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The Difference at the Bottom: Looking deeper into Michigan's recruiting classes

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Landing players like Derrick Green and Jabrill Peppers is vital to the success of an elite program, but high-level prospects are only part of the equation. It's the Michigan staff's work on the bottom of their classes that will put the program over the top.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

No one anticipates seeing three-star players on the field during the National Championship, but rest assured they're there. Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas, Southern California and other past powers didn't make their living off of classes comprised completely of four and five-star talent. Michigan has been on pace with those powers in the last three recruiting cycles, and their recruitment of quality lesser-known prospects is much of the reason why.

Below is a table of Michigan's commitments under the Hoke regime who were rated at or below three stars, according to the 247 Composite Ratings. The cutoff for four-star status is a composite rating of .895. Anyone with a composite rating around .88 is likely to be rated as a four-star player by at least one of the major scouting services.

Class Prospect Position Composite Notable BCS Offers
2012 Matt Godin SDE .8871 Cincinnati, Michigan State, Missouri, Vanderbilt
Ben Braden OT .8803 Michigan State, Syracuse, Wisconsin
Jehu Chesson WR .865 Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, UCLA
Jeremy Clark S .87 Illinois, NC State
Blake Bars OT .8646 Clemson, Florida, Louisville, LSU, Penn State
Allen Gant S .8488 Boston College, Cincinnati, Stanford, WVU
Drake Johnson RB .8441 N/A
Sione Houma FB .8588 Utah, Washington
Willie Henry DT .8438 Cincinnati, Illinois, Pittsburgh
2013 Ross Douglas CB .8811 Louisville, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin
Dan Samuelson OG .8755 Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pittsburgh
Csont'e York WR .8634 Cincinnati, Syracuse
Jaron Dukes WR .8887 Illinois
Channing Stribling CB .8625 N/A
Khalid Hill TE .8575 N/A
Reon Dawson CB .8494 Arizona, Penn State, Pittsburgh, WVU

Da'Mario Jones WR .851 N/A
2014 Chase Winovich OLB .864 Florida State, Miami, Ohio State, Oregon
Maurice Ways WR .8604 Iowa, Kansas, Rutgers
Wilton Speight QB .8803 Miami(Fl), NC State
Brady Pallante DT .7967 N/A

Take a look at the column on the far right. Many of the recruits in the bottom half of Michigan's classes still hold offers from schools like Clemson, Michigan State, Missouri, and Nebraska. These are winning programs that develop NFL talent, and they make up the worst of Michigan's classes. That's a major success.

Brady Hoke's staff has pulled in a total of 21 composite three-star players in roughly three recruiting cycles. For comparison, Rich Rodriguez's staff pulled in 47(!) three-star players in nearly the same amount of time. These numbers may be a bit misleading -- Rodriguez was only partially responsible for the class of 2011, and the 247 composite rankings are shakier as you go further back in time -- but the gap is far to large to ignore. Michigan is recruiting at a much higher level.

The massive discrepancy in the amount of three-star recruits under the two regimes leads to one extremely important conclusion: the bottom of Michigan's classes have been much stronger under Hoke than they were under Rodriguez. Players like Chase Winovich, Dam Samuelson, Ross Douglas, Blake Bars and Matt Godin would have been prizes under the previous staff, but they're largely depth recruits under Hoke's staff. These players will all be competing for playing time next to elite recruits, preventing catastrophic meltdowns in the secondary and depth issues on the offensive line.

Building Depth

How many of these recruits will see the field? The question obviously can't be answered with complete accuracy. We can still see the road ahead for many of these players, allowing us to label them as future starters, role players or depth players.

Future Starters

Matt Godin - Godin benefits from playing at strong side defensive end, where Michigan isn't extremely talented [yet]. He is tall, long and athletic enough to hold down the position for at least a year, and he'll be a great rotation player if someone like Malik McDowell or Da'Shawn Hand comes in to take the spot away.

Ben Braden - Braden should start at offensive guard beside Kyle Kalis this season. He is a massive guard prospect who could slide out to right tackle once Michael Schofield graduates.

Sione Houma - Fullbacks are making a comeback in Ann Arbor, and Houma looks like a lock to hold the spot down until he graduates. He's athletic enough to carry the ball and should contribute as a receiver on play-action passes and long downs.

Da'Mario Jones - Jones is a criminally underrated slasher who should find a home in the slot, although he's capable of playing on the outside as well. I think he'll be the second best receiver on the roster when Drake Harris arrives.

Jaron Dukes - Dukes will give Amara Darboh a run for his money this year, and the two should battle for one of the starting spots next year. He is a tree of a receiver with massive hands who lacks great acceleration and long speed. He could start all of his days in Ann Arbor, or he could be a role player from day one. I think he starts for at least one season.

Chase Winovich - Some are already penciling Winovich in as the starter at the SAM position upon the graduation of Jake Ryan. I'm more confident in Mike McCray than some; Winovich will challenge him nonetheless.

Role Players

Jeremy Clark - In a way, Clark epitomizes the depth of Michigan's classes. He's tall, rangy and just plain athletically gifted, but he has a long way to go in terms of on-field awareness. He should contribute on long downs somewhere down the line and could bloom into a starting role with the right coaching. This amount of depth was something Wolverine fans saw in their dreams just a few short years ago.

Blake Bars - Bars was a four-star prospect to some, and he's certainly capable of stealing snaps at one of the guard spots in the future. I don't see him taking a starting spot away from the many talented guards on Michigan's roster, but he does give Michigan options.

Willie Henry - Henry is a boom-or-bust type of prospect. He has the physical tools to become part of the interior rotation and could eventually start at the three-tech position. I'm not about to call him a starter, but playing time is definitely in his future.

Ross Douglas - Douglas is a quick, savvy corner who will see snaps over the slot in the future. He's not big or fast enough to take a starting corner spot, especially with Jabrill Peppers and others coming in.

Dan Samuelson - Samuelson is yet another guard prospect capable of blossoming into a contributor. He's large and fairly athletic.

Jehu Chesson - I'm sure many of you think Chesson should be notched as a future starter, and I disagree. Chesson is a poor man's Drake Harris, lacking the same kind of ball skills. The staff will still look to utilize his raw speed.

Wilton Speight - Speight is a great kid and a fairly talented passer who will most likely be a backup during his time in Ann Arbor. Michigan is looking at kids more talented than he is in the class of 2015, and Shane Morris looms large when Devin Gardner graduates or goes to the League. He definitely has the potential to start, but the signs point against it.

Maurice Ways - I really like what I see on Ways' film. He's a slightly upgraded version of Csont'e York, and I think he has the potential to blow up into a major contributor.

Depth Players

Allen Gant - Gant probably won't ever see the field. He isn't nearly as athletic as the other safeties on the roster and doesn't bring any other exceptional talent with him.

Drake Johnson - Johnson looked like a possible contributor to the backfield during the spring game, but that should end when Derrick Green comes to town. DeVeon Smith will make things even tougher, and Michigan has plenty of backs on the roster who are as fast or faster than Johnson. Two years of occasional touches looks like the best case for Drake.

Csont'e York - York could be doomed to live on the bottom of the depth chart from day one. He'll have to fight past Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, Jaron Dukes and Da'Mario Jones for playing time in year one. Then comes consensus four-star receiver Drake Harris. York isn't as a big as Dukes or as fast as anyone else on the depth chart, making it unlikely that he ever becomes a serious contributor.

Channing Stribling - Stribling is an awkward fit at corner and isn't as physically talented as most of the safeties on the depth chart, either. He could boom into an over-sized corner and steal minutes from someone like Jourdan Lewis, but I doubt it.

Khalid Hill - I'd bet on Hill if I had to put money on anyone not ever seeing the field. Devin Funchess is already on campus with four-star talent Jake Butt, and A.J. Williams already has the blocking role on lock. Ian Bunting will come in next year, and Michigan is already planting its logo in the head of some tight ends in the class of 2015. He does have a connection with Shane Morris in the passing game working for him; his lack of size should negate any effect that connection could have on his playing time.

Reon Dawson - Dawson is a slightly scrawnier version of Channing Stribling. He too lacks top-end speed and probably won't ever start or find a major contributing role because of it.

Brady Pallante - Pallante is the least-known recruit of the Hoke era. He doesn't have great length or athletic ability, but he will give Michigan a smart technician who could fight his way into a few snaps. Key word: few.


Much of this article is based off of the obvious fact that Michigan is recruiting much better than it was just a few short years ago. Still, the true strength of the Wolverines' classes becomes even clearer when you peer into the deepest depths of each class, revealing future starters and contributors who will help mold Michigan football into the power it once was. Recruiting is mostly about the Derrick Greens of the world, but it's not all about the Derrick Greens.

Oh, and please feel free to argue about my ranking of the prospects in the comments. I'll fire back and make it a good time.