Michigan received a much-needed verbal commitment from 2022 5-star cornerback Will Johnson this weekend. Johnson plays at Gross Pointe South High School in Gross Pointe, Michigan and is a Wolverine legacy. Despite the location and the upbringing, it was looking like Johnson could end up a Buckeye until recent coaching staff changes by head coach Jim Harbaugh paid immediate dividends.
Understandably, thoughts of Johnson in Ohio State’s 2022 class along with 5-star corner Jaheim Singletary and 4-star corner Jyaire Brown had a lot of Buckeye fans buzzing. As is often the case, however, that buzz has now turned into a hangover with Johnson’s commitment to Michigan.
Ohio State fans will shake it off quickly, as they tend to do, while also keeping an eye on the goings on up at Michigan.
Interestingly, if everything holds and Johnson and Singletary remain with their current schools and stay 5-star prospects, this would be the first time in the internet recruiting era (since 2002) that the Buckeyes and Wolverines would both sign a 5-star cornerback in the same recruiting cycle.
Of course, this hasn’t really been Ohio State’s fault over the years, as they have signed seven 5-star cornerbacks since 2002, compared to just two for Michigan.
One of those seven Buckeye cornerbacks was Ted Ginn, who never panned out at corner for Ohio State and was instead relegated to special teams and offense. Similarly, one of the Michigan corners was Jabrill Peppers, who got a look at corner for the Wolverines but eventually ended up in their hybrid linebacker role. The other 5-star Michigan cornerback was Donovan Warren, who declared for the NFL after his junior season and went undrafted.
These recruiting differences may help explain why the Buckeyes have produced more NFL cornerbacks over the years than Michigan, but it doesn’t explain it entirely. In fact, it hardly even scratches the surface of the stark contrast between the two programs when it comes to corners.
Over the last 26 years — which encapsulates the last 25 years of starting lineups that have been able to be drafted — the numbers are pretty remarkable.
Ohio State has had 28 starting cornerbacks (corners with at least five starts in one season) over the last 25 years and only six of them weren’t drafted.
In that same span, Michigan has had 26 starting cornerbacks and just 10 of them were drafted, leaving 16 undrafted.
For the Buckeyes, Travis Howard, EJ Underwood, Devon Torrence, Antonio Smith, Tyler Everett, and David Mitchell went undrafted. Even undrafted, Howard was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection in 2012 and Smith — a former walk-on — was a Thorpe Award semifinalist.
All six ended up signing free agent contracts, meaning that every starting cornerback at Ohio State since 1995 has earned money in the NFL. That will continue next month when Shaun Wade hears his name called.
Since 1995, the Buckeyes have had 22 starting cornerbacks drafted, and that doesn’t even include running back Derek Combs, who was selected by the Raiders in the 7th round of the 2001 draft because they wanted to see what he could do at corner.
Combs is also the only one of the 23 who was drafted lower than the fourth round.
Ohio State has had more cornerbacks selected in the first round over the last 25 years (13) than Michigan has had cornerbacks selected total (10). The Buckeyes have had as many first-round corners the last 20 years as Michigan has had corners drafted total.
In OSU defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs’ seven years at Ohio State, he has signed or helped produce seven first-round draft picks at cornerback. Since Coombs became a college coach in 2007, Michigan has produced five NFL draft picks at cornerback.
But maybe Jim Harbaugh can finally change the momentum — or at least match the momentum. It starts with recruiting and then goes to development, and neither have been Harbaugh’s strong suit at Michigan.
Since he arrived at Michigan, Harbaugh has signed the following cornerbacks.
2015: Keith Washington, 3-star, No. 79 ATH, No. 966 overall (transferred)
2016: David Long, 4-star, No. 7 CB, No. 65 overall
2016: Lavert Hill, 4-star, No. 12 CB, No. 132 overall (from Detroit)
2017: Ambry Thomas, 4-star, No. 12 CB, No. 90 overall (from Detroit)
2017: Jaylen Kelly-Powell, 4-star, No. 21 SAF, No. 250 overall (from Detroit) (transferred)
2017: Benjamin St. Juste, 4-star, No. 39 CB, No. 338 overall (transferred)
2018: Myles Sims, 4-star, No. 17 CB, No. 170 overall (transferred)
2018: Gemon Green, 3-star, No. 35 CB, No. 382 overall
2018: Sammy Faustin, 3-star, No. 54 CB, No. 592 overall
2018: Vincent Gray, 3-star, No. 63 CB, No. 700 overall (from Rochester, MI)
2019: Jalen Perry, 4-star, No. 23 CB, No. 200 overall
2019: DJ Turner, 3-star, No. 40 CB, No. 400 overall
2020: Andre Seldon, 4-star, No. 11 CB, No. 161 overall (Belleville, MI)
2020: Darion Green-Warren, 4-star, No. 14 CB, No. 190 overall
2021: Ja’Den McBurrows, 3-star, No. 43 CB, No. 552 overall
It’s too early to say how the last two classes will do, but it’s not a huge surprise that the three highest-rated corners Harbaugh has signed outside of those two classes have also been his best.
While recruiting rankings are hardly perfect, they do generally get you where you’re going. The better you do, the more accurate the information you’ll have regarding your preferred destination.
The good news for Harbaugh is that he appears to have finally stopped printing out directions from MapQuest, which always just ended up getting him lost in New England on recruiting trips.
With the recent commitment of Will Johnson, Michigan is on a better path. Now Harbaugh will need to hold onto him. And then after that comes the development.
There is no catching up with Ohio State when it comes to developing cornerbacks, but keeping up should be the goal for Michigan moving forward.
If the Wolverines are ever going to contend for the Big Ten title every couple of years, it’s going to start in recruiting. And with his recent coaching hires, Jim Harbaugh seems to have finally figured that out.
It will be interesting to see what else he starts figuring out this year as well.