Jim Harbaugh and his staff knew it had a lot of room for next year’s roster.
With 25 official commitments after National Signing Day, as well as two more holdouts in Quinten Johnson and Amauri Pesek-Hickson, Michigan appeared like it would need to clear out room for next fall.
Graduation can only do so much: there are only eight fifth-year seniors, and only three true ones. According to this chart, there are 83 allotted scholarships for the 2018 roster (therefore, two openings).
The roster shakeup, when taking it step by step, isn’t that vast.
FIRM HANDSHAKES TO FOURTH-YEAR JUNIORS
Outside of the 11 seniors set to graduate, the Wolverines possess four additional fourth-year juniors. It’s up to Harbaugh and the staff if they can remain on scholarship next fall.
Two of them are all-Big Ten selections in left tackle Jon Runyan, Jr. and tight end Zach Gentry.
Zach Gentry is our leading receiver through 8 games this year.— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 26, 2018
23 catches for 332 yards + a touchdown. #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/k4J4AvcKIw
Both would provide valuable stability and leadership to next year’s outfit. Unless the staff is ready to start the Jalen Mayfield era early on the blindside, expect both to stay.
The two top candidates here are tackle Nolan Ulizio and defensive end Reuben Jones. Ulizio started five games in 2017, but was benched in favor of Juwann Bushell-Beatty. He appeared sparingly in mop-up duty this past fall.
Jones has contributed five tackles and one TFL this season, appearing to lose playing time to Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson.
Their departures, plus the other seniors, get Michigan to 15 openings.
EARLY ENROLLEE RULE
This one is cut and dry. Harbaugh can decide to allocate up to five scholarships from the 2019 class towards early enrollees.
Steve Wiltfong at 247 Sports provides a good explanation of the rule. Factor this into the equation, and the class now has room for 20 new freshmen.
THE NFL DRAFT
Since the final game in Columbus, at least two juniors in Rashan Gary and Devin Bush have decided to forgo their senior seasons to declare for the NFL Draft.
Lavert Hill and David Long are two other candidates to leave early (though they reportedly will participate in the Peach Bowl). The duo are both known commodities on the outside.
Big Ten quarterbacks are better off not throwing at Lavert Hill and @dljxxii! #GoBlue @PFF_College pic.twitter.com/SXHBE91rVr— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) December 30, 2017
For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Todd McShay suggests they would both be better served staying in Ann Arbor another year. That goes for Shea Patterson, as well.
If one of the pair enters the Draft alongside Gary and Bush, the available scholarships jumps up to 23.
2017 CLASS ATTRITION
Jonathan Simmons detailed the alarming attrition from 2017’s top-five recruiting class.
O’Maury Samuels (domestic violence dismissal) and Kurt Taylor (transfer) are no longer counted on the official roster. Michigan is allowing Aubrey Solomon to speak to other schools, so he is almost certainly out the door.
Those three are gone from the original scholarship chart, which means 26 spots for the 2019 class.
With 26 openings for 27 commitments, one more unexpected departure is needed. Frankly, Harbaugh and company are probably already factoring for this.
Whether that’s in a decommitment from Pesek-Hickson (not reporting this), another sudden transfer or an unannounced medical redshirt, the math clearly adds up to a 2019 roster that is in compliance.