Inside the Fish Bowl is Searching for the Truth

While spending the weekend in up north Michigan for my brother’s wedding, the Wolverines 2017 recruiting class officially added their 14th commitment in top defensive end target, Luiji Vilain. It was a huge pick up that was expected and could end up being one of the biggest additions to this class thanks to the Canadian transplant’s versatility and scheme fit.

While Vilain is expected to play the majority of his time in the Maize and Blue at the rush defensive end position, he also has the ability to play the linebacker position thanks to his athleticism. But his addition doesn’t mean the staff is even close to wrapping up their recruitment of the position group.

Top Backers Coming to Town  

After signing three pure linebackers in the 2016 class, Michigan looked likely to take another nice haul of backers in 2017 and continue to look to do so. The staff already has Josh Ross and Ben Mason in the fold but has their eyes set on the tippy top of their board to fill out the rest of their haul.

The most familiar and likely name to join the fray at this point is Paramus Catholic (NJ) LB Drew Singleton, who’s been referred to as “the safest major bet on the staff’s board for quite a while” by Wolverine247 ($). And things continue to point in that direction though he’s not completely showing his hand just yet.

Singleton spoke with The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb at the UM/PC satellite camp last week to discuss his summer visit plans, his decision plans and his relationship with Michigan coaches and players ($):

Singleton continues to show love for Michigan and his friends within the program. Though Clemson and others may become legit options to land him, I still believe he end ups committing to and signing with the Wolverines (barring any crazy changes).

Behind Singleton, there’s discussion on who sits atop the staff’s board at the linebacker position. However, I don’t think there’s any question about who it should/may be.

Starkville (MS) LB Willie Gay is one of the most athletic players in the class and just so happens to be a perfect fit for every defense, especially Michigan’s. His ability to run, cover and diagnose plays could make him a star in Don Brown’s defense and that fit in the defense along with his relationship with the staff and their heavy pursuit has him liking what the Wolverines have to offer.

Gay spoke with TMI’s Josh Newkirk about his performance at the Pearl, MS satellite camp, his relationship with Tyrone Wheatley and what he wants to see on his visit Ann Arbor this summer before he makes his announcement in August ($):

“Everything, whatever they have to offer I want to be part of that,” Gay said of his impending U-M visit. “I want to see and look at it, and experience everything that I have never down here. I know that got more (to offer) than any other school I have probably been to.”

Check out a couple clips of his Pearl satellite camp performance from TMI:

Gay’s top 5 consists of Michigan, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and South Carolina. And though UM is the only non-SEC program included, they may be the team to watch closest. Harbaugh has proven his ability to pull talent out of the south and after seeing Gay put on a dominant performance in-person, the entire staff may ramp up pressure on him to the likes of any other top/priority recruit.

Will Michigan pull off the upset over the southern programs? I had Gay in my May BGRC and believe they can definitely get his pledge if that pre-decision visit happens and go as well as expected.

So, I have Singleton and Gay atop the Michigan linebacker board. But it’s not a two person list. There are two other big targets out of SEC country that the staff is taking a hard run at as well in Buckhorn (AL) LB Will Ignont and Oxford (MS) LB KJ Britt.

Ignont is a player that looks extremely likely to play his college ball in the SEC as Alabama, Auburn and Georgia all hold 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions with Bama holding 58% of the balls. However, analysts look to be off on their early predictions as Ignont released his top 10 list (in order) which had the Wolverines in front of the Crimson Tide thanks to Bama’s latest LB addition (Markail Benton):

There are always rollercoaster recruiting rides each cycle and Ignont is one of the biggest rides in the 2017 class so far. He went from looking like a Alabama lock to then looking likely to end up at Auburn. Well, now he’s favoring Georgia while UCLA and Michigan make their way up his list.

At this point, I’ll stick with him choosing an SEC team (Georgia or Auburn) unless he can make his way to Ann Arbor and the staff blows him away.

As for Britt, he’s another linebacker that looks very likely to play his ball in the SEC as Auburn (80%) and Georgia (20%) hold his only Crystal Ball predictions. But Michigan isn’t giving up that easily.

Britt spoke with The Wolverine’s Brandon Brown at the Rivals Five Star Challenge this past weekend. The top linebacker had nothing but good things to say about the Wolverines, the staff’s approach to his recruitment and his plans to officially visit Ann Arbor this fall ($):

I like the way they recruit me,” he said of Michigan’s coaches. “Even though they are sort of far away they recruit me like I’m right down the road. I talk to Michigan all the time. It’s big the way that they come at me.

“I talk to the whole staff a lot, really each coach. I’m probably the closest with Coach Bam [Richards]. They call me and stuff and just make me feel wanted. It’s good to hear from them a lot.”

Like Ignont, though Britt is likely to end up staying down south, the Michigan coaching staff isn’t going away easily. Getting him on campus this fall should give UM a puncher’s chance in this fight vs the SEC powers.

As for a player that has jumped back on to the recruiting board thanks to a decommitment, former Duke commit and Benedictine (VA) LB Ellis Brooks is a name to watch moving forward.

Brooks, who has held a Michigan offer since January, committed to Duke in March but decided to go back on that pledge in late May. With that opening in his recruitment, he has plans to check out programs, including camping at Michigan on June 21st, per 247Sports’ Ryan Bartow.

With the staff looking to bring in a handful of linebackers in this class, if he performs up to his talents in front of the staff, he could vault up their board. He’s a player that values education more than most, holding offers from the likes of Duke, Cornell, Notre Dame and Stanford. So, if Michigan’s staff likes what they see out of the hard hitting linebacker and decides to push for him, they could become a very realistic landing spot moving forward.

Lip Service and Lists 

Covering recruiting is not as easy as some may think. From speaking with recruits to getting viable sources, it can be tough, especially off the bat. One of the things that’s the most difficult is, when talking with recruits, sorting through what they’re saying and finding the truth behind the words. The recruit isn’t always going to show their hand, especially a top player that is looking to build excitement and drama around their recruitment. And that looks to be what happened to my buddy and new Rivals reporter, Brandon Justice.

Justice, from The Wolverine, interviewed the #1 player in the class (per Rivals) Episcopal (TX) DT Marvin Wilson at the Rivals Five Star Challenge this past weekend and got some amazing quotes, including:

Getting to play with another great defensive lineman like Rashan Gary gives a great possibility of me going to Michigan,”

Wilson and Gary on the same defensive line? Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it looks like it just may be.

While Wilson said there’s “a great possibility of me going to Michigan” and that he would visit Michigan for an official this fall if he didn’t make it to Ann Arbor this summer, his next actions didn’t exactly follow those words. The top ranked player left the Wolverines off of his top 10 list the next day:

Doesn’t really match up with his statements, huh? This is quite normal in the recruiting world and, though it’s not a matter of fact that he was just giving Justice some good quotes for a story, the pipe dream of Wilson pairing up with Gary in Ann Arbor is unlikely. But, like always with recruitment, things are very fluid and can change at the drop of a hat. If he does indeed visit Michigan before signing his LOI, anything could happen. Especially if the Wolverines have a memorable season on the field.

As for a bit of a rebound story for Justice, he caught up with another highly ranked defensive tackle to discuss his recruitment but this one is a guy who is much better than a pipe dream to end up at Michigan.

Lake Taylor (VA) DT Darnell Ewell is a name that hasn’t received a ton of publicity from the UM recruiting analysts, myself included, because he looked likely to end up elsewhere. However, he spoke with Justice about his recruitment and the education driven family man broke down why Michigan is running 2nd on his list going into summer visits ($).

My family is in Michigan, thats a reason why I’m going for the visit – to be around family,” he said. “Going to Michigan means being with family to me.”

Ewell also caught up Rivals’ Mike Farrell at the Five Star Challenge and broke down his top five and summer visit plans, including his trip to Michigan on June 25th:

Like with a lot of top recruits, it’s a Michigan-Ohio State battle. Both programs are in high need of defensive tackles though OSU already has two top tackle in their class, Jerron Cage and Haskell Garrett, while UM has one tackle in Phillip Paea. OSU also happens to be in good standing with Marvin Wilson and Jay Tufele so there have been some questions about whether or not Ewell would be a take for the Buckeyes.

After talking with a source on the OSU side of things, they believe that Ewell is not only a take but is a player OSU is expecting to land at this point. But this is all before the visits go down.

Ewell mentioned to Farrell how important education was to him and if the Michigan staff can show off their educational superiority over OSU as well as their high need for tackles, it looks like there’s a possibility that they could jump the Buckeyes.

Two other defensive tackles released their top lists this past week in Paramus Catholic (NJ) DT Corey Bolds and Bishop Dunne (TX) DT Damion Daniels.

As for Bolds, he’s a very familiar name for Michigan fans as he looked like the next player to follow the PC to UM pipeline. However, according to multiple reports, Bolds doesn’t look to be a take for UM at this point thanks to “some hurdles”. We’ll see if he clears those hurdles in time to have a spot or is off the board completely, like fellow New Jersey DT Fred Hansard. Until that is known, i’ll lean towards Bolds choosing Rutgers or Rutgers in September.

And then for Daniels, he’s a guy to watch. He may not be a familiar name or a highly ranked player but his strength and ability to play both the one and three techniques could help him rise up the staff’s board. If they really push for him, it’s not completely out of the question for him to leave the Big 12/SEC footprint.

If the Gloves Don’t Fit…

Do you like that OJ Simpson reference? Sorry but I’ve been watching the OJ Simpson: Made in America 30 for 30 on ESPN and am completely hooked. While OJ and the show are not very relevant, that famous line is just a bit in the latest recruiting news that surrounds 2017 Detroit King (MI) CB Ambry Thomas.

Thomas, who looked like he was going to end up at Michigan State for the longest time, has recently seen a huge swing in Crystal Ball predictions and confidence among Michigan recruiting analysts. That’s mainly because of a couple recent visits to Ann Arbor and him looking to play with his cousin and (rumored) hard UM lean Cass Tech (MI) DB Jaylen Kelly-Powell.

But this recruitment looks to be far from over.

Thomas was sporting MSU gloves at the Detroit Sound Mind Sound Body camp last week and told SpartainTailgate’s Sean Scherer, “Let the gloves do the talking” ($). He also mentioned his plans to visit East Lansing in the near future and his relationships with former teammate Donnie Corley and MSU coach Mark Dantonio.

On top of that, Scout’s Allen Trieu left a Facebook comment on a pro-MSU/Thomas story telling Spartan fans “I’d feel pretty good about this one if I were you guys”.

So, do the gloves tell the entire story? Is MSU of Michigan his leader? While Scherer and Trieu may be feeling pretty confident for the Spartans, Michigan’s recruiting analysts are still feeling good about the Wolverines’ chances.

The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb sees a strong similarity between Thomas’ recruitment and his former teammates and 2016 Michigan signee CB Lavert Hill’s ($). Hill looked likely to end up elsewhere early on in his recruitment and then was down to UM and MSU all the way up until NSD. And Thomas could be on a similar path. However, Webb reiterated once again how big the Kelly-Powell connection could be for UM but mentioned that it’s not a guarantee.

Wolverine247’s Steve Lorenz was one of the first people to put in a Crystal Ball for Thomas to Michigan and, even after the MSU rumors, is still confident in that choice after speaking with his sources ($). Like Webb, a lot of the confidence comes from the Kelly-Powell connection.

At this point, this recruitment could go anyway. While I believe he’ll end up at Michigan, MSU and others still look to be very much alive. But the sooner JKP pledges to UM (like expected), the better for the Wolverines’ chances with cousin Ambry.

Could there be a QB Duel in 2018?

After landing Brandon Peters in 2016 and Dylan McCaffrey in 2017, Michigan’s quarterback future is looking pretty good. But what about 2018? There are two names that standout for the Wolverines more than any other in Old Bridge (NJ) QB Artur Sitkowski and the latest offered quarterback from the staff, Bishop Gorman (NV) QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

While I have already put in my Crystal Ball prediction for Sitkowski to Michigan and am still confident in that choice, the offer to DTR is one to watch. His mother went to Michigan and the family grew up big fans of the program. He spoke with Rivals’ Adam Gorney about the offer and talked about that longtime affinity for the Maize and Blue as well as how his fit in the offense will be the deciding factor for him ($).

Speaking of that fit, DTR is a different quarterback than what UM has gone after in the last three classes. He’s more of a duel threat talent that can be a game breaker as a passer or runner. Though some think he’ll likely go elsewhere because of Michigan’s pro-style offense and previous QB recruiting, that actually may be a selling point for Thompson-Robinson.

Going into the 2018 season, here is Michigan’s (rough) quarterback depth chart projection:

  • Wilton Speight, 5th
  • Brandon Peters, JR
  • Dylan McCaffrey, SO
  • Alex Malzone, SR
  • 2018 quarterback recruit(s)

That’s a lot of pro-style quarterbacks and not a ton of depth. Michigan could take a run at both Sitkowski and Thompson-Robinson in the class to help fill up that depth chart but could also pitch DTR who could be the only true duel-threat quarterback on the roster. Add in Harbaugh’s past of turning duel-threat QBs in to NFL talents and the way he allowed Jake Rudock to use his feet, and I believe Michigan should be a real candidate for the Bishop Gorman standout no matter what Sitkowski happens to do.

Photo Credit: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire