ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Wednesday was a successful start to the early signing period for Michigan football as it officially welcomed 25 new players to the program.
Jim Harbaugh currently has 27 players committed to the 2019 class, and all but two of them signed on the dotted line. Michigan has the No. 8 class in the country, according to 247 Sports.
The Wolverines didn’t get many contributions from true freshmen this season, with Aidan Hutchinson, Ronnie Bell and Jake Moody playing decent roles. Michigan has lost several players to transfers and the NFL draft this year, though, so the 2019 class will have to help fill those holes.
Here’s a look at four players who have a chance to earn starting spots as true freshmen next season.
S Daxton Hill
Recruiting ranking: Five-star, No. 8 overall player, No. 1 safety
The most obvious early contributor in the recruiting class is the top overall player, and that’s elite safety Daxton Hill. He signed with Michigan before 9 a.m. Wednesday after flipping from the Wolverines to Alabama 11 days prior.
With Tyree Kinnel and Brandon Watson leaving and David Long, Lavert Hill and Josh Metellus considering the NFL draft, Daxton Hill is a prime candidate to slide into the starting secondary. One way or another, the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native is expected to find his way into the starting lineup.
A lack of speed in the secondary is what burned Michigan against Ohio State this season, and Hill might be the fastest player in the entire 2019 recruiting class. He ran a 4.30-second 40-meter dash and a 4.22-second shuttle run.
Michigan made speed a priority in this year’s class, and Hill sets the bar in that regard.
He has good coverage skills for a safety, so he can hold up in Don Brown’s aggressive man-to-man defense. Every single school in the country wanted Hill, and now that Michigan has him, it won’t waste time putting his skills to good use.
RB Zach Charbonnet
Recruiting ranking: Four-star, No. 42 overall player, No. 3 running back
The last true freshman to lead Michigan in rushing yards was Mike Hart in 2004, but things seem to be setting up for Zach Charbonnet in 2019.
Michigan’s workhorse running back Karan Higdon has played his last college game after amassing 1,178 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.
Chris Evans and Tru Wilson were strong members of the running back rotation, but they don’t profile as starters next season. Evans is a good offensive weapon and change of pace, but he doesn’t fit the mold of a No. 1 option in Harbaugh’s offense. Wilson is perfect as the reliable No. 3 running back.
Charbonnet is the No. 2 recruit in Michigan’s class behind Hill. He’s the No. 3 running back in the class, but for Harbaugh’s staff, he was the priority from the start.
In 2017, Charbonnet ran the ball 265 times at Oaks Christian High School, picking up 2,049 yards and 23 touchdowns. He caught 27 passes for 169 yards and a score. According to Max Preps, he rushed for 1,770 yards on 215 attempts — 8.2 yards per carry — and 13 touchdowns as a senior.
In four seasons, Charbonnet has rushed for 4,741 yards, 8.2 yards per carry and 62 total touchdowns, according to Max Preps.
Charbonnet’s durability could allow him to start at Michigan right away. He carried the ball 577 times in high school, and scouts said he got stronger later in games. He’s a powerful runner who lives between the tackles but has the speed to get outside or break a big play if he hits a hole.
Michigan could also use Charbonnet in the short passing game, which has been missing from the offense under Harbaugh.
Charbonnet is an early enrollee, so he’ll have a full eight months to prepare for the 2019 season. He has the highest ceiling of any running back on Michigan’s roster, so there’s a good chance he’ll be on the field Aug. 31 for the first snap against Middle Tennessee State.
DT Mazi Smith
Recruiting ranking: Four-star, No. 137 overall player, No. 9 defensive tackle
Mazi Smith isn’t the top defensive tackle in Michigan’s 2019 class, but he’s the most likely to earn a starting job heading into next season.
With Aubrey Solomon transferring and Bryan Mone graduating, there are plenty of snaps available on the inside of Michigan’s defensive line. The versatility of Carlo Kemp and Kwity Paye could help Brown fill those gaps, but if Smith earns a starting position, the Wolverines won’t need to cut into their defensive end depth.
Chris Hinton is Michigan’s top defensive line signee and the No. 49 overall player in the country, but he won’t be on campus until this summer. Smith, on the other hand, will be enrolling in January and will have the eight full months to prepare for 2019.
Smith is physically ready to compete in the trenches at the college level, which is rare for a true freshman. He’s 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, with good athleticism.
Michigan has elite pass rushers off the end in Paye and Josh Uche, and Hutchinson should be another solid option next season. If Smith can get in the lineup, he should have some one-on-one opportunities.
CB Jalen Perry
Recruiting ranking: Four-star, No. 194 overall player, No. 22 cornerback
Cornerback is a difficult position for true freshmen to play, but Michigan’s need might be so great it doesn’t have a choice next season.
There’s a good chance Michigan’s top three cornerbacks from 2018 will be gone next year, with Long and Hill possibly moving on to the NFL draft and Watson graduating. If that’s the case, Ambry Thomas will likely take over as the No. 1 cornerback with plenty of playing time available in his wake.
Harbaugh has loaded up on cornerbacks in the last two recruiting classes, landing Myles Sims, Gemon Green, Sammy Faustin and Vincent Gray in 2018 and Perry and D.J. Turner this year.
Sims and Perry are the two highest-ranked cornerbacks of that group, so they could have an upper hand if that talent turns into production during the preseason. Perry is enrolling early, so, like Charbonnet and Smith, he will have extra time to get into the rotation.
Perry has a good combination of size — 6-foot-1, 188 pounds — and speed to be a coverage corner in the Big Ten. It’s a long shot to say a true freshman will start in the Michigan secondary, but with so much playing time possibly opening up, Perry can’t be counted out.
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