In stark contrast to most of the history under Jim Harbaugh and the state of the cornerback board, recruiting at safety is going extremely well this cycle.
This is somewhat surprising, given Michigan signed a pair of 4-stars in the 2019 class, including the No. 1 player at the position in the entire country in Daxton Hill. However, the coaches are able to point at the starting spot Josh Metellus will vacate after this season as a chance to make an immediate impact.
That pitch is seemingly working on a plethora of top-tier prospects. New Jersey 4-star Jordan Morant was a candidate who immediately became likely to join the class after his recruiter at Boston College and brother of his current head coach, Anthony Campanile, joined the staff this winter.
Once considered a heavy Penn State lean, the crystal balls have recently swung in the favor for the Wolverines. Morant is currently considered the No. 1 safety to 247Sports, which could give Michigan an impressive back-to-back coup at the position.
Another 4-star from New Jersey the program is in very good shape with is RJ Moten, who the staff just offered at the beginning of the month. Already three crystal ball picks have come in for the good guys after Moten publicly declared Michigan his leader.
Other key targets at the position include a pair of Virginia natives in 4-star Malcolm Greene and 3-star Elijah Gaines. Michigan has been battling Clemson for Greene, but after the Tigers landed the composite No. 1 safety RJ Mickens, there may not be room in the class. This shuffling could end up being very fortunate for the Wolverines. The staff is very high on Gaines, who attends the same school as Luiji Vilain, which should help their case. He seems like a prime candidate to get a bump in the rankings, which is now a common occurrence with prospects Michigan offers.
On the periphery, 4-star Texas Xavian Alford just named Michigan in his top 10 and has been a player the staff identified early as a big-time player. LSU seems to be the leader, though, and the rest of the list is filled with blue blood programs.
Strangely, the big-time prospect Michigan may have the lowest chance of landing is West Bloomfield 4-star Makari Paige. Paige is coached by former Wolverine Ron Bellamy and is teammates with current commit Cornell Wheeler, but has been very quiet about his leanings. We saw this on the same team last year with Lance Dixon, who seemed destined to leave the state despite both Michigan State and Michigan leading his recruitment at one point. Paige could easily follow Dixon to Penn State or go down south to the Buckeyes, but not without the Michigan coaches trying their best to keep him in-state.
A positive benefit of this abundance of talent responding positively to Michigan is it could help alleviate the concern at cornerback. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Greene seems like a good candidate to possibly switch to the outside, and even has himself listed as both a cornerback and safety on his highlight tape. Paige is a lanky 6-foot-3, 182 pounds, which has been the stature Don Brown preferred in his cornerbacks. This may end up being a similar situation as 2018, where the staff takes a bunch of defensive backs and sorts out where they play later, except the quality of player is a clear step up.
I believe the staff takes at least two players they slot at safety, and could add a couple more they think have the potential to play cornerback or bulk up into a Viper.
The state of safety recruiting also highlights the stark difference in recruiting effort from the respective position coaches. Chris Partridge has been the clear best recruiter on the staff, and sometimes even the country, while I covered my thoughts about Mike Zordich in my cornerback article. Having Campanile — who was previously a defensive backs coach — assist on these recruitments, especially the New Jersey ones, has also been extremely helpful.
Partridge may be doing enough at safety to cover up deficiencies at other positions, and could end up transforming a spot in the lineup that has been lacking in recent history.