The final two weeks of January may stack up as one of the busiest times of the year for the Michigan coaching staff, and that reality is only exacerbated by trying to cap off a top-20 nationally ranked recruiting class. One of the main pieces that the staff feels is missing from this class is a bona fide running back to tote the ball for the Wolverines. By taking two backs in the 2013 class and locking up the nation's No. 1 back in 2015, it was long-believed that Michigan would forgo using a scholarship on another player at the position this year. At that time, Michigan was without a designated top target at the position and could bank the scholarship until 2015, a year that will be very tight on offers and commitments. This train of thought couldn't be further from the truth, however, as Michigan appears to be racing for another on (or two) commits in 2014.
The Under Armour All-American game blew that plan out of the water as Minnesota running back commit Jeff Jones did the same to Team Highlight. With 37 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards (along with a touchdown catch), Jones walked away with MVP honors for his breakout performance against the nation's elite. This was enough to balloon his ranking to that of high four-star territory, and several colleges took notice.
The Florida Gators, who hosted Jones right in the back yard for the UA-AA game, extended an offer to the 5'11", 196 lb. back on New Years Eve after taking in a few practices. His performance in the actual game only solidified his rising stock, and the Michigan Wolverines came through with an offer shortly after. While that move may seem like an empty attempt to grab a hot prospect around National Signing Day, Jones has actually maintained interest in the Wolverines dating back to last year.
Although he remains committed to Minnesota for the moment, holding an offer from Michigan was all it took for Jones to schedule another official visit. While Jones did tentatively schedule an official with Florida for January 24, it appears that will not happen as the Gators recently added another running back to their 2014 class. This leaves Michigan as team with the last crack at flipping Jones before Signing Day, and they are reportedly in good shape with the addition of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
The Wolverines' running back board may not be full quite yet, though, as Michigan has recently begun to show interest in former UCLA commit Marlon Mack. This situation is developing quite rapidly, as Mack officially decommitted from the Bruins retroactive to two days ago. This means that Mack was a free agent for the entirety of his visit yesterday with Wolverines wide receiver coach Jeff Hecklinski.
In general, it is safe to assume that each player receiving a visit from Michigan yesterday (the first day removed from the Dead Period), is a high target for the Wolverines. This proved to be true as Mack, an uncommitted prospect for all of one day, received his latest scholarship offer from Hecklinski on Thursday. Mack confirmed this on Twitter earlier today.
YESTERDAY WAS A GOOD DAY, GOT OFFERED FROM MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY 💙💛— MR.YOLOMACK (@Marlon_Mack2) January 17, 2014
This move will have a three-fold effect on Michigan's running back situation. First, it may force Jones to move up his official visit or otherwise make an earlier decision. While Jones is slated to officially visit on January 31, this may be too late for the Michigan staff that clearly wants to land a running back in this class. Next, it may provide as a competent back up plan in case the staff misses on Jones. And finally, it raises the possibility of Michigan taking to running backs this year. While the last option may seem like a long shot, both Mack and Jones seem pretty high on Michigan and both have a chance to be wearing maize and blue in less than a month.
According to our own Anthony Mammel, the Wolverines offered a player that grades out a bit higher than what his consensus three-start rating would lead some to believe. Here is what he had to say on Michigan's latest offer:
"In short, Mack is a B-level athlete with great football instincts and feet. People will see a three-star rating and wonder why UM would pursue him with Jeff Jones still very much an option, but Mack's football instincts make him an underrated prospect. His hands, vision and balance will make him valuable at the next level.
With his quick decommitment from UCLA at the forefront, it may seem as if Mack is a sure-thing to commit to Michigan sooner or later. This is not the case, however, as Mack is currently on his way to Louisville's campus. Mack has a good deal of interest in the Cardinals program and if he isn't going to wind up in California, it would not be out of the question to see Mack drop for the Cardinal Birds.