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Harbaugh’s track record with tight ends shows rankings don’t always matter

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New U-M tight end commit Luke Schoonmaker might not be Jermey Ruckert, but he doesn’t have to be

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

“Tight End U,” as Jay Harbaugh and players have coined the program in recent years, just can’t seem to land “the big one.”

Chris Clark, Issac Nauta, Nassier Upshur……shall I continue?

When it comes to the tight end position, it seems the Wolverines aren’t a top destination for recruits. That trend continued a couple weeks ago when five-star tight end Jeremy Ruckert committed to Ohio State over Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

The top-ranked tight end in the 2018 class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, spurned U-M like so many before him and has been the latest incident in a seemingly never ending kick to the groin when it comes to recruiting the high-breed position. (No need to mention Devin Asiasi, the high-four-star who transferred out. That one still hurts.)

Then, out of nowhere, the Wolverines got their tight end in Luke Schoonmaker, a 6-foot-6, 225-pounder from Hamden, Connecticut, who committed last week via Twitter.

Schoonmaker, a three-star recruit and the No. 712 player in the 2018 class per 247Sports, was surely not the ground-breaking commitment fans wanted nor expected, and I could hear the screams through my computer screen.

“How can our arch rival, who hardly uses the tight end, pick up such a high-ranked prospect, while Michigan, who has had as much success as any team in the country with the position, can’t even land a guy with a star next to his recruiting profile?!”

“Why would Harbaugh even offer a scholarship to a guy few have heard of?”

“Where’s our five star?!”

While rankings are fun projections to look at and stars are cool to have, rankings don’t always translate into college performance. In fact, when it comes to the tight end position in particular, they tend to be dramatically inaccurate and Harbaugh has shown he has an eye for talent and knows how to develop the position.

Remember Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz? Yeah, those two players from Stanford who were All-Americans and second-round NFL Draft picks. Well, Fleener was a three-star recruit and Ertz was a low four star. That’s right, they weren’t prized possessions fans bragged about before the season, but they shined during their careers.

Then there was that guy with the funny-sounding last name that played the last few years for the Maize & Blue. Oh yeah, Jake Butt, the most successful tight end in Michigan history.

Butt, who was also a low four-star recruit, was a nice player in Brady Hoke’s system, but became the focal point of Harbaugh’s and, like Fleener and Ertz, became an All-American.

His great hands, big body and sound technique developed more and more each year and he was thought by many as the best tight end in the country last season.

Butt accumulated 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns in his Michigan career, while guys ranked ahead of him in the 2013 class like Adam Breneman (Penn State), Marcus Baugh (Ohio State) and DeSean Smith (LSU) only combined for 1,436 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in their respective careers. Keep in mind, Butt also split reps with Devin Funchess early in his career and guys like Khalid Hill and A.J. Williams in his later years.

Maryland v Michigan
Not a five-star, not a problem.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

While it’s not entirely fair to compare Schoonmaker to a player like Butt (not yet), the point is that Harbaugh knows what he’s doing and fans should trust his judgment. He has proven time and time again he can take a lower-tier tight end and develop them into a force on the field.

Plus, even with Schoonmaker in the fold, it appears Michigan will take one more tight end this class after not taking any in 2017.

Here are two prospects the Wolverines are still in the running for in 2018:

Luke Ford

The No. 2 ranked tight end in the class would certainly get fans excited and have Harbaugh drooling over his potential in a winged helmet. Ford, a 6-foot-6, 248-pound prospect from Carterville, Illinois isn’t the fastest tight end, but he catches just about everything and is a force in the running game. Alabama is the projected favorite, according to 247Sports, but Michigan has made up some ground after Ford’s experience at the Big House Barbecue.

Here are Ford’s junior season highlights:

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Mustapha Muhammad

Muhammad, the No. 5 tight end in the 2018 class and No. 111 player overall, is the far more likely of the two to commit. Michigan currently holds all the crystal ball predictions for Muhammad and are a perfect fit for his style of play. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder is an excellent blocker and can make plays in the passing game. The Wolverines will have to hold off the Longhorns for the Missouri City, Texas native, but things appear to be in U-M’s favor at the moment.

Here are Muhammad’s sophomore highlights:

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And in the meantime, Michigan has a pretty solid group of guys already in Tyrone Wheatley (low-four-star, already a stud), Ian Bunting (low-four-star, also a stud), Zach Gentry (four-star quarterback), Nick Eubanks (three-star), and Sean McKeon (also a three-star). If you want good tight ends, just trust Harbaugh. He can find them better than anybody.