Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh just wrapped up his first national signing day in Ann Arbor this past week, so naturally, it’s time for him to shift attention to the 2016 class of Wolverines.
Thus far, 4-star offensive tackle Erik Swenson and 3-star inside linebacker Dele Harding, Freddy Canteen’s former prep teammate, are the only two on board. Messiah deWeaver, a 4-star quarterback, recently decommitted from the class and looks to be headed for Michigan State, according to 247Sports, which reports his “warm” interest in the Spartans.
Swenson, a 6’7”, 285-pounder out of Downers Grove South (Illinois), pledged to Michigan on November 25, 2013. He’s the No. 12-ranked offensive tackle of his class and No. 122 overall. Harding, a 6’1”, 232-pounder out of Elkton Eastern Christian (Maryland), gave his word on Oct. 31, 2014. He’s the No. 13-ranked inside linebacker of 2016 but isn’t considered among the nation’s top recruits.
At this stage of the game, it’s imperative that Harbaugh pick up the momentum of former coach Brady Hoke, who set the wheels in motion by snagging a pair of rock-solid prospects. Hoke also extended most of the 98 existing offers—Harbaugh just has to beat the bushes and “call to talk about Michigan”—which seems to be the core of his straightforward approach.
According to Matt Pargoff of Maize and Blue News, the Wolverines could have as few as 15 or as many as 20 or more scholarships for the next cycle. Keep in mind that Michigan signed 14 players on NSD 2015 but had 16 spots available, which could factor into next year’s count.
It’s far too early to piece together the entire upcoming class, but it’s not too early to take a peek at a few notable prospects who could bolster Harbaugh’s true first crop of recruits in Ann Arbor.
Top Offensive Candidates
Ideally, Harbaugh will find a true No. 1 starting quarterback this season. However, regardless of circumstance, there’s no harm in stocking up on big arms—and 4-star pro-styler KJ Costello is definitely worthy of pursuit.
The 6’4”, 213-pounder out of Santa Margarita Catholic (California) received an offer from Michigan on May 28, 2014; he followed with an unofficial visit on June 15. Since then, Florida, Alabama, Notre Dame, Stanford and Tennessee, along with Florida State, USC and Texas A&M, have shown interest.
For the time being, Costello appears to be Stanford-bound—that’s according to 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, which gives the Cardinal a 53 percent chance of landing the No. 4-ranked pro-style QB (No. 39 overall) of 2016. As of now, the Wolverines have a seven percent shot at getting him.
But recruiting is recruiting, and today’s hot school can easily become tomorrow’s afterthought. Pay close attention to Harbaugh’s quest for the next-next quarterback—that quarterback could very well be Costello.
Another California prep superstar, wide receiver Dylan Crawford is a little different than what Michigan’s pursued during the past couple of years—at least when it comes to high-level targets, which have been taller and bigger athletes than the 6’1”, 175-pounder out of Saint Francis' La Canada Flintridge.
In short, he’s not a Devin Funchess-sized guy, nor is he identical to Jehu Chesson, Jaron Dukes, Drake Harris or Maurice Ways, who are all 6’3” or better. But he’s the No. 5-ranked receiver (No. 41 overall) of 2016 for a reason and would be an exemplary addition to any roster.
The 4-star’s agility, ability to run nearly every type of rout and knack for turning nothing into something also helps. So expect for Harbaugh’s staff, especially passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch, to be on Crawford’s trail until the very end.
Crawford reportedly has “warm” interest in Michigan, USC, Arizona State and UCLA, which recently snagged a blue-chip straight from Harbaugh’s hands.
Despite missing 4-star tight end Chris Clark this year, the Wolverines could end up with Luke Farrell next year. The 6’6”, 240-pounder out of Perry High School (Ohio) carries a 4-star ranking and is tabbed as the No. 7-ranked athlete at his position.
He’s also just outside the top 200, coming in at No. 203. And as usual, a high-end Ohioan has Ohio State and Michigan among his top choices—he’s “warm” for both at the moment.
Top Defensive Candidates
Football goes in cycles, and right now, dominant defensive linemen are at a premium.
As the gem of the 2016 class, Rashan Gary would be a phenomenal get for Michigan, which has recently missed on high-caliber talents such as Da’Shawn Hand (Alabama, 2014) and Malik McDowell of Detroit (Michigan State, 2014).
At 6’4” and 285 pounds, Gary is undeniably ready, at least physically, for college football. Michigan’s D-line is stocked with powers such as Willie Henry, Taco Charlton, Bryan Mone, Ondre Pipkins and Chris Wormley, but there’s always room for more.
And really, Gary could challenge for at least a second-string gig today, which is probably why Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Penn State all want him. The Nittany Lions offered first, but Michigan followed on Aug. 1, 2013. It has a slight advantage over the rest, as Chris Partridge, Gary’s former coach at Paramus Catholic (New Jersey), is now the Wolverines’ recruiting coordinator.
How’s that for an ace up the sleeve? If that doesn’t make Michigan the favorite, nothing does.
Well, there is more to the story: D.J. Durkin, the defensive coordinator, is a nationally ranked recruiter. He was voted the best in 2012. Greg Mattison won the honor in 2013; the former DC is now the D-line coach. Between Durkin, Mattison and Partridge, Michigan should have a clear edge when it comes to securing the best defensive talent.
Superior athletic and agile D-linemen have their place in the game, but so do the mountainous, never-going-to-move types such as Dexter Lawrence, the No. 3-ranked defensive tackle (No. 14 overall) in the country. The 6’5”, 310-pounder out of Wake Forest-Rolesville (North Carolina) is reportedly “warmer” for Florida and “warm” for Arkansas, Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina State.
At the moment, Michigan, which offered on Nov. 1, doesn’t appear to be a blip on Lawrence’s radar. There hasn’t been much talk about him, if any, for a few months. But now that Harbaugh’s in town, going big will certainly be the norm, as was the case for Hoke. So expecting to land the elites is no longer just a novel idea—it’s perfectly within the scope of reason.
Michigan is reportedly hot for Rahshaun Smith—and right now, he has “warm” interest in the Wolverines. The 6’3”, 223-pounder out of IMG Academy (Maryland) is one of Durkin’s first must-gets and comes in as the No. 4-ranked strong-side defensive end in the nation (No. 48 overall).
He just received an offer from Auburn and is said to have "warmer" interest in Penn State and Oklahoma. But Florida's also in the mix, and Durkin used to be the Gators' DC before heading north. That could come into play on or before NSD 2016 for both Lawrence and Smith.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability.