Note: This is an opinion column from MLive’s Aaron McMann.
ANN ARBOR — Day 1 of the early signing period is over, and we might as well rename it National Signing Day. Michigan had 25 of its 27 commits sign on the dotted the line.
The result? A very good day for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, a far cry from what might have been just a few weeks earlier.
It was then Harbaugh seemed to have lost five-star safety Daxton Hill, who had apparently been sold a bill of goods when it came to his future coach’s future in Ann Arbor. The flip prompted Harbaugh to seek out the largest messenger in the sports world (ESPN’s Adam Schefter) to make it known that he was not planning to go anywhere.
So, after a few days of damage control, Harbaugh and the Michigan coaching staff was able to gather themselves and finish the recruiting period strong.
By the end of Monday, Harbaugh’s 2019 class ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten — ahead of Penn State and Ohio State — and eighth nationally. Hill flipped his commitment back to Michigan and signed on the dotted line. Not only that, but the Wolverines added speed and versatility in a way not seen since 2016.
“It’s a group of players that really want to be great for Michigan,” Harbaugh said Monday night. “They want to come up here and be great for themselves. They’re not afraid to work. I also hang that tag on them. These are guys that are self-starters and not afraid of working.”
Harbaugh, speaking on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show, also happened to go down the list, one by one, giving quick comments on all 25 signees. The common thread? Speed and versatility. Harbaugh’s teams have been lacking more in the former than the latter in recent years, especially when it comes to playing the big games.
Hill is a perfect example here. Many have already anointed the 6-foot 1/2, 186-pound safety as an immediate starter in 2019, simply based on his skill set and speed. Harbaugh called him one of the fastest players he’s ever seen. In the press-man defense Michigan likes to run, Hill should fit in nicely.
On the offensive side of the ball, four-star prospect Zach Charbonnet could also provide some immediate help at running back. Michigan will be down two scholarship backs next year (Karan Higdon and O’Maury Samuels, and three if you include Berkley Edwards), requiring someone, anyone to step up and help Chris Evans and Tru Wilson. Charbonnet’s 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame not only makes him ready to compete at this level, but someone who could contribute right away.
“If you point to someone on the offensive side of the ball that’s a real playmaker, that’s Zach Charbonnet,” Harbaugh said.
Quite a ringing endorsement there.
But Michigan fared well in other, less glitzy areas, too. Especially along the lines. The Wolverines landed a pair of four-star, top-150 defensive tackles in Chris Hinton (Norcross, Ga.) and Mazi Smith (Grant Rapids) and trio of tall, athletic offensive linemen in Nolan Rumler (Akron, Ohio), Trevor Keegan (Crystal Lake, Ill.) and Trente Jones (Loganville, Ga.). In total, Michigan hauled in six offensive linemen, the first real recruiting class under noted offensive line coach Ed Warinner.
The issue with judging recruiting classes is that we want to do it right away. We want to declare this class good and that class great. And while we have the data like star rankings and class ratings to do that, it’s important to remember that real results may not come for another few years.
But in a conference that is always competitive, always right there when it comes to placing a team in the College Football Playoff, Harbaugh and his staff needed to find a jolt after another 10-win season and loss to Ohio State. They did — even without prying five-star defensive end Zach Harrison from the Buckeyes.
You can criticize Harbaugh for the on-field product. The wins and losses. His offensive scheme and play calling. But he just produced another top-10 recruiting class, one that theoretically should produce a handful of future NFL players. Now the task will be to turn that into high-profile wins and something more than just a New Year’s Six bowl.
The jury is still out, obviously, but this was a very good first step.