Aside from fullback, it would seem like tight end would be the position most prominent under Jim Harbaugh. While the Michigan head coach is a former quarterback himself, his reputation of leaning into traditional schemes implied a heavy utilization of tight ends would come with him to Ann Arbor.
Harbaugh has recruited the position well, bringing in mostly four-stars, including three players in the top 200 of the 247Sports composite. However, aside from one obvious star, tight end production on the field has been modest at best. Below are the main contributors of the Harbaugh era, with inconsistency being the overarching theme.
9. Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (2015-17)
Four-star recruit (No. 312 overall prospect), No. 12-ranked TE in 2015 class
The younger Wheatley was unable to replicate his father’s legacy, having a very limited impact in two seasons after redshirting. One of four players on this list ranked around the No. 300-350 range, Wheatley never really factored into the offense. He transferred to FCS Stony Brook following the 2017 season.
8. Devin Asiasi (2016)
Four-star recruit (No. 77 overall prospect), No. 3-ranked TE in 2016 class
Easily the highest-ranked prospect on the list, expectations were lofty for Asiasi. Despite having an open path to playing time entering his sophomore year, the California native decided to transfer closer to home. Though his numbers at UCLA were nothing extraordinary, there is a lot of “what could have been” still lingering here.
7. Luke Schoonmaker (2018-present)
Three-star recruit (No. 796 overall prospect), No. 39-ranked TE in 2018 class
A Don Brown special, Schoonmaker was pulled out of Connecticut with few significant offers. Though he has just two catches thus far, the redshirt sophomore has a chance to take a big step forward this coming fall. He offers some really solid athleticism, and if he can round out his game (read: blocking), Schoonmaker should see an increase in production.
6. Ian Bunting (2014-2017)
Four-star recruit (No. 300 overall prospect), No. 11-ranked TE in 2014 class
Bunting was never the main option at the position, and ultimately he really did not live up to his four-star ranking. With just 11 catches in three active seasons, the highlights are very few. Bunting ended up transferring to Cal for his final season, which at least increased his playing time.
5. Erick All (2019-present)
Four-star recruit (No. 346 overall prospect), No. 13-ranked TE in 2019 class
It is far too early to call All a disappointment, but it does feel like he has missed some opportunities in his first two seasons. Drops have been a bit of an issue, which is a problem for a player who is supposed to act as a real receiving threat at the position. All should get the chance to be the TE1 in 2021, and his past errors will be forgiven if he can put his hands issues behind him.
4. Nick Eubanks (2016-2020)
Four-star recruit (No. 344 overall prospect), No. 15-ranked TE in 2016 class
On to the meat of the list. After a redshirt season and a modest role as an underclassman, Eubanks took the stage in 2019, leading the tight ends with 25 catches. He never really broke out, though, ending his career with just 578 yards and six touchdowns. He certainly performed better than some of the other players around this recruiting ranking, but at the end of the day, he was never the biggest threat on the field.
3. Sean McKeon (2016-2019)
Three-star recruit (No. 854 overall prospect), No. 45-ranked TE in 2016 class
Brought in with Eubanks, McKeon offered just as much production. He actually recorded more receptions (60) and yards (668) than his classmate, though he was not really the leader at the position. McKeon was one of the early pass-first type of options as opposed to a strong blocker, and he does offer a good model for what Schoonmaker can hopefully become.
2. Zach Gentry (2015-2018)
Four-star recruit (No. 174 overall prospect), No. 8-ranked PRO in 2015 class
After realizing his path forward at quarterback was unlikely to culminate, Gentry made the move to tight end over his last two seasons. This decision turned out well, as he brought in 49 catches for 817 yards and four touchdowns before being drafted by the Steelers. It was not the most traditional route, but the gifted athlete wound up being a great fit for the role, and he represents a clear win at the position.
1. Jake Butt (2013-2016)
Four-star recruit (No. 166 overall prospect), No. 6-ranked TE in 2013 class
1,646 yards. 11 touchdowns. First-team All-American. Mackey Award winner. This post could really just be a Jake Butt appreciation article. Though not a Harbaugh recruit, Butt was immensely successful under the new coaching regime and remains one of the best offensive players at Michigan over the past decade. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see him go down with an injury in his final game — and continue to struggle staying healthy since — but that does not take anything away from the outstanding reliability he offered both Jake Rudock and Wilton Speight. Butt is the gold standard for tight ends going forward.