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Topping It Off: How will Michigan finish the class of 2014?

The Michigan football staff is putting together its third fantastic recruiting class in a row. Just how great could this class end up being? Is it a lock to be the best under the Hoke regime to date?

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Michigan strolled red hot into the class of 2014 after putting the finishing touches on one of its greatest classes of all time. Shane Morris, Derrick Green, Dymonte Thomas and a host of other elite recruits gave Michigan fans reason to be very optimistic. Surely, topping this class would figure to be an impossible task.

Or would it? Michigan opened up the class by securing yet another defender who holds offers from Notre Dame and Ohio State, then it traveled east to find a tall, accurate quarterback. A string of seven four-star players followed not long after, and word of a monster commitment began to lurk.

Then it happened. Jabrill Peppers rapped his way into a winged helmet on national television, suddenly and emphatically opening endless possibilities in the world of Michigan football recruiting. Could Michigan ride the momentum and secure top-ranked Da'Shawn Hand? Would Adoree Jackson really play next to another five-star corner at the next level? How in the hell did the staff get into the head of Leonard Fournette? No one knew, but for a short time it looked like the football gods had immeasurably fantastic plans for the Wolverines.

It has been over a month since the commitment of Peppers, and the tides have since calmed. Michigan isn't a player for track-loving Adoree Jackson, and Leonard Fournette is still a heavy LSU lean. Visions of a class for the ages no longer make their way into the dreams of Michigan fans across the country, although the possibility of trumping the class of 2013 still remains. Da'Shawn Hand's love for Greg Mattison and Michigan Sport Management should bring him to Ann Arbor, along with a number of solid but not otherworldly recruits. Michigan could hold on to a spot in the top five of the nation by bringing in its finest class of all time.

Exactly how will the class shape up in the end? I don't know, but I can conjure up a guess.

Michigan's Current Commitments

Who Michigan lands from now until signing day depends heavily on who it already has secured. Here are Michigan's current commitments, from the earliest commitments down.

Player Position Composite Rating Position Ranking Date Committed
Michael Ferns ILB/OLB .9426 6 8/8/12
Wilton Speight QB .8801 22 2/6/13
Bryan Mone DT .9605 6 2/12/13
Mason Cole OG .9372 9 2/25/13
Brady Pallante DT .8059 100 4/5/13
Drake Harris WR .9809 3 4/14/13
Ian Bunting TE .8912 10 4/23/13
Maurice Ways WR .8687 62 4/25/13
Juwan Bushell-Beatty OT .8933 21 4/29/13
Lawrence Marshall WDE .9265 10 5/11/13
Jabrill Peppers CB .9986 1 5/26/13
Chase Winovich OLB .8877 27 6/1/13
Freddy Canteen
WR .8644 69 6/29/13
Brandon Watson
CB .8228
Noah Furbush
ILB/OLB .8636 43 7/1/13

Michigan currently sits at fifteen commitments, already pushing the projected limit of 16-18 commitments. It's possible for the class to balloon toward 20, although it's impossible to know how much attrition will affect the roster. For now we'll assume that Michigan is only honing in on its elite targets, meaning sleeper offers will be harder to come by.

Michigan's needs have mostly been addressed. I overstressed the importance of the halfback position – there is no need to take a true ball carrier in this class – all other projections seem to be close or on line, even at wide receiver.

The staff has its passer, three wide receivers, one tight end, one guard and one tackle on offense. The depth at tackle is still thin enough to warrant a late offer to another long offensive lineman, but there aren't any remaining needs outside of that on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan will continue to pursue elite backs like Joe Mixon and Kalen Ballage; don't expect anything to come out of that.

Things are a bit more intriguing on defense. Michigan has two interior defensive lineman, a rush end, two inside yet versatile linebackers, one SAM lock and two corners. The staff will take at least one safety, possibly two if Montae Nicholson and Juju Smith both decide to go blue. One more linebacker could be taken, but my guess is that the coaching staff slow plays everyone but Dwight Williams in an attempt to keep spots open; Williams probably isn't coming to Michigan anyway. From there it's all about finding a strong side defensive end and someone capable of playing the three and five-tech positions. I'm looking at you, Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell.

Anyone past those needs will be taken only if they're elite. Michigan doesn't need another corner, but the staff would turn anyone down to get someone like Adoree Jackson. The same goes for pipe dreams like Leonard Fournette, but I shouldn't even be mentioning him.

Peering Into the Crystal Ball

I began writing this article on Friday night when Michigan only had a dozen commitments. The class has grown to fifteen commitments since, making this just a bit easier to finish. Here are the players I see finishing off Michigan's class, from most wanted down:

Prospect Position Composite Rating Position Ranking
Da'Shawn Hand SDE .9996 1
Malik McDowell SDE/DT .9850 3
Montae Nicholson S .9285 10
Parrker Westphal CB .9438 14

That's a very strong finish to an already impressive class. It would also push Michigan past the projected range of 16-18 commitments, giving them 19 on the year. There's actually a real chance of the class ending on this exact note, however small of a chance that may be.

My inability to predict where players will go with guaranteed results leads me to believe that a big-picture look of the board would be a healthy exercise. Here are the prospects left on Michigan's board, sorted by position:

Prospect Position Composite Rating Position Ranking Possibility of Joining Class
Kallen Ballage RB .8901 30 (ATH) Low - Hasn't mentioned Michigan much; UM not pressing running backs
Joe Mixon RB .9788 1 (APB) Very low - Will end up in the Pac 12 or SEC
Leonard Fournette RB .9997 1 (RB) Very low - LSU lean with Alabama chasing; consistently mentions UM, but still a long shot
K.J. Williams WR .9120 17 Low - Now leaning toward Syracuse with Michigan essentially full on the outside
Garrett Dickerson WDE .9221 11 Moderate - Has UM second behind Stanford; Stanford could be difficult to overtake
Andrew Williams WDE .9136 13 Low to moderate - Most likely headed for the SEC
Da'Shawn Hand SDE .9996 1 High - Looking more and more like a Michigan lean, although Alabama could give chase
Malik McDowell SDE .9850 3 Likely - Named Michigan his leader and hasn't made many changes since
Dwight Williams ILB .9511 5 (OLB) Low - Looks like a Florida lean; could still visit Ann Arbor
Richard Yeargin III OLB .9045 20 Very low - Doesn't seem like either party is very interested at this stage in the cycle
Jimmie Swain OLB .8818 30 Low to moderate - Michigan has two inside/outside players to go with one SAM lock and could be done at LB
Drue Tranquill OLB/SS .8500 63 (S) Very low to low - In the same boat as Swain, who would get the nod before Tranquill anyway
Adoree Jackson CB .9965 2 Very low - Talks about track programs as much as football; Michigan's track program doesn't stack up
Parrker Westphal CB .9438 14 Likely - Has had Michigan at or near the top from the start; no other team looks capable of overtaking UM
John Smith S .9862 3 (ATH) Moderate - Has a plethora of schools giving chase; named UM in top group but far from a lean
Montae Nicholson S .9285 10 Moderate to high - Has Michigan in his top group; probably the highest safety on the staff's board
Marshon Lattimore ATH .9841 5 (CB) Very low - Claims he'll take visits, including one to UM; goes to Glenville and will be delivered to OSU in a basket

It's easy to see Michigan's needs based on the chart: one weak side defensive end, two on the strong side and one safety. Running back, wide receiver, linebacker and corner are all completely optional, as Michigan has those needs filled with its current stack of commitments.

There are a thousand different scenarios for the end of this class. Here are some bullets on said scenarios:

  • Notice how Artavis Scott isn't on the board. He dropped Michigan when Freddy Canteen committed and will commit to Clemson sometime this week committed to Clemson as I was putting the finishing touches on this article.
  • Why aren't there any offensive tackles on the board? Michigan could send out a later offer or two if it really wants to pull in another mauler, but I don't see that happening. Michigan's class doesn't have to balloon to 20+ just because a bunch of Michigan bloggers assume it will happen; the coaching staff has to keep the numbers down and tackle isn't a high priority.
  • I don't see Michigan taking a running back unless Leonard Fournette visits Ann Arbor unofficially and has his mind absolutely blown away by the school, forcing Michigan to drop one of its targets. Chances of that happening are very, very slim.
  • The picture on the defensive line is actually crystal clear. The staff still wants a rush end and will continue to pursue both Andrew Williams and Garrett Dickerson for that spot. Dickerson is much more likely to commit to Michigan, but he's not a lean by any stretch of the imagination. There are two spots open on the strong side, where Williams is capable of playing, and both Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell have spots that will be open as long as they remain interested.
  • Linebacker is where things get murky. Does Michigan actually still want another outside linebacker, or will it drop Jimmie Swain and Drue Tranquill altogether? I don't see inside prospect Dwight Williams coming to Michigan, and it sure looks like Tranquill and Swain will head elsewhere if Michigan doesn't act on them quickly. The need for another linebacker has been diminished by the versatility of Noah Furbush and Michael Ferns, but the possibility of the staff taking one of Tranquill or Swain remains.
  • The cornerbacks should really be called "the cornerback": Parrker Westphal is the only realistic option left on the board. Adoree Jackson loves track – so much that he wants to run in the Olympics – and he won't have nearly the same level of track coaching at UM as he would at a school like Florida. Athlete Marshon Lattimore isn't coming to Michigan, plain and simple.
  • Safety is probably the second most important need, right behind the strong side defensive ends. Both Montae Nicholson and John Smith are very much interested in Michigan, but it looks like Nicholson is more likely to go blue than Smith. Both players will be on campus in the coming months.
  • This class could grow as large as 21, but once again, we have no idea how many scholarships will open up between now and signing day, which is still quite a ways away. If the class does grow the first opening will likely go to an offensive tackle or linebacker (if a fourth isn't taken by then), then to the best player available. This piece is written under the assumption that the class won't go past nineteen; there's no blogging law stating that I can't update this if things change.

Overtaking the Class of 2013

Will this class end up being the best under Hoke? It will if you fall in love with the all-world stars at the top of the class, but it won't in my opinion. First of all, people under appreciate just how ridiculously well the class of 2013 filled Michigan's holes. Sure, the staff could have closed on Laquon Treadwell and secured a strong side defensive end, but those are the only complaints that one could possibly have about the class. The offensive and defensive line classes were great, and hell, Michigan even filled a need at fullback with an elite prospect. The class of 2014 will go on to be the class that's remembered for its star power, but the class of 2013 will go down as the class that built Michigan's trenches and supplied its depth.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss.