Michigan Football: 10 Prospects the Wolverines Must Land in 2014
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
With the class of 2013 officially in the books, the Michigan football program will now turn its attention toward the 2014 crop of recruits, and there are 10 prospects the Wolverines need to land to finish atop the team recruiting rankings come next February.
As of now, the Maize and Blue have room for only 14 prospects, which means the Wolverines cannot afford to misjudge any of the recruits they will be bringing in for next season.
Michigan brought in the No. 5 ranked recruiting class this year, and it is in good standing with some of the nation's elite prospects, so there is no reason to believe the Wolverines could not finish higher than that if the class swells to 18-20 prospects after natural attrition.
Who do the Wolverines have to land in 2014? Click ahead to find out!
Note: The players on this list are all considered to be "must-have" prospects either out of Michigan's need at the position, or their overall abilities on the field. All player and team rankings are courtesy of Rivals.com.
Alex Bars, Offensive Tackle
Alex Bars is one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the class of 2014.
This name will undoubtedly sound familiar to the Maize and Blue faithful, and it should considering that 4-star offensive tackle prospect Alex Bars (Nashville, Tenn.) is the younger brother of rising redshirt freshman lineman Blake Bars.
Although the Michigan Wolverines may have a leg up on some of the other schools pursuing the nation's No. 55 overall prospect, so do the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Another one of Bars' older brothers, Brad, is a redshirt sophomore for the Nittany Lions and his father, Mike, played for Notre Dame.
Michigan has already done an excellent job of rebuilding its offensive line over the past two recruiting classes, but adding a talent like Bars would provide more competition and depth.
The 6'6", 290-pounder told Tim Sullivan of TheWolverine.com last June he would "probably" make his decision going into his senior season at Montgomery Bell Academy.
Bars currently has offers from the likes of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Florida State Seminoles, Florida Gators and South Carolina Gamecocks to name a few.
The race is wide open for Bars' services at the moment, but the picture should be much clearer come spring.
Mason Cole, Offensive Tackle
Mason Cole could be a force on the interior of an offensive line. Photo courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Another offensive lineman might be a stretch for a prospect the Michigan Wolverines need to land, however, if the Maize and Blue are able to bring in 4-star tackle Mason Cole (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) it would significantly increase their chances of reeling in 4-star wide receiver Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla.).
The 6'5", 275-pounder may be able to move inside as well if the Wolverines are not able to lure any offensive guards to Ann Arbor, which only adds to the reasons Michigan would love to have him.
Cole will need a year or two to fill out his frame like most offensive linemen do when they transition from high school to college football. Once the East Lake High School standout does though, he has the athleticism to be an all-conference performer.
The Wolverines are the early leaders for Cole, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, USC Trojans and Alabama Crimson Tide are not too far behind.
In the midst of all this, Scott is one of Cole's teammates at East Lake and is the No. 93 overall prospect and has the skill set to be an excellent slot receiver in Michigan's offense.
Given that the Wolverines are the early leaders for Cole, and could land a package deal with Scott It is fairly important to secure a commitment from the nation's No. 107 ranked prospect.
Jabrill Peppers, Cornerback
Jabrill Peppers is one of the most explosive athletes in the class of 2014.
The Paramus Catholic High School star has a large frame (6'1", 210 lbs), outstanding speed and has no hesitancy when it comes to helping out in run defense. Peppers also disguises his blitzes well and could make a number of impact plays similar to those of former LSU Tigers standout Tyrann Mathieu.
The Maize and Blue made Peppers' first cut and found out they will be competing against the Stanford Cardinal, Ohio State Buckeyes, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Alabama Crimson Tide.
Stanford and Ohio State are the early leaders in this race, but the Wolverines were apparently hindered early in the recruiting process by something that will be addressed swiftly in the coming weeks.
"I grew up a Michigan fan," Peppers told Adam Friedman of Rivals.com. "The only thing that hurts Michigan at the moment is the coaching stability. I heard Coach (Brady) Hoke has a lot of offers from the NFL on the table."
The No. 2 ranked prospect does not want to go to a school in the midst of a coaching change, though there is no reason to believe Hoke is leaving Ann Arbor anytime soon.
Michigan could very well be atop Peppers' list in the coming weeks and will be in a battle with its biggest rivals to secure his signature.
Malik McDowell, Defensive End
Malik McDowell has the physical tools to be an elite pass rusher at the next level.
Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have already poached one of the top prospects in the Great Lakes State, which makes it even more critical for the Michigan Wolverines to land 4-star defensive end Malik McDowell (Detroit, Mich.).
The No. 21 ranked high school prospect in America is a terror off the edge because of his rare combination of speed and size.
The 6'6", 292-pounder has already visited Ann Arbor, the Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and wants to use one of his five official trips to check out the Oregon Ducks.
The fight for McDowell is not going to end anytime soon either. It appears for the time being, the midwest schools have a slight lead in McDowell's recruitment, though that will not mean anything until he takes some visits outside of the region and begins to evaluate all of his options.
This is arguably the most important recruiting battle Michigan will have for the class of 2014 considering McDowell is the highest ranked prospect in the state.
Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback
Marshon Lattimore could play on either side of the ball at the next level. Video courtesy of YouTube.com.
If the Michigan Wolverines are unable to land Jabrill Peppers, the next best option for a cornerback in the class of 2014 may very well be 4-star athlete Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland, Ohio).
The nation's No. 41 overall prospect is an explosive player on both sides of the ball, but the Maize and Blue would like to bring him in as a cornerback.
Lattimore has good size for a corner at 6'0", 185 pounds, and his leaping abilities make it tough for opposing quarterbacks to throw over him. The Glenville Academic Campus standout also has great hands, which are frequently on display when he lines up at wide receiver on the offensive side of the ball.
At this stage of the recruiting process, Lattimore is still considering all of his options and wants to visit Ann Arbor.
The Tennessee Volunteers, USC Trojans, Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan are getting the most attention from Lattimore right now, but there is still plenty of time for other programs to enter the fray.
In addition to being an outstanding two-way athlete, Lattimore is the No. 1 prospect in the state of Ohio, according to BuckeyeGrove.com.
Landing Lattimore would give Michigan two of the top three recruits from the Buckeye State, which would definitely send a message to Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
Joe Mixon, Running Back
Adding Joe Mixon to a backfield that already features Derrick Green would make Michigan's backfield one of the best in the country. Video courtesy of YouTube.com.
Landing 5-star running back Derrick Green in the class of 2013 makes the Michigan Wolverines' backfield one of the best in the Big Ten Conference, and adding 4-star prospect Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif.) would add even more depth and athleticism at the position.
Mixon has a large frame at 6'2", 210 pounds that would allow him to withstand the physical style of play in the Big Ten. The nation's No. 82 overall recruit also has outstanding speed, is elusive in the open field and displays great hands when catching screen passes.
The Freedom High School standout picked up an offer from Michigan last December, and Mixon expressed interest in visiting Ann Arbor.
This recruiting battle will drag out through the summer months and into the winter since Mixon wants to take all five of his official visits.
Michigan will find out where it stands once Mixon narrows down his list in a couple of months and decides which schools he would like to visit.
Adding Mixon to the 2014 recruiting haul would give the Wolverines a dynamic duo of running backs for the next three or four years.
Kallen Ballage, Athlete
Kalen Ballage's versatility will make him a stud at the college level. Photo courtesy of Scout.com.
One of the most versatile prospects in the country flying under the radar right now is Kalen Ballage (Falcon, Colo.), who has lined up at linebacker, running back, wide receiver, safety and even did some punting for his high school team.
The 6'2", 212-pounder has great speed (4.40 40-yard dash) and could play just about all of the aforementioned positions for the Michigan Wolverines.
When Michigan offered Ballage, the coaches did not inform him what position they were recruiting him as, so the staff is clearly impressed with his athleticism enough to leave the door open for the time being.
Ballage's recruitment has yet to heat up, however, the Falcon High School standout should add to his current list of six offers very soon.
The Wolverines are in a great position to land the dynamic athlete and that may be enough to hold off any of the larger programs recruiting Ballage down the road.
Lawrence Marshall, Defensive End
Lawrence Marshall is fast and hits hard coming off of the edge. Video courtesy of YouTube.com.
In one of the most shocking turn of events on the recruiting trail this year, in-state defensive end Lawrence Marshall (Southfield, Mich.) de-committed from the Ohio State Buckeyes and has flung the door wide open for the Michigan Wolverines to swoop in and steal him from their arch-rival.
Marshall was on an unofficial visit to Michigan when he made the announcement.
The Southfield High School star will be a project player at the college level. Marshall needs to add a lot of muscle to his lanky 6'4", 205-pound frame, though, his speed will enable him to make an impact coming off of the edge even if he is not one of the strongest defensive linemen in the country.
Michigan, Ohio State and the Michigan State Spartans appear to be the three schools out in front for Marshall at the moment. This one is far from over, though.
The Wolverines have completely rebuilt their offensive line and have made strides to do the same on the opposite side of the ball.
Adding Marshall would help expedite the process and it never hurts to win a battle against two of your biggest rivals.
Da'Shawn Hand, Defensive End
Da'Shawn Hand will be a dominant defensive end for whichever college he decides to play for. Video courtesy of YouTube.com.
There is no defensive lineman in the class of 2014 more dominant and physically imposing than 5-star prospect Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.), and if the Michigan Wolverines want to continue to be considered an elite program on the recruiting trail, they need to win this battle.
The scariest part is: Hand could stand to add some more weight to his already massive 6'4", 245-pound frame and become an even stronger force in the trenches.
Hand has an unmatched combination of athleticism, agility and quickness at the point of attack. Basically, Hand is a prototypical SEC defensive lineman and would be a huge pick up for Michigan.
The nation's No. 1 ranked prospect recently narrowed down his long list of schools to just five finalists. Michigan is still in the mix along with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators, Virginia Tech Hokies and South Carolina Gamecocks.
This will be the one of the toughest prospects for Michigan to land, but it has put itself in great position to secure a commitment from Hand next February.
Drake Harris, Wide Receiver
Drake Harris is a big play waiting to happen at wide receiver. Video courtesy of YouTube.com.
Now that 4-star wide receiver Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich) has decided to play only college football and not attempt to play basketball at the next level as well, his recruitment is wide open.
Despite the fact Harris is still committed to the Michigan State Spartans, the Grand Rapids Christian High School star wants to visit other schools.
Harris is a dynamic playmaker as a receiver. The No. 56 ranked high school junior stands 6'4" and tips the scales at 180 pounds, which makes him all the more dangerous once his ability to make catches in traffic is factored into the equation.
The Wolverines are going to be in a heated battle with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Michigan State for Harris' signature.
Since Michigan failed to land a marquee wide receiver in its 2013 recruiting haul, the need to bring in Harris is critical to the future success of the Wolverines' passing attack.