Inside the Fish Bowl is Back in Business

Spring practice is coming to an end and even though the Spring Game is cancelled, Michigan is still expected to host a nice group of recruiting visitors this weekend and the rest of the month. Can the staff keep the momentum going for the nation’s top five recruiting class? How about landing its first 2020 commitment? Things are looking good for the Wolverines on the recruiting trail.

Check out the latest news and rumors surrounding Michigan football’s 2019 and 2020 recruiting efforts:

Focusing on the Elite

With 10 months to go before National Signing Day, Michigan has the #5 recruiting class for 2019 with seven commitments, including three top 100 gets. Add in the number of targets that have UM at/near the top of their lists and the staff can use the spring to focus on the biggest names on the board. And they’re not shying away from the nation’s elite.

The biggest swing for the fences is on 247Sports’ #1 overall player in the 2019 class and heavy Ohio State Crystal Ball-favorite, Olentangy Orange (OH) DE Zach Harrison. And it looks to be working.

After The Michigan Insider first reported the growing optimism from Michigan’s side for Harrison ($), TMI’s Steve Lorenz was recently able to double confirm that report as Harrison now is expected to visit Ann Arbor for his second visit in a month ($).

The Wolverine’s Brandon Brown is also hearing good things on Michigan’s side of things, with a close source telling him it’s a three-team race now between Ohio State, Penn State and, now, Michigan ($).

The staff is pushing hard for the five star Ohioan and looks to have a real chance at adding him alongside fellow five-star lineman, commitment DL Chris Hinton. Jim Harbaugh has a lot of fantastic recruiting wins. Harrison would easily be one of, if not the best of those wins. However, there’s still a long way to go and Ohio State is still the heavy betting favorite. I’d still have my money on OSU but, for the first time, I’d be second guessing it a bit.

That growing confidence is not with the Composite #1 player in the class, Oaks Christian (CA) DE Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Michigan has been pushing for Thibodeaux and has consistently been mentioned the Wolverines among his top teams. He praised Michigan’s Business School and Harbaugh’s “wisdom and connections” in a February interview with 247Sports Greg Biggins ($). But without visiting Ann Arbor yet, and both Alabama and USC in prime position, it’s highly unlikely this race ends in Michigan’s favor.

As for the linebacker positions, there are two top 100 names that Michigan looks to be in good shape with.

Five star Louisa County (VA) LB Brandon Smith, who recently visited Ann Arbor for the first time. Smith spoke with The Wolverine’s Brandon Brown about that trip, calling it a “great” visit ($):

I spent a lot of time with Coach [Jim] Harbaugh, Coach [Don] Brown and [Al] Washington. I bonded the most with Coach Washington and Coach Brown. We bonded by spending time watching film and talking about my role. They all expressed how I could make a immediate impact.

“Coach Brown wants me solely as a linebacker, mainly at VIPER and SAM.”

Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame are all in good shape here with the Nittany Lions holding the most momentum right now. This visit looks to have put Michigan into the thick of the race. But can the staff pull the elite linebacker away from its rivals? I’m not ready to put him on my next Best Guess Recruiting Class (coming in May) just yet but he’s a guy who looks like a player that Michigan could potentially land.

As for a linebacker that the staff has been in good shape with for a while now. St. Frances Academy (MD) LB Shane Lee has visited Ann Arbor multiple times already and has another trip to campus lined up for this week, according to 247Sports’ Luke Stampini ($).

Lee is the 60th ranked player in the class and looks to be one of the staff’s top targets. The visits to campus and the fact that his head coach is former coaching assistant, Biff Poggi,  Michigan may be in even better shape than some may think. Penn State has the Crystal Ball lead at the moment but there doesn’t look to be a clear-cut favorite in this recruitment. Keep a close eye on Lee, Michigan looks to have a real chance here.

Another elite prospect that Michigan is still in the thick of things for is a former BGRC member, Avon Old Farms (CT) QB Taisun Phommachanh.

According to Rivals’ Adam Friedman, Phommachanh has “nearly locked in a visit” to Ann Arbor for later this month ($). That visit may be Michigan’s biggest and best chance to get the momentum back in this recruitment. Though it may be tough to sway the dual-threat standout with QB Cade McNamara already on the commitment list and Florida State looking to have a big step up on the competition (owning all 7 Crystal Ball predictions at the moment).

Add in the staff pushing for and being in great shape with top30 Booker T. Washington (OK) S Daxton Hill and Michigan looks to be in good position to possibly add at least one more elite level prospect to this class, if not more.

Looking Good in 2020 

While Michigan is in good shape in 2019, it’s looking just as good, if not better, in 2020. It’s obviously still extremely early in the upcoming junior class recruiting cycle and even though the staff has yet to receive a commitment, the Wolverines are leading or right near the top for several top 100 prospects.

St. Xavier (OH) OT Paris Johnson (4*, #7 overall)

As a future five star and potential #1 overall player in the class, Johnson is a wanted recruit by every program in the country. Coming out of Cincinnati, Ohio State obviously owns the early Crystal Ball lead but it’s Michigan that is starting to make some noise lately. According to TMI’s Isaiah Hole, Johnson made his second unofficial visit to Ann Arbor in three weeks ($).

It’s still early here but, as TMI’s Steve Lorenz mentioned, newly hired LBs Coach Al Washington’s connections to Cincy look to be paying off early on. This is going to be a national recruitment with a lot of familiar names in the thick of things, including OSU, Notre Dame, Penn State, Stanford, and Alabama. But, if the quick return trip means anything, Michigan is firmly in this race and will be a team to watch for the top tackle moving forward.

Greater Atlanta Christian (GA) OT Myles Hinton (4* #10 overall)

Hinton is another future five-star recruit that is high on Michigan. But, while Johnson is a going to be a tough pull, Michigan is already the heavy favorite for the younger Hinton brother. Though it’s nothing is a lock this far from National Signing Day 2020, all eleven Crystal Ball predictions are in favor of the Wolverines already (including mine) and, as long as his brother, Chris sticks with UM, I like Michigan’s chances to land the elite prospect.

Millis (MA) OT Kevin Pyne (4* #20 overall)

Pyne is one of the most physically impressive recruits in this class and one that Michigan has been in good shape with since the very start. Thanks to a prediction from The Wolverine’s Brandon Brown last summer ($), I’m the only person with a Crystal Ball on Pyne, and it’s to Michigan. And things continue to look better and better on that bold move thanks to Pyne’s visit in March.

After the trip, TMI’s Steve Lorenz mentioned that Michigan may be in the top two for Pyne’s services ($).

Pyne will be targeted by every program in the country. But with the Don Brown connections to the Northeast, Michigan’s academic prowess, and the early heavy interest from both parties should have Michigan at/near the top of his board throughout. Barring a big change, Pyne will be in my first 2020 Best Guess Recruiting Class prediction.

Milton Academy (MA) LB/RB Kalel Mullings (4*, #29 overall)

Outside of Hinton, Mullings might be the best bet out of the elite 2020 targets Michigan is heavily pursuing. The standout athlete has been showing a lot of interest in the Maize and Blue from the get-go thanks to Michigan being his first offer. And he’s continued to show that love. Mullings has already visited Ann Arbor three times now, with the latest visit coming in mid-March. He spoke with 247Sports’ Brian Dohn right after that trip and had very good things to say about where Michigan sits on his list ($):

Michigan is high on my list,” Mullings said. “My take away is that Michigan is one of a few schools that can check all my boxes — academics, tradition, fan base, facilities, coaching staff, competition. With the schools that have offered and the schools that are showing interest, I feel like i am in a good place with my recruiting.”

Mullings also recently spoke with TMI’s Josh Newkirk about that trip and his relationship with UM defensive coordinator Don Brown($):

“It’s a great relationship,” he said of Brown. “Coach Brown is from Massachusetts, so he’s a local guy. It’s a great relationship and I’ll always be appreciative. I was 14-years-old for two months and he came over and offered me. I mean, coach Brown is great, the relationship is great, I always stay in contact with him and I’m always calling him.”

Like with all of the 2020 recruits, it’s still extremely early in this recruiting cycle. But Michigan is in great position here. Good enough for a Crystal Ball and a definite spot in the first 2020 BGRC.

Marietta (GA) QB Harrison Bailey (4*, #68 overall)

There aren’t many recruits in this class that are more known that Bailey. His name has been on the scene since his freshmen year and Michigan recruitniks may know him best. TMI’s Steve Lorenz has been mentioning him as a top target for the staff for a while now and though most thought he’d end up staying in Georgia and playing for the Bulldogs, but it’s Michigan who looks to have the upper-hand.

247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong has heard good enough things to put in a Crystal Ball for Bailey to Michigan ($), which is a pretty big confirmation of where things stand at the moment.

Bailey is an elite quarterback recruit and would be a huge get for the Wolverines. Not only is he a top talent but he’s also at the school with, arguably, the best 2020 recruits in the country. His classmates include the likes of five-star ATH Arik Gilbert, top100 OT Jake Wray, and top100 DE BJ Ojulari.

Add in in-staters West Bloomfield (MI) S Makari Paige and Detroit King (MI) WR Rashawn Williams already receiving Crystal Ball predictions to Michigan, as well as UM being in good shape with another top100 Georgia standout in Peach County (GA) LB Sergio Allen, and things look very good early on in 2020. 

Falling Down the Board 

With all of the coaching changes and changes to the recruiting staff, Michigan’s 2019 board has changed up quite a bit since last summer. That includes some names that Michigan was in good-to-great shape with either committing elsewhere or falling down the staff’s board, including:

  • S Marvin Grant
    • Things have cooled drastically here. Kentucky now looks to be the team to beat after receiving multiple Crystal Ball predictions. We’ll see if Michigan starts pushing for the four-star Detroit King standout.
  • S Litchfield Ajavon
    • Ajavon was originally planning on visiting Michigan after his trip to Notre Dame this weekend. However, according to his interview with The Wolverine’s Evan Petzold, he has canceled that trip ($). And with him planning on announcing a commitment after the trip, my Crystal Ball is on the Fighting Irish.
  • DT Jowonn Briggs
  • LB Anthony Solomon
    • Solomon is another recruit that Michigan was in excellent shape with and would have landed had he got the green light to make his commitment earlier on. However, things cooled there and the St. Thomas Aquinas standout committed to in-state Miami (FL). Michigan has been looking elsewhere to fill its linebacker spots in this class for some time.
  • ATH Isaiah Williams
    • Yet another former top target committing to an in-state school, Williams gave an early pledge to Lovie Smith and the Fighting Illini as a quarterback. It’s a huge pickup for the Big Ten West basement dweller but let’s see where his recruitment is during the fall.
  • WR David Bell
  • RB Sampson James
    • James was a top target for the staff but Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes sold the Indianapolis star during his visit to Columbus and earned his commitment. He’s a huge pickup for Ohio State as he’s easily one of the best backs in the Midwest.
  • CB Tyler Nubin
    • Nubin received his offer from Michigan this year and looked to be a name to watch for the Wolverines. However, it was a recent trip to see PJ Fleck that resulted in Nubin committing to the Gophers. It’ll be interesting to see if the Michigan staff continues to push for him or not.

Quick Hitters

  • 2019 OT William Harrod
    • Keep an eye on Harrod. He’s long been naming Michigan among his top teams and that hasn’t changed at all. My Crystal Ball is in for the Wolverines and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this wrapped up prior to his senior season.
  • 2019 DE Aeneas DiCosmo
    • As for another top target that looks like a good bet to end up in this class, DiCosmo recently told 247Sports’ Josh Newkirk that his Michigan visit in mid-March was his “favorite visit so far” ($). Add in the amount of Crystal Balls that came pouring in for the Wolverines following that visit and things are looking really good for Michigan to land the versatile pass rusher.
  • 2019 DB Aman Greenwood
  • 2019 RB Kyren Williams
  • 2019 WR Cornelius Johnson
    • The wide receiver board has seen some big changes over the last couple months with names falling off and new names rising up it. One name to watch closely that has been rising up the ranks is Johnson, who is a big bodied receiver out of the Northeast that looks like a good candidate (at this point) to potentially end up in the class.

Photo Credit: Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog

Garrett Fishaw