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February 23, 2012We're getting down to the final two re-rankings of Michigan recruiting classes since 2002, and the Class of 2007 - Lloyd Carr's final full class - ranks seventh in our series for a reason ...
This nine-part series started Feb. 7, with a quick glance at how the classes stacked up. The players were divided into three categories: standouts, contributors and busts, each respective to the rest of the class.
In other words, someone like wide receiver Junior Hemingway didn't have to be a two-time All-Big Ten first-team performer to be considered a standout, he just had to be someone in his class that belonged in the upper tier. A bust, say defensive back Artis Chambers, in contrast, was someone that accomplished very little or nothing at all (or was dismissed from the team) compared to the rest of his classmates.
A total of 20 athletes signed letters of intent with Michigan in February 2002, including a mere five four-stars and two five-stars: cornerback Donovan Warren and quarterback Ryan Mallett. Interestingly, neither would stay at U-M for four years, each leaving to the chagrin of Maize and Blue fans.
Out of the 20, seven would hold a full-time starting job for at least one season. There were some highs for this class, though, including its role in re-establishing the Michigan brand with an 11-2 season in 2011. However, there were far too many disappointments and early exits for this class to rank among the best.
Fulfilling Their Potential
Here is a look at the stars each player earned as a recruit and what they earned as a player at Michigan.
*Editor's Note - How Stars Were Awarded:
A five-star is a multi-year starter All-American type.
A four-star is a multi-year starter that was all-conference caliber (first, second or HM).
A three-star was a solid role player that may have started some games but never played at a consistently high level.
A two-star was someone that never or barely played but stayed through graduation.
And an Incomplete is for those who do not complete their eligibility at U-M.
Best Player - Offense: If we were being generous, and were willing to bend the rules, we could include Ryan Mallett here since the five-star quarterback would go on to great success at Arkansas, but we might only be tempted if there wasn't such an obvious and deserving candidate in David Molk.
A 2011 All-American, Molk was a Rimginton Award finalist as a junior and then took home the title as a senior, designated the nation's best center. He served as captain for the Wolverines this past fall and helped guide an offense that was far more difficult to stop than any year since 2007.
Though he weighed less than 300 pounds, Molk was a brute force at the center position, winning his battles thanks to tireless effort in the weight room during the offseason. His and Mike Martin's practice matchups became the stuff of legend as two Hulks squared off daily. One day Molk would win. The next day, Martin would. Both were instrumental to the Wolverines success in 2011, while Molk joins the pantheon of terrific centers to have worn the winged helmet.
Best Player - Defense: Early in his career, after a inconspicuous redshirt freshman campaign, Ryan Van Bergen drew a death knell comparison to former Wolverine Pat Massey, who never panned out along the defensive line. But Van Bergen would shake that label as a sophomore, racking up five sacks among 6.5 tackles for loss. He broke up four passes and returned a fumble 14 yards for a touchdown.
Still, no one would have known then that Van Bergen would become as critical to the success of the Michigan defense in 2011 as Martin was. After a good junior season, he was a beast as a senior, notching 5.5 sacks among 12.5 tackles for loss - leading the team in both categories. More importantly, Van Bergen helped set the tone for the Maize and Blue, relying on his relentless motor, physical strength, quickness and determination to cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
Van Bergen finished his career a three-year starter for the Wolverines, accounting for 13.5 QB takedowns among 26.5 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, four fumble recoveries and 134 total stops.
Biggest Surprise - Offense: When he was recruited out of Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Mark Huyge projected as a developmental prospect that could someday down the road start at tackle or guard in a pro-style offense. He seemed like a terribly bad fit in the spread offense, but he surprised all of us by starting 16 games in 2009-10, four at left tackle, seven at right tackle and five at right guard.
Huyge wanted to make it clear he was more than a stop-gap, though, working intensely last spring and in preseason camp to best teammate Michael Schofield for the starting job at right tackle. And he'd win it too, proving so steady there the coaches felt confident inserting Schofield - the only legitimate backup option at tackle - at left guard as the starter.
The former three-star would finish with 29 starts in his career, and would be a valuable commodity along the offensive line in each of his final three seasons.
Biggest Surprise - Defense: When Michigan signed James Rogers it didn't know where he'd best fit in. He had some potential at running back, but desired to be a wide receiver. However, the bigger need in 2007 was at cornerback so the versatile athlete began his career there. By 2008, he was a wide receiver, starting two games. In 2009, he was a receiver for the first half of the season and a cornerback for the second half, always doing whatever the team required.
The payoff finally came for Rogers in 2010, when he stepped in for an injured Troy Woolfolk to become the starter at cornerback opposite J.T. Floyd for the entire campaign. Rogers was never a shutdown coverman, but he held his own remarkably well, finishing with three pass breakups and three interceptions as teams that threw his way found he was no pushover.
For a three-star with no real position coming out of high school, and for someone who essentially bounced around for each of his first three seasons, to make such a profound contribution as a senior was greatly unexpected and a welcome surprise.
Bust - Offense: Take your pick. No really, take your pick. Receivers Zion Babb and Toney Clemons both left the program disgracefully, running back Avery Horn disappeared when it became obvious he wouldn't make it academically, local product Vince Helmuth tried defense after struggling at fullback but eventually asked out of his scholarship while Steve Watson and Martell Webb never panned out at tight end like expected.
That said, we'll give this to Ryan Mallett but not just because he left U-M the moment Lloyd Carr retired, refusing to give Rich Rodriguez even a chance to make his case. No, we'll give this to Mallett because for all of his talent, his teammates couldn't stand him, getting into verbal confrontations on the sidelines while not-so-subtlety calling him out in the media.
Mallett did some good at Michigan, filling in for injured QB Chad Henne in starts against Notre Dame, Penn State, Northwestern and Minnesota, but he played with a cockiness that rubbed his teammates the wrong way and led to a falling out late in the season. Had the former five-star returned to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season, he would have needed to mend many broken relationships. But alas, he took his game to the SEC.
Bust - Defense: Some folks will disagree with this strongly, but Donovan Warren was a bust. He is the classic player that had a good freshman season, which in turn created tremendous hype, and then never came close to reaching his potential after that. And he had tons of potential, earning his five stars for a reason.
Warren could have been a difference-maker. He could have been a true lockdown corner the likes of which Michigan hadn't seen since Marlin Jackson in 2004. But a few injuries and then a selfish attitude (plus poor coaching in the secondary) saw him regress as a sophomore and junior.
And then, like Mallett, he just up and left, believing another year at U-M could only further damage his draft stock. He was wrong. Warren had so much still to prove, as a team leader, and, especially, as a game-day performer.