In February, Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan football team inked one of the highest-ranked recruiting classes in team history.
The coaching staff reeled in numerous top targets such as five-star prospects Donovan Peoples-Jones and Aubrey Solomon down the stretch to cement a class that 247Sports ranked as No. 5 in the nation.
While Harbaugh and company may not sign a class as large as 2017’s 30-man group, the Wolverines certainly haven’t struggled in recruiting this year’s class, which currently ranks No. 19 in the nation with an average prospect rating of 0.9051, according to 247Sports.
According to Wolverine 247 recruiting analyst Steve Lorenz, Michigan hasn’t missed often when it comes to its top targets in this cycle. That has been aided in part by geographical location — four-star offensive tackles Ryan Hayes and Jalen Mayfield and four-star defensive end Aidan Hutchinson are all in-state prospects — but the Wolverines have had an impressive national reach, as well.
Of the 10 prospects who have given verbal commitments to Michigan thus far, just four — four-star offensive guard Emil Ekiyor of Indiana and the aforementioned trio — are from the Midwest. The Wolverines have three commitments from Georgia, two from Texas and one from Florida — three of the most talent-rich states in the nation.
Meanwhile, seven of the ten commitments are ranked as four-stars, according to 247Sports, and all 10, says Lorenz, were at or near the top of the coaching staff’s board.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that they’ve gotten a lot of high-ceiling type talent,” Lorenz said. “Obviously (Orlando, Fla. quarterback Joe) Milton kind of the headliner as far as that goes, maybe the most high-ceiling player in the class. Not a refined product yet, has a ways to go, but that’s a perfect complement to what they’ve done at quarterback, and they’ve done that at a few different positions.
“With the offensive line, (Jalen) Mayfield another guy in that vein, a guy whose football is definitely ahead of him, and then at cornerback as well with (Myles) Sims and Gemon Green as guys who are just perfect fits for the system, but they haven’t tapped a lot of their potential yet. I think they’ve done what they’ve wanted to do so far with the depth they got in ‘16 and ‘17, I think those are the types of guys they want in ‘18.”
After Harbaugh signed just 14 recruits in his debut recruiting class (one that was hurt by Brady Hoke’s firing and the relatively prolonged hiring process that followed), he and his staff signed 56 players in the following two classes combined. Those two classes have replenished Michigan’s depth chart while also limiting the number of available scholarships for 2018.
While the quantity of recruits that the Wolverines can sign this time around may be limited, that might still yield some positive results for Michigan on the trail — especially considering the recruiting pitch that the coaches have tailored for some prospects, such as Cameron McGrone, a four-star linebacker from Indiana.
“The new foundation is in with these new classes, so with some of these guys it’s, ‘We’ll get you there eventually,’ ” Lorenz said. “Look at cornerback — those guys could compete early, but they may have to wait. But they’re only taking a few, so they can tell them, ‘Hey, you’re our guy.’ Or at linebacker, with Cameron McGrone, who’s now the top target. They can sell him like, ‘Hey, you’re our guy at linebacker period. We’re probably done if we get you.’
“… It is a different approach because the last two classes have not just been large, but they’ve been large and full of really talented players, so they kinda have to go about it a little differently.”
Of course, there are some position groups that weren’t as well-stocked in previous classes that Michigan will have to address this time around. After failing to sign any tight ends in 2017, the Wolverines saw Devin Asiasi — the team’s highest-ranked signee at the position in 2016 — elect to transfer to UCLA. With a relatively youthful and unproven group after Asiasi’s transfer and Jake Butt’s graduation, Lorenz thinks Michigan will need to sign at least one of their top targets at the position in 2018, if not multiple.
Jeremy Ruckert, a four-star from New York, was one of the staff’s top targets but it appears that his college decision — scheduled for July 17 — will be Ohio State. The Wolverines, though, are strongly in contention for another one of their top prospects and may have an opportunity to make a move with another in the coming weeks.
“I think (Ridge Point, Texas tight end) Mustapha Muhammad remains the best bet there,” Lorenz said. “I know (247Sports recruiting insider Steve) Wiltfong thinks that Michigan will really make a move with (Carterville, Ill. tight end) Luke Ford next weekend, so we’ll have to see there.”
Like last year, Michigan may have to wait a while before it fills its class. The Wolverines experienced a flurry of commitments last December, earning verbal commitments from Peoples-Jones, Cesar Ruiz, Tarik Black, Drew Singleton, Jordan Anthony and Deron Irving-Bey over the span of a couple weeks. Similarly, most of Michigan’s top targets this year appear to be waiting to make their decisions after taking official visits in the fall.
“Once the season hits, guys want to take their officials,” Lorenz said. “The elite guys, everyone is jockeying for position with those guys, so you’re going to see things kind of slow down. Some guys want to see how teams perform in season.”
There are a couple prospects, however, whose timelines may be shorter than those of their peers. According to Lorenz, McGrone and four-star linebacker/defensive back Shayne Simon, of New Jersey, may decide before the summer ends. Michigan is battling Notre Dame for both prospects, and in the case that either (or both) decide to pick the Fighting Irish, the Wolverines appear determined to continue recruiting until the bell.
“I know they’re basically biding their time with Notre Dame,” Lorenz said. “At least from their standpoint, I don’t think they expect Notre Dame to have a great season. I think they may be able to try to pick off a couple of (Notre Dame’s) guys.”
While Michigan’s 2018 class may not have the high-end star power that came with previous classes, the fact remains that the coaching staff has hit on most of their top targets thus far — even if the recruiting rankings may not reflect that. Furthermore, they’re still heavily in the race for many of their remaining targets, such as defensive tackles Tyler Friday, Rick Sandidge and Michael Thompson, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, Muhammad, McGrone, Simon and defensive back Josh Jobe, among others. That has the Wolverines potentially primed for a big finish this winter after getting off to a quick start that Lorenz grades highly.
“I’d probably say a B+, A- type grade,” Lorenz said. “I know (DeSoto, Texas cornerback) Gemon Green is only a three-star, but he was literally at or near the very top of their cornerback board. Might not have the rating or ranking, but Michigan’s ecstatic about having a guy like that on board. Same with (Georgia cornerback) Myles Sims, who’s a guy that Michigan targeted early, immediately, and got.
“Joe Milton was the first quarterback that Pep Hamilton offered. … That’s always a huge win. Then to get (Ryan) Hayes, (Jalen) Mayfield, Emil (Ekiyor), all very significant pickups. They’ve kind of done what they set out to do so far.”