Michigan Football: A shift in CB recruiting strategy could lead to success

Michigan football has adjusted its strategy when it comes to cornerback recruiting and here’s why it will lead to future success. 

Since Jim Harbaugh took over as Michigan football‘s head coach, the Wolverines have had a run on high-quality cornerback play.

Jourdan Lewis was one of the best corners in Michigan football history and graduated as the program’s all-time leader in pass breakups (45). David Long and Lavert Hill were both named to the All-Big Ten team multiple times. However, Lewis and Hill are 5-foot-10 and Long is 5-foot-11.

The average height of an NFL cornerback is 5-foot-11 so Lewis, Hill, and Long are all average to slightly below average in terms of height. However wide receivers have gotten bigger over the years from Andre Johnson Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, and DK Metcalf now. NFL teams covet bigger corners to slow them down, particularly in the first round. These are the cornerbacks that were selected in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft and their heights.

8th overall          Jaycee Horn                  6-foot-1

9th overall          Patrick Surtain             6-foot-2

22nd overall       Caleb Fairley                 6-foot-2

26th overall        Greg Newsome II        6-foot-0

29th overall        Eric Stokes                    6-foot-1

As you can see, every corner that was selected in the first round of this year’s draft was 6-foot or taller. While Michigan football fans certainly care more about what the players do during their time at Michigan, it never hurts to have more players with first-round ceilings on the roster. Having rosters chalked with first-round picks is one of the reasons we see Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State in the playoff nearly every season.

Speaking of Ohio State, for Michigan to accomplish any of its major goals (division title, Big Ten title, and make the CFP) we know it is going to have to beat the Buckeyes.

Ohio State has been recruiting at a historic rate in general, but particularly at wide receiver. From 2020-2022, the Buckeyes landed seven four-stars and four five-star wide receivers, with an average height of around 6-foot-1. Of those eleven, Mookie Cooper transferred and Gee Scott Jr. moved to tight end. Either way, it will be imperative that the Wolverines find long and talented corners to shut them down.

Michigan’s coaching staff is aware of this, particularly when you look at its recruiting strategy at corner. In the 2022 class, 23 of the 31 corners Michigan has offered are 6-foot or taller. In 2023, the Wolverines have offered 17 corners and 10 of them are 6-foot or taller.

It is early for the 2023 cycle, but Michigan football is off to a good start for defensive back recruiting for 2022. Thus far, the Wolverines have landed 6-foot-3 Will Johnson and 6-foot-2 Myles Pollard while nickelback Kody Jones is 5-foot-11.

Michigan also finds itself in a good position for 6-foot-1 Jahlil Florence, who has the Wolverines in his top 3 and possibly as his leader as well according to Sam Webb of the Michigan Insider. Of course, Michigan will continue its efforts to flip five-star Domani Jackson, who is 6-foot-1 himself.

What Michigan wants in corners

While it is clear that Michigan wants longer corners on the perimeter, there are no guarantees in recruiting. In its 2018 recruiting class, Michigan signed four-star Myles Sims and three-stars Vincent Gray, twins Gemon Green and German Green, and Sammy Faustin, who are all 6-foot-2 or above.

Sims transferred without making an impact at Michigan. Gray has had mixed results as a starter and Gemon Green had his first taste of starting in 2020 and showed flashes towards the end of the year. Gray and Gemon Green are projected to start in 2021. German Green and Sammy Faustin have not been significant contributors to this point.

With new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald coming from the NFL, he is going to prefer players that fit the ideal prototypes both with their measurements and testing numbers.

We have already seen this with the Wolverines shifting their recruiting approach with Justice Finkley. The 2022 cycle is one of the first where we have seen Michigan almost exclusively recruit taller corners on the perimeter. In my opinion, the difference between this year’s class and the 2018 class is the talent level of those recruits coming out of high school.

Myles Sims was a highly touted recruit, however, Gray, Faustin, and the Green twins were viewed as projects that the Wolverines had time to develop due to Lavert Hill and David Long having entrenched as starters.

Will Johnson is a five-star and has the look of a can’t miss prospect. He is on track to be the highest-ranked corner that the Wolverines have landed since 2000.

Myles Pollard is ranked as a four-star on Rivals and Jahlil Florence is ranked as a four-star on 247sports. I am confident that both of them will end this cycle as four stars in the composite.

If Michigan football signs those three on the perimeter to go along with Kody Jones in the slot, that will be an excellent haul at corner. It will also be a sign that U-M’s struggles at corner in 2020 may be short-lived.