You know, there’s something about high school football. Sure, you could say it’s sloppy or low-tech compared to college or the pros, and I couldn’t exactly argue.
But, at its core, it is the essence of the game; every professional player started reaching for the stars as a kid, playing high school football. Every rep was taught, every fundamental instilled, and every battle for happiness or success on the gridiron started here.
So when Josh Ross, linebacker for St. Mary’s High School, catches a 25-yard pass on offense on a quick corner route (St. Mary’s was playing against Penn), don’t tell me there’s not some magic there. There’s always something special about high school football.
Of course, one leads to the other. Here’s a closer look at Michigan’s current commits, with some analysis and grades for how successful this staff has been at each position.
Quarterbacks: Dylan McCaffrey
Michigan has it all with McCaffrey: a tall, athletic quarterback with good precision and timing, leadership qualities and stability within the recruiting class. It’s a luxury to have this position sewn up as early as Michigan did, with absolutely no drama.
Now, we’ll see if Michigan can pull off that feat two years in a row, but I digress. It will also be interesting to see how Wilton Speight taking over the quarterback position, as a redshirt sophomore with two more years of eligibility, affects the depth chart.
Running backs: O’Maury Samuels, A.J. Dillon, Kurt Taylor
Again, we have a top-notch recruiting effort by the staff. A.J. Dillon is classified as a running back/linebacker, which shows you just how scary he is as a running back - and how athletic Dillon has to be to do both.
While Dillon is from Massachusetts, O’Maury Samuels is a New Mexico native, and he shows a little more shake and bake, like this 54-yard run against Del Norte or this 42-yard scamper versus Roswell.
Then, we have Kurt Taylor, a fan favorite and someone who has not shied away from competing with two other running backs in the same cycle. Taylor (Covington, GA) brings more quickness and speed than the other two, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lift.
Wide receivers: N/A
Michigan is hoping for a home run here, but we don’t know exactly how this will turn out. They’re in on Donovan Peoples-Jones (amazing athlete, trying to be a doctor, general superhero materal), Tarik Black (who’s kind of a slender, faster Devin Funchess), Oliver Martin (who has about the same size and a similar game as Alabama’s former wideout Amari Cooper), and Nico Collins (the tallest of all these gentlemen, great body control and quick feet).
It’s likely Michigan lands at least three of these guys, which is another A+ result if it happens. Four would be extraordinary.
Tight ends: N/A
Carter Dunaway was committed for a long time, and I was certainly a fan of his all-around game. Michigan is still chasing Josh Falo out of Sacramento, who’s downright incredible as a receiver, but there might be an overall numbers crunch as we get closer to the finish line for 2017. It’s not a problem if Michigan walks away from this class with one or none at the tight end position.
Fullbacks: Chase Lasater
One thing is immediately clear from Lasater’s highlights: he is an old-school player, and I mean that as a compliment. He is an enforcer, a terror, a hitter in the mold of old guys like Dick Butkus.
But for Michigan, he is on track to take over the fullback position, rather than linebacker. My advice for future opponents is to get out of his way.
Offensive line: Kai-Leon Herbert, JaRaymond Hall, Joel Honigford, Andrew Stueber
The 2016 class was supposed to shore up Michigan’s depth at tackle, but Erik Swenson and Devery Hamilton both went their separate ways for various reasons. This put the onus on Tim Drevno to work some magic in the short term with a little bit less than ideal numbers, and for this staff to recruit the position well in 2017 and 2018.
For the most part, they’ve done that. The numbers are certainly there, but it’s not clear what the ceiling is that Michigan is fighting against - the point at which recruiting more bodies all at once becomes counter-productive. Michigan may have a delicate balance in 2018, as well, but we’ll have to tackle that mountain once we get there.
And, we’ll have to see how the interior recruiting turns out. Guys like Cesar Ruiz and Tedarrell Slaton seem likely to wind up in Ann Arbor, which would be fantastic. But it’s still an ongoing process.
Defensive line: Luiji Vilain, Corey Malone-Hatcher, James Hudson, Phillip Paea
This is an interesting group. Vilain and Malone-Hatcher will play defensive end, and physically they’re a little more college-ready than your average DE’s. Hudson and Paea are interior guys, who are also more college-ready than you’d ordinarily see. This is fortunate, as they might be in the starting two-deep sooner rather than later.
Corey Malone-Hatcher is someone I want to talk a little more about. Athletically, he’s a guy who played linebacker and even a little wide receiver as a high school junior. Those aren’t his natural positions, and once he starts to gain weight he won’t resemble his former self. But it shows his journey so far, and the raw ability he has to work with.
As a defensive end, he needs to improve his technique - badly. But he is also a terrifying hitter at the point of attack, full of explosion and power to complement his footwork and athleticism.
All of these guys could become stars. But CMH could become a superstar.
Linebackers: Josh Ross, Ben Mason
Ross’s game is easy to define. He’s the whole package - someone who can blitz, handle pass coverage, and be physical against the run. Ben Mason is more of an old-school MIKE, but he’s athletic enough to do other things besides handle the run. So far, so good, but I’d like to see another commitment at this position before this cycle is out.
Michigan is currently chasing Baron Browning, Drew Singleton, and Jordan Anthony, among others.
Safeties: J’Marick Woods
Woods is maybe the most interesting person to talk about on this entire list, not only because of his skill set but also because of Michigan’s depth chart concerns at safety.
J’Marick is a bit of a project, but he’s an intriguing one. At 6’3” and 205 pounds, his game is sometimes reminiscent of a SAM linebacker. His speed isn’t exactly phenomenal, but he’s obviously good at defending jump balls, and he has natural coverage instincts. He’s also a great hitter when defending the run.
I’d expect J’Marick to wind up at strong safety, and so long as he has enough speed to keep up with faster slot receivers, then the length and physicality will be a strong asset in finishing off deep passes.
Jaylen Kelly-Powell is worth keeping in mind here; he’s more of a free safety prototype, so he’d work well with what J’Marick brings to the table. But will two be enough for a position that’s looking a little thin?
Cornerbacks: Benjamin St-Juste
I’ve long been a fan of St-Juste, who was a hidden gem when he was unranked but has turned into a four-star prospect earning rave reviews at national camps. He’s become one of the best cover corner prospects in the country.
Michigan is also hunting for Ambry Thomas, who’s an exciting mix of cover corner potential and raw, pure speed. He’s not just an athlete out there on defense, but he’s definitely an athlete. Michigan has a good shot to land him, and that would make for a terrific follow-up to a great recruiting cycle the year before.
Special Teams: N/A
Harbaugh has already invested some scholarships into this part of the team, and what he’s done so far is working pretty well. This is a case where nothing is both better and smarter than something.
Bonus: Overall Grades In The Harbaugh Era
‘Why stop here,’ I always say. Sure, it’s gotten me into some trouble before, like that time in Majorca. But let’s not worry about that.
Remember when Michigan fans were nervous about the quarterback position, including depth concerns? Me neither.
Running backs: A+
Karan Higdon in 2015. Kareem Walker, Kingston Davis, and Chris Evans in 2016. O’Maury Samuels, A.J. Dillon, and Kurt Taylor in 2017. I mean ... dude.
Wide receivers: A+
We’re just starting to see returns from this position, but Michigan has brought in heavy numbers of talented, dangerous athletes. 2016 helped restore depth and added the slot position back into the playbook. It also gave the team a shot of adrenaline. 2017 could be even better.
Tight ends: A+
Tyrone Wheatley, Zach Gentry (via QB), Devin Asiasi, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks. Speed, size, and everything in between. Josh Falo would help solidify the A+, but a strong 2018 class would as well.
Here’s a weird fact for you: Jim Harbaugh hasn’t actually signed a scholarship fullback yet at Michigan. When he got here, Harbaugh had Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma. He also brought in a transfer, Michael Hirsch, from Harvard. And Chase Lasater is pledged for ‘17.
It’s worked pretty well so far, thanks to some position changes and a stocked roster from the Hoke era.
Offensive line: B+
Well, this has certainly been the most dramatic position to follow, unless you remember just how exciting Rashan Gary’s recruitment was for all those months. It’s gone well enough, but I think that’s thanks to Tim Drevno’s coaching more than anything else.
Defensive line: A+
I can’t remember his name. I can’t remember his name.
This is another position that’s only starting to make an impact. Jabrill, Mike McCray, and Ben Gedeon are all holdovers from the Hoke era. Still, Harbaugh has added intriguing talents like Devin Bush, Jr., Elysee Mbem-Bosse, Josh Uche and Devin Gil. 2017’s Josh Ross is sure to be a star.
I have brought up Michigan’s glut of intriguing - nay, fascinating - walk-on talent at this position before. Redshirt freshman Jordan Glasgow is ... well, he’s a Glasgow, fergodsakes. There’s also two-star running back/safety, Tru Wilson, who just came to campus. I’m also a fan of Tyler Cochran, another true freshman.
We’ll see what impact they have, because otherwise I’m not sure what Harbaugh’s plan is. Ahmir Mitchell was an option, but he is no longer on the team. Tyree Kinnel, Khaleke Hudson and Josh Metellus are the only players brought in at this position since 2015, now that Devin Gil has moved to linebacker. (Kinnel, it’s worth noting, was already pledged when Harbaugh came in.)
Erik Magnuson, maybe?
We’ll see what happens with 2015 pledge and high school quarterback Keith Washington, but the recruiting in 2016 was superb for this position. Michigan is poised to follow up with another exciting class in 2017, if they can secure Ambry Thomas.
Special Teams: A+
I think they’re doing alright.