Championship teams are built from the inside out, regardless of what system you run. Michigan transitioned from Rich Rodriguez's what-the-hell-am-I-looking-at defense to Greg Mattison's 4-3 under, and the move to a consistent defense has lead to an increase in depth and talent across the defensive line.
There are still some voids that need filling. First, Michigan couldn't get to the quarterback without overload blitzes in 2012: it needs weak side defensive ends who can get around tackles. Second, there is a lack of elite talent on the strong side, where no one is creating separation in the race for playing time.
Michigan already has weak side defensive end Lawrence Marshall on board, which means the WDE recruiting will come down to elite players and elite players only. The staff will probably only take two strong side players if their names are McDowell and Hand.
Already In the Bag: Lawrence Marshall
Marshall is Michigan's newest commitment, pulling the trigger on an unofficial visit to Ann Arbor on May 11th. He's a weak side defensive end all the way, possessing enough length and explosiveness to become a serious pass rusher down the line. He's a fringe three- to four-star player because he's extremely raw and is a touch less explosive than someone like Taco Charlton.
Most Talented: Da'Shawn Hand
Capable of playing on both ends of the line, Hand will likely end up on the strong side, where he can make more of an impact in the run game. He isn't the consensus overall number one, but he's a consensus top five player because of his combination of length, brute strength and sheer explosiveness. He comes off of the ball faster than Marshall and is nearly as strong as McDowell despite weighing only 255 pounds. He isn't the next Jadeveon Clowney by any stretch of the imagination, but he still has massive upside.
Under the Radar: Gelen Robinson
The younger brother of future NBA player Glenn Robinson III, Gelen is a a poor man's Brandon Graham. He only stands at 6'1" and might end up at linebacker, but he plays bigger than his listed height and has above average burst off the line of scrimmage. He's an all-state wrestler, which automatically puts him under the category of technician.
Most Likely to Commit: Malik McDowell
Michigan has been up and down in Malik's recruitment, but recent trends have the Wolverines moving up. McDowell could end up at the strong side defensive end spot or the three-tech defensive tackle position; he's currently pushing 295 pounds and will need to clean up his frame if he wishes to stay on the outside. He's a true 6'6", giving him plenty of length to deal with tackles if he ends up at the five-tech, and he's more explosive than the majority of prospects his size. He would be the best in-state defender to commit to Michigan since Brandon Graham and could easily end up being a five-star player.
Pipe Dream: Andrew Williams
When was the last time Michigan went into the South to pluck an elite defensive end? Greg Mattison has been on Williams for quite some time now, but I still don't see him leaving the area when he has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and countless others.
The One Who Got Away: Old Lawrence Marshall
At one point Marshall was committed to Ohio State, and Brady Hoke was losing all of his precious in-state recruits. Weeks later he was decommitted and considered a lock to end up in East Lansing, where he was seen visiting for weeks in a row. He visited Michigan once and committed immediately after, sending Spartan fans into their usual THE WORLD IS ENDING AND MICHIGAN IS CHEATING rants:
Yeah, it seems a little shady. Fortunately, UM's sterling history of integrity in such matters makes them above suspicion.
They are cheating. Color me shocked. The return to the good ol Ed Martin days at U of Money.
The NCAA and the media are both complicit in UM's hype machine. What can a school like Michigan State do? Not much.
He used us for girls, parties, and basketball games. End of story.
Perhaps dantonio needs to stop being such a white knight when recruiting these kids and put the pressure on for once.
So, yea. Michigan is much better academically and has an elite staff assembled, but they're cheating, man. The commitment of Lawrence Marshall was sweet. Very sweet.
Michigan adds McDowell and Hand to the class, giving it a small yet extremely versatile group of young defensive ends. Notre Dame fails to overtake Michigan for McDowell down the stretch, and Virginia Tech loses out on Hand after Jabrill Peppers does his best to recruit his fellow five-star to Ann Arbor. I rejoice, and Brian posts muppets over at MGoBlog.
Lawrence Marshall decides that Michigan isn't for him, opting out and heading to East Lansing. Malik McDowell realizes that 3-4 defensive ends make bank in the NFL and rushes to Notre Dame, where he becomes yet another we-almost-had-that-guy guy on another team's roster. Da'Shawn Hand picks Virginia Tech, forcing Michigan to reach and offer Gelen Robinson and a handful of lesser-known ends. I throw my hands up in the air and wonder why Michigan's clear efforts to pay these kids under the table aren't working.
(Ed note: /sarcasm. Obviously.)
Final Prediction For the Position
Lawrence Marshall stays on board, Malik McDowell goes blue before the start of his senior season, and Da'Shawn Hand picks favorite Virginia Tech. Yes, I predicted that Hand would end up at Michigan weeks ago, but things have changed. They could change once again if someone like Jabrill Peppers picks up the phone to say something like, "Hey, uh.. you could crush the passer and I'll pick off whatever he throws up out of desperation. You can even get in on my next rap video, which won't include us dancing around like goons in a shed." I'm hoping said phone call works, but I'm counting against it as of now.