After watching Michigan’s defense get flattened by power-running offenses like Wisconsin and Ohio State last season, people have been clambering for more beefy defensive tackles in the middle to help clog up space. Since they didn’t take any traditional interior linemen in the 2020 class, finding a prototype tackle or two in 2021 will be critical.
Michigan has some good leads with a handful of top defensive tackles in the class so far, but will need to close strongly to land them.
Bergen Catholic (NJ) Tywone Malone - Four-star, No. 53 overall, No. 7 DT
When Anthony Campanile and Chris Partridge left this offseason, many people were much more worried about the impact on the recruiting rather than on the field in large part because of Malone. Playing for New Jersey powerhouse Bergen Catholic, Malone is teammates with current signee Jordan Morant and is coached by Campanile’s brother.
Despite these two departures, Michigan is not giving up on Malone, even though they will have to work harder to secure his commitment. One thing that may help them is the performance by the baseball team. Malone is also a standout first baseman, and Jim Harbaugh has signed dual-sport athletes in each of the last two classes, demonstrating his willingness for athletes to play multiple sports in college. Word is Michigan baseball coach Eric Bakich has still not met with Malone to give him his pitch, so that should happen soon if they want to appease the elite prospect.
In the Mix
Westlake (CA) Victory Vaka - Four-star, No. 200 overall, No. 13 DT
Shaun Nua has done an excellent job recruiting Vaka so far, getting Michigan almost immediately in his top five schools. Since then, his top schools have shifted, but Michigan has remained constant. Vaka has an official visit lined up for the end of June in Ann Arbor. He originally was planning on committing soon after that, but walked that back and now will commit later in the calendar.
St. Peter’s Prep (NJ) George Rooks - Four-star, No. 206 overall, No. 14 DT
Michigan has been pursuing Rooks for as long as any other defensive tackle prospect. Another New Jersey prospect, Rooks attends St. Peter’s Prep, which has been a Notre Dame stronghold for a long time. The Fighting Irish are probably the biggest competition here with 100 percent of the crystal balls, but the newest one is almost a year old.
Stonewall Jackson (VA) Tyleik Williams - Four-star, No. 223 overall, No. 15 DT
Williams is part of Michigan’s continuing efforts to recruit Virginia in the 2021 cycle. He received an offer last spring and is considering Michigan as one of his top schools. This battle will include schools from all over the South and Atlantic Coast, including Alabama, Virgina, UNC, Penn State and more.
Woodbridge (VA) James Gillespie - Three-star, No. 378 overall, No. 22 DT
Another prospect from the state of Virginia is Gillespie, who Michigan likely has a better chance with. Gillespie visited campus for a game last fall and has visited Penn State multiple times already. Look for the staff to host Gillespie in the future if they want to pursue him seriously.
Eastside Catholic (WA) J.T. Tuimoloau - Five-star, No. 5 overall, No. 1 DT
Nua will test out his recruiting chops with Tuimolau, the top defensive tackle in the country. The defensive line coach visited the five-star during the winter contact period and is reportedly giving him a full-court press. Regardless, it will be an uphill climb against schools like Ohio State and local Washington.
Belleville (MI) Damon Payne - Five-star, No. 27 overall, No. 3 DT
The Damon Payne saga is seemingly never-ending, and Michigan’s chances with him appear to change every month. Apparently, Payne’s father is a huge Michigan fan and is pushing to keep the Wolverines in the race, but his son heard some bad things about the school from Devontae Dobbs and Julian Barnett. I don’t think he’ll end up choosing Michigan, but on the bright side he probably won’t end up at Ohio State either since their staff stop pushing for him, if that tells you anything.
Quince Orchard (MD) Marcus Bradley - Four-star, No. 184 overall, No. 11 DT
On the other hand, one defensive tackle who does look like he’ll end up at Ohio State is Bradley, whose crystal balls are 100 percent Buckeye. Michigan did make his list of top schools, but have yet to get him on campus. Maryland and Duke are also contenders.
Grace Brethren (CA) Jay Toia - Four-star, No. 192 overall, No. 12 DT
A commitment to USC did not stop Michigan from offering Toia a couple weeks ago, and it looks like there is a chance of a flip here. Toia said he still wants to take all five of his official visits despite his pledge to the Trojans and Michigan will definitely be one of those schools. I’m going to classify any flip as a long shot, but this sounds promising.
Under the Radar
Baldwin (PA) Dorien Ford - Three-star, No. 392 overall, No. 24 DT
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Ford was offered back in December. Michigan joined schools like Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State and Pitt as options for his services. He hasn’t visited yet so it’s hard to gauge his interest level in Michigan.
Gaffney (SC) Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins - Three-star, No. 567 overall, No. 32 DT
A rare offer from South Carolina, Ingram-Dawkins was also part of a recent wave of offers along the defensive line. The in-state Gamecocks hold the only crystal ball prediction and Tennessee will also be a player. Upon receiving his offer, Ingram-Dawkins said he wanted to visit campus, so wait to see if that materializes.
Imhotep Institute (PA) Taleeq Robbins - Three-star, No. 712 overall, No. 40 DT
Continuing the stretch of defensive tackle offers is Robbins, who has the ideal size at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds. He holds maybe the best offer list in this section, including Arizona State, Baylor, Georgia Tech, Maryland, NC State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Washington, Wisconsin and more.
River Rouge (MI) Pius Odjugo - Three-star, No. 1203 overall, No. 60 DT
Odjugo is a promising 6-foot-3, 324-pound local recruit the staff has an eye on after being named Alpha Dog at a recent showcase. He quickly visited campus afterwards and said an offer could be on its way after he takes the SAT and camps with the team over the summer, probably in June.
Unlike last year, it appears the coaches are definitely pursuing a bigger body type for defensive tackle instead of a lanky frame they can pack pounds on. I’d expect the staff to take at least two of these guys, with Victory Vaka and George Rooks being the most likely in my eyes. If they can’t land both of those guys, then a push for James Gillespie seems possible.
Of course, if an elite guy like Tywone Malone, J.T. Tuimoloau or Damon Payne wants in, then space will be made. Malone has the best chance of committing, but I’d like to see him back on campus and get the baseball pitch before I can say Michigan is the most likely school that he’ll choose.
Tomorrow we’ll continue along the line with defensive ends.