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Safety recruiting continues to be a black eye under Jim Harbaugh

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The Daxton Hill de-commitment further exacerbates Harbaugh’s issue with recruiting safeties.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Safety has been the position Jim Harbaugh has struggled to bring in elite talent in his five recruiting classes as Michigan’s head coach. The staff seemed to have solved that problem when they landed the No. 1 safety in the 2019 class, Daxton Hill.

Seemingly beating Alabama for a top 10 prospect in a region of the country they had no advantages in was one of the biggest recruiting victories in recent memory.

Alas, after a flip to Alabama which seemingly came out of nowhere, Michigan was left back in the position it were before. Safety is still by far the position recruited the worst under Harbaugh.

To back this claim up, I grouped every player by position Harbaugh has recruited during his tenure and measured the average rating of each. There are some quirks to this exercise, so here was my methodology:

  • For the split 2015 class, I only included players that committed to Michigan after Harbaugh was named head coach Dec. 30, 2014.
  • I didn’t include fullbacks or special teams players since it’s virtually impossible to be ranked higher than a middling 3-star and wouldn’t be representative of actual talent.
  • Every player that signed a letter of intent is considered, even if they transferred (Devin Asiasi, for example), was kicked off the team (Nate Johnson), or took a medical redshirt (Corey Malone-Hatcher).
  • I placed players at the position they currently play or played at Michigan. For instance, Zach Gentry is included in the tight ends, even though he came to Michigan as a quarterback.
  • The 2019 class isn’t on campus yet, but I used my best judgement for where some of the athletes will end up. I put Mike Sainristil with the cornerbacks and Amauri Pesek-Hickson with the safeties, for example.

Next, I took every player at each position and averaged their 247Sports composite rating. This produced the four-digit number in the middle column of the chart below. Then I went to the 2019 composite player rankings and compared where that average would fall among this class of recruits.

So, the average offensive lineman on Michigan’s roster is rated as a .9058, which is where the 267th player in the country is ranked.

Here’s the chart showing where every position is ranked, in order:

Recruiting Rankings by Position Under Jim Harbaugh

Position Average Rating Overall Rank
Position Average Rating Overall Rank
Quarterback 0.9342 156th
Defensive Line 0.9066 261st
Cornerback 0.9061 266th
Offensive Line 0.9058 267th
Running Back 0.903 288th
Tight End 0.9011 302nd
Wide Receiver 0.8967 324th
Linebacker 0.8966 324th
Safety 0.8736 600th
Jon Simmons

As you can see, safety is woefully behind every other position, who for the most part are grouped together tightly. Quarterback gets the benefit of only having four players in the group, and all of them have been blue chips. Besides them and safety, the other seven position groups are only separated by .01 of a point.

But safety lags behind almost as much as quarterback is ahead of the pack. In fact, safety is the only position that doesn’t average out as above a 4-star, where the cut-off is a .8900 rating. If the average safety on Michigan’s roster were a recruit in the 2019 class, he’d rank 600th in the country.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t good safeties on the roster. The second-lowest-ranked player in the group is the best on the roster, Josh Metellus. As a junior, he’s getting feedback from the NFL before deciding if he’ll go pro, or (much more likely) come back for his senior season. That wasn’t expected for the low 3-star who seemed to be recruited as a package to get high school teammate Devin Bush to come to Ann Arbor.

But there is a clear lack of star power. Safety has the lowest blue-chip ratio (number of 5- and 4-star players compared to 3- and 2-star players) on the roster, at 2/8, or 25 percent. It’s one of only three positions that is below 50 percent, with wide receivers (46 percent) and linebacker (45 percent).

Those two positions have a handful of highly-rated players, though. Safety lacks elite talent, being the only position group to not have a player that was ranked in the top 100 for their class. The closest is Jaylen Kelly-Powell, who was a low 4-star, ranked 250th overall.

This is the role Daxton Hill and his 4.3 40-time could have filled immediately. There’s still a talented safety in the class, Quinten Johnson, who posted the fifth best SPARQ score in the country. He projects more to the strong-safety spot occupied by Josh Metellus currently, though. Brad Hawkins showed some flashes in his first season of real playing time, but showed just as many, if not more, crucial mistakes.

If Michigan wants to avoid getting gashed by the Parris Campbell’s of the world, they’ll need to recruit a safety who can keep up with them. I don’t think the answer is on the roster or in the recruiting class just yet.