This is the first of a regular installment where I break down a member of Michigan football’s 2018 recruiting class, starting with worst-ranked and going all the way to the top. Let’s get to know Michigan’s incoming freshman class.
High School: Park Hill, Kansas City, Missouri
Height: Estimates start at six feet with most grouped at 6-1
Rivals: 2-star WR
ESPN: 3-star, #210 WR
247: 3-star, #169 WR, #1179 overall
247 Composite: 3-star, #213 WR, #1478 overall
Ronnie Bell was relatively unknown before the staff got in touch with him a week before his mid-December commitment. An old basketball commitment to Missouri State left him with not much attention from the scouts, negatively affecting Bell’s ranking. Kansas State perked up once Michigan came around, but Bell signed during the early signing period, just after his commitment. Pep Hamilton was listed as his lead recruiter.
Bell’s a good basketball player, and it shows in his football film. A 6-1 wide receiver shouldn’t dominate in the air the way Bell does, but he can go up and get it like Derrick Walton pulling down a rebound. Most of the time, these throws aren’t wildly inaccurate prayers that Bell has to lay out for–they’re decent passes that Bell out-fights the defender for. Park Hill’s quarterback knew if he put up a 50/50 ball within Bell’s range, Bell would be the one to come down with it. Like a lot of basketball-players-turned-pass-catchers, Bell high-points the ball better than his peers, and he’s got better-than-average leaping ability. Bell’s also not afraid to risk taking a big hit and laying out over the middle, something that can be difficult to develop.
Once Bell gets the ball, his biggest asset is his speed. He doesn’t have a listed 40 time, a rarity in modern recruiting and a testament to just how under-scouted Bell was, but I’m not sure a 40 time would reflect his football speed most accurately. Bell’s speed is best in a 20-yard burst of acceleration, not 40-yard long speed. He’s fast, but it’s somewhere between Denard and pre-injury Jehu Chesson.
His elusiveness is a little better than average for a recruit of his profile. Roughly 20% of the above plays include a successful juke of some kind. With his speed and elusiveness combo, I’m not surprised Park Hill used him on reverses and punt returns–guy’s got moves.
His strength is an area of concern and a reason why Bell stayed relatively poorly-ranked even after the Michigan commitment. Only a handful of times on his highlight reel does Bell bust press coverage, break a tackle or have a would-be tackler melt off him. Like a lot of basketball players, Bell’s long and skinny–and it shows.
His hands are also a little suspect. I counted four times in one highlight reel that Bell trapped the ball with his chest instead of catching it with his hands. Bell has shown he can make some spectacular grabs, so it might just be a matter of a basketball player who wasn’t fully focusing on football technique just yet.
Tell Me The Future
In order to capitalize on his jump ball abilities with the Wolverines, especially at 6-1, Bell will have to improve his strength, but hey, that’s what a high D1 college strength program is for–and new S&C coach Ben Herbert. With improved strength, especially in his upper-body, Bell could turn into a Junior Hemingway-type jump ball savant. The skills are already there, but bigger DBs loom at the high D1 level, and he’ll need to hold his own to crack the wide receiver rotation at any point in his career.
If not, he could be used in a slot / jet sweep role with his speed and elusiveness (I don’t see punt returns in his future unless his hands improve), maybe Eddie McDoom with jump ball skills. The best-case scenario for Michigan fans is both, but that might be asking too much.
Worst-case scenario is that he ends up being too small for the outside and not skilled enough for the slot, something like Kekoa Crawford’s career so far.
New wide receiver coach and shark aficionado Jim McElwain will be tasked with molding Bell (and Crawford, for that matter) into a useful offensive player, at least for the coming year (no telling if McElwain stays in that role more than one season).
The coaches might have unearthed a diamond in the rough or just a guy that without significant improvement will never see the field. Such is life at #1478 overall.
There’s a lot of skill on the outside directly in front of him. The fore-mentioned Crawford is going into his junior year, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Niko Collins are going into their sophomore years, and Tarik Black’s red-shirt puts him in the same class as Bell. He’s probably headed for a red-shirt this year and then won’t see the field until Crawford graduates and won’t have a chance to start until Peoples-Jones or Black are gone, which would be Bell’s junior year at the soonest.
I actually think his path to playing time might come on the inside. If his agility and quicks are as good as they seem in his film, he could become a slot weapon with some route-running and hands work. Grant Perry will graduate after this year. McDoom is a junior and hasn’t shown much as far as pass-catching. Nate Schoenle is a red-shirt sophomore, and Oliver Martin is a red-shirt freshman. Even if Martin takes the job after Perry’s gone, Bell could be in line to start in 2022 if he red-shirts. I don’t think I’ve ever typed “2022” and now I feel very old and like I’m somehow living in the future, which is why I named this section what I did.
Other suitors: Kansas State
Other Lounge appearances: He got a shout-out in the bottom of Vincent Gray’s commitment post.
Previous competition: The Kansas City area has some of the better football in Missouri, maybe a notch down from the Detroit area. The best players from that chunk of Missouri tend to go to mid-tier Big 12 schools.