The speculation of who will go where is finally over for the 2017 class. But that doesn’t mean there’s no more speculation.
It’s early … really early. But before spring practices begin and we see the early enrollees in action – and months before the freshmen report for camp – let’s speculate on who will contribute early from Michigan’s 2017 class.
We’ll rank them, with the first being the most likely to make an early impact.
1. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
The former 5-star prospect, Peoples-Jones has been enrolled at Michigan since Jan. 8 as an early enrollee. As the No. 12 overall player in the 247Sports composite – and the No. 1 WR – Peoples-Jones has generated high hopes heading into 2017 from the fans and staff alike.
At 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, Peoples-Jones has a frame that you don’t see every day from a true freshman receiver. Physique-wise, he looks like Julio Jones, and might have as much hype out of high school as Jones did, too.
— Hudl (@Hudl) February 1, 2017
With extraordinary ball skills and athleticism that hasn’t been seen from a true freshman receiver at Michigan in years, expect Peoples-Jones to make a serious run at starting Day 1.
The Wolverines lost their two top receivers in Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, making the receiver competition wide open. It would surprise a lot of people if Peoples-Jones doesn’t, at the very least, get a bulk of the snaps in the opener against Florida.
2. DT Aubrey Solomon
We know that Harbaugh isn’t shy on playing true freshman out of the gate. In the 2016 home opener, an astounding 17 true freshmen played at least a snap. And he gave nearly 10 of them serious playing time the rest of the season, including starting Ben Bredeson on the offensive line, and letting Chris Evans play as one of the exclusive backs.
Michigan brought in the top player in the country last season in Rashan Gary, but Michigan had four defensive linemen starting as seniors last season.
Solomon, a former 5-star recruit ranked as the No. 2 DT recruit in the country, should see a much better opportunity. Obviously, those four seniors have graduated, freeing up two spots on the edge and one on the interior. The only spot secure is senior Maurice Hurst Jr.’s interior tackle spot. Leaving another interior spot for … Solomon?
Perhaps the run-stuffing, athletic freak, won’t be starting right away. But expect him to, like Gary in 2016, be heavily involved in Michigan’s defensive line rotation. He’s just too hard to keep off the field.
— Hudl (@Hudl) February 1, 2017
3. P Brad Robbins
This is a wild-card pick, as Robbins wasn’t even offered by Michigan until just hours remained until National Signing Day was over.
Regardless, Michigan’s punter/place kicker/kickoff specialist Kenny Allen has graduated. It’s rare to see a guy run all three phases of the kicking game, and it shouldn’t be expected to happen again next season.
Redshirt freshman Quinn Nordin is the early favorite to take over the kicking game in 2017, but he isn’t expected to see much time punting. So unless Michigan seeks a grad transfer punter, Robbins could contend to start for Michigan.
He is the No. 1 punter in the country, according to Kornblue Kicking’s Top 50, and he has a wide open opportunity in Ann Arbor. His biggest competition will come from redshirt freshman preferred walk-on Will Hart.
4. C Cesar Ruiz
A guy that was dubbed “the best interior lineman” at the Under Armour All-American Game by nearly all in attendance, Ruiz has a couple of ways he can crack the lineup in 2017.
If he stays true to center – the position he has always played – then he has to hope that senior center Mason Cole kicks out to guard, or his original position of left tackle.
Or, Ruiz can transition to guard for one season, learn under Cole, and go back to center in 2018. Sliding over to guard doesn’t guarantee him a position, but it gives him a better chance, as Michigan lost right guard Kyle Kalis to graduation, and left guard Ben Bredeson is expected to move to his natural tackle position in 2017.
— Sean Merriman (@MerrimanTweets) December 30, 2016
Ruiz has a lower base that is hard to come by out of high school. Match that with his college-ready mechanics, and you’ve got yourself a contender to be a freshman All-American. Not to mention, he’s an early enrollee, so he’ll have months of practice before he takes the field in September.
Other names to look out for
Since Harbaugh isn’t shy about putting freshmen out there, those four might not be the only ones. Here are some other names that can make a splash.
- Offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga: Michigan lost both starting tackles. With some talented guys already on campus, it might be tough to crack the lineup right away. But Filiaga has the college-ready mechanics to do so.
- Wide receiver Tarik Black: At 6-foot-4, Black’s frame alone should get him on the field in some capacity in 2017. His ball skills and end-zone ability should give him a solid head start to get an opportunity to play. And it helps that he’s an early enrollee.
- Cornerback Ambry Thomas: Though he likely won’t crack the starting lineup right away, unless he bulks up big-time, Thomas is fantastic in man defense – Michigan’s primary coverage. He’s as big of a competitor as any other in the class. If enrolling early helps him get a lot stronger, then we might be seeing more of Ambry Thomas than any other true freshman.