Kareem Walker vaults UM to No. 1 recruiting class

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Kareem Walker

A two-day recruiting haul has Michigan at the top of the national rankings, but more importantly addressed critical position needs for the Wolverines.

Hotly-pursued Kareem Walker, rated the nation’s top-rated running backs by several recruiting services, committed to Michigan on Thursday afternoon. Walker, a 6-foot-1, 208-pounder from De Paul Catholic High in Wayne, New Jersey, chose the Wolverines over Florida State.

The last two days have given Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s 2016 class, which is now at 24 commitments, a major boost. On Wednesday, Michigan received a commitment from Florida linebacker Devin Bush Jr., from state champion Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines.  Bush, a legacy at Florida State, also had narrowed his choices to Michigan and FSU.

Linebacker is a big position of need for Michigan, which loses Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan and James Ross after the bowl game.

The addition of Walker significantly spiked Michigan’s national recruiting ranking. Michigan is now ranked No. 1 by Scout, ahead of Alabama, while Rivals has the Wolverines No. 2 behind Ole Miss. According to 247Sports, Michigan is now No. 2 nationally behind Ohio State.

Michigan lands four-star linebacker Devin Bush Jr.

Walker, a former Ohio State commit, said he was up until 1:30 a.m. Thursday making his decision. Harbaugh spoke to him via FaceTime after he revealed his decision.

“You were dazzling in your press conference. That was fun to watch,” Harbaugh told Walker. “You’re a nugget of gold in our eyes.”

Michigan was ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rushing, and No. 92 nationally, averaging 152.7 yards a game this past season, as lead back De’Veon Smith was slowed much of the season by injury, and Drake Johnson, who returned this fall from a torn knee ligament, never appeared fully healthy. The Wolverines’ run game clearly needs a spark, and Walker is a versatile back who might be called on early to fill that need.

Walker, who told Brian Dohn of Scout.com he intends to wear No. 6 at Michigan to honor UM running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, who also wore the number for the Wolverines, rushed for 1,517 yards and 13 touchdowns during his senior season. He averaged 126.4 yards per game and 7.1 yards per carry.

Wheatley played a key role in Walker's recruitment to Michigan.

Walker was asked whether playing time was a big factor in his decision.

“I could have played right away at Florida State,” Walker said. “My role probably wouldn’t have been as big.”

Walker, now the fourth player from New Jersey to commit to Michigan, said current Wolverine and New Jersey native Jabrill Peppers did not apply pressure to join him in Ann Arbor.

“He’s more of a big brother to me,” Walker said after his announcement. “He was fine if I went to Ohio State, Florida State, Arizona State. He was fine with any decision I made. He wasn’t telling me come to Michigan and be that guy, (and he didn’t say), 'Don’t go to Florida State, don’t go to Alabama.'"

He also told reporters he has a “good relationship” with the other freshmen heading to Michigan.

Walker is the third running back in UM's 2016 class, joining Kingston Davis of Prattville, Alabama, and Chris Evans of Indianapolis. Kiante Enis of Winchester, Indiana, also is a running back, but he is classified as an athlete.