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I went through the process of ranking Michigan’s quarterbacks (LINK), which created a lot of debate. This has been in the works for a long time, but here’s a look at my ranking of running backs, going back to the beginning of the Lloyd Carr era.
To be considered for this list, a running back must have started at least ten games in a Michigan uniform*, which roughly equals one full season’s worth of starts with some wiggle room for being banged up a little bit.
*There are two exceptions to this for different reasons, which you’ll see in the post.
Hit the jump.
Michael Hart, Jr.
Kevin Grady, So.
Jerome Jackson, Sr.
Mister Simpson, RS Fr.
High school: Heard County High School in Franklin, GA
Ratings: Rivals 4-star and #5 RB; Scout 4-star and #24 RB
Other notable offers: Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, South Carolina
Scoop: Brown arrived when the starting job was locked down by Michael Hart and probably should have redshirted as a freshman, when he contributed only 16 carries for 41 yards as the sixth-leading ground gainer. He made 12 starts over the next three years, several of which came when Michigan’s starters (Michael Hart, Brandon Minor) were injured. Brown led the team in rushing with 480 yards as a senior in 2009, despite missing several games due to injury. He finished his career with 201 carries for 1,025 yards (5.1 YPC) and 8 touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 135 yards and 1 touchdown and returned 19 kickoffs for 386 yards. The lightning-fast running back was known for three things: speed (85- and 90-yard touchdown runs in his carer), an inability to break tackles (witness the phantom tackle by an EMU safety), and injury (freshman inexperience aside, he played in only 21 of 37 games from 2007-2009 – which meant he was available only 57% of the time). He went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft.
High school: Varina High School in Richmond, VA
Ratings: Rivals 4-star and #1 FB; Scout 4-star and #29 RB
Other notable offers: Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Virginia Tech
Scoop: Just like Brown, Minor arrived at a time when Michael Hart was an established starter. Minor was second on the team as a freshman with 238 yards rushing, behind only Hart. Minor started only six games from 2007-2009 and had injury problems that limited his playing time, despite playing in 32 out of 37 possible games in those years. He led the team in rushing his final two seasons, led the team in scoring in 2008, and finished with less than a 5.2-yards-per-carry average only once in his career (2007). He finished his career with 331 carries for 1,658 yards (5.0 YPC) and 20 touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns and returned 14 kickoffs for 261 yards. Minor was voted All-Big Ten Honorable Mention as a junior and prior to his senior season, he was on the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards’ watch lists. He went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft.
High school: Middletown South High School in Middletown, NJ
Ratings: Rivals 4-star and #10 RB; Scout 4-star and #9 RB
Other notable offers: Florida, Miami, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech
Scoop: Moreno redshirted in 2006 due to the presence of a trio of talented backs in Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin, and Danny Ware. However, he burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2007 with 1,334 yards on 248 carries and 14 touchdowns that season. Moreno was even better in 2008, when he had 250 carries for 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns. For his career, Moreno had 498 carries for 2,733 yards (5.5 YPC) and 30 touchdowns. He also caught 53 passes for 645 yards and 2 touchdowns. Moreno was drafted in the 1st round (#12 overall) by the Denver Broncos in 2009. In two seasons he has 429 carries for 1,726 yards and 12 touchdowns.
High school: Brookwood High Schoo in Snellville, GA
Ratings: Rivals 4-star and #20 RB; Scout 4-star and #21 RB
Other notable offers: California, Oregon, Purdue, Virginia
Scoop: There were rumors that Smith wouldn’t qualify, and I can’t find any information about a college football career.
High school: Garfield High School in Akron, OH
Ratings: Rivals 5-star and #1 RB; Scout 5-star and #1 RB
Other notable offers: USC
College: Ohio State
Scoop: Wells shared time with Antonio Pittman as a freshman in 2006, but still had 576 yards and 7 touchdowns. Wells started in both 2007 and 2008 and totaled 481 carries for 2,806 yards (5.8 YPC) and 23 touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 63 yards. Wells was drafted in the 1st round (#31 overall) by the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. He’s been a backup running back for the Cardinals for two seasons with 292 carries for 1,190 yards 9 touchdowns
Michigan didn’t offer many running backs in the 2006 class, but 4 out of the 5 were pretty successful in college. Injuries derailed the careers of both Michigan commits, but both also averaged over five yards a carry in their careers. Minor was a tough inside runner with the ability to break tackles and big runs, and Brown was a home run threat with two 85+ yard touchdown runs and a 61-yard touchdown reception in limited time. His 201 career carries were less than Moreno or Wells ever had as starters in any season.
Biggest miss: Wells. Even though he was the lower pick in the 2009 draft compared to Moreno, he hurt Michigan with 222 yards and a backbreaking touchdown run in the 2007 version of The Game.
Biggest bust: Smith. Brown was rated higher on Rivals, but Smith never made it to college at all. Even though it was frustrating to watch Brown get tackled so easily and injured so often, he was also exciting to watch when he was on the field. I would rather watch Brown than a ghost.
Best in class: Moreno. Arguments could be made for Wells, LeSean McCoy (2nd round pick out of Pitt, current starter for Philadelphia Eagles), or Dexter McCluster (2nd round pick out of Ole Miss, punt returner and backup RB for Kansas City Chiefs). But Moreno was the highest draft pick of the four, had an excellent college career, and seems to have a decent NFL career in the works. Wells has been a disappointment in the NFL, McCoy played in a subpar Big East conference, and McCluster is more of a scatback than an every-down player.
Brandon Graham – DE/OLB
Graham is certain to be Michigan’s highest drafted player, projected by most “experts” as a mid-1st to early-2nd round pick. At 6’1″ and 268 lbs., he’s likely too short to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. There are very few 4-3 teams who like to play undersized ends like Graham. He’s more likely to be drafted to play outside linebacker by a team that runs a 3-4 scheme. Luckily for him, there has been a recent uptick in the number of teams who run base 3-4 fronts. He has excellent straight-line speed and benches 495 lbs., according to Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis. He suffered from a lack of conditioning and discipline early in his career at Michigan, but the last two years have seen Graham turn into a leader on and off the field. The effort level is there now in a way that it wasn’t when he was a freshman and sophomore.
Projection and potential destinations: 1st round between picks 12-29 (Miami, Seattle, New England, Green Bay, Arizona, New York Jets)
Donovan Warren – CB/S
After Graham, nobody is guaranteed to get drafted. Warren hurt himself with a couple slow 40 times, although his game speed was better than the reported 4.68 he ran at the NFL Combine. He’s run so slow, in fact, that some teams have suggested Warren might fit better as a safety in the NFL. Warren left Michigan after his junior season, but his production was less than one might expect from a “shutdown” Michigan corner. He’s a solid tackler with average ball skills. He offers no additional skills as a return man and, for the most part, doesn’t have the athleticism to be a big threat on interception returns. His upside is low, but he performed well enough on the field (although not necessarily in workouts) to warrant a late round pick. If he plays cornerback in the NFL, I think it has to be for a team that plays a good deal of Cover 2. Otherwise, he’s a free safety in the making.
Projection and potential destinations: 6th round (Tampa Bay, Chicago, Indianapolis, Green Bay, New England, Minnesota)
Zoltan Mesko – P
Mesko is generally considered to be the second-best punter in the draft. He gets excellent hangtime, which prevents him from outkicking his coverage. I always wondered if the rugby-style punts that Rich Rodriguez employs would hurt Mesko’s ability to be a straight dropback punter, and for whatever reason, his workouts for pro teams have reportedly been subpar. Those two things might not be related, but it’s interesting to consider. He was voted captain of Michigan’s team in 2009, so he’s likely not a Mike Vanderjagt-like bonehead of a specialist. His lack of kickoff experience might hurt him in the eyes of some general managers. On the plus side, he did 16 reps on the bench press at 225 lbs.
Projection and potential destinations: 7th round (Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Miami, Denver)
Brandon Minor – RB
You will find no bigger fan of Brandon Minor than me. I love the way he runs the ball, his power, and the way he finishes runs. He also has underrated speed. Unfortunately, he rarely stayed healthy at Michigan, which hurt his production and surely NFL personnel people have flagged him for his injuries. Minor averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in his final two college seasons and he’s an excellent pass blocker. I don’t think NFL teams will spend a draft pick on a guy who spent so much time on the sideline, but if he somehow stays healthy, Minor is the type of guy who I could see having a 10-year NFL career. He reminds me of former Tennessee Volunteer and Detroit Lion Shawn Bryson, although Bryson had better speed.
Stevie Brown – SS
Brown came to Michigan as a cornerback/free safety tweener. By his senior year in 2009, he was an undersized strongside linebacker because he couldn’t cover in open space. He’s too indecisive to play free safety in the NFL and too small to play linebacker, but he could be a special teams contributor and backup strong safety on an NFL roster. His ball skills are somewhat lacking, but he ran a 4.55 at Michigan’s pro day and he brings some kick coverage skills to the table. He is a solid tackler in limited space and he can be an effective blitzer, so I see him as an in-the-box safety type.
Projection and potential destinations: Undrafted (Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Arizona, New York Jets, Baltimore)
Mark Ortmann – OT
Ortmann has excellent size at 6’6″ and 295 lbs. He was a solid but unspectacular starter at left guard and left tackle in his final two years. He has long arms and decent mobility, and I always thought Ortmann would turn out to be an above average player. However, he’s not the mauler that NFL general managers might be looking for. Even mediocre Michigan linemen have always been given a shot at the next level, so I expect Ortmann to get some looks. But ultimately he lacks the mobility and athleticism to play left tackle, and he lacks the strength and size to play right tackle. I could see him hanging around for a few years on practice squads or as a backup, but I don’t see him being an NFL starter at any point.
Carlos Brown – RB
Brown was one of the most hyped members of Michigan’s 2006 class due to his speed, but the production on the field never really matched the hype. While he has the speed to outrun even NFL players, Brown rarely makes it past the second level of defenders. In 20+ years of watching Michigan football, I can’t remember a running back that seemingly went down with as little contact. Brown stops his feet on contact and almost never gains yardage on second effort. He does have good hands and could be a third down back, but to me, he’s not a first- or second-string back. His ceiling seems to be as an end-of-the-bench, situational back who might be able to return an occasional kickoff.
David Moosman – OG
At 6’5″ and 292 lbs., Moosman is a little small to be an offensive guard in the NFL. He needs to pack on some weight to have a chance. Moosman started 23 of his last 24 games at Michigan and split time between guard and center. Unfortunately, the team’s struggles with him at center hint that a future snapping the ball might be out of the question. I think he’s strictly a guard prospect. Moosman is decently athletic and was rarely beaten at the guard position. He’s not someone who will wow you with his strength, but he has solid technique and he battles. To have a chance at sticking in the NFL, he needs to play for a zone running team like Indianapolis, Atlanta, or Washington.
Players are listed in order of their likelihood to be drafted, as determined by yours truly.
What I learned from Saturday was that Rich Rodriguez is not the savior of the Michigan program. He is not a genius who can make lemonade out of . . . I don’t know . . . used bicycle tires. He is a football coach who has huge flaws, especially when his team has huge flaws itself.
Illinois was a 1-win football team before Saturday, and that win didn’t even come against an FBS school. They beat the winningest program in college football history, and it wasn’t even close. Michigan’s inexperienced and untalented defense gave up 500 yards total, 377 of which came on the ground. Illinois had not one 100-yard rusher, but two (running backs Micheal Leshoure and Jason Ford) . . . and that’s not counting the 97 yards rushing from their nearly-benched starting quarterback, Juice Williams.
In last week’s game against Penn State, the offense seemed to blame. They consistently failed to give Michigan’s defense a chance. This week both sides of the ball seem to have regressed from earlier in the year. Michigan continues to turn the ball over on offense (3 fumbles) while failing to get turnovers on defense (uhhh . . . 0 fumbles, 0 interceptions). Prior to Saturday’s game, Michigan was 105th in the country. I’m assuming they’re even lower now, although I refuse to look up the stats.
I have to admit that I turned off the game with a few minutes left in the third quarter. I’m usually very calm when watching games on TV, but when free safety Mike Williams lost contain on Juice Williams for about the tenth time on the zone read option, I screamed “Stop doing that!” at the TV. I figured that meant I had had enough, so I shut it off. Mike Williams goes full speed all the time. Unfortunately, he’s often aimed in the wrong direction, despite racking up 16 tackles. Other leading tacklers this year include walk-on safety Jordan Kovacs and walk-on linebacker Kevin Leach, so when safeties and/or slow, undersized quasi-linebackers are notching the majority of your takedowns, something is wrong.
Speaking of something horribly wrong . . . 38-13. Against a one-win team. A one-win team that led by a score of only 14-13 at halftime.
Offensive game ball goes to…Roy Roundtree? Sure. I guess. I don’t know. The offense only mustered one touchdown and two field goals against a bad defense. Choices are slim.
Defensive game ball goes to…Brandon Graham. Seven tackles, one sack, one blocked punt.
Let’s see less of this guy on offense…Carlos Brown. I can’t believe Rich Rodriguez left Brown in on the goal line. That was the most ridiculous coaching decision from yesterday. Brown is fast, but he hasn’t broken a tackle since that one time in his freshman year when he was playing Madden and hit the truck stick. If Minor is healthy enough to come in on fourth down, he’s healthy enough to come in on first down. And if he’s not? Put Moundros in at fullback and Kevin Grady at tailback. Hell, put John McColgan in at fullback with Grady at tailback. Put Vincent Smith or Michael Shaw at tailback. Brown pussy-footed his way into the hole on 3rd down (maybe 2nd down) and I let out a loud sigh. That whole set of downs was asinine.
Let’s see less of this guy on defense…Michael Williams. I’m sorry for predicting that he would/should start at safety prior to the season. I thought he was better than this. He’s not. He was single-handedly responsible for Juice Williams’s rushing TD and about 50 more of Juice’s yards. My high schoolers can defend the zone read option better than he did. Put Troy Woolfolk back at strong safety, move Kovacs to free safety, and plug J.T. Floyd back in at cornerback. I’d rather have a bad cornerback than a bad safety.