Review of 2007 Recruiting: Tight Ends

Tag: Steve Watson

25Apr 2014
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Review of 2007 Recruiting: Tight Ends

I sure am glad Aaron Hernandez didn’t accept his scholarship offer to play for Michigan.

Mike Massey, RS Sr.
Andre Criswell, RS Jr.
Chris McLaurin, RS Jr.
Carson Butler, So.

Steve Watson
High school: Denver (CO) Mullen
Ratings: Rivals 3-star, #19 TE
College: Michigan
Other notable offers: Cal, Colorado, Nebraska, UCLA
Scoop: Watson redshirted as a freshman in 2007, then played some on special teams in 2008. As a redshirt sophomore in 2009, Watson moved to linebacker and made 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 pass breakup in limited action. He became a defensive end and even saw some action at defensive tackle in 2010, notching 3 total tackles. With a dearth of tight ends on the team, Watson moved back to offense in 2011 and started four games; he made just 1 catch in his career, but he made it count because it was a 9-yard touchdown against Northwestern. He was not drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft and his football career appears to be finished.

Martell Webb
High school: Pontiac (MI) Northern
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #29 WR
College: Michigan
Other notable offers: Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin
Scoop: Webb played sparingly as a freshman in 2007, mostly as a special teamer but also as a backup tight end. As a sophomore in 2008, Webb mostly sat on the bench behind Carson Butler and Kevin Koger and played in just three games. Still behind Koger in 2009, Webb started just one game but saw more time at tight end and caught 4 passes for 44 yards and 1 touchdown. He started two more games as a senior in 2010 and caught 5 passes for 67 yards and 1 touchdown. Webb went undrafted in the 2011 NFL Draft and has never played in the league, but he has bounced around between the Eagles, Jets, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Colts, Titans, Lions, and now the Indianapolis Colts.

Christian Ballard
High school: Lawrence (KS) Free State
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #10 TE
College: Iowa
Other notable offers: Georgia, Oklahoma, UCLA
Scoop: Watson played defensive end to start at Iowa, making 15 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks as a freshman backup in 2007. He became a starter in 2008 and made 40 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble. Ballard grew into a starting defensive tackle by his junior year and had a very good season with 54 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks; he was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. As a senior in 2010, he played both defensive end and defensive tackle and made 43 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble, once again earning Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. He was drafted in the 4th round (#106 overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings after testing positive for marijuana, which caused his draft stock to fall a little bit. He made two total starts in 2011-2012 for the Vikings and totaled 29 tackles and 1 sack. However, he quit football prior to the 2013 season due to a lack of love for the game.

Aaron Hernandez
High school: Bristol (CT) Central
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #2 TE, #66 overall
College: Florida
Other notable offers: Connecticut, Iowa, Notre Dame
Scoop: Hernandez started three games as a freshman in 2007, including the Outback Bowl against Michigan; he caught 9 passes for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns that year. He became the starter at tight end as a sophomore and caught 34 passes for 381 yards and 5 touchdowns. As a junior in 2009, Hernandez won the John Mackey Award (given to the nation’s best tight end) with 68 receptions for 850 yards and 5 touchdowns; naturally, he was First Team All-SEC and a First Team All-American. Hernandez left college after his junior year only to drop to the 4th round (#113 overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, chosen by the New England Patriots. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and totaled 175 catches for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns from 2010-2012. He also saw some action as a situational running back, running 9 times for 97 yards in his career. However, Hernandez was allegedly involved in a murder and was arrested during the summer of 2013, for which he is still matriculating through the legal process. It’s safe to assume that his football career is over for the foreseeable future, if not permanently.

Blaine Irby
High school: Ventura (CA) St. Bonaventure
Ratings: Rivals 4-star, #6 TE
College: Texas
Other notable offers: Cal, Florida State, Miami, UCLA, USC
Scoop: Irby made 2 catches for 29 yards as a freshman in 2007. As a sophomore in 2008, he caught 10 passes for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a game against Rice. He sat out the 2009 and 2010 seasons rehabbing from the injury, which tore his right ACL and MCL and caused nerve damage. Irby returned in 2011 to catch 11 passes for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns. Rather than pursuing a sixth year of eligibility or attempting to make a career out of football, he chose to retire following the 2011 season.

Michigan actually seems to have done quite a good job of identifying talent at the tight end position in the 2007 class. Ballard made a big impact (at a different position), Hernandez turned into arguably the best tight end in college, and Irby seemed well on his way to a good career, if not for the knee injury. Webb has bounced around NFL practice squads and was somewhat hampered by his situation, where he spent his last three years under a coach who didn’t use tight ends very much. Watson, the least accomplished of the bunch, still turned into a mediocre starter and was likely stunted in his development by the Rich Rodriguez offense and bouncing to defense. If he had played tight end his whole career for a coach who valued tight ends more (such as the guy who recruited him, Lloyd Carr, or the guy for whom he finished his career, Brady Hoke).

Biggest miss: Christian Ballard. I suppose the choice here based on talent would be Aaron Hernandez, but his repeated run-ins with the law, failed drug tests, etc. would be a huge black mark on the program. Even if Ballard never played a down at tight end and played defense instead, he turned into a quality player who was NFL-bound.

Biggest bust: Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez had all kinds of talent and could have been one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history, although he might have been limited by Rich Rodriguez’s offense. He was probably better off at Florida than he would have been elsewhere, so he made the right choice. Unfortunately, that appears to have been one of the few good choices he has made in his life. I’m glad to say that Michigan has no real connection to him, but it’s a sad story overall.

Best in class: Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski, who went to Arizona, caught 28 passes for 525 yards and 6 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2007 and followed that up with 47 receptions for 672 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore. He missed the 2009 season after having back surgery, but his first two seasons were good enough to earn him a 2nd round selection (#42 overall) by the New England Patriots in the 2010 NFL Draft. Despite suffering from various injuries at the pro level, he has caught 226 passes for 3,255 yards and 42 touchdowns during his four-year career and made the Pro Bowl twice.

15Mar 2012
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More Pro Day Results from Ann

Ryan Van Bergen ran a 4.9 forty just two weeks after he “started running full strength;” he posted 31 reps on the bench. “I think I upped my status,” he said.

Kevin Koger put up 21 repetitions but didn’t run the forty due to a “tweaked hamstring.” He still participated in a few drills and caught passes from Cincinnati Bengal Bruce Gradkowski.
Steve Watson ran a 4.6 second forty, which “shocked” even him. “Things are looking up,” he said, presumably talking about his chances of making an NFL roster.
Mark Huyge put on 16 pounds of reportedly good weight and now tips the scales at 311 lbs.
Martin, Hemingway and Molk didn’t participate in very many drills because of their impressive Combine performances and, in Molk’s case, because of a nagging injury.
Update: According to Devin Gardner’s Twitter, Kelvin Grady ran a 4.41 forty, registered a 38 inch vertical and a “4 nothin” shuttle.
21Feb 2012
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Wolverines in the NFL: Pre-Combine Reports

Mike Martin is large.
The NFL Combine begins tomorrow and continues through the 28th. Michigan is represented by Molk, Martin, and Hemingway as they attempt to impress scouts and coaches for the upcoming NFL Draft, which will take place April 26-28. But before we start hearing about Wonderlic scores, forty times, interview impressions, and bench press reps, here’s a look at where Michigan’s participants currently project:

Junior Hemingway:
Expected to be a late round pick or an undrafted free agent, Hemingway is the 36th rated wide receiver according to ESPN, the 39th to Todd McShay and the 46th to CBS. Hemingway, of course, isn’t very explosive, fast or agile, but his big body and jump ball skills have caught the eye of NFL scouts. Hopefully Junior is able to stick around the NFL for a few years and earn some money since his family home was recently burglarized and many of his personal items were stolen while he was in Atlanta training for the combine (watch news coverage here).
David Molk: Molk and Martin share the same goal: break the combine’s bench press record. While Molk remains ambitious in the weight room, he won’t be running or participating in agility drills at the combine due to his foot injury. “It kind of kills me, because that was what I was always really good at,” Molk said. “I could kill all of those drills.” Agility drills or not, Molk’s athleticism/mobility is not lost on NFL scouts, who have him pegged as a good fit with a zone blocking team. Still, at 6’2” 286 lbs., Molk’s ability to compete against the behemoth defensive tackles of the NFL remains a point of concern for scouts, and most projections have Molk as a later round draft selection. Molk is currently the fifth ranked center to ESPN and the sixth to CBS. He also will likely face questions about his health during interviews after suffering four injuries to his right leg since 2009. Watch Molk rehab that leg and train with Mike Barwis in this video.

Mike Martin: After drawing rave reviews while in Mobile, Alabama practicing for the Senior Bowl, Martin is considered an early round selection by some and a mid-round selection by others. Scouts cite strength, intelligence, toughness, technique and quickness among his strengths while noting size and reach as weaknesses. Thanks to his video editing abilities, Martin gives us a three minute peek into his daily grind via his Twitter:

Kevin Koger – who was outspoken about his combine snub – and Steve Watson are scheduled to participate in the “regional NFL combine” on March 3. Meanwhile, RVB will focus on rehabbing his injured foot while preparing for Michigan’s Pro Day on March 15.
20Dec 2011
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Tight Ends Preview: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech

Kevin Koger looks dapper in a suit that he stole from my closet.  He can keep the tie, though.
(image via Michigan Daily)

Senior Kevin Koger finished the season with 21 receptions for 235 yards (11.2 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns.  Koger has had an up-and-down career after earning the starting TE job as a true freshman in 2008.  He has alternated amazing catches (see the 2009 Western Michigan game) with a frustrating number of drops.  However, he’s a solid and willing blocker who can be effective in the running game as an in-line blocker or in open space.
Backups: Fifth year senior Steve Watson has been the second tight end for most of the season.  Watson has previously played outside linebacker and defensive end, too, before switching back to TE prior to the 2011 season; Watson’s only career reception was a 9-yard touchdown against Northwestern.  Redshirt junior Brandon Moore also caught 1 pass for 9 yards this season, but not for a touchdown.  Moore is used mostly in short yardage and goal line situations.

 Fifth year senior Chris Drager is a 6’4″, 264 lb. former defensive end.  He started 11 games at defensive end in 2010 (stats: 34 tackles, 2 sacks) before switching to offense during the offseason.  As one might expect from a former defensive player, he’s a solid blocker, although his 14 total receptions for 186 yards (13.3 yards per catch) and 2 touchdowns aren’t too imposing.
Backups: Redshirt sophomore Eric Martin is a 6’2″, 269 lb. blocking tight end with 2 catches for 17 yards (8.5 yards per catch) and 1 touchdown.  Randall Dunn and George George (no, that’s not a typo) have combined for 3 receptions, 47 yards, and 1 touchdown.

The edge in athleticism goes to Kevin Koger, who not only has better stats but fits Michigan’s spread-ish offense well and can get in the way downfield.  Koger also has the ability to stretch the field with his above average speed.  The Hokies’ tight ends have a size advantage (all three Michigan tight ends are between 255-258 lbs.) and are effective blockers for running back David Wilson.  Since it’s tough to gauge blocking ability compared to receiving skills, I think a slight edge goes to . . .
Advantage: Michigan

17Oct 2011
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Michigan at Michigan State Awards

Devin Gardner (#7) scrambles, but to no avail.
(image via

Let’s see more of this guy on offense . . . Devin Gardner.  I’m not saying more as in he should be the starter, but I do like what Al Borges is doing with Gardner.  I don’t typically like two-quarterback platoons, but Gardner is a more skilled passer than Denard Robinson.  He made some gaffes on Saturday (getting sacked on fourth down, making an illegal forward pass, etc.), but he also threw some nice balls and made some plays with his legs.  People keep saying that Robinson is a threat to go all the way on every play, but if opponents put eight or nine decently talented guys in the box, Robinson won’t have any running room.  And until he proves that he can beat a team with his arm, Michigan needs to work in a passing threat.  Personally, I’m enjoying the plays when Gardner is at quarterback and Robinson lines up in the backfield or at wide receiver.

Let’s see less of this guy on offense . . . the second tight end, whether it’s Steve Watson or Brandon Moore.  If the offensive line isn’t going to get a push and if Michigan can’t run it out of the I-formation, then I think the Wolverines need to get their best eleven on the field.  Junior Hemingway, Roy Roundtree, and Jeremy Gallon are all playmakers, and Kevin Koger is valuable in a lot of ways with his speed, athleticism, blocking, and leadership.  Those four players plus some combination of Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Vincent Smith, and Michael Shaw need to be on the field the vast majority of the time.

Let’s see more of this guy on defense . . . Cam Gordon.  Gordon returned to action this week after a nagging back injury caused him to miss the first six games of the season.  In his stead Jake Ryan has made a name for himself as a playmaker at SAM linebacker, but Ryan does have his flaws; he’s prone to both making and allowing big plays.  Ryan has to get quicker at reading offensive plays, maintaining the edge, and using his hands to disengage from blockers.  Gordon might not be an immediate upgrade, but perhaps he can help.  It was clear against MSU that Ryan’s other backups aren’t legitimate options in big-time games.

Let’s see less of this guy on defense . . . Brandin Hawthorne and J.T. Floyd (tie).  On one Keshawn Martin touchdown, Hawthorne made a half-assed attempt to tackle him at the pylon and tried to shoulder Martin out of bounds rather than wrap him up.  A good, fundamental tackle would almost certainly have stopped Martin at the 1-yard line, although a touchdown almost certainly would have been delayed rather than prevented altogether.  On the other Martin touchdown, J.T. Floyd made a half-assed attempt to stick with him and jogged behind the play, even though he clearly had Martin in man coverage.  Those weren’t cases of being beaten physically – they were examples of players not playing hard and giving 100% effort.

MVP of the game . . . Will Hagerup.  Nobody had a great game offensively or defensively for Michigan, but Hagerup did a solid job of punting on a very windy day.  He only averaged 31.9 yards on seven punts, but four of those pinned the Spartans inside their 20-yard line, and three of them put the green and white bronze at or inside their own 10.  Despite being unable to get any kind of offensive flow or defensive momentum, the Wolverines hung with MSU in the first half largely due to the field position battle.

Play of the game . . . Denard Robinson’s touchdown run.  After dropping back to pass, Robinson was almost sacked.  But he yanked himself away, tucked the ball, and scrambled to the left, picking up a nice block by Kevin Koger before squeezing inside the pylon.