It takes a village, it takes a team, but there are a few we have our eyes on in mid-July that we feel will make a tremendous impact for Michigan in 2022. Here are five players who deserve more hype ahead of the season.
Receiver A.J. Henning
A.J. Henning is as versatile as it gets — a player who can return kicks and punts, is a receiver, can handle carries out of the backfield, and be utilized with jet sweeps.
2021 was a year that showed what’s to come for Henning during his time at Michigan. Henning rushed for 162 yards with two touchdowns and had 10 receptions for 79 yards. Henning also returned 29 punts for 274 yards returned 6 kicks for 179 yards, and one touchdown.
Henning is trending up as a receiver and is becoming more sure-handed and a good route runner.
“Kind of envision a Deebo Samuel type of role. Ways to get him more touches, ways to get him the ball more,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said.
If Michigan’s offense and special teams are to be more explosive in 2022, Henning will be a major reason why.
Defensive Tackle Mazi Smith
Mazi Smith was a force to be reckoned with along the interior of Michigan’s defensive line, clogging running lanes aplenty.
“I think up front, it stars with Mazi,” defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said this spring. “I think he has the potential to be a dominant player for us.”
Smith will be a major leader on Michigan’s defense in 2022 and he could see his draft stock rise significantly.
“Right off the rip, I’d say Mazi Smith may turn out to be our best defensive player,” Harbaugh said.
The Michigan DT had 37 tackles in 2021.
Receiver Ronnie Bell
Bell was set up to have a memorable 2021 season but those hopes were quickly dashed in the season opener when he tore his ACL on a punt return. Other receivers stepped up in Bell’s absence, but Bell’s going to be at full strength this fall and have a major role on offense. Arguably Michigan’s best route runner and possession receiver, Bell is someone worth getting excited about and a player that could really help Michigan’s passing attack in 2022.
Bell, a senior, has 83 career catches for 1,380 yards and five touchdowns.
Linebacker Junior Colson
With Josh Ross now in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens Colson is in line to replace him.
“Junior really has it all,” Harbaugh said on the “In the Trenches” podcast. “He’s got a great work ethic, great attitude. All the physical skills, really smart, a guy that you know can run the defense.”
Colson is only 19 years old but already has a good chunk of experience after a productive freshman campaign last season in which he appeared in all 14 games, started seven of them, and had 61 tackles. Colson’s biggest game last year came in a close one against Penn State where he had 12 tackles and a half sack.
The 6-foot-2 linebacker is an extremely hard hitter, instinctual with good play recognition, and has a winning attitude. This will be a year where Colson’s name will become known nationally.
Center Olu Oluwatimi
Michigan landed a great find in the transfer portal with Virginia grad transfer Olu Oluwatimi. Oluwatimi was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy in 2021, which goes to the best center in college football.
Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award in 2021, which goes to the best o-line in college football, and Oluwatimi will help the Wolverines have a stalwart line again in 2022.
“One of the first days we put on pads, one-on-one pass rush, we saw him lock up some of our better d-linemen,” tackle Ryan Hayes said in April. “We go, ‘yeah, this guy is gonna be pretty good for us.’ We knew early he’s gonna bring a lot of experience, a lot of maturity to our group.”
Michigan’s getting the real deal in Oluwatimi, a player who had the second-best run-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus and didn’t allow a quarterback hit or sack last year.