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Putting A Lid On 2017 Recruiting, And Looking Ahead To 2018

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NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Hey, guys. Let’s get right to it. What are your overall thoughts of this 2017 class?

James: Overall a great class, and, dare I say, just about the best you could expect after Harbaugh Year Two. USC edged ahead of us in the team rankings on NSD, but it still ended up as a Top 5 class - which is progress over the last class. We also doubled our 5* recruit count from last year (2 vs 1), and we added talent at all the positions that we needed to.

Anthony: It feels a tad bit more top heavy than last year’s, but it is still another excellent class with some early-impact guys that should help and be a factor right away. They are stacking classes on top of each other that the National title teams do.

David: It’s an excellent class with one of the best WR groups on paper in the nation. This coaching staff went south and got several from SEC country from Florida, Alabama and Georgia. They matched their combined four-star total of 20 this year, according to Scout, which was the amount in the last two classes. They also made it a priority to get the best players in Michigan with this class including seven of the top ten from the mitten. It's also worth mentioning that 11 recruits are early enrollees, so that group is already getting acclimated to college life as a student-athlete.

Von: Having the fifth ranked class overall? Having the top six players in the state of Michigan sign with UM? Snagging several highly ranked recruits from SEC country, with two of those recruits being on National Signing Day? Yeah, it’s an okay class…

Tanner: Easily one of the best classes Michigan has brought in during the the internet recruiting era. Stars all over and at every position. Filled a big need with bringing in a top punter as well. The star power at the top with Aubrey Solomon, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Luiji Vilain, Cesar Ruiz, etc. is also impressive. All college ready right now.

Some of the underrated players in this class too may turn out to be gems. I think Andrew Stueber may surprise some people and become an All-B1G type of player in a couple years. DL depth should be a positive again with Solomon, Phil Paea, and James Hudson filling the holes on the interior. Vilain, Kwity Paye, and Deron Irving-Bey should also be good players down the line. And don’t even get me started with the skill players. An absolute abundance of talent is coming to Ann Arbor this year.

Kevin: *Checks where MSU’s class finished in the rankings for comparison*

Nope, no problem here. This had to be the class they stacked the offensive line with talent that can still be there after three years. Forget the skill players, forget the steals out of SEC country. Offensive line strength is all I care about this year. Only Harbaugh knows if he struck gold but it's an encouraging sign. Four offensive tackles in one class is a good start when at least two of them will need to start immediately on the interior line.

Drew: It’s the best class that Michigan has signed in the Recruiting Services Era. The Wolverines finished with 293.79 total points and a 91.03 average rating according to the 247Sports Composite -- neither figure has been beaten by any other Michigan class.

And Michigan accomplished this by winning recruiting battles near and afar. The Wolverines hammered home that the best players in Michigan play for Michigan, landing each of the top six and seven of the top eight in-state prospects in a year when the Mitten State was ripe with five- and four-star recruits, including the nation’s highest-rated receiver in Donovan Peoples-Jones. Then the Wolverines plucked Aubrey Solomon (#25 overall) out of Georgia, Cesar Ruiz (#44) and Jordan Anthony (#107) out of Florida, Luiji Vilain (#53) out of Virginia, Chuck Filiaga (#113) out of Texas, and Nico Collins (#136) out of Alabama, and that doesn’t even account for the fact that they signed the top recruit from New Jersey, Connecticut, Iowa, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and their northern neighbor, Canada.

Jim Harbaugh toured the country -- and then some -- to turn over any rock he came across to find the nation’s best prospects, and, in doing so, he brought in an “A” class. It wasn’t an “A+” class as Michigan didn’t satisfy all of its needs at RB and OT after narrowly missing on Najee Harris and Isaiah Wilson, but, nonetheless, Harbaugh, by hauling in his second straight top-six class, has put Michigan in a position to excel in 2018 and beyond.

Michigan’s assistants have played a big role in enabling this team to recruit so well.
Photo credit: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog

Nick: So, highlight one player in particular you’re really excited about. Doesn’t have to be a five-star, just anybody you think will be a lot of fun to watch down the road.

James: I think the obvious answer to this one is Donovan Peoples-Jones since he’s that kind of talent on the outside, so to take a less obvious route I’m going to say Luiji Vilain. He committed back in June and therefore there weren’t all that many stories about him during the build up to NSD. He’s a 6’4” 240lbs WDE who usually played from an upright position in high school. He’s faster than his listed 40 time of around 5.0. He uses his hands well and has a nose for the ball. He covers well for his age in the flat and has a good sense of when to leave a leaking receiver in order to step up and make a play on a scrambling QB.

Even if he weren’t as good as he is - and he’s very good - he would still be a threat when you think about the attention that Rashan Gary and Aubrey Solomon are going to draw from the OL. When you factor in that those two will keep most teams busy up front, Vilain is going to absolutely terrorize opposing QBs in Don Brown’s system. He may not see the field much during his Freshman campaign, but he’s going to be special.

Anthony: I will say Donovan Peoples-Jones because I think that he will ultimately end up being Harbaugh’s A.J. Green/Julio Jones-type talent. He is going to be a big part of this team from day one and I’m really intrigued to see how he backs up the hype because it has been as large as any elite recruit they have brought in recently.

David: I am very excited about Cesar Ruiz. He's known for awhile Michigan was the school for him and can see him being one of the freshman getting a lot of early playing time.

Von: I’m excited to see Tarik Black/Nico Collins opposite DPJ. The 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5 receivers are going to cause a lot of problems for opposing DB’s in the near future. Of course DPJ is going to be the No. 1 guy in time, but the taller, lankier receivers in Black and Collins are going to be fun to watch. Harbaugh has not had a receiver that big during his time at UM yet, so I’m looking forward to him utilizing two big receivers.

Tanner: For me, it’s James Hudson out of Ohio. Not as hyped as some players in this class, but he will be drafted in a few years. His burst, while not Rashan Gary-level, is damn impressive and he uses his hands well. I think he’s going to be a star in Don Brown’s defense.

KB: Securing a three-star punter in Brad Robbins out of nowhere intrigues me. Kenny Allen ended up being a stable, senior presence for Michigan's special teams, and they are going to have a tall task in front of them with a freshman punter.

Drew: Um, did everyone have their mind wiped Men-in-Black style on National Signing Day and forget that Aubrey Solomon committed to the Maize and Blue? Because he is easily the incoming freshman that should cause Michigan fans to jump around for joy the most.

I’m a firm believer that football games are won in the trenches, and, if you peek around, you’ll notice that the nation’s best teams tend to have the nation’s best defensive lines. The toughest piece to recruit to a defensive line is an elite, disruptive defensive tackle, and Michigan just did it for the second straight cycle after landing 2016’s consensus #1 overall recruit in Rashan Gary. And the tag team of Gary and Solomon will make Michigan fans giggle for the next two to three years.

Michigan has been one of the best in the country at pass rushing with its front four, and that’ll continue with guys like Vilain, Hudson, and Solomon.
Photo credit: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog

Nick: Okay, so superlatives and positives aside for a second, if there was one thing you could’ve changed or wished had gone differently in this class, what would it be?

James: Isaiah Wilson and Jay Tufele. We have a great OL haul coming in but I’m of the opinion that the OL unit is one where you can never have too many highly talented, fundamentally sound players.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ll be just fine without them - and we pulled some great players on the OL in this class. But as we saw a little bit this past year, injuries do happen and you need guys who are talented enough and ready enough to step up - because it all starts with the OL, and they have the potential to make your QBs, RBs, and WRs look like world beaters even when they’re average.

Anthony: Swung and missed on a few tackle prospects and that is pretty disappointing and the running back haul was not as great as it could have been. They will coach up the guys they have, but there will always be a bit of a “what could have been” angle at this class if the production at those two positions is not quite there.

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David: The only missing piece if I am being picky is an elite RB, but Taylor and Samuels may surprise many, so that will be fun to watch.

Von: Missing out on Isaiah Wilson stings. He is an instant-impact type of offensive tackle. Michigan rebounded and got Chuck Filiaga and Cesar Ruiz, but none of those guys are as dominating on the line than Wilson. With the inconsistencies from last season, and the fact Michigan’s line is now inexperienced with losing three of the five starters, Wilson committing to Georgia was a big loss.

Harbaugh may be interested in Cal transfer Aaron Cochran. Regardless if Michigan lands Cochran or not, I think Harbaugh and the boys are in good hands on the O-line.

Tanner: Losing out on Isaiah Wilson definitely hurts, as Michigan needs offensive linemen and a five-star lean flipped to Georgia in the 11th hour. He looked like a future stud at the Under Armour game. And while it was a luxury, Najee Harris would’ve really put this class over the top. I think Cam Akers is better, but Harris is one of the best running back prospects we have seen since the 2014 class, and we saw how those guys (Fournette, McCaffrey, Cook) turned out at the college level. Would have been really nice.

Drew: Isaiah Wilson holding a wolverine rather than a puppy during his announcement. That was a big miss for Michigan. The offensive line was the Achilles heel for the Wolverines this past year, and, with three starting linemen graduating and Grant Newsome’s recovery likely to extend past the start of the 2017 season, Michigan has many questions it must answer at that position group, particularly at offensive tackle. However, those answers are not clear after Devery Hamilton decommitted late in the 2016 cycle and Chuck Filiaga was the only 2017 offensive tackle in the top 250 to pledge to Michigan. The Wolverines needed a strong offensive tackle class this time around, and losing Wilson, a longtime Michigan lean, at the end hurts.

Nick: This is a big question, but what do you think this team needs in 2018?

James: I think we need a top-flight TE in the 2018 class, especially if the rumblings about Devin Asiasi come true. With Jake Butt graduating we lose that proven, dynamic pass-catching option at the TE spot. Ian Bunting has two years of eligibility left, but if he doesn’t light it up this year I would expect him to grad. transfer for his last year (we’re going to be hard up for scholarships next year). Maybe one of the young guys will step up and fill that Jake Butt role, but it has yet to be seen. Jim Harbaugh turned Stanford into TE University during his tenure there, and it’s time for the same thing to happen at Michigan.

Click To Open Video In New Tab | Will Mallory could be the first tight end to drop in 2018.
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Anthony: Three stick out to me in no particular order, and that is an elite tight end, an elite running back, and some highly-regarded tackles.

David: With a smaller class of around 20, more DB’s and OL with focus on elite RB and TE. Get 1 QB, 2 TE, RB and OL.

Von: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but tight end and running back. Michigan did not sign any tight ends this recruiting season and missed out on elite back Najee Harris. Put those together with the fact that Devin Asiasi is looking to transfer AND there isn’t a clear elite RB on the roster as of now, I’d be looking at those two positions very closely. Offensive line (which can basically always be helped out no matter what) and defensive backs should be looked at, too.

Tanner: I think offensive line and tight end. Those are two very important pieces to a manball offense that Michigan runs. Though, with the implementation of more spread style elements, tight end may not be as important, but it still is a Jim Harbaugh offense. I think running back is somewhat of a need, but maybe Chris Evans takes that next step and one of the freshmen turn out to be a gem.

Drew: Biggest needs (in order): TE, OL (Ekiyor), RB, SAM/Viper (Reese), SS.

Nick: And lastly - Hill Auditorium or Crisler Arena for next year’s Signing of the Stars?

James: I don’t have a strong opinion on this one. I wasn’t able to watch Signing of the Stars this year because I had a lunch meeting that ran long (isn’t real life a pain?), so I can’t really comment on one venue vs. the other. What I will say, though, is that Jim Harbaugh is a showman - and wherever the event is held, it will be special.

KB: I’ll throw a curveball. Why haven’t they explored renting out the Michigan Theater for this event?? They’d run the risk of limiting attendance to a very fixed number, but the acoustics in that place combined with the grand stage would be awesome optics for Harbaugh’s recruiting. I’m old fashioned, but that’s one of the best buildings connected to Michigan’s campus.

Anthony: I liked Crisler because it seems like it gives them more of a chance to spotlight the rest of the athletics program, which is something that gets lost with them being a football school at times. This year’s venue was bigger, but it felt far more personal, intimate and less-gimmicky (not intended to be in a bad way).

David: I enjoyed Crisler more, but make it at the end of the day. More fan interaction and live feed with some of the recruits who can't attend.

Von: It makes no difference to me. I wasn’t able to watch last year’s event, but I did watch this year and it looked like a real nice event at Crisler. I’d keep it there.

Tanner: Haven’t been to either since I live in Nebraska, so the TV experience was very similar. I think Hill Auditorium is more cozy and personal, but it looked great at Crisler. Anything to involve more fans works for me, and Crisler is the best option for that.

Drew: How about East Lansing? Then its citizens may actually see a top-100 football recruit.