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.]
— Brendan Warren (@Brendan_Warren) July 22, 2016
— Brendan Warren (@Brendan_Warren) July 22, 2016
We learned the hard way with Hoke that on-field results matter, especially when it comes to closing on top prospects late in the cycle. While Michigan doesn't need to win a national title to close on their remaining top uncommitted targets, they need to show they're headed in that direction—there's no other option when trying to convince prospects to choose Michigan over the likes of Alabama and Ohio State. Recruits would probably understand a loss at Ohio State—single-game outcomes tend to matter less to recruits than people think—but there'd be some explaining to do if the game is as lopsided as it was last year.
As for part two, I think this has more of an effect on out-of-state prospects, who are obviously less inclined to commit to Michigan because of loyalty, personal connection to the program, and the like. For out-of-state prospects, Michigan has to prove they're a better option than the who's-who of power programs also pursuing the Baron Brownings and Isaiah Wilsons out there. Meanwhile, Michigan has already convinced several of the top-level in-state recruits that they're the program of choice locally—they're the current favorite to sweep the top five:
If the result of the Michigan-MSU game was paramount to these guys, I think we'd see a little more green on that board.
— Russell Muir (@OC_ATC) July 22, 2016
There's maybe been a slight uptick, though Hoke was no slouch in this department. Hoke only closed on two five-stars (Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Green), however, while Harbaugh has already landed the top overall prospect in his first full class and has Michigan as the favorite to land Donovan Peoples-Jones this year. Michigan also has realistic shots at Browning and Wilson, Nico Collins is a five-star to Rivals, and Dylan McCaffrey is still within striking distance of a fifth star after his recent drop.
With ample supporting evidence, Harbaugh can sell five-stars on his ability to turn them into future stars in a way Hoke couldn't, and his team's success should enable him to turn more of those visits into commitments.
Maybe this isn’t a realistic question at this point but what the heck;
What do you think a realistic ceiling is for this class for the Wolverines?
As always, thanks for considering the q and for the great work, love the coverage.
If the team is a playoff contender, I could see this ending up as a top-three class, though it'll be tough to catch Ohio State and Alabama. They'll have the volume—it's not hard to project this class up to around 30(!) commits with normal attrition. They're the favorites to pick up Peoples-Jones, Ambry Thomas, and Jaylen Kelly-Powell, and they're running at or near the top for the likes of Collins, Wilson, Drew Singleton, Cesar Ruiz, TJ Slaton, and so on. Plus, as we saw last year with Devin Asiasi, this coaching staff can pull high-level prospects seemingly out of the blue; you never know who's going to emerge late in the cycle.