ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has put a premium on player development in his three seasons in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines have produced 14 NFL draftees in Harbaugh’s first three seasons as head coach. They have also produced several All-Big Ten selections and All-Americans, including Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.
Projections aren’t an exact science, and one can never really tell how a recruit will pan out. But let’s take a look into the crystal ball and make a few predictions for which members of the 2018 recruiting class could turn into major award winners for the Wolverines.
2018 Big Ten Rookie of the Year — Cameron McGrone, OLB
Cameron McGrone joins the Wolverines as its only 5-star recruit this year; 247 separately rates him as a 5 star prospect. The service rates him the class’ top outside linebacker and the No. 24-ranked player in the country.
McGrone is a cerebral player who combines brains and quickness, as evidenced by a game-saving play he made in September.
McGrone will thrive under the tutelage of Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown. He will make the most of working with linebackers Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson. He’s also versatile and will be in a position to thrive at either outside or middle linebacker.
2019 Big Ten Tight End of the Year — Mustapha Muhammad
Michigan is quickly becoming a program that’s known for tight ends who produce, most notably former All-American Jake Butt and current tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry. McKeon and Gentry became important parts of Michigan’s offense in 2017; expect Mustapha Muhammad to do the same with at least a year of college football under his belt.
The Wolverines will continue grooming tight ends with the addition of Muhammad, the No. 6 tight end in the nation in the 247Sports composite. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Muhammad is strong as a blocker and has a variety of receiving skills.
Muhammad will join a Wolverines position group that is deep, so he will have to create his opportunities for playing time as a freshman and focus on development. He should become a key figure in Michigan’s passing game in the next two-to-three years.
2020 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year — Aidan Hutchinson, DE
Give Aidan Hutchinson a year as a freshman to ease into Michigan’s system, and he will be in a position to thrive down the road as one of the Big Ten’s top defensive linemen. Hutchinson maximized his versatility at Dearborn (Mich.) Divine Child, playing defensive end, tight end and long snapper. His knowledge at all three positions will help him with his ability to analyze offenses and make quick decisions.
One defensive end has already cast a mold for Hutchinson: Chase Winovich, who returns for a fifth year.
“It’s great having him back and it’s huge for the defense to have a returning starter with as much experience as him,” Hutchinson told Land of 10 in January. “It’s gonna be pretty cool playing with Chase and I’m looking forward to learning from him.”
2021 Heisman Trophy — Joe Milton, QB
Joe Milton is one of four quarterbacks on Michigan’s roster for 2018. He enrolled in January as a means to acclimate both to college and to college football. He will gain eight months of learning Michigan’s system, as opposed to getting an eight-week crash course as a true freshman who enrolls in June.
Milton’s early move could pay off down the road. Milton is a longer-term investment for the Wolverines, who traditionally don’t rush the development of their quarterbacks. They also typically redshirts freshmen quarterbacks, so don’t expect to see Milton in 2018. A long-term projection will be key for Milton’s development. As a senior, he’ll be in a position to thrive at quarterback, playing with a group of experienced receivers and behind a veteran offensive line.
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