Justice Hayes, RB, 5’11, 180, Grand Blanc(HS)MI
Arguably the best running back in the North/Midwest region is Grand Blanc, Michigan standout Justice Hayes. This is backed up by the fact that just about every major Midwest program (Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern) has offered the 5’11, 180 pound standout a scholarship. Hayes is quickly becoming one of the nations most sought after running backs after having received an offer from Tennessee and Vanderbilt of the SEC. Over the past two seasons Hayes has rushed for 2417 yards and 17 touchdowns for a 7.2 yard per carry clip.
Despite lacking ideal girth (listed between 175-180 pounds) Hayes does have good size at 5’11. Hayes is a long-armed player with a compact, athletic frame that should allow him to gain solid additional size and strength as he physically matures. As he gains additional strength and size, combined with his shiftiness, Hayes will not take as many straight on hits as most backs which will allow him to get at least 15-20 touches a game. Although he is not a power runner Hayes does run with good authority and is not afraid to put his shoulder down or attempt to run through defenders. The Grand Blanc standout does a great job churning his legs and is not a player who is easily brought down by arm tackles. Despite this he is a player who likes to make defenders miss in the open field as he seeks to break off big runs. Hayes is not a traditional pro-style, between-the-tackles runner but does have plenty of experience attacking between the tackles. For the spread offense, however, Hayes is the ideal fit. He is a young man who can attack with authority the lanes that are created in a spread offense, can attack creases, get to the perimeter, catch the football, and make big plays with the ball in his hands. At the very least Hayes should serve as an excellent change of pace back and as a 3rd down back.
Hayes has very good speed and is truly a threat to rip off a big play (running or catching) every time he touches the football. He gets to full speed right away and quickly attacks the second level of the defense. Everything Hayes does he does fast. He attacks downhill fast, he reads fast, he reacts fast, and he gets downfield fast; his game is all about speed. The 5’11 rusher gets to the perimeter quickly and has the speed to outrun defenders to the edge for big runs. Once he gets into the second level Hayes shows a second gear that allows him to finish off runs. Hayes also has quick feet that he keeps low to the ground. He has very good agility and active feet that allow him to quickly plant and go, change direction and accelerate, jump cut and accelerate, and quickly leap over defenders in the open field. Hayes also shows a very quick spin move. I also like the excellent balance Hayes shows that allows him to bounce off tackles and accelerate as well as quickly accelerating after cutting. Hayes is able to maximize his athletic skills thanks to his efficiency. There is not much wasted motion in what he does and is a true “cut and go” type rusher. This means that he is always looking to get vertical, and his cuts are always quick, efficient, and purposeful with the intent of immediately getting vertical. These traits make Hayes very dangerous in the open field. This should allow Hayes to make big plays at the next level as a rusher, receiver, and in the return game where speed, explosiveness, and suddenness are key assets.
I have already alluded to the fact that Hayes, for all his shiftiness, is very much a north-south rusher. He knows the end zone is that direction, so everything he does in the open field is designed to get him free so he can quickly get vertical towards the end zone. He attacks the rushing lanes with the proper north-south angles which gets the defense to work up field. When this happens and Hayes sees daylight to the perimeter he quickly bounces the play outside and beats defenders to the edge. The Grand Blanc star also possesses tremendous vision. He reacts quickly to openings, immediately sees and reacts to quick penetrating linemen, and in the open field does a great job anticipating moves. This means as he makes one defender miss he sees what else is coming and is able to immediately react to a second defender after making the first defender miss. Often times, players with Hayes’ agility and quickness spend too much time juking and not enough time actually gaining yards. This is not a problem for Hayes who is very decisive in his movements. Whether he is right or wrong, when he makes a decision he hits the hole quickly and with authority. Hayes also shows very good patience and does a great job reading his blocks, setting up blocks, and understands the system he plays in.
Hayes is a fundamentally sound football player who seems to be well coached. He has a good forward stance that gives him a nice, low base and allows him to quickly get downfield. He is well schooled in attacking his landmarks and only reacting to the defense and not anticipating or making unnecessary moves or cuts. I’d like to see him eliminate the false step he has immediately at the snap but there are many backs in college who do this so it is not a huge issue. Hayes runs with excellent pad level and stays low which also allows him to play with good balance. Ball security is a big thing for me, and many high school backs do not properly protect the football. This is not the case for Hayes, who does a great job tucking the ball tightly underneath his arm pit and rarely allows the football to get away from his body. I’d like to see him do a better job of getting the ball to his outside arm (freeing up his inside arm for a stiff arm). Hayes has a good idea of what to do with his free arm, but I’d like to see him use his stiff arm with more authority (and firmness).
The pass game is another area where Hayes has and will make a big impact. His ability to make defenders miss also makes him very dangerous in the pass game as well. During his sophomore and junior seasons Hayes has racked up 41 receptions, 447 receiving yards, and another 3 touchdowns. Hayes has wide receiver skills in many regards. He has very smooth hands and catches the ball with authority. Hayes does a fine job catching the football away from his body and quickly plucking the ball out of the air smoothly. After he makes the catch Hayes is quick to square up and get vertical. Hayes has enough size (5’11, 180), speed, agility, and catches the ball well enough to be utilized as a wide receiver in various looks. This asset should allow his college coaches to motion his outside or line him up outside and let him run routes against defensive backs. His speed and agility would create serious mismatches for linebackers and safeties even at the next level. Hayes also shows the ability to go up and make plays on high balls as well.
Hayes is being pursued by several programs who have proven they know what makes a big time back. Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State have produced some of the nation’s premier rushers over the last few seasons of college football. Their pursuit of Hayes shows he is a talented young rusher. I expect Tauren Poole, who was a vastly underrated back coming out of high school, to have an excellent 2010 season. David Oku should serve as an excellent change of pace to Poole. But Poole will be a senior and Oku a junior when the Class of 2011 steps onto campus. After those two there is not a proven commodity, which makes landing a talented back key to this class. Hayes fits the new Tennessee offense well and could be the kind of back to add some more juice to the Tennessee offense. He can attack between the tackles, he excels on the perimeter, and he can make big plays in the pass offense. Hayes also has potential as a future kick returner as well. Getting Hayes out of Michigan and the Midwest would give Tennessee one of the more talented backs in the country and the most highly sought after rusher in Big Ten country.
Size: 80 (Good size, solid frame, should be able to add enough strength/size to get a lot of touches)
Strength/Power: 78 (Not a power runner, but still runs with authority and toughness)
Speed: 87 (Plenty of speed, able to rip off big runs and attack the perimeter)
Athletic Skills: 88 (Very agile, good quickness, explosive)
Vision: 87 (Reads defenses very well, does a great job finding openings and attacking them)
Technique: 85 (Fundamentally sound football player, very efficient)
Pass Catching: 86 (Dangerous in the pass game, good hands, speed/agility to make big plays after the catch)
Intangibles: 83 (Versatile, tough player, can run, catch, and return kicks)
Overall Grade: 4
90-100 – Elite/Exceptional: Skill set is rare and gives prospect ability to dominate
80-89 – Very Good/Outstanding: Skill set is a significant strength
70-79 – Average: Skill set is solid, not a significant weakness
60-69 – Below Average: Skill set is not a strength for this player and could become a liability
50-59 – Very Poor: Prospect does not possess this trait and it is a definite liability
5 – Elite: Player is one of the best players at his position nationally, potentially dominant
4 – Very Good/Outstanding: Player is a potential standout and starter, could also play early
3 – Solid: Player is a potential contributor, could eventually start down the road
2 – Below Average: Player does not possess the talent to be a significant contributor
1 – Poor: Let’s be honest, Tennessee is not going to bring in anyone with a one!!