clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preseason positional grades: Michigan’s pass rush has the chance to be even better in 2023

Edge is the most underrated unit on the squad.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Michigan at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021 season boasted maybe the best edge room in Michigan history. What Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo accomplished was historic, and their success took the Michigan Wolverines to their first College Football Playoff.

Their absence in 2022 caused a stir in the national media and among the fanbase, as many questioned where the production would come from for the Wolverines as they looked to return to the playoff. But there was no true standout to the Ojabo-Hutchinson caliber last season. Yes, Mike Morris took a step forward, but this room thrived because of its depth.

Now some of this doubt has crept into the 2023 season, where it may be somewhat unwarranted. Much of the contribution from last year is back and there is a lot of reason for optimism, despite a strange amount of doubt in a room chock full of veteran experience.

Edge - Grade: B+

  • Starters: Jaylen Harrell, Braiden McGregor
  • Rotation: Josaiah Stewart, Derrick Moore, TJ Guy, Kechaun Bennett
  • Depth: Tyler McLaurin
  • New Faces: Enow Etta, Aymeric Koumba, Breeon Ishmail, Cameron Brandt

Jaylen Harrell had a strong year in 2022, whether the stats show it or not. Fans put really high expectations on the redshirt sophomore to make up for the lost production from Hutchinson and Ojabo. While he didn’t explode to the star level those two achieved, Harrell did make improvements, especially late in the year. He had 3.5 sacks, including two against Purdue in the Big Ten Championship. That was backed up with solid performances against Ohio State and TCU. Harrell has a strong chance at leading the team in sacks this season.

Then there is Braiden McGregor, who may be in line to have his best season. The big thing for him is to finish when he gets to the quarterback, because he left a lot of production on the field last season. Still, he compiled 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss as the second guy in the rotation behind Morris. He should take a leap in 2023.

Fans shouldn’t forget about edge transfer Josaiah Stewart. The spring game showed just how good he can be, as he was routinely getting around the edge and putting pressure on the quarterback. If that can translate into real games, he could have a big year.

Finally, there is sophomore Derrick Moore, who this coaching staff likes a lot. He’s 6-foot-3 and 279 pounds with impressive speed. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said earlier this year on the In The Trenches podcast that he expects big things from Moore this year.

“The best part about Derrick is he has the mindset to be a really really high-end, dominant player,” Minter said. “And then his skillset and his physical tools match up with that, so he has a chance to be high, high, high-end draft choice one day, high-end player, productive.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if when all is said and done this year that Moore was the sack leader on the team. He has the potential to be one of Michigan’s next great pass rushers.

Two lesser-known players who will be a part of the rotation are Kechaun Bennett and TJ Guy. Guy has dealt with injury problems, but appeared in 10 games last year and racked up four tackles. Bennett, meanwhile, saw three games of action — two along the edge — in 2022 and did not compile any stats.

Another intriguing name to watch for is Tyler McLaurin, who made the transition from linebacker to edge last season. He also did not have any stats, but did make an appearance on the edge against Hawaii, while also contributing in three other games on special teams.

Finally, the true freshman to look out for in 2023 is Enow Etta, Michigan’s highest-ranked defender in the class. As a senior in high school, he put up monster stats — 134 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, five forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and two fumbles returned for touchdowns. It wouldn’t surprise to see Etta burn his redshirt and receive some quality reps this season.