For the second consecutive year, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff have brought in yet another top-5 recruiting class featuring a handful of signees that many are expecting to contribute the second they arrive in Ann Arbor.
One likely recruiting pitch coming from the staff was the amount of playing time potentially up for grabs as the Wolverines lost as many as 17 starters from a season ago, in addition to numerous key contributors sprinkled all over the depth chart.
Along with some of the freshmen that redshirted last year, Michigan will have an abundance of new faces on both sides of the ball that will become key contributors in 2017.
Kareem Walker, RB, Redshirt Freshman
Michigan has options at the running back position heading into 2017, but no true workhorse. Enter Walker, who sat out last year due to reported academic issues. Walker spent the season on the scout team, but wound up being mentioned repeatedly by teammates during bowl practices as a younger player that has made an impression. He will likely begin the spring as the fourth option behind Chris Evans, Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac, but will have ample opportunities to steal a few carries.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, True Freshman
While the recruit below this may be the most talented of the class, there is an argument to be made that Peoples-Jones was the most important of the incoming freshmen to land in Ann Arbor. Not only because of the need at the position with both Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson graduating, but also because keeping the highest-rated, in-state recruit at home and away from rivals such as Michigan State and Ohio State is equally as important. Sophomore Kekoa Crawford will likely secure one starting spot on the outside with speedster Eddie McDoom in the slot, leaving one job up for grabs. DPJ is projected by many to secure that spot by the season opener.
Aubrey Solomon, DT, True Freshman
With three starters departing along the defensive line, and the way in which coordinator Don Brown likes to rotate linemen in and out, depth along the front was a major focus in recruiting. Enter Solomon, as the 5-star tackle will not only provide another body along the defensive line, but also could end up starting next to fifth-year senior Maurice Hurst. The Wolverines played a whopping 17 true freshmen last season and among the first-year players this season, Solomon may be the likeliest to see the field immediately.
Cesar Ruiz, C, True Freshman
The Wolverines have major question marks along the offensive line heading into next season so nabbing the top-rated center in this year’s class was critical for Harbaugh and the staff. Current center Mason Cole does return for his senior season but could move back out to left tackle, leaving a vacancy in the middle of the line. If Cole remains at center, Ruiz can potentially slide into the right guard position formerly held by Kyle Kalis, who has graduated. Regardless of the position, Ruiz is expected to challenge for a starting spot immediately.
Quinn Nordin, K, Redshirt Freshman
One of Michigan’s best players down the stretch last season was easily senior placekicker, punter and kickoff specialist Kenny Allen, who closed the year connecting on 15 consecutive field goals. Likely taking Allen’s place is Nordin, a redshirt freshman who was regarded as the nation’s top kicker in the 2016 recruiting class. Nordin won’t be asked to handle both kicking and punting duties as Allen did, but is widely viewed as the odds-on favorite to win the starting job as the full-time placekicker.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. For College Fantasy Football insight, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.