Let’s admit it: Michigan recruiting fans have been a bit spoiled. The Hoke era was always fine for recruiting news, and Jim Harbaugh has represented an upgrade in that department - at least in terms of headlines, if not stars. After an afterthought of a 2015 class, when the real commit was Harbaugh himself, Michigan brought in Rashan Gary in 2016, DPJ and Aubrey Solomon in 2017, and a combined 31 four-star recruits along the way as well. Among the three-star scrubs: Nick Eubanks, Khaleke Hudson, Eddie McDoom, Quinn Nordin, Brad Robbins, Josh Metellus, Sean McKeon, and J’Marick Woods. As a nihilist would say, that’s not bad.
The 2018 class, by comparison, has been a bit of a letdown. That’s been the case for a few reasons - primarily, no clear, overarching objective, like Rashan Gary in ‘16 or DPJ and the Pipeline 9 a year ago. Similarly, the ‘18 class is lacking five-star firepower to focus on - surely everyone remembers Najee Harris and Isaiah Wilson from last year, but there was also five-star corners Darnay Holmes and Shaun Wade, five-star linebacker Baron Browning, and many, many more. In fact, Michigan offered 32 five-stars in the 2017 class alone - out of a grand total of 33 five-stars in the cycle.
But a closer look at the 2016-18 classes shows that Michigan was extremely heavy with its focus on five-star talent in 2017.
2016 class: 13 five-stars / 233 offers total = 5.57%
2017 class: 32 five-stars / 308 offers total = 10.39%
2018 class: 18 five-stars / 227 offers total = 7.93%
Why is this the case? All I can do is speculate, and that wouldn’t be very productive. We’ll see after more classes how Harbaugh’s m.o. changes or stays the same. But it seems the 2017 class was a rare roller coaster ride.
Rather than getting sucked into star-gazing - or its counterpart, pointing out that four-stars and three-stars can be similarly helpful to a football program - let’s ask what the objective is for the 2018 class and go from there.
In my estimation, the 2018 class is tied inextricably to an all-around terrific 30-man class in 2017. That class was heavy on wide receiver and defensive line prospects, but there’s already been a little attrition at both those spots - Brad Hawkins moved to safety, while Corey Malone-Hatcher medically retired and James Hudson moved to the offensive line. But it also featured an excellent class of linebackers (Drew Singleton, Jordan Anthony, and Josh Ross), two running backs, Dylan McCaffrey, four defensive backs, and a five-man class of offensive linemen - since bolstered by Hudson. That means that the 2018 class can afford to be picky.
Michigan fans already intuitively knew this before the class began; what most of them expected was for this to turn into a smorgasbord of intense recruiting on a select number of five-star prospects. Obviously, that has not happened.
But the connection to 2017 still reminds us that this class does not need to carry the load for this team going forward - the 2017 class is already set to do that. 2018 is, in a way, a postscript. A free play, as it were, after an off-sides call - the coaches get to do whatever craziness they think will help the most.
So it’s fitting that the 2018 class, for right now, is “the one that has two quarterbacks in it.” Michigan gets to do a few things with this class, other than take one or two guys at every position just for depth’s sake.
They’re building up depth in the secondary in a big way, which is certainly important with some ongoing concerns about depth at the safety position and the possibility that Lavert Hill (optimistic scenario here) could be going pro after 2018.
They’re taking two more offensive tackles after an offensive-tackle-heavy 2017. Because, well, they need the depth. They’re taking two quarterbacks, as well, because that’s been an area of concern and there will be a lot fewer options after this year or next. And they’re adding defensive play-makers (Myles Sims, Otis Reese) and offensive play-makers at tight end (Luke Schoonmaker, ___?) and wide receiver (___?).
So don’t sleep on the 2018 class, even if Michigan only lands four-star talent or less. Because, yes, Harbaugh knows what to do with them. And I also wouldn’t mind if these guys developed a blue-collar tone after being a little overshadowed - that rather than being chased by Harbaugh all the way until Signing Day, these guys get to bond together, focus on being better players, and are talented enough and motivated enough to chase the guys who are already ahead of them.
That’s a rose-tinted view, sure, but for a class that’s lacked the pizzazz of previous cycles, Michigan could add a couple more play-makers on offense, another defensive linemen or two and be in pretty good shape. And that’s all this class ever needed to be.