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Will Johnson’s path to Michigan, outlook for 2023

After a solid freshman season, Johnson should have a huge role in the secondary.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Texas Christian at Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a few weeks until the college football season kicks off, Michigan fans are as excited as ever to watch some of their favorite players again.

After a solid freshman season, cornerback Will Johnson is probably one of the players Michigan fans are most looking forward to seeing again. The Grosse Pointe native has been garnering a lot of preseason hype from national outlets and should be asked to do more for the Wolverines in 2023.

Here’s a look at Will Johnson’s path to Michigan and his outlook for the upcoming season.

The story so far

Johnson attended Grosse Pointe South high school, where he was the first four-year starter in program history. In his senior season, he made 45 tackles with 3.5 for loss. He also had one sack and one interception among 12 total pass breakups while amassing 1,302 all-purpose yards receiving, rushing, and returning punts.

Johnson was rated as a five-star cornerback on the 247 Composite, ranking as the 15th-best player in the 2022 class, the third-best corner and the very top in-state recruit. He had a few dozen offers, and despite being heavily recruited by schools like Arizona State, USC and Florida, he committed to Michigan in February of 2021 and enrolled early 11 months later.

Johnson was a key piece of Michigan’s defense in 2022, appearing in all 14 games and starting in five. In those games, he had 27 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions.

Will Johnson’s 2022 season is filled with memorable moments, including laying out Sean Clifford on the sideline, picking off Aidan O’Connell twice in the Big Ten Championship Game, and collecting a career-high eight tackles against Ohio State in Columbus. He was so good in that Ohio State game that Jim Harbaugh has claimed that the Buckeyes moved Marvin Harrison Jr. — one of the best receivers in college football — away from Johnson in the 45-23 Michigan win.

Johnson showed out when the lights were brightest as a freshman, giving Michigan fans much to be excited about for the rest of his collegiate tenure.

2023 outlook

Johnson’s solid freshman season has led to a lot of preseason hype for the local kid. He was named one of the top 50 players in college football by Pro Football Focus and was included on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.

Johnson is easily the best cornerback on Michigan’s roster, and as our Andrew Bailey wrote last week, he’s on track to be Michigan’s best defensive back since Jourdan Lewis; he could easily have double-digit passes defended in 2023.

Johnson played in the nickel a bit to start off his freshman season, but after how last year ended, he’s clearly the CB1 and should be one-on-one with wideouts most often. It’s not entirely clear who will be playing opposite of him, but at least Michigan will be able to count on Johnson’s prowess as a coverage guy who's not afraid to make a play in the run game.

After all the flashes he showed last season, if he can consistently shut down opposing receivers and corral a few more interceptions, he should be one of Michigan’s most reliable defenders.

What do you expect from Will Johnson in 2023? Let us know in the comments.