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2023 Michigan recruiting position previews: Defensive Line

Michigan’s board is still getting reshuffled after the transition from Shaun Nua to Mike Elston.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Georgia at Michigan Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

This series will break down Michigan’s targets at each position, categorized into different groups. The first group will list any commits Michigan has at the position so far. The next will identify the top overall target at the position, which considers both the coaches’ interest in the player and the likelihood he chooses Michigan.

Following “Top Target” will be “In the Mix”, which will include the group of players Michigan is in good standing with and would be takes if they wanted to commit today. Following that are the “Longshots”, who are elite players Michigan has work to do with but would make room for in the class. Finally we have “Under the Radar”, which are lower-rated prospects who may be Plan Bs if the guys above don’t work out.


The number of coaching changes at Michigan has caused plenty of shuffling along the target board, perhaps none so more than at defensive line. Mike Elston takes over for Shaun Nua coaching the position and has spent his first few months sending offers to prospects across the country.

Adding even more intrigue to the dynamic is Elston comes from Notre Dame, who often frequents the same pool of players as Michigan. This means a lot of the targets Elston was recruiting in South Bend also have familiarity with Michigan and the defensive line targets committed to Notre Dame could flip to the Wolverines.

With the multiple scheme Mike Macdonald installed after his time with the Ravens and Jesse Minter looks to mostly continue, it can be a tough line to delineate between defensive line and edge, but I’ve done my best to group the targets by the position they project to in college. Nevertheless, if you don’t see a guy here that you think is a name worth mentioning, he’ll most likely be in the edge preview tomorrow.

Top Target

DeMatha Catholic (MD) Jason Moore - Four-star, No. 50 overall, No. 6 DL

In addition to taking over the defensive line duties, Elston is also the point man for DMV recruiting, creating the perfect situation to try and land Moore out of traditional power DeMatha Catholic.

Elston did a really good job recruiting Moore at Notre Dame to the point where they were the clear favorite. But the move to Michigan has shaken things up and moved the Wolverines way up the list. Moore is scheduled to visit Ann Arbor for the spring game April 2 and should get an official visit down the line.

Penn State is another school that always does well in the DMV and probably rounds out Moore’s top three.

In the Mix

Camden (SC) Xzavier McLeod - Four-star, No. 145 overall, No. 22 DL

McLeod was one of the first offers Elston gave out after he was hired, and it proved to be a good one with him rising up the rankings lately. Being from South Carolina, he’s going to be tough to get with both in-state schools going after him. But someone with that quickness at 324 pounds is worth pursuing no matter what.

Cass Tech (MI) Jalen Thompson - Four-star, No. 180 overall, No. 26 DL

Playing at Cass Tech, Michigan already has a built-in advantage with Thompson. It has consistently fed players to Ann Arbor and have multiple former players on the coaching staff. However, Michigan State hired his former head coach Thomas Wilcher last offseason which would allow them to sign him if he doesn’t enroll early.

At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, there are some concerns about where Thompson fits in a 3-4 scheme since he has more of a traditional defensive end frame. But even if he’s not at the top of the board, making Michigan State put in extra work is still useful.

St. James School (MD) Devan Houstan - Four-star, No. 218 overall, No. 31 DL

Michigan has a great connection with Houstan, as he is the younger brother of current basketball player Caleb Houstan. That means he also grew up in Canada, but is playing his high school ball in Maryland. Now that he’s playing in the states, the increased scouting attention has led to a jump of almost 100 spots in the composite. Given his familiarity with the school from his brother, Michigan will be a major player here.

Cathedral (IN) Kendrick Gilbert - Four-star, No. 295 overall, No. 45 DL

Gilbert has already made two visits to Ann Arbor, one for a game last fall and another back in January. He has an existing relationship with Elston, who recruited him at Notre Dame, making Michigan one of the top contenders for Gilbert. Iowa and Kentucky are other top schools, with recent LSU and Tennessee offers also threatening to get Gilbert’s attention.

Westside (FL) Jordan Hall - Four-star, No. 298 overall, No. 47 DL

Already weighing in at 300 pounds, Hall would be a good fit for the nose position. George Helow is using his connections in the Jacksonville area here to keep Michigan in the list, but in-state schools like Florida State, Florida and UCF are also at the top of Hall’s mind.

Grimsley (NC) Jamaal Jarrett - Four-star, No. 352 overall, No. 25 OT

While he’s listed as an offensive tackle, Jarrett is being recruited as a defensive tackle by some schools, including Michigan. Michigan’s interest here has carried over from Nua, with Elston making frequent contact with the four-star. In-state UNC has the lone Crystal Ball prediction so far.

Spring Valley (NV) Kelze Howard - Three-star, No. 383 overall, No. 50 DL

Howard was only offered a little over a week ago but he already considers Michigan one of his top schools and is considering an official visit this summer. USC and Oregon are also sitting well with Howard so far. Look for him to move up the rankings soon, with 247Sports considering him a top-150 player.

Loyola Academy (IL) Brooks Bahr - Three-star, No. 498 overall, No. 68 DL

Brooks is another offer handed out by Elston who had recruited him while at Notre Dame. The interest from the Irish has not continued after Elston, putting Michigan right at the top for the Illinois prospect. Bahr has a visit to Ann Arbor scheduled for March 16, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he wrapped things up then and there.


Tyler Legacy (TX) Jordan Renaud - Four-star, No. 71 overall, No. 7 DL

Michigan was doing well with Renaud under Shaun Nua, leading him to include the Wolverines in his top eight list at the end of January. There hasn’t been much news about how Elston is connecting with Renaud since being hired, but Michigan should always keep pursuing a top-100 talent that likes Michigan enough to put them in his top schools.

Mentor (OH) Brenan Vernon - Four-star, No. 74 overall, No. 8 DL

Notre Dame caused shockwaves when it pulled Vernon out of Ohio last June. Since then, Vernon’s status has dropped a bit as he’s gone from five-star to merely a top-100 player. Obviously Elston had a lot to do with his commitment, and there is some thought Vernon would be receptive to Michigan now that his former primary recruiter is there. But he seems less likely to flip than Notre Dame’s other star defensive line recruit, who will be covered in the edge preview.

Osceola (FL) Derrick LeBlanc - Four-star, No. 87 overall, No. 11 DL; Osceola (FL) John Walker - Four-star, No. 111 overall, No. 16 DL

This pair of teammates took a visit to Ann Arbor together in January, but they shouldn’t be considered a package deal. Michigan appears to be in a better spot with Walker, with Florida also looking strong with him.

Ohio State is standing out early for LeBlanc, as well as the Alabamas, Clemsons and Georgias of the world.

Under the Radar

Bergen Catholic (NJ) Sydir Mitchell - Four-star, No. 230 overall, No. 35 DL

There’s not really a category that fits Mitchell’s situation, so he goes here even though he’s a four-star. Nua was high on Mitchell, who tips the scales at 6-foot-5, 324 pounds. But Elston isn’t as high on Mitchell, so he’s further down the board for now.

Langston Hughes (GA) Joshua Horton - Three-star, No. 737 overall, No. 88 DL

Horton was also in the first group of new offers Elston handed out after arriving at Michigan. He is pretty quiet about his recruitment, but a recent visit and offer by Auburn have seemed to put the Tigers in the driver’s seat. Arkansas, Boston College, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Miami, Michigan State, Minnesota, Pitt, Tennessee and a bunch more have also offered.