald Toussaint), some experienced backups (Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes), and a guy who earned some coach praise (Drake Johnson) already on the roster, I assumed at least one of the freshman running backs would redshirt in 2013. Instead, every one of those guys played in the season opener. There was a long stretch where he went without touching the ball, but he looked somewhat improved by the time he saw daylight again. He broke a 16-yarder against Northwestern and a 38-yarder against Ohio State. Of course, everything is relative; Michigan was the worst in the country at allowing negative-yardage runs because of a porous offensive line, so even a 16-yard run was a jaw-dropping moment in 2013. It appeared that Smith's bruising style fit the system and personnel best because he could actually run through tackle attempts occasionally, a skill with which the other running backs struggled.

Now the running back job is really up for grabs. Toussaint graduated, Rawls transferred to Central Michigan, Johnson is once against receiving praise from Coach Hoke after recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the 2013 season opener, Hayes started the bowl game, and sophomore Derrick Green has shed over 20 lbs. since his freshman year. Hoke has openly stated that Smith had an edge on Green coming out of the spring due to superior pass protection abilities, so that's where I assume things stand right now. Smith seems like a high-effort player who carries out his fakes, blocks physically, and will throw his body around. What he lacks is breakaway speed, a category in which he's behind the likes of Johnson, Green, and Hayes. With a young offensive line, Smith should probably be the choice to get the plurality of carries. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier spread out the carries among multiple backs at Alabama, so I would still expect to see a couple other guys get large chunks of playing time.

Prediction: Starting running back; 150 carries, 700 yards, 8 touchdowns


  1. RB position = Depth and Competition

  2. If the YPC you predict for our RBs is accurate, we're in for a good season.

    But I don't think it will be.

    Hope I'm wrong, boss.

    1. Yeah. 700 yards and 8 touchdowns from Smith, with 500/5 from Derrick Green would mean we are in for a decent season after all (meaning OL doesn't take a step back and improves to a mediocre line)

    2. Gah. You think? 4.5 ypc for Green and Smith would still be pretty mediocre. If we can't even get that by inflating our stats against the likes of Appy State, Indiana, and NW -- I think that we're in for another shitty season.

    3. UM averaged 3.3 yards/rush last year (with sacks). Guessing somewhere around 3.6 or so with sacks removed. So a jump to 4.5 yards/rush out of the RB's from a pro-set would be a major accomplishment. That would equate to an improvement from 11th in the conference to around 5th. Nussmeier will have earned his paycheck if he only does that and nothing else.

    4. The QBs averaged 3.1 ypc (including sacks) last year, but Gardner had a lot of good runs and Morris had the longest of the season, so that was basically the same as the RBs. Take out the sacks, and our QBs were our best runners.

      So, the RB number is 3.4 ypc. If they got to 4.0 this year that would be a huge upgrade. If they jump to 4.5, it would be a gain of over a yard, per carry. A more than 30% jump in ypc.

      I don't know if it's unprecedented, but it's certainly very uncommon.

  3. I like your prediction about the running game. I'm optimistic about this coming season. I predict slightly more pass plays in the first half (and UM gets the good lead). Therefore, with the lead, more running plays in the 2nd half. I see a really complementary, quality offense! I'm geeked for '14. I'm happy to have Coach Nuss on board!
    I also predict many more bikini clad hotties! Thanks for a must-visit site!

  4. Love this countdown every year. Keep em coming

  5. A running back is only as good as his offensive line. As a generality, this is one I subscribe too. Though there are certainly exceptions like Barry Sanders, we don't have one. For that reason, and overall depth, I had Smith 10 spots lower.

    The case for Smith over Green is sound even before Hoke made his comments, but the two seem to be very close and very similar in most regards. As I've touched on in other posts, the key is all the stuff that isn't carrying the ball.

    The main thing is - if one of these guys was hurt would we notice? Wouldn't RB A get more carries? Then sprinkle in ball-carrier C for a bit. What have you missed? We might even be better off if the next ball-carrier was Drake Johnson or Justice Hayes, just for change of pace and style. Everyone else in the top 30, I think we'd miss, but Green or Smith, they seem all but interchangeable.

    But back to the bigger issue - OL.

    Smith may indeed get 700 yards, but there is no chance he does it in that many carries. This is flat-out delusional. I appreciate the optimists out there touting the virtues of simplicity, Nussmeir's magical-whispering, and interior OL improvement. But, unless tackles just don't matter at all there is very little objective rationale for expecting our RBs to improve at all, let alone hit 4.5 ypc.

    If you consider what happened last year and the reality that, based on personnel alone, we are at least as likely to get worse as we are to get better, that's a lot of weight to put to a coaching change. Borges was probably misguided, but he's not GERG-level incompetent.

    I feel comfortable predicting that our lead ball-carrier won't hit the 4.67 ypc mark predicted here. It's not quite as crazy as predicting 5 ypc for Green last year, but it's still pretty damn crazy. I'd consider surpassing 4.0 ypc by running backs a huge accomplishment by Nuss.

    1. I will grant that last year's offensive line was very bad. And I will grant that we're not on the same level as Alabama. Those things being said, here are the averages for Nussmeier running backs who have gained at least 100 yards over the past four years:

      2013: Yeldon (5.97), Drake (7.54), Henry (10.91)
      2012: Lacy (6.48), Yeldon (6.33), Drake (6.69), Sims (6.23)
      2011: Polk (5.08), Callier (5.53), Sankey (6.68)
      2010: Polk (5.44), Callier (5.62)

      I don't think it's delusional or absurd to believe that Michigan can have a running back who averages 4.67 yards a carry when that would still be .41 yards/carry less than Nussmeier's worst performer. It might not be Smith; it might be Green or Johnson or someone else.

    2. It's those kind of comparisons that lead to the Green 5 ypc prediction. I'm pretty sure we've had this argument before.

      The on-the-ground reality is this: no matter who the coach is our best-case scenario for OLmen is:

      -a walk-on red-shirt junior at center is your most proven player
      -a RS SO at Left Tackle who moving from guard is your second most proven
      -a RS SO at Guard who lost his job last year
      -a RS SO at Right Tackle who couldn't break the rotation on one of the worst OL in the country last year.
      -a true SO at Guard

      None have even a season's worth of starting experience.

      Even in the best case scenario, where you assume these guys make leaps this season, you still don't have a single player who can legitimately be called experienced. You're asking to install a new offense in combination with the inexperience. It's extremely likely that at least one of these guys does not meet the very high expectations being placed on them. And then you're throwing another walk-on or freshman into the mess...it's ugly. It's so ugly that I think people are in flat-out denial about just how ugly it is. Then you start thinking what a bust (let's say Braden), combined with an injury (lets say Bosch) means and then things get really bad... Everyone says "yeah it's bad, but....". The part after the "but" is mostly irrational.

      This is nothing like what Washington and Alabama had. It is unlike anything Michigan has had since 2008.

      One of these RBs might get to 4.6 ypc, as a result of sample size or running up stats in a blowout, but it won't be the lead ball-carrier and it won't be the group collectively. If Nuss hits 4.6 ypc for combined RB ypc, he will be a miracle-worker.

    3. It's not as dire as it seems to be depending on third year guys to perform on the Oline. Inexperienced, yes, but with a lot of physical talent. Lots of teams put very good Olines on the field consistently with nothing but 2 and 3 star guys, and we have much better than that. If you can't expect 4 and 5 star guys to be able to produce before their 4th or 5th season, what's the point of recruiting high level guys at all?

      Will our Oline be great or even very good? Almost certainly not. And it doesn't have to be. The bottom line is that, even as ugly as our line looked last year, our offense was fine overall. Our PPG and YPG (the stats that really matter) were at or above our average for the last ten years. The real problem last year was our defense, without question. Outside of the RR era, it was one of our worst defensive seasons ever. If our defense can improve (and there is every reason to be optimistic that it will) to the point of only allowing 18-20 ppg, there's no reason we can't win 9 games.

    4. I think it'd be less dire if we had a couple veterans to lead and build around. Maybe Glasgow steps into that sort of role. Even the guys we view as fairly stable (Magnuson and Glasgow) would, under normal circumstances, be viewed as somewhat questionable. We aren't filling just 2 or 3 spots with major questions, we're filling out 3 or 4. Nobody has enough experience and nobody is a lock to start at their position.

      The talent argument isn't very convincing either. We had more talent last year.

      At the college level especially, it seems to be more about cohesiveness, experience, and consistency. Not just personnel, but scheme. Michigan doens't have that yet. Ideally, they'll have talent and experience and consistency, but that's a year away from being feasible. The best we can hope for is a step forward.

      I find the opinion that the D was the problem last year baffling. MSU, Nebraska, KSU - these were horrendous performances by the O. But, the rankings say it was actually pretty close. We had the 42nd ranked O and 37th ranked D. Closer than I thought, but when you consider PSU, Indiana, OSU I can see why one would blame the D. My view is that it took epic performances by Gardner to carry the team at times, and that our O performance was very fragile. The D seemed more consistent and didn't have any obvious deficiencies like the OL.

      I suppose Gardner can carry the load again this year, if you're optimistic about his health. So if the D improves I agree things could go towards 9 wins. However, I think the OL has a good chance of regressing and that could bring the whole season tumbling down. I'm not expecting us to break 4 ypc to be honest, but my big concern is in pass protection...

    5. I would disagree that PPG and YPG are great measures too. They depend on things like opponents (# of spread teams we play) and overtimes. Points per possesion and yards per play are far more indicative.

  6. I think Hoke loves the idea of having a punishing runner, and Smith seems to fit that bill. From what we have seen so far, I would put him a little ahead of Green because he appears to have a little more vision and significantly more tackle-breaking ability. That will come in handy with UM's so-so blocking. The lack of breakaway speed will probably prevent Smith from having a complete stranglehold on the job. But he strikes me as a "high-floor" player who will get his fair share of carries over the next three years and impact a lot of games.

    1. I actually think Green has superior vision. Smith seems okay with plowing into dudes, but that's okay because he runs violently. We'll be fine with running back by committee.

    2. Hope you are right about Green's vision. Green stood out to me more last season for missing some openings and dancing or cutting into traffic. But they were freshmen playing in a dysfunctional offense. So who knows. Both guys have a lot of upside and you get the sense that UM is back to recruiting "men" at the RB position again. Look forward to seeing both of them make an impact this year.

    3. I don't think we have enough data to really judge this stuff. Especially when what we do have was colored by terrible blocking. I have no clue who is better between Green and Smith. What I know is that the coaches played Green ahead of Smith, that Green was a higher rated recruit, and that now they are saying Smith is a little ahead. So flip a coin.