Prior to the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 2, running back Jeff Jones was relatively unknown. That changed in a hurry after he delivered a standout performance amongst the nation's most elite talent, rushing for 37 yards on just six carries. He also looked great in the passing game, catching four passes for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Jones earned the game's MVP award and received an official offer from Michigan just one day later. With very little uncertainty remaining in the Wolverines' 2014 recruiting class, it's Jones who should be Michigan's No. 1 target heading into national signing day.
Jones, who's finishing up his senior year at Washburn High in Minneapolis, gave his home state Golden Gophers his soft verbal commitment back on Feb. 2, 2013. But after his stellar performance on a national stage catapulted his stock, he's decided to weigh his options.
This is a great thing for Michigan, as it's now emerged as the predominant contender for Jones' services. With 247sports.com's Crystal Ball now predicting that the Wolverines have a 65 percent chance of landing him, the momentum has clearly shifted.
Apart from having a good overall experience on a recruiting visit back in June, the hiring of Doug Nussmeier has reportedly been a major catalyst in Jones' change of heart. Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com noted that the the hiring made a "big impression" on Jones. Nussmeier-led offenses have featured 1,000-yard rushers in each of the last six seasons.
Rivals analyst: Michigan in solid position for 4-star RB Jeff Jones after Doug Nussmeier hire http://t.co/S9UQuQH9tV— Michigan Sports (@michigansports) January 15, 2014
So why should Michigan fans care about Jones' potential commitment, particularly when the Wolverines backfield is already stacked with young talent?
Well, with the departure of Fitz Toussaint there's quite a bit of uncertainty at the running back position. Current freshmen Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith both showed flashes of their potential in 2013, and they'll head into the spring as the favorites to win the starting job. But as Brady Hoke completes the transition to an authentic pro-style offense, the importance of having depth at the running back position is paramount.
Jones' 4.69 speed won't blow you away. Neither will his size, at 6'0", 196 pounds. What stands out about Jones is his ability to make one cut and take off. His vision, not his athleticism, is his greatest attribute. ESPN.com's scouts observed that he, "shows the ability to read linebacker flow quickly and cutback through the hole with good anticipation when he breaks into the second level."
Landing Jones on national signing day won't immediately turn things around for the Michigan football program. However, it would likely sneak the Wolverines recruiting class into the top 10 nationally, and it would give Hoke and Nussmeier much-needed depth at running back. Jones' commitment could also prove to be even more valuable if 5-star running back Damien Harris slips out of their grasp next year.
Jones will take his final recruiting visit to Michigan on Jan. 31. He met informally with Minnesota running backs coach Brian Anderson on Jan. 16, and will take an official visit to Florida on Jan. 24.
Can the Wolverines coaching staff can take advantage of Jones' favorably timed visit to Ann Arbor, Mich.?