Under Harbaugh's watch, Michigan is taking more versatile prospects like QB-turned-TE Zach Gentry. [Fuller]
This question was posted in the comments of Kai-Leon Herbert's commitment post, and I've been meaning to get around to it ever since:
It seems to me that right from the start, the Harbaugh staff hasn't been primarily focused on "roster balance" but instead--at least in the short term--focused on making 100% sure that they have solid players in key position groups.
What I mean is--they seem to be adopting a "surge" strategy wherein they almost over-recruit certain spots to guarantee good performances. QB and perhaps RB came to mind last year, and now perhaps this year OL and TE.
The theory I guess being that a few of the recruits will turn into diamonds under the pressure. Meanwhile the rest will either transfer (thus opening up roster slots to "surge" the next position group) or (more preferably) if they are athletic & amenable to it, switch to a different position group to help balance out the roster that way.
Is this a known strategy that they're following? Or or is this just a wrong-headed & faulty observation on my part?
I believe the "surge" recruiting at certain positions reflects two things: first and foremost roster imbalance that Harbaugh is trying to fix, and second a change in emphasis in how this staff recruits.
There's one position where Harbaugh's recruiting stands in stark contrast to Hoke's: quarterback. Hoke took one per year and infamously skipped taking one in 2012 because he had Shane Morris in the fold for 2013—instead of promoting competition, Hoke seemingly wanted to avoid it. Michigan got only Russell Bellomy in 2011 and put a non-elite prospect (Wilton Speight, a three-star) on top of their board for 2014. This approach required the coaches to have an exceptional hit rate with their QB recruits; that obviously didn't happen.
Harbaugh, on the other hand, doubled up on QBs in his first class, adding Zach Gentry—a prospect versatile enough to shift to tight end, which he's since done—to holdover Alex Malzone. Instead of easing back after landing a top-tier QB in 2016 (Brandon Peters), Harbaugh grabbed another for 2017 (Dylan McCaffrey), and M's top targets for 2018 (Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Artur Sitkowski, Cameron Rising) are also of the high-four-star variety.
Hoke seemed to fear that his quarterbacks would leave if they felt they weren't preordained as The Guy. Harbaugh has no such fear; he recruits with future attrition in mind and, as mentioned, takes more position-versatile players than Hoke did—just look at Gentry for evidence. At certain positions, especially quarterback, I think Michigan is utilizing the strategy outlined in the question, and that general mentality drives how they recruit.
Other surges are more the coaches patching up holes in the roster. With Freddy Canteen's status in doubt, Michigan was set to have only three scholarship receivers back in 2017 (Ways, Harris, and Perry), so taking five receiver-types in the 2016 class made a lot of sense, especially since a couple can potentially play in the defensive backfield. After fixing the imbalance, the coaches are being much more selective at receiver in 2017.
Tight end recruiting, which spawned this question, is a combination of Harbaugh patching a hole—Khalid Hill, who's now a fullback, and Ian Bunting will be the only two scholarship upperclassman TE/H-backs in 2017—and putting together his preferred personnel. Harbaugh wants blocky/catchy guys of all shapes and sizes in his offense, and he had to jump-start that in the last couple classes; things should even out over the next couple classes as Harbaugh shapes the roster to his liking.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]
Hello, I'm back, and very thankful to have missed the dumbest week of the offseason thus far. The long-promised recruiting mailbag is here, and I'll have a recruiting roundup tomorrow once I've caught up.
There may be in-class attrition. It probably won't include Mike Onwenu. [Rapai]
At long last, we've gone long enough—hold on...
[checks three different message boards]
[checks Twitter again]
...we've gone long enough without a commitment for me to put together the recruiting mailbag I promised weeks ago.
— CBCS (@MGoFour) June 15, 2015
It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. Michigan already sits at 21 commits in the class and they have several positions of need yet to fill: wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle, BUCK linebacker, cornerback, probably one more offensive lineman, and maybe an additional inside linebacker. They may even take a kicker, though Quinn Nordin's recruitment is trending towards Penn State. That's seven or so more potential spots. If they find a way to make the numbers work, this class could conceivably reach 28 players, with the coaches backdating a few early enrollees to fit under the yearly cap of 25.
Can Michigan make this work without oversigning? I think so. Brian covered part of the numbers outlook in his recent mailbag, noting two areas where scholarships should open up:
- There are 4-6 current redshirt juniors who are candidates for unrenewed fifth years. They'll have spent four years in the program and will leave with degrees in hand.
- There are a couple potential medical redshirts, not including the now known to the public effort to get Ondre Pipkins to agree to take one. Pipkins, a senior, wouldn't have affected the 2016 scholarship count regardless.
There's another huge factor: the impending depth chart crunch. Michigan is set to have seven scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in 2016; they'll also have seven scholarship running backs. That's 14 players for two starting positions (three if M goes RB-by-committee), and there's a good chance underclassmen pass an upperclassman or two. Depending upon how the depth chart shakes out, there could be 3-4 transfer candidates just from those two position groups. As the pecking order is established in fall camp and during the season, some players will look for playing time elsewhere.
In addition, I looked at Stanford's 2010 class for a reason. Any class that fills this many spots this early is likely to have attrition, and while Stanford's 2010 class had an unusual number of decommitments even for Harbaugh, it'd surprise me more if Michigan held onto every current commit than if they lost at least a couple. David Reese is looking at Louisville and Notre Dame. Dele' Harding camped at West Virginia recently. In-class attrition should be expected.
For those looking at the number of highly ranked targets on Michigan's board and wondering where those spots will come from, that should help provide an answer, as should this: always remember that fans tend to overestimate their team's chances of landing top-ranked commits. Is Michigan going to pull in some four-stars and perhaps even a five-star or two down the stretch? Yes. Are they going to add Rashan Gary, both Kellys, Dontavious Jackson, Terrance Davis, Ahmir Mitchell, and Nasier Upshur to round out the class? No. While Michigan is in very good shape with each of those prospects, anyone who's followed recruiting for a while knows that a class never wraps up so neatly, let alone so spectacularly—especially when dealing with so many out-of-region prospects.
At this point, I'm not too concerned about the numbers. There's still an entire fall camp and football season to play before Signing Day, and Michigan is in their first year under a demanding coach with a markedly different style from his predecessor. If M has to "free up" a half-dozen scholarships in February, we have a problem; I don't anticipate this being a problem.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]
NOTE: Michigan baseball plays their NCAA Tournament opener against Bradley starting RIGHT NOW. You can watch it on ESPN3.
Harbaugh is a draw, but recruits will need to see results. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
As Michigan heads into a big visit weekend before what should be an eventful month of June, when the coaches make their satellite camp tour, it's a good time for a recruiting mailbag. No need for a preamble; let's get straight to the questions.
— MysterA (@NateAdema) May 29, 2015
This will depend on the prospect to a certain extent. For recruits focused more on relationships with coaches, facilities, academic support, and the like, on-campus visits should be the primary way Michigan pushes for a commitment. For recruits intent on competing for conference and national titles, Michigan is going to have to show some progress this season before they haul in guys hell-bent on collecting rings.
That's oversimplifying matters, of course; recruits rarely commit to a school without a great on-campus visit experience, and winning is going to help no matter what. After the way last year's recruiting deteriorated along with the team's performance, however, it's safe to say on-field results will be more important this year for recruiting than a normal year. (Whatever that is.) Jim Harbaugh's reputation may precede him, but the program has been down for long enough that a lot of top prospects—especially from outside the region—are going to want to see the Wolverines take a step forward before making a four- or five-year commitment.
[Hit THE JUMP for a comparison of Harbaugh's offer approach to Hoke's, the position group in need of a solid '16 haul, and a guess or two at M's next commitment.]
Can Donnal and Chatman bounce back from underwhelming freshman campaigns? [Fuller]
This edition of the recruiting mailbag—now featuring hoops, too—covers the impact of KJ Costello's commitment to Stanford, a guess at when Harbaugh will land his first commitment, and some discussion of next season's basketball rotation.
Assuming Costello stays out West how big an impact does that have on all these other offers out there? Didn’t seem like too long ago we were hoping for Costello and a bunch of other guys to visit together? Would be great to have a West Coast Tentpole (it’s a thing I think), especially at QB, in the class to link up the offers (and optimism) with commitments.
Tx as always for your time.
Michigan's forays into California are always going to feature a lot of misses; they'll keep at it because the hits make it well worth the effort. Landing a whole group of Golden State prospects was always a longshot at best; even before Costello went off the board, receiver Theo Howard—who described Michigan as his "dream school" after receiving an offer—pledged to Oregon, and it looks like receiver Dylan Crawford could follow in Costello's footsteps.
Jim Harbaugh has already experienced some success recruiting the state, however. Getting five-star OLB Caleb Kelly to foot the bill for an unofficial visit was impressive, and Kelly's mentioned a desire to return for an official visit, which would be a great sign for Michigan's chances. Four-star OLB Camilo Eifler will take an unofficial days after the spring game. Four-star S CJ Pollard said he'd take an official visit as soon as he received his offer. Four-star TE Devin Asiasi is a good bet to take an official, as well. Several others at least have moderate interest; if I had to guess, I'd say Michigan gets at least one California prospect in the class.
That'd be a huge step in the right direction. Seth was kind enough to dig into his database when I asked him about California recruiting under previous coaches. The disparity between Lloyd Carr and the last two coaching staffs is huge:
Carr: Tom Brady, Russell Shaw (transfer), Patrick McCall, DeWayne Patmon, Justin Fargas, Hayden Epstein, Courtney Morgan, Charles Drake, Zach Kaufman, Calvin Bell, Tyler Ecker, Spencer Brinton (transfer), Matt Gutierrez, Leon Hall, Keston Cheathem, Morgan Trent, Eugene Germany, Jason Forcier, Chris Richards, Johnny Sears, Jonas Mouton, Zion Babb, Avery Horn, Donovan Warren, Michael Williams
Rodriguez (1): Tate. Unless you count Burzynski.
Hoke (2): Mags and Wile
Carr averaged about two California recruits a year, and he landed his fair share of big-time recruits, like Brady, Fargas, Mouton, and Warren. As Seth points out, a lot of those guys were from power programs, like Matt Gutierrez at Concord De La Salle—a connection forged back when Carr was the defensive coordinator and Michigan landed a wide receiver from DLS by the name of Amani Toomer. Reestablishing a strong rapport with California's top schools will pay off, even if it's more so in future classes than 2016.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag, which includes maybe the greatest reader email I've ever received.]
NJ DT Rashan Gary may be M's most important target in the 2016 class.
Although the Roquan Smith decision looms, the recruiting focus has almost entirely turned to the 2016 class, one that comes with significant expectations for Jim Harbaugh. While there wasn't nearly enough time in the 2015 cycle for Harbaugh to make a huge splash, 2016 should be the class in which the results start meeting the hype.
With Michigan handing out a rash of new offers in the last couple weeks, this seemed like a good time to take some of your questions.
Biggest Positions Of Need
What do you see as the biggest position of need, outside of possibly quarterback? Our lack of weapons at WR, especially when compared to the elite teams last year, has me leaning that way.
While Michigan will certainly take a receiver or two—with a focus on pulling in a top-flight talent like Dylan Crawford—I don't see that group as the most pressing need in this class. There's plenty of talent on the depth chart left over from last year, and you shouldn't sleep on redshirt freshmen Drake Harris and Moe Ways; both have big-time ability.
Three position groups come to mind immediately. On offense, the O-line is in need of sheer numbers after Michigan took just five total in the last two classes—one of whom, Mason Cole, didn't redshirt and therefore may as well be regarded as a 2013 recruit. The Hoke regime provided Harbaugh with a decent start here; 2016 commit Erik Swenson is a borderline top-100 prospect. Expect Michigan to add at least two more on the line, and preferably more. Given Harbaugh's offense, adding a high-level tight end or two is also a priority.
The biggest need on the team is at defensive tackle. Michigan didn't take one in 2015, and six of the nine DTs on the current roster are in their final two seasons of eligibility—the only exceptions are sophomores Maurice Hurst Jr. and Bryan Mone and redshirt freshman Brady Pallante. While Hurst and Mone have already started contributing, Pallante was an undersized prospect who was initially offered as a grayshirt before Hoke missed out on several D-line targets.
Given how long it usually takes for DTs to develop, landing two recruits there at a minimum is a must. Luckily, Michigan is off to a strong start in the recruitment of Paramus (NJ) Catholic's Rashan Gary, the #2 overall prospect on the 247 Composite.
[Hit THE JUMP for questions on the quarterback outlook, California recruiting, fullbacks(!), and reasonable expectations for the class.]
We're a week away from Signing Day and a bizarre recruiting controversy just arose, so it's time for a mailbag. Let's get this one out of the way...
The Daishon Neal Thing
— Craig Barker (@cdbarker) January 28, 2015
If you missed it, Michigan appeared on the verge of flipping SDE Daishon Neal from his Nebraska commitment until Greg Mattison's in-home visit went awry:
"Michigan was a powerhouse, they came in and they stormed us, they made one bad statement and it was over," [Neal's father] told 1620 on air. "They said without football, Daishon wouldn't be able to go to Michigan. Like we couldn't afford to send him there, or that we couldn't get him in academically.
"Once he said that, we pretty much escorted him out of the house."
Neal continued by stating: "(They) basically tried to call me stupid in front of my face."
There are a few issues at work here. First of all, Michigan can't comment on an unsigned recruit without breaking NCAA rules, so there's no way for Mattison to tell his side of the story; in all likelihood, this won't ever be addressed specifically.
Second, what Mattison reportedly said, in so many words, is often true—one of Michigan's most reliable recruiting pitches is that being a football player allows prospects the opportunity at a first-rate education that wouldn't necessarily be available otherwise. This isn't meant as an insult; plenty of smart people with strong academic resumes don't get into Michigan. I think it's great that Michigan presents this opportunity to those who may not have a 3.8 and a 30 on their ACT; football players have a huge impact on campus life and come away with well-earned degrees.
Finally, Mattison is a seasoned recruiter. I have a difficult time believing he presented this information in any way close to calling Neal "stupid." That's not a particularly effective way to convince a student-athlete to come to your school. A football scholarship pretty much guarantees admittance as long as the recipient clears NCAA academic requirements, which are far less stringent than Michigan's usual admission standards—coaches almost always check with admissions before offering a scholarship.*
Even if Neal has an excellent academic record, that doesn't offer the same guarantee he'd get in. Perhaps Mattison didn't put this in terms Neal and his family appreciated, but it seems far more likely this was an unfortunate miscommunication than a deliberate slight by Mattison. So it goes.
*Demar Dorsey stands as the exception to the rule, and that didn't work out so well.
[Hit THE JUMP for M's chances with Iman Marshall, the proclivity of TE/DE types, and how Harbaugh will look to replace Messiah deWeaver.]