Najee Harris was never coming to Michigan. We all know that now.
The question is whether or not we should have known that from the beginning?
Admittedly, most of us bought into the hype about him flipping his commitment to Alabama. It was a perfect storm of consequences regarding his visit to campus, his relationship with the coaching staff and his unwillingness to flat out shoot down the idea that he was going to Michigan and re-affirm his commitment to the Crimson Tide. The Orange Bowl only made that desperate anticipation worse as we saw up close and personal with Dalvin Cook just how dynamic a game-changing running back can be......and we wanted that in Michigan's backfield. Badly.
In hushed tones under the cover of darkness, there was talk of Harris being a silent commit to Michigan and that he just wanted to get to Ann Arbor to avoid the chaos from angry Alabama boosters and fans that would want his head on a pike for such a dastardly betrayal. It would be another "moral victory" for Jim Harbaugh against Nick Saban and the SEC mafia, as they would have stolen arguably their most prized recruit and brought him north. All of it sounded so awesome, like a perfect dream.
That's all it was, of course. A dream that a lot of Michigan fans including myself, desperately clung to for a variety of reasons. It would have meant a lot to steal a five-star running back from Alabama, it would have provided Michigan a potential game-changer on offense at the running back position and it would have cemented the idea that Michigan is once again a nationally elite program perception-wise.
Now that the drama is all over and Harris is joining the machine that is Alabama football, it is time for us as Michigan fans to face a hard lesson or two about these top flight five-star talents: They're not all going to flip to Michigan.
I know that seems like an obvious take, but when you look at recruiting rankings and see six five-stars for Alabama and six for Ohio State but only two for Michigan, the stargazers tend to get a little pessimistic about the future. In the heat of the moment I get it, but in retrospect it's a foolish mistake.
I've heard a lot of people talk about Najee Harris as a "generational talent" and there's a lot of sour grapes right now among Michigan fans about "missing out" on him. The fact is that he had been committed to Alabama for a long time and it was going to take a flip to get him to Ann Arbor, so there was no "missing out." His mind would have had to have been changed and it's hard to talk a kid out of not going to the school that is on the cusp of winning its fifth national title in eight years and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
Michigan is still on the rebuild, albeit at a much more accelerated pace than what the pundits expected, but still rebuilding. Where Michigan is now timeline-wise is comparable to Nick Saban's second year at Alabama, when the Tide went 12-2 and lost the SEC title game to Urban Meyer's Florida en route to the Gators second national title in three years. For the record, Harbaugh's 20-6 record at Michigan in his first two seasons is ahead of Saban's 19-8 record in his first two years at Alabama.
So to expect that Harris was coming at all was a bit foolhardy and that was one of the reasons. The other reason is because we as fans should not give any merit to the idea of a "silent commit." People will argue about this, but the bottom line is that a silent commit means nothing at all. Just ask UCLA commit Darnay Holmes:
I'm not going to slam the kid for it because A: they all do it, and B: there's nothing wrong with it. A silent commit is not the same as a verbal because it's silent and secret. They don't want people to know, and if they don't want people to know then they aren't fully committed are they? They can do whatever they want without incident. Some fans will be upset about it, but that's on them for believing in silent commits. We've seen enough actual commits get flipped at the last second that we should know better than to trust ones that are silent and secret, especially when we are looking for a kid to flip his actual commit to a program in the first place.
So the question becomes when is Michigan going to get those highly coveted five-star kids to actually commit to them as Harris did to Alabama? Well, they already have with WR Donovan Peoples-Jones and LB Jordan Anthony, and last year they got the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation Rashan Gary so there's that. No, it's not six in one season but as I said before, Michigan is still rebuilding from the Dark Times and that above all is going to take patience to develop. Just because one doesn't decide to flip his commitment doesn't doom the program or its immediate future.
Najee Harris will likely follow in the footsteps of Derrick Henry, Eddie Lacy, Mark Ingram and others in terms of being highly successful running backs for Alabama, but he still has to develop into that running back and we have yet to see that. Even if he likely does, it still has no bearing on Michigan's success. There is no "we could have had him" or "if only we had gotten him," because the coaching staff is paid millions to develop the talent they actually get, not the ones that go elsewhere. Michigan currently has the No. 4 recruiting class in the nation as ranked by Rivals, behind only Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia. This is only Harbaugh's second full recruiting class and third overall since he was hired. Harris or not, this is yet another stellar class of talent coming in that shouldn't be dismissed so quickly because one player isn't added to it.
Alright, two players since so many of you are still griping about five-star OL Isaiah Wilson, who committed to Georgia at the last second. Now that WAS a "missing out" of sorts since he wasn't previously committed elsewhere, but since then the Wolverines have added Cesar Ruiz, the top center in the country and four-star OL Chuck Filiaga. Both players can and will likely see the field in 2017 based on their current potential and developmental upside. On top of that, they will look to add RB's Kurt Taylor and O'Maury Samuels to a backfield that already has Chris Evans, Karan Higdon, and Kareem Walker among others to begin with. Harris would have been a great addition, but Michigan isn't hurting for running backs at the moment.
Will any of them be as good as Harris could be for the Crimson Tide? A lot of you say no, but only time will truly tell on that one. There was a time long ago when an argument was made between Mike Hart and Adrian Peterson in terms of statistics. Of course AP turned out to be the better running back overall but it wasn't as though Hart was a slouch by any means. The same could be said for the running backs that Michigan currently has now in relation to Harris, so while it's a bummer to have not gotten him to flip, it doesn't lay waste to Michigan's situation at the position either.
So best of luck to Mr. Harris down in Tuscaloosa as he does his best to follow in the footsteps of past talented five-star athletes for Alabama. One can only hope that fate allows him to run against Michigan's defense in the next few years and then we can finally see on the field if not getting him to flip was truly the big deal some people think it is. Right now, the jury is still very much out.