The Michigan Wolverines have sank or swum with their defensive line in many respects in recent years, reeling off a string of big wins led by “Revenge Tour” participant Chase Winovich and enjoying the stellar play of former first round picks Rashan Gary and Kwity Paye (who was taken by the Indianapolis Colts this year), as well as Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton, and other dominant players.
Now, Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting staff is in hot pursuit of the team’s top target for 2022, a defensive lineman who could shift the balance of power in the Big Ten the way Winovich and Gary nearly did (prior to a few crushing losses to Ohio State, anyway).
While the Wolverines are still searching for their next Devin Bush and Jourdan Lewis in the linebacking corps and secondary, respectively, the team may have found its next Rashan Gary, or perhaps even better, in one of the top three prospects in the class of 2022.
The only issue right now is, they have to make sure they find a way to keep him away from some of the top programs in college football, and get him to make the pledge to what is still the winningest program in college football history for the time being.
Five-Star Defensive Tackle is an Instant Program Changer
Rated as the number two prospect in the entire class of 2022, defensive tackle Walter Nolen hails from Cordova, Tennessee, and is a 6-foot-4, 300 pound wrecking ball of a human being.
He plays like a prototypical SEC defensive lineman, the kind that the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers have guided to the NFL, and national title wins, in recent years.
This kid is not just a space eater in the middle, he’s a battering ram, a potential young Aaron Donald in training who can get after the passer and make life miserable for interior offensive linemen of all shapes and sizes.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the tape is how he carries his enormous bulk, staying active and agile while maintaining excellent leverage for a kid who still has a year of high school ball in front of him.
Think of a bigger, more stout version of Rashan Gary with a mean streak, combined with attributes of some of the top defensive line talents to come out of the SEC in the past decade, and you’ll get an idea of the kind potential Nolen possesses.
Is Walter Nolen the best defensive tackle in the Class of 2022? @samspiegs thinks so: https://t.co/xEUT5KMpRW pic.twitter.com/orb6y37Uyk
— Rivals (@Rivals) June 25, 2021
Nolen visited Ann Arbor back in April and returned this past week, with glowing things to say about the experience.
He has family in the southeast Michigan region, giving the Wolverines some potential in-roads with the coveted prospect.
5 ? DT Walter Nolen tells me these 5️⃣ Schools are currently recruiting him the hardest.
The 6’4 300 DT from Cordova, TN is Ranked as the #2 Player in the Class of 2022
Which school has the best shot at landing Nolen? pic.twitter.com/XFDvyT1CD1
— Hayes Fawcett (@Hayesfawcett3) June 12, 2021
Nolen gave a shoutout to his father on Dad’s Day this year, a positive sign for Michigan as Nolen’s recruiting decision looms large.
Happy Father’s Day to one of the realest in the game ifykyk @BigWalter79 pic.twitter.com/O2FoFdpHzh
— Walter Nolen9️⃣?? (@WalterNolen4) June 20, 2021
According to recruiting analyst Isaiah Hole of Wolverines Wire, Nolen essentially said the Wolverines were at least even with the next closest contender in the sweepstakes, the Florida Gators.
“I can’t say it was better,” Mr. Nolen replied. “(Michigan) was good.”
Nolen especially enjoyed a barbecue at Coach Harbaugh’s house, something that he said has never been done before for a recruit, as well as hours of film study with 33-year-old new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who left brother John Harbaugh’s staff in Baltimore to join the Wolverines this offseason.
While Nolen originally tweeted that he was shutting down his recruitment after visiting Gainesville, Florida, this month’s second visit is a potentially huge development.
Considering that virtually every major program in the country is recruiting Nolen right now, it goes without saying that the #2 overall player in the class of 2022 is a strong bet to make an immediate impact with Michigan.
While his camp highlights, like the ones seen above, show off his bulk and ability to beat his man off the line of scrimmage, you don’t get a true sense of just how talented this kid is until watching his actual game footage, like the kind seen below.
Nolen does it all: chasing down ballcarriers, pulverizing offensive linemen and running backs, and showcasing a freakish level of balance that allows him to dominate the backfield practically every time.
Which Former Wolverine Does Nolen’s Game Most Resemble?
It’s hard to tell exactly who to compare Nolen with in terms of recent former Wolverines’ defensive linemen while checking out the tape, mainly because Nolen’s style is so unique and powerful in its own way.
But in terms of his impact on the program, this cannot be understated: Nolen is a program changer, the type of guy who would give Harbaugh an instant edge over any opposing team from Ohio State to Alabama the moment he steps foot on campus.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out Nolen’s highlights yet, now is the perfect time to do so.
And if you’re a Michigan fan, you might want to cross those fingers extra tight for this kid, because the future of the program, and maybe even that aforementioned all-time winningest program mark, could hang in the balance.
His recruitment is that important, if the Wolverines have designs on winning Big Ten or national titles at some point in the future, anyway.
Just watched tape of top rated HS DL prospect, 2022 Walter Nolen (@WalterNolen4). Ideal interior pass rusher at the next level. pic.twitter.com/uQwhdeAXfi
— Cory Yates (@CoryRAanalytics) June 17, 2021