When Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh, he was tasked with finishing the recruiting of the Class of 2015, started by former coach Brady Hoke. Then, he built the 2016 and 2017 classes.
With the 2015 class members entering their sophomore or junior seasons – depending on their redshirt status – some of those players could turn into key contributors in 2017. And with the majority of the 2016 class ready coming off a redshirt seasons, some of those redshirt freshmen and sophomores could become household names this season.
Here are three names from those the 2015 and 2016 classes that you might not know now. Come fall, you will.
Safety Tyree Kinnel, Class of 2015
You might already be a bit familiar with junior safety Tyree Kinnel from his big-time role on special teams and the second-team defense — and his 17 tackles, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
A rangy safety with an ability to blitz through the seam, Kinnel shined in limited time last season as arguably the best second-team player on the team. His quickness and ability to blitz through gaps will be noticed this fall.
As a recruit, Kinnel was a 247Sports composite 4-star safety, ranked inside the top 200 recruits in the country.
It’s nearly a lock that Kinnel will assume the starting safety spot in the fall. And when he does, if his play is anything similar to his limited time last season, you’ll notice him.
Tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Class of 2015
You know his dad – former Michigan running back and former assistant Tyrone Wheatley Sr. – so you probably know who Junior is, too.
But we haven’t seen much of the former 4-star recruit during the regular season in his time in Ann Arbor.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. appeared in all 13 games of the 2016 season, but the majority of that was on the field goal protection unit.
He had just 3 receptions in 2016, but one of them was good for a 21-yard touchdown against Illinois.
His lack of time on the field had a lot to do with playing behind Jake Butt, who broke multiple tight end records at Michigan.
But with Butt’s graduation and Devin Asiasi’s transfer to UCLA, the No. 1 and 2 tight end spots are wide open.
Senior Ian Bunting is the early favorite to play the majority of snaps as the No. 1 tight end, but Wheatley is sure to see his share of time in 2016. He’s an upset pick of ours to steal the No. 1 spot.
Wheatley is the best blocker in the position group. If he uses his 6-foot-6, 276-pound frame to his advantage and slightly improves his ability to catch, Wheatley could emerge as the go-to guy, as Butt was.
Tight end Nick Eubanks, Class of 2016
There are a lot of options in the 26-player Class of 2016 —17 of whom played as true freshmen.
Fans already know the names of some of these players well: QB Brandon Peters, RB Chris Evans, WR Eddie McDoom, WR Kekoa Crawford, CB Lavert Hill, CB David Long, DE Rashan Gary and S Khaleke Hudson.
Those players are expected to have some sort of impact on the 2017 season. Peters, the redshirt freshman, has more than a realistic shot to beat out redshirt junior Wilton Speight for the starting quarterback job.
But what’s a name that we haven’t heard much? A player who hasn’t gotten the hype that much of the rest of this class has received?
It’s Nick Eubanks, a former 4-star tight end from Florida.
His 6-foot-5, 243-pound frame is the perfect complement to the blocking/big body hybrid tight end that Wheatley is, as well as to Bunting, who is a sure-handed player early in drives.
So what role will Eubanks play?
Scorer. Eubanks is going to live in the red zone at Michigan.
Once the rest of this stacked tight end room graduates, Eubanks is our favorite to be an every-down vertical tight end for the Wolverines. But with Wheatley and Bunting ahead of him, Eubanks is exactly what those two aren’t – a super-athletic, long, tight end with talented leaping ability and a huge catch radius.
Will Eubanks dominate the receptions category? Not yet, at least.
But will he be tallying up some touchdowns in 2017? That’s what we’re projecting to happen in an offense that has a plethora of young receiving weapons.