Sunday, August 9, 2015

2015 Season Countdown: #21 De'Veon Smith

De'Veon Smith
Name: De'Veon Smith
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 228 lbs.
High school: Warren (OH) Howland
Position: Running back
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #4
Last year: I ranked Smith #21 and said he would be the starting running back with 150 carries, 700 yards, and 8 touchdowns. He made two starts with 108 carries for 519 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Last season was another fairly disappointing year for Michigan's running game. Sprinkled throughout the year were some good games intermingled with some bad ones. Furthermore, no running back was consistently the best. If you ask three different people who the best running back was in 2014, you'll get three different answers. Smith earned his first career start against Michigan State after Derrick Green broke his collarbone and finished with 11 carries, 39 yards, and 1 touchdown. Statistically, his best two games were the opener against Appalachian State (8 carries, 115 yards, 2 touchdowns) and against Northwestern (18 carries, 121 yards, 1 touchdown). He also had some real stinkers, including six games in which he averaged 3.1 yards/carry or fewer. Toward the end of the year, Drake Johnson took over the starting gig and looked superior to Smith.

The battle rages on to be the starting running back at Michigan. Justice Hayes was a third down back, but he opted to spend his fifth year at Southern Miss. Drake Johnson looked solid at the end of the year, but he tore his ACL in the season finale against Ohio State. Green was the leading rusher for most of last season, but he had that broken collarbone and isn't the most instinctive runner. Ty Isaac sat out last year after transferring from USC, and lineman Kyle Kalis recently said that the line couldn't wait to get Isaac on the field after watching him bruise people up in practices last year. Karan Higdon is an unknown quantity as an incoming freshman.

I'm on the record as saying Isaac is the most talented back on the roster, but I think Smith has the mentality that these coaches like the most. He's a tough runner who will break some tackles and drive his legs. He won't outrun anyone, and his vision isn't great, but he can set the tone for the team to be a smash-mouth unit. I don't think he will get a stranglehold on the position because there are other guys who are more versatile and better athletes, but I think Smith will get a long look to try to be The Man. Normally, I would expect to put a starting running back higher than #21 on this list, but nobody has emerged from the pack at any point during their college careers. In fact, I'll go ahead and replicate what I predicted for him last year:

Prediction: Starting running back to begin the year; 150 carries, 700 yards, 8 touchdowns


  1. Sure hope Isaac has an early breakout game to solidify the #1 spot and then we can plug in the others as needed to give him a breather.

    1. If things were to 'solidify' Isaac wouldn't get a single carry on the year...

      Supposedly he lost some significant weight since weighing in at 240 in the spring -- that's a VERY good sign for the Isaac-believers out there.

    2. LankLogic. Isaac weighs 236.

      4 pounds? 4 pounds is SIGNIFICANT weight?

    3. Weight loss/gain is always a big topic with RB's every off season. How much UM press and message board time was wasted on Green supposedly being over weight as a FR and then in amazing shape as a SO. It's all just fluff. A runner is either good, or not. Even if a runner is not in top condition, that's not going to stop him from flashing his skills.

    4. He's at 236 lbs., which is right where I think he should be. If you're 6'3" and a running back, you probably don't want to be 215 lbs. That's where he was as a junior in high school, I believe, and he looked pretty skinny. There are pictures of him from media day (and last year) that show him looking like he's in pretty good shape. I'm not really worried about his weight. He's either good or he's not, but a fluctuation of 5-10 lbs. probably isn't going to change a great deal.

    5. If you're 6'3, you probably don't want to be a RB.

      If you're overweight, every pound helps. It's not so much the 4 pounds, it's the fact that he reversed the trend of adding weight - and what that says about his work ethic is encouraging. Steps in the right direction.

  2. Your evaluation of running backs was made on the assumption that Drake Johnson would not be healthy at the start of the season, but according to Harbaugh, he is fully healthy and able to participate, along with the other Drake. How does that change things, given that Johnson looked as good as any of them last year, albeit briefly? Are all four of our top RBs going to be in the 400-700 yard range, in your opinion? Because that would seem to imply that at least a couple of them are capable of being 1000 yard backs if there weren't so much competition.

    1. It doesn't really change anything. Johnson tore his ACL for a second time at the end of last season. I don't think anybody can really have a clue how long it will take him to get back to full speed or if that will ever happen.

    2. Well, according to him, it has happened. Did you watch the interview with him from Media Day? He says he's faster and stronger than last year, and apparently no restrictions have been placed on him. Harbaugh himself has said Johnson is healthy and ready to participate. Do you have information to contradict what either of them is saying? Maybe he's still susceptible to another such injury if he gets hit the wrong way, but that's a different issue.

    3. Yes, of course we will, but that's not much of an answer. Did you see the interview? Do you have ANY information to contradict the statements by the player himself and Harbaugh that he is fully healthy? If not, why are you proceeding on the no longer valid assumption that he won't be playing for the foreseeable future?

    4. You're putting words in my mouth. As I said, we'll see how it plays out.

    5. Seriously? What words did I put in your mouth, dude? Here are your EXACT words from the countdown post on Drake Johnson:

      "the ACL tear means he will probably miss some time this fall, and he will probably not be anywhere close to 100%, at least to begin the year. We might see another late-season push as he regains strength and confidence in his knee, but for now, there will be other backs higher in the pecking order."

      And just above:

      "It doesn't really change anything. Johnson tore his ACL for a second time at the end of last season. I don't think anybody can really have a clue how long it will take him to get back to full speed or if that will ever happen."

      Well yes, as Harbaugh and Johnson's own words make perfectly clear, things HAVE changed, and he clearly IS very close to 100% to begin the year. So why do you keep dodging questions about that simple fact? If you want to just say "yeah, things look different for Johnson, but I'm not going to re-do the whole damn countdown because he recovered quicker than expected", fine and dandy. But don't just make shit up and stick to positions that you know aren't true.

    6. If you don't like what I have to say, you're not required to keep coming back to continue the argument. Johnson is coming off of a second ACL tear in two years. We'll see how things play out.

    7. I apologize for attempting to speak for Thunder, but I think what he is trying to say is that coaches and players will say anything at the beginning of camp. The Drake may feel great, he may be ready, but who knows. Running back's with two ACL tears in 3 years or therabout do not have a tremendous track record of success.

      I love the Drake, I remember last year throwing stuff at the tv wondering why in the hell he didn't play earlier. He was a revelation. It was weird watching a Michigan game and actually being excited when a running back had the ball thinking he could take it to the house anytime he touched it. I hope he is ready.

      Regarding Deveon, I agree with Thunder that he may start because of his style, but if he is our leading rusher this year in carries or even close we are in trouble. He is a thumper but he is so slow, he is one cut and then run into the biggest body he can find, push for an extra yard and then go down. If he even takes one step sideways it is over. I love his effort, but really don't like when he gets the ball it is like watching slow mo replay.

    8. Actually, Anon is putting words in Harbaugh's mouth as well. What he said with regards to Drake Johnson was, "Just from the beginning he’s been ahead of schedule, ahead of schedule, ahead of schedule. We’ve had to slow him down. We’ve had to tell him, ‘No, you’re not running yet. You’re not cutting yet. We know that you are gifted and a gifted healer, we see it,’ but still the doctors have and we have as coaches slowed him down. So to answer your question, not yet 100% but he might be pretty darn close to that. We still want to be smart and those decisions will come from the doctors. I’m not a doctor but he sure looks good.” All of which is something other than the "fully healthy" that you claim he said.

    9. To quote Drake himself, "Oh yeah. I’m good. … I feel great. This is the best I’ve felt in I don’t know how many years. Running 40s and everything, I feel good."

      Except, that was Drake Harris, not Drake Johnson.

    10. Anonymous -- can you just chill the f*ck out? This is a fan blog about a college football team, fergodsakes. Stop getting so worked up about this. -patrick

    11. To quote Jim Harbaugh regarding Johnson, from last Thursday:

      "He’s not yet 100% but he might be pretty darn close to that.”

      And sorry, Patrick, I wasn't worked up. I asked Thunder a very simple question about what impact he thought Johnson's quicker than expected recovery would have on the RB situation. It wasn't until he starting bullshitting me and saying that nothing had changed with Johnson from his original evaluation that I got annoyed. When I know I'm being fed crap, I say so. What would have been so hard about just giving a revised opinion based on new and better information.

    12. I literally said in my first response to you that it doesn't really change anything. Clearly, the only answer you'll accept is me saying something different than I said in my first response. I'm not going to change my answer, regardless of whether you feel the need to ask the same question four times.

    13. So how do you infer from, "He’s not yet 100% but he might be pretty darn close to that.” That Harbaugh says Johnson is "fully healthy"?

      The only sensible aspect of your entire harangue is being anonymous. I'd be humiliated to be flogging the nonsese you've brought along with you today. LOL ..... at you.

    14. While I can appreciate the questioning of logic behind the rankings, I think it's completely valid to say "guys say stuff and it's not always real meaningful".

      Johnson showed out well at the end of last year and has recovered from this injury before...but he's also been a backup for most of his career and got his opportunity in part because of injury. He may or may not factor into the competition for the bulk of carries.

      This whole thing is a massive unknown and really any opinion/hope is OK...except for expecting Ty Isaac to be Ty Wheatley/Anthony Thomas/Justin Fargas -- that's just delusional.

  3. I like the running a backs in the following order.

    Isaac - best athlete
    Smith - best balance
    Johnson - 2nd best athlete

  4. Anon has a serious problem... And yes people do say anything at the beginning of camp... Have u ever heard a player say I am worse? And prolly won't get back to normal? Yeesh...
    Thx again for the amazing blog, viewpoint, and expertise... I read it daily..

    1. Anon has a serious problem with Anon

  5. I fully support not putting the #1 back in the top 20. If you have a proven impact player it's one thing, but most RBs are interchangeable. We won't all agree on which Michigan back will lead the team in rushing (I give Green the slight nod over Smith and think Higdon could sneak into the mix as well), but I think most of us can admit everyone's just guessing. Furthermore, these days a rotation is more common than a primary lead guy. So it will most likely be again for MIchigan in 2015. Harbaugh/Dreveno are going to want to run it and run it often and none of these guys is going to win a Heisman. It I think most of us expect the duties to be split amongst a bunch of guys this year. Maybe someone emerges by midseason, maybe they don't and injuries effect the depth.

    To me, it's almost more interesting who gets the 3rd down back duties than who gets the bulk of carries, because I just don't see any way that one guy is that much better than the others on 1st down. We'll see though...

    Nice work on the prediction last year, Thunder. Green won the starting job over Smith but in the end, your prediction came pretty close on those numbers. And I must eat some crow for vociferously arguing that the YPC estimate was so optimistic. Miller improved, Cole stepped up, and Nussmeir delivered in dramatically improving the run game. I was a huge skeptic and the OL did indeed get much better.

    This year, I'm expecting a similar leaps. We finely have an experienced, veteran, and talent OL for the first time since 2011. That means big things for the Michigan RBs.

    Here is my ranking in terms of rushing yards for 2015, FWIW:

    1. Green
    2. Smith
    3. Higdon
    4. Johnson
    5. Isaac
    6. Shallman

    1. Higdon won't even have a carry, he should red shirt

    2. How much the run game improved last season is a fascinating question.

      Bear in mind that the 2013 numbers are weighed down by more sacks, and that the 2014 season began with a 36-for-350 outing against Appalachian State. If you remove sacks, fake punts and the two lower-tier games from each year (CMU/Akron and App State/Miami), these are the numbers:

      2014: 319-1,433 (4.49 avg)
      2013: 385-1,472 (3.82 avg)

      So, two-thirds of a yard per carry more. Now remember too that the 2013 team played Iowa (19th nationally in rush ypc allowed) and Nebraska (32nd). Those opponents were replaced in 2014 by Rutgers (120nd) and Maryland (81st). Were we to look solely at common opponents, we might not see any improvement at all, not even at season's end. Again, if you remove sacks, Michigan ran slightly better in 2013 against Northwestern (39-179) and Ohio State (32-176) than in 2014 (35-147 and 33-162).

      What improved about the line last year was sacks and performance against weak opposition. That's not nothing; U-M almost lost to Akron in 2013, after all. But we're kidding ourselves if we think it was much more than that.

    3. Lank, if I only have to change 2 of the backs in your ranking at the end of next year (barring any significant injury to Isaac), I'll give you my home address, ss#, and I'll never question your GENIUS insight into Michigan football.

    4. @Anon 8:11 - We'll see, but there's not much value in red-shirting a RB.

      @Anon 6:43 - Great point. The context probably means the numbers overstate the improvement. Still, all 3 of the top backs upped their ypc significantly. Green and Johnson by 1 to 2 yards, which is huge. Smith from 4.5 to 4.8, not insignificant given he got more critical carries.

      @Anon 7:28 - Not interested but thx.

    5. @ Anon at 8:11: also in support of Lanknows point about not RS RBs, we are bringing in 2-3 RBs in the next recruiting class. Might as well let Higdon get garbage time carries to get a taste of college FB. Obviously if he is good enough to start or be in the main rotation, then let him play. We will have most of the RBs graduate or leave in 2 years, so Higdon needs to be ready to be a major contributor by his Junior year, unless an underclass man can emerge which is feasible for RBs.

    6. @Anon 11:07, that's a good point but I remember often thinking that something like this would factor into the coach's thinking and it really doesn't seem to very often. Smith/Green was one recent example.

      While the consensus opinion is behind Isaac and the 3 veteran backs, there are a lot of reasons to think Higdon could play right away.

      1. The backs all come with questions and non seem elite. Isaac - Unproven/size, Smith - slow, Green - vision, Johnson - injury.

      2. There's no 3rd-down back with Hayes gone.

      3. Higdon's the only back Harbaugh recruited

      4. When your top guy's best characteristic is 'toughness' - that's not something a freshman can't come in and exhibit from day one.

      5. All new coaching staff. Clean slate.

      6. Other than Johnson, the other backs are all guys who are more likely to run through a tackle than dodge one. Higdon might be the same, but there's an opportunity for somebody with a different skillset to emerge with a role.

      7. Freshman RBs contribute all the time.

      8. Harbaugh is looking for three guys. If Johnson isn't quite ready, Higdon just has to be better than one guy to break into the rotation.

    7. It's by no means a given that the RB position is locked out to a true Freshman this year. Even though we have four backs who SHOULD be better than Higdon, none of them is a sure thing, based on past performance, even if we have zero injuries at that position. Normally I don't like redshirting RBs, even if almost all of their carries will be in garbage time, but this is a case where none of our top four guys is graduating, so it might be worth stretching his career out another year past them. If I had to bet, though, I'd say he'll play and burn his RS.

  6. RE: RB improvement

    A couple of 'common opponents' to consider in RB production in 2014 vs 2013

    against MSU: 22/79 is a big improvement on 8/20
    Penn State 19 for 44 is pretty bad in 2014, but 30 for 28 was a complete debacle in 2013.
    Minnesota 18/73 is more ypc than 27/101 (though very different outcomes/context here)

    OSU was the one where Michigan dropped a lot (24/137 is 5.7 ypc, to 3.2 ypc in 2014 33/107)

    That OSU game was a wacky outlier though in 2013. Michigan got better in almost every metric and the advanced OL stats back it up too.