The Walker news was confirmed July 29 by the coach of Fort Scott Community College, who told reporters at the conference’s media day Walker transferred to the program.
The Crawford news was a done deal Aug. 2 when the Michigan football program updated its roster for fall 2018, leaving off Crawford, Walker and tight end Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., who appears to have left on his own terms.
While this news wasn’t too shocking to most people, myself included, it did leave me wondering what the program will face now that these two once-highly-heralded student-athletes are continuing their careers elsewhere.
How will this affect the team this upcoming season? What about the impact on how Jim Harbaugh and company will recruit these two positions moving forward? Let’s take a deeper look at what they will be up against.
Walker was a highly-ranked running back — the fourth-ranked running back in the 2016 class to be exact — out of De Paul Catholic in New Jersey. With offers from the best of the best, and once being committed to Ohio State, Walker decided to take his talents to Ann Arbor in hopes of being the next great Wolverine back.
Well, that didn’t happen.
After academic issues held him out his true freshman season, Walker was given a clean slate in 2017. His academic issues appeared resolved, but injuries and other rumored off-the-field problems seem to have plagued his chances of breaking a depth chart that included breakout star Karan Higdon, shifty speedster Chris Evans and fifth-year senior Ty Isaac, who tore it up at the beginning of 2017.
With Isaac’s eligibility up, Michigan bringing in a few freshmen at the position, and walk-on Tru Wilson putting in good work in spring practice, Walker was left as the odd man out.
As mentioned, the Wolverines brought in two true running backs in the 2018 class — Christian Turner and Hassan Haskins — and an athlete who may play running back and/or wide receiver — Michael Barrett.
Someone I think can receive decent playing time this year is Turner. He ran for 2,705 yards on 332 carries during his final three years of high school football in Buford, Georgia. He’s a very patient runner and has great vision, as he is able to see where he needs to go well beforehand. He’s not the fastest, but he makes up for that with his initial burst and ability to run between the tackles.
I can absolutely see Turner taking away some carries from other running backs like Wilson and sophomore O’Maury Samuels in 2018.
As for running back recruiting in 2019, the Wolverines are locked in on 4-star backs Eric Gray and Zach Charbonnet. Everything seems to be good on this front, quite honestly. For 2020, I think the Wolverines can get away with signing just one running back. They will have tons of depth in 2019, and quite honestly I wouldn’t be shocked to see them not sign a single running back in 2020. Will that happen? Probably not, but we’ll see.
The projected running backs in 2019, by my eye, are Evans, Samuels, Turner, Haskins, Gray, Charbonnet, Wilson and walk-on Joe Hewlett, who also impressed Harbaugh this spring. Throw in Barrett, too, and Michigan will be perfectly fine signing one running back in 2020. No issues here, as of now.
Recruiting names to watch in 2020:
Crawford was nearly a top 100 player in the 2016 class out of Rancho Santa Margarita, California. He didn’t have a crazy amount of scholarship offers, but he did get offered from every PAC 12 school, and then also Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Miami (FL), to name a few notables.
He played in every game his freshman year, but only had four receptions for 47 yards and one touchdown. His ability to block, however, kept him on the field while the Wolverines had an overloaded group involving Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Grant Perry.
His stats went up last season, but it became clear younger receivers like Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones were more talented than Crawford. He was fifth on the team in receiving yards (243), tied for fourth in catches (17) and still only scored one touchdown.
The 2017 recruiting class featured Black, Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin, all extremely talented players who were at least 4-stars. Black and Peoples-Jones are the top two receivers on the team, according to Harbaugh, and Perry is presumably the starting slot receiver. With Collins making strides at the end of last season and Martin also impressing coaches in the spring, Crawford was left without a significant role.
I’d also expect junior Eddie McDoom to have a lesser role in 2018. He was impactful his freshman season due to his speed and utilization on jet sweeps, but they just didn’t work the same in 2017. Remember all those fades to McDoom in the end zone, too? Good times.
In terms of recruiting, the Wolverines only received one commitment from the position in 2018, 3-star Ronnie Bell. I suppose Barrett, who was mentioned in the running backs, can play wide receiver, but it looks like he will be in a new running back/wide receiver hybrid role.
The Wolverines only have one receiver committed to the 2019 class — newly committed 3-star Quintel Kent — although 3-star George Johnson III looks to play some sort of offensive role — but they are still going after several top-ranked guys.
Before Crawford’s departure, I was expecting two receivers to be signed in the 2019 class. Now I would expect two to be signed, even if that includes the aforementioned Johnson III. Anything less than two wouldn’t be ideal.
The Wolverines have one receiver committed in the 2020 class — 3-star Kalil Branham — so they have a good start there, at least.