Michigan football: the recruitment and development of the quarterbacks

·6 min read

Michigan football and Jim Harbaugh have been getting some strong backlash recently after failing to keep two big-time in-state quarterbacks at Michigan.

In the 2023 class, the Wolverines looked to be in a good position with five-star Dante Moore who plays at Martin Luther King (Michigan). The Wolverines were the first school to offer Moore back in 2018 and many speculated that he would be a maize and blue lock. But as we know, things changed and that’s not how it happened. Moore took a few visits to Oregon, and on July 8th he announced his commitment to the Ducks.

Just about everyone thought Michigan would land 2024 prospect, CJ Carr. Carr would have been a legacy commit with strong ties to Ann Arbor, especially with his grandfather Lloyd Carr having coached the Wolverines. The five-star gun-slinger that goes to Saline high school in Michigan didn’t have the same plan as everyone else. On June 9th he committed to rival, Notre Dame.

Of course with Michigan getting neither five-star quarterback from the state of Michigan, the Wolverines are getting strong criticism from the fans and media. The narrative surrounding Michigan football, right or wrong, is that the Wolverines aren’t playing the NIL game right, which is why these top signal-callers are going elsewhere. The other narrative surrounding Jim Harbaugh is that he cannot recruit the quarterback position consistently as the head coach of the Wolverines.

That is inaccurate.

Harbaugh took the helm at Michigan back in 2015 and he finished off the recruiting class that former coach Brady Hoke had built. Let’s go back to 2015 and show what quarterbacks Harbaugh has had sign in Ann Arbor (rankings are from 247Sports composite):

  • 2015: four-star Zach Gentry (No. 174 nationally and No. 8 QB)

  • 2016: four-star Brandon Peters (No. 61 nationally and No. 6 QB)

  • 2017: four-star Dylan McCaffrey (No. 123 nationally and No. 5 QB)

  • 2018: four-star Joe Milton (No. 204 nationally and No. 9 QB)

  • 2019: four-star Cade McNamara (No. 268 nationally and No. 7 QB)

  • 2020: three-star Dan Villari (Not ranked nationally and No. 42 QB)

  • 2021: five-star JJ McCarthy (No. 25 nationally and No. 5 QB)

  • 2022: three-star Jayden Denegal (No. 452 nationally and No. 28 QB)

  • 2022: three-star Alex Orji (No. 493 nationally and No. 30 QB)

As you can see Harbaugh has recruited mid-to-high four-star quarterbacks every cycle save for 2020 and 2022. He also reeled in one five-star with McCarthy. Obviously, the production of just about every quarterback listed has been bad other than Cade McNamara had a fine season last year and McCarthy looks to have huge potential. But with that list, you cannot say that Harbaugh hasn’t been getting the quarterback recruits to come to Michigan, because he has.

Why is production lacking? The system may have hurt early on, the Wolverines were primarily a run-first team until Josh Gattis arrived and opened the playbook up some. But Harbaugh also dived into the transfer portal to get some experience under center which didn’t help the development of Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey.

In 2015 he had Iowa transfer, Jake Rudock, come play for him. Rudock threw for 3,107 yards, 20 touchdowns, and nine interceptions in his lone year with the Wolverines. Then in 2016, it was a mixture of John O’Korn (Houston transfer) and Wilton Speight, and in 2017 O’Korn and Brandon Peters. But then Harbaugh got former five-star and No. 1 ranked quarterback out of high school, Shea Patterson to come to Ann Arbor from Ole Miss. Patterson may have never lived up to his high school hype, but he put up good numbers for the maize and blue during his two seasons.

So regardless if it was a high school recruit or a transfer, Jim Harbaugh has had success getting the quarterbacks coming to Michigan. But now that the Wolverines have missed out on both Dante Moore and CJ Carr, where can they go from here? Let’s assume that NIL stays the same way in Ann Arbor and it’s more of a “transformational experience rather than a transactional experience.” as the head coach says.

For the class of 2023, barring something crazy like Moore de-committing from Oregon and coming home, then it doesn’t appear to be many options left for the 2023 cycle. But the Wolverines do have JJ McCarthy for three more seasons of eligibility. Of course, that could turn into just two seasons if he ends up getting the starting nod, or has a fantastic season this year or next — that’s very likely.

We can’t forget about the two recruits from 2022: Denegal and Orji. Neither may be the five-star Dante Moore or CJ Carr on paper, but there is a reason why the staff wanted both of them. Denegal is the prototypical pro-style quarterback and he had a great offer sheet. He had offers from Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan State, and others.

During the spring game, Orji showed off his speed at quarterback and looks to be like a real dual-threat under center. Depending on what the Wolverines do in the 2023 or 2024 cycle then we could be looking at one of them to be the answer after McNamara and McCarthy are done.

But, the real answer may come in 2024. The Wolverines are right in the thick of things with five-star Jadyn Davis. He plays at Providence Day in North Carolina. The maize and blue are fighting with Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, and Texas A&M for the five-star. Davis has been spotted at camps wearing Michigan gear, and the Wolverines are recruiting him at a high level. It has been reported that Davis will be attending Michigan this weekend for its yearly barbecue event.

Bottom line: Michigan is covering the position fine. But the Wolverines need to start showing that they can develop the position at an even higher level and whoever starts between McNamara and McCarthy needs — and should have — a great year. McNamara is the incumbent starter who led Michigan to its first Big Ten Title and a spot in the College Football Playoff, but McCarthy appears to be a generational talent that has the ‘it’ factor. I believe whoever does start the season will have earned that spot during fall camp, and that just means they are the better signal-caller right now. Regardless of who starts, both will play.

The Wolverines have elite talent at the skill position, and the toolbox is loaded for the quarterbacks to excel in Ann Arbor. One really big year passing the ball could make a quarterback like Davis become a virtual lock.

List

Michigan football player ratings in Madden 23

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire