The quarterback is usually the centerpiece of any school’s recruiting class. Landing a good one pays off huge dividends in enticing other stud players to join him, and they usually lead the charge recruiting their peers.
Because of this ringleader effect, quarterbacks are committing earlier and earlier in the cycle. And since most schools only recruit one a class, each quarterback’s decision impacts multiple programs.
In 2021, Michigan got one of the first dominos to fall, grabbing five-star JJ McCarthy in May before his junior year. But this year, the Wolverines are struggling to find a guy willing to come in behind the No. 2 pro-style passer in the country.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon. In the last five cycles, 26 schools have managed to sign a quarterback in the top 100 of the 247Sports composite. Of those 26 schools, only five were able to sign one in back-to-back classes.
As you can see from the table, four out of the five schools are the elite of the elite recruiters. And those top four schools are relying on their 2022 quarterback recruits to stay committed and not drop outside the top 100, so this number could shrink.
Many schools have taken the approach of going after an elite recruit every other year to help prevent transfers and maintain depth. Clemson is a prime example of this, landing Trevor Lawrence, DJ Uiagalelei, and now Cade Klubnik in 2018, 2020, and 2022 respectively.
In their down-cycles, they signed Taisun Phommachanh in 2019, a four-star outside the top 200, and Bubba Chandler in 2021, a high-three star who was almost a complete unknown until the summer before his senior year.
Michigan is probably going to have to take this approach in 2022, as their top targets are continually going off the board to other schools.
Way back in the fall of 2019, this didn’t look like it’d be an issue as four-star Nicco Marchiol was visiting Ann Arbor multiple times and receiving Crystal Balls for the Wolverines. But as the process moved along, there seemed to be a mutual parting of the ways that corresponded with a drop in his ranking. Marchiol committed to Florida State at the end of January.
Then, Maalik Murphy and MJ Morris emerged as the top targets at the position. As a five-star from California and a four-star from Georgia respectively, these two were always going to be tough battles to win. After the coaching change from Ben McDaniels to Matt Weiss, contact with the duo trickled into nothing.
Murphy committed to Steve Sarkisian’s staff at Texas in February, and Morris is considering the likes of Florida State, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, and NC State.
Over the summer, Kentucky four-star Gavin Wimsatt started blowing up, landing offers from the Midwest powers. Michigan finally jumped into the race in early September, but didn’t do enough to make his top nine. Cincinnati, Kentucky, and Rutgers are the main competitors for Wimsatt now, with the latter recently getting a Crystal Ball pick.
Under the new coaching staff, Michigan identified a couple of risers in the rankings who didn’t stay uncommitted long enough for a relationship to be built. Texas four-star Cade Klubnik jumped into the top-100 and committed to Clemson as soon as they lost the battle for five-star Ty Simpson to Alabama.
Ohio four-star Drew Allar was the 86th ranked quarterback when Michigan offered him. 247Sports moved him into their top-100 and he’s now in the top ten of pro-style passers. An Ohio State fan who lacked a Buckeye offer, he committed to Penn State earlier this month.
With all of these guys off the board, Michigan’s list of quarterbacks they liked was rapidly dwindling. It looked like the most likely guy they’d get is Indiana three-star Tayven Jackson. As a dual-threat quarterback, he could bring a different dimension to the offense.
Other top contenders like Florida and Oregon landed other quarterback commits, seemingly clearing a path for Michigan to nab the Midwestern prospect with a high ceiling. But last Friday, he released a list of his top nine schools that surprisingly didn’t include Michigan.
Now, Michigan is left with frighteningly few options. The sole remaining target that has been building a relationship with the coaches is California three-star Nate Johnson. Johnson is ranked No. 907 in the country and is the No. 22 dual-threat quarterback.
Johnson is certainly an intriguing prospect, as he could be the fastest quarterback in the country. He runs a 10.8 in the 100 meters and hits in the mid 4.4s in the 40-yard dash. But questions remain about his ability to throw the ball, resulting in his low three-star ranking.
There is certainly room for Johnson to rise in the rankings as he currently plays his junior season. Michigan could have discovered another diamond in the rough. But if his ranking remains static, Michigan will have landed quarterbacks hovering around the No. 1,000 mark overall in two of the last three cycles.
Michigan is going to have to expand their board soon to avoid putting all their eggs in the Nate Johnson basket. With how quickly quarterbacks commit, there may not be a lot of time left.