Linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. is the latest top-tier defensive prospect who plans to call Ann Arbor home during his college career.
The 4-star Indianapolis native announced a commitment to Michigan on Sunday afternoon, providing another key piece for head coach Brady Hoke's 2015 recruiting class:
Kirkland, a 6'2", 228-pound playmaker, spent time on campus this past weekend and capped off his trip with the pledge. He returned home as the newest member of a Wolverines class that includes seven players.
"As soon as I saw the Block M on campus, I knew I was committing on this trip," Kirkland told 247Sports reporter Steve Wiltfong. "I felt great about Michigan. My parents really like Michigan and I'm excited to be a part of the Michigan program."
The coaching staff should be equally excited to welcome Kirkland into a class that now features four 4-star defenders. Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison have built a solid foundation on that side of the football, starting last summer with commitments from Ohio defensive backs Shaun Crawford and Tyree Kinnel.
Coveted Virginia cornerback Garrett Taylor added to the haul in late March. After landing a serious infusion of defensive backfield talent, the team aims to locate upgrades across the front seven.
Kirkland, rated No. 5 nationally among inside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, instantly helps that process. He provides an intimidating presence in the middle, displaying balanced coverage that presents the Wolverines with options along the second level.
Kirkland collected 110 tackles and eight sacks last fall during his first season at Lawrence Central High School. He previously played at Park Tudor High School, where a strong 2012 campaign earned him scholarship offers from the likes of Toledo, Akron and Louisville.
He ultimately chose Michigan over Oregon, Texas, Penn State and Oklahoma, among others.
His performance as a junior exhibited significant strides in multiple capacities, particularly against the run. He maintained excellent spacial awareness while weaving and fighting through blocks along the line of scrimmage.
Kirkland does an outstanding job of detaching from opponents by maintaining low pad level and churning upfield with a powerful lower body. His physicality at the point of impact halts lead-blockers in their tracks, bottling up the offensive backfield.
Michigan is likely to implement him as an immediate asset on special teams, where his tenacity and tackling skills provide value in kick coverage. His ability to handle those initial duties will go a long way toward determining how quickly Kirkland can claim a role in the Wolverines' two-deep.
Hoke remains in pursuit of multiple 2015 linebackers who could challenge Kirkland for early playing time. However, edge-rushing linebackers like Justin Hilliard (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Osa Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah) are targets who would complement his skill set well.
With the addition of Kirkland, Michigan's class rates 24th nationally and fourth among Big Ten members in 247Sports' team rankings.
Recruit information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.