With 11 more days until the season kicks off inside AT&T stadium in Dallas, questions over who is starting, where, and with what depth behind them abound.
Replacing the amount of starters lost after last season won't be easy, but transitioning from the plethora of now NFL players to talented underclassman may be smoother than most anticipate. With that being said, allow me to share my thoughts on how the depth chart is going to unfold, and what we can expect from them.
Quarterback: Wilton Speight
Followed by: O'Korn/Peters/McCaffrey/Malzone
Throughout Coach Harbaugh’s career, second-year Quarterbacks have shown improvement not just statistically, but talent wise as well. For the team to be successful this season, Wilton needs to step up in a big way. With the addition of Pep Hamilton, and some improved Quarterback play, the passing game should be firing on all cylinders.
Running back: Chris Evans
Followed by: Higdon/Isaac/Walker/Samuels/Taylor
Michigan’s running back unit might be the deepest in the country. Although Evans will technically be the “starter,” Higdon, Isaac, and others will receive their fair share of carries per game. A realistic carry count is Evans with 15-18, Higdon & Isaac 12-15, Walker 6-8, and then some situational/spot carries for Samuels and Taylor. Although the touches will all be similar, Chris Evans will be the guy who carries the ball in the clutch, and rightfully so. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 2nd most elusive freshman tailback in the country last season. With that elusiveness, his added weight, and overall IQ, that's why he is the starter and is due for a breakout season.
Wide receivers: Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones
Followed by: Crawford/McDoom/Martin/Perry/Schoenle/Collins/Ways
Michigan brought in arguably, the biggest wide receiver recruiting haul in program history. Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones are special, SPECIAL talents, and they will get their chances to prove their worth plenty, and often.
There is so much steady depth here that you can nearly interchange any of these players at any of the X, Y, & Z spots. It's hard to pinpoint who will lead the team in receiving yards at the end of the year, but it'll be fun to watch.
Tight end: Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
Followed by: McKeon/Bunting/Eubanks/Gentry
Tyrone Wheatley already getting national attention such as being named to the Mackey Award Watch List speaks not only to his talent & ceiling, but to Coach Harbaugh and the system he runs. The staff will get the most out of not just Wheatley, but all of these tight ends.
The progress the younger guys such as Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon is encouraging. Having matchup nightmares like Zach Gentry and Ian Bunting are going give opposing defenses fits. Even though the loss of Devin Asiasi (via transfer to UCLA) hurts more than a yellow jacket sting, this is still an upper echelon unit top to bottom; not just in the conference, but in the nation.
Fullback: Khalid Hill
Followed by: Poggi/Mason
Khalid Hill isn’t just a Fullback, he is an offensive weapon. Henry Poggi's knack for finding an obstruction and moving it is a nice compliment to Hill's versatile game. With Ben Mason spending the season learning behind two very impressive fullbacks, the transition into next season should be seamless.
Offensive Line: Beware, all ye who enter here
As for depth, a recurring theme among every position on the offensive line (outside of Left Tackle for the most part), is versatility. I listed some depth players multiple times, since that’s how OL depth is really measured when an injury happens - guys shuffle around based on the best five.
Michigan has recruited very athletic lineman who can plug and play at virtually any of the five spots, so the positions I've listed some at are where I think they are best suited for at the present.
Left tackle: Mason Cole
Followed by: Andrew Stueber/Ja’Raymond Hall/Grant Newsome*
Mason Cole is a soon to be first round draft pick. As long as he is healthy, the blind side will be protected. With the uncertainty of Grant Newsome’s athletic career, Andrew Stueber looks to be your Left Tackle of the future, he just seems born to play it. A year learning from one of the best in the business (Mason Cole), and slowly easing into one of the toughest positions to play in football will certainly speed up his development - and hopefully will make the transition from Cole in the 2018-19 season, a smooth one.
Left guard: Ben Bredeson
Followed by: Cesar Ruiz/Stephen Spanellis/Andrew Vastardis
Ben Bredeson is an All-American type of guy, he will make his presence known this season. Like Mason Cole, Ben Bredeson might very well wind up starting his entire Michigan career. He is a near perfect compliment to Cole on the left side and should help solidify the blind spot.
Center: Patrick Kugler
Followed by: Cesar Ruiz/Andrew Vastardis
Patrick Kugler has waited his time and paid his dues, this is the year that it all comes together, and having the #1 ranked Center in the country from the 2017 cycle (Ruiz) to back him up sure doesn’t hurt.
Right guard: Michael Onwenu
Followed by: Cesar Ruiz/Stephen Spanellis/Andrew Vastardis
He’s called Big Mike for a reason, the dude is a mauler. Expect some holes to open up in Mike’s lane. With his new, slimmed down physique, Onwenu has all the tools to be a very successful lineman. Here's to hoping he can put it all together this season.
Right tackle: Juwann Bushell-Beatty
Followed by: Jon Runyan Jr./Chuck Filiaga
The battle appears to be a close one, for now. But regardless of who wins the job, they might be on a short leash with the runner up will be constantly nipping away at their heels. As of today, I have Juwann Bushell-Beatty edging out with the win. Bushell-Beatty has the frame, and the most experience out on the edge. He is a road grading tackle who will certainly help open up some holes along the edge for the talented stable of running backs. The main knock on Juwann is his pass protection. If that has taken a step in the right direction, then there might not be any of that aforementioned nipping.
Coming up tomorrow: the defense.