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2013 Fierce-40 Previews: #23-Michigan

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 24, 2013

2013 Fierce 40 Previews



#23 Michigan Wolverines

2012 Recap:

Although it wasn’t the 11-2 season the Wolverines had in Brady Hoke’s first season, it was a respectable 8-5 year that unfortunately ended with a 33-28 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Michigan has played with renewed defensive vigor under Hoke and should once again find themselves in familiar territory, near the top of the Big Ten standings.


Coaching:

Hoke has become very popular in Ann Arbor with a nice 19-7 start to his Wolverine career. What we are seeing is Michigan winning the recruiting battles they have been losing in years past to arch rivals like Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. With Michigan finishing in the top 20 two consecutive years on defense under Hoke, the defensive recruits are starting to pick back up, as it has been mostly offense coming over the last few years. Hoke seems perfectly at home with the Wolverines and can see him staying for years to come.


Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Denard Robinson was everything to this team and you could hear the collective gasp of Wolverine nation last year when he was injured around the middle of the schedule. The injury may have been the best thing to happen to Michigan as Devin Gardner walked in and performed admirably with 11 touchdowns to 5 interceptions and completing nearly 60% of his passes in five games. Throw in seven rushing touchdowns during that stretch and you can see Michigan is still in good shape. Michigan has been wanting to go to a pro style offense and this gave them an early test run. Gardner started the year at wide receiver as Robinson started his senior season under center and he contributed 16 catches for 266 yards and four touchdowns. In an odd role reversal, Robinson came back by year's end and played at running back and wide receiver, where he was ultimately drafted to play by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unlike Robinson though, Gardiner can play quarterback at the next level and I have him tabbed as a 4th round prospect for 2015 as he stands 6'4" and has a smooth throwing motion (he needs to speed the release up a bit and have a more consistent release point, but his mechanics are otherwise solid).

As exciting as the new quarterback is I feel the best prospect on Michigan is in the backfield, although it remains to be seen as he has yet to take a snap. Fitzgerald Toussaint is listed as the starter but Michigan landed Derrick Green out of Richmond, Virginia. Green is by most accounts the top incoming freshman running back in the nation and we should be seeing him start by the middle of the season if he lives up to the hype.

I also want to point out that with the fullback position disappearing more and more from rosters, I don’t get the chance to say too much about them. Michigan has a true fullback in Joe Kerridge and we will see him more involved in short yardage and passing situations in 2013. He'll have highly touted Sione Houma nipping at his feet though.

Best Draft Prospect: Devin Gardner QB 4th Round 2015.



Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Michigan has Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo back in the fold, but it is not a star-studded receiving corps. Gallon produced 49 catches for 829 yards and 4 touchdowns with an impressive 16.9 YPC and Dileo is a very reliable slot receiver who will catch virtually anything thrown in his direction. What is missing is the size as these receivers go 5’10” and 5’9” respectively. Gardiner gave the Wolverines a nice target at 6’4” and Roy Roundtree was 6’1” and very impressive in the air, but he has moved on to the Cincinnati Bengals.

While Michigan will wait for some more players to step up at receiver, the answer to the passing game will come in the form of 6’5” tight end Devin Funchess. Funchess caught only 15 passes as a freshman but 5 were for touchdowns, a mark that led the team. Funchess is a player that by the beginning of 2014 will be on every radar in the country and he has a chance of developing into one of the premier tight ends at the FBS level. Funchess will have some help from back up and fellow sophomore A.J. Williams. With Michigan being a power running team, we will see the Wolverines uses multiple tight ends sets as in years past and Williams could be an NFL prospect himself when his career is through in Ann Arbor. Look for the running backs to really get involved catching the ball early on and this is what may ultimately push Green into the starting running back role. Toussaint only caught 6 passes in 2012 and is not seen as a great receiver out of the backfield. Once again I have to mention fullback Joe Kerridge who should catch at least 20 passes and contribute to the passing game.

Best Draft Prospect: Devin Funchess TE 3rd Round 2016.


Offensive Line:

Anyone following the Michigan programs and just the top prospects would feel the offensive line is a strength with Taylor Lewan, who at tackle, should be a top 10 or even a top 5 selection overall. Lewan and Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews should battle for the distinction of being the top lineman off the board. Even with Lewan the offensive line is not a strength for the Wolverines. Michigan only averaged 72.8 yards per game from the running backs although that number is a little skewed with the number of designed runs for Denard Robinson. The interior of the line will see three new starters in Ben Braden, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis, and they are two freshman and a sophomore. Michigan has traditionally done a good job over the years breaking in new lineman and they always seem to have players going to the NFL that are 3 and even 4 year starters. The fact remains that you still have new lineman so you don’t know what you are getting until the season begins. Fellow tackle Michael Schofield looks like a 7th Round prospect for 2014 and Michigan never has a shortage of big bodies that can come in if needed due to injury or ineffectiveness.

Best Draft Prospect: Taylor Lewan OT 1st Round 2014 (Certain top 10 pick and will battle Jake Matthews of Texas A&M for the honor of being the first lineman off the board).


Defense

Defensive Line:

Up front the Wolverines are solid but not athletically freakish or exceptional. Craig Roh was their best lineman a season ago but that distinction now belongs to defensive end Frank Clark. Clark is someone I have rated as a 6th round prospect as he posted 25 tackles but 9 came for loss with 2 sacks on the season. Keith Heitzman will start at the other end spot and while he got some time in last season, he is not as seasoned or as well rounded as Clark. The senior defensive tackles both have experience as Jibreel Black started three games a year ago and has played all over the line. Black looks like a free agent invite to an NFL camp, while I have fellow starter Quinton Washington rated as a 6th round prospect like Clark at defensive end. Washington has the athletic talent needed for the next level but his athletic conditioning has always come into question and he seemed to wear down or disappear for long stretches during games. Washington needs to adopt a more consistent game and choose his spots to try and penetrate the line. Ondre Pipkens is the primary backup at both tackle spots and is being groomed to be the leader for 2014 and beyond. This is a solid unit that plays well within it’s system and will stay with lane assignments. The Wolverines though do not have an athlete along the line with the individual skills that scream top notch NFL Draft prospect.

Best Draft Prospect: Frank Clark DE 6th Round 2015 and Quinton Washington DT 6th Round 2014


Linebackers:

Jake Ryan led the linebackers and the team with 88 tackles and a whopping 16 coming for a loss, but Ryan suffered an ACL tear, and while he will see action with Michigan, he will not be ready when the season begins. Junior Desmond Morgan is moving into his third year as a starter and will move from the outside to the middle. Morgan had 81 tackles and was called upon in coverage to take running backs coming out of the backfield or spy against mobile threats if Michigan faced a team with such assets. Morgan shows great instincts and moving to the middle should come easily, allowing sophomore James Ross to play the weak side. Ross is just a sophomore but I have seen enough of him and his amazing range and speed to place him as a 2nd/3rd round prospect for the 2016 Draft. Cam Gordon and Brennen Beyer will platoon at the strong side and combined they had nearly 40 tackles a season ago. Add Ryan into the mix when healthy and you can see linebacker is the position of greatest depth for Michigan with a few players looking like NFL prospects.

Best Draft Prospect: James Ross 2nd/3rd Round 2016.


Secondary:

Michigan is known for having some very good prospects coming from the secondary to the next level. Much like the defensive line though, the secondary is solid, but as far as standout individual players that look to be big time NFL prospects, they are not there. Raymon Taylor is a nice prospect and a sure tackler with 45 stops and a pair of interceptions in 2012, but at only 5’9” his height will push him down the draft board a round or two. Young Blake Countess looks like he will get the starting nod over senior Courtney Avery at the cornerback spot opposite Taylor. Thomas Gordon is the strong safety and the best defensive prospect for the NFL the Wolverines have in the secondary. Gordon is a 6th round prospect that posted 81 tackles and a couple of interceptions in 2012. Gordon has nice size but his lateral movement and lack of top end speed have his draft prospects limited, and why I have listed him as a 6th rounder versus a 3rd or 4th rounder. Jarrod Wilson was one of the best special teams players the Wolverines had a season ago and he now has his starting chance in the secondary opposite Gordon. I am anxious to check out Dymonte Thomas who was a big-time recruit and is getting rave reviews from coaches. This unit was #5 in the nation against the pass a season ago. Nobody expects the Wolverines to rank that high in 2013 but they are still a solid unit that does a great job at keeping the play in front of them. Michigan allowed 35 plays of 20 yards or longer last year, the lowest of any team at the FBS level.

Best Draft Prospect: Thomas Gordon S 6th Round 2014.



Special Teams:

Brendan Gibbons has shown consistency as a placekicker as he was 3-5 beyond 40 yards and he hit his only attempt over 50 yards (52 yarder). I currently believe he is a camp invite but with another big year he may become a 7th round draft choice or a highly sought after free agent with a real chance at landing a job. Former Big Ten punter of the Year, Will Hagerup will sit out all of 2013 and has his 3rd suspension since coming to Michigan. Hagerup was an NFL prospect but even if he does come back for 2014 I think he has too many red flags to be considered a legitimate contributer. Jeremy Gallon will be the primary punt returner and is the best special teams option the Wolverines have for a player reaching the next level.

Best Draft Prospect: Jeremy Gallon WR/PR 5th Round 2014


Schedule:

Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Nebraska are all home games so Michigan has a few things in their favor. The early November schedule sees the Wolverines toughest three game stretch with Michigan State (road), Nebraska and Northwestern (road). The schedule seems to indicate that getting back to double digit wins is attainable.


Draft Outlook:

All eyes are of course on Taylor Lewan who could be the top lineman selected. Michigan has a few players outside of Lewan for this season but most of the attention should be focused on later classes. Will Gardiner develop into a legitimate Pro option? Will Devin Funchess assert himself as one of the nations top tight ends? James Ross looks like a future star at linebacker and when does Derrick Green take over the starting running back spot and is he as good as advertised? There are a number of intriguing questions left to be answered for future classes and it’s why Michigan will be one of the most interesting teams to watch in 2013.

 

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