ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football signed 18 members of its 12th-ranked 2020 recruiting class this week as Jim Harbaugh continues to try to build toward a Big Ten championship.
The Wolverines signed 13 four-star players and 10 three-star players. There were no surprises during the early signing period, as everyone in the class who was expected to sign did so, and nobody else joined.
Now that the recruiting process is officially over, these players can look ahead to the start of their Michigan careers. Eight are expected to enroll next month, and the rest will join the team closer to the fall.
The question on everyone’s mind is how long it will take this class to make its mark on the field. Two years ago, Aidan Hutchinson, Ronnie Bell and Jake Moody were the only players who didn’t redshirt their freshman seasons, but last year’s class had several immediate contributors, including Daxton Hill, Zach Charbonnet, Cornelius Johnson, Giles Jackson, Mike Sainristil and Erick All.
Harbaugh has built some quality depth with recent recruiting classes, so Michigan shouldn’t rely too heavily on the incoming class. But there are a few spots where true freshmen could earn immediate playing time.
Speed on offense
The coaches showed in 2019 that they aren’t afraid to put young players on the field if they have dynamic speed and the ability to spark the offense.
Jackson was a good example. He’s best remembered for returning the opening kick against Maryland for a touchdown, but he also had eight carries and five catches this season, finishing with a total of three touchdowns.
Charbonnet was the team’s starting running back before conference play even began. He finished the season with 11 rushing touchdowns.
This year’s class has a trio of players who appear to fit that bill: A.J. Henning, Blake Corum and Roman Wilson.
It’s no surprise that Henning is one of the players who could contribute early. As the No. 1 player from Illinois and the top-ranked member of Michigan’s class, he’s one of the most college-ready players heading to Ann Arbor.
Henning fits the mold of what Michigan has targeted under Josh Gattis. He has speed and can turn a short pass into a big gain. The 5-foot-10 wideout ran a verified 4.46-second 40-yard dash at The Opening Regional, so he’s clearly an offensive weapon.
If Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones elect to enter the NFL draft, Michigan will have plenty of reps to go around at wide receiver. Bell, Jackson, Johnson and Sainristil will be the favorites to start, but Gattis showed he’s not afraid to rotate the young players onto the field early.
Corum’s situation is a little more interesting. He’s joining a crowded backfield, but the returning contributors don’t offer the same skills.
Hassan Haskins and Charbonnet were a strong running back duo this season, but both are more hard-nosed runners than elite home run threats. Corum has breakaway speed and great elusiveness -- again, skills that can get players on the field early at Michigan.
The return of Chris Evans will be a development to watch throughout the off-season, but Corum should have every opportunity to be the first running back off the bench when Michigan needs more speed or someone who can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Wilson, again, is all about speed. Are you noticing a trend?
The Honolulu, Hawaii, native is the fastest player in this class and has good size considering that speed. He’ll have to catch on in others areas -- such as route running and blocking -- to get regular playing time, but Michigan will find ways to get him on the field.
Michigan simply hasn’t been great at the safety position under Don Brown, especially in big games. Adding Hill as a full-time starter next season will be an upgrade, but Michigan’s defensive coaches clearly made the position a priority in the 2020 cycle.
Those efforts paid off, as Michigan landed three of the top 25 safety prospects in the country.
Jordan Morant has the highest ranking of the trio, coming in at No. 14 at his position. Unlike for the rest of Michigan’s class, speed isn’t a strength for Morant. He’s a good tackler, a hard hitter and is believed to have solid coverage skills, but his speed toppled him from the No. 1 spot in 247 Sports’ safety rankings over the summer.
Still, that didn’t stop pretty much every high-profile program from pursuing Morant. He had scholarship offers from Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame and many others.
Makari Paige and R.J. Moten are believed to be a little faster than Morant, despite being ranked just behind at the position.
Paige, a West Bloomfield High School product, chose Michigan over the rest of the Big Ten teams and could factor into the rotation if Michigan needs safety help next season. He’s much bigger than the other two at 6-foot-3, but also checks in as the lightest at 182 pounds.
Playing for Ron Bellamy at West Bloomfield is an advantage for Paige because he arrives in Ann Arbor already comfortable in the defensive scheme.
Moten might have the highest ceiling of the three freshman safeties because of his prototypical size and speed at the position. The 247 Sports rankings have him as the No. 6 safety in the nation.
With Josh Metellus, Lavert Hill and Khaleke Hudson off to the NFL, Michigan will have openings for defensive backs next season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mortan, Paige or Moten earn a significant spot in the rotation, much like Daxton Hill did as a freshman in 2019.
Other possible early contributors
It’s difficult to predict whether any of Michigan’s other 2020 commits will have significant roles next season because the roster is pretty well situated at most of the spots that are losing starters.
Defensive tackle is a clear weakness on the current roster, and Michigan didn’t recruit any interior defensive linemen in this cycle. Those spots will likely be bolstered by redshirt freshmen Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith in 2020.
But defensive end Braiden McGregor could find himself in the mix if he can fully recover from an injury that cost him his senior season. McGregor was a top 25 recruit and the No. 1 player in the class before his injury, so few players have a higher ceiling of this group.
Aaron Lewis is another player who could move to the interior defensive line because of his size.
If Nick Eubanks declares for the NFL draft, there will be plenty of snaps available at tight end behind Erick All. Matthew Hibner could be an option because of his size and hands.