Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015 Recruiting Grades: Offense

Zach Gentry (image via Maxpreps)
With the 2015 class about wrapped up, I'll offer some final takeaways from the recruiting cycle. With something like this, it's difficult to separate Brady Hoke's recruiting efforts through early December from Jim Harbaugh's efforts over the last five weeks of the cycle. So the grades and feedback I provide are geared toward the program's job of recruiting, not necessarily a specific coach.

Starters are listed in italics.

Lost from 2014:
 Russell Bellomy (transfer), Devin Gardner (graduation)
Commits: Zach Gentry, Alex Malzone
Grade: A-
Comments: Michigan needed to add talent and numbers to the quarterback position to engender competition, and they did that. Gentry (#8 pro-style quarterback, #175 overall) is the raw talent at 6'7", 230 lbs. with a reported 4.6 forty and a strong arm. Malzone (#13 pro-style quarterback, #295 overall) is the local field general with good skills all around but nothing that really stands out. Other than getting a truly elite prospect, Michigan did about as well as they could. Toss in the possible arrival of Houston transfer John O'Korn, and all these guys won't finish their careers at Michigan, but at least one should emerge looking good.

Lost from 2014:
 Justice Hayes (transfer)
Commit: Karan Higdon
Grade: C
Comments: The unfortunate thing here is that Michigan had two top-150 running back talents committed at different times, and the Wolverines let both of them slip through their fingers. The first one, Damien Harris, ended up signing with Alabama. The second one, Mike Weber, was darn close to flipping from Ohio State to Michigan at the last minute, but he ultimately stuck with the Buckeyes around 10:30 a.m. because Higdon had committed to Michigan at 8:00 a.m. Michigan stole Higdon (#40 running back, #479 overall) himself at the last minute from Iowa, so there's something to be said for getting someone on the board, at least. Still, this could have looked better.

Lost from 2014:
 Devin Funchess (early NFL draft entrant)
Commits: Brian Cole, Grant Perry
Grade: B+
Comments: Michigan might have hit a home run with Cole (#5 athlete, #75 overall), who was a jack-of-all-trades player in high school and will have to learn the receiver position in college. Perry (#109 wide receiver, #864 overall) is a solid role player plucked from Northwestern at the last minute. Otherwise, both Hoke and Harbaugh swung and missed at the big-timers in the class.

Lost from 2014:
 Keith Heitzman (transfer)
Commit: Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
Grade: B
Comments: Michigan let Chris Clark slip through their fingers, although Clark was wishy-washy and seemed to be all over the place with his recruitment. The Wolverines may have dodged a bullet, because Wheatley - as the son of a coach on staff - might be less likely to flake out if things don't go smoothly from day one. Wheatley (#12 tight end, #313 overall) has a fair amount of talent himself, although some think he's better suited for defense. It would have been nice to get two tight ends with Heitzman transferring, A.J. Williams being a senior in 2015, and starter Jake Butt a junior who could possibly go pro if he stays healthy.

Lost from 2014:
 Kyle Bosch (transfer)
Commits: Grant Newsome, Jon Runyan Jr., Nolan Ulizio
Grade: B
Comments: The offensive line recently went from being "way too young" to being "maybe too old" now that four projected starters will be fifth-year guys (2) or fourth-year guys (2), joined by sophomore left tackle Mason Cole and redshirt junior utility man Erik Magnuson. With a couple backups looking stuck there for a reason, Michigan needed to bring in some fresh talent. Newsome (#22 offensive tackle, #235 overall) is a possible star, whereas Runyan (#122 offensive tackle) and Ulizio (#137 offensive tackle) look like they could be passable players in a few years. This probably isn't the class that will turn around Michigan's fortunes immediately, but they're functional. Michigan essentially ignored a national prospect with high interest (USC-bound Chuma Edoga) and a local, guru-approved guy with high interest (Wisconsin-bound David Moorman), so hopefully they picked the right ones to pursue. If Newsome pans out like I think he should, he'll make this class look pretty good.


  1. UM went after Moorman (under Harbaugh) but Moorman already decided on Wiscy and kept his commitment. How is that "ignoring" him?

    1. Incorrect. Harbaugh and Co never pursued Moorman even after Moorman publicly stated interest. They liked Ulizio better and got their guy.

  2. Nice write up! On to Phase 2 - Spring football / Development and conditioning

    1. Exactly! The class is what it is ... let's see what Harbaugh and staff does with it!

      There's no such thing as too much college football. Bring it.


  3. Mason Cole is a 4th year guy?

    1. Oops. I was thinking of Magnuson for some reason. Thanks!

  4. This is a fun idea for a post. Grading is tough to assess with the transition.

    The only grade I disagree with is WR. Michigan cast an extremely wide net for WR and missed almost all of them. Finally settling on a MAC-level prospect in Perry has to go down as a recruiting failure. Of course, he could still end up being a useful player but Michigan clearly did not want to offer Perry. They did so at the last minute, when all other options were exhausted.

    Cole was a good get, but may end up on defense.

    I'd say TE -- where we got a guy with offers from Alabama, USC, and Oregon - deserves a higher grade. Imagine the players who got equivalent offers at RB or WR...

    I'm pretty content with the OLmen we got. I agree with your take that Newsome could be very good and then hopefully at least one out of Runyan/Ulizio turn into a solid starter a few years from now.

  5. Why hoke and Co never offer Edoga that's Judy strange to me.

  6. Respectfully disagree with this comment

    starter Jake Butt a junior who could possibly go pro if he stays healthy.

    No way.

    1. Agreed. Butt's a nice college player and has some upside but he would really have to have a breakout year and mature physically to be an early-entry NFL prospect. He's not an impact receiver or an impact blocker yet, he's just a good solid all-around TE prospect. Let's get him on an all-conference team (or at least in the discussion) first and then we can talk NFL.

      I think he's a little overrated by Michigan fans because all our other TEs have been so bad the last few years.

    2. You could probably say this about any position, but there are numerous guys each year who leave early and should probably stick around for their next season. I definitely think Butt is in the category of a guy who could either leave early on his own demerits or leave early due to taking some bad advice. We have seen people like Shantee Orr, Donovan Warren, Earnest Shazor, etc. leave early. I'm not saying that I think Butt will leave early and then not get drafted. I am simply saying that he is talented enough to consider leaving if he has a good season.

      I don't really think he's overrated by Michigan fans. He has put up solid numbers despite not having a very good quarterback situation the past two years, and he has also made some very good, big-time catches (the diving one-hander against Rutgers, IIRC, the TD against Ohio State, etc.). If Michigan gets consistent quarterback play, Butt could put up some very respectable numbers.

    3. Butt about 20 ypg and 10 ypc. Those are pedestrian numbers. His yardage was 10th in the Big 10. His production is solid, perhaps, but also below average. One can blame QBs, but Butt could easily have stepped up as the #2 target given the mediocre performance of the WR corps.

      You are right that the unexpected could happen, but Butt is pretty low on the list of potential draft candidates IMO. I think it's more likely that someone like Ben Braden moves on than Butt because Braden has the kind of size that would get NFL people excited. Henry and Lewis are other candidates I would put ahead of Butt as far as early-entry potential goes, but I doubt anyone is leaving early from this team.

      I don't think Butt's on the map of NFL talent evaluators yet. He's been an average-at-best player who could evolve into an all-conference player, but isn't there yet and nothing he's done so far indicates he's on the verge of a breakthrough.

      Furthermore, the hoped for (and by implication for Butt to have a big season, expected) improvement in QB play is a bit like the expected improvement in OL play coming into the 2013 season. When you replace a 5th year senior, even a somewhat disappointing one, with inexperience you rarely get better performance.

      The effect of Harbaugh is a big unknown though, so anything is possible. Maybe he'll work wonders and Morris-Butt are the next Luck-Fleener. I would guess though, that both are around for their senior seasons.

    4. Early entrants in 2015:

      Jesse James (PSU): 38 catches, 396 yards, 10.4 yards/catch, 3 touchdowns
      Tyer Kroft (Rutgers): 24 catches, 269 yards, 11.2 yards/catch, 0 touchdowns
      Jean Sifrin (UMass): 41 catches, 637 yards, 15.5 yards/catch, 6 touchdowns
      Maxx Williams (Minnesota): 36 catches, 569 yards, 15.8 yards/catch, 8 touchdowns

      Butt's numbers have been comparable to the first two (James, Kroft) with crappy quarterback play and overall poor offensive play. Obviously, Williams and Sifrin outmatched him numbers-wise, but Sifrin was doing it at UMass.

      I'm not saying it will happen, but with Jim Harbaugh - who obviously knows how to use tight ends - the possibility is there. That's all I'm saying.

    5. James is the only remotely appropriate comparison, and he had nearly twice as many yards as Butt and is bigger.

      As for Kroft:
      1. He had nearly 600 yards in 2013 (before a coaching change).
      2. Kroft is very close to graduating. He red-shirted and will be entering his 5th year season (i.e., he is 2 classes older than Butt). I know all you care about is football eligibility, but in reality a person who has been at school for 3.5 years and is on the verge of graduating IS different from someone like Butt who, one year from now, will have been around for 2.5 years.

      Kroft may also not be drafted and his decision has been criticized by many.

      Your examples point to exactly why Butt is not likely to go pro.

      Could Butt have a big year and catch 500 yards...well, it's possible. Could Butt go? sure, anyone could. Will he? Almost certainly not. Nothing he has done so far, other than look pretty solid for an underclassmen pressed into a starting role, indicates otherwise.

      The possibility is there. The effect of Harbaugh is unkown. While I agree in spirit of "possibilities" it seems strange to call out Butt as a candidate and not others. It's possible for Derrick Green or Ty Issac or Amarah Darboh or Ben Braden or Kyle Kalis too, I guess, but nobody should expect that either.

      Green, for example, has started each year at Michigan, and upped his YPC significantly last year before injuries hit. If he's healthy, with a soon-to-be veteran OL, and Drevno/Harbaugh coaching things...maybe he's your NFL draft candidate.