Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Become Something to Brag About

As I've said on this blog before, beating Michigan just hasn't been something to really brag about for most of the last 10 years.

If UCF can go from 0-12 to 13-0 in a matter of two years, then anything is indeed possible. 

Harbaugh just needs to get back to coaching. It's quite possible he spread himself a little too thin those first few years. Yes, I understand the whole "attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind" mantra, but sometimes a pedal to the metal approach snowballs into something so big that you start to forget about the details. I guarantee you that Mark Dantonio doesn't forget about the details. Urban Meyer definitely doesn't forget about the details either. And Nick Saban? No, he doesn't forget about the details. Get the picture? 

There's nothing wrong with what Harbaugh has done and accomplished so far at Michigan, as it extends way beyond the game on the field. Grades on the team are up. Kids are graduating with great degrees. They're becoming Michigan Men. And, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, this roster is indeed getting more talented than it's been in the last 12 years. If Harbaugh reigns it in just a little bit to focus on the details a bit more, then this team will have unlimited potential. But if Jimmy starts entering rap battles or costars with Hulk Hogan in a remake of No-Holds Barred, then I wouldn't expect the passing game to improve much in 2018. 

2018 Spring Unit Rankings: 

* Early enrollees are marked with an asterisk. Signees still coming this summer are in parentheses.

1. Defensive Ends

Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Carlo Kemp, Kwity Paye, Donovan Jeter, Luiji Vilain, (Aiden Hutchinson, Julius Welschof)

The Rundown: Gary and Winovich are one of the best returning tandems in the nation, no question. Gary anchors the strongside of the line, attracting a lot of double teams, while Winovich wreaks havoc in the backfield like a man with his hair on fire. Both are athletic and versatile, with great attitudes on and off the field. By all accounts, they are both stand up kids who are All-American material. There are also a lot of young, talented bodies behind the starters to create depth.

Grade: A  
Lots of star power and depth on both ends of the D-line. This group should be a solid three-deep and two more very good prospects will be joining them this summer.

2. Linebackers

Devin Bush Jr., Khaleke Hudson, Noah Furbush, Josh Uche, Drew Singleton, Jordan Anthony, Josh Ross,  Jordan Glasgow (safety), Devin Gil, Elysee Mbem-Bosse (Cam McGrone)

The Rundown: Bush and Hudson are two of the best linebackers returning in the Big Ten right now. They both can do it all on the field and both will be in the NFL some day soon. It is unclear as to who exactly will fill in for the departed Mike McCray II, but there is a slew of bodies to try out there. Furbush, a 5th-year senior with starting experience, is currently the top candidate. Anthony and Singleton were both very highly-touted recruits a year ago and a lot is expected of them soon. Ross has shown the ability to lay some big hits and Mbem-Bosse has garnered some experience on both defense and special teams. Both of them are worth watching out for this summer too. A combination of Uche, who is more of a pass-rusher, and Glasgow, a safety, will share the bulk of backup reps behind Hudson at the "Viper".

Grade: A  
Like the end position, there is a lot of star power and enough depth to run three-deep at all three positions. 

3. Cornerback

Lavert Hill, David Long, Ambry Thomas, Benjamin St-Juste (Myles Sims, Gemon German, Sammy Faustin)

The Rundown: Hill makes it look like Jourdan Lewis never left and Long is actually an upgrade on the other side. Ambry Thomas could have been a starter in his first season on many other rosters. He should continue to push for more playing time and will probably be in most sub-packages. Brandon Watson is a 5th-year senior who helps provide veteran leadership off the bench, but he could play more at safety in his final season. St-Juste is another youngster to watch out for in the near future, as are a healthy crop of incoming recruits this summer.

Grade: A-
Bottom Line: A very strong group on the perimeter of the back seven, with two very good returning starters and some very good talent waiting in the wings.

4. Defensive Tackle 

Aubrey Soloman, Bryan Mone, Michael Dwumfour, Lawrence Marshall, Ron Johnson, Deron Irving-Bey, Stephen Paea, Carl Myers, Taylor Upshaw*

Soloman looks capable of basically picking up where Mo' Hurst left off. He actually was a starter at the end of his freshman season. Mone has been a big factor against the run for this team for a couple years now, and he should continue to do so. It would be nice to see more big plays out of him though. Dwumfour and Marshall will be the top backups and both will get a chance for playing time. At least four or five other players will get a chance this spring and summer to earn a spot in the rotation too.

Grade: B+
The starters look formidable but depth could be thin if some younger players don't step up.

5. Wide Receiver 

Kekoa Crawford, Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, Grant Perry, Nate Shoenle, Eddie McDoom, Oliver Martin (Ronnie Bell)

The Rundown: Admittedly, this group sorta gets a pass from me for a subpar year in 2017. There was the injury to Black as he was emerging as the team's best receiver during the first three weeks of the season. There were the issues at quarterback as well. And there were a few rookie mistakes at key moments that could have cost the team a loss or two. Well, the QB situation should be improved and all these kids won't be freshmen any more, so I am expecting bigger things from all the talent assembled here. Much bigger things. Peoples-Jones and Crawford ended the season as the starters, and both were actually trending up. Crawford averaged 20 yards per catch on seven receptions in the last two games combined (OSU, USC). Black will be fully recovered from a broken foot to try reclaiming his spot in the lineup this spring. All three guys have flashed potential while bringing a lot of athleticism to the field. Collins also got a lot of reps at the end of the year, particularly in the bowl game. He too should be a big factor going forward. Grant Perry is the senior leader despite losing his job to freshmen. He will find ways to contribute in his final year though, and will be very valuable in regards to depth. A few other kids will get a chance to mix it up as well, including Oliver Martin, another highly-touted recruit from a year ago.

Grade: B
Lots of young, raw athletic talent to choose from out at receiver. If the quarterback situation is improved, things could start getting very interesting in the passing game. New coach Jim McElwain and an improved running game should help this group improve as well.

6. Quarterback

Brandon Peters, Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey, Michael Sessa, Joe Milton*

Another position that is being ranked more on potential than actual production from last season. There have been definite flashes of ability from both Peters and Patterson (at Ole Miss) against good FBS competition, but neither one has broken out, yet. Any way you dice it, the quarterback position group has more raw talent than we've seen at the position in over 10 years, possibly longer. There is also at least one more player in redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey that could be ready to play once the season opens. In all, there is one 5-Star recruit and three 4-Stars on the roster here. That is exactly the level of talent that every FBS coach could hope for on their roster. Now Harbaugh just needs to find a definitive leader among them.

Grade: B
Lots of young arms looking to take the next step. It should be fun.

7. Kicker
Quinn Nordin (Jake Moody)

The Rundown: Nordin has an NFL-level leg but was way too inconsistent in 2017, missing some easy field goals. He redeemed himself in the Outback Bowl but made an ass of himself while grabbing his junk while taunting the South Carolina bench. He should've been flagged. Hopefully he matures a little bit and finds his groove. There might not be a better kicking prospect in the Big Ten. Ryan Tice is transferring so another backup needs to be found, but the team might have to wait for Moody's arrival this summer.

Grade: B

Lots of star potential at the top but more consistency and depth needs to be found.

8. Tight End

Sean McKeon, Zach Gentry, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Nick Eubanks, (Mustapha Muhammad, Ryan Hayes, Luke Schoonmaker)

The Rundown: This position group is shaping up to be a very good one in 2018. McKeon is the returning team leader in receptions and reminds some scouts of Jake Butt. Gentry has shown flashes of being a threat in the middle of the field and he can use his 6'7" frame to his advantage. Wheatley Jr. has shown solid potential as a blocker but needs to get open more consistently. If all three can step up their games then this group could be deadly.

Grade: B-
Just enough depth and star potential to make this an above average group going into 2018. Lots of talent is being added this summer too. A true breakout season from at least one guy is not unlikely this season.

9. Running Backs 

Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, Kareem Walker, O'Maury Samuels, Kurt Taylor (Michael Bennett Christian Turner, Hassan Haskins)

The Rundown: This group collectively disappointed down the stretch, so there is a lot of room for improvement here. However, there is a lot of experience and star potential returning for 2018. Higdon and Evans return as the team's top two rushers from last season, and both have flashed big-time potential on a number of occasions. The big problem is that it was usually against lesser competition. If they can improve their pass-blocking and improve overall production against their rivals, they can become elite-level players with true NFL potential. Walker still has a lot of ground to make up on the top two, but he should be a little more up to speed after getting some reps throughout 2017. There is some potential on the bench too, and three very underrated prospects will arrive this summer.

Grade: B-
Slightly above average group that needs to improve its pass-blocking, particularly in third and long situations. If they can solve any issues in that department then the ceiling becomes extremely high.

10. Safeties 

Tyree Kinnel, Josh Metellus, Brandon Watson, Brad Hawkins, Ja'Marick Woods (Casey Hughes, Vincent Gray, German Green)

The Rundown: The safety group struggled to stop the big play down the stretch in 2017 and got burned in the bowl game a few times by the Gamecocks. Something needed to be done here, and Harbaugh did the best he could. It didn't need to be a lot, as Kinnel and Metellus are solid and both should return as the starters, but depth was a big concern. Moving Watson and Glasgow back there full time could help too, but their talents might be needed elsewhere. Bringing in Hughes as a grad transfer from Utah should help immediately. He started 11 games for the Utes at corner last season.

Grade: C+
The coaches want the safeties to cover more effectively than they did last season. Improving the depth is a great start to solving this position's problems, but there is not doubt that this is the weakest spot on the defense, so expect teams to attack them here.

11. Fullback

Ben Mason, Jared Wangler (Ben VanSumeren)

The Rundown: The team will miss Henry Poggi and Kahlid Hill here, but Mason looks ready to prove himself as an able successor. He got a lot of playing time as a freshman and performed well. He should be an excellent lead blocker here, and he has shown a little knack for punching the ball into the endzone. VanSumeren comes in as an underrated recruit. Athletically, he can do it all as a fullback, H-back, or tight end. His receiving skills will be a welcomed addition to the backfield, and if he proves to be a good pass-blocker he could get some looks on third downs.

Grade: C
To be fair, Michigan's situation at fullback is most-likely better than 95% of the rest of the country, but most other teams don't utilize a fullback at all. It's all about the spread option passing attacks in college football these days. As far as what Michigan has on the roster, Mason is the only guy with experience. There is virtually no depth behind him.

12. Punter

Brad Robbins, Will Hart (George Caratan)

The Rundown: Robbins was voted an All-Big Ten Honoree by the coaches in his freshman season. Doesn't blow anybody away with leg strength, but he's got the touch and placement that every coach covets at the position.

Grade: C
This position looks to be in good hands with Robbins and Hart. More depth could also be coming here in the summer.

13. Offensive Line

Ben Bredeson (G), Cesar Ruiz (C/G), Michael Onwenu (G), Juwann Bushell-Beatty (T), Stephen Spanellis (G/C), Grant Newsome (T), Nolan Ulizio (T), Jon Runyan (C/G), James Hudson (G/T), Chuck Filiaga (T), Andrew Stueber (T), Greg Robinson (T), Andrew Vastardis (G), Joel Honigford (G/T) (Jalen Mayfield)

When Brady Hoke took over the Michigan program in 2011 there were only eight scholarship linemen on the roster. Since then it has been an uphill battle to make the O-line a position that opponents fear at Michigan once again. There is a nice mixture of talent and experience on the interior of the line, with Bredeson and Ruiz leading the way. Onwenu has loads of potential too, but his weight is continuously a problem. Right tackle was in crisis mode all season long last year and everybody that played there returns, for better or for worse. The team loses its best lineman, Mason Cole, to graduation, so two starting tackles will need to be found. There is a slew of redshirt freshmen ready to challenge for a spot, including James Hudson. He was a big-bodied 4-Star talent out of Ohio a year ago who could break into one of the two tackle spots this spring. Of the 13 scholarship linemen now on the roster, 12 of them have at least two years of eligibility remaining, and seven of those 12 have garnered significant experience somewhere on the line in the last two years. This group is still relatively young but somewhat experienced with 55 collective starts among them. I expect things to look different here in 2018 than in most recent years.

Grade: C
The interior should be very good moving forward, but both tackle positions need retooling. Depth isn't the greatest either, as a lot of fresh faces grace the chart. Though it's not a total disaster either, as they were all highly-touted recruits. The potential could be through the roof if a couple dudes emerge from the pile of tackle prospects. Until that happens though, this group will be considered average at best and one of the biggest question marks on the roster.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Budding Relationships

It's the dead of winter. There really isn't much going on in the football world. The players are working out and the coaches are either recruiting or working on schemes for next season. Most fans are still high on whatever news came out of National Signing Day and are already looking to next year's class.

Michigan started out the 2019 cycle hot, getting four commitments from players that are all highly-touted 4-Star prospects. One of them might be another true 5-Star player from Georgia like Aubrey Soloman was last year.

Michigan needs to keep that momentum moving forward. These next few months will be crucial in building relationships with these kids that they want to play football for them. Some prospects are seeing things pick up a little faster than others. And some of them could be the next players to jump on board.

So, who could be the next prospects to join the 2019 recruiting class? Here's a short list of some players to keep your eyes on over the next several months:

Isiah Williams 4-Star ATH (St. Louis, MO) Grade: 90 - Michigan has done a great job of digging up recruits in this area of the country the last couple years. But Williams, who is an elite prospect with offers from 'Bama, Clemson, Ohio State, and everybody else, would represent a very big harvest being reaped right out of America's breadbasket. He would probably play corner in Don Brown's defense, and he could be the eventual replacement for Lavert Hill, but he also has potential as a kick returner and/or a wide receiver. The interest is apparently high on both sides at the moment. Let's see if the coaches can gain some ground with him this spring.

Marcus Washington 4-Star WR (St. Louis, MO) Grade: 88 - Is a high school teammate of Williams and appears to be the top receiver prospect on Michigan's board at the moment. Things are looking good so expect a lot of attention from Michigan in regards to his recruitment. Getting a commitment from Washington and Williams before the camp season starts would be a huge boost for Michigan recruiting in 2019.

Xavier Truss 4-Star OT (Warwick, RI) Grade: 87 - Looks exactly like the type of big-bodied kid the coaches would love to have out at tackle. He's got the raw ability to become a dominant player at the next level. His relationship with the Michigan coaches is still developing, but it looks like there is strong interest on both sides to keep pursuing it. That is a very good thing. How the Wolverines handle him over the next few months will go a long way toward getting a chance to land him come signing day. Can Harbaugh get him to commit?

William Harrod 4-Star OT (Fort Washington, MD) Grade: 85 - Seems to have formed a strong relationship with the Wolverines. I expect Harbaugh to sign five or six line prospects in this cycle, possibly even seven if the right guys come together. Harrod has all the raw tools to be a starting guard or tackle in the future. Getting a commitment from him early would go a long way toward fortifying the line in this cycle. I am hoping to see him on board before the summer.

Marvin Grant 4-Star S (Detroit, MI) Grade: 82 - A legit safety prospect with offers from at least 16 other programs at the moment, including Notre Dame, Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri. He nearly looks like a lock to stay close to home with the Wolverines, who really need to add at least one highly-touted prospect to the position. No doubt some other top program will try to make a push for his services this summer, but I would be shocked if he doesn't sign on in December. He might even be a candidate to enroll early.

Karsen Barnhart 3-Star OT (Paw Paw, MI) Grade: 77 - A rising star in the state of Michigan. Barnhardt is becoming a top tackle prospect for the Wolverines. Might be able to play left tackle at the next level. Could be a legit 4-Star prospect by February next year, depending on how the camp circuit goes for him. At any rate, keeping under-appreciated recruits like this in-state is a top priority for the Michigan coaching staff. The problem is that MSU has already been thinking the same thing.

Sam Johnson 3-Star QB (Walled Lake, MI) Grade: 76 - Johnson might not have that elite-level athleticism of the top quarterback prospects, but he is a rising in-state passer that has the height, arm strength, accuracy, and leadership skills to sculpt into a fine college quarterback. Honestly, he might be the perfect prospect for this cycle. The Wolverines are not in desperate need for immediate help at the position, so he will get a chance to learn a lot without any real risk of being thrown to the wolves.

Adam Berghorst 3-Star DE/OT (Zeeland, MI) Grade: 75 - A solid prospect from Michigan with the frame to add weight. Looks like a strongside end. Could be a left tackle on offense. At the very least, he is a big-bodied in-state recruit that could help pad the depth chart on either side of the line. Sparty could be the favorite to land him, but the Wolverines are making a strong push at the moment. It will be interesting to see how his recruitment develops over the next few months.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Interesting Recruiting Class Comes Together for 2018

Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is getting knocked by fans and media for a "dud" of a recruiting class in 2018. Most of it has been unwarranted and way off base though, as many fans have shown that they truly lack perspective when it comes to building and maintaining a football program like Michigan's.

First of all, the class itself is nothing to scoff at. Since when was getting a Top 25 class a bad thing? Secondly, it was never really expected to be a big one. The previous two classes have combined to put 56 players on the roster. Most of those players were 4-Star prospects and at least 19 starters are returning for 2018, so there really wasn't a ton of 'need' for immediate impact players to be brought into the fold. Instead, the coaches used their time to research and scout players that were flying under the radar. As a result, the most recent class of signings is an interesting one that includes six of the top recruits from Michigan, nine players from either Florida, Georgia, or Texas, and one prospect from Europe. At it's core it is a midwestern class, with eight prospects coming from within 700 miles of Ann Arbor, but it is adding a lot of southern flare to all ends of the roster.

A large chuck of this class is in the under-recruited and under-rated category of players. For whatever reason, they didn't get much, if any, attention for FBS teams. Harbaugh believes he has uncovered some diamonds in the rough. And after doing a bit of research of my own, I tend to believe him.

Here are the top five most underrated Michigan recruits in 2018:

Michael Barrett - RB/ATH 5'11"/215lbs (Valdosta, GA)

Barrett is widely considered a high 3-Star prospect with a an actual grade that teeters on being a four. I have him listed as a 4-Star in my rankings, but the 247 Composite rankings have him as a 3-Star. Many have speculated that the lower ranking is due to him not having a true position going into college. Ok, that might be a negative I guess, but it's hard to overlook the positives that he has in his favor.
To start things off, he was one of the best players in the entire state of Georgia, winning the Georgia 7A Player of the Year Award. He displayed good leadership and versatility throughout his career, playing both quarterback and linebacker at a high level. His highlight reel is full of great plays on both sides of the ball. Honestly, it's one of the best reels of this entire recruiting cycle.
He gets knocked for being "too short" to play quarterback and therefore is seen as a kid without a true position, despite the fact that he has proven himself to be extremely versatile. Why isn't that versatility and experience against good competition seen more as a strength? Was his ability to read the field and diagnose things quickly on both sides of the ball factored into his low ranking on the recruiting sites? No, probably not, because most of that is what scouts refer to as "intangibles". Leadership and instincts are just impossible traits to truly get an accurate, recordable measurement. In an industry obsessed with combine numbers kids like this are always getting overlooked. It's just the way it is. Just don't be shocked if Barrett plays right away and becomes a star in AA the moment he touches the field.
Ask anybody that knows anything about this kid and they will tell you that Harbaugh just improved his football team by adding him to the roster.

Julius Welschof - DE 6'6"/248lbs (Miesbach, Bavaria, Germany)

It's easy to see why Welschof doesn't get a 4-Star ranking. He just hasn't played against anybody yet and the predominant thought is that he will take a while to really learn the game. The coaches think he could contribute right away though, and it's not like defensive end is a position with a truly steep learning curve. Don Brown even said that he doesn't "see him as a project" at all.
Though it's hard to imagine him not needing at least a year to get a feel for the game, one just cannot argue with his raw athletic ability and desire to do something great. He's got all types of workout videos out there of him doing plyometrics by jumping over fences and running makeshift skills-drills in what appears to be a grassy cow pasture somewhere in Bavaria. There's another one of him slack-lining and running drills under a graffiti riddled highway overpass.
He has repeatedly been clocked running a forty in the 4.5's. Hudl has his forty time listed at 4.2 seconds (WTF?!). He appears to have all the speed, balance, agility, strength, and size that one would want in a top DL prospect. He has been working with a trainer for two years and played for the Munich Cowboys, so it's not like he is just falling off the turnip truck either.
Any way you dice it, Welschof is bringing some big-time athleticism and potential to the table. Lots of other schools were sniffing at his door too, including Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame. He was committed to Georgia Tech before he realized how coveted he actually was by the top FBS programs. Michigan was, as we know, the best option in regards to to both school and football, as Welschof plans on being an engineer some day.

Christian Turner - RB 5'10"/187lbs (Buford, GA)

Another very good prospect that is widely regarded as a high 3-Star. ESPN did award him a fourth star in their rankings, and they list him as the 21st rated running back in this cycle, but no other major recruiting site puts him that high. I will tend to lean with the ESPN on this one though, as there is nothing to not like about Turner as a prospect.
He can run and catch as a do-it-all-type of back, but he has has the compact frame to run it between the tackles on a consistent basis.
I've repeatedly stated that he kinda reminds me of Karan Higdon, except that Turner is actually a better high school player than Higdon was at the time. Whether or not he becomes as good of a college player will remain to be seen, but Turner seems willing to do anything to help the team in any way possible. That's the type of attitude this team needs coming in on a yearly basis.
His highleet reel shows a kid that just flat-out abused kids in high school in any position that he was put in to help his team. If he can prove to be a capable pass-blocker then he could get third down duty consideration.
He has been a strong Michigan commit for a long time, he signed early in December, and he will increase the depth of talent on the roster as soon as he gets on campus. But he could prove to be another steal out of Georgia.

Ben VanSumeren - FB/ATH 6'3"/230lbs (Essexville, MI)
Though he didn't play against top competition in his part of Michigan, Ben VanSumeren dominated the field in all phases of the game. That definitely makes for a fun highlight reel, but it still makes him a hard one to judge as well. He did prove to be a superb athlete that can compete with the regional elite prospects on the camp circuit, and actually was MVP of the Nike Regional Opening event in Cleveland last summer.
His forty time is listed at 4.5 and he can bench nearly 400lbs.
He was committed to Iowa but quickly flipped once Harbaugh called on him. Several other FBS programs were interested too.
He can run, catch and block on offense, and is capable of making tackles on defense and special teams units.
VanSumeren actually played a lot of receiver, hauling in 176 passes for 2,888 rec yards and 29 rec touchdowns (46 total TD's) in three seasons at Garber. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry and gained 4,220 total yards in his prep career.
I see him as being possibly the most talented prospect that Michigan has brought in to the fullback/H-back position since the Lloyd Carr days. I for one would not be shocked to see him play right away. He should at least be the top backup at fullback behind Ben Mason, but we could see him at tight end as well. Look for him to become a fixture in another year or two. Could end up being a running back.
If he can prove to be an effective pass-blocker right away, he could quickly finding himself getting consideration on third downs.
He's a steal right out of the Wolverines' own state. Looking back on it, it's crazy to think of how under-recruited he actually was and how much credit Iowa should get for almost stealing him right out from under Harbaugh.

Ronnie Bell - WR 6'1"/170lbs (Kansas City, MO)
Another kid who flew under the radar, Bell just wasn't actually seen as a football prospect until Michigan offered him in December. He got some interest from a few smaller programs but had committed and eventually signed to play basketball at Missouri State. Why would a football coach recruit a kid that looks like he is pursuing basketball? Because his film is incredible.
His on-field speed and athleticism is exciting. He has raw athletic potential, no doubt, and his is senior year stats (2,347 all-purpose yards) are right up there with all the 4-Stars of the nation.
He can catch on the run, win jump balls, or execute screens while displaying a natural ability to find the seams.
Is widely considered a low 3-Star prospect who would have benefitted from choosing football earlier and participating in the camp circuit.
He was recognized and awarded as Player of the Year in the Kansas City area last season. There is no doubt in my mind that he would've been a lot more highly-touted if he had actually been a football recruit playing at a school like IMG Academy. As it stands now, the scouts and analysts don't have much in terms of combine numbers because he didn't hit the national camp circuit the last two summers. Harbaugh loves him though, and he believes he found another diamond in the rough.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Blue Bloods: The Class of 2018

Position by position breakdown of the Wolverines' 2018 class of recruits. The opinions expressed throughout are my own thoughts on what I believe Harbaugh and his staff see in these kids, and how I believe they fit into the grand scheme of things.

Always remember to do as coach says and "trust the process". While this might not be a "Top Ten" class, it is a class that is filled with a lot of kids that were under-recruited in the eyes of many. A few of them have only been playing the game for a couple years, one kid is from Europe, and one other kid was seen as a recruit in a completely different sport altogether. It is obvious that the coaches did a lot of work to put this one together, despite what the team rankings might say.

The truth in the matter is that nobody really knows what the ceiling is of this collective group of players. The floor is relatively high, considering it is still a class of kids that rank among the top 25 in the nation. So, despite what the naysayers are flapping their gums about, Harbaugh is doing a great job of pulling in kids with a lot of potential.

Overall, I would give this class a B-. With an average prospect rating of 79, which is on the low end of the 4-Star territory, Michigan is actually right in the mix with most of the other top programs in the country. No, it's nowhere near the type of class that the likes of Georgia and Ohio State put together, but at the very least it helps keep Michigan headed in a positive direction. And though most of these kids are probably not future 'stars', they are the type of kids that every good program is built around. They all seem to have good heads on their shoulders and a desire to pursue a degree. Harbaugh said he doesn't recruit kids looking to major in "eligibility". They are the bricks and mortar-type kids that represent what this program is really all about.

The key to my grading system is simple:

91-100 represents the true 5-Star prospects. These are the athletic freaks that should be ready to contribute immediately and could be NFL ready in couple short years. There are truly only a handful of these types of prospects per cycle.
78-90 represents the 4-Star prospects. These are the high school players that are either just a notch below the elites in terms of athletic ability and/or were big-time producers for their prep teams. There are about 300-400 prospects of this nature per cycle and they all receive at least some interest from the top programs in the nation.
65-77 represents the 3-Star prospects. These are kids that for whatever reason are under-recruited. They simply did not get the attention of the elite programs but all of them possess enough raw ability to become big-time college players. Most of the FBS is made up of players from this category.
50-65 represents the under-the-radar guys that are associated with as being 2-Star prospects. They make up a lot of the FCS and there are a couple thousand players of this caliber each and every year.
50 or below mostly represents Division II talent.

2018 Incoming Recruits by Position:

QuarterbackThere is no doubt that Harbaugh's legacy will largely be determined by how well the quarterback position performs under him. I mean, he's been called the "quarterback whisperer". He needed to land another top prospect to throw in the hopper here. He got two.
  • Joe Milton 4-Star 6'5"/230lbs (Orlando, FL) Grade: 85 - Had offers from Florida, Florida State, and Georgia. Raw arm strength is out of this world. Can launch the ball down the field on the run. Probably has the strongest arm on the roster already. Displays decent speed on the run. Needs to work on accuracy, touch, and overall feel for the game, a lot. Much of that will come with repetition and practice, but with a lot of extra work on the side Milton could transform himself into a special kind of player down the road. He is enrolled early to get a headstart on his development but expect him to redshirt this year.
Grade: B+  Continuous influx of talent like Milton will go a long way toward ensuring the most important position is well-stocked for the future. I cannot recall Michigan ever having this much raw talent at the quarterback position at one time with Patterson, Peters, and McCaffrey already on the roster too. I certainly don't understand why some fans are quick to negatively judge the job being done to rebuild the program at the moment. The way I see it, things are just about to get interesting. 

Running Back/FullbackThe backfield needed a boost in depth but wasn't truly in the market for any big names this cycle. There didn't seem to be many top prospects here that Michigan was enamored with and no relationships blossomed with any of the elites. The coaches did miss out on a few big names that they had targeted, but the kids they got are all capable of becoming quality players. Some would say that they are all in the "underrated" category. 
  • Michael Barrett (Athlete) 3-Star 5'11"/215lbs (Valdosta, GA) Grade: 77 - A very good athlete that just knows how to win. Played quarterback in a spread-option and inside linebacker on defense for his prep team. Won't blow anybody away with combine numbers, but has displayed a uncanny ability to read opponents on both sides of the ball. Is very quick to react to situations. He has the feet to make moves and pick up large chunks of the field on the ground, but he won't be a true burner at the college level. As a passer, he displayed great touch on downfield throws. Was the Georgia Class 7A Player of the Year as a senior. Could be a "wildcat" or "pistol" quarterback or a slot receiver too. Anticipates things very well. His highlight reel is riddled with ridiculous throws and runs, as well as lot of him making plays on defense. Of the four prospects here at running back he might actually be the most-likely to play as a freshman. Is widely considered a 3-Star, but my eyeballs and the hype quietly surrounding this kid tells me he is a 4, despite him not having a true position. Will get his first looks at running back and he could help make this a very strong group of backs coming into Ann Arbor.  LSU, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Michigan State all had offers in to Barrett, and Florida State was showing some late interest as well. Honestly, Michigan got a steal here.
  • Christian Turner 3-Star 5'11"/185lbs (Buford, GA) Grade: 77 - A do-it-all-type back that keeps his legs moving. Is not unlike Karan Higdon in that he appears to be a solid, compact athlete with an array of skills. He appears to be a very coachable prospect. If he can get his weight up without losing any of his speed while making pass-blocking a strong part of his repertoire, then he could prove to be a real threat in the BIG. Seems eager to help in any way, including special teams coverage units. Could also play defense. Michigan State, Miami (FL), Tennessee, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin were all among his extensive offer list. 
  • Ben VanSumeren (Fullback/H-back) 3-Star 6'3"/230lbs (Essexville, MI) Grade: 76 - A good athlete that was bulldozing kids all over the state of Michigan. Displays the ability run, catch, and block. Reportedly runs a 4.5 forty and benches 360lbs. Was the MVP at the Nike Opening Regional in Cleveland. Was committed to Iowa before getting the Michigan offer, and was pursued by the likes of Harvard and Yale. Wisconsin was looking to offer as well. If he too can prove to be a worthy pass blocker then he could find himself in position to play right away. 
  • Hassan Haskins 3-Star 6'1"/202lbs (Eureka, MO) Grade: 74 - An under-recruited player that gets knocked a lot of for not playing against great competition and not appearing on the camp circuit. Hasn't put up big combine numbers that get the scouts drooling. Regardless, he outran or ran over just about everybody he played against in Missouri and Kentucky. Shows the ability to read his blockers and find the holes fluidly. Can also catch the ball well on the run. Was a good prep basketball player too. Though he isn't an athletic freak, he has all the makings of a BIG running back. Might have some ability as a safety. 
Grade: B  These kids do a lot of things well but don't do anything great, yet. They just knew how to play ball in high school and possess a lot of traits that translate well to the college level. And though none of them look like top-flight players that will dominate games with athletic ability alone, none of them are slouches either. They are lunchpail, workhorse - type backs that will earn everything they get. No doubt Harbaugh will work very hard to land a big fish in 2019, but Barrett, Turner, VanSumeren, and Haskins are the types of prospects that should immediately help provide depth, while providing a foundation to build around in the next few years.

Wide ReceiverHarbaugh and co. hauled in the top receiver class in the nation last year. A big splash wasn't necessary, but there is always need for depth. 
  • Ronnie Bell 3-Star 6'1"/170lbs (Kansas City, MO) Grade: 76 - Was once a commit to play basketball at Missouri State. Had 2,347 all-purpose yards in his senior season and was named the Best Player in Kansas City as a senior. Decided to pursue football after Michigan surprised him with an offer. Has a high ceiling with the tools to develop into a very good college receiver. Will get some looks as a kick returner as well. 
Grade: D+  I really like Bell as a prospect. He could emerge as a real steal in a few years. However, one top target to add to the mix would have been great. Ultimately, Michigan wasn't in the market for a bunch of wide receiver talent either, so this haul, like this entire class, is not really as underwhelming as it looks on the surface. Some ground will need to get made up in next year's cycle, but not too much, but Harbaugh did sign a few defensive backs with the length and athletic ability to make the switch to receiver in a pinch. Vincent Gray, who played receiver in high school, is one guy that comes to mind.

Tight End: The team needed to land some real talent here in this cycle and the staff hauled in three solid prospects that bring a lot of versatility to the table. 
  • Mustapha Muhammad 4-Star 6'4"/235lbs (Missouri City, TX) Grade: 86 - Is right up there in the mix with the elite talent in this cycle. Stood out to scouts at the Army All-American game and the Polynesian Bowl as a kid who can flat-out 'ball. Doesn't have top-end speed or athleticism, but isn't anywhere near being weak in any one area either. Represents the top tight-end/H-back prospect that the Wolverines needed this go-around. Offer list included 'Bama, Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma, and Ohio State among a sea of others. 
  • Ryan Hayes 4-Star 6'7"/255lbs (Traverse City, MI) Grade: 80 - A big-bodied, versatile player that is seen more as a project at offensive tackle or defensive end by many scouts. Harbaugh says he will play tight end though, and that's not particularly surprising. He has displayed surprisingly soft hands and an understanding of route assignments along with great blocking ability. At any rate, THE TEAM got itself another in-state product that is willing and able to do multiple things on the field. Notre Dame and Michigan State were also in the running for his services. Do not be surprised to see him on the field early and often in his career. 
  • Luke Schoonmaker 6'6"/225lbs (Hamden, CT) Grade: 75 - Is probably the biggest project in this group, but has a load of potential. Is a decent athlete but he doesn't have a true position coming out of high school. Played a lot of wide receiver and quarterback, as well as defense. Was specifically recruited to play tight end for Michigan. Was not recruited by any of the elite programs. My guess is that we will see him redshirt a year before he actually begins competing for a role on Saturdays, but his profile fits right in with what Harbaugh covets: smart, underrated kids who can handle multiple assignments on the field; who possess the raw athletic ability and size to help you gain a matchup advantage on the field some day.
Grade: A  Did they sign an elite-level prospect with the ability to both block and catch passes? Check. Did they also sign a big-bodied, versatile kid to help in the redzone? Check. Did they acquire a wild-card athlete to bring in and develop for the future? Check. All three things that the staff really wanted to do at the tight end position in 2018 was accomplished. A job well done. This group will lessen the need to bring in a bunch of tight ends in 2019, though you can bet the coaches will go after some of the top prospects once again.

Offensive Tackle: It felt like Harbaugh and the Wolverines needed to land a big recruit here. However, contrary to what most might tell you, that was not exactly the case. Yes, adding a 5-Star is always something that the coaches will covet, but what the team really needed was a couple quality tackle prospects to develop for the future. Well, they got at least one. Perhaps two.

  • Jalen Mayfield 4-Star OT 6'5"/270lbs (Grand Rapids, MI) Grade: 81 - A fine in-state prospect. Appears to have the feet, frame, and motor to develop into a starter, and he could have a future on the left side. Will need to add weight and get stronger, and probably needs a year or two to get prepared. Potential is high. Had other offers from the likes of Michigan State, Nebraska, and Iowa. Miami (FL), and Notre Dame both showed interest as well. He has pretty much been all Blue the entire way though. 
Grade C-  With the addition of Mayfied, there are now 13 scholarship linemen on the roster. Six of them were 4-Star prospects while the other seven were 3-Stars. Michigan simply didn't have much room to add many new linemen up front. Tight end Ryan Hayes could develop into a tackle too if he continues to add weight. He definitely has the athletic ability to become a great pass protector. Overall, what Michigan got was a couple of highly regarded kids that have the frames to add mass to and become big-time college linemen.

Defensive LineThere were not a ton of needs along Michigan's D-line this cycle either, but some talented bodies to develop was a priority for the staff. Despite losing out on some top targets here to Ohio State and the SEC, Harbaugh still got a group of guys with some very intriguing skill sets. And as disappointing as it is to lose out on a big-time prospect, it is doubly exciting to consider what these three kids can bring to the table:
  • Aidan Hutchinson 4-Star 6'5"/255lbs (Dearborn, MI) Grade: 85 - A legacy prospect and the top in-state recruit (His father was one of my favorite players in the early '90's). Aidan, like his dad and the other signees in this class, brings enough versatility to play either offense or defense, but his future is most-likely as a strong-side end or tackle on defense. He isn't an elite athlete but he too can 'ball with the best of them. He proved it all week at the Army All-American Game practices and then backed it up with two sacks in the game. He actually caused a bit of a buzz on Twitter. His motor will be a welcome addition to the front seven going forward. If he puts on another 30-40lbs in the weight room he could be an absolute killer. Many top programs from all over the country were after him early. 
  • Julius Welschof 3-Star 6'6"/248lbs (Miesbach, Bavaria, Germany) Grade: 77 - This is another prospect who is a complete unknown at this point as he has never played against competition outside of Europe. His measurables are through the roof though. They are up there with all the elite prospects at his position. He looks like a legit pass-rushing prospect who could be ready to play right away, despite never having played a down against any real competition before now. He is just ahead of most incoming freshmen physically, and he is a smart kid who will probably be an engineer some day. Was previously committed to Georgia Tech and had offers from Central Florida, Syracuse, Rutgers, Minnesota, and Iowa State, with more programs showing interest late. 
  • Taylor Upshaw 3-Star 6'5"/245lbs (Bradenton, FL) Grade: 74 - Son of former NFL defensive end Reagan Upshaw only has two years of football playing experience. Is considered a raw prospect with the tools to develop into a very good stronside end or tackle. He will need some time to truly develop, but was once committed to Florida and also had offers from Clemson, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wisconsin. He is one of a few prospects that enrolled early in January. Put him in the oven and let him bake. Be patient. If all goes well the end product will be worth the wait. 
Grade: B-  The Wolverines did whiff on some big names here but still got three quality recruits to pad the depth chart. There is 5-Star potential, but not much film to work with when putting a recruiting profile together for two of the three. We will just have to wait and see what happens. Overall, I like the level of mystery and intrigue that this group collectively brings to the position, especially when you consider that landing a huge haul here wasn't necessary after the last two cycles.

Linebackers: There wasn't a ton of need here and the coaches went after a few quality guys. In the end it turned out to still be a bit of a heart-breaker as Michigan lost out on a kid that was committed to the program for over a year and a half. Still, the staff got at least one hot prospect to throw in the hopper this cycle. 
  • Cameron McGrone 4-Star (Indianapolis, IN) Grade: 87 - Was one of the most coveted players by the Michigan staff during the final six months of the recruiting cycle. Has all the tools - speed, strength, instincts - to play inside linebacker in Don Brown's defense. His best asset might be his ability to blitz, but he has the ability to do it all. As a prospect, he is not unlike what Devin Bush Jr. was just two years ago. He looks like a heat-seeking missile when let loose, often putting a fullack on his butt and cutting a quarterback in half deep in the backfield. Kids like this will go a long way towards ensuring the future of this defense will be in good hands.
Grade: B-  It is true that the Wolverines didn't need much here this cycle, but the one kid they got is about as good as it gets on the inside. McGrone indeed looks like a future starter with the athletic ability to do a lot of damage all over the field. One more body would have been ideal here though, and losing out on a Top 100 player at the last moment on Signing Day admittedly leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I expect the staff to load up more here in 2019. 

Defensive Backs: The Wolverines needed a boost in depth here and boy did they ever get it, signing five kids that appear to have what the coaches are looking for in the secondary: length, speed, versaility. The biggest need was to secure at least one good corner prospect, but there was also a need for a couple prospects with the versatility to play either corner or safety. In my opinion, this collection of kids just about knocks it out of the park:
  • Myles Sims (CB) 4-Star 6'2"/175lbs (Atlanta, GA) Grade: 85 - Was one of the top DB prospects on Michigan's board for the entire cycle. Could be ready to play immediately at either corner or safety. Is one of three prospects enrolled early. Should be a future starter somewhere. Name any team in the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten, and Sims had an offer from them. His nickname in high school was "Spider". Might want to call him "Underwear" because he can cover opponents' asses all over the field. 
  • Gemon Green (CB) 4-Star 6'2"/165bs (DeSoto, TX) Grade: 78 - Is a prospect that teeters on the edge of being a legit 4-Star prospect in most recruiting circles, but is most often associated as being a 3-Star. He had an offer list that included Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, among others. Plays a tough game on the perimeter, using his size to his advantage. Isn't the fastest guy at the position but is fast enough to succeed at the next level. Will need to add bulk and learn how to use his size to his advantage.
  • Vincent Gray (CB/S) 3-Star 6'2"/175lbs (Bloomfield Hills, MI) Grade: 77 - Another prospect that is at the higher end of the 3-Stars, but doesn't have that elite speed that everybody is looking for at corner. He is a tough player on defense though, with an ability to lay the wood on a ball-carrier. My bet is that Harbaugh sees him as having a future at safety. It's no secret that the coaches are looking for guys with more coverage skills back there, and Gray fits the bill. He looks like he could put on another 15-20 lbs of muscle too. The bonus is that he played receiver in high school, so a move over there is not out of the question either.
  • Sammy Faustin (CB) 6'2"/190lbs (Naples, FL) Grade: 75 - Didn't get the attention from the major schools in Florida, but was heavily pursued by UCF and USF. Also had offers from Arizona, Kentucky, Maryland, and Purdue. Plays a big and tough game. Has enough speed to play corner and the size to develop into a safety. Didn't play against the best schools in Florida, but he still hails from one of the top recruiting grounds in the country. He put a lot of big hits on opponents in high school, but he chased a lot of guys down from behind too. His highlight reel is great. It's hard not to think that he too was a bit underrated. Give him a year or two. If he puts on another 10 lbs of muscle he could become a very deadly defender somewhere in the secondary.
  • German Green (S) 6'2"/165lbs (DeSoto, TX) Grade: 73 - Suffered a knee injury and missed his entire junior year. Recovered and played well as a senior. Has some decent coverage skills and displays good instincts. Needs to bulk up a bit but there is a lot to like about his potential. Expect him to redshirt now to help him get his legs under him. Hopefully he can add some weight to his frame while regaining confidence in his knee. He's got a lot of work to do before he catches back up with his twin brother, Gemon, but his ceiling is really just as high. 
Grade: B+ Though most of these five recruits are not ranked among the top talent in the nation, they all bring some desirable traits that the Michigan staff covets in their corners and safeties. Length and toughness are two descriptors that immediately come to mind, and those two traits are evident all over the film study on this collection of prospects. At the very least, the Wolverines have improved their depth situation in the secondary to help ensure that what happened in the Outback Bowl doesn't happen again any time soon.


Kicker/Punter: There was not a big need to spend time going after any top kicking prospects. Quinn Nordin is the guy for the next couple years. However, the coaches went out and convinced a couple of solid kicking/punting prospects to come to Michigan as walk-ons.

  • George Caratan (P) 6'2"/210lbs (Pacific Palisades, CA) Grade: 70 - Averaged 46 yards per punt in high school and had full ride offers at Army and Massachusetts. Will be a preferred walk-on at Michigan. 
  • Jake Moody (K) 6'1"/180lbs (Northville, MI) Grade: 69 - Isn't getting offered a full ride yet, but is instead being offered a 'Grayshirt' or a 'Blueshirt'. Either way, he will be paying his own way to start of his college career. Had offers from Central Michigan and Air Force, and the Spartans were considering him as well. He looks like a good addition to the kicking corps. 
Grade: B  Getting two decent kicking and punting prospects without having to give up a scholarship is always nice. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Quick Look at Michigan's Top Prospects for 2019

Harbaugh and his staff are off to a great start for the 2019 cycle. With only four commits on board, it still puts them firmly in the Top 10 and average star rating of 86.25. That is extremely high. Overall, 2019 seems like a stronger year than 2018 in regards to quality of players available at the top. There wasn't a single 5-Star that I was completely enamored with this past year.

Yeah, it hurts to lose out on a few top prospects to Ohio State, Alabama, and Georgia... but it's OSU, 'Bama, and the Dawgs! Everybody is losing out on recruits to them right now. Michigan actually flipped some interesting prospects from Georgia Tech (DE Julius Welschof), Iowa (FB Ben VanSumeren), and Florida (Taylor Upshaw). All three guys have flashed the 5-Star athleticism, but they have either played against inferior competition or have very little experience playing the game at all.

At any rate, there is a lot of time ahead. A lot will happen in the next 12 months. Michigan will surely win some and lose some to other top programs out there. And I am just as sure they will flip a couple of their own too. That is recruiting. It's not for the thin-skinned.

The Committed:

DL Chris Hinton 5-Star 6'4"/260lbs (Norcross, GA) Grade: 92
DE Stephon Herron Jr. 4-Star 6'4"/230lbs (Louisville, KY) Grade: 87
OG Nolan Rumler 4-Star 6'4"/290lbs (Akron, OH) Grade: 85
LB Charles Thomas 4-Star LB 6'0"/220lbs (IMG Academy) Grade: 81

Hot Prospects:

The highlighted players are prospects that are already committed to or are current favorites to commit to the program soon. Their respective recruitment by Michigan has sped up and a strong relationship has seemingly blossomed. Just keep your eyes on them over the next few months.

QB Michael Johnson Jr 4-Star (Eugene, OR) Grade: 84
QB Sam Johnson 3-Star (Walled Lake, MI) Grade: 76

RB Quavaris Crouch 5-Star (Charlotte, NC) Grade: 93
RB Sampson James 4-Star (Avon, IN) Grade: 83
RB Daniel Carter 4-Star (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) Grade: 83
RB Eric Gray 4-Star (Memphis, TN) Grade: 81

WR Marcus Washington 4-Star (Saint Louis, MO) Grade: 87
WR David Bell 4-Star (Indianapolis, IN) Grade: 86
WR John Dunmore 4-Star (Hollywood, FL) Grade: 85
WR Kyle Ford 4-Star (Orange, CA) Grade: 85
WR Jameson Williamson (St. Louis, MO) Grade: 82

TE Hudson Henry 4-Star (Little Rock, AR) Grade: 88
TE Ryland Goede 4-Star (Acworth, GA) Grade: 85

OT Devontae Dobbs 5-Star (Detroit, MI) Grade: 91
OG Evan Neal 4-Star (IMG Academy) Grade: 87
OG Nolan Rumler 4-Star (Akron, OH) Grade: 86
OT Trevor Keegan 4-Star (Crystal Lake, IL) Grade: 85
OT Harry Miller 4-Star (Buford, GA) Grade: 84
OT Xavier Truss 4-Star (Warwick, RI) Grade: 84
OT William Harrod 4-Star (Fort Washington, MD) Grade: 82
OT Karsan Barnhardt 3-Star (Paw Paw, MI) Grade: 76
OT Jacob Dean 3-Star (Walled Lake, MI) Grade: 75

DT Ishmael Sopsher 5-Star (Amite, LA) Grade: 95
DE Zach Harrison 4-Star (Lewis Center, OH) Grade: 93
DE Christopher Hinton 5-Star (Norcross, GA) Grade: 92*
DT Jowon Briggs 4-Star (Cincinnati, OH) Grade: 87
DE Stephon Herron Jr. 4-Star (Louisville, KY) Grade: 87*
DT Mazi Smith 4-Star (Grand Rapids, MI) Grade: 84
DT Rodas Johnson 4-Star (Columbus, OH) Grade: 82
DE Michael Fletcher 3-Star (Flint, MI) Grade: 77
DE Jalen Hunt 3-Star (Belleville, MI) Grade: 77
DE Adam Berghorst 3-Star (Zeeland, MI) Grade: 75

LB Anthony Soloman 4-Star (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) Grade: 84
LB Charles Thomas 4-Star (IMG Academy) Grade: 80*
LB Lance Dixon 3-Star (West Bloomfield, MI) Grade: 76
LB Marcel Lewis 3-Star (Clinton Township, MI) Grade: 75

S Daxton Hill 5-Star (Tulsa, OK) Grade: 91
S Lewis Cine 4-Star (Everett, MA) Grade: 88
CB Chris Steele 4-Star (Bellflower, CA) Grade: 87
CB Julian Barnett 4-Star (Belleville, MI) Grade: 86
S Marvin Grant 4-Star (Detroit, MI) Grade: 82
S Moses Douglass 4-Star (Springfield, OH) Grade: 80
S Jordan Battle 3-Star (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) Grade: 76

ATH (CB/WR) Isaiah Williams 4-Star (St Louis, MO) Grade: 90
ATH Ronnie Hickman 4-Star (Wayne, NJ) Grade: 85

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017: A Season of No Surprises

I've been very quiet on here this season, for various reasons. Family. Work. Life. And the fact that it was somewhat of a painful season to watch left me with very little to say. It is what it is, which is about exactly what we thought it would be going into the season. There is simply no need for me to say too much, as I would only be pointing out the obvious.

Of course, it is okay to be critical of Michigan's 8-4 season if you wish. It was, afterall, a season that saw them lose to both rivals again while only getting one win over a bowl eligible team (Purdue). Every team deserves the feedback in college football. As a fan, we want all these young men to improve themselves on and off the field. That's what it is all about and criticism can be helpful throughout the process. However, when reviewing the last 13 games of the Wolverines' schedule, one needs to make sure that nothing is taken out of context. In other words, there needs to be an understanding of the big picture here in regards to what Harbaugh is attempting to build at Michigan.

Elite programs are not built overnight. Just ask Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. That guy has been trying to build one in East Lansing for the last decade. Sure he has beaten the Wolverines regularly since his arrival in 2007, but as the rest of the nation will tell you, including coach Harbaugh himself, beating Michigan is really nothing to brag about. Michigan just hasn't been very good. They are definitely not an elite. So beat them all you want. It really hasn't proven anything for anybody as of late. Luckily for Dantonio, that's all he really needs to do in order to keep his job.

It's no secret that Harbaugh has a big job at Michigan. It's bigger than the job at MSU. The expectations are much greater in Ann Arbor than they are in East Lansing. The Spartans can keep losing the big games against the elite competition as long as they beat the Wolverines three out of four years. On the flip side, Michigan is expected to eventually compete for national titles and not just rivalry wins against State. Granted, they haven't really done much of either one in the last 20 years, but that's where it's intended to go. And that is where it needs to be for the second highest paid coach in college football.

This is the part where we talk about context and perspective:

You see, despite what any naysayers will tell you, Michigan is right on track towards building itself back up to be an elite program. The signs are all there. Harbaugh exceeded expectation in his first season (2015). That year they won nine games and capped it off with a thrashing of Florida in the Citrus Bowl. Without him, Michigan was a seven win team at best. The following year, they were right about where they should have been with another 10-3 record, losing all three games on the road by a total of five points and being just one bad spot away from a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the playoff. The leadership on the team was led by a strong group of Brady Hoke's best recruits that had adapted well to Harbaugh's style. They competed hard every game and it came right down to the wire with two of the nation's best programs in Ohio State and Florida State. They just weren't able to get over the hump, mostly due to some issues at quarterback. The biggest issue on the team overall was a lack of depth. If somebody went down with an injury in the starting lineup there weren't many options on the roster to fill the spot, especially at quarterback. This past season, as we all know, saw the Wolverines as one of the youngest teams in the FBS and they just came short of getting over the 8.5 wins that Vegas predicted.

So, here were are now. Disappointed. Annoyed. Perhaps a litter nervous about what 2018 might hold. But there is still a lot of hope. And the nights are always darkest right before the dawn. Big things could be on the horizon. Why? Well, I will give you three good reasons why:

  1. Experienced Roster - Overall, Michigan will be returning 20 players with extensive starting experience. 10 on offense and 10 on defense, with another 15 or 16 other players that got a lot of playing time in 2017 as freshmen and sophomores. These guys will be veterans, and there should be some real leaders that emerge from the group. Hopefully, they will learn from this season and improve over course of the offseason. 
  2. Emerging Stars - Every great team needs some guys they can look to when a big play is needed. Several young Michigan players started looking like those types of stars in 2017, and many observers see them as players to watch in 2018. Aubrey Soloman looks poised to pick up where Mo' Hurst left off at defensive tackle while Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary are already considered legit players in the B1G; Devin Bush Jr. and Khaleke Hudson will be two of the best linebackers in the conference; Lavert Hill and David Long are a shutdown tandem at corner; Cesar Ruiz and Ben Bredeson could both be the next great interior linemen at Michigan; Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black look like a deadly duo out at receiver; Ben Mason might just be the stud Harbaugh needs at fullback. 
  3. Real Talent at Quarterback - Let's get it straight: the level of talent at the quarterback position has been poor over the course of the last 10 years, and the results on the field have been poor as a result. Jake Rudock and Denard Robinson were the only two signs of hope Wolverine Nation has had at the most important position on the team. Thankfully, because of Harbaugh's efforts, Michigan now has three of the best passing prospects to come out of the 2016 and '17 recruiting cycles. That is huge. And it should start to pay dividends this fall.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Early Signees

Early signing period opened up on December 20th. And for the first time ever, the Wolverines have been able to sign committed recruits before the holiday season. This will allow the coaches to put there attention on other recruits that may still be on the fence. It will also allow those truly committed kids to no longer worry about any offers getting pulled right before National Signing Day. It's a great thing for college football.

In all, Coach Harbaugh has received nine letter's of intent (LOI) this morning. And at least one of them was a complete surprise.

Signed LOI:

Mustapha Muhammad TE 4-Star 6'4"/235lbs (Missouri City, TX) Grade: 85 - The type of top tight end prospect the team needed in this class. A good athlete with multiple tools to work with at the position.

Joe Milton QB 4-Star 6'5"/222lbs (Orlando, FL) Grade: 84 - Big kid with the biggest arm to come to Ann Arbor since Ryan Mallett 11 years ago. Will need some time to refine his skills but his potential is through the roof.

Myles Sims CB 4-Star 6'2"/170lbs (Westlake, GA) Grade: 84 - Another 'need' filled with a top target at cornerback signed. One of the few players in this class that could be ready to play right away.

Cameron McGrone LB 4-Star 6'1"/215lbs (Indianapolis, IN) Grade: 83 - Adding McGrone continues the trend of Michigan signing big-time linebacker recruits. He is a heat-seeking missile that should be perfect for Dr. Blitz's defense.

Aidan Hutchinson DE 4-Star 6'5"/235lbs (Dearborn, MI) Grade: 82 - A top in-state recruit and legacy prospect who brings a lot of athleticism and versatility, much like his father. In fact, his dad Chris was one of my favorite players back when I was a freshman in high school. Great signing regardless.

Jalen Mayfield OL 4-Star 6'5"/273lbs (Grand Rapids, MI) Grade: 80 - A fine O-line prospect that could be ready to compete right away. Needs to make some gains in the weight room this offseason if he really wants a chance to play though.

Ryan Hayes OT/TE 4-Star 6'7"/252lbs (Traverse City, MI) Grade: 79 - Another top in-state recruit with the versatility to play a number of different positions, including tight end, offensive tackle, and/or defensive end.

Christian Turner RB 3-Star 5'11"/185lbs (Buford. GA) Grade: 77 - A very nice prospect with a team first attitude and the versatility to play defense. Look for him on special teams early and often in his career.

Gemon Green CB 3-Star 6'2"/165lbs (DeSoto, TX) Grade: 77 - Another very solid cornerback prospect out of some deep recruiting grounds. Might need a year to gain some weight, but his future potential is very high.

Taylor Upshaw DE 3-Star 6'5"/240lbs (Bradenton, FL) Grade: 77 - With only two years of high school playing experience, he looks like a player that is ascending quickly. He could be a future star but he most-likely is a two-year project before he starts any games.

Ben VanSumeren TE/FB/LB 3-Star 6'3"228lbs (Essexville, MI) Grade: 77 - The in-state prospect was a late offer (last week) who didn't hesitate to jump on the chance to play for Harbaugh and company. Looks like a fullback/H-back type of player that could be a great third down-type of player.

Julius Welselschof ATH 3-Star 6'6"/250lbs (Germany) Grade: 77 - A complete unknown and a big surprise for the early signing period with the measurables of an elite 4-Star prospect. His combination of size, raw athleticism, and pure speed (4.55 forty) will carry him a long way as long as he is coachable. He just hasn't really played against anybody yet so he grades out as a 3-Star prospect.

Luke Schoonmaker TE 3-Star 6'6"/225lbs (Hamden, CT)  Grade: 76 - A do-it-all-type of player in high school who got most of the reps at quarterback will play tight end for the Wolverines. He has all the things the coaches are looking for at the position., but he will most-likely need a year or two to get comfortable.

German Green S/CB 3-Star 6'2"/168lbs (DeSoto, TX) Grade: 75 - Was still recovering from a knee injury that put an end to his junior season, but played well as a senior. Give him two years in the new UM strength and conditioning program and he could be a starter somewhere in the secondary.

Sammy Faustin CB 3-Star 6'2"/180lbs (Naples, FL) Grade: 75 - Played against very good high school competition and performed very well. A very solid addition out on the perimeter of the defense.

Hassan Haskins RB 3-Star 6'1"/202lbs (Eureka, MO) Grade: 75 - Solid ball-carrying prospect that could fit the system. Would like real nice with some added muscle. Could play linebacker or safety too.

Average Recruit Grade: 79 - This means that, on average, Michigan most-likely secured 16 players that should all have a chance to contribute at some point in their careers. They all also possess the raw ability to develop into a high-end college player some day. However, they all will probably be better off with a redshirt year to start their respective careers.

Average Star Rating: 3.4 - This class should have some sustainability in regards to guys sticking around four or five years down the road instead of bolting to the NFL like some the younger guys might just do after the 2018 season.

Expected Final Grade After NSD: 3.6 - Expect Harbaugh to land a couple big fish on National Signing Day and finish out the cycle strong, just like he has the last two years. Though, nobody expects this class to be anywhere near as big in numbers as those two classes turned out to be, and it won't be quite as top-heavy. It should, however, turn out to be a very strong group of above-average college players to build around in a couple years.

Top five players remaining to secure on NSD: 

Otis Reese LB 4-Star

Nicolas Petit-Frere OT 5-Star
Tyler Friday DT 4-Star
Jarrett Patterson OT 4-Star
Kevin Doyle QB 3-Star