The Michigan Wolverines’ 2019 season is all but in the books pending the bowl game, leaving us to look towards the future with the early signing day making commitments official and giving us an idea of what the future looks like.
Nothing about this Michigan team (outside of maybe the return of a red hot Josh Gattis) should provide more optimism than the wealth of young contributors who will be returning next year. A dozen true freshmen saw the field for Michigan in 2019 and eight of them deemed important enough to burn a redshirt. With another fringe top-10 recruiting class coming in, expect to see more young faces making an impact earlier than expected. Here is my list of potential impact freshmen for 2020.
Three-star athlete Eamonn Dennis
There are higher rated playmakers in this freshman class, but it always seems to be an under-the-radar guy that makes an early splash at receiver (see Bell, Ronnie). While the 5-foot-10, 170 pound Dennis is not one of the more highly-touted recruits in the class, his speed and shiftiness coupled with the Gattis offense give him an excellent chance to see the field early. With their use of Mike Sainristil and Giles Jackson this season, Gattis and Harbaugh demonstrated a clear willingness to put their most impactful playmakers on the field, regardless of age or track record.
He was used all over the field to make plays. Expect him to get early looks at both returner positions, as well as in the slot and potentially even in the backfield. Gattis showed as the year went on that “speed in space” is more than just a clever buzz phrase, and Dennis fits the mold of what he is looking for to create mismatches on offense.
Four-star running back Blake Corum
This one might seem like a stretch, because the Wolverines are loaded at running back next year. The previously suspended Chris Evans is expected to rejoin a backfield that returns its top two leading rushers in Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins. Even with all of that talent in the running back room, I would not be even slightly surprised if Corum saw the field in 2020.
One of the highest rated recruits in the class, Corum hails from recent Michigan pipeline St. Frances Academy in Maryland, where he is coming off a dominant senior campaign. He was voted the Gatorade player of the year in Maryland, which gives you an idea of just how dominant. While he is only 5-foot-8, 190 pounds soaking wet, you turn on his tape and you will see why the staff was so high on him. A little bit Mike Hart and a little bit Phillip Lindsay, Corum is speedy, and his low center of gravity allows him to absorb contact and keep moving. Corum gets north and south really quickly and has some breakaway speed to him, but is not exactly a home run hitter. Corum plans to enroll early as well, giving him a jump on learning the playbook. You may not find a deeper running back room in the country, let alone the conference.
Four-star safety Jordan Morant
One of my favorite players in this class, Jordan Morant brings an alpha dog mentality to this defense, and should be a tackling machine, regardless of who is calling the shots on that side of the ball. There are a trio of safeties coming in that are extremely talented in Morant, Makari Page, and RJ Moten and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any one of them next year. Morant gets my nod for being a step ahead of the other two physically at this point.
At 5-foot-11, 212 pounds, Morant is only eight pounds behind Khaleke Hudson’s listed playing weight, and we know what kind of impact Hudson can have as a tackler for that defense. The U-M defense returns a lot of talent, but they do lose some key players in the secondary with the departures of Hudson and Lavert Hill. Dax Hill and Brad Hawkins are pretty much written on the depth chart in pen at the two safety positions, but Morant could find a home on special teams, at Viper, nickel or just in relief of one of the aforementioned safeties. Wherever he plays, expect Morant to make the most of his playing time.
Four-star guard Zak Zinter
If you are looking for the next Ben Bredeson, look no further than Zinter. The 6-foot-6, 300 pound guard from Cambridge, Massachusetts has the size, athleticism and discipline to follow directly in the footsteps of one of Michigan’s best guards in years. While Zinter will have a tough time matching Bredeson’s first season where he played in all 13 contests and made eight starts at left guard, Zinter may have an opportunity to compete with guys like Chuck Filiaga and Nolan Rumler for one of the vacant guard positions. True freshmen very rarely contribute for an entire season on the offensive line, but Zinter is talented enough to buck that trend and lock down a guard spot for the coming years. At the very least, expect to see him in three games so the staff can get him ready to start in 2021.
Four-star wide receiver AJ Henning
When I began this list, Tarik Black was likely coming back to be either the No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. He has since entered the transfer portal and I have updated my predictions accordingly. Guys like Cornelius Johnson and AJ Henning have to be grinning from ear-to-ear at that news, as they just moved up the depth chart by proxy.
Henning was likely going to see the field sooner rather than later anyways, as he is a perfect fit for what Gattis wants to do. The highest-rated recruit in Michigan’s class has the game tape to match the high four-star ranking given to him by the major recruiting outlets. While Henning is undeniably fast, what impresses me most about him is his body control and catching technique. He uses soft hands to high point the ball and can make contested catches in traffic and over defenders, despite being only 5-foot-10. He has a high football IQ for a kid who hasn’t been to senior prom yet, and I think that coupled with his playmaking ability will get him on the field in 2020.