Touch the Banner: Scouting the Top 2017 Recruits in Michigan

In order to broaden our horizons and get a more in-depth scouting report, the following post is from Thunder, the owner/author of Touch the Banner. Make sure to check out all of his work for great Michigan player and recruit scouting reports.

A couple years ago, I started tracking a lot of in-state prospects and putting profiles of them together. I had always kept one eye on in-state prospects, anyway, since the University of Michigan mines talent from the local areas. However, this slightly newer endeavor of keeping track of the FBS prospects in the state of Michigan has allowed me to more closely track the careers of a lot of up-and-comers.

The Wolverines have offered 13 in-state prospects so far for 2017, and more offers might be coming. Below I take a look at the top five uncommitted targets within the Great Lakes State. I had to make a couple tough choices to trim this list to five. (Note that the comparisons to former Michigan players are intended to give a hint as to the style of play, not to set an expectation level for their college production.)

1. Donovan Peoples-Jones – WR – Detroit (MI) Cass Tech

  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 192 lbs.
  • Notable offers: Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC
  • 247 Composite: 5-star, #1 WR, #7 overall, #1 in-state
  • Highlights: HUDL

Strengths: First and foremost, Peoples-Jones is an elite athlete nationally – he proved that by winning the SPARQ national title last year at Nike’s The Opening, despite the fact that he was a rising junior going up against mostly rising seniors. He notched a laser-timed 4.4 forty and a 36″ vertical. That shows up on the field with his acceleration, where it sometimes looks like he’s shot out of a cannon accelerating past defenders. With his size, speed, and strength, he does a nice job of using leg drive to power through defenders for extra yardage or to break free from grabby corners. As a route runner, he works different releases and his deep speed helps him set up shorter routes. He adjusts well to the ball in the air and catches the ball away from his body when necessary.

Weaknesses: Peoples-Jones is very upright in his stance and makes himself a big target for press-man defenders to get into his chest. He will need to improve his release against college players who won’t be as easily overpowered as his high school opponents. He is also a very upright runner, and he struggles to move laterally, sometimes losing his footing when trying to weave through traffic. That second weakness is harder to fix, but not a huge detriment for an outside receiver.

Michigan comparison: David Terrell

2. Ambry Thomas – CB/KR – Detroit (MI) King

  • Height: 5’11”
  • Weight: 168 lbs.
  • Notable offers: Auburn, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma
  • 247 Composite: 4-star, #13 CB, #115 overall, #2 in-state
  • Highlights: HUDL

Strengths: Speed. Thomas’s game is mostly about speed. He’s one of the fastest players in the state, and he has excellent makeup speed to correct his own mistakes or others’. That speed allows him to outflank defenses when they think they have him surrounded. When he has the ball in his hands, he also has an extra gear that can catch defenders by surprise. It could also translate into being an excellent kickoff returner.

Weaknesses: Thomas missed half of his junior season due to injury, and that’s a bit of a concern for someone so tiny – even his listed weight of 168 lbs. might be pushing it. As a wide receiver, Thomas is very unpolished with his route running; his releases off the line of scrimmage could use work, too, but he would be a slot receiver if he were to play offense, so it’s tough to be physical with slot guys at the LOS. He can trust his speed too much when trying to escape trouble, and he will have to look to get upfield a little quicker. He does not have great lateral quickness, so he’s not the most dangerous guy in tight spaces. Defensively, he needs to get stronger in order to play bigger receivers and hone his press-man skills.

Michigan comparison: Steve Breaston

3. Antjuan Simmons – LB – Ann Arbor (MI) Pioneer

  • Height: 6’1″
  • Weight: 205 lbs.
  • Notable offers: Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Texas A&M, UCLA
  • 247 Composite: 3-star, #26 OLB, #368 overall, #10 in-state
  • Highlights: HUDL

Strengths: Coaches see something in Simmons that the recruiting services don’t, for some reason; according to The D Zone, Simmons has more offers (around 40) than any other player in Michigan history, or at least since the site started tracking those things in 2011. When I was initially scoping out the 2017 class a couple years ago, I said that I thought Simmons might be the best player in the state. I’m still not convinced that was untrue. Simmons is a football player’s football player. Pioneer plays him in a lot of different roles – running back, strong safety, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, defensive end, and returner – and he doesn’t look out of place at any of those spots. Despite a lack of great size, Simmons is the most ferocious hitter in the class. He has excellent instincts for sniffing out the ball and shooting gaps, and he changes direction well. As a running back, Simmons is a downhill runner who punishes would-be tacklers.

Weaknesses: Simmons was not blessed at birth with great size or blazing speed. If he were an inch or two taller, he would be a 4-star linebacker. If he were a little faster, he would be a standout safety or maybe a 4-star running back. Because of that lack of a top gear, I think he fits best as an outside linebacker. Defensively, Simmons can be a little over-aggressive at times, and he sometimes likes to go for the big hit rather than wrapping up.

Michigan comparison: Ian Gold

4. Joshua Ross – LB – Orchard Lake (MI) St. Mary’s

  • Height: 6’1″
  • Weight: 225 lbs.
  • Notable offers: Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma
  • 247 Composite: 4-star, #6 ILB, #149 overall, #3 in-state
  • Highlights: HUDL

Strengths: I didn’t think so before his junior year, but Joshua seems almost like an exact clone of his older brother, James, who just finished his linebacker career at Michigan. Both players play(ed) exactly how you would want a high school linebacker to play. Joshua is very disciplined and makes reads quickly. He plays downhill in the run game, and he does a nice job of shocking releasing offensive linemen or sidestepping them with deft handwork. He times blitzes well based upon the quarterback’s cadence, and he slices through running lanes when he sees them. When he arrives at the ball carrier, he’s a solid tackler who drives his feet very well through contact. He has decent speed. I think Joshua has a step up on his brother in pass drop awareness, and he does a good job sinking underneath routes.

Weaknesses: James was listed at about the same size coming out of high school, and that’s not very big for a Big Ten inside linebacker. The concern on my end is that linebackers this size can get swallowed up by linemen at times, and they don’t have enough mass to be a factor if they’re fighting off a blocker while trying to bring down a ball carrier. Offenses could target him in man coverage because of his lack of size and athleticism, but inside linebackers aren’t known for their man coverage prowess.

Michigan comparison: James Ross III

5. K.J. Hamler – WR/PR – Orchard Lake (MI) St. Mary’s

  • Height: 5’9″
  • Weight: 155 lbs.
  • Notable offers: Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Penn State, West Virginia
  • 247 Composite: 3-star, #47 WR, #318 overall, #8 in-state
  • Highlights: HUDL

Strengths: Speed and acceleration. Hamler is very difficult to handle for cornerbacks and safeties because of how quickly he gets to top speed. They don’t have enough time to make reads before they have to flip their hips and try to run with him, and if a split second is wasted, Hamler can make them pay. He can cut on a dime, so that helps with his route runner. He also does a good job of catching the ball with his hands away from his body. Hamler’s phone-booth quickness makes him perfect for punt returns. There’s a willingness to block and run through contact.

Weaknesses: Naturally, size is an issue. Hamler has the quickness, speed, and instincts to play defense, but his size makes him a potential liability with tackling and going up against bigger receivers. He does not break tackles easily and is the type who goes down pretty quickly when defenders get ahold of him, unless he can spin out of the tackle.

Michigan comparison: Anthony Carter

The following players were under heavy consideration (listed in alphabetical order):

Who do you believe are the five best 2017 recruits in the state? Who is a “must get” for Michigan? Add your choices in the comment section below!

Photo Credit:

Garrett Fishaw