Michigan Football: 5 2016 RB Recruits Who Could Be Game-Changers
If a team's winning in the Big Ten, it's winning on the ground; and in order for Michigan to regain its hold of the conference, it must restore its once-powerful rushing attack.
In the not-so-distant past, the Wolverines gashed opponents with their running backs. However, that hasn't been the case as of late. But coach Brady Hoke has done a job second to none when it's come to recruiting, so the emergence of a dynamic power back should be right around the corner.
As usual, Michigan has its eyes set on the country's elite. This slideshow will take a look at the best running backs of 2016 while breaking down their games and analyzing their interest in the Wolverines.
Note: 247Sports will serve as the guide for information such as ranking, height, weight, school and visits/offers.
Kareem Walker (5-Star; DePaul Catholic, Wayne, New Jersey)
Kareem Walker's the No. 1-ranked running back of 2016, so of course Michigan wants him. So does Penn State and Alabama, which are the current favorites according to 247Sports' Crystal Ball.
Now just for a moment, picture the 6'1", 210-pounder without the Michigan State-esque helmet, instead replacing it with one of the winged, maize and blue variety: Looks good, doesn't it? Walker is the top gun of 2016 for good reason: He's the best until someone says otherwise.
When it comes to combining vision with speed, finesse and power, not many backs do it at a higher level than Walker, who just visited Florida State (unofficial).
Per 247, Michigan corners coach Roy Manning visited Walker in May.
As Steve Lorenz points out with the following tweet, the Wolverines are infatuated with the New Jersey star.
Elijah Holyfield (3-Star; Woodward Academy, Atlanta)
Want a rock-em, sock-em ball-carrier?
How about the son of a former heavyweight champion?
If Michigan (insert boxing pun related to going the distance) correctly, it could end up signing Elijah Holyfield, the son of Evander. As of now, the champ's son isn't regarded as one of the better backs of 2016. At No. 31, he's modestly ranked.
But that's fine.
Just add "underdog with possible chip on shoulder" to his scouting report.
Elijah's a lean, but solid, 5'11" and 190 pounds. But again, the whole "boxer dad" thing is of huge interest here. Toughness, both mentally and physically, can be difficult to instill in a young adult. Some are great athletes, but there are always at least a few who don't possess the necessary drive to succeed at the collegiate level.
Toughness shouldn't be an issue. And with what we can assume is a tireless work ethic and manner of discipline, Holyfield should have Michigan followers in his corner.
He runs a legitimate 4.55-second 40-yard dash. He's not a blazer, but he can move.
On June 17, he attended a camp at Michigan. The next day, he was offered and unofficially visited.
Lorenz says that Holyfield plans to return to Ann Arbor soon.
Martell Pettaway (4-Star; South Lake, Saint Clair Shores, Michigan)
Martell Pettaway is Michigan's No. 2-ranked prospect, so the Wolverines will probably be among finalists if they're not already. Harvesting the state's top talent is always a priority for Hoke, who wins more in his backyard than he loses.
A long 5'10", Pettaway could easily add 15 to 20 pounds of muscle without losing a step; he relies on his quick feet and elusive nature, but he needs more mass if he's going to be a battle back for Hoke.
Pettaway's versatility is a plus. He appears comfortable in "spready" formations, but he could fit in Michigan's traditional pro-style offense.
Pettaway unofficially visited the Wolverines in September, November and March. However, 247's Crystal Ball sees him going to Michigan State. It's still early and recruiting changes with the wind. No need to sound the alarm just yet.
But it's worth noting that Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has been quite successful with locals, too. Pettaway is a prize kid who'll go far under the right tutelage. Expect another tug-of-war for this one.
For what it's worth, in February, Pettaway told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports that he favored East Lansing.
Denzel Mitchell (4-Star; Hamilton School, Hamilton, Alabama)
Michigan hasn't offered, and it seems likely that Denzel Mitchell will stay down south (Arkansas?!).
However, the No. 4-ranked running back of 2016 most certainly has lead-back fame waiting for him in the future, and the Wolverines may want to at least test the waters with the No. 1 high school junior in Alabama (formerly of Arkansas).
The footage says it all. At the 28-second mark of the accompanying video, Mitchell displays a great sense of awareness by breaking down the field untouched for a nearly 60-yard touchdown. Either that or he realized, "Hey, no one is around me, so I think that I'll go that way."
In a deep class of elusive runners, Mitchell's eye for the field and patience set him apart from the rest. He's not the fastest, nor is he the flashiest; but he's able to see ahead of the game and methodically pick a path to yardage.
Miles Sanders (4-Star; Woodland Hills, Pittsburgh)
If the opening run of this video says anything, it says that Miles Sanders definitely does his last name proud (no relation).
Like Barry used to, Miles—who goes by "Boobie" and isn't that large—gets lost in a pile of defenders, only to emerge along the sideline before pinballing his way to a long run for six.
Perhaps the most athletic of his class, Sanders is arguably the best running back of 2016 (behind Walker). However, as of early July, he's No. 8 on 247Sports' rankings. The 5'10", 190-pound Pittsburgh phenom runs a 4.5-second 40 but on film looks much faster than that while in top gear.
Think of this scenario: Sanders with an improved—check that, beyond "improved"—O-line and a great blocking tight end (Ian Bunting?). Now think of the possibilities. Imagine the Wolverines landing Jacques Patrick (2015), a 6'1.5'', 225-pound hammer, and pairing him with Sanders the next year. That's thunder and lightning.
Per Sam Webb, the Wolverines are a strong possibility for Sanders, who unofficially visited June 20.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.