clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Projecting Michigan Football’s starting defense in 2023

The defense should be as fierce as ever

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Spring football is over, and it is time for a summer offseason leading up to a 2023 season with the highest expectations of any with Jim Harbaugh as head coach.

This team has every piece to be a national title contender. A 2022 defense that was hailed as a “no-star” group is flooded with them heading into the fall, and they should be every bit as dominant as they were a season ago.

Here is how I see each position shaping out come fall:

Interior Defensive Line

1) Kris Jenkins

2) Mason Graham

3) Kenneth Grant

4) Cam Goode

5) Rayshaun Benny

Most of the time, three of these guys are going to be on the football field at a time, and it will be a revolving door. Notably, Kris Jenkins spurned the NFL Draft for another year in Ann Arbor. He led the defensive line with 54 tackles last season, and Braiden McGregor said he expects Jenkins to be “one of the best guys in the country” this fall.

Then, Mason Graham will look to build on what was an extremely impressive 2022 true freshman season. PFF gave him Freshman All-American honors and he very well may be the best defensive lineman on a stacked squad in 2023.

Alongside him will be classmate Kenneth Grant who also played in every single game last season. Jesse Minter called him a “monster in the middle” in April, and I suspect we see a lot more of him in the upcoming season.

Behind them, and seeing significant playing time will be fifth-year Cam Goode who continues to improve on the inside, and Rayshaun Benny who both players and coaching staff cannot stop praising. Their improvement on the field will be important to fill the backup roles left with Grant likely to get more playing time.


1) Josaiah Stewart

2) Jaylin Harrell (SAM)

3) Braiden McGregor

4) Derrick Moore

Transfer Josaiah Stewart looks like the real deal. He was the best player on the field for the Michigan defense in the spring game, showing out on just about every play. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is at the top of sack leaders in the Big Ten next season.

Senior Jaylin Harrell’s breakout season feels like it was a year tardy. Everyone was thinking it would be him in 2022, but instead, Mike Morris took the nod. We could be looking at a dominant tandem this fall.

Behind them will be the classic rotation of guys we have seen over the last few years. Senior Braiden McGregor took a huge step last season, and we very well may see him make another. Meanwhile, Derrick Moore impressed last season and continues to impress the coaches. They’ll both see a large number of snaps in the fall.


Michael Barrett

Earnest Hausmann

Junior Colson

Stewart isn’t the only transfer that will make an impact this season. Earnest Hausmann looks like he is going to be a borderline starter on this defense, and the team is already speaking very highly of him.

But, Michael Barrett’s return will likely mean that he has a starting role in the base defense. His veteran leadership is going to be an important part of leading the unit and stopping the run off the weak side.

The best player of the group, though, is Junior Colson who will enter his third year as a starter. He was one of the best players on this defense a year ago, but I don’t think he received as much praise as he should have. If he is healthy, he will play just about every down in 2023.


Nickel) Mike Sainristil

Outside) Will Johnson, Ja’Den McBurrows

Mike Sainristil made the play of the season last year breaking up a touchdown pass in the eventual win over Ohio State. It was a culminating moment of what has been quite the career for him on both sides of the ball. Now, he has a full season under his belt, and he has a chance to shine.

Speaking of shining, there is no brighter star on the defense than Will Johnson. The expectations for him are astronomically high after finishing the 2022 season strong. The former five-star recruit is projected to be one of the top corners in college football as a true sophomore.

Behind him is a pretty big question mark. The hype for Amorion Walker’s transition to corner died pretty quickly when he was getting cooked by Peyton O’Leary for the entire Spring game.

He may have all of the physical characteristics in the world, but I think they go experience with Ja’Den McBurrows at least at the start of the season. McBurrows suffered a knee injury against Georgia in the College Football Playoff while seeing playing time as a true freshman. Defensive backs coach Steve Clinksdale once called him “junior Clink” serving as a coach on the field and said that he loved what he brought to the team.


Strong) Makari Paige

Free) Rod Moore

RJ Moten’s transfer all but means that Makari Paige earned the starting role before Spring even began. The senior is 6-foot-4 and was playing really well down the stretch of the 2022 season, taking playing time away from Moten. Jesse Minter can line up all over the field because of his size, and the Wolverines are going to love playing him closer to the line of scrimmage against all of those power-running teams in the conference.

Junior Rod Moore is one to watch this season. He was very good last season with a team-leading four interceptions and 71 total tackles last season. Moore’s been starting since late in his freshman season, and I think he’s got a chance to make a huge impact for the second year in a row.