Unpolished Gems: The small school Michigan prospects

Note: Neither of the prospects in this article are going to drafted first overall, like Eric Fisher, in 2013, but these guys have the tools, and a chance to make a mark in the NFL going forward.

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1991 marks the last time a player has been drafted from Northern Michigan University. But, according to at least one NFL scout that streak will come to an end this year.

A little known player from little Bruce Crossing, Michigan - home to an 8-man football program where Jake Witt earned honors as valedictorian & was also named the Upper Peninsula Mr. Basketball, while putting up an average of 27 points and 18 rebounds per game. In football, the 6’6 235-pound tight end caught a career 102 receptions.

Jake focused on academics and basketball during his first two years of eligibility (2018-2020), but, that summer felt a desire to get back into football. He reset at the Northern Michigan and began as a 6’7 240-pound tight end for the Wildcats. At the end of the year, the team asked him to step in as an offensive tackle, since they had lost so many to injury.

In 2021 and 2022 he played right and left tackle, adding 40 pounds to fill out his lanky frame. Witt, an exercise science major, gained strength and power as he added muscle. On this Pro Day in March he put it all to use.

He measured in at:

6071, 302 (((34" arms)))

He ran a 4.89 40, jumped a 37" vertical and a 123" broad jump. His RAS calculation was 9.92, which would put him 11th out of the 1233 tackles that have been scored.

His skillset is undeniably raw, according to others, but he has few bad habits.

He’s still light, for a tackle with a 6’7 frame. It’ll be interesting to see if the scout is right - that somebody takes a chance on a small school player with only two years on the line, who only recently managed to break the 300-pound mark.

Summary: Jake Witt is not ready for the Sunday Night lights, but how sweet would it be to put an athlete of his caliber on a training regimen where he can stack on another 10-15 pounds? All the while learning the techniques to become a truly valuable link on our OL.


It is possible that state of Michigan has a second, late-round, diamond in the rough in the form of Zaire Barnes, a talented ILB/OLB draft prospect from Western Michigan, that has, so far, skated under the radar.

He began his time with the Broncos as a 6’2 200 cornerback. His ball skills and high activity level have paid dividends for the team. In 2022 he racked up 4 INTs and 8 passes defended to go along with 94 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks (and also a PFF score of 78.6). His play helped earn him First Team All-Mac honors. He played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl as well after earning He finished without go along with 4 INTs and 8 passes defended in 2022.

His athleticism and competitiveness make him a good fit for man coverage, but as he showed in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game, he has the capacity to play zone as well. In the game he notched a pass defended, and an interception - followed by a nice return. The interception showcased his understanding of the game and solid ball skills. He also tied for the team lead in tackles.

In Zaire’s recent Pro Day he showed out athletically, proving to be as athletic as two much higher ranked, and sought after linebackers, Daiyan Henley and Demarvion Overshown.

Barnes measured in at nearly 6’ 1.5" and 233 lbs. He proceeded to run a 4.53 40, with a 1.57 split. His vertical and broad jumps were 34" and 123", respectively.

His shuttle and 3-cone were very solid, 4.27s and 6.99s , respectively. These results notched a RAS score of 9.06.

In comparison, Barnes was on par with Henley (4.54) and Overshown (4.56) in the 40, but actually quicker on the shuttle and 3-cone compared to Overshown (4.49, 7.14) and 3-cone drills, while Henley notched (DNPs).

All in all, I believe Barnes would be an outstanding value as a 7th-round selection, if not, signing him as a UDFA would be a absolute coup. He could be a special-teams ace to start out with and move his way into the rotation as he gains functional strength and adjusts to the speed of the game at the NFL level.

Summary: The directional school of Michigan have given us a few gems this year in Witt, Barnes, and previously profiled, Sidy Sow. Each one of them has an excellent base level of athleticism, and as shown by their RAS scores – outstanding explosiveness. I would be excited to have any, or all of these guys on the squad after the draft.

Thank you Michigan for your contribution.