Stating the obvious: Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff have rebounded on the recruiting trail.
Last year, they reeled in 20 commitments for a No. 22 national finish on 247Sports, as well as third in the conference behind Ohio State and Penn State. This year, they already have 23 pledges, rank No. 9 nationally and currently stand on top of the Big Ten.
With so many prospects in the fold already, how can Harbaugh and company close the deal on the 2019 cycle?
85 players are on scholarship, including former walk-ons in long snapper Cameron Cheeseman, interior lineman Andrew Vastardis and receiver Nate Schoenle.
Right now, 11 fourth- and fifth-year seniors will definitely graduate. If the walk-ons don’t maintain their scholarships for next year, that gives the Wolverines 14 openings at this time.
Attrition happens, as fourth-year juniors may grad transfer, or in Zach Gentry’s case declare for the NFL Draft. With three other players able to be counted as early enrollees, a handful of unexpected departures would be needed to make room for the class.*
While current pledges Quintel Kent and George Johnson III potentially provide reinforcements, neither appear to be immediate game-changers. Kent is progressing at St. Edward’s in Ohio, and some scouts expect big things from Johnson III, for what it’s worth.
A pair of interested 6-foot-2 targets fit the bill. The staff is in hot pursuit of 5-star Kyle Ford of Orange, Calif. and 4-star Cornelius Johnson of Greenwich, Conn.
Ford was the top receiver at Nike’s The Opening according to 247Sports. Last year, I watched him in-person as Orange Lutheran battled state powerhouse St. John Bosco. Against three blue-chip defensive backs in 5-stars Chris Steele and Jaiden Woodbey and 4-star Stephan Blaylock, he nearly topped 200 yards receiving.
He recently suffered an ACL tear, so he looks to have more time to visit schools this fall. His last appearance in Ann Arbor was July 2017.
Regarding Johnson, Michigan looks to flex Don Brown’s New England connections just like in the Tarik Black recruitment. Black played at Cheshire Academy while Johnson currently attends the Brunswick School, both in the academically prestigious NEPSAC division.
Johnson went to South Bend for Michigan’s season-opening loss, and looks to favor the Irish.
The other option is to keep 6-foot-4, 225-pound commitment Erick All at his high school position of jumbo receiver, rather than transforming him into the next Gentry.
Out of the 2019 class’s five offensive line commitments, two are tackle-shaped. Georgia 4-star Trente Jones stands 6-foot-6, 282 pounds, while Connecticut 3-star Jack Stewart is 6-foot-5, 280.
If there’s any lesson Harbaugh needs to have learned during his tenure, you can never have too many tackles (cough Grant Newsome cough).
Trevor Keegan, a 4-star from Crystal Lake, Ill., looks the most promising. At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, he’s college-sized without a ton of baby fat. The majority of the Crystal Balls for the Crystal Lake South product are painted maize and blue, though Steve Wiltfong put one in for Georgia two weeks ago.
The other potential option is Minnesota 4-star Bryce Benhart. He’s a prototype blindside protector at 6-foot-8, 305 pounds, but most project him to end up as a Wisconsin Badger.
With Juwann Bushell-Beatty graduating, and unknown futures for fourth-year juniors Jon Runyan and Nolan Ulizio, the more fresh blood the better.
ZACH HARRISON UPDATE
According to The Michigan Insider ($), sources say to expect to see 5-star weak-side end Zach Harrison in the Big House this season.
The nation’s No. 4 recruit is currently deliberating between the Wolverines, Ohio State and Penn State. From just north of Columbus, he witnessed his hometown team escape Happy Valley this weekend with a 27-26 victory.
That was an unofficial visit, as he has already exhausted his officials to his top schools. His official to Michigan took place this past June.
Bucknuts posted an interview ($) with him two weeks ago, where he stated his Buckeye diehard mom said she’s okay with him leaving Columbus.
With this obstacle potentially hurdled, and the momentum of the class, there are signs towards an epic pull from deep within Ohio.
*Nothing expected at the moment. Worth observing if any players are “forced” out by competition.