Our own recruiting guru Pete Volk has been predicting lately that the Terps' slow-to-start 2015 football recruiting cycle would begin accelerating in a hurry. It seems he's right.
Just 5 days after Maryland got a pledge from dynamic South Florida rusher Deltron Sands (see film review here), lightning struck again quickly with another commit to feel good about in McDonogh lineman Ellis McKennie.
The Terps still have just three total commits but two are respected OL prospects from the state of Maryland. With a couple of elite 2015 OL prospects in Isaiah Prince and Quarvez Boulware still sitting out there as very possible Terp pick-ups, this could be the second straight year that Maryland brings in a banner group of trench-men. Adding Prince and Boulware to current commits E.J. Donahue and E-Mac (You're welcome, Profiles in Terpage crew. FlaTerp has your back on the nickname front!) would be a downright drool-worthy, all-local quartet and it would hopefully lay the foundation for years of strong offensive line play. I so hope this happens, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. The Terps just bagged a great in-state kid, so let's break him down on film!
Click here to see McKennie's film reel from his junior year.
The Recruit: Ellis McKennie
High School: McDonogh High School, Owings Mills (Md.)
Position: Offensive line. Projects as a guard at Maryland
247sports composite: Three stars, 25th best guard and 402nd best player in the nation. The composite has him 9th in the state, while Rivals has him 13th. Both Rivals and 247 have E-Mac rated as the state of Maryland's 4th best OL prospect behind Prince, Pat Allen and Donahue.
Measurables: He's listed at 6-foot-3 and in the 280-300 range, depending on where you look. Film, to me, confirms those numbers to be realistic, not an exaggeration at all. He's playing high level football and he stands out as a big kid relative to the other linemen around him.
I can not find a listed 40 time, bench, squat, or anything of the sort. Here's my technical assessment of those things: He is strong. He's not fast. Done and done.
Junior season: McDonogh had a fantastic football team, finishing 11-0 and throttling Gilman 37-6 to capture the MIAA A conference championship. McKennie's OL unit was widely credited as the driving force behind the perfect season and win over favored Gilman. McKennie, Jared Cohen, Wyatt Cook (you really want Wyatt Cook to become a Terrapin LB -- just trust me on this one, please) and co. paved the way for an offense that averaged 36 PPG mostly by ground-and-pounding opponents.
A quick note about McDonogh: not only is this the school that gave us Hey-Bey, Roman Braglio, Josh Woods and others, but it's also a rising program at this point in time and it's coming off a feel-good championship season. It's a school Maryland needs to be tight with, and it appears Edsall, Dudzinski (who led the way with E-Mac) and the rest of the coaches are exactly that right now.
Offers: McKennie has long been considered a Maryland lean, which may have kept some competition away, but he chose the Terps over Rutgers, which had offered and was making a push, and recent offer Marshall. Penn State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Temple, Virginia Tech and Ivy League schools had also been calling on McKennie but hadn't offered yet.
On film: McKennie's film has something in common with Brendan Moore's film from the 2014 cycle -- lots and lots of pancake blocks. McKennie isn't as fast as Moore, but he's bigger and every bit as mean. He comes about his pancakes in a different way, by locking up the dude with leverage, walking him down down the field, and then bowling him over. McKennie might need some agility work as he's a bit of a one-trick pony who moves in straight lines and just bulldozes defenders. Lateral movement is more important for tackles than guards, obviously, but it's probably the difference between a reserve college guard and a starter. You want guys across the line who are athletic, nimble, and versatile.
This film shows us that McKennie often had the luxury of playing guard in high school, whereas most future D-1 guards played left tackle as preps just because they were usually the best lineman on their team and that's where you put your best lineman. McKennie's team featured Jared Cohen at left tackle, so E-Mac played some on the inside and some at right tackle. It'll be interesting to see what happens this season with Cohen departed for Chapel Hill (sigh). Is McKennie now the LT? Is McDonogh's line going to remain at the dominating level it played at in 2013? We'll find out soon enough.
Back to the film, McKennie, I can't stress enough, shows us over and over again the No. 1 thing that college coaches want to see on film from a big, beefy high school lineman -- a mean streak. McKennie may not be fast, but he is play-smart. You can see him executing the designed play and you can see the rushers benefiting from it. He makes the right moves, plays with discipline, works well in tandem with his linemates and closes the deal with pancakes quite frequently. His leg drive is super and he uses it to keep defenders back-pedaling and locked up without holding them.
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A couple other things to like about McKennie: First, his form and technique, to my amateur eye, looks very advanced for a high school junior. He barely ever straightens his back (a challenge for young bigs carrying a lot of weight around) and he keeps his feet and knees busy in a good way. Those are common traps young linemen fall into -- playing upright and flat-footed -- and McKennie doesn't show tendencies toward either. Second, he's got motor and is in no way lazy. There's multiple plays where he finishes off his defender quickly, but rather than admiring his work (another common high school trap), he goes downfield to block the next level, or else stays home and makes sure his first guy stays grounded.
Finally, arms and hands are so important in the trenches and he uses his well, if not perfect. On the upside, his ability to stay compact and win the leverage battle with his arms and shoulders is great and his finishing blows with his hands are fun to watch. On the downside, for me, his hands could be a little busier than they are, just with some punching, shoving etc. If your forearms and hands are too still for too long during a block, that's when flags fly. I could see that being a point of focus with McKennie going forward.
The only real negative for this prospect is that he's not particularly fast, nor is he particularly nimble laterally. If he does move to left tackle this fall as expected, I'll be interested to see how he does vs. the best edge rushers when they try and beat him around corners to the QB. If McDonogh's coaches keep McKennie inside or at right tackle, we could then draw the conclusion that he's limited as an athlete. That's OK for a guard, but he'd then need to bulk up and get really strong to wrestle effectively with the Vince Wilfork-style DTs of the B1G. If McKennie moves to LT and excels there as much as he did as an underclassman guard on this film, then watch out, we've got ourselves a jewel.
One other question: can he pass protect at a high level? There's only one or two pass plays on this entire film, so we just can't answer that question yet.
2015 outlook: At the time of this writing, it's too soon to simply declare McKennie a redshirt, although that is my instinct. The truth is, though Maryland has recruited OL pretty well lately, it's still a young and thin unit. Larry Mazyck didn't work out and Moises Larose is out for the year so it's natural to question his future, too. We're all high on Damian Prince and Derwin Gray but it's important to remember that neither has played a down of football at Maryland yet. Being a great prospect does not make you a great player -- just ask Nick Faust (sorry, couldn't resist). Those two bluebloods, Prince and Gray, are going to be tackles anyway, while the picture at guard isn't nearly as clear.
Andrew Zeller will be a senior in 2015 and should be able to hold off a freshman like McKennie, while Michael Dunn and Ryan Doyle will be juniors who may be stuck behind Gray and Prince at tackle but screaming to get snaps anyway. Brendan Moore may be a center, but he could also be a guard depending on need. Let's not forget Jajuan Dulaney, who will be a third-year sophomore. And what about Donahue and Boulware (to quote the great "True Romance" character Dick Ritchie: "hope ... hope!")? Those two guys are probably both future guards, too. So there's going to be a lot of traffic for McKennie to navigate through if he's going to find the field as a true freshman, but then nobody out of that group seems insurmountable. Will McKennie redshirt in 2015? Probably. But let's see how he does at McDonogh this year as well as how all those other guys do at Maryland. Then we can revisit that question in the spring.
Longterm outlook: McKennie is big, smart (3.9 GPA!), disciplined and appropriately mean. That's a very, very nice set of tools to build a lineman out of. There's not a whole lot to say that I haven't (exhaustively) said above, so let's just cut to the chase here and say that whether or not he sees the field in his first couple years, there's simply a lot to like about this young in-state lineman. Keep the pancakes coming this fall, E-Mac, and we'll see you at Byrd in 2015!
How do you feel about Ellis McKennie's prospects for early playing time?