So many Michigan football players were absolute steals in terms of their production compared to their recruiting ranking.
Michigan Football’s Positional Steals Currently On the Roster
Everyone likes a good rags to riches story.
And, across the board, the Wolverines have some big time playmakers. But not all of them came to Ann Arbor highly ranked.
As a matter of fact, there’s several Michigan players who didn’t come with the accolades of a Rashan Gary or a Donovan Peoples-Jones, but are expected to have just as big of an impact.
It happens every year, and some of the Wolverines best players in recent memory weren’t highly-touted coming out of high school.
For instance, Rivals had Michigan standout Mo Hurst as a three-star. Jake Butt was a three-star to 247Sports. Willie Henry was a three-star to both services, and was ranked in the one-thousands. All three are now NFL players and were draftees.
Especially on the defensive side, where Michigan is expected to field an elite unit, there are several players who weren’t expected to be among the top players in the country, that very well could be the most important players for the Wolverines in 2018.
WolverinesWire is taking a look at the best, yet unheralded players, position-by-position. Some of these are household names now, but considering where they came from, their ascent is pretty spectacular.
Quarterback – Joe Milton
247Sports ranking: 3-star, 449th overall
Rivals ranking: 4-star, 200th overall
Expected 2018 status: Redshirt (but should get some time with new NCAA rules)
Milton is the only player we’re including who hasn’t played a down. If Wilton Speight were still in Ann Arbor, he would be the choice as a former three-star.
However, Milton makes the list, as he was considered an expected project. Given what we’ve heard over the course of spring ball, Milton’s come in prepared, a scholar of the playbook, with unparalleled arm strength.
Of course, he isn’t expected to play much in 2018, given the depth chart ahead of him. But the former three-star is already making waves as one player who should vastly outplay his original ranking once he does take the field.
Running back – Karan Higdon
247Sports Composite ranking: 3-star, 484th overall
Rivals ranking: 3-star, no national ranking, 45th RB in 2015 class
Expected 2018 status: Starting running back
Michigan fans rejoiced when Karan Higdon flipped his Iowa commitment to the Wolverines on National Signing Day in 2015, but somewhat lamented that decision when former commit Mike Weber, a highly-touted four-star from Detroit (MI) Cass Tech, pledged to Ohio State.
However, after a solid redshirt freshman campaign, Weber went down with injury, and is now playing second fiddle to Buckeyes standout J.K. Dobbins, who starred as a freshman year ago. On the other hand, Higdon came on slowly, rushing for 19 yards in 2015, then 425 in 2016 before coming just 6 yards shy of 1,000 in 2017 — all while being a part of a rotation with Ty Isaac and Chris Evans. Higdon has two 200 yard rushing games under his belt, and has reportedly seen both weight and speed increases this offseason, under new strength coach Ben Herbert.
While most eyes will be on Michigan’s quarterback offensively, Higdon — along with versatile tailback Chris Evans — will help determine the offense’s success in 2018.
Honorable Mention: Tru Wilson, two-star, 2473rd player overall, 247Sports Composite
Offensive line – Jon Runyan Jr.
247Sports ranking: 3-star, 1604th overall
Rivals ranking: 3-star, no national ranking, 45th-best OT
Expected 2018 status: Vying for a starting spot
Michigan actually has a bevy of four-star talent along the offensive line, especially in the interior. Michael Onwenu, Cesar Ruiz and Ben Bredeson should all return as starters, and many of the other young talent — James Hudson, Chuck Filiaga and veteran Juwann Bushell-Beatty — all ranked as four-stars.
We last heard about Jon Runyan Jr. this past spring as a guy who had really bought into what new OL coach Ed Warinner is selling, and his play on the practice field has shined as a result. We don’t know yet whether or not he will start at tackle, but he will be in contention, to be sure.
Runyan does have quite a bit of playing time, coming in after former two/three-star Nolan Ulizio struggled in a starting role in 2017.
He also did make our list of Five Wolverines to be on the lookout for in 2018, as mentioned by sources as a player who’s been standing out this offseason.
Honorable Mention: Nolan Ulizio, three-star, 1294th overall, 247Sports Composite
Tight End – Sean McKeon
247Sports ranking: 3-star, 1254th overall
Rivals ranking: 3-star, no national ranking, 34th-rated TE
Expected 2018 status: Starting, along with Zach Gentry
Sean McKeon, a redshirt freshman in 2017, actually led the Wolverines in passes caught last season, and was just 6 yards shy of having the most yards receiving as well.
A three-star from Dudley (MA), not exactly a recruiting hotbed, the Michigan staff loved McKeon’s potential when he arrived in Ann Arbor as an early-enrollee, and once he hit the field, his talent was evident.
He will split time with converted TE Zach Gentry, but as we saw in certain packages in 2017, the two both will find themselves on the field at the same time.
Honorable Mention: Nick Eubanks, three-star, 344th overall, 247Sports Composite
FULLback – Ben Mason
247Sports ranking: 3-star, 933rd overall
Rivals ranking: 3-star, no national ranking, 35th-rated ILB
Expected 2018 status: Starting fullback
A special teams standout and a Jim Harbaugh favorite heading into the season, this second-year player was impossible to keep off the field in 2017.
He arrived in Ann Arbor as an early-enrollee linebacker, but quickly converted to fullback, where he started taking carries away from seniors Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi, scoring two touchdowns in the process.
He sustained an injury this spring, but is expected to be ready to go this fall. Mason is considered to be the hardest-hitting player, and is mentioned amongst the strongest players on the team. And that was in his freshman year.
Honorable Mention: Ben VanSumeren, first-year, 739th overall, 247Sports Composite
Wide Receiver – JAke McCurry
247Sports ranking: 2-star, 3239th overall
Rivals ranking: Unranked
Expected 2018 status: Depth player
The wide receiver position is a little more difficult to throw in an unheralded player, considering 2017 saw the infusion of four four-star (or better) players. Eddie McDoom was a three-star, but we’re swinging for the fences, based off our earlier report on walk-on Jake McCurry.
McCurry was the 2017 co-offensive scout team player of the year for the Wolverines, and several sources have told WolverinesWire that he’s the real deal at an already loaded wide receiver position.
We’re not sure at this juncture if that means he passes up our honorable mention, third-year wideout Nate Schoenle, a fellow walk-on player, on the depth chart. But given the amount of smoke surrounding McCurry, he’s our choice at one of the deepest positions on the entire roster to become an asset nobody saw coming.
Honorable Mention: Nate Schoenle, walk-on, unrated