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Christmas List: Michigan Football Recruiting

Oh, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.*

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The start of another long winter has fallen upon Ann Arbor. Students are climbing over snow drifts several feet high to trek to classes. Yeti roam the barren landscape, while life-long residents take up glacier climbing in lieu of their morning run. Ross Business majors cross East U ever so sparingly to take fabulous selfies with R.C. students. It's November again, like all the Novembers before it.*

And, like a glacier, or maybe a Harbaugh running back, recruiting season can't be slowed down. In fact, it's just starting to heat up. These past couple of weeks have seen four-star receivers committing to Alabama, Baylor and Houston, Notre Dame shoring up its running back depth with Deon McIntosh, TCU grabbing another dynamite safety, and Cal snatching a defensive end out of Maryland. Michigan has grabbed its own blue-chip recently - Carlo Kemp out of Boulder, Colorado - but there are more goals for Harbaugh and his staff before this class draws to a close, and mostly those goals are centered around the elite prospects remaining.

* False. Ann Arbor's weather was in the 50's and 60's for half of November. Inform Mark Richt. Also, R.C. students are the best; I was one.

But first, let's recap the season briefly, since the best resume Michigan can put forward is its on-field product. The Wolverines are in the hunt for the Big Ten East, 8-2 with two potentially thrilling games remaining. If Michigan splits those, the entire month of December will be focused on getting to 10 wins. If Michigan prevails against the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes, then they're a Michigan State loss away from a trip to Indianapolis and sweet vindication.

But regardless of how far Team 136 goes from here, Harbaugh's first team has provided the model for all of his future teams. Physical play on both offense and defense, smart, aggressive schemes, outworking opponents, and growing deeper into the season are the things this staff can promise. They're the calling card Michigan can hand out to recruits while it builds a more complete resume.

Mandatory credit: Brian Spurlock, USA Today

And with the way that Jim Harbaugh recruits - emphasizing competitors and grinders just like him - anybody in this class has the potential to make an immediate impact in 2016. That goes for everyone, from the two-stars on up. But the five-star guys, the "Plan A" guys on this list with very high ceilings and a lot of natural talent, they will be the freshmen with the best shot at being on the field September 3rd against Hawaii. If they work hard and buy in, this staff has proven they'll be successful at Michigan.

With all of that aside, here is Michigan's recruiting Christmas list.

✧ Rashan Gary ✧

The One. Neo. This man can probably bend over backwards if he needed to. The 6'5", 290-pound native of New Jersey is one of the best defensive prospects of the last few years, not only because of his obvious strength and quickness, but also his repertoire of pass rush skills, his body control, and his center of gravity. Luckily, Harbaugh and Michigan are leading for the young man's services.

It goes without saying that Gary would be in the mix for heavy playing time next year, along with Maurice Hurst, Bryan Mone, Willie Henry, and Taco Charlton. There are other good linemen considering UM, but none would be ready to contribute on Day 1 - Jordan Elliott, Chris Daniels, and Keyshon Camp are all a little bit rough in that regard. For a lot of reasons, Gary has no peer.

(Keep in mind that you're watching a guy who's fifteen pounds heavier than A.J. Williams, forty-five pounds heavier than Cam Newton and seventy pounds heavier than Adrian Peterson when you watch him rushing the passer and blocking punts.)

✧ Ben Davis (or Caleb Kelly or Dontavious Jackson) ✧

Let's not get too caught in star-gazing here. Caleb Kelly is a five-star whose name Michigan fans have heard many times. He's an absolute terror on the outskirts of the box and a bigger, more physical version of Darron Lee. A D.J. Durkin-led defense with Kelly in it would give the staff the liberty to move Jabrill Peppers around more, and further from the line of scrimmage, while still ensuring there's a very athletic pass rush.

A name Michigan fans have not heard is Ben Davis, an Alabama legacy with a surreal combination of size and athleticism. Davis has been touring several SEC schools, but recently mentioned taking his fifth official visit to either Michigan or Notre Dame. He also spoke positively about both schools. While the odds are severely stacked against Michigan right now, it's worth keeping an eye on. Davis is somebody for whom analysis means very little; he could play safety and be successful.

And, finally, there is also Dontavious Jackson out of Houston, Texas - merely a four-star. Here is his offer sheet: Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, UCLA, Georgia, and Oklahoma, among many other schools. He is a 6'2", 238-pound terror in the middle, combining cat-like reflexes and impeccable balance with a durable frame and a mean hitting style. Jackson is an All-American middle linebacker waiting to happen, athletic enough to guard the flat and cover tight ends, while also plugging holes in the run game with the ability to blitz as well.

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Despite a difference of 20+ pounds between Kelly, at 215 pounds, and Davis and Jackson, who are already 235+, all three will be great, versatile linebackers. But even after they meet college strength and conditioning, they'll have slightly different roles and different positions in college. Regardless, any of these guys would be terrific. But adding one of them is most definitely vital.

✧ Isaac Nauta ✧

Back in August, few would have expected Michigan to be a major player in the Isaac Nauta derby and even the odds-on favorite several months later. Georgia was considered his likely destination after Nauta decommitted from Florida State, and all the while Michigan was the front-runner for a Mr. Naseir Upshur. That didn't go according to plan, so now Michigan is in the hunt for the best all-around tight end on the market.

Securing his services would be a big step for Jim Harbaugh. Michigan's offense has turned to a lot of Sione Houma in lieu of its tight ends because, outside of Jake Butt, there aren't many ready options. A.J. Williams has gotten 10 receptions, Ian Bunting four, Khalid Hill three, and Henry Poggi one. Combined touchdowns? Zero. Absolutely none. So much for the tight end-based red zone offense.

Nauta can help change some of that. He runs advanced routes, can block and pass protect, and plays with hustle. He has good hands, can catch some difficult balls, and handles coverage pretty well. Plus, having a stable of versatile tight ends on the roster challenges opposing defenses to prepare for more things.

✧ Kareem Walker ✧

Michigan fans fell in love with him as soon as he starting causing consternation among Ohio State fans. Since then, Kareem has decommitted from Ohio State and gone on one official visit (to Alabama). Next up on the official visits list - rival Auburn, then Ole Miss. He's also expressed a lot of interest in Arizona State, as well. At this point, it'd be hard for any team to say they hold a lead for his services. He's insisted he wants to keep a low profile and avoid drama, but that's been less successful than a three-yard run.

Still, Michigan would love to have a player with Walker's blend of skills, since Kingston Davis is more of a one-cut, downhill runner and Kiante Enis lacks the footwork and burst of an elite back. Kareem Walker is only 6'1", 210, but he reminds me of Alabama's Derrick Henry with the fluid style in a thick body. There will be a lot of competition at this position in the coming years, but Walker could be an immediate impact and a multi-year starter.

✧ Terrance Davis ✧

This isn't glamorous, as I wrote a few weeks ago. But I believe this staff is hoping to have enough room to add another lineman, and the race seems to be coming down to Maryland guard Terrance Davis and Texas tackle Jean Delance. Both are great players in their own right, but Davis offers the higher upside.

There are a couple other reasons why I think Davis is the highest lineman remaining on the staff's list. Michigan's offensive line, which has been packed with blue chips by Brady Hoke, is full of guys who are nimble for their size, but not ones who are strong for their size. It's taken more than a few pages out of the offensive playbook as a result, since the running game doesn't benefit from consistent push up front. Davis will provide that.

And even though Michigan already has one bona fide guard in Michael Onwenu and a versatile player in Ben Bredeson, they've suffered a long dry spell before the '16 class in terms of recruiting offensive guards, who are critical in establishing the run game. Jon Runyan, a 2015 commit, is a smaller guy who projects best at center, leaving Nolan Ulizio as the only guard prospect in 2015. In 2014, the only linemen Michigan signed were Mason Cole and Juwann Bushell-Beatty - both tackles. And from the 2013 class, only David Dawson and Patrick Kugler (also probably a center) remain. You can see the effect of Michigan's guard recruiting on the field, with Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden putting in time at left guard last couple years despite their skills translating a little better to tackle.

In summary, this is already a great class, one that will continue to add more pieces in the next couple months. Even though the dream scenario rarely happens in recruiting, this might just be an exception. Michigan is leading for about half of these commitments, and one domino and a couple November wins could bring more interest and attention to Ann Arbor. Yes, even with snow.