Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2015 Season Countdown: #46 Dennis Norfleet

Dennis Norfleet
Today is Amazon Prime Day, so help out John U. Bacon by ordering his new book about Michigan football (LINK), help me out by ordering a new Samsung TV (LINK), and help yourself out by ordering a Tony Robbins book (LINK).
---------------------

Name: Dennis Norfleet
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 168 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) King
Position: Wide receiver/kick returner
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #23
Last year: I ranked Norfleet #24 and said he would be the starting kickoff returner, a backup punt returner, and a backup wide receiver. He returned 19 kickoffs for 438 yards (23.1 yards/return) and 10 punts for 38 yards (3.8 yards/return); he caught 15 passes for 111 yards (7.4 yards/catch); and he ran 9 times for 64 yards (7.1 yards/carry).

Norfleet's last calendar year at Michigan has been disappointing. Despite Michigan lacking playmakers, he touched the ball only occasionally on offense (24 offensive touches total). His kickoff returns were average, and his punt returns were subpar. When it looked like he finally scored his first collegiate touchdown, it was called back due to a penalty. Then this past spring, he skipped a final exam and found himself dismissed from the team . . . sort of. I am including Norfleet on the list for a couple reasons. First of all, he still appears on Michigan's official roster. And secondly, despite previous reports that it would be nearly impossible for him to work his way back onto the team, rumors are circulating that he just might be able to return to the squad.

No official word has been passed down yet, and we may not know until fall camp starts. Regardless, I promised to rank all players where I saw them fitting, and he has dropped 22 spots from last season. Michigan experimented with him as a slot receiver last season, and he struggled to catch the ball downfield, though he has shown good enough hands on bubble screens. They also used him occasionally out of the backfield, where he averaged 7.1 yards/carry and caught a couple screen passes. Jim Harbaugh's staff experimented with him at cornerback in the spring game, and in fairness to Norfleet, his torching in that scrimmage came after very little practice time at corner (Norfleet also practiced at cornerback in 2012). But the biggest reason for the drop to #46 is that Jabrill Peppers seems slated to steal Norfleet's return duties. Norfleet would still likely see some action because Peppers will need a rest or might get dinged, but a backup returner without much value as a position player doesn't seem extremely vital to the team's success.

Prediction: Backup slot receiver, backup returner

46 comments:

  1. In terms of team morale and team comradery, I might place him a bit higher - mid 30's and whatnot. In terms of being replaceable on the field, there are quite a few options. But the mindset of the team in and out of the locker room is important, and I believe Norfleet adds a sense of levity that couldn't be easily replaced.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is a fine line between levity and unseriousness. I remember games where Michigan was losing and TV showed players on the sideline laughing and joking around. Which side of the fine line Norfleet falls on I do not know. But his off-field problems and lack of on-field production makes me wonder about him.

      Delete
    2. I am surprised he isn't kicked off the team yet. He pretty much pulled a Tate Forcier by not doing academic work.

      Delete
    3. @ Anonymous 10:27 a.m.

      I have wondered about Norfleet ever since Michigan started recruiting him late in the 2012 cycle.

      @ suduri xusai 12:00 p.m.

      I think Forcier's transgressions were a little worse than Norfleet's, honestly. It sounds like Norfleet skipped out on an exam, whereas Forcier just basically gave up on his whole class load.

      Delete
  2. Still think he should play RB and be a change-of-pace back at a minimum...but it's probably too late for that. Please make sure he's never seen on the defensive side of the ball again.

    Although he could have a huge impact for this team, his role on it also seems pretty replaceable if he's limited to return duties and a slot/screen guy. Given the uncertainty of him even being on the roster (though it seems like he will) this ranking is fair.

    Fun player - Michigan can use more Dennis Norfleets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that he should be (or should have been) used as a running back more often. He's not a full-time guy, but he can get to the outside, make some people miss, and catch out of the backfield. Most of those things have been lacking with the other guys.

      Delete
  3. Norfleet is not fat, unlike...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is he related to Dwayne Wyade?

      Delete
  4. Were he to knock off the dancing, both before and during the play and just cut it upfield, I'd be a lot more impressed.

    If he ever finds the end zone, he can dance all he wants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd be pretty impressed if he starting dancing during plays. That's be courageous - and dangerous.

      Delete
    2. I agree with your sentiments. Dance when there's something to dance about. Otherwise, focus on getting better so you can earn the right to dance.

      Delete
    3. He should dance whenever he wants to and whenever he can. Lighten up people.

      Delete
    4. I'd be willing to bet my bottom dollar John Baxter and Jim Harbaugh would have a thing to say to Norfleet is he does his little dance thing before a kickoff, then proceeds to make a mistake that limits the return. What they'd say would be something *other* than, "Nice dance, Dennis! Good for you!" More like, "Save that for when you've earned it."

      Delete
    5. You know, I'm a pretty strait-laced guy when it comes to football...but I'm not worried about the dancing much. If he's dancing while waiting for a kickoff, I don't think it really detracts from his ability to catch the ball and run. If it were Denard Robinson or Brandon Graham out there dancing, people wouldn't say much because they are/were awesome and the dancing would be funny to the vast majority of us. It seems to me that the rules shouldn't change for guys just because they have/haven't become stars. It's either okay to dance or it's not.

      Delete
    6. If they yell at him for dancing (before the play) after a fumble or botched block (during the play) that would be pretty idiotic. I bet they'd yell about the fumble or botched block, not the thing that wasn't football.

      As long as you aren't disrespecting your opponents and doing what you need to do during the play, you should be good.

      Delete
  5. Norfleet has to be classified as one of the biggest disappointments of the Hoke tenure. Badly coached and badly used, he was just never able to make an impact. A program like Oregon or West Virginia would have made a great weapon out of him, but here he has been, sadly, wasted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He was freshman all-conference and one of the most productive returners in Michigan history.

      Not sure what you were expecting, but for being the last guy in his recruiting class, a last week addition after a decommitment, I'd say his career was anything but disappointing and he was actually one of the bigger successes of the Hoke era.

      (Note: I'm assuming he comes back in 2015. If he leaves due to suspension I agree that is disappointing, though they still got 3 good years from him, which is more than you can say about a lot of recruits.)

      Delete
    2. Gee, I was expecting maybe, like, a touchdown. Or a big play of any kind. In three years. Is that unreasonable? He piled up a lot of yardage on KO returns because we had no one else to put back there, and people kicked off to us a lot, but he only averaged about 23 ypr (which isn't much) and never had a big one. He was mediocre, certainly not dangerous. His punt returns were crappy, and he did very little rushing or receiving. Again, ZERO TDs in three years. Disappointment.

      Delete
    3. "one of the most productive returners in Michigan history"

      According to cfbstats.com, in 2014 Norfleet was #74 in the country for long kickoff returns, and didn't even crack the top 79 in long punt return plays.

      In 2013 he was better on kickoffs, but again didn't crack the list for punt returns.

      I've seen his status for *total* return yards touted, but that's a dubious distinction, particularly for kickoffs. A team with a lot of kickoff return attempts mean they gave up a lot of scores. It's particularly damning for Norfleet that in 2014 he got all the attempts but still only cracked 3 for 30+, and 1 for 40+. The odds would say with more attempts should come more longer plays. But that's not how it turned out.

      I don't have anything personal against Norfleet. But he's not a great returner. He's okay, but he has not been anything special.

      Delete
    4. Contrast Norfleet's 2014 kickoff with #2 returner Janarion Grant of Rutgers (same conference, same division):

      30+ yards -- 9 returns
      40+ yards -- 3 returns
      50+ yards -- 2 returns
      60+ yards -- 2 returns
      70+ yards -- 2 returns

      Norfleet:

      30+ yards -- 3 returns
      40+ yards -- 1 returns
      50+ yards -- 0 returns
      60+ yards -- 0 returns
      70+ yards -- 0 returns

      Delete
    5. Norfleet has been productive in the sense that he has gained a bunch of yards and has been pretty consistent (roughly 23.0 yards/return every year, IIRC). Has he broken a big one? No. But aside from some scary punt returns a couple years ago, he has shown consistent hands, hasn't turned over the ball, etc.

      As for being a huge disappointment...meh. He was a last-minute steal from the University of Cincinnati. Cincinnati is a good program, but it's not like they're pumping out stud running backs/slot receivers every year. Norfleet doesn't really have that extra gear to pull away.

      I think the disappointing thing is the special teams overall. I'm not convinced that the special teams' blocking schemes were very effective. Dan Ferrigno (the special teams coordinator under Hoke) failed miserably on punt coverage stuff, so I don't think he was super competent at the whole special teams thing. As for Norfleet himself, the job of a returner is a pretty natural thing - find a seam, make people miss, and run as fast as you can. Hoke, Ferrigno, etc. don't have much of an effect on a returner's ability to do those things. You've either got it or you don't.

      Delete
    6. Some of you act like I want him in the college football hall of fame. I just said it wasn't appropriate to call him one of the biggest disappointments of the Hoke era.

      How about Shane Morris? Ondre Pipkins? Kaleb Ringer? Chris Barnett? Chris Bryant? Kellen Jones? the list is pretty long. Heck we can even go Deshawn Hand if you want to stretch the definition...

      We're talking about a kid who has been a valuable contributor. All american? No. Elite returner? No. But productive. He has been productive because he won the returner job and hasn't let go of it.

      Calling a guy who has contributed every year, even if the guy has only a dozen special teams tackles or whatever, one of the "biggest disappointments" is ridiculous. Maybe it's fair for a big time 5-star recruit or a Dymonte Thomas, but not the last guy in the class. Like Thunder said, he was a guy they stole on signing day from Cinci. Hoke barely wanted the kid but he earned the kick returner job and did a fine job there.

      Delete
    7. Having 10 people to block for you has a pretty big effect on a returners ability. Also, those returners not getting dumb block in the back penalties far away from the ball.

      Norfleet seems to get a lot of hate because the writers at mgoblog like him. Yes he hasn't had a TD return, but there weren't many people on last year's team with TDs at any position. He did what he could on a crappy team, looked like he was actually having fun and played hard.

      Hope he gets the academic stuff sorted out, gets some return TDs and gets his degree.

      Delete
    8. The best that can be said, in my opinion, is that he hasn't turned the ball over. That ain't exactly saying much.

      Delete
    9. I'll buy the poorly coached special teams thing. But I do think that it extends to Norfleet as well as the scheme and the other ten guys executing it. I'll give him points for catching the ball, only because of the rash of guys during RR's tenure that couldn't, although that is a very low threshold.

      On the other hand, I think he does a lot of fooling around back there running East and West, mostly because he either can't see the seems or he refuses to take what's there in favor of swinging for the fences. It's my opinion that he could have conceivably been up around a very respectable 26/27+ yards per return on kickoffs simply by committing to a seem and not giving yards back.

      As it is, he holds the all time record for both total kickoff returns and total return yards, but the second is purely a function of the first as his career average of about 24.5 is pretty middling. 24.5 last year doesn't get you into the top 70. As an aside, 27 only puts you somewhere around 40.

      He needs to bust a couple before I'm inclined to miss him.

      Delete
    10. I actually don't think Norfleet does a lot of dancing laterally. He seems to try to find the seam pretty quickly. I actually think the opposite of you, because that's one thing I would list for him as a positive.

      For comparison's sake, Martavious Odoms averaged 21.2 yards/return and Vincent Smith averaged 18.4 the year before Norfleet arrived. The year before that, Gallon averaged 21.8, Odoms averaged 22.6, and Dileo 21.6. Odoms averaged 18.4 in 2009. Cissoko and Odoms averaged just over 23.0 in 2008, while McGuffie averaged 21.1 and Brandon Harrison averaged 18.5.

      The one regular returner I left off that list was Darryl Stonum. I think we can probably all agree that Stonum is the best kickoff returner Michigan has had in a while. Even the great Steve Breaston only had 1 kickoff return touchdown, averaging 28.1 yards that year. His other years had averages of 24.6, 22.2, and 21.2, and his career averaged was 24.6. So the difference between Norfleet and Breaston on kickoff returns is 1.2 yards/return and 1 touchdown.

      Delete
    11. As much as I love the munchkins, and you know I love the munchkins, I always felt a tad defeated every time they went back there to return a kick because I knew for a fact that absolutely nothing good, big was going to happen. There was going to be no lightning in a bottle of momentum shift or anything other than first and 10, somewhere near the 20 ..... hopefully. So in regards to comparisons between Norfleet and Odoms, Smith, Gallon, and Dileo, as fine a batch of football players as they were, if the conversation is about return men, that's almost the definition of "damnation by faint praise" as far as I'm concerned.

      And while I will give serious thought concerning the possibility that i'm being too hard on Dennis Norfleet, I do have vivid memories of him reversing field in order to lose another 5 if not 7, and my wife having to come down and tell me to stop screaming at the TV.

      We might have to agree to disagree on this one, darling.

      Delete
    12. The big difference is that most of the other guys you mentioned were far more productive than Norfleet in other, more important aspects of the game. The ones who weren't can also be classified as disappointments.

      Delete
    13. @ Anonymous 9:26 p.m.

      "The big difference is..." What difference are you talking about? The majority of this discussion is about his abilities as a kick returner, so the other stuff really doesn't factor in. But if you're going in that direction, none of those guys you mentioned was a standout player except Gallon. Odoms was not particularly productive (11.6 yards/catch, 5 offensive touchdowns), McGuffie averaged 4.1 yards/carry and got injured frequently, Cissoko got beaten several times before getting kicked off the team, Harrison was an average defensive back, and Stonum was also not a great receiver (76 catches, 1008 yards, 6 touchdowns in three seasons at Michigan).

      Delete
    14. Agree with Anon @ 5:03 pm. A lot of the interest in discussing Norfleet revolves around Mgoblog going overboard in their fandom for him. They see him as an underutilized gem. It would not be a big deal if they stated the opinion and moved on, but it is a constant drum beat as a crime against UM in their podcasts and whatnot. Mgoblog is insightful about a lot of things, but this is position (which their guys seem to be in lockstep on) is one that a lot of their readers/listeners would not necessarily buy.

      I see DN as a very small player who does not have sufficient speed/burst to make up for it. He is an average returner who does not fumble, nothing more or less. He is likely to lose at least his punt return duties this year. And his lack of playing time in the slot apparently has to do with other guys being better at catching passes. At least the debates about him should stop this season. If he earns PT and plays well, great. If not, no one will be criticizing Harbaugh for being the second coach to miss the boat on his talent.

      Delete
    15. Yeah - the MgoBacklash is a factor here. The hype was a little over the top there. The dancing too. I think there's a significant segment of the fanbase who doesn't want to see a kid like Norfleet having fun - and with the academic suspension playing into the situation you are seeing some nastiness. What can you do? Haters gonna hate and so on...

      I see Norfleet as a plus returner, reliable and productive; but not at the elite level many of us hoped for. He was still a major asset to this program - I think people underestimate the benefits of getting a couple extra yards every return compared to whoever else might have returned kicks if Norfleet hadn't. I also think people are underestimated his fire a bit. Before games, at the half, etc Norfleet is an energetic presence.

      I hope this staff uses him more because there is a lack of play-makers and he has shown promise that he can provide that at times. I like PS's point that this year will be decisive in rendering judgement on Norfleet...assuming/hoping he comes back for a final year.

      Delete
  6. Who is this Norfleet guy because I can't remember anything he has done on the field? Is he the guy who dances during intermission?

    Does he play during garbage time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He is the all-time career leader in return yards at Michigan.

      http://statsarchive.ath.umich.edu/VS-Football/indmaster.php

      You maybe should talk to a doctor about your memory problems. Also ask him about your case of smartass.

      Delete
    2. And yet, you would be hard pressed to name one big or memorable play that Norfleet has made in his career. It's not that hard to pile up yards as a KO returner if you do enough of them, even if you're not that great. But no one will ever kick away from him.

      Delete
    3. I remember a Dymonte Thomas play really well and a Brandon Hawthorne play really well. Judging a guy by how memorable his biggest highlight is - not a good way.

      Delete
    4. All time leader is about volume not effectiveness. A lot of touchdowns given up leads to a lot of returns. And he has been doing it for a lot of years - that leads to a lot of total yards. His average return is mediocre as heck. As someone else said his best attribute is not dropping the ball on returns (often).

      He doesnt pass the eye test as anything more than a mediocre return guy - he has no specific attribute that stands out - strength, speed, shiftiness, ability to break tackles. I dont care if he had 1-2 TDs at this point or not - those comments don't change. He is an average player of the MAC variety. It is what it is.

      Delete
    5. You don't get volume if you don't earn it. I get that maybe the competition wasn't elite, but Norfleets production, on average, is on par with people who have a very reputation at Michigan (e.g., breaston). The negativity is colored by the lack of highlight plays and the other issues. It's not like he's been ineffective.

      Norfleet is pretty shifty. He is an average to above average kick returner AT MICHIGAN.

      Delete
    6. I'll inject some FACTS because I think facts are kind of getting lost in this discussion.

      Fact: Of the players who have 10+ career kickoff returns in Michigan history, Norfleet is #14 in yards/return.

      Fact: New kickoff rules that discourage kickoff returns were not in place until Norfleet was Michigan's kickoff returner; therefore, almost everyone else on Michigan's list was unencumbered by the new rules.

      Fact: Norfleet's yards/return is equal to or better than those of Derrick Alexander, Anthony Thomas, Amani Toomer, Martavious Odoms, Tyrone Wheatley, Todd Howard, and Stan Edwards, just to name a few.

      Delete
  7. We need to steal Janarion Grant of Rutgers

    ReplyDelete
  8. My definition of bust. See below from previous post. Average would be a nice way to describe his performance. You could take a number of guys on the team and replace him. I just don't understand why he gets any pub. It must be for his dance moves.



    DonAZJuly 15, 2015 at 2:48 PM
    "one of the most productive returners in Michigan history"

    According to cfbstats.com, in 2014 Norfleet was #74 in the country for long kickoff returns, and didn't even crack the top 79 in long punt return plays.

    In 2013 he was better on kickoffs, but again didn't crack the list for punt returns.

    I've seen his status for *total* return yards touted, but that's a dubious distinction, particularly for kickoffs. A team with a lot of kickoff return attempts mean they gave up a lot of scores. It's particularly damning for Norfleet that in 2014 he got all the attempts but still only cracked 3 for 30+, and 1 for 40+. The odds would say with more attempts should come more longer plays. But that's not how it turned out.

    I don't have anything personal against Norfleet. But he's not a great returner. He's okay, but he has not been anything special.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Who else on this team could replicate his production? *Maybe* Jabrill Peppers could do it. And maybe Jourdan Lewis could do it. Otherwise, I don't really see anybody capable of getting the job done. Our receivers are slow for the most part, and so are most of our defensive backs. The running backs are generally large and slow-ish.

      Delete
  9. Speaking of Norfleet. He got the job basically by default. Hasn't turned the ball over but UM needs someone who can be productive back in ST's.

    Norfleet is the equivalent of a 2nd team backup basketball guard on a bad team. I see him as the equivalent of the guy who dropped the ball at the end of the Virginia game to help UM win. See, I even forgot his name.

    ReplyDelete
  10. People on here seem to have a really disproportionate amount of hate for Norfleet. He was a signing day steal from Cinci to fill out the class at the last minute. The fact that he's a contributor in any sense (even if you remove the returns and only consider the occasional gadget play - something Hoke's offensives didn't seem to even use particularly well) is a positive for a guy brought in under those circumstances.

    Are people really that frustrated by the fact that he dances while waiting for a kickoff to start? Jesus people, get the sticks out of your asses. It's a game played by college students for your entertainment; try and have some fun, you curmudgeons. It's not like it has any detrimental effect on his play.

    As for the fall, it's sounding more and more like he'll stay on the team, which is great. The guy clearly loves the team, so I hope he gets to finish off his senior season in the winged helmet. And I'm expecting more of the same: consistent, if unspectacular, returns and occasional change of pace stuff on offense. Probably 50% chance he loses some return duties to a DB (either Peppers or Lewis) and probably a 50% chance the new staff uses him a little more on offense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think most could care less that he dances. As someone said earlier if he danced and made huge plays he'd be a fan fav on ESPN all the time. He doesnt make plays - he is just there. The lack of negative plays I guess is his best attribute.

      The fact there is almost no one to replace him is more an indictment of the last staff. You can use that 23rd spot for an elite specialist if you wish. If you have the ability to identify talent and forecast it - Kings from MSU was a middle tier FL recruit (3 star, 600 in the nation) that UM could have easily signed if they had the eye for talent at the time. A lot more dangerous return man - of course he has personal issues as well but you get the point.

      Delete