Trieu: Fanfare won’t accompany Najee Harris’ decision
In the near future, the Michigan Wolverines will find out if they will add the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Antioch (Calif.) running back Najee Harris, to their 2017 recruiting class.
Harris is a unique prospect in many ways. His size (6-3, 220 pounds), along with balance, agility and speed, make him a special running back. But beyond that, Harris is a rare breed of recruit in this day and age, as he does not have a Twitter account and interviews with him are an extreme rarity.
An Alabama commit, Scout’s Alabama recruiting analyst John Garcia Jr. says Tide fans and Wolverine fans might not find out where he goes until he actually enrolls with that program -- no big television announcement, no pre-produced video, not even a tweet -- just enroll and go to that school. That has led Michigan fans to scour for any hint at all about Harris. Recent images on Snapchat have him wearing Michigan clothing, all this on the heels of a good official visit to Michigan.
While it remains uncertain what will happen, it is clear the Wolverines have a legitimate opportunity to wrestle him away from ’Bama.
That begs the question: What is the likelihood of success for the nation’s top recruit, and how often has Michigan been in that race?
Last year, the Wolverines landed the nation’s top prospect, defensive tackle Rashan Gary. It was the first time since Scout began ranking high school prospects in 2001 that Michigan had landed the No. 1 recruit on the board.
Prior to Gary, Kahlil McKenzie, a defensive tackle at Tennessee, was the top prospect. Michigan was not involved heavily in his recruitment. Injuries shortened McKenzie’s sophomore season, but he has 36 career tackles for the Vols to this point.
In 2014, LSU running back Leonard Fournette was Scout’s top recruit. He is expected to be a first-round NFL draft pick in April. The three top guys before him were defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Nkemdiche and Clowney were both first-round selections, Green-Beckham was chosen in the second round. Michigan was not in the picture for any of the three during their recruitments.
The 2011 class’ No. 1 prospect, offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, visited Michigan unofficially during the spring of his junior year and had the Wolverines in his top group. As the process went along, his interest in Michigan faded and he would sign with Miami (Fla.) after previously making a verbal commitment to USC.
Henderson was a seventh-round selection of the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 draft. After starting every game as a rookie, Henderson was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and was suspended for 10 games this season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Running back Bryce Brown was No. 1 in the 2009 class. He signed with Tennessee and played as a true freshman but left the program and transferred to Kansas State, where he only appeared in two games. He left early for the draft, finishing his college career with 476 yards on 104 carries. He was selected in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 1,076 yards in his NFL career. He was last with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 season and is currently a free agent.
The No. 1 prospect in 2008 was a recruit pursued hard by then-Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez –Terrelle Pryor. Rodriguez’s style of offense was appealing to Pryor, but he would ultimately sign with rival Ohio State. Pryor started three seasons at quarterback for the Buckeyes and is now a starting wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns.
In 2007, the top prospect was defensive end Everson Griffen, now with the Vikings. In 2006 it was running back Beanie Wells, who played at Ohio State and was a first-round selection. In 2005 it was quarterback Mark Sanchez, another first-round selection, and it 2004 it was center Jeff Byers, who never quite lived up to the hype.
The 2003 class was topped by linebacker Ernie Sims, who became the Detroit Lions’ first-round choice. Scout’s first top overall recruit was in 2002 with running back Lorenzo Booker, who was a third-round draft choice after playing at Florida State.
That is 16 years of ranking prospects. Of the 12 who have been draft-eligible, all except one were drafted, five in the first round.
Nothing in recruiting or talent evaluation in sports is a sure thing, but Harris has the look of a difference-maker.
After many years of not often being in play for the nation’s top recruit, the Wolverines may land the top guy two years in a row.
Last year, Gary announced on television, choosing the Wolverines after a lot of late talk of Clemson being the new team to beat. Do not expect that level of drama in Harris’ choice this year. He plays in the Army All-American Bowl next week, and while he is likely to be a hot target for the media during practices, do not expect him to give much away. That has not been his style.
The excitement with Harris will come once he is suited up.
Under Armour week begins
Practice begins on Wednesday for the Under Armour All-American Game, which will be played on Sunday.
Michigan has six commits in the game, which will be the most the Wolverines have had in the eight-year history of the game.
Safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, defensive linemen Luiji Villain and Kwity Paye, offensive linemen Kai-Leo Herbert and Cesar Ruiz, and linebacker Drew Singleton are all participating.
The game will be televised on ESPN at 1 p.m. EST.
Allen Trieu began covering the state of Michigan for Scout.com in 2005 and began managing the entire Midwest in 2009. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.