Over the past couple months Michigan has been starting to really see the fruits of their labor blossom, and that has resulted in a class that has ballooned up to 11 members for the class of 2014. While no one is complaining about the recent successes, there haven’t really been too many new faces to profile since the Wolverines have been getting many of their first choices, and are still in on some very highly touted prospects. That coupled with the general recruiting nature of college football in the summer has led to a decrease of new information to cover, and therefore propelled my Twitter ramblings into reality. I introduce to you, the pilot episode of “Head to Head Battles.”
Before just diving right in, I would first like to discuss what exactly this series is about. With “Head to Head Battles,” I ultimately plan to profile two prospects of the same class at a similar position, and choose a “winner.” Since this is a blog, I want to make this an interactive process with the readers to provide exactly what you are looking for. The winner could be the prospect that is generally more talented overall, or it could be the one that is a better fit for Michigan’s program. Also, the winner could be decided by whichever prospect “wins” the most categories, or it could just be a gut decision, even if the numbers say otherwise. For this test run, I will choose the player that I feel is the best fit for Michigan, regardless of who has more category “wins.”
Now that the boring stuff is over, let’s get to it. Today I will do a rundown of two prospects, Kalen Ballage and Jonathan Hilliman, which play a position that hasn’t received much recruiting love this year for Michigan (RB). As it looks now, these could potentially be the two most likely to commit to Michigan in this class unless new offers go out. Michigan has made ripples with prospects such as Joe Mixon and man-child Leonard Fournette, but they both appear to be long shots for the time being.
Kalen Ballage Profile: 247Sports composite 4-star, #27 ATH, 295 national ranking. Hails from Peyton, CO (Falcon), and plays a number of positions although it has been speculated that Michigan wants him as a running back. Listed at 6’2”, 215lbs with a 40-yard dash of 4.37 seconds. BCS offers from Arizona State, Michigan, Nebraska, Colorado, GT, Kansas State, Mississippi State, OU, Oregon State, Utah, Vanderbilt, and Washington State.
Jonathan Hilliman Profile: 247Sports composite 3-Star, #46 RB, 604 national ranking. From Jersey City, NJ (St. Peters Prep), where he plays RB and LB. Comes in at 6’1”, 210lbs and claims a 4.52 40-yard dash. BCS offers from Alabama, Arkansas, BC, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, Florida, GT, Illinois, Maryland, Miami (FL), Michigan State, N.C. State, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pitt, Syracuse, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Kalen: At 6’2” and 215lbs, Kalen could step onto most college campuses and contend for playing time immediately. He’s a big body that utilizes his length for shaking off blockers on defense, and keeping tacklers away from his body on offense. Has the frame to be a real bulldozer in the backfield if he adds a good ten pounds of muscle.
Jonathan: He comes in a tad shorter and lighter than Kalen, but still has more than adequate size to play RB at the next level. He will need to bulk up some to be able to handle the abuse from BCS defenses, but clearly has the height to see over the line and diagnose plays.
Kalen: For his size, has impressive straight-line speed. Acceleration is adequate, but lacks a real burst to hit a hole and make it a track race. Has enough speed to find an opening and pick up a solid gain, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call him a home run threat when facing better competition. Remember, high school 40 times are…suspect.
Jonathan: First impression is that he is a blazer. Can lose defensive backs in a straight-line race, has the quickness to evade defenders beyond the defensive line, and the burst that could turn any play into a touchdown. Has deceptive stride length, and can shift his momentum on the dime. Unlike Kalen, this 40-yard dash time is a little more believable.
Kalen: Has decent vision, but relies on strength and a lack of competition to avoid defenders. Earlier play recognition could allow him to hit some holes that appear to go unnoticed. Is able to take a step to avoid tacklers from hitting him square, then uses his arms to keep them off. Cuts are subtle but just enough to be effective. Won’t be able to rely as much on his cuts in college without improving his lateral movement.
Jonathan: Appears to be one step ahead of the game. Is able to see a hole open up before it is even there, and then hits it. Always seems to take the best route, and has the LeSean McCoy type lateral movement to maximize the effectiveness of his vision. Uses a combination of speed and cuts to avoid being touched, and has decent strength to drive through the players that get a hand on him.
Kalen: Can dip a shoulder and bring the pain. Strong upper body strength can keep defenders away from his body. Has a strong base that helps him drive through arm tackles, but might not be as effective at a higher level of competition. Can wrap up and throw down defenders on defense.
Jonathan: At this point in his game, his strength is a good compliment to his speed. He can usually break through the weak attempts at a tackle, which occur due to his evasiveness. Won’t even be bowling ball in the backfield, but has the potential to really round out his game.
Kalen: He is listed by some sites as a WR for a reason. Shows the ability to catch the ball away from his body, make one handed catches, and adjust his body to make catches thrown to the back shoulder all while in motion. His skill set could allow him to be an every-down back at the right school.
Jonathan: Not a whole lot of film in this area, but what’s there shows that he is at least capable of receiving out of the backfield. He is able to catch the ball outside of his body while keeping momentum, which is really all you need out of a WR coming out of the backfield.
Kalen: Level of competition leaves much to be desired in Colorado; still he boasts offers from respectable BSC schools such as Arizona State, Michigan, Nebraska, Kansas State, Miss State, and OU. 4-star ranking is justified, but I wouldn’t argue for a bump up.
Jonathan: Faces much stiffer competition coming from a prep school in NJ, yet still appears to make them look like a bunch of Pop Warner players. He is a composite 3-star, which really is questionable considering offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Stanford, Florida, Miami (FL), and Tennessee.
* With this last section, I wanted to cover both a player’s level of competition, as well as his ranking and offers to determine how he is viewed nationally. Like the rest of this article, it is fluid and could be subject to a title change, or even completely removed.
By looking strictly at the numbers, it is an even 3-3 tie. In fact, you could make a case for Kalen to take the win considering the last category doesn’t indicate much about how the player would fit at Michigan, but rather how they are valued on a national stage. Kalen would come into Michigan as a power back, and would give the staff the additional option of playing him on third downs due to his versatility. I believe that while Jonathan doesn’t have quite the background with receiving, he too could be an every down back given he can handle the physical toil. While I like both prospects, and see them finding their niche at Michigan, my decision comes down to the depth chart. Michigan has brought in a few typical pro-style backs in the last class in Wyatt Shallman, DeVeon Smith, and Derrick Green, and I don’t see Kalen separating himself much from that group. Jonathan on the other hand is capable of being a between the tackles runner, similar to the guys listed above, but brings a different skill set to the table. Lining him up in the backfield with a player such as Derrick Green could be a nightmare for D-Coordinators.
I want to stress that this is simply a test run. Instead of jumping to the comments section and blasting this piece, give suggestions as to how it can be improved. I felt that this approach was a different way at looking at prospects, and it offers much potential to be a good read if it is done correctly. Please feel free to give your input on the piece itself, or about any single aspect of it in the comments below, or to my Twitter (@nickBBR). Hopefully this can be a series that can continue on, as it allows the reader to get an understanding of the value of a Michigan prospect compared to a similar prospect that is also being recruited my Michigan. As always, Go Blue!
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