With 2013 in the books, it's time to look ahead a bit. Below, I've combined a 'Big Board' of 2014 prospects that Michigan has already offered.
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. (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!
1. Malik McDowell- Defensive Lineman; Detroit, Michigan
I know a lot of people will have Drake Harris here now that he opened up his recruitment. Yes, WR is a huge position of need. Yes, Harris will be one of the best in the country next year. And yes, the additional schadenfreude from Sparty would be delicious.
However, McDowell's film/potential is too insane to pass up on. If he wasn't so raw, and if his competition wasn't so weak, I have to believe he'd have a shot at being a top 10 player nationally. It is a very, very rare thing to find a 300ish pound dude with that explosion and athleticism. In the past couple of years, we've recruited a lot of kids for the DLine that could best be described as 'solid, if unspectacular'. McDowell would provide an electrifyingly huge presence on the line that may not be seen in the state of Michigan for years to come.
2. Drake Harris- Wide Receiver; Grand Rapids, Michigan
Okay, yes, Harris is still incredible. The Junior First-Team All American caught over 2000 yards and 25 touchdowns this past fall while also almost eclipsing the century mark in receptions. Harris may be the best WR prospect to come out of Michigan since...Charles Rogers?
Drake combines unbelievable straight line speed with exceptional quickness and hands, making him the all around package. Couple that with the desperate need Michigan has for playmakers at the WR position, and he could make a huge early impact for the Wolverines. Give me Harris, McDowell and a bunch of 2 stars next year, and I'll be happy.
3. Parrker Westphal- Cornerback; Bolingbrook, Illinois
A high school teammate of Illinois signee Aaron Bailey, Westphal's importance to Michigan may have tripled after Conley defected to Ohio State. Here's what I said about him in late October:
Overall, he looks like he'll be a mid to high level four star. Might get a couple national looks but seems like it'll end up being a regional heavyweight fight. Not sure he has the explosiveness to be truly elite, but could have an NFL future down the line.
After signing a couple of decent boundary corners this year, Michigan could really use an exceptional guy to be the future of that position. Westphal would fit that need nicely.
4. Da'Shawn Hand- Defensive Lineman; Woodbridge, Virginia
Alright, so it might seem a little ludicrous to have the potential #1 player as #4 on this list. But what can I say, I'm a sucker for keeping the best at home. I'm also a little more skeptical that Michigan will ever overtake Alabama or Virginia Tech in the race for Hand's services.
The hype around Hand, though, is well worth it. Aside from his great physical prowess as a player, I've heard raving reviews about Da'Shawn's personality. He's honest, smart, outgoing, and friendly in a way that would make Denard proud.
Despite my skepticism, Hand has talked up Michigan's coaching staff as his favorite, and guys like Steve Lorenz at 247 have expressed their faith in Michigan's chances all along. This should be a fun recruitment to watch.
5. Kyle Berger- Linebacker; Cleveland, Ohio
With Ferns firmly committed, it seems as though the staff will only pursue 1-2 more LBs in this class. Although my favorite, Nyles Morgan, has an offer, I think our shot with him was greatly diminished when we lost Laquon Treadwell.
Instead, I think Michigan could be a key player for the athletic LB from Jake Ryan's old school. He's very active on the defensive side of the ball, a great sideline to sideline defender, and even has some of that patented Ryan quickness. With Ferns and Berger in the class, we'd lock up our third straight class of exceptional linebacking talent.
6. Bryan Mone- Defensive Tackle; Salt Lake City, Utah
The high school teammate of FB Sione Houma may very well be the next member of the 2014 class, now that the QB situation has been resolved. He's been hinting for months that Michigan is at the top of his leaderboard, and that a commitment might not be far off.
Mone falls a bit further than McDowell and Hand because he doesn't have quite the same physical skillset as the two. While he's certainly a unique talent, the Haloti Ngata comparisons a lot of people throw around are a little bit blown out of proportion. He's the type of high effort, versatile defender that Mattison, Hoke, and Montgomery could turn into a key asset in the future, but I'm not sure he'll ever be a first rounder.
7. Joe Mixon- Running Back; Oakley, California
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.
8. Corey Holmes- Wide Receiver; Fort Lauderdale, Florida
There isn't a lot not to like about Holmes. His speed, size, and athleticism all put him squarely in the four star range. He high-points the ball, can make some outstanding acrobatic catches, and plays against some of the best competition at the high school level.
With all that in mind, you might think it'll be hard to yank him out of Florida, especially considering the Gators and Seminoles have offered. However, Michigan was a childhood favorite and one of the first teams to offer Holmes after he blew up their summer camp. He's been on campus a couple of times, and will probably be back in the spring/summer. It's by no means a sure thing, but the Wolverines have put themselves squarely in the middle of Holmes' recruitment.
9. Jamarco Jones- Offensive Lineman; Chicago, Illinois
At this point, I think Michigan is on the outside looking in for Jones. They were a bit late to offer, and I wouldn't be surprised if Ohio State is in the drivers' seat. However, he hasn't yet committed, so hope isn't lost yet.
Although Michigan has grabbed 10 linemen in the past couple of classes, only 4 of those are going to end up tackles (Fox, LTT, Braden, Magnuson). Following this upcoming season, they'll also be the only scholarship tackles on the roster. Landing Denzel Ward early on in the process was huge; he was a high upside player that could have time to develop behind the 4. With him no longer in the class, however, Michigan needs to pursue at least one other tackle.
10. Montae Nicholson- Safety; Monroeville, Pennsylvania
Nicholson is another prospect in the line of rangy athletes Michigan has recruited for the safety position in recent years. He can cover the field sideline to sideline like Jarrod Wilson, but he also has a little more physicality to his game. His exceptional versatility is likely what brought Michigan to Nicholson's door.
Nicholson, like Holmes, is another kid that Michigan has done well to get in on early. They brought him out to games during the season, as well as the BBQ in the Big House in July. While at one point he admitted to favoring the Wolverines, he's since eased off of that. Penn State and Ohio State will be tough competition for Nicholson.
Well, we've covered more of where the needs and talent coincide so far. Now, I'll throw in a couple of names that would be real neat to land, if not necessary
Tommy Doles- Offensive Lineman; Grand Rapids, Michigan
With the future of the Center position likely in the hands of Patrick Kugler, the need for Doles isn't huge. Coincidentally, neither is Doles, which is why I don't think he gets much hype. He plays like an elite lineman, but at 250, there's no telling whether or not he can add weight and maintain his ability.
Still, there are a couple of reasons to root for Michigan, aside from his talent. One, of course, is depth. There will be significant attrition from the past couple of classes once starting roles are established. Secondly, Doles is teammates with Drake Harris. Although they are reportedly not the closest of friends, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a Michigan commit in Harris' ear.
In the end, I think Michigan lands Doles.
Tyler Luatua- Tight End; La Miranda, California
This is more of a prayer than the others on the list. While Michigan has been actively pursuing Luatua, I don't think they'll be able to pull him away from west coast. If anyone does, it's more likely to be a team like 'Bama.
In any case, Michigan will aim to bring in another tight end or two in this class. They've placed a premium on them the past two years, and have shown through some of the prospects they've targeted at the end of both cycles (such as Sam Grant and Durham Smythe) that they're always looking for more.
Luatua would be another in the Funchess/Smythe mold; in fact, some schools are recruiting him as a WR. With Butt and Hill adding on to the receiving threat our TEs bring to the game, it would be more of a luxury than a necessity at this point.
Nick Watkins- Cornerback; Dallas, Texas
Watkins is (IMO) a better athlete than Westphal. I've only placed Parrker so high on the list because of his regional connection and affinity for Michigan. Watkins, in the end, is going to be a DB that receives looks from just about every major national program, unless he commits to Texas/Alabama soon.
The good news is that Watkins has family in Michigan, his father (Bobby Watkins) played for the Lions, and he's been talking up a visit to Ann Arbor for quite some time. If Hoke and staff can land him, it would be a major coup. Cross your fingers.
Braden Smith- Offensive Lineman; Olathe, Kansas
Another elite line prospect (already rated a 5* on Scout), this one that Michigan jumped in on early. As of right now, I see him ending up somewhere in the South (Texas A&M seems like the leader right now), but it's early on in his recruitment and Smith claims to be wide open. In a recent UA Combine interview, he said he will be visiting Michigan ($). If that happens, well, anything could happen.
Smith can be a little clunky in pass protection, so he might be a more natural fit for the RT (LT when Morris takes over) or guard position.
I've only just scratched the surface with these 14 kids. In fact, the offer board currently sits at 86 kids, a number that will only grow. There's a good chance that half of the class we end up with hasn't even been offered yet. With that in mind, stay tuned to Maize N Brew as we guide you through the 2014 cycle.