On Monday, four-star linebacker Cameron McGrone announced his commitment to the Michigan football program, becoming the 12th member of the Wolverines’ 2018 recruiting class.
But while many recruits in that cycle have yet to made their decisions, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is already making significant progress for the following year.
Harbaugh received verbal commitments from offensive tackle Nolan Rumler and defensive end Stephen Herron Jr., who became the second and third members of the now ninth-ranked 2019 group, according to 247Sports composite rankings. Four-star Florida linebacker Charles Thomas announced his attentions to play for the Wolverines in June.
Herron — a five-star recruit from Louisville, Kent. — is the biggest win of the past week. Ranked 34th nationally and fourth among defensive ends, he chose Michigan over the likes of Ohio State, Alabama and Tennessee.
“He’s a great pickup,” said Steve Lorenz of 247Sports. “He’s what made the BBQ Weekend successful because the other two were foregone conclusions heading into the weekend. That’s a big win from a national perception in recruiting, too.”
Herron is an athletic defender with a quick first step that allows him to best offensive tackles off the snap. Though functional strength is something that he’ll will have to improve upon, Lorenz said Herron is capable of delivering devastating hits.
At 6’3” and 225 pounds, Herron is somewhere between college defensive ends and weakside linebackers in size, but that could work to his advantage in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s versatile schemes. For example, sophomore Carlo Kemp trained at both positions last season and Harbaugh mentioned that freshmen Kwitty Paye and Luiji Vilain could do the same during Big Ten Media Days.
“This is a staff that believes in what they teach and what they coach,” Lorenz said. “So you’ll see them take guys that I call ‘better pieces of Play Doh.’ They’re not molded yet, they’re not formed yet. But when they’re fully formed, their ceilings are higher than anybody.”
Unlike Herron, Rumler — an Akron, Ohio native — has long leaned the Wolverines’ way; both his dad and grandfather are Michigan alumnus. But Rumler’s choice is still an important one for Harbaugh, who has struggled to land recruits from Ohio.
The decision is an important one, as it marks the Wolverines’ sixth commitment since at offensive tackle — a position with no clear answers for the future — since 2017.
Rumler will look to contribute with quick feet, aggressive hands and technical skills in run blocking and pass protecting. Though he’s already quite strong, Rumler does struggle against heavier defense ends. According to scouting reports, however, two more years of growth in high school should mitigate those issues.
Rumler and Herron are just the beginning of what could be Harbaugh’s best recruiting class at Michigan — a product of a program-high 11 players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.
“That is the year where their pro prospects really pay off,” Lorenz said. “That’s about as big of a recruiting pull now as winning a Big Ten Championship, in my opinion. These kids want to win a championship or they want the best chance to go to the NFL. Michigan is able to refine that (NFL) message more with the kids they’re just starting to recruit.”
Harbaugh hopes that message will resonate with other 2019 class targets. Five stars running back Quavaris Crouch and receiver Kyle Ford both visited Ann Arbor last weekend and were impressed by the Wolverines’ presentation, per Lorenz.
Crouch, who rushed for 1,224 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, is the class’s top-ranked rusher and has priority for the Wolverines his entire high school career.
That No. 1 distinction might cause Michigan fans’ eyes to roll.
Najee Harris — 2017’s top running back — nearly signed with the Wolverines last last winter but ultimately stuck with Alabama. On Sunday, the nation’s premeir 2019 quarterback, California five-star J.T. Daniels, committed to USC just a day after naming Michigan into his top four.
But Crouch remains a possibility.
“All you can do this early with a kid like that is set yourself up to be a contender in the long term,” Lorenz said. “I think they did that and maybe a little bit more.”
Michigan hasn’t had a running back rush for more than 1,000 yards since Fitzgerald Toussaint did so in 2011. If Crouch commits to the Wolverines, he could be the dynamic rusher Harbaugh has missed during his Michigan tenure.
“It’d be a massive pull,” Lorenz said. “Running back is the one position where they haven’t really hit that home run yet. Of any guy who visited, I’d say they’re happiest with the progress they made (with Crouch).”