Recruiting top-end talent directly correlates to winning championships in the modern era of college football. It’s not a coincidence Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma routinely lead the recruiting rankings and have then filled 20 of the 28 available College Football Playoff spots over the last seven years.
Michigan has been no slouch on the recruiting trail, however. Since Jim Harbaugh’s hiring in Dec. 2014, he has brought in seven five-stars and countless four-stars. For the sake of simplicity, we only used the recruiting rankings from 247Sports to find the top 25 highest-rated recruits (not necessarily the best, but the highest-rated) that have come to Ann Arbor during the Harbaugh era. Keep in mind his first class (2015) was mostly built by salvaging commitments from Brady Hoke recruits. The class of 2016 was Harbaugh’s first full recruiting class.
1. Rashan Gary (Paramus, NJ) DE 2016
2. Daxton Hill (Tulsa, OK) S 2019
3. Donovan Peoples-Jones (Detroit, MI) WR 2017
4. Will Johnson (Grosse Pointe, MI) CB 2022
5. Aubrey Solomon (Leesburg, GA) DT 2017
6. J.J. McCarthy (Bradenton, FL) QB 2021
7. Chris Hinton (Norcross, GA) DT 2019
8. Donovan Edwards (West Bloomfield, MI) RB 2021
9. Ben Bredeson (Hartland, WI) OT 2016
10. Cesar Ruiz (Bradenton, FL) OC 2017
11. Zach Charbonnet (Westlake Village, CA) RB 2019
12. Luiji Vilain (Alexandria, VA) DE 2017
13. Brandon Peters (Avon, IN) QB 2016
14. David Long (Los Angeles, CA) CB 2016
15. Tyler Morris (La Grange Park, IL) WR 2022
16. Devin Asiasi (Concord, CA) TE 2016
17. Drew Singleton (Paramus, NJ) OLB 2017
18. Giovanni El-Hadi (Sterling Heights, MI) OT 2021
19. Junior Colson (Brentwood, TN) OLB 2021
20. Ambry Thomas (Detroit, MI) CB 2017
21. Michael Onwenu (Detroit, MI) OG 2016
22. A.J. Henning (Frankfort, IL) WR 2020
23. Mazi Smith (Grand Rapids, MI) DT 2019
24. Trente Jones (Loganville, GA) OT 2019
25. Jordan Anthony (Bradenton, FL) OLB 2017
Transfers, transfers and more transfers
It’s no secret Michigan has had a hard time retaining talent over the last few years. A part of that comes with natural attrition due to players being passed on the depth chart by younger players. However, other transfers come about from poor snap distribution, academic issues or any other of a multitude of internal issues. I’m not here to speculate on anyone’s decision.
That being said, it seems striking that seven of the top 25 recruits left the program via transfer. Aubrey Solomon (Tennessee), Zach Charbonnet (UCLA), Luiji Vilain (Wake Forest), Brandon Peters (Illinois), Devin Asiasi (UCLA), Drew Singleton (Rutgers) and Jordan Anthony (still in the portal) have all opted for greener pastures. The Solomon transfer stings especially bad given the lack of depth Michigan has had at defensive tackle over the past few years.
Several NFL successes
Things are not all doom and gloom around the program after all. By my count, this top 25 list contains nine players still on the team at Michigan, seven players in the NFL (that stayed at Michigan their entire college career), seven transfers out of Michigan (Asiasi is also in the NFL now) and two commitments who will hit campus in 2022. The seven in the NFL have had quite a bit of success early on in their professional careers.
Gary has compiled 55 tackles and seven sacks in his first two years in Green Bay. Peoples-Jones caught 14 passes for 304 yards as a rookie including a game-winning touchdown against the Bengals. Ruiz played in 15 games at guard as a rookie and started in nine contests with the New Orleans Saints. Onwenu may be the crowned jewel of the whole group as he started 16 games for the New England Patriots and finished sixth in the overall rookie rankings by Pro Football Focus. Needless to say, the Michigan pipeline to the NFL is by no means dead, despite the program scuffling of late.
Where is the 2018 class?
You may have noticed not a single one of the top 25 highest rated recruits was from the class of 2018. Before you plunge yourself into despair, please note Aidan Hutchinson and Cam McGrone would have been 27th and 28th respectively. However, it’s still not great when your “senior class” (I put senior class in quotations because classes have gotten scrambled due to Covid exceptions and redshirts) only has two former four-star recruits remaining.
The 2018 class has already sent Jalen Mayfield and McGrone to the NFL, and expects to return heavy contributors in Hutchinson, Ryan Hayes, Hassan Haskins and Ronnie Bell this fall. However, the transfer bug hit this class hard as well as Mustapha Muhammad (JUCO), Joe Milton (Tennessee), Christian Turner (Wake Forest), Ben VanSumeren (Michigan State) and Myles Sims (Georgia Tech) have all left.
Overall, this is a very nice group of players as you would expect it to be at a program the caliber of Michigan. Several now play on Sundays. However, it’s hard to not sense a feeling of “what-if” as none of these players have yet to become an All-American (Michigan’s latest was Devin Bush in 2018). Here’s to hoping those currently on the roster can change the narrative and develop into a championship caliber team.