Overall Class Rating: (B) A very subjective grade this year, given the circumstances. Ordinarily, a roster of commitments like the one that the Wolverines currently have would be cause for much angst and hand-wringing amongst the Michigan faithful. There's a dearth of elite talent -- at least in the eyes of the recruiting experts -- with no five-star recruits and a relatively small number of four-stars.
But the normal standards for evaluation can't be applied this year due to the coaching change. Given that Brady Hoke has had only three weeks to cobble together a recruiting class, he's done quite well. He's done an admirable job keeping most of the previous commitments on board, and he's also been able to bring some new prospects into the fold. This is not a lost class, as many had feared, but a respectable one that should make a meaningful contribution over the next few years.
Top 5 Players:
Greg Mattison, Defensive Coordinator: OK, so he's 61 years old and won't be making any plays on the field. But there's no doubt that he has been the most important guy that Hoke has brought on board.
Mattison has been a defensive coordinator at the very highest levels of the college game -- Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida -- and pro game. And his most recent experience as coordinator of an elite defense in Baltimore, coaching superstars such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, gives him (and Hoke) instant credibility and cachet with recruits.
Blake Countess, CB: A consensus four-star player and Army All-American game participant, Countess is a tough, physical player with excellent cover skills who is Michigan's highest-rated defensive back recruit, according to Rivals.
After RichRod's firing, Countess seriously considered Penn State, but Mattison had a big hand in convincing him to stay Blue.
Justice Hayes, RB: Another consensus four-star, Hayes is Michigan's highest-rated recruit. He decommitted from Notre Dame and pledged to the Maize and Blue late last year, staying true to his commitment even after RichRod was canned and being very active in recruiting other players to come to A2.
There was a lot of speculation that he was recruited as a slot receiver by RichRod, but he will almost certainly be a running back in the Hoke/Borges offense.
Brennan Beyer, DE: The only other consensus four-star in the class, Beyer committed early in 2010 and has not gotten a lot of publicity as a result. Considering he's around 220 pounds, he's undersized for a defensive end, so don't expect to see him in action until 2012.
Antonio Poole, LB: A high three-star/low four-star recruit, Poole is a ball-hawking linebacker who committed late to Michigan because he wanted to play for Mattison. He has the potential to be the best Michigan linebacker since David Harris and Shawn Crable.
Most Likely Early Contributors
Matt Wile, K: It's a sad commentary on our special teams and our recruiting class when the most likely early contributor is a kicker. However, anyone who witnessed 2010 season-long kicking debacle knows that we desperately need help at that position.
Wile is rated as the No. 4 kicker in the country by Scouts and was selected to participate in the Under Armour All-American game, so he's got talent. Before anyone gets too excited, it's worth noting that Brendan Gibbons was selected to participate in the Army All-American game when he was a high school senior, but since arriving in A2 he's shown that he can't hit water even if he fell out of a boat and lost his job to a walk-on.
If LB Leilon Willingham commits, as expected, then he could also see the field right away. Michigan has only one entrenched starter at linebacker, Kenny Demens, so there is plenty of opportunity, and Willingham already has the size (6-2, 240 lbs) to hold his own at the college level.
Top Class Sleepers
Kellen Jones, LB: Jones is a high three-star/low four-star recruit from Texas who committed early last year, so he hasn't gotten the publicity of other prospects. But he is an aggressive, physical player with great instincts.
Thomas Rawls, RB: Rawls has had questions about his grades and his ability to qualify academically, as well as a much-publicized love for Michigan, all of which suppressed interest in him. As a result, he doesn't have the offer list one would like to see, but he has the combination of size (five-foot-10, 210 lbs) and speed that could make him an ideal fit for the physical, pro-style offense that Hoke and Al Borges want to implement.
The One That Got Away
Kris Frost, TE/LB and Anthony Zettel, DE: Frost was a five-star and Zettel a high four-star, both of whom were very high on Michigan but ended up committing elsewhere (Auburn and Penn State, respectively) because of the prolonged uncertainty about the Michigan coaching situation.
Two high-profile casualties of Dave Brandon's handling of RichRod's status. If Brandon had fired RichRod after the Ohio State debacle, it's very likely that both of them would have committed to Michigan.
Demetrius Hart, RB: A five-star talent who was the MVP of the Under Armour All-American game, Hart was a Michigan commit when RichRod was coach, but his much publicized commitment was toast because of the uncertainty regarding RichRod's job status.
Hart was going to enroll early, but he was not willing/able to wait for RichRod's situation to be resolved and ended up changing his commitment to Alabama instead. Hart is a dynamic runner who would have immediately upgraded the running back situation and been the perfect complement to Denard Robinson in the backfield.
I'm From Mizzourah
Keith Heitzman, DE/TE: The second player to commit to Hoke, Heitzman was completely off the radar prior to Hoke's arrival in Ann Arbor. A three-star recruit, Heitzman decommitted from Vanderbilt in order to give his verbal to the Maize and Blue, and he had a somewhat underwhelming offer sheet dominated by MAC schools and lower-tier Big Ten programs (Illinois was his best non-Michigan offer).
However, it should be noted that Heitzman was an accomplished player in high school, earning first-team All-State honors in Ohio's largest division ahead of a couple Ohio State commits and a Wisconsin commit.
Strongest Position Group
Michigan still has six players left on its board, barring any last-minute off-the-radar surprises. Two of those players -- consensus four-star Leilon Willingham and high three-star/low four-star Frank Clark -- are linebackers, and both are reported to be leaning strongly to the Maize and Blue.
If they commit, to go along with current commits Kellen Jones, Antonio Poole and Desmond Morgan, then the linebacking corps will be the strongest group. This would be a very welcome development, given the recent mediocrity of Michigan's linebackers (which has been a major contributing factor to the unprecedented crapulence of the defense during the RichRod era).
If Willingham and/or Clark do not commit to Michigan, then the six defensive back commitments would constitute the strongest group. Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor are very legitimate high-level talents, but overall it appears that this is a little more of a quantity-over-quality group. All six players played cornerback in high school, but at least a couple of them are thought to be candidates to bulk up and move to safety.
Given the abundance of young defensive backs that we already have on the team -- whose growing pains were unfortunately on display in 2010 for all to see -- depth in the secondary should not be an issue in the years to come. The key will be whether any players step up.
Weakest Position Group
This is an easy one, since we don't have a single wide receiver in the class. Due to the current depth at that position, Hoke decided that he wasn't going after any wideouts in this class, despite having the inside track on a couple four-star talents.
Not sure I agree with that approach, but then again my opinion doesn't matter.
Did class address need?
This class does a pretty good job of addressing need, given the situation. There is a lot of help for the defense in this class, especially among the back seven and at the defensive end positions.
Tate Forcier's departure created a need for quarterback depth, which was filled by three-star Russell Bellomy from Texas. He was also offered by Michigan State, Purdue and Boise State, among others, and those programs have a reputation for identifying under-the-radar quarterback talent.
There are no glaring deficiencies in this class, except for maybe defensive tackle, although Michigan is still in the running for three-star Darian Cooper. A little more help for the offensive line would have been good as well, but there still are three (and possibly four) O-linemen in this class, including 330-pound Chris Bryant.
This year's class was not considered one of the top 25 classes in the country even before RichRod was fired, which is unheard of for a Michigan recruiting class. And athletic director Dave Brandon seemed to go out of his way to undermine this recruiting class.
First, he inexplicably waited until the first week of January to fire RichRod, just four weeks before National Signing Day -- a prolonged state of uncertainty that caused Michigan to lose out on some top recruits. Then it took another week to hire Brady Hoke to replace him, but not before the Michigan football program took even more hits to its reputation by supposedly being turned down by preferred choices Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles.
In the eyes of the sports world, the winningest program in college football had fallen so far that it couldn't even convince its own former players to come back to Ann Arbor to lead the program (a problem compounded by Brandon's absurd claim that he never actually offered the job to Harbaugh or Miles, which later caused LSU's athletic director to basically call him a liar).
Since Hoke came to A2, however, things have turned in a positive direction. No recruiting expert thought that Hoke would be able to salvage this year's class, since he was so far behind, but Hoke has been able to pull that off. Not only will Michigan have a full complement of players in the class, but there are several recruits who should be significant contributors for Michigan in the years to come. The 2011 class will most likely never be considered among Michigan's best, but it could have been much, much worse.
Next year will be the true test for Hoke and his staff. Michigan is a perennial top-10 recruiting power and one of the few schools that has always recruited nationally, and it will be considered a failure if Hoke doesn't live up to those standards in 2012. Next year sets up well for Michigan, since the Midwest talent in next year's class is reputed to be the best in a long time, and Hoke has said that he will be emphasizing in-state and regional recruiting.
We'll see. Given what Hoke and Mattison have been able to do with this year's class, though, there is reason for hope in Ann Arbor.