Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Leaders and Best: 2017 Edition

Every year about this time, as the football team enjoys spring practice, I release this list of the top players on tap for the new season ahead. These rankings of new and returning players are admittedly somewhat arbitrary, but it's intended to seek out potential "breakout" candidates and projecting expectations throughout the roster.

There are a lot of spots up for grabs. There are a lot of young players vying for playing time. We will start to see more of Harbaugh's guys with three full recruiting classes of his now on campus. However, there is still a strong presence at the top from players that were recruits under Hoke. And those guys will make up the bulk of the leadership on this team.

Of course, there is a lot of speculation here. But what would the offseason be without it? Anyway, let's get to it.

2015 Edition
2016 Edition

Enjoy!

Top 20 Returning Players:

*Denotes player that may not be able to play due to injury, academic, or off-field issues.
Mo' Hurst Jr. #73 
  1. DT Maurice Hurst Jr. (5th) 4-Star - Was arguably the most disruptive interior lineman the Wolverines had over the last two seasons. He posted 11.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in 2016 and 6.5 TFL's and three sacks in 2015, all as a reserve. Harbaugh's staff is dam lucky to be getting him back for a 5th year. For the defense, it all starts with the wall up front, and Mo' Hurst represents the cornerstone-type veteran player to build around in 2017. Prediction: Will be eager to put up big numbers. A First Team All-Big Ten selection seems imminent, and he could sniff national honors as well. Look for him to be considered a possible first round pick in next year's draft. He will be disruptive.
  2. OL Mason Cole (Sr) 4-Star - Just like Hurst, the team is lucky to be getting Cole back. He is one of the best centers in college football and he can play left tackle too if needed, as he did in the spring game. If any of the incoming freshmen prove worthy of playing at tackle then the coaches will gladly move him back inside. No matter where he plays though, Cole will be an asset to the team. Prediction: Cole will fill in at left tackle during his senior season. Though the coaches wish he could stay at center, his talent will be better served protecting the QB's blindside. Besides, it appears that the Wolverines have a couple viable options to replace him at center. He is most definitely an All-Big Ten candidate and a future starter in the NFL.
  3. LB Mike McCray II (5th) 4-Star- McCray is technically the lone returning starter on defense. He established himself as a leader early last season and never seemed to let up, thus erasing any concerns about his health after he missed all of 2015 with a shoulder injury. A repeat performance for his senior campaign would be just fine, as he gobbled up 75 tackles - 13 for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 6 PBU's, two INT's, and one TD on a pick-six. Prediction: McCray will once again man the "Will" linebacker position. He will be a team leader and among the top tacklers in the Big Ten. He will be in the running for several postseason awards and a spot on the All-Big Ten team. I also believe he will be among the top 100 prospects in next year's draft with a versatile game that translates well to the NFL. 
  4. DT Bryan Mone (RJr) 4-Star - Mone had a somewhat quiet 2016, posting only 11 tackles and one tackle for a loss. Just like Hurst, he was not a starter either. He could be a sleeping giant for the Wolverines though. A couple of injuries have held him back and if he has a strong offseason he too could find himself receiving numerous post-season accolades. Prediction: Mone's presence will help while the defense experiences a bit of a youth movement. He may not blow up the stat sheet, but opposing offenses will have a hard time running anywhere near him. The interior of the D-line will prove to be a strength for the team once again, thus taking pressure off other players around them. I guarantee you that Harbaugh is giggling to himself over his program being able to "reload" with talent like Mone already there to build around.
  5. DE Rashan Gary (So) 5-Star - Gary had a solid freshman season. It was nothing too flashy,
    Rashan Gary #3
     but he made the most of his limited opportunities. His playing time diminished during the latter part of the schedule as the coaches leaned heavily on their veteran players. Now with all the starters out of the way it is Gary's chance to be a leader and a big-time playmaker for this defense. Prediction: Gary will quickly establish his presence in the Michigan defense and receive All-Conference consideration in his first year as a starter. I suspect that there will be a lot of TFL's on his stat sheet. 
  6. FB Kahlid Hill (5th) 3-Star - There might not be a better fullback in the nation returning for 2017. The guy can simply do it all as a blocker, a big receiver, and a short-yardage runner. He was the second leading scorer on the team behind kicker Kenny Allen, leading the team with 13 total touchdowns - 10 rushing and three receiving. He will be a big key to the team's offensive success in 2017. Prediction: Hill will be the best fullack in the conference and a team leader. He will get a lot of opportunities near the goalline and I expect him to also get drafted next April. 
  7. RB Chris Evans (So) 4-Star - No freshman player on the team surprised Wolverine Nation with his play more than Evans. In week one he simply dominated Hawaii and remained a steady force throughout the season. He then capped off the year with a critical 30-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl to give the team the lead against Florida State. If he continues to hone his game and earn more opportunities he could develop into one of the best playmakers in the nation. Prediction: Evans will become a primary weapon for the offense, leading the team in all-purpose yards. He will also be in the running for team leader in TD's. All-Conference Honors await. 
  8. QB Wilton Speight (RJr) 4-Star - Having your starting quarterback returning after a very good season is always a positive, and if Speight improves he will be in the running for a lot of postseason honors. Most teams in the country don't have as good of a player returning at the position. Still, things are a bit more complicated at the position than they might appear on the surface. There is so much talent behind him that Speight will have his hands full trying to stay at the top of the depth chart. But regardless of how any competition at the position pans out, the coaching staff are lucky to have a player they trust like Speight at the most important position on the team. Prediction: Speight maintains control of the job at quarterback. He will have his struggles early with so many players being replaced around him, but he will establish himself as a leader willing to do whatever it takes to win. Despite all this there is no guarantee that he is the starter when the season ends, and Speight will lose some snaps to both John O'Korn and sophomore (RFr) Brandon Peters throughout the year. There is just too much talent to predict what Harbaugh and company will do with it all. 
  9. S Tyree Kinnel (Jr) 4-Star - Somebody needs to step up and be a leader in the secondary with all four starters graduating. The coaches are confident that Kinnel can step in and pick up right where Delano Hill or Dymonte Thomas left off. He has earned more and more playing time since he arrived on campus two years ago, and he finished 2016 with 15 tackles. He should triple that number in 2017. He might even be able to play the nickel position with his ability to both cover and play the run. Prediction: Kinnel will be a starter and end the season among the best safeties in the Big Ten. Look for him to be among the top three players on the team in tackles.
  10. OL Ben Bredeson (So) 4-Star - The Freshman All-American from Wisconsin was one of the best players Michigan had up front all season. Yes, he made some rookie errors, but he continued to get better and he will become a fixture at left guard for the next two or three years. He could play left tackle if needed too, which speaks volumes about his versatility. Prediction: Will recieve some consideration for postseason honors as he establishes himself as a mainstay on the line. Any improvement in his game could spell trouble for most defensive tackles. 
    Ian Bunting #89
  11. TE Ian Bunting (RJr) 4-Star - Bunting showed that he could be relied upon to catch passes in the absence of Jake Butt. After the senior All-American went down with a knee injury in the Orange Bowl, Bunting came in and used his 6'7" frame to haul in three passes for a team-leading 40 receiving yards. A lot of talk has been made of him possibly being a future star. That would be cool with me. Prediction: I see Bunting catching about 30 passes this season, though the opportunity could be there for more. He should become one of Speight's favorite red zone targets. 
  12. DE Chase Winovich (RJr) 3-Star - Winovich tied with Chris Wormley for the second most sacks on the team (5.5). He also recorded eight tackles for a loss, four QB hurries, and a forced fumble. Not bad for a guy that only started two games. Now let's see if he can take his game to the next level. Prediction: There probably won't be a huge increase in his production on the stat sheet but he will be a disruptive player for the defensive front rotation. He will be a liability against the run, depending on the scheme, and he will need to rely on the presence of Mone, Hurst, and Gary to eat up blockers for him, just like the linebackers. He will be a starter but expect other guys to get reps at the weak-side position too.
  13. RB Karan Higdon (So) 3-Star - A solid back. Nothing flashy. He does a decent job of reading 
    Karan Higdon #22
    blocks and runs hard into the hole with a slashing style that is a little different than the other ball-carriers on the roster. He is not the most athletic guy in the backfield, but he still averaged nearly six yards per carry and scored six TD's behind a line that really struggled down the stretch. With improved blocking he could really excel and make a name for himself in the conference. Prediction: Higdon will challenge for the most rushing yards and rushing TD's this fall, but will fall short as the third option out of five possibilities at the position. There just aren't enough balls to go around.
  14. RB Ty Isaac (5th) 5-Star - Isaac rebounded nicely after a forgettable 2015 season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and scoring five TD's in 2016. He will have to fight for carries with at least three, possibly four, other backs though, and he likely won't start. He should be a dependable veteran option for the coaches if he doesn't transfer out as a graduate for his final season of eligibility. 
  15. S Josh Metellus (So) 3-Star - The true freshman led the defense with six tackles and one sack against Rutgers in October and got lots of special teams action throughout the year. He then started the Orange Bowl in place of Peppers and finished the game with six tackles there too. He also returned a blocked PAT for two points at the end of the game. He should be a big asset to the team going forward, but it is unclear at this point whether or not he strictly plays safety or moves permanently to the "Viper" position. He might be needed more at safety. Prediction: Metellus will be among the team leaders in tackles and his versatility will find him lining up in a number of different hybrid roles this season. For the most part he will line up as a safety. He won't be as flashy as Peppers was but he can, and probably will, be just as productive. How much do you want to bet that Metellus gets more INT's in his UM career than Peppers did?
  16. OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty (RJr) 4-Star - JBB's presence at tackle will be a godsend in 2017 whether he starts or not, mark my words. With Mags and Braden gone, and Newsome's health in doubt, both starting tackle jobs will be up for grabs. JBB got a lot of playing time on the left side against Penn State and Wisconsin in 2016 before getting his first start against Rutgers. He played well enough but he might have some lingering leg issues that kept him off the field during the second half of the season. He also might be a better fit on the right side, so expect him to get a lot of attention there this spring. Prediction: JBB will be the starter on the right side and a fixture in the run-game, but he will get pushed by some of the younger guys at some point.
  17. *WR Grant Perry (Jr) 3-Star - The most experienced returning receiver may not ever play for the Wolverines again if he is indeed found guilty of the assualt charges filed against him. At this point he is suspended from the team. We are all hoping for the best but expecting and planning for the worst. Prediction: If he is allowed to play Perry will be one of the most reliable pass-catchers on the team. That is a big "if" though. We hope to know more by his court date in April. The sooner he gest back to the team the better. 
  18. LB Noah Furbush (RJr) 3-Star - A top backup and special teams player the last two years, Furbush should be ready to step into more of a leadership role on defense. He could play at any three of the linebacker positions, but I see him playing more on the inside with some occasional Sam duties. It all will depend on who they are playing and what type of packages they are employing for that game. Prediction: Furbush will get a lot of reps this fall though he probably will not be a fulltime starter. Expect to see him get more PT against run-heavy opponents as well as special teams. His contribution in the two-deep rotation will help keep guys fresh throughout the year and make this one of the best units in the Big Ten.
  19. DB Brandon Watson (RJr) 3-Star- With all four starters being lost to graduation, the secondary will need some veteran leadership. And though Watson has never started a game, he is the most experienced DB left on the roster. He should be a more regular contributor with an opportunity to crack the starting lineup, but he will face a lot of competition from a host of hungry young players. His performance in the spring game that included a pick-six provides a lot of optimism for his future. Prediction: Watson will probably be a starter over some of the younger talent on the depth chart. Even if he doesn't, he will get a lot of playing time as a backup and on special teams. His ability to play either safety or corner will be an asset in regards to depth in the secondary. 
  20. C/G Patrick Kugler (5th) 4-Star With a lot of holes needing to be filled along the line, Kugler's return to the O-line could help tremendously. He hasn't really appeared to be starting material anywhere thus far in his career, but he is currently in a battle with a true freshman for the starting job now that Cole is playing tackle again. He does have experience as a starter and it should be noted that he was one of the top center/guard prospects in the entire 2013 recruiting class. Prediction: Kugler gets the majority of snaps at center this fall but will split time with Ruiz. Don't expect anything too special but he should be good enough to not get the team into trouble. 

Notable Mention:

*OT Grant Newsome (Jr) 4-Star - After what he's been through since his injury back in October, Newsome is just glad to be able to walk at all. If he comes back to play this season and reclaims his starting position at left tackle it would go a long way toward solidifying a solid unit up front, but it would also be a freaking miracle. As it stands now his future is up in the air, but many of us remain hopeful that he can return to top health soon. Prediction: A very optimistic fan would say that Newsome comes back and works his way into the starting lineup by midseason while achieving Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2017. However, it's more likely that we don't see much of him until 2018. Unfortunately, it's possible that we never see him play again.


Next In Line:
  1. OG Michael Onwenu (So) 4-Star - 
    Michael Onwenu #50
    Onwenu is one of the top rising young players on the roster and he should nail down a job at right guard this spring. His 6'3"/350+lbs will be a much-welcomed addition to an offense that wants to run the ball right at people more effectively. With a year in the program under his very large belt he could be one of the top players on the team, regardless of position.
  2. MLB Devin Bush Jr. (So) 4-Star - Bush Jr. generally played well throughout his first season as a Wolverine to garner some optimism about his future. He gained a lot of quality experience along the way and is now participating in his second full spring after enrolling early last winter. He is a freshman anymore and we will see more of him going forward. In the spring game he showed us exactly what type of potential he has with a performance that left a lot of talking heads in awe. It's quite possible that Bush Jr. represents an upgrade over Ben Gedeon, who will be a member of an NFL roster this fall.
  3. RB Kareem Walker (RFr) 4-Star - Walker red-shirted to take care of some academic issues but turned some heads in practice towards the end of the season. With a full year in the program aleady he should be in great shape to compete for reps this fall. He will be in the four-deep rotation at running back and possibly a big-play threat when he's on the field. I have a very good feeling about him going forward. He could be the easy answer as to how the team replaces De'Veon Smith. In the spring game he looked like a hard-charging, fleet-footed back with the ability to fight for extra yardage after initial contact. 
  4. TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (RSo) 4-Star - I believe the staff will rely more on the tight ends as a group in 2017, and Wheatley will be one of the top targets at the position. We all know he is an intriguing prospect due to having good athleticism for a guy his size (6'6"/280lbs), but he needs to make the most of his increased reps this spring to hone his skills and get better. He and Bunting could really help ease the loss of all that receiving talent. He did have a highlight reel catch in the spring game that had him reaching for his shoelaces while on the run to get a first down. If we could get more of that this fall then I for one will be happy. 
  5. Khaleke Hudson #7
    S/LB Khaleke Hudson (So) 4-Star
     - Hudson looks like he could become a very good player for the Wolverines after being an underrated athlete in high school. He looks like he was chiseled out of stone and is equipped to play safety or linebacker. Look for him to be used regurlarly as a replacement for Jabrill Peppers at the "Viper" position.
  6. CB Lavert Hill (So) 4-Star - Got a lot of experience as a true freshman and his game is not unlike that of a younger Jourdan Lewis. I expect him to make major improvements and become a starter or the nickelback. Either way, we will be seeing more of him this fall.
  7. WR Kekoa Crawford (So) 4-Star - Played more and more as the season progressed and proved to be a tough player. He could be a very good blocker for the team on the perimeter, as well as a tough runner after the catch. He will compete for a starting job this spring and appears poised to beat out the seniors for playing time. He could play DB too if needed, which makes him more valuable and speaks volumes about his skillset. Ultimately, I think Harbaugh will want to keep him on the offensive side of the ball. 
  8. WR Eddie McDoom (So) 3-Star - McDoom came in as a true freshman and led the team in yards per rush, which came mostly on jet-sweeps and reverses. The coaching staff believes they have a developing weapon in him, and he could take over one of the top three receiver positions. Even if he doesn't start he will get a lot of opportunities to hear his name called out by the crowd. A move to running back is not out of the question either, but that won't happen this year if it ever does.
  9. CB David Long (So) 4-Star Long was a very highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and he got a lot of praise in practices throughout the 2016 season, despite not garnering a lot of playing time. The coaches will be looking for somebody to take over at corner though, and Long will be given every opportunity to develop his game and win the job. He has the necessary athleticism to a be a very good player in the Big Ten, and do not be surprised to see him among the top NFL prospects two years from now.
  10. WR Maurice Ways (RJr) 3-Star - Only five career catches on his resume, but he has had his hand in a few key blocks for the team over the last two years. He will get a chance to work on his game more this spring and the coaches hope he can become a dependable route-runner and pass-catcher for them. If he starts putting it all together he could be a key factor in the offense finding success in moving the chains.
  11. Drake Harris #14
    WR Drake Harris (RJr) 4-Star
     
    - Started garnering more playing time as 2016 rolled along and is poised for a run at a starting position this spring. If he can stay healthy and continue improving he will have a legit shot at being a major player for the team. Everybody has been expecting big things from him since he came on board in 2014. Could 2017 be the year he breaks out? There might just be too many quality targets for Speight to throw to, so Harris could get lost in the wash if he doesn't assert himself into the starting offense real soon. 
  12. TE/WR Zach Gentry (RSo) 4-Star - I have a good feeling about Gentry as a receiving threat going forward, but he will have to fight hard for reps in what appears to be a crowded position. He has the length (6'6") and athleticism to get up over defenders and he showed his skills in the spring with a long run and catch for a TD.
  13. S/LB Jordan Glasgow (RSo) 2-Star - Was a rising player all season that really made his presence known on special teams. Like his brothers before him, he could be a starter some day after coming to Michigan as a walk-on. I hope the fact that he missed a tackle on a pivotal kick return by Florida State late in the Orange Bowl motivates him to get better this off season. His 101 yard pick-six in the spring shows promise. Expect to see him get a lot of reps at the "Viper" spot along with Hudson and Furbush.                          
    Keith Washington #6
  14. CB Keith Washington (RSo) 3-Star - We haven't seen or heard much from the Alabama native, but he still has a lot of potential. He really showed up and played well in the spring game. In fact, no other defensive back impressed me more than him. He could end up being a starter when the season begins.
  15. DE Carlo Kemp (RFr) 4-Star - Kemp looks poised to be a top backup this fall. He flashed some ability as an early enrollee last winter but he was not in good enough shape physically to contribute in his first year. Now that he has trimmed up and packed on some real muscle he should be a factor. He showed a nose for the backfield in the spring game and played relatively well against the run for a guy of his size. In a couple years Don Brown might be referring to him as one of the "Dudes".

Top Ten Role Players, Contributors, and the Best off the Bench:
    Brandon Peters #
  1. QB Brandon Peters (RFr) 4-Star - For anybody that watched the spring game, Peters looked like the starting passer. No other QB is more athletic or has a stronger arm than him. No other QB has more upside either. His potential is through the roof. Prediction: Peters gets snaps this fall and could even be the starter before it's all said and done. If he continues to play like he did in the spring game I just don't know how Harbuagh could keep him on the bench.
  2. K Quinn Nordin (RFr) 3-Star - After missing a lot of time due to an injury, the highest rated kicking prospect in Michigan recruiting history will be counted on to step in and take care of a large chunk of the work left behind by the departed Kenny Allen. He hit a field goal early in the spring game that would have been good from 60+ yards, so the strength is there to be a difference-maker.
  3. QB John O'Korn (5th) 3-Star - Though O'Korn didn't really look impressive in his one outing as a starter in 2016 (Indiana), he is a veteran leader that will be a big asset for the team. He did look much better in the spring game, throwing tight, precision passes - including a beautiful fade to freshman Tarik Black for a TD. It never hurts to have guys like O'Korn on your sideline or in your locker room. 
  4. FB Henri Poggi (5th) 4-Star (DT) - Poggi might be the best backup fullback in the Big Ten. He can execute most blocks and even possesses some soft hands, though he doesn't appear to be a real weapon like Hill. He too could play a valuable role as a senior leader on a young team. He could possibly return to the defensive line, which is where he was recruited to play in the first place. 
  5. LB Devin Gil (So) 3-Star - A surprise player as a true freshman, Gil was Scout Team Player of the Week three times and got some game action in several contests. Expect to see him on special teams coverage units while getting mopup duties at linebacker. 
    #46 Michael Wroblewski
  6. Michael Wroblewski (5th) 2-Star A former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship last fall, Wroblewski has the necessary size and speed to play on the college level. He could turn out to be a very valuable player in terms of depth at the position. He should at least get a lot of special teams duties.
  7. DE Ron Johnson (RFr) 4-Star - Johnson was a highly touted recruit coming in as a freshman last year but redshirted the season. Two spots just opened up ahead of him. He could challenge for one of them if he's for it. A year in the program's strength and conditioning program will do him a lot of good. 
  8. WR Nate Johnson (So)  3-Star - Johnson came on late in the season and made some noise during the bowl practices. He looks like a future contributor that could emerge as early as this summer, though a switch to cornerback could occur if the receiver position begins to look a little too crowded. 
  9. DT Garret Miller (Sr) 2-Star - Miller garnered playing time in a few different contests last year and ended the season having logged five tackles. He could be one of the top backups on the interior of the line, though he will face a lot of competition from some first and second-year players.
  10. DT Michael Dwumfour (So) 3-Star - Has all the necessary size and strength to play the interior. He should be a backup but he might still be a year away from being able to contribute on a regular basis. 

Freshman Watch List:
  1. DT Aubrey Soloman 5-Star Might be the biggest recruiting win so far in the Harbaugh era, considering he had already once decommitted from the program. This kid is ready for the college trenches and he should help solidify the two-deep on the interior of the D-line. Look for him to be a full time starter in 2018. 
  2. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones 5-Star There may not be a better athlete in the entire 2017 recruiting class. With all the talent the team is losing on the receiving end of Speight's passes, the timing could not be more perfect for a player of this caliber to arrive on campus. There is also a spot open to return punts and kicks too, with Peppers and Lewis both gone to the NFL, and DPJ's 4.1 speed should help ease any pains from that loss. He is already enrolled and participating in off season drills too, so expectations will be high on him performing well right away this fall.
  3. OL Cesar Ruiz 4-Star Of all the offensive line prospects coming in this year, Ruiz is the most college-ready. He is a top-50 player and the best center in high school the last two years. It just so happens that starting center Mason Cole may have to move back to tackle too, so the opportunity is there for him to start right away. It doesn't hurt that he too is enrolled early and competing this spring. 
  4. WR Tarik Black (Fr) 4-Star There is a lot of freshman talent coming in at the receiver position, but Black is another early enrollee that should be a step ahead of most guys by the time summer camp rolls around. He is one of the top overall prospects off the East Coast and he looks physically capable of handling some work in year one. Just watch the spring game and tell me he doesn't look ready. He too can play special teams. 
  5. CB Ambry Thomas (Fr) 4-Star - There are few prospects out there with the combination of athleticism and confidence that Thomas carries with him to Ann Arbor, and with spots wide open on the depth chart he has an opportunity to come in and contribute right away. He is yet another recruit that is already on campus looking to get an edge on the competition. 
  6. P Brad Robbins (Fr) 2-Star - Widely considered one of the best punter prospects in the nation, Robbins picked Michigan over offers from Illinois and Nevada. The team needs a punter. He was brought here to push for the duty. Credit Harbaugh for going after some quality kicking talent and winning them over. 
  7. OT Andrew Stueber (Fr) 3-Star - A 6'6"/290lbs prospect from Ohio, Steuber could be the most underrated recruit in this year's freshman class. He was a late riser who the coaches really noticed in camp last summer. His recruitment kept gainimg momentum with quite a few more offers coming in down the stretch. I have him rated as a very high 3-Star recruit, as does 247 Sports. Scout.com has him listed as a 4-Star and among the top 250 prospects in the country. Obviously, the coaches are excited to have him on the team. I see him as a guy who could probably contribute early on in his career, much like Grant Newsome, Taylor Lewan and Mason Cole all did at left tackle before him. He might need a year in the program first, but don't be shocked if you see him playing right away this fall.
  8. DE Luiji Vilain (Fr) 4-Star - Is naturally strong and plays fast. Isn't always the first guy off the snap but he makes up for it with hustle and intensity. He was quickly rising up the rankings and is easily one of the top 50 prospect in the nation. I will be looking for him to relieve Chase Winovich throughout the season and get his name in the stat sheet several times. 
  9. LB Jordan Anthony (Fr) 4-Star Another top 100 player pulled from this year's cycle of recruits, Anthony is physically ready to compete at the next level. If he can get up to speed on Don Brown's defense then we should see plenty of him this fall. He could turn out to be a killer special teams player right away too. 
  10. CB Benjamin St-Juste  (Fr) 4-Star Committed to Harbaugh and the Wolverines before anybody else in the country knew who he was two years ago. Was originally targeted to be in the 2016 class, but wasn't actually eligible until now. He turned a lot of heads and cemented his status as a true 4-Star talent at Nike's The Opening last summer. He got beat up by Tarik black a little bit in the spring game, but he also had an interception too.


Top Sleepers:

Offense: 

  1. TE Sean McKeon (So) 3-Star - McKeon enrolled early as a part of last year's class and showed right away that he was capable of competing on this roster. With a year under his belt he could be primed for a role on Saturdays. 
  2. WR Nate Shoenle (So) 2-Star - Turned the coaches' heads last year as a freshman walk-on and has continued to do so this spring. The guy knows how to run routes, get separation, and use his hands to catch the ball. He's got decent size too, standing at 6'2"/185lbs. He is just another reason that the reciever position is so competitive right now. 
  3. TE Nick Eubanks (RFr) 3-Star - Another big target at 6'5"/235lbs that could get some real reps this year, especially with the transfer of Devin Asiasi. I kinda thought he was a little underrated as a prospect out of Florida. At the moment he is fifth on the depth chart but he showed in the spring game that he is capable of making plays. 
  4. OG/C Jon Runyan Jr. (RSo) 3-Star - A legacy prospect from Pennsylvania, Runyan has the basic tools to be a solid backup along the offensive line. In fact, he led in all but one of the categories for linemen during Harbaugh's mock NFL combine, including a 5.12 forty time. The dude is an athlete. If he can establish himself on the two-deep this spring it would pay huge dividends for the team this fall.
  5. LB Rueben Jones (RSo) 3-Star His name has come up in conversations with other players as to who we should look out for in the near future. He does possess good size and plays with a lot of hustle, but he is a complete unknown at linebacker. He played defensive end in high school against good competition in Florida, so the potential is definitely there. Could he be a year or two away from cracking the starting lineup?
  6. DT Carl Myers (RFr) 2-Star - A preferred walk-on from last year's recruiting cycle, Myers impressed the coaches early and earned some playing time in the opener against Hawaii. He was a highly decorated high school player with three state championships on his resume. He was also a state champ in shotput and discus, thus showing what type of raw power he is capable of producing. He could be a true sleeper on the D-line.  To

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sweet 16 Turns Sour for Michigan and the Big Ten

Hats off to out-going seniors Zack Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. They played a very good overall game against Louisvill in the Seet 16 - their last on-court efforts as Wolverines. The two leaders combined for 39 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. Both of them shot better than 50% from the field and combined for a perfect 6-6 from the free-throw line. It was unbelievable work against the Ducks. Sadly, it came down to Walton Jr. launching a hailmary from deep with the final seconds on the game clock winding down, only to see it bounce of the rim and put a period at the end of their unforgettable seven game win streak through the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

Like any sport, the basketball season is not about where you start. It's about where you end up. Michigan hadn't even been ranked at any point of the regular season. Going into postseason play they were only riding a 10-8 conference record. That was just good enough to be tied with Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern for the fifth best record in the Big Ten. Then something happened in February after back to back losses to the Spartans and the Buckeyes. They quickly morphed into a competent team able to close out games against the likes of Purdue and Wisconsin. Before we all knew it they were cutting down the nets in D.C. while claiming their first ever Big Ten Tournament Championship.

In the end, it was the inability to find a rhythm with the entire offense that led to their downfall against the Ducks. The seniors were left making desperation shots to get points and there just wasn't enough production off the bench to get them quality rest throughout the contest. The Ducks were continuously aggressive on defense and did a great job preventing anybody from getting open - harassing everybody on every possession. The Wolverines kept hammering home though, and it did almost work. Defensively, Michigan actually did well while holding Oregon well below their season average (79 pts per game). Our guys just didn't get buckets with the same high frequency that they had been the previous two weeks, and they gave up more turnovers than usual. They also did not have an answer for stopping Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell. The former finished the game with 20 points of his own while the latter dominated the boards with 13 rebounds. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that turnovers and rebounds will kill you.

It was a great season to be remembered by fans, players, and coaches alike. It was one that we can only hope to resemble next year. But more on that later.

Now it's time to turn our attention to spring football.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Returning Leaders and Best - Names You Should Know, 2017 Edition

Every year about this time, as the football team enjoys spring practice, I release this list of the top players on tap for the new season ahead. These rankings of new and returning players are admittedly somewhat arbitrary, but it's intended to seek out potential "breakout" candidates and projecting expectations throughout the roster.

There are a lot of spots up for grabs. There are a lot of young players vying for playing time. We will start to see more of Harbaugh's guys with three full recruiting classes of his now on campus. However, there is still a strong presence at the top from players that were recruits under Hoke. And those guys will make up the bulk of the leadership on this team.

Of course, there is a lot of speculation here. But what would the offseason be without it? Anyway, let's get to it.

2015 Edition
2016 Edition

Enjoy!

Top 20 Returning Players:

*Denotes player that may not be able to play due to injury, academic, or off-field issues.
Mo' Hurst Jr. #73 
  1. DT Maurice Hurst Jr. (5th) 4-Star - Was arguably the most disruptive interior lineman the Wolverines had over the last two seasons. He posted 11.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in 2016 and 6.5 TFL's and three sacks in 2015, all as a reserve. Harbaugh's staff is dam lucky to be getting him back for a 5th year. For the defense, it all starts with the wall up front, and Mo' Hurst represents the cornerstone-type veteran player to build around in 2017. Prediction: Will be eager to put up big numbers. A First Team All-Big Ten selection seems imminent, and he could sniff national honors as well. Look for him to be considered a possible first round pick in next year's draft. He will be disruptive.
  2. OL Mason Cole (Sr) 4-Star - Just like Hurst, the team is lucky to be getting Cole back. He is one of the best centers in college football and he can play left tackle too if needed, as he did in the spring game. If any of the incoming freshmen prove worthy of playing at tackle then the coaches will gladly move him back inside. No matter where he plays though, Cole will be an asset to the team. Prediction: Cole will fill in at left tackle during his senior season. Though the coaches wish he could stay at center, his talent will be better served protecting the QB's blindside. Besides, it appears that the Wolverines have a couple viable options to replace him at center. He is most definitely an All-Big Ten candidate and a future starter in the NFL.
  3. LB Mike McCray II (5th) 4-Star- McCray is technically the lone returning starter on defense. He established himself as a leader early last season and never seemed to let up, thus erasing any concerns about his health after he missed all of 2015 with a shoulder injury. A repeat performance for his senior campaign would be just fine, as he gobbled up 75 tackles - 13 for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 6 PBU's, two INT's, and one TD on a pick-six. Prediction: McCray will once again man the "Will" linebacker position. He will be a team leader and among the top tacklers in the Big Ten. He will be in the running for several postseason awards and a spot on the All-Big Ten team. I also believe he will be among the top 100 prospects in next year's draft with a versatile game that translates well to the NFL. 
  4. DT Bryan Mone (RJr) 4-Star - Mone had a somewhat quiet 2016, posting only 11 tackles and one tackle for a loss. Just like Hurst, he was not a starter either. He could be a sleeping giant for the Wolverines though. A couple of injuries have held him back and if he has a strong offseason he too could find himself receiving numerous post-season accolades. Prediction: Mone's presence will help while the defense experiences a bit of a youth movement. He may not blow up the stat sheet, but opposing offenses will have a hard time running anywhere near him. The interior of the D-line will prove to be a strength for the team once again, thus taking pressure off other players around them. I guarantee you that Harbaugh is giggling to himself over his program being able to "reload" with talent like Mone already there to build around.
  5. DE Rashan Gary (So) 5-Star - Gary had a solid freshman season. It was nothing too flashy,
    Rashan Gary #3
    but he made the most of his limited opportunities. His playing time diminished during the latter part of the schedule as the coaches leaned heavily on their veteran players. Now with all the starters out of the way it is Gary's chance to be a leader and a big-time playmaker for this defense. Prediction: Gary will quickly establish his presence in the Michigan defense and receive All-Conference consideration in his first year as a starter. I suspect that there will be a lot of TFL's on his stat sheet. 
  6. FB Kahlid Hill (5th) 3-Star - There might not be a better fullback in the nation returning for 2017. The guy can simply do it all as a blocker, a big receiver, and a short-yardage runner. He was the second leading scorer on the team behind kicker Kenny Allen, leading the team with 13 total touchdowns - 10 rushing and three receiving. He will be a big key to the team's offensive success in 2017. Prediction: Hill will be the best fullack in the conference and a team leader. He will get a lot of opportunities near the goalline and I expect him to also get drafted next April. 
  7. RB Chris Evans (So) 4-Star - No freshman player on the team surprised Wolverine Nation with his play more than Evans. In week one he simply dominated Hawaii and remained a steady force throughout the season. He then capped off the year with a critical 30-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter of the Orange Bowl to give the team the lead against Florida State. If he continues to hone his game and earn more opportunities he could develop into one of the best playmakers in the nation. Prediction: Evans will become a primary weapon for the offense, leading the team in all-purpose yards. He will also be in the running for team leader in TD's. All-Conference Honors await. 
  8. QB Wilton Speight (RJr) 4-Star - Having your starting quarterback returning after a very good season is always a positive, and if Speight improves he will be in the running for a lot of postseason honors. Most teams in the country don't have as good of a player returning at the position. Still, things are a bit more complicated at the position than they might appear on the surface. There is so much talent behind him that Speight will have his hands full trying to stay at the top of the depth chart. But regardless of how any competition at the position pans out, the coaching staff are lucky to have a player they trust like Speight at the most important position on the team. Prediction: Speight maintains control of the job at quarterback. He will have his struggles early with so many players being replaced around him, but he will establish himself as a leader willing to do whatever it takes to win. Despite all this there is no guarantee that he is the starter when the season ends, and Speight will lose some snaps to both John O'Korn and sophomore (RFr) Brandon Peters throughout the year. There is just too much talent to predict what Harbaugh and company will do with it all. 
  9. S Tyree Kinnel (Jr) 4-Star - Somebody needs to step up and be a leader in the secondary with all four starters graduating. The coaches are confident that Kinnel can step in and pick up right where Delano Hill or Dymonte Thomas left off. He has earned more and more playing time since he arrived on campus two years ago, and he finished 2016 with 15 tackles. He should triple that number in 2017. He might even be able to play the nickel position with his ability to both cover and play the run. Prediction: Kinnel will be a starter and end the season among the best safeties in the Big Ten. Look for him to be among the top three players on the team in tackles.
  10. OL Ben Bredeson (So) 4-Star - The Freshman All-American from Wisconsin was one of the best players Michigan had up front all season. Yes, he made some rookie errors, but he continued to get better and he will become a fixture at left guard for the next two or three years. He could play left tackle if needed too, which speaks volumes about his versatility. Prediction: Will recieve some consideration for postseason honors as he establishes himself as a mainstay on the line. Any improvement in his game could spell trouble for most defensive tackles. 
    Ian Bunting #89
  11. TE Ian Bunting (RJr) 4-Star - Bunting showed that he could be relied upon to catch passes in the absence of Jake Butt. After the senior All-American went down with a knee injury in the Orange Bowl, Bunting came in and used his 6'7" frame to haul in three passes for a team-leading 40 receiving yards. A lot of talk has been made of him possibly being a future star. That would be cool with me. Prediction: I see Bunting catching about 30 passes this season, though the opportunity could be there for more. He should become one of Speight's favorite red zone targets. 
  12. DE Chase Winovich (RJr) 3-Star - Winovich tied with Chris Wormley for the second most sacks on the team (5.5). He also recorded eight tackles for a loss, four QB hurries, and a forced fumble. Not bad for a guy that only started two games. Now let's see if he can take his game to the next level. Prediction: There probably won't be a huge increase in his production on the stat sheet but he will be a disruptive player for the defensive front rotation. He will be a liability against the run, depending on the scheme, and he will need to rely on the presence of Mone, Hurst, and Gary to eat up blockers for him, just like the linebackers. He will be a starter but expect other guys to get reps at the weak-side position too.
  13. RB Karan Higdon (So) 3-Star - A solid back. Nothing flashy. He does a decent job of reading
    Karan Higdon #22
    blocks and runs hard into the hole with a slashing style that is a little different than the other ball-carriers on the roster. He is not the most athletic guy in the backfield, but he still averaged nearly six yards per carry and scored six TD's behind a line that really struggled down the stretch. With improved blocking he could really excel and make a name for himself in the conference. Prediction: Higdon will challenge for the most rushing yards and rushing TD's this fall, but will fall short as the third option out of five possibilities at the position. There just aren't enough balls to go around.
  14. RB Ty Isaac (5th) 5-Star - Isaac rebounded nicely after a forgettable 2015 season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and scoring five TD's in 2016. He will have to fight for carries with at least three, possibly four, other backs though, and he likely won't start. He should be a dependable veteran option for the coaches if he doesn't transfer out as a graduate for his final season of eligibility. 
  15. S Josh Metellus (So) 3-Star - The true freshman led the defense with six tackles and one sack against Rutgers in October and got lots of special teams action throughout the year. He then started the Orange Bowl in place of Peppers and finished the game with six tackles there too. He also returned a blocked PAT for two points at the end of the game. He should be a big asset to the team going forward, but it is unclear at this point whether or not he strictly plays safety or moves permanently to the "Viper" position. He might be needed more at safety. Prediction: Metellus will be among the team leaders in tackles and his versatility will find him lining up in a number of different hybrid roles this season. For the most part he will line up as a safety. He won't be as flashy as Peppers was but he can, and probably will, be just as productive. How much do you want to bet that Metellus gets more INT's in his UM career than Peppers did?
  16. OT Juwann Bushell-Beatty (RJr) 4-Star - JBB's presence at tackle will be a godsend in 2017 whether he starts or not, mark my words. With Mags and Braden gone, and Newsome's health in doubt, both starting tackle jobs will be up for grabs. JBB got a lot of playing time on the left side against Penn State and Wisconsin in 2016 before getting his first start against Rutgers. He played well enough but he might have some lingering leg issues that kept him off the field during the second half of the season. He also might be a better fit on the right side, so expect him to get a lot of attention there this spring. Prediction: JBB will be the starter on the right side and a fixture in the run-game, but he will get pushed by some of the younger guys at some point.
  17. *WR Grant Perry (Jr) 3-Star - The most experienced returning receiver may not ever play for the Wolverines again if he is indeed found guilty of the assualt charges filed against him. At this point he is suspended from the team. We are all hoping for the best but expecting and planning for the worst. Prediction: If he is allowed to play Perry will be one of the most reliable pass-catchers on the team. That is a big "if" though. We hope to know more by his court date in April. The sooner he gest back to the team the better. 
  18. LB Noah Furbush (RJr) 3-Star - A top backup and special teams player the last two years, Furbush should be ready to step into more of a leadership role on defense. He could play at any three of the linebacker positions, but I see him playing more on the inside with some occasional Sam duties. It all will depend on who they are playing and what type of packages they are employing for that game. Prediction: Furbush will get a lot of reps this fall though he probably will not be a fulltime starter. Expect to see him get more PT against run-heavy opponents as well as special teams. His contribution in the two-deep rotation will help keep guys fresh throughout the year and make this one of the best units in the Big Ten.
  19. DB Brandon Watson (RJr) 3-Star- With all four starters being lost to graduation, the secondary will need some veteran leadership. And though Watson has never started a game, he is the most experienced DB left on the roster. He should be a more regular contributor with an opportunity to crack the starting lineup, but he will face a lot of competition from a host of hungry young players. His performance in the spring game that included a pick-six provides a lot of optimism for his future. Prediction: Watson will probably be a starter over some of the younger talent on the depth chart. Even if he doesn't, he will get a lot of playing time as a backup and on special teams. His ability to play either safety or corner will be an asset in regards to depth in the secondary. 
  20. C/G Patrick Kugler (5th) 4-Star With a lot of holes needing to be filled along the line, Kugler's return to the O-line could help tremendously. He hasn't really appeared to be starting material anywhere thus far in his career, but he is currently in a battle with a true freshman for the starting job now that Cole is playing tackle again. He does have experience as a starter and it should be noted that he was one of the top center/guard prospects in the entire 2013 recruiting class. Prediction: Kugler gets the majority of snaps at center this fall but will split time with Ruiz. Don't expect anything too special but he should be good enough to not get the team into trouble. 

Notable Mention:

*OT Grant Newsome (Jr) 4-Star - After what he's been through since his injury back in October, Newsome is just glad to be able to walk at all. If he comes back to play this season and reclaims his starting position at left tackle it would go a long way toward solidifying a solid unit up front, but it would also be a freaking miracle. As it stands now his future is up in the air, but many of us remain hopeful that he can return to top health soon. Prediction: A very optimistic fan would say that Newsome comes back and works his way into the starting lineup by midseason while achieving Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2017. However, it's more likely that we don't see much of him until 2018. Unfortunately, it's possible that we never see him play again.


Next In Line:
  1. OG Michael Onwenu (So) 4-Star -
    Michael Onwenu #50
    Onwenu is one of the top rising young players on the roster and he should nail down a job at right guard this spring. His 6'3"/350+lbs will be a much-welcomed addition to an offense that wants to run the ball right at people more effectively. With a year in the program under his very large belt he could be one of the top players on the team, regardless of position.
  2. MLB Devin Bush Jr. (So) 4-Star - Bush Jr. generally played well throughout his first season as a Wolverine to garner some optimism about his future. He gained a lot of quality experience along the way and is now participating in his second full spring after enrolling early last winter. He is a freshman anymore and we will see more of him going forward. In the spring game he showed us exactly what type of potential he has with a performance that left a lot of talking heads in awe. It's quite possible that Bush Jr. represents an upgrade over Ben Gedeon, who will be a member of an NFL roster this fall.
  3. RB Kareem Walker (RFr) 4-Star - Walker red-shirted to take care of some academic issues but turned some heads in practice towards the end of the season. With a full year in the program aleady he should be in great shape to compete for reps this fall. He will be in the four-deep rotation at running back and possibly a big-play threat when he's on the field. I have a very good feeling about him going forward. He could be the easy answer as to how the team replaces De'Veon Smith. In the spring game he looked like a hard-charging, fleet-footed back with the ability to fight for extra yardage after initial contact. 
  4. TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (RSo) 4-Star - I believe the staff will rely more on the tight ends as a group in 2017, and Wheatley will be one of the top targets at the position. We all know he is an intriguing prospect due to having good athleticism for a guy his size (6'6"/280lbs), but he needs to make the most of his increased reps this spring to hone his skills and get better. He and Bunting could really help ease the loss of all that receiving talent. He did have a highlight reel catch in the spring game that had him reaching for his shoelaces while on the run to get a first down. If we could get more of that this fall then I for one will be happy. 
  5. Khaleke Hudson #7
    S/LB Khaleke Hudson (So) 4-Star
     - Hudson looks like he could become a very good player for the Wolverines after being an underrated athlete in high school. He looks like he was chiseled out of stone and is equipped to play safety or linebacker. Look for him to be used regurlarly as a replacement for Jabrill Peppers at the "Viper" position.
  6. CB Lavert Hill (So) 4-Star - Got a lot of experience as a true freshman and his game is not unlike that of a younger Jourdan Lewis. I expect him to make major improvements and become a starter or the nickelback. Either way, we will be seeing more of him this fall.
  7. WR Kekoa Crawford (So) 4-Star - Played more and more as the season progressed and proved to be a tough player. He could be a very good blocker for the team on the perimeter, as well as a tough runner after the catch. He will compete for a starting job this spring and appears poised to beat out the seniors for playing time. He could play DB too if needed, which makes him more valuable and speaks volumes about his skillset. Ultimately, I think Harbaugh will want to keep him on the offensive side of the ball. 
  8. WR Eddie McDoom (So) 3-Star - McDoom came in as a true freshman and led the team in yards per rush, which came mostly on jet-sweeps and reverses. The coaching staff believes they have a developing weapon in him, and he could take over one of the top three receiver positions. Even if he doesn't start he will get a lot of opportunities to hear his name called out by the crowd. A move to running back is not out of the question either, but that won't happen this year if it ever does.
  9. CB David Long (So) 4-Star Long was a very highly-touted recruit coming out of high school and he got a lot of praise in practices throughout the 2016 season, despite not garnering a lot of playing time. The coaches will be looking for somebody to take over at corner though, and Long will be given every opportunity to develop his game and win the job. He has the necessary athleticism to a be a very good player in the Big Ten, and do not be surprised to see him among the top NFL prospects two years from now.
  10. WR Maurice Ways (RJr) 3-Star - Only five career catches on his resume, but he has had his hand in a few key blocks for the team over the last two years. He will get a chance to work on his game more this spring and the coaches hope he can become a dependable route-runner and pass-catcher for them. If he starts putting it all together he could be a key factor in the offense finding success in moving the chains.
  11. Drake Harris #14
    WR Drake Harris (RJr) 4-Star
     
    - Started garnering more playing time as 2016 rolled along and is poised for a run at a starting position this spring. If he can stay healthy and continue improving he will have a legit shot at being a major player for the team. Everybody has been expecting big things from him since he came on board in 2014. Could 2017 be the year he breaks out? There might just be too many quality targets for Speight to throw to, so Harris could get lost in the wash if he doesn't assert himself into the starting offense real soon. 
  12. TE/WR Zach Gentry (RSo) 4-Star - I have a good feeling about Gentry as a receiving threat going forward, but he will have to fight hard for reps in what appears to be a crowded position. He has the length (6'6") and athleticism to get up over defenders and he showed his skills in the spring with a long run and catch for a TD.
  13. S/LB Jordan Glasgow (RSo) 2-Star - Was a rising player all season that really made his presence known on special teams. Like his brothers before him, he could be a starter some day after coming to Michigan as a walk-on. I hope the fact that he missed a tackle on a pivotal kick return by Florida State late in the Orange Bowl motivates him to get better this off season. His 101 yard pick-six in the spring shows promise. Expect to see him get a lot of reps at the "Viper" spot along with Hudson and Furbush.                          
    Keith Washington #6
  14. CB Keith Washington (RSo) 3-Star - We haven't seen or heard much from the Alabama native, but he still has a lot of potential. He really showed up and played well in the spring game. In fact, no other defensive back impressed me more than him. He could end up being a starter when the season begins.
  15. DE Carlo Kemp (RFr) 4-Star - Kemp looks poised to be a top backup this fall. He flashed some ability as an early enrollee last winter but he was not in good enough shape physically to contribute in his first year. Now that he has trimmed up and packed on some real muscle he should be a factor. He showed a nose for the backfield in the spring game and played relatively well against the run for a guy of his size. In a couple years Don Brown might be referring to him as one of the "Dudes".

Top Ten Role Players, Contributors, and the Best off the Bench:
    Brandon Peters #
  1. QB Brandon Peters (RFr) 4-Star - For anybody that watched the spring game, Peters looked like the starting passer. No other QB is more athletic or has a stronger arm than him. No other QB has more upside either. His potential is through the roof. Prediction: Peters gets snaps this fall and could even be the starter before it's all said and done. If he continues to play like he did in the spring game I just don't know how Harbuagh could keep him on the bench.
  2. K Quinn Nordin (RFr) 3-Star - After missing a lot of time due to an injury, the highest rated kicking prospect in Michigan recruiting history will be counted on to step in and take care of a large chunk of the work left behind by the departed Kenny Allen. He hit a field goal early in the spring game that would have been good from 60+ yards, so the strength is there to be a difference-maker.
  3. QB John O'Korn (5th) 3-Star - Though O'Korn didn't really look impressive in his one outing as a starter in 2016 (Indiana), he is a veteran leader that will be a big asset for the team. He did look much better in the spring game, throwing tight, precision passes - including a beautiful fade to freshman Tarik Black for a TD. It never hurts to have guys like O'Korn on your sideline or in your locker room. 
  4. FB Henri Poggi (5th) 4-Star (DT) - Poggi might be the best backup fullback in the Big Ten. He can execute most blocks and even possesses some soft hands, though he doesn't appear to be a real weapon like Hill. He too could play a valuable role as a senior leader on a young team. He could possibly return to the defensive line, which is where he was recruited to play in the first place. 
  5. LB Devin Gil (So) 3-Star - A surprise player as a true freshman, Gil was Scout Team Player of the Week three times and got some game action in several contests. Expect to see him on special teams coverage units while getting mopup duties at linebacker. 
    #46 Michael Wroblewski
  6. Michael Wroblewski (5th) 2-Star A former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship last fall, Wroblewski has the necessary size and speed to play on the college level. He could turn out to be a very valuable player in terms of depth at the position. He should at least get a lot of special teams duties.
  7. DE Ron Johnson (RFr) 4-Star - Johnson was a highly touted recruit coming in as a freshman last year but redshirted the season. Two spots just opened up ahead of him. He could challenge for one of them if he's for it. A year in the program's strength and conditioning program will do him a lot of good. 
  8. WR Nate Johnson (So)  3-Star - Johnson came on late in the season and made some noise during the bowl practices. He looks like a future contributor that could emerge as early as this summer, though a switch to cornerback could occur if the receiver position begins to look a little too crowded. 
  9. DT Garret Miller (Sr) 2-Star - Miller garnered playing time in a few different contests last year and ended the season having logged five tackles. He could be one of the top backups on the interior of the line, though he will face a lot of competition from some first and second-year players.
  10. DT Michael Dwumfour (So) 3-Star - Has all the necessary size and strength to play the interior. He should be a backup but he might still be a year away from being able to contribute on a regular basis. 

Freshman Watch List:
  1. DT Aubrey Soloman 5-Star - Might be the biggest recruiting win so far in the Harbaugh era, considering he had already once decommitted from the program. This kid is ready for the college trenches and he should help solidify the two-deep on the interior of the D-line. Look for him to be a full time starter in 2018. 
  2. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones 5-Star - There may not be a better athlete in the entire 2017 recruiting class. With all the talent the team is losing on the receiving end of Speight's passes, the timing could not be more perfect for a player of this caliber to arrive on campus. There is also a spot open to return punts and kicks too, with Peppers and Lewis both gone to the NFL, and DPJ's 4.1 speed should help ease any pains from that loss. He is already enrolled and participating in off season drills too, so expectations will be high on him performing well right away this fall.
  3. OL Cesar Ruiz 4-Star - Of all the offensive line prospects coming in this year, Ruiz is the most college-ready. He is a top-50 player and the best center in high school the last two years. It just so happens that starting center Mason Cole may have to move back to tackle too, so the opportunity is there for him to start right away. It doesn't hurt that he too is enrolled early and competing this spring. 
  4. WR Tarik Black (Fr) 4-Star There is a lot of freshman talent coming in at the receiver position, but Black is another early enrollee that should be a step ahead of most guys by the time summer camp rolls around. He is one of the top overall prospects off the East Coast and he looks physically capable of handling some work in year one. Just watch the spring game and tell me he doesn't look ready. He too can play special teams. 
  5. CB Ambry Thomas (Fr) 4-Star - There are few prospects out there with the combination of athleticism and confidence that Thomas carries with him to Ann Arbor, and with spots wide open on the depth chart he has an opportunity to come in and contribute right away. He is yet another recruit that is already on campus looking to get an edge on the competition. 
  6. P Brad Robbins (Fr) 2-Star - Widely considered one of the best punter prospects in the nation, Robbins picked Michigan over offers from Illinois and Nevada. The team needs a punter. He was brought here to push for the duty. Credit Harbaugh for going after some quality kicking talent and winning them over. 
  7. OT Andrew Stueber (Fr) 3-Star - A 6'6"/290lbs prospect from Ohio, Steuber could be the most underrated recruit in this year's freshman class. He was a late riser who the coaches really noticed in camp last summer. His recruitment kept gainimg momentum with quite a few more offers coming in down the stretch. I have him rated as a very high 3-Star recruit, as does 247 Sports. Scout.com has him listed as a 4-Star and among the top 250 prospects in the country. Obviously, the coaches are excited to have him on the team. I see him as a guy who could probably contribute early on in his career, much like Grant Newsome, Taylor Lewan and Mason Cole all did at left tackle before him. He might need a year in the program first, but don't be shocked if you see him playing right away this fall.
  8. DE Luiji Vilain (Fr) 4-Star - Is naturally strong and plays fast. Isn't always the first guy off the snap but he makes up for it with hustle and intensity. He was quickly rising up the rankings and is easily one of the top 50 prospect in the nation. I will be looking for him to relieve Chase Winovich throughout the season and get his name in the stat sheet several times. 
  9. LB Jordan Anthony (Fr) 4-Star Another top 100 player pulled from this year's cycle of recruits, Anthony is physically ready to compete at the next level. If he can get up to speed on Don Brown's defense then we should see plenty of him this fall. He could turn out to be a killer special teams player right away too. 
  10. CB Benjamin St-Juste  (Fr) 4-Star - Committed to Harbaugh and the Wolverines before anybody else in the country knew who he was two years ago. Was originally targeted to be in the 2016 class, but wasn't actually eligible until now. He turned a lot of heads and cemented his status as a true 4-Star talent at Nike's The Opening last summer. He got beat up by Tarik black a little bit in the spring game, but he also had an interception too.


Top Sleepers:

Offense: 

  1. TE Sean McKeon (So) 3-Star - McKeon enrolled early as a part of last year's class and showed right away that he was capable of competing on this roster. With a year under his belt he could be primed for a role on Saturdays. 
  2. WR Nate Shoenle (So) 2-Star - Turned the coaches' heads last year as a freshman walk-on and has continued to do so this spring. The guy knows how to run routes, get separation, and use his hands to catch the ball. He's got decent size too, standing at 6'2"/185lbs. He is just another reason that the reciever position is so competitive right now. 
  3. TE Nick Eubanks (RFr) 3-Star - Another big target at 6'5"/235lbs that could get some real reps this year, especially with the transfer of Devin Asiasi. I kinda thought he was a little underrated as a prospect out of Florida. At the moment he is fifth on the depth chart but he showed in the spring game that he is capable of making plays. 
  4. OG/C Jon Runyan Jr. (RSo) 3-Star - A legacy prospect from Pennsylvania, Runyan has the basic tools to be a solid backup along the offensive line. In fact, he led in all but one of the categories for linemen during Harbaugh's mock NFL combine, including a 5.12 forty time. The dude is an athlete. If he can establish himself on the two-deep this spring it would pay huge dividends for the team this fall.
  5. LB Rueben Jones (RSo) 3-Star - His name has come up in conversations with other players as to who we should look out for in the near future. He does possess good size and plays with a lot of hustle, but he is a complete unknown at linebacker. He played defensive end in high school against good competition in Florida, so the potential is definitely there. Could he be a year or two away from cracking the starting lineup?
  6. DT Carl Myers (RFr) 2-Star - A preferred walk-on from last year's recruiting cycle, Myers impressed the coaches early and earned some playing time in the opener against Hawaii. He was a highly decorated high school player with three state championships on his resume. He was also a state champ in shotput and discus, thus showing what type of raw power he is capable of producing. He could be a true sleeper on the D-line.  

Weekend Tournament Report

Top Performer:

Derrick Walton Jr. (Sr) - Nobody is playing the point any better than Walton is right now. The Detroit native had a double-double with 26 points and 11 assists against the Cowboys in the first round, and he did it with complete confidence too. He really put on a show. The points did not come as easily for him against Louisville in the round of 32, but he still chipped in 10 more while recording seven rebounds and six more assists. Most importantly, they all got the win. His 8-9 shooting at the free throw line in the first two games was also big, and it proved just how comfortable he is in this situation. It also means that teams are better off not fouling him if they don't have to, so expect him to continue moving his game inside a little bit more. The strategy helped seal the deal at the end of the game against the Cardinals. And if he can continue to pressure teams up the lane then more guys should be clear to take shots from the perimeter. As long as they keep winning he will be in the conversation for the most valuable player in the tournament.


The Next Men Up:

D.J. Wilson (Jr) - A star is being born right in front of our eyes. Wilson, a forward, went from relative obscurity as a backup last year to being one of the nation's best players at the moment. When you consider all that he has done it is definitely hard to leave him out of the conversation for MVP. In the first two games of the NCAA he scored a combined total of 36 points while hitting on 48% of his shots from the field. He also blocked seven shots and has been a perfect 10-10 from the free-throw line, including four in a row he nailed to close the coffin on Louisville. Then for an encore he blocked the last shot on the Cardinal's final possession to officially end it. No sweat. This kid has ice running through his veins. There is no doubt the team will be looking to give him more chances to score against Oregon.

Mortiz Wagner (So) - The multi-faceted forward from Germany has proven himself to be quite a weapon for this offense. And, like the rest of his star teammates, he seems to show up whenever the team needs him the most. Such was the case against Louisville, where he exploded for a career-high 26 points. That's more than one third of the total points for the team. He is currently hitting on 64% of his shots for the tournament so he will get a lot of opportunities down low against Oregon too.


Strategy Against Oregon:

Coach Beilein (10th yr) - The crafty head coach, who loves to get his shooters open beyond the arc, will try to exploit the west coast team that is without it's best inside defender (F Chris Boucher). Look for them to test the paint with Wagner, Wilson, and Walton Jr. All three guys can get in quickly and score. Once that presence is established lower down against the Ducks, it will then be time to start looking for open shooters on the perimeter. On defense they need to spread out and cover their best players, who will be moving around out on the wings. Michigan doesn't match up too badly here but the Ducks can and will score, averaging 79 points per game on the season.