New Jersey's Jabrill Peppers is a five-star cornerback. (Danny Parker / Scout.com)
Taking one more look at five Michigan signees expected to make an immediate impact.
Paramus (N.J.) Catholic, 5 stars, No. 1 cornerback, No. 3 overall
Hype and expectations can add up to be a burdensome load for many young prospects, but Peppers appears to be among the exceptions to that rule. He is the marquee player in Michigan’s 2014 class, and arguably is the Wolverines top commitment in a number of years.
Checking in at 6-foot and a chiseled 190 pounds, Peppers possesses both explosive speed and quickness. Those attributes are just as evident on the track as they are on the football field. The five-star talent is the reigning state champion in the 100-meter dash (where he has a personal best of 10.50 seconds) and the 200-meter dash (21.13 seconds).
Any questions about his elite athleticism were put to rest during a dominant week in Orlando for the Under Armour All-American Game.
“That is a full grown man already and he is tough and he is physical,” Scout.com national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins said. “He plays the run. He obviously has the speed to play the pass. I think he has the athletic ability to play corner, but he is so big and physical that I think he can almost impact a game playing center field (at safety).”
“When he gets to college, is he going to add another five-10 pounds just by being in that weight program and that nutrition (program)? If he ends up being 215-220, can you see him as a corner? I don’t know. We will have to wait and see. The good thing is he could easily play either spot. There is no downside to him at all.”
During Peppers’ high school career, his coaches saw no evidence of downside either. That’s despite playing him at corner, safety, linebacker, running back, quarterback, wide receiver and return man. As a senior, he notched 64 tackles and four interceptions from his secondary spot. Meanwhile, on offense, he tallied 1,381 all-purpose yards (including 658 rushing and 448 receiving) and 19 touchdowns. That performance capped a reign of dominance that spanned four years, two schools, countless jaw-dropping performances, and four state championships. Many Garden State observers contend Peppers unquestionably ranks among the best players to ever take the field in New Jersey. His now-former coach at Paramus Catholic agrees.
“Granted, I haven’t seen a lot of the other guys on the list, but for Jabrill to do what he did and do it in so many different ways and different positions, and do it on and off the field, just be the well-rounded person that he is — I think coming out of high school he is definitely up there,” Paramus Catholic coach Chris Partridge said. “(The praise) is definitely warranted.”
Now Peppers is aiming to earn similar praise in Ann Arbor. He will immediately have the opportunity to compete for one of the starting corner spots. Even if he doesn’t make first string right away, he almost certainly will see a great deal of playing time at either the corner or the nickel position. He is a particularly intriguing option at nickel because he wouldn’t be an automatic liability in any phase of the game. When utilizing a nickel, coaches often are forced to choose between playing bigger, more physical safety types that are stouter against the run, and smaller yet faster corner types that are better in coverage.
In Peppers, Michigan has the best of both worlds in that he is big-enough to be a force in the run game, is a capable blitzer, and has cover skills necessary to stay with receivers in the slot.
Down the line, he will be given the chance to compete for roles on offense and in the return game, but as a freshman expect to see him primarily on defense. And expect to see him a great deal.
Grand Rapids Christian, 4 stars, No. 8 wide receiver, No. 52 overall
Four years ago at this time, the state of Michigan was abuzz with talk of the next great basketball prospect, Harris. A noted slasher with the ability to jump out of the gym, he quickly showed the type of hardwood promise necessary to earn early offers from a number high major programs, including Michigan State. Soon, though, his pairing of size and elite athleticism appeared to be more of a unique commodity on the gridiron. By the conclusion of his junior season, his future path was obvious. A state championship0game record 243 yards receiving and 2,000 receiving yards on the season have a way of providing that kind of clarity.
“Harris has truly elite ball skills,” Scout.com Midwest regional manager Allen Trieu said. “Height, leaping ability, and body control allow him to go up and adjust to passes most would not come down with. He is a glider on the field, and as a result is faster than most will give him credit for. He can get deep, and is also good after the catch. He is a smooth, polished route runner who understands how to set up defenders and create separation. He is a willing and effective blocker, but must add weight and strength.
Harris was set to do just that his senior year, but a torn hamstring sidelined him the entire season.
“It was really hard with it being my senior year and then having my teammates out there without,” Harris said. “I tried to come back twice during the season and I tweaked it a couple of times. The first time I came back was when we were about to play East (Grand Rapids). I came back and I tweaked it again. So then I was like, ‘it’s not ready,’ so I tried to hold off until the playoffs. When I came back the first week (of the playoffs), I’d been training with my trainer every day of the week. I was getting up in the morning on Saturdays like 6 a.m. working out with him trying to get better. I was looking to come back (later in the playoffs), but unfortunately we ended up losing.”
Harris’ season-long absence was made even more trying by a growing contingent of naysayers around his hometown. Questions about his toughness and his commitment to his team ramped up as the season unfolded, but he ignored the chatter and kept his eye on his recovery as he prepared for his early enrollment at Michigan.
“I think that people just wanted to see me out there,” Harris said. “There’s always doubters and haters around. They say whatever and try to bring you down. But I just took it as it was and just used it as motivation. I know that my injury was true. And my teammates and my coaches all knew that. I just couldn’t really listen to the outsiders chipping in. I just had to try to get back.”
Now in Ann Arbor as an early enrollee, Harris is almost fully recovered from his injury and has added 10 pounds of muscle. Further size and strength gains, knowledge of the playbook, and comfort with his teammates should put him in the thick of competition for the two-deep in Michigan’s increasingly talented wideout ranks next fall.
Salt Lake City Highland, 4 stars, No. 6 defensive tackle, No. 88 overall
As Highland head coach Brody Benson reflects upon the 2013 football season, his disappointment over his team’s 7-5 finish is unmistakable. But so, too, is his pride over the performance of his star player, Mone. The powerful defensive lineman finished his high-school career in strong fashion, even if his stats didn’t bear that out.
“Bryan played well for us,” Benson said. ”He got nicked up that second game of the season for us, so there was a two- or three-game kind of lull. Week 3, we only had him in there for 12-15 reps that game. We ended up winning the ballgame, but it was just trying to weigh the risk and reward and there was really no need to play him. I think coming back, he was a little bit sore for Weeks 5 and 6, then after that he started rolling. Teams keyed on him and everybody had to game plan and scheme against him. He ended up getting double-teamed and tripled-team quite a bit defensively. His numbers were not as good as they were his junior year. He had 50 tackles and 4½ sacks. I think with teams focusing and game planning towards him, it opened up some stuff for some other guys. I feel that he was very much an impact player for us.
“His role kind of changes based on what teams did.”
That ability to affect the game despite the attention directed his way was the most obvious sign of growth in Mone’s game. It’s a result of his increased appreciation for the technical aspects of his position.
“The No. 1 thing that I saw was him learning how to take on double teams and defeating double teams ... to still be able to move the line of scrimmage,” Benson said. “Some guys when they get double teamed will stand up or try to make a pile. We’ve worked really hard with Bryan to focus his attention with one and splitting the double team. I think he definitely did that. I thought his overall bag of tricks, his tool set increased. He started using his hands a lot more. Last year it was almost like he wouldn’t just flat out bull rush anybody. He just wouldn’t use his power to get after people. This year when he wasn’t getting two or three people on him, he had to do that. I think that was something he got better at ... just flipping that switch and just going. I was happy to see that ... where he just basically would turn his attention to one guy and worry about kicking that guy’s (butt). I like to see that. I think overall Bryan has gotten better.”
Scout.com’s team of analysts agreed with that assessment after watching Mone in action at the Under Armour All-American Game.
“Mone is exactly how you draw it up when you’re looking for an impact college defensive tackle,” Biggins said. “He has a great frame, plays with good pad level, has plus level quickness and is relentless in pursuit. He does a great job getting off blocks, uses his hands very well and plays with a motor. He has the ability to fit in with a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and could see the field early in college. Mone solidified himself as the (West) region’s best defensive tackle during Under Armour Bowl week.”
One part of Mone’s game that still is a work in progress is conditioning. The four-star lineman had been working diligently to trim his waistline heading into the season, but that effort was derailed a bit by his aforementioned injury. Now that he already is enrolled at Michigan, Benson expects Mone’s battle with the bulge to finally be won.
“I think he is always going to be 300-plus, but I think he is always going to be a little bit more explosive,” Benson said. “When they start monitoring his food intake and stuff like that, I am very excited to see what they will be able to do with him.”
Mone already has shed a few pounds since making it to campus in early January. That trend should continue into a spring practice in which he will receive a greater number of reps due to the absence of junior defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins. That only will increase Mone’s odds of cracking the rotation when the season rolls around.
Southfield, 4 stars, No. 12 defensive end, No. 104 overall
Southfield’s season didn’t end with a championship like Marshall had planned, but that doesn’t mean the four-star defensive end didn’t make a major impression with his standout play. Early in the year, Farmington coach John Bechtel called the future Wolverine “the finest player I’ve ever seen.” His performances against opponents the rest of the way garnered similar praise.
“I got stronger and I played a lot better,” Marshall said. “I played way better than last year. I took on a lot of double teams this year ... more than last year. I think I did good. I am better with my hands. I’m using my hands more and getting to the quarterback more. When I got to the quarterback I made an impact when I hit the quarterback.”
“I don’t think I had more sacks, but I had more fumbles when I hit the quarterback. I got double teamed a lot this year, so it was harder to get to the quarterback. But when I got there, you knew I was there.”
That certainly was true in the late season match-up with state-championship finalist Clarkston.
“I hit the quarterback so hard that you heard the hit and he fumbled it,” Marshall said. “It was like the Jadaveon Clowney hit.”
Marshall was a similar force at the Offense-Defense All-American Game in Orlando. There, he officially staked his claim as one of the top pass rushers in the 2014 class.
“Marshall has a very long frame, has great athleticism, change of direction, and speed in pursuit,” Trieu said. “He has all of the tools to be an elite pass rusher, he just needs continued work on his technique.
“Marshall was seen as more of a potential guy as a junior, but he really put it together as a senior. He turned a great final season. He added weight and strength and now looks like a kid who could come in and contribute early. He’s active and plays with a great motor. He still has to work on his technique, but all the physical tools are there and he improved by leaps and bounds from what was an already good junior year to his final campaign.”
Now up to 240 pounds, Marshall plans to be even bigger by the time fall camp starts. That’d make him even more viable in the competition for time at the rush end.
“Coach (Greg) Mattison was talking to me about (possibly playing early),” Marshall said. “Taco (Charlton) is going to move to the five-tech and on third down (Mattison) is going to put his best rush-end in the game. That’s his plan on like third-long situations.”
Marshall’s plan is to be one of the rush ends called upon.
Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy, 4 stars, No. 31 wide receiver, No. 172 overall
For Canteen, last summer was about gaining exposure. Before that, the buzz about his game had been limited by a season shortened because of sanctioning issues for his fledgling high school. But as he made the camp rounds, his profile steadily rose. One of his best camp showings took place in Ann Arbor in late June. That performance netted him a scholarship offer from Michigan, and while interest from other suitors picked up steam afterward, had was sold.
Once Canteen was officially in the fold, Michigan’s wide receiver class was complete. Now with him already on campus as an early enrollee, the Wolverines have yet another candidate for early playing time.
“In my opinion, Freddy Canteen is perhaps the best route running receiver in the country,” Eastern Christian Academy coach Dwayne Thomas said. “He is an extremely gifted route runner. He has extremely reliable hands. He is very difficult to get your hands on and jam him, even though he is an outside receiver. I believe as far as a receiver is concerned, the abilities that a receiver has to display in order to be successful, I think he is the total package.”
“I guess I would compare Freddy to something like a Reggie Wayne type kid. He runs routes with the precision that allows him to be opened and allows him to finish off plays in the end zone because of his quickness. I think (defensive backs) have to play off of him and then they make themselves vulnerable for the hitch and go and the sluggos and things like that. He has made a great high-school living off those types of routes. I’m sure when the Michigan staff looked at his film, they saw those kinds of things and saw him as a benefit to their team and their program.”
With Canteen’s addition to its receiving corps, Michigan gains a great deal of flexibility. He’ll be able to play in the slot or on the outside. He also can make plays on short routes in space or get deep. No matter where he lines up, the precision in his route running should be extremely evident.
“Like Coach Thomas said, people are going to see precise routes when they watch me,” Canteen said. “They’re going to see a great amount of speed. And I’m going to just bring a lot to the table. I’m ready to work and help Michigan win a national championship.”
Should he do that, he’ll likely win over some of the skeptics about his talent relative to that of some of Michigan’s other former receiver targets. Many prospects would use such doubts as motivation. Not Canteen.
“I’m self-motivated,” he said, confidently. “Honestly, I drown out what the critics say. I’m just going out there playing to the best of my ability. All I can say is Michigan obviously thought highly enough of me to offer me. They’re pretty skilled at what they do (laughter), and I’m pretty skilled at what I do. I appreciate fans and the way they see things, but they’ll see me and what I can do on the TV screen sooner or later.”
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 weekly at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.