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19 former 3-star recruits expected to play major roles for Michigan football this season

Michigan has former 3-star recruits throughout starting lineup

Ben Mason #42 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a first half touchdown with Nick Eubanks #82 while playing the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Sept. 22, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football dominated recruiting headlines last week, rising from No. 23 to No. 5 in the 2020 rankings by landing 10 commitments in a span of six days.

The Wolverines added four four-star players and six three-star players. While the class currently sits at No. 6 in the rankings (Michigan fell one spot over the weekend), it's only No. 15 in terms of average recruit ranking.

Michigan still isn't quite keeping up with the likes of Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State in the recruiting world with three-star players making up more than half the 2020 class. But that doesn't mean those won't be productive players.

In fact, as the 2019 season draws closer, there are 19 three-star players expected to have a significant impact on the upcoming campaign. That says a lot, considering Michigan will likely be a preseason top 10 team.

Here's a look at the three-star players who will have major roles this season.

OT Jon Runyan Jr.

Recruiting ranking: No. 124 offensive tackle in 2015, No. 28 player from Pennsylvania, No. 1,138 player overall.

The list begins with one of the best underdog stories on the entire roster.

Runyan committed to Jim Harbaugh's first partial class at Michigan: the 14-player 2015 group that was pieced together after Harbaugh took over in the winter.

One of the lowest-ranked players in the class, Runyan didn't even sniff the top 1,000 players in 247 Sports' composite rankings. He sat outside the top 120 offensive tackles and was only No. 28 overall in his own state.

In his first full season as a starter, Runyan earned All-Big Ten First Team honors from the coaches and Second Team honors from the media. He was named Offensive Lineman of the Week twice in 2018, both in big games against Wisconsin and Penn State.

Runyan was the anchor of Michigan's much-improved offensive line and could have been selected in the NFL draft if he hadn't decided to stay for his final year of eligibility.

DL Mike Danna

Recruiting ranking: No. 115 weak-side defensive end in 2015, No. 56 player from Michigan, No. 2,489 player overall.

The biggest transfer addition for Michigan this season came from an unlikely source: a former three-star defensive end who grew into a force at Central Michigan.

Danna was ranked outside the top 2,400 players in the 2015 class but racked up 15 sacks over the last three seasons at CMU. He also fills a major position of need for the Wolverines, who lost Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary to the NFL draft this offseason.

Danna will see a major step up in competition this year, but he was so dominant as a redshirt junior -- 8.5 sacks, 65 tackles and 14 tackles for loss -- he should be a productive player for defensive coordinator Don Brown.

TE Sean McKeon

Recruiting ranking: No. 45 tight end in 2016, No. 2 player from Massachusetts, No. 854 player overall.

The 2016 Michigan recruiting class was loaded with stars, such as Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, David Long and Ben Bredeson. But there were also several hidden gems ranked lower on the list.

McKeon was the lowest-ranked offensive player in the class but became a solid two-way offensive player. He is the best blocking tight end on Michigan's roster and has also caught 47 passes for 433 yards and four touchdowns throughout his career.

While the new scheme brought in by offensive coordinator Josh Gattis might be geared more toward tight ends who are explosive in the receiving game, there will certainly be a role for McKeon on the 2019 team.

He might not surpass his 31-catch, 301-yard 2017 season, but McKeon's versatility will keep him in the rotation.

DT Michael Dwumfour

Recruiting ranking: No. 58 defensive tackle in 2016, No. 23 player from New Jersey, No. 947 player overall.

Dwumfour was ranked even lower than McKeon in 2016, but he could end up being an extremely important part of Michigan's defensive line this season.

Defensive tackle is a thin position for the Wolverines going into 2019, and Dwumfour is one of the few players on the roster who has gotten significant snaps at the position.

He's a solid run blocker and has made a few plays in the backfield during his career. In 2018, Dwumfour finished with 19 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in 10 games.

When Michigan landed him in 2016, some believed it was because he's close friends with then-No. 1 overall recruit Gary, but he's going to get a chance to prove he belongs.

LB Devin Gil

Recruiting ranking: No. 65 safety in 2016, No. 144 player from Florida, No. 997 player overall.

Michigan landed three defensive starters from the state championship Charles W. Flanagan High School team, and Gil was certainly overshadowed by teammates Bush and Josh Metellus.

Converted to linebacker at Michigan, Gil has already made a few plays at linebacker, including a sack and three tackles for loss in 2018.

Now that Bush, his close friend and roommate, has moved on to the NFL, Gil is among the players who could earn more responsibility on the second level of the defense.

VIPER Khaleke Hudson

Recruiting ranking: No. 20 safety in 2016, No. 10 player from Pennsylvania, No. 386 player overall.

With Brown coming to Ann Arbor to take over Harbaugh's defense, Hudson was the perfect player to groom for the VIPER position behind Jabrill Peppers.

He's a menace in the backfield and can also drop back in coverage on passing downs. His versatility has been a key for Michigan's elite defensive numbers the last two seasons.

That being said, Hudson is looking for a bit of a bounce-back year in 2019 after seeing his numbers drop dramatically from 2017 to 2018. Michigan coaches believe Hudson lost his edge after getting kicked out of back-to-back games for targeting, and they hope he can find it again for his senior season.

Hudson made 7.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2017. He also batted down nine passes and intercepted two more. Michigan lost elite players at all three levels of the defense this year and Hudson could help fill the void of all three if he's back to his previous self.

S Josh Metellus

Recruiting ranking: No. 48 safety in 2016, No. 105 player from Florida, No. 739 player overall.

Michigan recruited Metellus as a hard-hitting strong safety, but he's morphed into a pretty strong all-around defensive back.

He was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team last year after leading the Wolverines with three interceptions.

Metellus had to be stronger in coverage last year because quarterbacks were reluctant to throw at cornerbacks David Long and Lavert Hill. While he could have left early for the NFL draft, Metellus decided to return for one more year in college, and he'll be a leader of the secondary.

TE Nick Eubanks

Recruiting ranking: No. 15 tight end in 2016, No. 47 player from Florida, No. 344 player overall.

Eubanks just missed the cut to be a four-star recruit, but Michigan loved his size at the tight end position. He was listed at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds out of high school and has pretty good hands in the receiving game.

An injury his freshman year and the emergence of Zach Gentry last season have limited Eubanks' opportunities to break out on offense. With Gentry leaving for the NFL draft, Eubanks should have more opportunities on passing downs this year, depending on how much Gattis uses tight ends.

In six games last season, Eubanks made eight catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He's always been a big-play target when Michigan goes to him, averaging 21.8 yards per catch in his career.

He still has two years of eligibility, so Eubanks could become a dangerous matchup for the Wolverines.

LB Josh Uche

Recruiting ranking: No. 43 weak-wide defensive end in 2016, No. 90 player from Florida, No. 707 player overall.

Even though Uche was listed as a defensive lineman coming out of high school and is officially on linebacker on Michigan's roster, his true position is a hybrid of the two.

Uche is a pass rushing specialist who had seven sacks and only eight other tackles last season. He doesn't play every down, but when he's on the field, his job is to get to the quarterback, and he does that job well.

Uche made plays in big moments for Michigan last season, particularly in the 17-point comeback against Northwestern. He'll still be a specialist in 2019, but the coaches might ask him to do a bit more after so many stars left the defense.

DL Kwity Paye

Recruiting ranking: No. 29 weak-side defensive end in 2017, No. 1 player from Rhode Island, No. 487 player overall.

Even though he was the No. 1 player in his state, Paye wasn't highly ranked coming into Ann Arbor. But he has already proved to be a force on the defensive line.


Paye filled in as a starter when Gary suffered a shoulder injury last season, and he finished the year with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He will likely be a starter this season, and Michigan appears to be in good hands.

Brown's scheme perfectly fits Paye because the junior likes to attack the quarterback every snap. When he is on the field at the same time as Uche, Michigan is extremely dangerous.

FB/DL Ben Mason

Recruiting ranking: No. 32 inside linebacker in 2017, No. 8 player from Connecticut, No. 817 player overall.

Mason came to Michigan as a linebacker. He converted to fullback and became a fan favorite. Now, he's listed as a fullback and a defensive lineman, and coaches have been raving about his skills on the defensive side of the ball.

Mason was perhaps the most effective fullback in the nation last year, scoring seven touchdowns on 33 carries. He was also a relentless blocker for running back Karan Higdon and a human highlight reel on special teams.

Now that Mason will be spending time on the defensive line, it's unclear what exactly his offensive roll will include, but he's sure to be a difference-maker wherever he lands on the field.

OT Andrew Stueber

Recruiting ranking: No. 24 offensive tackle in 2017, No. 3 player from Connecticut, No. 365 player overall.

While he was considered solidly within the four-star ranks on 247 Sports' rankings, Stueber was a high three-star in the composite rankings.

The 6-foot-6 tackle ranked among the top 40 at his position and figured to be in the mix for a starting spot within his first few years on campus.

That scenario has played out now that Stueber is entering his redshirt sophomore season, as he could fill the only open spot on coach Ed Warriner's offensive line.

Stueber played 11 games at right tackle last season, though he only started twice. Now that Juwann Bushell-Beatty has graduated, either Stueber or Jalen Mayfield will probably win the starting job. The other will certainly still be part of the rotation.

S J'Marick Woods

Recruiting ranking: No. 28 safety in 2017, No. 18 player from Alabama, No. 383 player overall.

Last season, Woods was one of the few bright spots in Michigan's blowout Peach Bowl loss to Florida.

The sophomore tied a career high with three tackles and also blocked a punt. He's now looking to carry that performance into his junior season, when he has a chance to share playing time or even start in a secondary that no longer includes safety Tyree Kinnel and Long.

Star freshman Daxton Hill is expected to play immediately this season, but Woods has earned an opportunity to compete for some of the defensive snaps. He's played in 23 of 26 games his first two seasons, and while most of those came on special teams, he was a highly ranked three star safety in high school.

It doesn't look likely that Woods will be a full-time starter for 13 games, but he should be a factor on Michigan's defense.

DB Brad Hawkins

Recruiting ranking: No. 66 wide receiver in 2017, No. 4 player from Connecticut, No. 425 player overall.

He was originally a four-star when he committed to the 2016 class, but after a year at prep school, Hawkins officially got to Michigan as a three-star wide receiver.

Hawkins moved to the defensive side of the ball full-time in 2018, playing safety in eight games and making 24 tackles. He also made three tackles for loss.

Hawkins probably won't earn a starting spot, but he's very versatile in the secondary and will get plenty of snaps at nickel.

RB Christian Turner

Recruiting ranking: No. 22 running back in 2018, No. 54 player from Georgia, No. 508 player overall.

Michigan didn't need much help at running back last season with Higdon as a workhorse getting the bulk of the carries. The position is wide open heading into 2019, though.

Turner took over the starting role for the Peach Bowl as Higdon prepared for the NFL draft. He gained 32 yards on seven carries and caught a 16-yard pass.

Since he only appeared in three games, Turner is technically a redshirt freshman heading into 2019. He only earned 20 carries last year, but it was still enough to get his feet wet at the college level.

The starting running back spot appears to be a three-player battle between Turner, reliable backup Tru Wilson and exciting freshman Zach Charbonnet.

Wilson is perfect for the role he played last season as the No. 2 or No. 3 running back. Charbonnet enrolled early but was recovering from surgery. Turner had his own injury issues throughout spring camp.

The race is wide open, but it's safe to believe Turner will get carries no matter who starts.

CB Vincent Gray

Recruiting ranking: No. 63 cornerback in 2018, No. 18 player from Michigan, No. 700 player overall.

Michigan was drawn to Gray's size during the 2018 recruiting process, and the 6-foot-2 cornerback is in the mix for major reps this season, according to coaches.

Michigan has Hill and junior Ambry Thomas as the top two cornerbacks on the depth chart, but who will fill the important No. 3 spot? Last year it was Brandon Watson, and Michigan got burned there against Ohio State.

The No. 3 cornerback is extremely important against teams with elite speed, so if Gray wins that job, he'll be a player to watch all year on defense.

FB Ben VanSumeren

Recruiting ranking: No. 50 athlete in 2018, No. 12 player from Michigan, No. 624 player overall.

With Mason now torn between offensive and defensive duties, the role of VanSumeren is likely to increase in the backfield.

As a true freshman, VanSumeren appeared in four games -- the maximum for a player without sacrificing a year of eligibility. As a redshirt freshman, there's no reason for Harbaugh to hold him back.

Gattis might not have as much use for the fullback position, which is likely why the team wanted to take advantage of Mason's athleticism elsewhere, but VanSumeren will still see some time on the field.

WR Ronnie Bell

Recruiting ranking: No. 212 wide receiver in 2018, No. 18 player from Missouri, No. 1,473 overall player.

Once an unranked player committed to Missouri State to play basketball, Bell backed up his coaching staff as a true freshman after receiving a scholarship from Michigan.

When Bell committed to the Wolverines, he checked in as a three-star recruit, but was ranked outside the top 200 at his position.

Bell's first career catch turned into a 56-yard touchdown dash in Michigan's blowout win over Nebraska.

He appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman, making eight catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns.

If Michigan's full receiving corps is healthy, Bell is probably the No. 4 option at best, but his speed will be a weapon Gattis makes sure to use.

WR Mike Sainristil

Recruiting ranking: No. 59 cornerback in 2019, No. 1 player from Massachusetts, No. 595 overall player.

The way Michigan coaches have been talking about Sainristil, he could be one of the best recruiting finds of the Harbaugh era.

Sainristil was a three-star cornerback with a handful of solid scholarship offers. The buzz out of Michigan practice, though, suggests he could be a major factor at wide receiver as a true freshman.

Sainristil is fast and elusive, so the switch to Gattis' offense couldn't have come at a better time. He was an early enrollee, too, so there's been plenty of time for Sainristil to get comfortable in the offense.

He's never been on the field for a meaningful college snap, so Sainristil is clearly unproven. But coaches believe that will change when Aug. 31 rolls around.


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