Michigan's class of 2014 is finally inked after a wild year filled with joyful commitments and fan meltdowns. Funny that, after I continually stated that Michigan's on-field struggles wouldn't affect its ability to recruit, the program's recruiting efforts literally mirrored the team's success and inevitable failure. Michigan came into the season as a possible Big Ten title contender, beat what looked like a solid Notre Dame team at home and waltzed into the middle of the recruiting cycle with its head far too high in the clouds. Boy, were we all freaking high.
Brady Hoke and his Wolverines came crashing back down to solid ground, but not before they were all burnt to hell by the atmosphere. It was a long, disastrous descent that everyone in Ann Arbor saw coming but somehow couldn't look away from. Recruits across the country saw a maize and blue blimp coming down in a massive ball of fire and ran scared; cries of This is Michigan! made them all wonder why the hell Michigan was re-airing tapes of its prewar coaches in the year 2013.
See the picture I'm painting here? Before Michigan's game with Notre Dame, the Wolverines were in prime position for Da'Shawn Hand, Malik McDowell and a plethora of other elite talents who would all eventually end up elsewhere. Michigan's fan base, utterly naive and expecting a recruiting national title, was prime for a letdown. How couldn't Michigan fans be let down? Look at Michigan's class ranking! Sitting outside of the top 25 recruiting classes and behind Michigan State is an utter disgrace.
But before I continue this little rant, go ahead and go to Scout or Rivals or ESPN or 247 Sports or wherever your heart desires and click on that little "Avg" column. With only sixteen recruits on board, Michigan went for quality over quantity. You'll notice that Michigan State now trails Michigan, which doesn't sit too far behind Ohio State. Perspective works wonders on the mind.
Name me another school that landed a defensive back half as talented as Jabrill Peppers. Look around the Big Ten for a class of wide receivers more prepared for the next level than Michigan's. I would continue, but I can only handle so many trolls in the comments once this thing goes live.
The point is this: Michigan's class of 2014 is much stronger than the vast majority of faithful fans out there are willing to admit. Hoke, Mattison and company addressed Michigan's needs at linebacker, quarterback, tight end and wide receiver. The defensive line will get talented players at both nose tackle and rush end, and we already mentioned that five-star talent who's bound to step in and lock down college receivers on day one. Michigan's horrific football season didn't lead to a horrific recruiting class after all.
Outlining the Impact of the Class
I'll set the sass aside and get right to the point here. This class is well-rounded and will help fill plenty of gaps on Michigan's roster. The linebacker position will be stocked full of long, versatile athletes for years to come thanks to this class, and the wide receiver group's stock is already up with the addition of Harris, Ways and Canteen. The defensive line haul shouldn't be overlooked despite the staff's failure to bring in either of its top strong-side defensive end prospects; Bryan Mone and Lawrence Marshall are both fine prospects. Tight end also gets a boost with massive red zone target Ian Bunting ready for action.
All the above laid out, there's one player who keeps this class from being a borderline disappointment, and we all know who that is. Jabrill Peppers is going to make an impact on Michigan's football program on day one. He's strong for the corner position yet possesses the kind of ball skills and tackle breaking ability that makes offensive coordinators drool, so expect Doug Nussmeier to design plays specifically for him. He's going to give Michigan options in coverage that it hasn't been able to use since the days of Leon Hall, who didn't have nearly the same amount of physical ability as Peppers.
There are others ready to step in and contribute early as well. Chief among those names are wide receive Drake Harris and Freddy Canteen. Harris is a tall receiver with elite long speed, not to mention ball skills that rival those of any former Michigan receiver recruit; I would be surprised if he isn't seeing major snaps or starting by the end of his freshman season. Canteen isn't quite as heralded but could have just as much of an impact on the offense because of his precise route running and consistent hands. Michigan will be looking to replace mini technicians Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo next year and Canteen fits the mold perfectly.
Not all of Michigan's class will be ready to step in and contribute in the upcoming season. Both offensive line commitments will need time to adjust to the college game, as will the majority of the four linebackers. Quarterback Wilton Speight will get his chance to shine during spring ball but don't expect him to overtake Shane Morris or Devin Gardner. Cornerback Brandon Watson and defensive tackle Brady Pallante round out the players who are almost certain to sit their first year on campus.
The majority of Michigan's class of 2014 should be seen as a long-term project. The class is the fourth and final piece to the Brady Hoke roster, meaning that the better part of it will have to wait its turn to see the field. Although we're always looking for players who can contribute right now, commitments like outside linebacker Chase Winovich and wide receiver Maurice Ways have elite ceilings that will hopefully be reached in the long haul. The impact of the class of 2014 on Michigan's football program will be felt the second Jabrill Peppers touches down, but it won't be fully realized until Winovich and the other developing prospects get their own experience.