The 2014 Michigan State Football Recruiting Class: Rankings and Scouting Report
To the victors go the spoils is a great way of describing this class. Mark Dantonio continues to take no shortcuts and he keeps winning. It speaks for itself. Certainly over the next five years we will learn how good this class is. Based purely on signing day, this is the best and BY FAR the deepest class Dantonio has EVER signed.
Each year when I compile my ratings for the incoming recruiting class it is an exhaustive effort and this year is no different. I try very hard to call coaches who coached for or against, and to do as much research as possible including speaking to multiple different (non-MSU) division one coaches to help me analyze each kid.
This issue usually is in your hands at the first of March every year. Because we reported and maintained that Malik McDowell would attend Michigan State, we waited for that situation to be resolved.
Why so much emphasis on recruiting? One NFL coach when talking about his time as a college coach expressed it better than anyone I had ever heard when he said, “It is like getting 25 first round draft picks each year.” What a great analysis! Now MSU doesn’t sign 25 a year, but you get the point. They added 22 young men this year.
Please take into account that I do not use other rating systems, stars, or whatever may be available. A recruit’s true value is based upon need of the program, his ability to fill that need, his character, and finally what other schools offered him. For example, Jim Tressel told me that he has never been around a coach that can evaluate talent like Mark Dantonio. Dantonio’s track record at OSU, UC, and here at MSU proves that.
As far as character issues, there are definitely some kids that would come in and fill a need and have lots of hype, but cannot stay on the field or even in school because of character or academic issues. Mark Dantonio told me, “We recruit character first. If a guy can’t stay, he can’t play here.” They may be a detriment in the locker room or get arrested thus being a complete loss.
How hard are the rankings? When Glenn Winston arrived we praised his character. Glenn has had two much publicized off field issues after he was at MSU. Coaches from MSU to high school talked about what he had endured and what he had overcome to become a top-flight recruit. You simply can never be certain.
I like Winston. Still do. He had some issues, but in the end he was a great player with some off field problems to deal with. We dig as much as we can. Even coaches can’t be certain in the end where a kid will fit. They do all they can to recruit character and talent and then as kids develop they make their fit.
When LeVeon Bell arrived, many bemoaned Dantonio taking a no star kid. No one knew how big LeVeon’s heart was. Now he has departed early for the NFL. Because of how Spartan Nation rates players, we looked good because we had him more highly valued than ANY traditional ranking services.
Character and academics are of major importance with this staff. Will they get it wrong sometimes? Without a doubt, but unlike the past they won’t take kids KNOWING they are rolling the dice.
Lastly, what other programs have wanted the kid? Does a kid come from a school with a proven track record of developing talent? Do they take unheralded players, make them stars, and put them in the NFL as high draft picks? When I see a kid that is an OL or a RB and he had an offer from a school that is proven there, he gets great points in my system.
So after hours of work and effort, we here at Spartan Nation excitedly present to you the 2013 MSU football recruiting class.
1) Enoch Smith Jr. 6’2” 280 # DT Chicago, IL Smith is the #1 player in this class. He is an athletic freak of nature. You have heard the old adage that no matter how far they fall or from where cats always end up on their feet? Well on the line a player MUST stay on both feet. Smith is often double and triple teamed and stays on both of his feet. A great center of gravity and stunning athleticism and speed he is football talent is ONLY over shadowed by an off the field character that makes him a great play and exceptional person. A Coach’s take, “There is nothing not to like about Smith. He just brings so much athleticism that you have him stopped inside and he can run around the line and catch people in the backfield. I didn’t even know that was possible.” Weakness: Smith can’t rely on his athleticism at the next level. Heart isn’t an issue, but he has been so gifted athletically that it may take him some time to learn and understand everyone is good at this level.” Dantonio says, “Enoch Smith is another guy that is very disruptive from Mount Carmel High School up in Chicago. Just an outstanding program Enoch is a guy that can play defensive end or defensive tackle with the three technique. Very explosive. Can really, really run.”
2) Malik McDowell DL Farmington Hills, 6’6” 292# McDowell is a bull in a china shop, but one with not motor issues. Watch him he doesn’t get tired. He is relentless. He isn’t content tackling people, he punishes the ground they land on and then helps them up. High character matched with amazing talent, makes him worth the wait for MSU. A Coach’s take, “He totally reminded us of Jerome Brown the former Eagle and Miami Hurricane. He creates havoc and leaves a path of bodies.” Weakness: Will need to learn technique at the next level. He didn’t face the level of opponent that he will at the next level and he has been able to play all over at some many different places, but he now will need to learn technique as an art. Dantonio says, “We’re just extremely excited for him and his family in terms of where we go from here. I think what makes him so special as a player is he has a unique ability…obviously he’s a big guy, he’s about 6’6’ and 290…but his versatility to pay defensive end and defensive tackle, his power, his speed, his athletic ability, his size obviously are huge characteristics. But beyond that, you look at the intangibles, I think the guy’s a do-er. When we had him at camp a couple of years ago, and I’ve watched him at camp this past summer, he was a guy that had a high motor and understood what he wanted and went about it in a very clear manner and decisive manner. So we’re very, very excited about him becoming a Spartan.”
3) Montae Nicholson DB 6’2” 202# Monroeville, PA Nicholson has a great ball presence mixed with a killer hitting instinct. Reminds of me of former Spartan great Nehemiah Warrick, but with more speed and better at playing the ball in the air. A Coach’s take, “Just when you think you have went away from him he is there making the hit. He is a ball hawk. On every play he has his nose in there looking to blow someone up.” Weakness: He is a ball hawk, but at the next level smart offensive coordinators and QBs will use that against him. He is at times too aggressive. He will be playing with several great players and he has to trust them, like he trusts himself. Dantonio’s says, “Montae Nicholson, I feel like he’s a dual threat player. I think he can play either side of the ball. 13.9 high hurdlers; second in the state. Big body, very athletic. Very, very good athlete. Down the field pass catcher. Would play X force. Big body guy. On the defensive side of the ball, I think he has the ability to be a tremendous safety and maybe even a corner. He’s got length and can really, really run. Tough, good tackler and really feel can almost do it all. So we’re very excited about him. Played the All American Game as well and was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Pennsylvania.”
4) Craig Evans DT Sun Prairie, WI 6’3” 325# Evans had interest from all over the county with a great chance to go to the SEC or anywhere he wanted, but MSU was able to steal him away late. He is a road grader that eats up offensive lineman so linebackers can make plays. He is a wrecking ball of flesh, strong and has a surprisingly quick first step and soft hands. A Coach’s take, “Haloti Ngata the great Ravens DT is all you need to know. He is Ngata 2.0 Not a good player; he is a great player with NFL written all over him.” Weakness: It is difficult for big men to get to a certain level of conditioning that keeps them on the field. He is a great player, but if he embraces Coach Ken Mannie for the conditioning aspects of the game he could be a high level first round NFL pick.” Dantonio says, “Very powerful guy. He’s got a lot of explosiveness. He’s got great change of direction for a big man. About 6’3″ 310 or so. Probably will be an immediate contributor in terms this year’s football team.”
5) Brian Allen OL, Hinsdale, IL 6’2” 299# In the interest of fair disclosure I love the Allen family. Jack (current OL starter) is a super young man and so is Brian. Comes from a great family and Brian, although different player than Jack, has the same nasty blood and guts offensive line mentality. Off the field the Allen’s are the kind of young men a father wants their daughter to marry, but on it you beg God they are on your team. Allen plays with an anger and vengeance that makes you swear you are watching the movie Gladiator. A star that doesn’t enjoy football he loves it. A Coach’s take, “Once Allen gets those big mitts on you it’s over. You will swear he has an unfair advantage because I didn’t see one guy on tape able to get his hands off of them. You can coach technique, but you can’t coach want to. He has the want to.” Weakness: Is so punishing that at times he spends too much time on the first member of the defense he runs into. Has to be able to understand first degree murder is not required on every play. Sometimes you can leave a person not needing an ambulance so you can get to the next victim. Dantonio says, “Brian Allen, another young man who has played in the All American Game. Brian I think is another guy whose brother plays here. I think it sends a message based on him following in his brother’s footsteps in terms of what’s going on within the program not just from a football perspective, but overall perspective. Tough. Very tough individual. I think he’s lost once in wrestling: 48 0 last year and the state champion. This year maybe he’s lost once. I’m sure he’ll correct that as the weekends go here. I think he’s won 42 plus matches this year. 285 pounds. Probably will be an immediate contributor for us. Can play center, guard. Toughness I think runs in that family, and very, very excited about that.”
6) Gerald Owens RB Westville, New Jersey 6’1” 252# A punishing runner who loves to initiate contact. Not sure Owens could run away from anyone, but you can see defenders running FROM him because he loves to run over them. He just makes plays. He proves it isn’t always about speed at this position. A Coach’s take, “Loved everything about Owens, but he has deceptive speed. He doesn’t have to bulldoze everyone. If you can cut and go away from them that is OK as well. I would have bought a ticket to go over to MSU to watch him and Max Bullough in the Oklahoma drill. You could have felt that down here. The easy comparison is Jerome Bettis. Loves to block and you could put him as a FB and use him a lot like the Bucs did Mike Alstott. If he can learn to consistently catch Mark (Dantonio) as a sick new toy. I neat Narduzzi wants some of that on his side.” Weakness: Owens is big, strong and powerful, but he has never gone against 260# linebackers who love to hit as well. His power is an asset, but learning to avoid some contact could avoid brain rattling concussions and or injury. At this level, no one will run away. Dantonio’s take, “Gerald Owens who, again, reminds me a little bit of T.J. Duckett. Big, powerful guy. Can play a lot of positions. We recruited him as a tailback, but I’ve seen him play on defense as well. Just an outstanding football player in general.”
7) Vayante Copeland DB Dayton, OH 6’ 186# This young play maker has great size, great speed and a nose for the action. He can make plays in the air or on the ground. Loves to come up and blitz and go back in coverage. He has skills RARELY seen in a high school player and even though MSU is loaded at DB, will get every shot to play early. A Coach’s take, “We craved Copeland. He plays DB like a LB. Love that he is a fast and big kid, but he is a football player first who happens to play DB.” Weakness: Has to learn technique. Was able to freelance a lot in high school and he won’t’ get that chance at MSU. He can do it and will do it, but here he doesn’t need to do it all. Dantonio says, “Vayante Copeland is a young man who runs a 48.22 400. State champion down in Ohio. Reminds me a lot of Darqueze Dennard in a lot of ways in terms of his demeanor and in terms what he’s done for his football teams. I think he ran for 2,500 yards as a junior, over 4,000 in his career there as well as being a kickoff returner, punt returner, corner, played safety, great tackler.”
8) Madre London RB Fort Lauderdale, Florida 6’1” 210# London plays a lot like former MSU great Tico Duckett. Great hands, speed and very hard to bring down. Just like Tico you don’t see the first man get him. A Coach’s take, “He is exactly what you think of with an MSU type back. Has a lot of speed and great awareness. We wanted him badly.” Weakness: Needs to be more patient. There is an old adage in football that a running back needs to be slow to the hole and fast through it. He is not used to playing against the speed level that he will see at this level. He has to learn (like all good backs) to be patient while plays develop. Dantonio’s says, “Madre London, who is down from Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas, which plays tremendous competition at the highest level in Florida. Just an all round great running back. Great hands, soft hands, elusive, runs with power.”
9) Byron Bullough OLB Traverse City, MI 6’2” 220# Tough tough and more tough. Comes from a wonderful family and more importantly he is a wonderful young man. Byron is so smart that on the football field he has an amazing instinctive ability. Plays downhill looking for a collision, but understands he has speed to avoid the collisions and make plays. A Coach’s take, “I don’t think anyone doubted where he was going. With Riley you thought you may have a shot, but not that kid. He is tough. Not the biggest Bullough, but the fastest and that makes him even more dangerous.” Weakness: He is so good that he has played nearly every spot on both sides of the ball. He has rarely in his life played a game on football and not been the best player on the field. He has to get in one position and be able to develop the instincts and talents for that spot. This is only a weakness because he had to do that to win not because of talent. When he arrives in East Lansing he will live in the weight room, film room and class room and master whatever spot they place him. Dantonio says, “Byron Bullough is a Spartan so he understands the nature of what goes on here. I think it makes a statement when you send your son into a place where your other two sons have already been. I think it makes a statement in terms of how they been treated and the type of direction we’re going as a football program. So excited to have Byron here. Again, another guy that has played quarterback multiple positions.”
10) Chris Frey, Jr OLB, Upper Arlington, OH 6’1” 215# Frey is an amazing young man who plays football because he loves it. So many young men love it, but don’t have the skills, or have the skills and not the love. Frey is neither. He loves football and God has blessed him with the talents to play. Super vision, great feet, heads up player who can get to the action fast. Reminds me of former MSU and NFL great Dixon Edwards. A Coach’s take, “Frey plays with his head up and that allows him to be even faster than he already is. Very smart player.” Weakness: His isn’t big and got away with that in high school. Very smart, when Frey adds some bulk and strength good luck keeping him off the field. Dantonio says, “Chris Frey is on campus right now. Upper Arlington High School and a guy who has played corner. He’s played a lot of positions for his football team, so very excited about him.”
11) T.J. Harrell ATH Tampa, FL 6’1” 210# Harrell has affectionately been given the nickname of my redneck brother from another mother. Just a terrific person from a super family and a great football player. Had interest like most of this class from all over the country. An avid outdoorsman he loved the idea of coming north and playing ball. A very smart player, but also very instinctive. He can hit and he can play the ball. He will continue the NO FLY ZONE tradition with his big hitting style. Reminds me of former MSU safety Eric Smith. A Coach’s take, “Just a great kid. Hard to not love him. Zero concerns with character and love of the game. Would have been a great addition here.” Weakness: Hands. If Harrell can spend some time on the jugs machine and improve that part of his game he could easily take his game to another level. Don’t question his work ethic. Dantonio says, “T.J. Harrell is a guy from Tampa Florida. Very highly recruited young man. He’s a very exciting player; highly recruited.”
12) Chase Gianacakos OT St Charles, IL 6’5” 280# He is a mountain of human flesh and long arms that make him prototypical to play the edge. Great job of getting in to the defender and not letting him get off the block. Does a good job of getting up field to the next level and with good feet he can do some athletic things in the flat. A Coach’s take, “Chase mauls you. Frustrating for a defender. Very even level kid, but once he has you it’s done.” Weakness: Chase has been bigger than everyone he faces, but he must embrace Ken Mannie. He must get bigger and stronger, but those are things that are simply effort related and no one questions his heart. MSU is so loaded on the OL there is ZERO pressure for him to play early and he will be a better player for it. Dantonio says, “Chase Gianacakos is an outstanding young man. Really lived all over the world so he’s played football for a very, very short time. Big, tall, filling in. Plays basketball, athletic, very smart. Has toughness, relentless type guy. Going to make his presence known as we move through the process as well.”
13) Matt Sokol ATH, Rochester, MI 6’5” 226# 6’5” 226# Sokol is as great of a young man as he is a football player. Such a high football IQ and he is so fun to watch play the game. A kid that loves the game, Sokol will NOT be outworked. He is all heart. A Coach’s take,“I think Sokol’s biggest enemy is that he had to play all over just to help his team win. He is a jack of all trades, but hasn’t been able to be a master of any. We loved his versatility and the last concern is his heart or character. Would have liked to have had him. You can’t have enough Sokol’s on your team and you want all you can add.” Weakness: Just like the coach said, it is that he has played everywhere. Setting in you can count on him making a name for himself. Playing H back right now, he just makes plays. I think he redshirts, but trust me when I say this weakness will be erased. He has the want to and fire. Dantonio says, “Matt Sokol was on campus as a tight end. Played quarterback for his high school team, but we found him in camps on the 7 on 7 tournaments that were around. Outstanding pass catcher. Big guy. He’ll go about 240 here very, very shortly, so we’re very, very excited about him. He brings an added dimension because I think he understands the offensive concepts relating to football on general.”
14) Matt Morrissey WR Lincolnshire, Illinois 6’3” 195# Another great kid and I know that sounds like a broken record. Dantonio seeks that out. Morrissey is fun to watch. Not the biggest or the fastest, but he makes plays in the clutch. Once he spends time with Coach Ken Mannie facing him on the slot will be scary. Hands like B.J. Cunningham and great ability he reminds me a lot of former NFL leading receiver and my buddy Mike Furrey. A Coach’s take,“Matt is so smart that his football IQ set him up to succeed. I don’t buy the (male cow excrement) that it comes from who his dad is. It is because he loves the game and wants to know it.” Weakness: He loves the game and that is a plus, but there are times he tries too hard. I know, I know, what a great problem. He will have other great players around him at the next level and he won’t have to do everything. In high school he was Mr. Everything. Dantonio says, “Matt Morrissey, who the is the son of Jim Morrissey, former Spartan who played for the Bears in the Super Bowl, Matt is a guy who plays on his basketball team where they were runner up state champions. Big school division last year. Very explosive. Great ball skills. Good tackler in the back end. Maybe an outside baker. Grow into it. Maybe a safety. Right now he’ll start at wide receiver. Reminds me a lot of Blair White. He’s a quick jumper and extremely disciplined player.”
15) Robert Bowers DE Columbus, OH 6’5” 215# You see so much spend and length in Bowers. He is small in weight and needs to add strength and bulk. After Coach Mannie molds him he has an amazing upside. Great athleticism. Could be the STEAL of the class. A Coach’s take, “Love Bowers and on a team like MSU that won’t need him immediately he is a great pick. Because Mark (Dantonio) has the luxury of so much talent, a kid like Robert won’t have pressure early to be great. OSU will look back at not taking this young man like they did Javon Ringer.” Weakness: Size. That can be fixed and there is no one better to fix it than Coach Ken Mannie. Bowers is another Mark Dantonio physical freak that Urban Meyer will regret not taking.
16) Deon Drake LB Detroit, MI 6’1” 215# Denicos Allen 2.0 is a great way to describe Drake. He makes plays everywhere. Won’t overwhelm you with size, but NO ONE and I mean NO ONE will top his heart. He plays the game from a place of aggression and just like Allen he leaves it all on the field. A Coach’s take, “He is like a bloodhound on the football field. Should fit right in being a Spartan dog. Put on any type, I am mean just normal game tape and you see Drake on almost every play. He’s a football player.” Weakness: He can play as physical as he does at the high school level, but he will need to learn to use his speed more at this level. Allen had the same issue. Pounding QBs and ball carriers is one thing, taking on Big Ten offensive lineman is another. No issues with his heart, so you can expect him to have a great career. Dantonio says, “Deon Drake is a guy out of Cass Tech. Injured a lot of the year this year. Didn’t get back except for the last three games. He’s a guy that had a tremendous junior year, explosive. Played running back as well as linebacker, and he’s a thumper.”
17) David Beedle DL Clarkston, MI 6’4 290# Let me just say that ANY other year Mark Dantonio has been here Beedle would be rated MUCH HIGHER. This class is just sick with talent. This young man just devours offensive lineman and is strong and relentless. He plays the game with passion and has an edge. Likes the grind and the pound and should have no issues adjusting to the physicality of the Big Ten. A Coach’s take,“He has such a get up and go that you have to double team him. That is what you have to get from a defensive lineman and he gives it. I know Dantonio got a lot of good dline players in this class, but that young person may end up the best.” Weakness: Pad level. He will have the same issues Tyler Hoover did. When you are big and tall keeping your pads low is NOT natural and VERY difficult to do. Dantonio says, “David Beedle is a guy, state championship team in Clarkston, a very well coached football team, and a guy with a huge up side. Big guy, 6’4″, 295, very strong, athletic.”
18) Miguel Machado OL Pasadena, CA 6’6” 285# If you know anything about the OL you have to love Machado’s athleticism. He is a banger. He loves contact and he will stick to the defender like glue. Coming in as a JUCO transfer you already have experience to build on. A Coach’s take, “Very much plays like a bull dog. Relentless. Powerful and fast. He just keeps coming.” Weakness: At the JUCO level he was able to just stick to one guy. The secret to success at this level is getting to the second level. Going from a DE to a LB. That transition phase. Coach Bollman can fix that as well as some technique issues. A solid player will compete for reps as soon as he steps on campus.
19) Montez Sweat DE Stone Mountain, Georgia 6’6” 220# This class is SO deep that we will look back at Sweat being this low and laugh. He is a physical freak that switches from WR to TE to DE with no hesitation or adjustment. Fast and athletic he is a weapon that Pat Narduzzi and Ron Burton stay up late and night dreaming of schemes. MSU STOLE him from the SEC. He will have to develop and get bigger and stronger, but again with a roster this deep they can afford to do that. A Coach’s take,“Montez has no ceiling other than what he sets. He will go as far as he wants to. All the raw physical tools that ya’ll need.” Weakness: I keep saying this, but it isn’t because I am lazy. Yet again MSU goes and gets a great athlete that has had do play nearly every position on the field. He is young and raw and needs Coach Mannie, but all of that can be overcome because he has the heart. Coach Burton can teach technique, Sweat has the want to and that is deadly. Wouldn’t be shocked to see him at TE either. He has more athleticism than most, it now has to be harnessed.
20) Jalen Watts-Jackson DB Orchard Lake, MI 5’11” 185 Another player who should be much higher. He plays with zero fear. He will hit, he will go up and get the ball and he is incredibly smart. Another NO FLY ZONE toy added to the Coach Barnett box of goodies and JWJ can do it and do it at a very high level. A Coach’s take, “We were on him early, but when he didn’t’ commit early we knew what was coming. He is a perfect fit for the Spartans. He will step right up and play their coverage and do well. Great player.” Weakness: Because he is fearless he tends at times, and very limited times, to take unnecessary risks. He will be in a defensive backfield with three other great players and he doesn’t need to take risks as much, just do his job. Watching him change that style will be interesting. Dantonio says, “Just had a dominant camp when he was here. About 6′ tall, great jumper; plays on his basketball team. Very, very explosive. Has great timing. Has just a knack for playing the ball in the deep part of the field, and very excited about that as well.”
21) Nick Padla OL Berrien Springs, Michigan 6’5” 280# Reminds me a lot of former MSU great Brian Ottney. Padla is a tough player. An offensive line that has him next to Brian Allen should strike fear in B1G defensive coordinators. He gets to the second level, he blows people up and as an interior lineman his foot work would make Ballerina’s blush. Again should be MUCH higher and will be a starter at MSU. Write it down. A Coach’s take, “Everything you want in an offensive lineman is Padla. In our program we call it the nasty. He has the nasty. Not outside the bounds of acceptable, but he is just a violent player. Love his game.” Weakness: He can do more. He loves the pancake and blowing guys up. When the initial contact is made, even when he beats that player, he doesn’t release for the second level quick enough if they don’t go down. Don’t get me wrong he gets to the second level, but he can get there even more if he realizes he doesn’t have to leave a wake of bodies in his path. Dantonio says, “Nick Padla is a young man from out here Berrien Springs, Michigan. Very athletic. Really doesn’t come off the field. Another guy that’s going to grow into his body. 6’5″, 265, 270 right now, but he’s going to be a big, strong guy.”
22) Jake Hartbarger P/K Whitehouse, Ohio 6’4” 195# If you look back at all the years I have been doing these evaluations of recruiting classes you will notice I am not afraid to put P and K much higher. Mark Dantonio is fond of saying, “The punt is the most important play in football.” I agree. Hartbarger is NOT a good punter, he is ELITE and yet again I bemoan he should be much higher. Spartans will instantly notice he is a lot like former MSU and NFL punter (and my good friend) Craig Jarrett. No way has he deserved to be here on this list, but with a sick class of talent he ends up here. All the tools to kick in the NFL already. A Coach’s take, “I think the kid has helium in the ball. It just jumps of of his foot and he gets right at it down the field looking to get a stop. Coach Kohl made another great one in this kid.” Weakness: He doesn’t have to kill the ball. He can out kick his coverage easily, so needs to work on more height and thus getting more hang time. Sadler had the same issues and look how good he is. Jake will be great. Dantonio says, “Our punter that was signed Jake Hartbarger is probably one of the top two in the nation. We’re extremely excited to have that situation, much like we have with Mike Sadler where he can probably watch for a year and then take over that punting situation. We have been dominant on our special teams because of our great punting. Whoever it’s been, it’s been a big factor in our success here. We’ll look for Jake to continue that.”