The tight end position was once the sweetheart of Jim Harbaugh’s offense at Michigan, with sometimes as many as five seeing the field on one play. Since Josh Gattis has taken over the offense this offseason, there has been more focus on fast receivers who can pull off the #speedinspace mantra, and less on the tight ends, who are usually relied on to create match-up issues for defenses.
But the latest commitment in the 2020 class was 3-star Matthew Hibner, giving Michigan two tight ends in the class with the staff still pursuing several more. Considering this fact, it seemed like a good time to break down what’s going on at the position and who seems the most likely to end up in the class.
Let’s start with the most recent one first. A recruitment like Hibner’s, where a lowly-rated tight end with basically no major offers pops out of nowhere and joins the class, is starting to become something of a pattern under Harbaugh.
He’ll be following in the legacy of Sean McKeon in 2016 and Luke Schoonmaker in 2018 as under-the-radar gems the staff is trying to unearth by getting ahead of everyone else. The only difference is Hibner is from the DMV area instead of the Northeast. McKeon has turned out to be a hit, and it’s too early to tell on Schoonmaker so the jury is still out on this strategy.
Given the lack of other schools similar to the caliber of Michigan has offered Hibner, it’s likely he sticks in the class. The same cannot be said for the other tight end commit, Nick Patterson. Patterson’s recruitment was a slam-dunk considering he’s the younger brother of the Wolverines’ starting quarterback.
However, there have been rumors swirling Patterson may be nudged out of the class in favor of another prospect at the position. This has to be a delicate situation given his relation to Shea, but given his lack of any other Power 5 offers, it seems like he may not be a Big Ten level player. This may not end up happening, but the fact Michigan accepted Hibner’s commitment while still looking good for more touted players indicates there may be a spot open soon.
So if Patterson does end up leaving the class, who is he going to replace him? The most likely candidate is Canadian 4-star Theo Johnson, the No. 4 tight end in his class. He’s from nearby Windsor, so Michigan is the hometown school, and he’s been to campus a bunch.
Penn State was the early leader for Johnson, but The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb recently put in a crystal ball prediction for the Wolverines, which is significant given how stingy he is with his picks. Johnson is scheduled to visit Ann Arbor again on June 21, so there does appear to be some momentum brewing here. If Michigan were to land Johnson, I think they’d be perfectly happy with its tight ends in the class.
One prospect whose momentum has been going in the wrong direction is 4-star wide receiver/tight end Maliq Carr. His recruitment has been up and down in regards to Michigan, given his propensity for playing wide receiver in college. Before Josh Gattis arrived, Carr wasn’t considering the Wolverines because they wanted him to play tight end. But after he sat down with Gattis and was shown how players like Irv Smith Jr. were used as jumbo receivers, Carr was hooked. The Maize and Blue crystal ball picks rolled in.
At the beginning of June, though, that changed as a wave of Purdue picks came in. Carr apparently is enticed with Jeff Brohm’s pitch for him to play exclusively wide receiver with no “jumbo” tag attached. He also likes the possibility of playing basketball as an option, which is unclear for Michigan considering the turnover within the program.
It seems as if Carr is ticketed for Purdue as of now, unless Michigan was willing to give him full run at the wide receiver position. That would mean landing Carr would facilitate taking another tight end in the class.
If not filled by Johnson, that spot could be filled by a few 3-star guys. This list includes Cam Large, a Don Brown special from Massachusetts that holds offers from Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State, or two Ohio guys in Joe Royer and Sam Daugstrup. Royer just received an Ohio State offer and it’s probably any day before he commits there, and Daugstrup hasn’t been offered by Michigan yet, but is being closely monitored.
I don’t think it will come down to anyone on that list, though. Sam Webb’s crystal ball and yet another unofficial visit to campus next week seems like strong evidence that Theo Johnson will end up in the class, giving Michigan an enticing duo at the position. With 2019 early enrollee Erick All already standing out in practice, it looks like the position will continue to be stacked for seasons to come.