2014 Michigan Recruiting Big Board, 4th Edition

Gregory Shamus

A big recruiting weekend is on the way as the space left in the class grows smaller by the day. How does it all affect the pecking order?

EDITION 1 | EDITION 2 | EDITION 3

We're going to keep rolling out a new big board every month or so, with the idea that we'll eventually be able to use this to track the 2014 recruiting cycle. I will attempt to update this in the style of Walter Football's mock drafts, if any of you are familiar. This means that order will change and periodic updates will supplement existing blurbs about prospects. As prospects commit to Michigan or elsewhere (assuming it is a strong verbal commitment, criteria subjectively determined by yours truly), they will be removed from the board. Other changes will be based off of Michigan's attrition, perceptual changes, practice buzz, game performances, prospect stock, and the extraterrestrial movements of Saturn's suns. That last one is a joke. For now.

When you're reading, keep a couple of things in mind; (1) Prospects are ordered based on a combination of talent, need, and affinity for Michigan. If I was just doing it off of talent, my list would look something like this. (2) There's a good chance that a majority of the class Michigan will sign next February hasn't even been offered yet, and isn't on this list (ED-June: Not really). (3) Needs will change depending on attrition during the following year, so the list is fluid.

With all of that in mind, read on, and let me know what you think in the comments!

JULY UPDATE

Lots of turnover in the past month of this cycle. Numbers 3-6 and 9 all committed elsewhere, including one (Artavis Scott) that lots of people had pegged for Michigan for a long time. The main change in new (serious) prospects over the past month has been Leonard Fournette, Leonard Fournette, and Leonard Fournette. This is a long shot- I do not care.

Okay, he's not the only one. But for all intents and purposes, he's definitely the most notable.

1. Malik McDowell- Defensive Lineman; Detroit, Michigan

JULY UPDATE.. As expected, no real update here. He visited Michigan State at the end of last month- that's pretty much the only news to report here. Michigan remains in a strong position near (if not at) the top of his list

JUNE UPDATE... Malik McDowell does not like the media (commercial or social, for that matter) very much. He's a quiet kid who only sparingly comes out and discusses his top group, who he's considering, and where he'll visit. When he does say words, those words often praise Michigan. Still, the relative dearth thereof makes updates sparse. Since March, he's visited Michigan and Michigan State. In the meantime, the 247 Crystal Ball is exceedingly positive for our likes.

2. Da'Shawn Hand- Defensive Lineman; Woodbridge, Virginia

JULY UPDATE... After a full-on Handpocalypse was declared, Hand has stayed pretty quiet. The only news here is a lack of news, really: Hand won't be visiting for the BBQ at the Big House. Unfortunate, but he's been warning us that this will probably (not) happen for quite some time. I wouldn't look into it.

JUNE UPDATE...Things are... uhh.. going well in Hand's recruitment. Longtime presumed front runner Virginia Tech has been dropped from his top group (which now consists of Michigan, Alabama, and Florida-most assume that to be in order), Michigan has the best shot at him according to the Crystal Ball, and a full-on Handpocalypse has been declared.

If he were to decide today, all signs point towards Michigan, giving Michigan the top 2 prospects in the Rivals 100 ratings, a feat no other school has ever accomplished.

However, there seems to be no rush in his recruitment. Although he says he wakes up some mornings ready to end it, he seems to be doing things very systematically. Michigan may have the lead now, but they'll have to maintain it through a season of official visits, new suitors, shrinking availability in the class, etc.

3. Leonard Fournette- Running Back; New Orleans, LA

If Da'Shawn's June gave us a Handpocalypse, then it might be appropriate to say news of Leonard's impending weekend long visit set off a Fourn-ado in the Michigan blogosphere. T'is the season. Our own Anthony Mammel has more.

Said progress came to fruition in recent days when it was announced that Fournette would be visiting next weekend, leaving his home state of Louisiana early Thursday to stay in Michigan until Sunday. Impressive is the fact that the staff somehow convinced Fournette to stay for three nights, but it's even more impressive that they convinced him to do it on his own dime.

A few guesses about this whole thing. (1) Fournette will enjoy this visit very much, and say things to reporters that get Michigan fans very excited. (2) Speculation will rise that Michigan is up with 'Bama and LSU at the top for Fournette. (3) As time goes on and we get closer to his decision date, that hype will fade UNLESS the Michigan coaches can set up an official visit, as well.

The fact is Fournette is surrounded by LSU and Alabama in Louisiana. It'll take a serious effort to keep Michigan on his mind as time wears on and the effect of the visit begins to wear off. He'll need to be refreshed of his reasoning sometime between now and January, and an official (for OSU) is probably the best way to do that. I'm not saying this visit doesn't matter-it's a critical first step- but without followup steps, it might not.

4. Parrker Westphal- Cornerback; Bolingbrook, Illinois

JULY UPDATE... After falling off the list entirely last month, Westphal resurfaces near the top. This isn't necessarily because things have been more promising for Michigan, but rather (A) due to a lack of other options and (B) because he is apparently closing in on a decision. If you believe the experts, that pick'll be Michigan. I still believe Westphal's chances of ending up a Wolverine are time-sensitive. If he hasn't committed by the time I do the next Big Board, I have serious doubts of his spot in this class.

JUNE UPDATE.. Westphal makes a precipitous fall on the board following the commitment of Peppers (lessening the need for a boundary CB), and his ever increasing time frame. If he were to decide today, I still think it'd be Michigan. However, I'm not sure he'll make that decision in time.

5. John 'Juju' Smith- Safety/Wide Receiver; Long Beach, California

JULY UPDATE.. Michigan is in Smith's top 5, and if his crystal ball should tell you anything, it's that no one has any idea where he's going to end up. He recently changed his visit date from the Notre Dame game to the Ohio State one, good news as it'll give Michigan the last scheduled official (so far). Will he probably stay on the west coast? Yes. But things have been trending up for Michigan in the recent month nonetheless.

JUNE UPDATE.. Another quiet kid taking his recruitment methodically, Smith has planned his official visit to Michigan for the Notre Dame game this fall. However, as of right now, Michigan seems to be squarely behind UCLA, USC, and Notre Dame for his services. He'll have to have one heck of a visit for that to change.

6. Kalen Ballage- Runningback; Peyton, Colorado

JULY UPDATE... In my last update I said I was unaware of how Ballage's visit had gone. That may have had something to do with forest fires heading towards his home and forcing him to turn around en route to Michigan. Still, Michigan's in his top 4, and although he's name isn't quite as exciting as Fournette, Michigan's chances long term are still probably better here.

JUNE UPDATE.. Replacing Mixon and Hilliman on the top list is Ballage, a talented athlete out of Colorado who now looks like the most realistic option at running back in this cycle. He was scheduled to be in town this weekend, although I've yet to hear anything on how that visit went down. Still, he's talked up Michigan quite a bit, so this visit should go a long way towards shoring up the top spot on his list.

7. Dwight Williams- Linebacker; Gardena, California

JULY UPDATE.. At this point, there might not be room left for Williams in the class with 3 other linebackers in the fold, but none of those guys are really WILLs, so perhaps an exception will be made.

However, it looks like it might not matter anyway. Williams, as well as his teammate Adoree Jackson, seems to be pretty high on Florida. The two officials he has scheduled right now are for Michigan and Florida, but most seem to think the Wolverines are trailing here.

EDIT: The ongoing medical issues for Antonio Poole might end up necessitating another WILL in this class, although I think the coaches are probably comfortable with their depth their right now. We've got a starting sophomore (Ross), a backup sophomore (RJS), and a touted freshman waiting in the wings (Gedeon). If RJS switches position or leaves the team, that's when we might have some issues.

JUNE UPDATE.. A teammate of the aforementioned Adoree Jackson, Williams seems actually to be quite high on the Wolverines. Just recently he announced that he planned on taking his official visit for the Notre Dame game.

However, I think his timetable might exclude him from ending up in the class, and the coaches seem higher on Darrion Owens anyway. If he manages to visit some time during the summer, he might move up a bit on the board. For now, he'll stay here.

8. Garrett Dickerson- Defensive End; Oradell, New Jersey

JULY UPDATE.. Let me make one thing very clear first and foremost- Garrett Dickerson will almost certainly end up at Stanford. The general feeling is that his heart lies in Palo Alto, but he'll give Michigan and Northwestern a fair shake because of the academic prestige. Right now, he's saying he wants to take officials to those three and then decide-we'll see if it lasts that long.

JUNE UPDATE.. Michigan has been pursuing Dickerson for a long time, ever since offering him in November of 2012. Some schools view him as a tight end prospect, but Michigan and Stanford want him on the defensive side of the ball.

Since he has the frame which will probably see him develop into a strong side defensive end, and Michigan is heavily pursuing McDowell and Hand (with Marshall being a possibility on the strong side, as well), I think he's perhaps on the lower tier of targets right now. Because of that and his time table, I think he'll end up elsewhere, in spite of the strong relationship he's developed with the coaching staff.

9. Montae Nicholson- Safety; Monroeville, Pennsylvania

JULY UPDATE... It's getting hard to tell if Nicholson's just a quiet kid taking his time like McDowell, or a player who's beginning to trend away from Michigan. It sounds like he won't be at the BBQ in the Big House, and Michigan seems to be getting mentioned less and less as the preeminent leader here. Does Michigan still dominate the Crystal Ball predictions? Sure. But given how little Nicholson talks to the media, those guys could be just as confused as I am.

JUNE UPDATE... Nicholson has floated around this spot for the past few months because it doesn't seem like much has changed with him. He's one of Michigan's only offer recipients at the safety position, and most seem to have UM in the driver's seat despite his quiet nature. A year after taking Hill and Thomas, safety isn't a huge position of need, but adding Nicholson would be a nice luxury for the coaching staff.

10. Marshon Lattimore- Cornerback; Cleveland, Ohio

JULY... Lattimore's been considered an Ohio State lock for the longest time, and that's not likely to change any time soon. However, he has recently been making waves with suggestions that he'll at least give other schools a chance. In a recent article by Sam Webb at the Detroit News, Lattimore offered up some interesting quotes.

While most pundits have long considered both strong Buckeye leans, Smith and Lattimore patently dismiss talk that they are locks for Ohio State.
"That's just rumors," said Smith.
"They don't know nothing," the normally quiet Lattimore said. "They think because we're from Glenville, that we're going there."

That doesn't mean they won't wind up Ohio State. It merely means they are giving other schools, including Michigan, serious consideration. They plan to utilize all of their official visits to look into their top suitors more thoroughly before announcing their decisions after the New Year

Lattimore backed that talk up recently by taking a swing through Alabama, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It sounds like Michigan, 'Bama, Tennessee, and Kentucky might be the schools in the best position to keep Lattimore out of Columbus.

HONORABLE MENTION

Joe Mixon- Running Back; Oakley, California

JULY.. Over the past couple of months, it's seemed more and more like Mixon is one of those kids who was enamored with Michigan for a week or two once his offer came through, then they went out the window. However, although USC is considered the likely destination here, he's recently come out and said that Michigan could be one of the schools granted an official visit. If that comes to fruition, anything can happen. If not, it seems like the only school poised to get Mixon out of California is Oklahoma.

FEBRUARY UPDATE... If Green had not committed to Michigan, I think Mixon would easily be within the top 3 of this list.

As it stands, Michigan just landed the number 1 running back in the nation, and the need at the position is less than great. However, it would be awesome to get a speedier guy like Mixon to .... 'mix it up' with Green in the backfield. /ducks

Joe has recently blown up, with an offer list swelling to more than 20 of the nation's top programs. However, Michigan was one of his earlier offers, and has shown him a lot of attention in the recent weeks. I think he'll probably end up staying out west, but if he comes East, expect Michigan to be in the thick of things.

FWIW, I think you could just as easily put NJ RB Jonathan Hilliman here. I'm a big fan of his, too. I give Mixon the edge for his top end speed. And leg strength. Dear God, his leg strength.

Jonathan Hilliman- Running Back; Jersey City, NJ

JULY.. The Jersey back has had Michigan in his top list for a while, but I've kept him off the board because he seems to be keeping them off his top crust of teams he's considering. As of late, he's declared Ohio State his number 1 school. However, he'll be in town for the BBQ at the Big House, and if he enjoys his tour, anything could happen. It's pretty clear by now that the coaches want another running back in this class after initially offering just a few.

Andrew Williams- Defensive End; McDonough, GA

JULY.. Williams attended the Opening and mentioned to a few reporters that Michigan was on his top list, a bit random since he hadn't visited before and hadn't really talked up Michigan either. At the time, he also mentioned a visit, but that's yet to come to fruition. For now, we'll keep him on the backburners and assume nothing is going to come of it.

Adoree Jackson- Cornerback; Gardena, California

JULY.. As time goes by, it's starting to seem that Jackson's interest in Michigan was more of a passing fancy than anything. Whereas Mixon's trigger for interest was an offer, it seems that Jackson's was the addition of Jabrill Peppers to the class, a mutual interest that seems to have waned somewhat. Track's going to be a big deal for him, and even with a new coach, Michigan is far behind. Smart money says this is the last time Jackson's on this board.

JUNE UPDATE.. The aforementioned Sam Webb made waves by also including Jackson in his projected last five list. This came as a surprise to most, since Michigan didn't make Jackson's top five a few weeks ago.

However, a lot has happened since then. His teammate, Dwight Williams, has set up his official visit for the Notre Dame game this fall. He's been chatting up Michigan commits Jabrill Peppers and Michael Ferns a lot these past few weeks, especially the former. Based on what I've read, it still seems like it'll be a long shot to get Jackson in the class, but Webb's addition softens my skepticism. He's planning on touring through the Midwest schools this summer, when he returns to his home state of Illinois.

Erick Smith- Safety; Cleveland, Ohio

JULY.. The other guy talked about in that Sam Webb article. Also from Glenville. Seems like even more of a lockey-lock to Ohio State than his teammate, so we'll also keep him on the backburners. Remember the name if Juju Smith and Montae Nicholson both fall through- that's when we could really see a full court press on Smith.

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