Best Wolverines Recruit In 2014: Harris vs. Peppers
By Brad Vonck
There were no major surprises for the University of Michigan on National Signing Day, just sighs of relief as many of their 2014 commitments were finally made official.
Arguably the biggest sigh of relief was when the letter of intent came in for five-star cornerback Jabrill Peppers, as rumors were swirling the last few weeks that his commitment was in jeopardy. That turned out to be false, and Michigan fans are cautiously optimistic about their 2014 class, which was ranked 18th in the nation by ESPN despite some of the recruits that slipped away previously.
One early commitment that did not slip away was four-star wide receiver Drake Harris, who already is enrolled at the university. Both Harris and Peppers have a strong chance of making an impact early in their careers with the Wolverines. After an easily forgettable 2013 season, Michigan has many position groups in need of upgrading. Both Harris and Peppers were highly sought after prospects from the 2014 class, and each enters into a position group where their play has the potential to turn things around in a hurry.
The Case For Drake Harris
Harris may have been a five-star recruit in 2014 if it weren’t for a nagging hamstring injury that kept him off the field for the entire 2013 season. Despite missing his senior season for Grand Rapids Christian, Harris was an extremely sought after talent, receiving offers from Michigan as well as Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia and others.
In 2012, Harris pulled in 91 receptions for a Michigan state record of 2,016 yards and 23 touchdowns. Harris’s willingness to go over the middle, combined with impressive hands and body control give him the necessary tools to be a dominant possession receiver at the collegiate level. His long legs make him deceptively quick, allowing him to blow by defenders who are playing him tight.
As noted earlier, Harris is also one of seven early enrolled Wolverines who look to begin making an impact as soon as possible. By enrolling early, Harris has the opportunity to participate in spring practice, and Michigan’s spring game in Ann Arbor on April 5. Such experience will play favorably for Harris’ ability to contribute next fall, because at the very least he will be months ahead in the learning curve compared to recruits that will be joining up this summer.
Harris joins a Wolverines receiver corps that is coming off a surprisingly positive 2013 campaign. Jeremy Gallon’s record-setting final season in the Maize and Blue was impressive, and it will be up to Harris and his teammates to fill the void of his departure. Michigan already has some talent at the position in current sophomores Devin Funchess and Amara Darboh, who is coming off a preseason foot injury that kept him out the entire season in 2013.
Will Funchess finish the transition from tight end to full-time receiver, and build on his 49 receptions, 748 yards and six touchdowns in 2013? Will Darboh rebound from his foot injury, and return to the form that had Michigan fans excited about his future with the squad? Because of these questions, the table is set for Harris to make an impact early.
Just like Gallon’s output was a bit of a surprise, Harris has the skill set and confidence in his ability needed to contribute early and often. It will come down to whether or not Harris is able to answer his own lingering questions about his health, after the long layoff, by making heads turn with his play starting this spring.
The Case For Jabrill Peppers
Peppers is ranked by many as the top recruit in Michigan’s 2014 class, and for good reason. The five-star corner from Paramus, N.J., is a multi-faceted threat for the Wolverines.
In 2013, Peppers recorded 57 tackles and four interceptions for Paramus Catholic. Peppers is widely praised for being an outstanding cover corner whose aggressive style of play helped him receive the top cornerback ranking on Rivals.com for 2014.
Along with Michigan, Peppers received offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Florida among others. His knowledge of the game and athleticism intrigue Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
“[Peppers is a] very intelligent player, very fast player, can play safety, can play nickel ... he’s got the whole package,” said Mattison during yesterday’s signing day interview.
Not only is Peppers versatile in the defensive backfield, but he provides equal value offensively. During his junior year, Peppers ran the ball 72 times for 1,552 yards and 18 touchdowns, while pulling in 20 catches for 337 yards and five receiving touchdowns. The offensive snaps for Peppers are surely going to be few and far between, but his playmaking abilities will make him a huge asset to the Wolverines' return game.
Focusing back in on the defensive side of the ball, I personally doubt that Peppers will see much time in the nickel position, just because his size and skill level aren’t suited for such a role. However, Mattison’s comments are a testament to how badly the Wolverines need help in their secondary. The Michigan defense was middle of the road at best in the FBS in 2013, and the secondary was not one of its bright spots.
Although current redshirt sophomore Blake Countess tied for the Big Ten lead with six interceptions in 2013, the Wolverines' pass defense fell from fifth in FBS in 2012 to 66th in 2013. This drop in performance was accentuated by their inability to avoid giving up big plays all year, especially during the final two games of the season against Ohio State and Kansas State, respectively.
The bowl game against Kansas State was rough, as junior receiver Tyler Lockett torched the Wolverines for 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. The defensive collapse in 2013 was largely due to the Wolverines’ lack depth in the secondary, which if strengthened would give Mattison the ability to blitz more often and create additional pressure. Peppers gives Michigan the opportunity to put him on an island against a school’s top receiver, and in doing so, mix up their coverage schemes to throw offenses off their game.
Harris and Peppers both have the skills needed to be stars for Michigan in the years to come, but who has the best opportunity to contribute in 2014?
Although the question marks at the receiver position leave the door open for anyone to have a breakthrough performance, Harris faces his own batch of adversity after a year-long layoff himself.
Peppers on the other hand will be entering the ranks of a defensive backfield in desperate need for a shut-down corner who can not only make big plays, but also stop them from occurring.
Unlike Harris, Peppers will have to wait until the summer to join up with the Wolverines, but I don’t see that putting him too far behind his early-enrolled peers. Harris has every opportunity ahead of him to be a star at Michigan, but the stage is set for Peppers to revitalize the tradition of high-level defensive backs wearing the Maize and Blue.