Early in June, Jim Harbaugh was quoted as saying two players had decided to leave the Michigan Football program. Speculation began almost immediately as to who was leaving and why. Toledo-based sports anchor Jordan Strack took to Twitter and identified the players as running back Kareem Walker and wide receiver Kekoa Crawford. The program nor the players have confirmed the report as of today, but they haven’t refuted it either. In other words, it’s safe to assume Strack’s source is correct.
Kareem Walker came to Michigan as one of the most highly touted running backs in the class of 2016. 247sports ranked him as the nations fourth best prospect at the position. That alone would have been enough to get Michigan fans excited about his commitment. Add in the fact that he decommitted from Ohio State in the process? Even better. The excitement fizzled rather quickly however. Chris Evans was the 2016 running back commit that saw the most action right away, as the “lightning” to Senior De’Veon Smith’s “thunder”.
In 2017, with Smith now a member of the Miami Dolphins, Evans took over as the starter but came out of the gates slowly. Karan Higdon, a junior, took control of the backfield and ended up being named the teams Offensive MVP for the season. Walker reportedly struggled academically and in his two years was never really on solid footing with the program. It’s unfortunate, but ultimately Walker joins Derrick Green, Kevin Grady, and Sam McGuffie as prized running back recruits that simply didn’t pan out in Ann Arbor. Going forward, it’s a clear 1-2 of Higdon and Evans. As for the third spot, walk-on junior Tru Wilson has received most of the spring hype from Harbaugh. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he and sophomore O’Maury Samuels split the crumbs Higdon and Evans leave for the rest of the backfield.
Kekoa Crawford’s departure is slightly more surprising. He began the season as the team’s primary kick returner and started at receiver in the opener against Florida. In the Outback Bowl, he led the team in receiving. His role in the offense however noticeably ebbed and flowed throughout the season while his role in the return game essentially disappeared. While the struggles at quarterback certainly had a lot to do his struggles, it’s quite possible that the injury to freshman Tarik Black had as much to do with creating his opportunities. Black is back healthy and he isn’t the only talented receiver a year behind Crawford. Donovan Peoples-Jones saw a lot of action last season and was the number one receiver recruit in the nation in 2017 while Nico Collins and Oliver Martin were top thirty recruits at the position. Add in senior Grant Perry as a slot target, and Crawford’s departure begins to make sense. It’s a deep, talented, and for the most part, young receivers room. Attrition from an upper classmen that has been mildly productive bodes well for forecasting how the youth is progressing. In the end, despite these two departures, Michigan has the talent and depth at their skill positions to succeed in 2018.