California defensive backs Adoree Jackson, left, and JuJu Smith both have Michigan among their favorites. (FOX Sports Next)
FOX Sports Next recruiting analyst Greg Biggins sheds light on the recruiting races for a few of Michigan’s top remaining targets. Meanwhile, FOX Sports Next national director of scouting, Scott Kennedy, gives some perspective on Michigan’s early recruiting success.
Sam Webb: You’ve seen the growth of Michigan quarterback commit Wilton Speight (Richmond, Va., Collegiate) over the last few years. You watched him again a few weeks ago at Steve Clarkson’s quarterback retreat in San Diego. Give me your take on where he was, where he is, and where you think he’s going.
Greg Biggins: It’s honestly like night and day from what I’ve seen. Confidence is probably the biggest thing for any athlete, whether it’s basketball, football or baseball. Last year at a Memorial Day (passing event in California) was the first time I saw him. When I watched him this year and saw the physical way he carried himself, the confidence that he carried was crazy. He was literally like a different person. Now he’s a very confident guy. He kind of carries himself with a certain swagger. Not arrogance, but definitely very confident in everything he does. He’s more decisive in his throws. I think a lot of that comes from being comfortable, knowing where to go with the football, and being smarter. His body looked a lot better too. He looked like he’s dropped weight. He was quicker and he moved around well. He’s not ever going to be an athlete, but at least he moves around better, can throw on the run better, rolls out -- he does all that stuff really well now -- so I like where he’s going. I still would love to see him continue to improve his athleticism. Again, he’s not ever going to be one of those guys that scrambles for 20 yards, but if he can just be that guy to make that first guy miss in the pocket and step up, that’s all he needs to do. I definitely like the progression. He has made huge strides.
Sam Webb: Speight threw to one of his future teammates at the retreat, Grand Rapids Christian receiver Drake Harris. What did you think Harris?
Greg Biggins: Just a dynamic athlete. I was talking to some other guys, not even watching the receivers, just watching the quarterbacks, and I saw this guy get off the ball and just do a simple skinny post. He exploded out of his cut, the ball was overthrown, he jumps up, grabs it, and you’re like, ‘Who the heck is that?!’ Everything about the guy, just the way he moves -- you’re either born like that, or you’re not. He’s so fluid in his movement, and it’s so natural, where he doesn’t fight anything. I love the size, and he’s going to put weight on. He’s just a super athletic kid. A lot of times with those athletic kids, they’re not going to be super polished or catch the ball well, but he’s already pretty advanced. He’s an instant impact guy.
Sam Webb: Speaking of instant impact guys, give me your take on one of Michigan’s top targets out west. Everyone in the country thinks that Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra cornerback Adoree Jackson is one of those types of players. You’ve seen him a lot. What makes him special?
Greg Biggins: “Just an awesome two-way athlete. I think most people feel corner’s going to be his best spot. He’s about 5-10, he has long arms, and kind of frame you can see growing into his body. My early hesitation with making him our number one guy out west was most corners that you see that go first round in the NFL draft are those big LSU guys that are 6-1, 6-2, and that’s not him. But he’s still just a dynamic playmaker. He’s so fast, so explosive, his ball skills are off the charts, he’s tough, and he knows the game so well. I think he could be as dynamic on offense as a receiver, just making plays, jumping over guys. Get the ball in his hands, and he’ll make five guys miss. He kind of combines all the physical tools you want to see, but then has the game-breaking ability that you also want to see too. He works hard, he’s a natural athlete, he’s tough, and also competitive.”
Sam Webb: So talk to me about his recruitment. He’s focused on 10 schools now: Florida, Florida State, Illinois, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, UCLA and USC. While he’s a West Coast guy now, he’s a native Midwesterner that hails from Illinois. Can you kind of handicap how things are looking with him? Do you think he’s leaning anywhere at this point?
Greg Biggins: “I don’t think he’s leaning anywhere. I think he's extremely open to leaving the West Coast because he's not a West Coast guy, and he'll openly say, ‘I’m not a West Coast guy.’ He kind of brags about it. It's almost like he wears that with a badge of courage, so I definitely think he's open. I think so much of Adoree’s recruitment is going to be determined by how they do on the field. The Serra connection he has kind of tells me that USC kind of has the inside track. I feel like they have a really good chance because he's always up at SC, and he knows Marquise Lee and he looks up to all those guys. Handicapping it, I think right now he's extremely open. I do think he would leave the West Coast, but I do think because he can go visit those schools so much. I think both SC and UCLA have a pretty good chance also.”
Sam Webb: California defensive backs Adoree Jackson, left, and JuJu Smith both have Michigan among their favorites. He is another guy that could be a DB, he could be a receiver. Kind of breakdown his game for me.
Greg Biggins: “We have him number two and Adoree number one in the West. I actually think JuJu is a guy that has the more upside just because physically, you look at his body and how he is still filling out, he's how you would draw it up. I love him as a safety. He prefers receiver, but I just think he's not really a natural pass catcher right now like Drake is. He can do some things -- he's big and physical, he’s fast, he’s tough, he can run after the catch, and he can run past guys. He'll catch most (passes), but he'll fight the ball a little bit too. As a safety though, that's where I love him because he's physical. He’ll come up and just hit you and then he has the range to drop back, run 20 yards, and catch up with a guy, and make a pick. He plays all over the field and I think he really is, at the high school level, a man among boys. He doesn't have the instincts that Adoree has, but he can make up for it just because of how big and fast athletic he is.”
Sam Webb: JuJu is another West Coast kid that is adamant that he'll go anywhere in the country to play college football. Do you buy that? I know he is going to visit a whole bunch of places across the country, including Michigan, but do you really buy that he would leave the West Coast?
Greg Biggins: “He grew up an SC fan. I talked to (another recruit’s) dad after they were at the USC-UCLA game last year, which was at UCLA. He said JuJu was openly cheering like you would not believe for SC the entire game -- in the UCLA student section. So that's the school he grew up rooting for. He won't say that now, but I've had first-hand eye-witnesses telling me that he was cheering like he was the quarterback’s mom at the game last year. But I think right now, for whatever reason, USC is not really recruiting him as hard as other schools -- for whatever reason. I think that's made it more open. I think he is open to leaving. He loves Michigan, he likes Notre Dame a little bit, and UCLA has done well with him. But again, I think it's going to come down to how those teams do on the field. All those guys are going to be watching that. I think in years past you kind of felt like other guys are going to go (to certain schools) no matter what, but this year a lot of guys out west are going to pick a team that they think gives them the best chance to win. That's going to be more important than early playing time, which you don't normally see.”
Sam Webb: Scott, so far Michigan is doing very well on the recruiting trail. The Wolverines have the number two class in the country according to FOX Sports Next. Any aspect of what they’re doing so far surprise you?
Scott Kennedy: “Nothing surprises me just yet. They’re keeping up that momentum they had building when they had a top three class last year with Ohio State and Alabama. They are building on that. Like I’ve said before, you can build on that for two years, where you can come in and say, ‘Let’s turn this thing around; let’s come in and build something together,’ and then you have to start having results on the field. So I think you can go through the class of 2014, again, building on hope, but after that, the class of 2015 for next year’s class is going to be predicated on how Michigan does on the field this year. So it’s important, in order to keep recruiting at the level they’re recruiting right now, this is a big season for the Wolverines. But right now, things are going great. They’re recruiting as well as anybody, maybe just short of Texas A&M. And again, like I’ve tried to get across, when things are that close, I’m not going to argue with you. If you want to say Michigan is doing better than A&M, I’m not going to argue with you. It’s pretty darn close.”
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears every week at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.