2018 Season Countdown: #5 Cesar Ruiz

Tag: 2018 season countdown

26Aug 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #5 Cesar Ruiz

Cesar Ruiz (#51, image via Twitter)

Name: Cesar Ruiz
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 319 lbs.
High school: Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy
Position: Center
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #51
Last year: I ranked Ruiz #24 and said he would be a backup center/guard (LINK). He played in ten games with six starts at right guard.
TTB Rating: 99

Ruiz came in as the country’s #1 center recruit in the 2017 class, which sounds like a guy who should be able to be an immediate starter. But I did an analysis of #1 centers from previous classes (LINK), and it didn’t suggest greatness for year one at the center position. A lot of freshman centers end up playing guard or just being backups in year one. Michigan started fifth year senior Patrick Kugler at center, and the guard positions were manned by Ben Bredeson on the left side and Michael Onwenu on the right. Ruiz ended up passing Onwenu at right guard by the end of the season.

Now that Kugler has graduated, Ruiz has taken over the center position. Reports out of practice this spring were that he has really taken to the role, which was expected. The offensive line has reportedly taken significant strides forward, although I can’t remember an off-season where that hasn’t been the scuttlebutt – whether it turned out to be true or false. Ruiz was quarterback Shea Patterson’s center at IMG Academy, so they should have a good rapport already. Ruiz appears to be well on his way to a successful college career, and offensive line coach Ed Warinner has done a good job of developing linemen over the years. There are concerns about the tackle spots, but Ruiz and the guard positions should be pretty good.

Prediction: Starting center

23Aug 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #6 Donovan Peoples-Jones

Donovan Peoples-Jones

Name: Donovan Peoples-Jones
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 199 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) Cass Tech
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #9
Last year: I ranked Peoples-Jones #34 and said he would be a backup wide receiver (LINK). He started four games and made 22 catches for 277 yards (12.6 yards/catch). He also ran 4 times for 57 yards (14.2 yards/carry) and returned 40 punts for 320 yards (8.0 yards/return) and 1 touchdown.
TTB Rating: 92

Peoples-Jones was a superstar coming out of high school, but even so, I thought he would be a backup in 2017. Receiver is not an extremely position to adjust to when you jump up a level in competition. Fellow freshman Tarik Black seemed to make that adjustment quicker, but neither one was extremely productive for any stretch of time. In Peoples-Jones’s case, he ripped off a 79-yard punt return against Air Force for a touchdown. He had a 44-yard run against Cincinnati. He had a 48-yard catch against Wisconsin and a 37-yard catch against Air Force. And he had a 42-yard punt return against Ohio State. And that’s it for plays that went for 20+ yards: 2 catches, 1 run, and 2 punt returns. Of course, the quarterback and offensive line situations did not help, but a 5-star receiving notching five total explosive plays in a full season as a freshman is a tad bit disappointing.

On the plus side, there were good reasons for that lack of production, all of which have been mitigated. He was a freshman (he’s not anymore). He didn’t have a receivers coach (Jim McElwain was hired). He didn’t have a good quarterback (enter Shea Patterson) or a good offensive line (Ed Warinner was hired). The improvement of the offensive line has yet to be seen, but most people are expecting at least a slight uptick in performance. Black and Peoples-Jones should be the starters on the outside, and I expect bigger production from Peoples-Jones. It will be interesting to see which receiver really takes the reins as the go-to guy, because it’s not often that Michigan has had two such big, physical, and athletic receivers. I think Peoples-Jones is a little more valuable than Black because DPJ returns punts and could return kickoffs, while Black is less of a special teams-style contributor.

Prediction: Starting wide receiver; 40 catches for 600 yards and 6 touchdowns

22Aug 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #7 Karan Higdon

Karan Higdon (image via USA Today)

Name: Karan Higdon
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 202 lbs.
High school: Sarasota (FL) Riverside
Position: Running back
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #22
Last year: I ranked Higdon #36 and said he would be a backup running back with 80 carries for 440 yards and 5 TDs (LINK). He started seven games and ran the ball 164 times for 994 yards (6.1 YPC) and 11 touchdowns; he also caught 8 passes for 131 yards (16.4 yards/catch).
TTB Rating: 73

Going into the 2017 season, Higdon was pegged as the backup to Chris Evans at running back. It seemed like Higdon would be #2 on the depth chart. In an odd twist, Evans started game one and was outplayed by Ty Isaac, who had a short stint as the top guy. Then Higdon took over and hit his stride after the first third of the season. He truly broke out with 25 carries for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns against Indiana, including a 59-yard breakaway touchdown and the game-winning score in overtime. He had other stellar games against Minnesota (200 yards) and Rutgers (158 yards), and he was Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week (with teammate Evans) for his performance against the Gophers. My predictions for Higdon in 2017 were almost exactly 50% short in each category (80 carries to 164, 440 yards to 994, 5 TDs to 11).

Now the roles have switched. Higdon is the presumed star going into 2018, and Evans looks like the primary backup. Higdon has supposedly added significant weight and strength this off-season and has responded well to the new strength and conditioning staff. After finishing last season just shy of 1,000 yards (994, to be exact), he’s obviously a candidate to be Michigan’s first thousand-yard back since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011. The only other Big Ten teams not to achieve that feat since 2011 or earlier are such standout programs as Illinois, Purdue, and Rutgers. It’s hard not to like the upward trajectory of Higdon’s career, but it remains to be seen whether he can take over a game against quality opponents. His five career 100-yard games have come against Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers 2016, and Rutgers 2017. Naturally, a lot of that has to do with the offensive line, but Michigan’s running game still needs work overall. Michigan has another established back in Evans, but after that the depth chart gets a little thin and unproven.

Prediction: Starting running back; 200 carries for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns

21Aug 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #8 Ben Bredeson


Ben Bredeson (#74, image via The Wolverine)

Name: Ben Bredeson
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 320 lbs.
High school: Hartland (WI) Arrowhead
Position: Offensive guard
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #74
Last year: I ranked Bredeson #9B and said he would be the starting left guard (LINK). He started twelve games at left guard.
TTB Rating: 88

Bredeson quickly became a very dependable interior lineman for Michigan. He started most of the season as a freshman, and he became a full-time starter in 2017. His sophomore campaign was good enough for him to be named Second Team All-Conference. He’s a massive lineman who looks like the tough, hard-nosed, road-grading Michigan offensive linemen of yesteryear.

The buzz coming out of Schembechler Hall is that Bredeson has been the team’s best lineman, and that’s not surprising. There are a lot of unproven players up front, and other than left guard, the next most solidified position is center Cesar Ruiz, who was primarily a backup last season and played a lot of right guard. Bredeson is of great value to the team, and that’s represented by the fact that he’s #8 on this list. At the same time, Michigan has a battle at right guard (Michael Onwenu vs. Stephen Spanellis) and a battle at right tackle (James Hudson vs. Juwann Bushell-Beatty), even though Onwenu and Bushell-Beatty have earned starting gigs before. I think Michigan could weather the loss of Bredeson by plugging in someone like Spanellis (or left tackle Jon Runyan, Jr.) temporarily, but it would be a setback. Led by new offensive line coach Ed Warinner, I think this line is going to be pretty solid in 2018.

Prediction: Starting left guard

21Aug 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #9 Tarik Black

Tarik Black (image via Michigan Daily)

Name: Tarik Black
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 215 lbs.
High school: Cheshire (CT) Cheshire Academy
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Redshirt freshman
Jersey number: #7
Last year: I ranked Black #27 and said he would be a starting wide receiver with 35 catches for 450 yards and 5 touchdowns (LINK). He caught 11 passes for 149 yards and 1 touchdown.
TTB Rating: 82

Black had a great start to his career, making 2 catches for 83 yards and 1 touchdown in the season opener against Florida. He was less effective against Cincinnati (4 catches for 11 yards) and had 5 catches for 55 yards against Air Force. Unfortunately, he also broke his foot against Air Force, which ended his season. Black entered college playing second fiddle to fellow receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, but early on it looked like Black was more ready to contribute in college.

Now that he’s healthy again, Black looks to be a starter on the outside. He should be one of the guys who benefits most from having an experienced, talented quarterback in Shea Patterson. Black is big and strong with good speed and ball skills. Normally a guy with 11 career catches wouldn’t be ranked this high in the countdown, but Michigan doesn’t have a lot of numbers at outside receiver now that Maurice Ways, Drake Harris, Kekoa Crawford, and others have moved on to greener pastures. Black is going to need to play – a lot – or else the Wolverines will find themselves with huge question marks on the outside.

Prediction: Starting wide receiver; 45 catches for 600 yards and 6 touchdowns