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Michigan Football: Top Sleepers from the 2015 Recruiting Class

Michigan’s 2015 recruiting class, the first under coach Jim Harbaugh, isn’t a blow-you-away, stars-for-days collection—as a matter of fact, it’s pretty modest, ranking No. 38 overall and No. 6 in the Big Ten, per 247Sports.

And really, it pales in comparison, at least on paper, to the previous efforts of former coach Brady Hoke, who recruited a pair of top-10 classes before being released in December. 

But as Harbaugh said during Wednesday’s national signing day presser, the 2015 class is full of “winners” and has plenty in the “tough/toughness” department. 

Harbaugh signed 14 players on signing day, six of the 4-star variety, but he also landed under-the-radar guys who could make impressions come spring, such as 3-star running back Karan Higdon, 3-star wide receiver Grant Perry, 3-star offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr. and 3-star athlete Keith Washington.

The Wolverines’ running back situation isn’t written in stone, and they could use another receiver to strengthen the stable. The O-line could use an injection of talent, and a return job could be up for grabs. There are openings for Higdon, Perry, Runyan Jr. and Washington—and at least one of them could gain serious ground come spring.

 

Set Your Alarm for Higdon

Once committed to Iowa, Higdon didn’t receive a lot of play from major programs. That’s not to say they weren’t interested, but they weren’t beating down his door. Higdon had 14 offers, including invites from Arkansas, Tennessee and Arizona.

Florida looked at him. So did Notre Dame. No offer, though.

Harbaugh offered him this past Saturday and signed him Wednesday.

At 5’10” and 190 pounds, Higdon is average-ish—nothing too special, but he’s not a runt. He could hit the weights and enter the season as a 200-pound bruiser. He has the foundation—it’s on Harbaugh to build one of those houses he talked about during his intro on Dec. 30.

Circumstances and timing could easily create a path for Higdon to enter the rotation. He’ll have to fight Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac—who were three of the top backs of the 2013 class—for reps, but he could work his way into the mix.

He runs hard and has clocked a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.

And he’s worthy of your attention come spring.

 

Taken for Grant-ed?

Having chemistry with non-sleeper Alex Malzone could be a plus for Perry, as Malzone, a 4-star quarterback, is expected to at least challenge for a spot this spring and into the fall. That instant connection could benefit the both of them, actually. Quarterbacks make receivers look good and vice versa.

At 6’0” and 185 pounds, Perry is another average-ish player. However, the former Northwestern commit has great hands, and those are always in demand.

Within the right system, Perry could be a valuable secondary option or even leapfrog Drake Harris—who redshirted as a freshman due to injury in 2014—Jaron Dukes, Da’Mario Jones or even Maurice Ways, who had a small handful of nice grabs this past season.

Other than Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, the Wolverines don’t really have an experienced and established corps of wideouts. The story has been the same since 2013—they have depth at the position, but the development...well, you know the rest.

Perry was the only true wide receiver recruited in the 2015 class. Brian Cole, a 4-star athlete, was initially viewed as a running back but is slated to play wide receiver. He could immediately help, and being the No. 73-ranked prospect of his class obviously disqualifies him from “sleeper” status.

However, the next unheralded recruit could also lend a hand in the pass-catching department, among many others.

 

Ultra-Magnetic Keith

Washington received interest from home-state programs Alabama and Auburn, and they typically pursue the highest-profile, superbly talented bunch.

But they didn’t offer him. So there’s that.

Missouri and Miami (Fla.) offered, but Washington ended up pledging to Cal...then he executed a last-minute flip to Michigan after being recruited by secondary coach Mike Zordich.

The 6’2”, 170-pounder played cornerback in high school, which is probably why Zordich went after him, but he also played quarterback. He could squeeze into certain sets as a gadget back or even serve as a return man—in addition to playing wide receiver.

His versatility makes him one of the most intriguing signees. He’s a lot like Cole in some regards, and the potential of that tandem is endless. While it’s easy to get carried away while projecting roles of players who are classified as “athletes,” it’s important to remember that they’re tagged as such for a reason: They can do pretty much anything.

Washington is one of them. Punts, kicks and picks—the freshman should get a few opportunities to showcase his talent come April 4, the date of the Wolverines’ spring game at The Big House in Ann Arbor.

 

Jon Legacy?

Being the son of a Michigan great probably carries a level of responsibility. It’s somewhat natural for fans and media to expect a little too much from someone due to his last name.

That’s fine—some of the time. However, it’s not entirely fair to evaluate the kid on what dear old dad did in the 1990s. We’re talking about two different eras and two very different programs.

At 6’4” and 276 pounds, Runyan Jr. ended his prep career as the No. 121-ranked tackle of his class. He was recruited by former offensive coordinator Al Borges and O-line coach Darrell Funk—so yeah, he’s been on board for some time. He was one of six who didn’t bail when the stuff hit the fan for Hoke’s staff.

There are obvious openings up front too. In 2014, true freshman Mason Cole earned the No. 1 left tackle job. He wasn’t a sleeper by definition, but he was the first frosh to start on the line for Michigan on opening day.

Runyan, in essence, could do something similar—not because he’s Jon Runyan’s kid but because he possesses the Harbaugh-approved characteristics of being incredibly strong-minded and dedicated to the idea of team and program.

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Harbaugh said. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability.

Recruiting info via 247Sports.com

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Georgia Football: Why 2015 Signing Class Will Give Bulldogs a National Title

National signing day has come and gone, and the Georgia Bulldogs finished the day with one of the 10 best classes in the country.

However, there were some doubts as to how the class would turn out, because there were a few players who decommitted to the Bulldogs at the last minute. However, some players decommitted from one school to the Bulldogs, too.

At the end of the day, Mark Richt was able to come away with 28 players, including Trent Thompson, the No. 1 recruit in the country.

But this class is different. This class may not be the best in the country according to most recruiting media outlets, but this class has a bit more of an edge to them than any other class in the Richt era.

That reason, along with a few more factors, is why the 2015 class will help the Bulldogs win a national championship.

Since Richt has been the head coach at UGA, he has had no issues signing talented players. However, he has never landed an individual who won National Player of the Year.

Congratulations to #UGA commit DT Trent Thompson on winning 2015 @247Sports Composite National Player of the Year! pic.twitter.com/QWV64GfvNd

— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) January 26, 2015

That changed when Thompson signed with the Bulldogs this week, which was huge for the Bulldogs moving forward. Bringing in a guy like Thompson will help strengthen the defensive line, which is needed if the Bulldogs want to have an elite defense.

But adding Thompson was only the beginning.

The Bulldogs also signed Jonathan Ledbetter, who could be a better defensive line NFL prospect than Thompson. The 6’5’’ defensive end is quick and physical and can get after the quarterback. Those two, along with Natrez Patrick, D’Andre Walker and Michael Barnett, make up possibly the best defensive line class in the Richt era.

As good as the defensive line can be, the offensive line is no slouch either. Sage Hardin, Sam Madden, Patrick Allen and DeVondre Seymour are all guys who can run-block, which is needed in the offense the Bulldogs run. Also, the line has a ton a size, so new O-line coach Rob Sale will have a lot to work with the next few seasons.

Adding depth and talent to both lines was needed for the Bulldogs to get over the hump in the SEC. But another thing they did was add depth, talent and versatility to the entire defense.  

The linebackers the Bulldogs signed can do a number of things, especially Gary McCrae. He can play outside linebacker, defensive end and inside linebacker. The same goes for Chauncey Rivers, who can also play various linebacker and defensive line positions.

The pass defense improved vastly for the Bulldogs in 2014, but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt knows that it could have been better. That’s why the Bulldogs got Rico McGraw, Shaquery Wilson and Deandre Baker. Wilson and Baker could play offense, but the fact the Bulldogs added players with the ability to help in the secondary is huge.

Out of the 28 signees, 14 are from the state of Georgia. And of those 14, four are ranked in the 247 Sports Georgia Composite Rankings. The Bulldogs have had their struggles landing the top talent in Georgia in the past, but that wasn’t the case this year thanks to the coaches, who stayed on Thompson and Terry Godwin.

Georgia is a hotbed for college talent, and the fact the Bulldogs were able to sign nearly half of the 10 best players in the state is not a bad thing.

This class was about building the line of scrimmage, adding depth on defense and keeping the talent in-state, and the Bulldogs hit on all those three in more ways than one.

This team may not help the Bulldogs win the College Football Playoff this upcoming season, because most of them won’t see too much action. But watch out for the Bulldogs in 2016, because they will finally reach their goal thanks to 28 young men who on February 4, 2015.

 

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted. Rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite Rankings.

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Nebraska Football Recruiting: Meet the Cornhuskers' 2015 Class

National signing day has officially come and gone. For head coach Mike Riley, it was his first recruiting class for the University of Nebraska, and he believes it's a "good class."

“This is a good class that started with the guys that were committed to Nebraska when we got here,” Riley said during his national signing day press conference.

By the end of the day, Nebraska landed at No. 35 on 247Sports' 2015 recruiting team rankings. In the Big Ten, Nebraska finished fifth, behind Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, respectively.

So, who exactly did Nebraska sign to its 2015 recruiting class? Let's meet the new Huskers.

 

Much Needed Attention at Key Positions

Riley knew there were certain positions that needed more attention that others. With this in mind, it helped the new head coach focus his time, as he told ESPNU (via Sean Callahan of Huskers Online):

Well linebacker for sure. There had been injuries there, there had been some attrition and we had to start getting some guys that could play and also be good in the way of depth in numbers at that position. We knew we had to do that and then we kind of earmarked we would like three offensive linemen in this class, we looked at that the quarterback thing hard because it's kind of fun to look at the quarterback - that one guy you are going to recruit.

We opted not to because we didn't want to make a late decision without a lot of background. We feel good about the guys here. We'll focus on that for next year. I'd say though the No. 1 spot we had to look at that we noticed was linebacker.

The focus allowed Riley to snag players like Mohamed BarryTyrin FergusonAdrienne Talan and Dedrick Young. Had Nebraska not been focused, the depth at positions like linebacker and defensive end likely would not have been fully addressed. As a result, the Huskers would have been back at square one.

A true testament to Riley's focus is that all four linebackers that signed, committed to Nebraska after Riley was hired.

"As we looked at the linebacker situation, it was pretty glaring that we needed some numbers there," Riley said. "So we went right after that."

Riley's ability to focus and snag much needed players was not ignored by Bleacher Report's own Michael Felder and Adam Kramer, either:

 

Making a Statement in the Big Ten

During his national signing day press conference, Riley talked about competing for recruits with his good friends. Who would those coaches be? None other than Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Wisconsin's Paul Chryst.

However, Riley ultimately viewed it all as just a little friendly competition.

"I've been in all kinds of situations in my life, including coaching against people that I know," Riley said during his national signing day press conference. "I coached against my dad up in the Canadian Football League. What I really try to do is enjoy it, but we always want to win."

Against Harbaugh, Riley did win.

Both tight end Matt Snyder and defensive end Daishon Neal were offered by Harbaugh and Michigan. Both could have easily made the choice to flip commitments. Instead, Riley made a strong enough case, and both Snyder and Neal stayed committed to the Huskers.

Going forward, Riley isn't concerned about the other Big Ten programs. 

"I take a step back and just remember what we’re doing here," he said. "We’re talking about our school, our program, our state and what we’ve got, and we’ll take it up against anyone."

The Big Ten better watch out, too. Riley believes in what he's building at Nebraska and will put it up against anybody who wants to compete for recruits, even if they're friends.

"We’re going to focus on who we are and what we do," Riley said.

Fans have to like that strategy.

 

A Promising First Class

As Hail Varsity's Brandon Vogel noted, the 2015 recruiting class had a strong start. Under Bo Pelini, the "class was ranked in the top-10 nationally according to Rivals with six verbal commits."

Riley was quick to give credit to Pelini for that. 

“I was impressed with the work that Bo [Pelini]’s staff did with these kids and really impressed with the film we saw," he said.

It was all on Riley after that, though. He could have easily lost quite a few of those original commits, but instead, he stepped in and re-secured the commitments. That included Colorado cornerbacks Eric Lee and Avery Anderson, as well as twin defensive tackles Carlos and Khalil Davis of Blue Springs, Missouri.

Additionally, Riley started to build the recruiting identity he wants to have going forward with the 2015 class. He wants to focus on the 500-mile radius surrounding Lincoln, Nebraska, but he understands the players the Huskers might need could be outside of that area.

“I really think if you’re good at home, and we’re good in this area, then we know now where we need to go to supplement that,” Riley said. “But we can get a really good foundation from Nebraska and all those surrounding states that send their kids to our camp. It may not fill up our recruiting class but it’ll be a nice foundation for any class if we can maintain a number in this area.”

For the 2015 class, Riley signed players from 13 different states; however, Riley's staff made sure the attention to local recruits was established.

“You look stupid when you're playing against kids that you could have gotten,” said director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson said before national signing day, per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald. "So we need to do our homework. At least recruit them, at least give them a shot. … Because I don't want to play against good players that we could have got."

Looking at Nebraska's 2015 class, Husker fans can get a good idea of what to expect in the future. Riley's strategy will clearly be finding solid local talent and then moving outside of the 500-mile radius to make it all come together.

For Riley, the 2015 class was a promising start to his career at the helm of Nebraska football. Only time will tell what he will accomplish going forward, but for now, it's a pretty solid way to kick things off for the Huskers.

 

All recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

Quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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10 Players Who Can Boost NFL Draft Stock at Pro Day

With Super Bowl 49 in the record books, the NFL has officially shifted into draft mode. We’re less than two weeks from the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where coaches and executives from across the league gather to analyze, measure and interview the top prospects for May’s NFL draft. It’s the most high-profile scouting event of the NFL draft cycle, but it isn’t the only one.

For players who have questions about their games, are rebounding from injuries or are attempting a position shift, pro days are just as important as the combine. They’re a chance for scouts and coaches to focus more attention, dole out one-on-one time and perhaps take a closer view than they’re able to in the meat market that is the Indianapolis scouting combine.

Here are 10 players who can benefit from a big showing at their pro days, whenever they are.

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National Signing Day Drama Shows Recruits Should Sign to a School, Not Coach

Flipping season for recruits starts when the dead period ends in January and lasts until national signing day.

For some coaches, flip season starts after recruits sign on the dotted line. 

There were several key coaching moves that took place shortly after national signing day, including UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich heading to the Atlanta Falcons according to FoxSports.com and Florida defensive line coach Terrell Williams' jump to the Miami Dolphins, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Shady? You bet, especially considering the slanted contracts high school football players signed on Wednesday, as Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples notes:

This brings us to what should be the No. 1 rule of thumb for top-tier prospects during the recruiting process: Commit to the school, not the coach.

Several prospects in the class of 2015 found this out the hard way.

Roquan Smith—a 4-star linebacker from Montezuma, Georgia, committed to UCLA on ESPNU on Wednesday, but opened back up his recruiting process shortly after the cameras turned off and he found out that Ulbrich was leaving the program.

"We just got the news on Coach Ulbrich getting the offer from the Atlanta Falcons," Smith's high school coach Larry Harold told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Roquan just holding his UCLA papers to see what Coach Ulbrich is going to do. We’re just sitting tight right now."

Ohio State 4-star running back Mike Weber found out running backs coach Stan Drayton is leaving for the Chicago Bears according to the Chicago TribuneWeber took to Twitter to vent his frustrations.

CeCe Jefferson—a 5-star defensive end from Glen St. Mary, Florida, committed to Florida later in the afternoon on ESPNU, but has yet to send in his national letter of intent after learning that Williams is leaving the program.

It should never get to this point for either side.

From a player's perspective, it's incredibly disingenuous for a coach to sell a program for two or more years only to bail the day after signing day, leaving the kids with a different product than they purchased. But it does happen a lot, and prospects should know this. More importantly, the program should be upfront about these possibilities.

From a program's perspective, it shouldn't matter.

There are assistants like Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and others who are long-time assistants at their respective schools, but those coaches are the exception, not the rule.

Most assistants—position coaches, in particular—are in very volatile positions on coaching staffs. If they succeed, plenty of coordinator jobs open up every offseason that present options. If they fail, they're easily replaceable, especially in this day and age of growing off-the-field staffs.

Over the last five years, we've seen eight of the 14 SEC programs make wholesale changes to their entire coaching staffs, not just position-coach movement. 

Assistants often provide the day-to-day contact for prospects along the way, and of course those relationships are important. For proof, look no further than 4-star linebacker Jeffery Holland, who directly credited defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson for his commitment to Auburn.

"That was just a big deal right there," Holland said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. "I've been loving Auburn and that just put the icing on the cake."

That's fine. 

If an assistant is the deal-breaker but a player is happy regardless, that's the appropriate way this process should work. But an assistant coach being the primary reason a player commits anywhere is silly.

Players should know that post-signing day coaching moves happen every year. Coaches should be upfront about opportunities and even if the marriage lasts for a little while. Players should recognize that, even if position coaches stick around for the prospect's freshman year, the coaching carousel spins pretty fast every offseason, and that could change the structure of the staff at any given school.

Coaching is a nomadic business, but playing college football isn't. As a result, player should commit to schools, not people.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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