Michigan Football National Signing Day 2014: Position-by-Position Analysis
Let Michigan's 2014 class sink in for a bit.
Sure, it's not as deep or hyped as the 2013 bunch, but remember, rankings can be deceiving. This year, the Wolverines have a few classic underdogs along with the prototype 4- and 5-star ready-to-go guys.
This is a small class. I believe it's our smallest one to date. As you go through the process and the evaluation, you want to make sure, because you've got to be right.
What our coaches have done and what we've done, when you look at needs for next year, or two years from now, the numbers that we used and how we came up with it really fits what we wanted to do.
Jabrill Peppers headlines Team 135's newcomers, while the likes of Chase Winovich and Jared Wangler fit the mold of the blue-collar worker. A great mixture, Hoke's current class can certainly contribute this fall.
This slideshow will analyze the potential of the 16-man class.
Wilton Speight, 3-star PRO QB, 6'6", 220 pounds, Richmond Collegiate (Va.)
At 6'6" and 220 pounds, Speight towers over defenders and is strong enough to shake them. Touting decent mobility, he can certainly make plays with his feet. However, don't expect him to have wheels comparable to Devin Gardner's set.
Speight is a prime candidate for a redshirt, but a few issues could stop that from happening. First of all, Gardner isn't a tank—he's one hit away from being put of commission. That's what happens to running quarterbacks.
Gardner's learning to read from the pocket rather than just scoot, so that could help him earn the No. 1 role in 2014. But don't count out Speight, who could easily challenge Shane Morris for the No. 2 job. The lack of a backup has hindered the Wolverines for the past handful of years.
At this time, the future of Michigan's offense is a little hazy. Doug Nussmeier, the new coordinator, has the task of piecing together a scoring attack that was unreliable at best. Minus spurts against Indiana and Ohio State, Gardner was incredibly inconsistent when the game was on the line.
That being said, a three-way battle, at least in the spring, should be anticipated. Give Speight a puncher's chance at turning heads.
Michigan recruited Jeff Jones and Marlon Mack, but it didn't sign a running back this year.
After entertaining the idea of joining Hoke, Jones stuck with Minnesota.
Mack appeared to be on his way to Louisville after his talks with Hoke stopped, but he signed with South Florida instead.
During the season, signing a running back didn't seem like a move that Michigan would make. With Derrick Green, DeVeon Smith, and Drake Johnson, among others, the Wolverines appeared to be set as they drove into 2014.
But then Thomas Rawls was granted a release, leaving the stable short on depth. Johnson should return this fall, and the same is true for Justice Hayes, Rawls' former team/roommate.
Drake Harris, 4-star WR, 6'4", 180, Grand Rapids Christian (Mich.).
Freddy Canteen, 4-star WR, 6'1", 175, Elkton Eastern Christian (Md.)
Maurice Ways, 3-star WR, 6'4", 175, Detroit Country Day
Thursday night, Matt Pargoff of Maize and Blue News suggested that Canteen could be an under-the-radar candidate for playing time this year.
Pargoff cited the need for a true slot receiver now that Jeremy Gallon has departed, which was an excellent point. Michigan absolutely needs to find someone to fit into Gallon's former position—Canteen could be that guy.
Harris was the No. 7-ranked receiver of 2014, so he's an obvious headliner. He has the size, but he needs to concentrate on building strength. Overall, he's a fantastic athlete who combines speed with finesse. Adding extra mass and strength would make him more difficult to tackle.
That combination bodes well for the aerial assault.
Ways is tall and lanky. He's a perfect downfield target. But he may sit a year due to the Wolverines' depth, which includes JaRon Dukes, Da'Mario Jones and Amara Darboh, among others.
Ian Bunting, 4-star TE, 6'6", 210, Hinsdale Central (Ill.)
As the only signee at his position, Bunting's pretty much in a class by himself. But don't worry, there are plenty of up-and-coming tight ends to help him along the way. As with receiver, Michigan has built a nice collection of tight ends.
Whether or not Devin Funchess remains a part of that group is yet to be seen. However, Jake Butt proved worthy of No. 1 tight end status. A.J. Williams is another who could grab some playing time, giving Nussmeier and Hoke a pair of reliable options.
Bunting needs to gain weight. Lots of weight. Give him a year.
Mason Cole, 4-star OT/OG, 6'4", 285, Tarpon Springs East Lake (Fla.)
Juwann Bushell-Beatty, 3-star OT, 6'7", 310, Paramus Catholic (N.J.)
As pointed out in the intro, this year's class is a bit thin in some areas. Luckily for Hoke, 2013 and 2012 were decent years in terms of linemen. Cole and Bushell-Beatty should each challenge for meaningful snaps, but at this point, projecting either to start is a bit risky.
However, as the battle for left tackle intensifies, they could be among the surprise contenders. Hoke isn't against playing qualified youngsters.
Lawrence Marshall, 4-star WDE, 6'3", 225, Southfield High (Mich.)
Marshall may not realize his own potential. A common discussion, the "what-if" game pertaining to his upside is nearly as talked about as potential for Peppers. OK, maybe it's not quite there, but it's close.
Pay close attention to Marshall as he enters camp. He'll greatly benefit once he learns to use his hands rather than just his torso. Michigan's well of defensive ends could use a full-tilt Marshall in 2014.
Bryan Mone, 4-star DT, 6'4", 338, Highland High (Salt Lake City)
Brady Pallante, 3-star DT, 6'1", 255, Barron Collier (Fla.)
Willie Henry and Ondre Pipkins are going to need company, and Mone may be the one to join them.
Mone is ferocious and doesn't stop until he completes the play. If you're looking for a high-motor guy, you've found him—expect the frosh to jump into contention like he's been there before.
Pallante, on the other hand, needs to gain weight. Projecting him at defensive end makes more sense than tackle. But Greg Mattison's in charge, so trust that Pallante will be used if and where needed on defense.
Brandon Watson, 3-star CB, 6'0", 185, Elkton Eastern Christian Academy (Md.)
Again, depth and experience will come into play in this case. Remember, the Wolverines have Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor, along with Jourdan Lewis and a fleet of safety/corners waiting to get on the field.
Watson may have to take a number. But he could see special teams action.
Michael Ferns, 4-star ILB/TE, 6'3", 238, St. Clairsville High (Ohio)
Noah Furbush, 3-star OLB/DE, 6'4", 240, Kenton High (Ohio)
Chase Winovich, 4-star OLB, 6'4", 215, Thomas Jefferson High (Penn.)
Solid doesn't begin to describe this trio of linebackers, and neither does the word "versatile." Ferns could play on special teams from day one, and Furbush may be right on his heels.
Winovich is another player who could surprise as well. Hoke has to like his options with these three. As far as playing time at linebacker rather than special teams, it could take a year for Ferns, Furbush and Winovich to crack the rotation with meaningful minutes.
However, Ferns seems to be the one who could actually challenge Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and Ben Gedeon, along with others.
Jared Wangler, 3-star S, 6'1", 218, Warren De La Salle (Mich.)
Michigan's secondary was awfully good or awfully bad in 2013. Finding a happy medium is the key. To be fair, the slip-ups weren't all that common; they were just extremely costly. For the most part, Curt Mallory's defensive backs showed improvement.
Channing Stribling, a 2013 recruit, has a lot of promise. But Dymonte Thomas, a 4-star safety from a year ago, looks to be the next bone-crushing safety in Ann Arbor.
Needless to say, Wangler will have to wait his turn.
Oh, and there's one more guy...
Jabrill Peppers, 5-star ATH, 6'1", 205 pounds, Paramus Catholic (N.J.)
Michigan is the first program to sign a player at the PEPPS position. It should also be mentioned that Peppers is the first PEPPS of the Hoke era.
Jokes aside, Peppers should immediately play. In fact (not really), he's currently devising offensive and defensive schemes tailored to his specific needs. Nussmeier and Mattison have given him full control...
OK. Jokes. Yeah, wild speculation into Peppers' future is fun. But put it this way: Don't be surprised to see him as the staff's MVP—he's going to make the coordinators and position coaches look very good.
Jabrill Peppers will be as good as Jabrill Peppers wants to be.
Hoke, obviously, wants to pump the brakes and attempt to calm the Peppers hype before it gets too overblown...
Brady Hoke asked if Jabrill Peppers will play both ways: 'Let's let the kid walk on campus (first)' http://t.co/Li963FyelU— Wolverines News (@WolverinesMLive) February 6, 2014
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81