2016 Recruiting: Michael Onwenu Comment Count

Brian June 15th, 2016 at 11:59 AM

Previously: Last year's profiles. S Josh Metellus, S Khaleke Hudson, CB David Long, CB Lavert Hill, LB Elysee Mbem-Bosse, LB Devin Bush Jr., LB Devin Gil, LB Josh Uche, DE Ron Johnson, DT Michael Dwumfour, DT Rashan Gary, DE Carlo Kemp, OL Ben Bredeson.

Detroit, MI – 6'3", 370


Scout 4*, #140 overall
#8 OG
Rivals 4*, #147 overall
#7 OG, #4 MI
ESPN 4*, #130 overall
#8 OG, #2 MI
24/7 4*, #36 overall
#2 OG, #1 MI
Other Suitors OSU, MSU, PSU, Bama
YMRMFSPA Chance Warmack or
Gabe Watson
Previously On MGoBlog Hello post from Ace. Onwenu featured in two editions of FBO as well.
Notes Twitter. Cass Tech (many persons). Army AA.



Ace and Dave compiled a single-game reel from the Cass-Southfield game last year:

Mike Onwenu is a cyborg made of a super-dense alloy who arrived on this planet via atmospheric re-entry. I mean… probably? That seems as good an explanation as any. He had already been on the radar for a while when he arrived at one of the many, many camps he did over the course of his high school career and weighed in at 370 pounds. Around here we assumed this was in error and the enormous dude was in fact Juan Harris, the planet-sized Iowa DT commit. That's because Onwenu does not look like a 370-pound man.

Speaking of mass, Onwenu has a deceptive, compact 370 pounds that he moves extremely well. When he gets all that weight going in the right direction, the Michigan commit is a scary sight.

Nor does he move like one, but scale don't lie.

"There are not many offensive linemen I like more in this 2016 class that … Onwenu," [Steve Wiltfong] said. "Onwenu struggled a little bit with learning the new offense, but what he doesn’t struggle with is strength. No question he was the strongest offensive lineman on the field and he was also perhaps the quickest."

In addition to Onwenu's sheer improbable mass, he has tackle-sized arms. Onwenu had the biggest hands and second-longest arms of anyone at The Opening, which is a who's who of guys with big hands and long arms.

That helps his pass blocking, which was excellent in camp settings. Onwenu took a ton of one on one snaps against high-profile defensive ends. He held his own in an environment that's OL-unfriendly–especially so for man-mountains who get stuck on the edge for funzies. At the Opening he was repeatedly matched up with top-tier OSU DE commit Jonathan Cooper. Cooper eventually nosed ahead after a bunch of reps, but Onwenu got his too.

The reports coming out of these camps are unsurprisingly raves.

  • Barton Simmons, 247: "…almost immovable at 371 pounds… very few offensive linemen have had the success Onwenu has had in the pass-rush one-on-ones."
  • Greg Biggins, Scout: "…our top guard of the day and had some extremely impressive reps in the one on ones. …an absolute load but moved very well and had the best punch of any of the linemen we saw."
  • Mike Farrell, Rivals: "…showed off amazing feet for a massive interior lineman and he reset as well as anyone. He washed opponents across the middle when they tried to go inside him and he extended his arms well and got his feet right when they tried to go outside. His balance was very good and he was solid inside and even outside at tackle."
  • Steve Wiltfong, 247: "…played three different positions and was dominant at all three. … a force at the point of attack, showing he could handle different styles of defensive tackles throughout the day, whether it was a big, quick prospect like four-star Naquan Jones, or the shorter, more powerful Brice Brand. …took snaps at offensive tackle, showing his athleticism and feet, stoning Top247 defensive end Austin Robertson on one rep."
  • Also Wiltfong: "one of the surest bets to be a producer on the next level….as usual good in pass protection drills and pass blocking, but he was at his best in the zone blocking drills, obviously looking really powerful in his 6-foot-3, 365-pound body, explosive firing off the ball and attacking defensive linemen in the run game as well."
  • Dave Berk, Scout: "Keeps pad level low and uses quick feet, great hand placement and strength to fend off defenders. …moves like a player weighing 280-pounds but can he play four quarters of football at the next level at a high rate with the extra baggage."
  • Josh Helmholdt, Rivals: "…dominated throughout the spring and summer….a big body, but he is also very light on his feet. He has a devastating punch and gets immediate extension, but he can also engage and move with defensive linemen."

Camp evals are more about potential than production and the above are ample evidence that Onwenu's got rare, once-in-a-generation upside. Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher has seen his share of top flight prospects and even he's never run across another Onwenu:

“We’ve never had a kid like him before. Never had a kid like that. That’s a gift to have a kid that big that can move and run. You don’t have kids like him all the time that can do that. He’s low contact, to the ground, good pad level, quick, can run outside zone, sweeps, he can play guard, he can play tackle, it’s hard to find kids like that. We’ve never had a kid at our school with his height, weight and his size.”

Nor has anyone else, at least not in a while. As discussed towards the end of this post, finding anyone vaguely comparable to Onwenu was a struggle.

Ownenu still has a long way to go. He was a defensive tackle early in his career, only moving to the offensive line as a junior in high school. Despite this the technique evaluations he gets are at least on par with most highly-touted OL. He's not Bredeson in this regard, but he's a lot closer than you might think. Clint Brewster:

fluid body movement for a big player and can move and bend his body to combat rushers. He's able to find and hit opponents out in space. He can anchor down in pass protection and absorb contact. … work in progress with hand placement and proper steps. … generates torque through his hip-snap and has a violent upper body punch.


Naturally strong and wins when he gets his hands on defensive linemen. Would like to see him play at a little lower weight, which would improve overall quickness and mobility, but he bends well, plays with a great base and is technically sound. Could play guard or center in college.

ESPN continues its trend of extremely reserved evaluations, noting that Onwenu has "nice size for play in the trenches" without a single superlative or exclamation point or anything. They tend to like him if you can get past the usual suite of qualifiers:

Good height, with a thickly built and wide frame. … very good playing strength and adequate lower body flexion for size. … good, powerful initial punch. … just average initial quickness in coming out of his stance and getting set and can at times get top heavy and lean and expose himself to rushers moves. … Displays adequate pull ability once in motion, but can be beat slow out his stance. … not a real consistent finisher.

There are some technique issues in there but no more than your average OL prospect, and he has some positives in that department.

It's those 370 pounds—the very thing that makes Onwenu a uniquely enticing prospect—that also bring some doubt into his evaluations. A lot of people mention a lack of finishing from him on blocks. Son of a Coach:

What I hated to see was him not being a consistent finisher. He would put himself in good body position, but not sustain his block. This happened far too often and it looked a bit lazy. The other thing is that I expected someone his size to be a lot meaner.

Touch The Banner:

Onwenu is slow out of his stance, sometimes steps with the wrong foot, does not use good hand placement, and does not finish plays on a consistent basis. Even on his highlights, it's rare to see more than a few steps with any kind of purpose. Once he reaches his assignment - a guy who's unlikely to move around the mountain - Onwenu essentially stops to watch the play.


The only thing I'd like to see more from Onwenu is finishing his blocks. For a guy with his size and strength, he doesn't knock a ton of opponents on the turf, and there were a couple plays when he caught himself not playing through the whistle—he got through the game fine at 370 pounds, but at the next level he's going to need better conditioning.

I'm a little skeptical about how much that matters since opportunities to truly "finish" a guy are rare on the college level. The lack of effort some people perceive is probably an endurance issue—Onwenu is delivering consistent good-enough blocks because he's easily tired. Because he's enormous.

Rivals also docked him once they saw his senior season, but the reasons they offered didn't entirely make sense:

…light on his feet and controls everything in front of him, but further evaluation this fall reveals that he is limited and the top 100 is a little high. Onwenu will be an interior lineman in college, but playing left tackle for Cass Tech this season he has trouble reaching defenders who are not lined up directly in front of him and second moves catch him far too often.

Those are both edge problems that won't apply when he's not playing left tackle, as Josh Helmholdt acknowledges. That downgrade brought Rivals down to about the level Scout and ESPN have him at so it's not outlandish, but I'm not sure what they expected.

Nose tackle is also a possibility. Onwenu mentioned he'd have an opportunity to play defense just before Signing Day, and Onwenu was on D-I radars as an underclass NT and drew praise at his various camp stops when he moonlit on that side of the ball:

Off the snap defensively, Onwenu can beat interior offensive linemen, and he's nimble on his feet.

showed he is a powerful, space-eating, run-stuffing defensive tackle.

TTB was actually a bigger fan of Onwenu as a defender:

The place where Onwenu shows a sense of urgency is at nose tackle on defense. He looks like a totally different player. He's quick off the ball, uses good technique, and finishes plays. He probably won't be much of a pass rusher because it's tough to contort 365 lbs. in enough ways to wiggle around offensive linemen, but he can be a run-stuffer in the middle, especially if Michigan is going to run any 3-4 looks.

There's already been considerable chatter about Onwenu moonlighting on that side of the ball when an opposition positively cannot be afforded a single yard, and this is Jim Harbaugh we are talking about here: they'll explore his two-way possibilities. Given the state of the roster, a full-time move is not likely unless there's a roster crisis.

Etc.: MLive interviews him, asks him what his favorite food is. He says lasagna and then clarifies: Sam's Club lasagna, the kind you need a forklift to buy.

Why Warmack/Watson? There is not a successful Michigan guard in Onwenu's weight class. Michigan took a swing with borderline 3/4 star monster Chris Bryant at the tail end of the RR regime; he saw a bunch of hype and scattered playing time before injury problems ended his career. Bryant was not in Onwenu's league as a recruit and offering him as a comparison isn't useful since nobody really saw him play. So we must venture further afield.

The problem with doing that is you don't find much of anyone with Onwenu's size. Best I can do is former Alabama OG Chance Warmack, who is around Onwenu's height and gets NFL bonuses for getting under 330. Warmack was listed at 320 coming out of high school, which is a very big difference unless that number was massaged downward. Warmack really, really panned out, getting picked tenth in the the NFL draft, and while Onwenu is not likely to repeat that just because of the way Gaussian distributions work that's the best I've got.

If Onwenu ends up on defense Gabe Watson is your go-to comparison. Watson was a humongous NT-only prospect who played at around 340 pounds. He was a five-star or near it, and a lot of people were disappointed at how his career turned out… for some reason. Watson was first team All Big Ten twice and got drafted in the fourth round. People are weird sometimes.

Guru Reliability: High-minus. Close to consensus but 247's heart-emoji eyes provide a bit of uncertainty.

Variance: Moderate-plus. Onwenu's potential, weight, and relative rawness make him a highly variable prospect. OL get taken out with injury frequently, and jumbo-jumbo types are at particular risk. Barring injury I can't imagine he's not at least useful as a run-stuffing nose tackle in a scenario where he doesn't work out as a guard.

Ceiling: Vast. Guy could seriously play at 330-340, which would make him a guard prospect unique in Michigan history. (Alex Mitchell does not count for purposes of this discussion.) If he hits his ceiling should be one of the rare guards who gets his name called during the first round of the NFL draft.

General Excitement Level: High. The Warmack comparison is useful in another way because it offers a feel: Onwenu is the type of guy who is a linchpin in the kind of offense that can deliver some good but not incredible tailbacks a Heisman trophy.

Projection: Is 370 pound OL, redshirt. Will have a shot at starting the year after, with three openings and not a ton of options. It's still probable that Bredeson and a couple of the veterans are ahead of Onwenu; 2018 is a more likely time frame for him to emerge as a starter, as there will be at least one opening and possibly more if the fifth-year seniors-to-be emerge. By that time Onwenu will have dropped significant weight and hopefully adds that ferocity to his game that is currently lacking.

And you know Harbaugh is going to have him play some defense. Expect him in short yardage packages in 2017 and possibly beyond.



June 15th, 2016 at 12:17 PM ^

We were disappointed because he didn't reach the potential he had coming out of HS. All American and a first round draft choice weren't unreasonable expectations. There was a strong impression that he didn't have the proper mental focus until his senior year. (IIRC, he admitted that).


June 15th, 2016 at 12:39 PM ^

I didn't know he has only played offense for two years.  This is something that Drevno can work magic on.  What a beast!!  Four stars, with only some relatively minor gripes, after only two years on an OL!  I suspect this will turn out well...


June 15th, 2016 at 12:50 PM ^

One of these things is not like the other :
"top guard "
"extremely impressive reps"
"force at the point of attack "
"great hand placement"
"devastating punch "

"slow out of his stance. Does not use his hand placement well "


I personally have high hopes and expectations for Big Mike.


June 15th, 2016 at 1:45 PM ^

You're certainly entitled to your opinion on the accuracy of my comments, but Clint Brewster (a "professional") brought up hand placement issues, and ESPN (a "professional") mentioned being slow out of his stance. I mentioned both of those things in my evaluation. When I'm saying the same things as some of the "professionals," then I don't know why you're complaining. 

I haven't spoken to Brian about why he does/doesn't include my evaluations in these posts. Considering the glut of information out there from the national recruiting sites and other sites/blogs, I would imagine he includes the information because he thinks it provides value to his posts and his readers.

Everyone Murders

June 15th, 2016 at 2:02 PM ^

Magnus (along with Space Coyote and a couple of others) provides a bridge for those of us on the board who love Michigan football but lack coaching / scouting experience.  And by virtue of Magnus's general commentary, we have a much better sense of his perspective than some of the "national" guys.  And he generally explains himself to a lay audience without being overly condescending.  (Just condescending enough, thankuvermuch.)

Plus, Magnus has ballz.  Not everybody has crystal ballz.

So while I don't always agree with what Magnus writes (  cough, cough, Peyton Manning ... cough ), I read what he writes.


June 15th, 2016 at 5:00 PM ^

That's what I like as well, there's more of a take it or leave it aspect to his writing rather than audience pandering that I think is necessary and I appreciate people being clear-eyed.

There are times, however, when it feels like there's some delibrate contrariness, but on the whole it's much more good than bad and it's good to have someone out there trying to pump the brakes.


June 15th, 2016 at 5:30 PM ^

Another point I was going to make earlier, but I ran out of time:

The "professionals" you're discussing are not necessarily, um, professionals at scouting football players. Tim Sullivan, I believe, was a cross country runner in high school who developed an interest in Michigan football and started his own website, Varsity Blue. He was then hired by MGoBlog and moved on to Rivals. I do not know Ace Anbender's athletic background, but he was also a blogger (The Wolverine Blog) who was picked up by MGoBlog. I know Josh Helmholdt was a high school quarterback, though I'm not sure his involvement in athletics after high school.

Clint Brewster has some football chops. He was an FBS quarterback and is the son of former Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster (now FSU's TE coach, IIRC).

So you say leave it to the professionals, but a lot of these guys are just writers. They're guys who are interested in football and showed the necessary desire and journalistic chops to get the gig. That doesn't mean they lack knowledge or are bad at their jobs, but you may be attributing more expertise to them than what they actually possess. You may want to keep that in mind going forward. Or not.

Painter Smurf

June 15th, 2016 at 12:48 PM ^

Nice prospect.  Kind of a boom or bust kid.  Agree with TTB in that he looks more motivated as a DL than OL.  The lack of finishing is definitely a risk that should not be overlooked, as is playing 50 lbs overweight.  Aggressive attitude was a main reason for dopping Swenson in favor of Spanellis.  And they took Ulizio in large part because of his mean finishing.   '17 is definitely Onwenu's chance.  If he is not ready by then, it will be tough because UM will have an excellent OL haul in February.  Drevno has a history of playing talent over seniority, moreso than a lot of OL coaches.  Would love to see this kid develop into a star.  The potential is certainly there.

Cranky Dave

June 15th, 2016 at 12:55 PM ^

the highlight videos and thought, he's a big dude and pass blocks pretty well but doesn't really destroy people in the run game, eases off blocks often but maybe i'm missing something.   Then I read the comments from Son of a Coach and TTB and felt like I didn't really miss something.

NT seems like the better long term fit to me but I'm no expert.


June 15th, 2016 at 12:59 PM ^

If one of our starting guards (Kalis or Braden) gets dinged up, who comes in?  I think there's a fair chance Onwenu's red shirt may get burned if he can learn his roles and improve his technique enough in Summer Camp to a point where he isn't a freshman liability on the field.  Because from a purely physical point of view, he as much as anyone (including Bredeson) has the potential to dominate at his position.  I realize the comparison to Braden coming in as a freshman, but Onwenu appears to be in a different category in terms of what he can do now.  The way he performed at the Army game was impressive, to say the least. 


June 15th, 2016 at 1:58 PM ^

I thought Onwenu struggled in the Army Bowl from a technique standpoint. QB and OL are the two toughest position groups to play in those games, IMO, because of the short preparation time, but I still didn't think Onwenu did anything noteworthy other than earn a starting gig.

Dawson has been the #3 OG for the past couple seasons. I also think Jon Runyan, Jr. looked pretty good in the spring.


June 15th, 2016 at 2:04 PM ^

I don't consider the Brian to have the Word of God, but where Onwenu's scouting report reads as "boom-or-bust raw, physical freak with outlier size, strength and quickness (for his size)", Bredeson's reads as "college ready (for an OL) that is technically advanced, smart, and has good pad level". I'd be stunned if Onwenu laps him in year 1. 


June 15th, 2016 at 1:19 PM ^

This was a kid I for sure didn't want to lose.  I'm sure the coaches will quickly knock the tar out of him if he's taking plays off.  I don't see plays who slack lasting very long under Harbaugh's team.  

That Stanford level offensive line is being built that's for sure!


June 15th, 2016 at 1:25 PM ^

We lose Glasgow after this season. Mone will become the starter but that's a high-rotation spot. I wouldn't want to put all my eggs in the Pallante basket. Onwenu has the size and the power for NT and the reports say he plays low, so it really does seem like a good fit.

Dorothy_ Mantooth

June 15th, 2016 at 2:03 PM ^

one key measurement will be, what's going on between his ears - if he cadillacs through his first few years (i.e., Campbell, etc), he'll join that long list of "what if's"

i'm hoping Harbaugh & staff turn this monster into a beast that becomes an anchor on one of many future productive UM OL's that compete w/any team


June 15th, 2016 at 2:39 PM ^

but I am having a tough time imagining a guy whose primary challenge seems to be endurance playing on both sides of the ball. Hopefully he can get his weight down a bit and get in great game shape, but I think the upside for him is either Great OG, or Great NT, not moonlighting in all kinds of situations.


June 15th, 2016 at 5:10 PM ^

Playing at 370 means unless he's an outlier among outliers, he's a big risk to have his career cut short by injury.  Bryant was no fluke.  People who can move at 300-320 without doing serious damage to their bodies are already genetic freaks; at 370 it'd be phenomenal if he doesn't wind up with a 60-year-old's joints by his junior year.

I mean, I hope for the best and he deserves and opportunity, but I gotta be honest -- I'm already worried.  Not so much about Michigan but about this kid.

San Diego Mick

June 15th, 2016 at 5:21 PM ^

Harbaugh is getting so many great recruits that if a player earns playing time I don't care to redshirt that individual.

We're going to be very young albeit talented in 2017, get guys some experience so that we can know what they can do moving forward, there are going to be plenty of talented recruits coming in year after year.

I can easily see him playing NT if that's where we really need him and someone else can play OG.


June 15th, 2016 at 8:05 PM ^

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Durham Blue

June 15th, 2016 at 9:02 PM ^

Onwenu is a great get but I worry about his frame, specifically his knees and ankles, supporting that weight at the next level.  Dropping 30 to 40 lbs will do wonders to help him become a more athletic lineman at Michigan.


June 15th, 2016 at 11:47 PM ^

When talking about comparisons as a DT, I was thinking about Vince Woolfork. So I looked him up and he's only 325. And he looks humongous. Damn 370 is big.