Coming off the national championship, the Michigan Wolverines are going to have pretty big expectations this fall. The Big Ten is only getting deeper with additions from the remnants of the Pac-12, and the Big Ten teams — predominantly Ohio State — that remain have been stacking players in the transfer portal.
It will be a really difficult schedule for the Wolverines in 2024 and they are going to be doing it with a fresh roster compared to last season. Jim Harbaugh pontificated that Michigan could break the record for the most players drafted into the NFL from a single team.
Twenty-one Wolverines have already declared for the draft, and almost every single one of them has a great shot at being on a roster next year. Here are the five player departures that are going to hurt the most for the team.
No. 5: Roman Wilson
Roman Wilson was the best receiver on the roster in 2023 and made countless plays that changed the course of the season. He had 12 of Michigan’s 24 touchdowns through the air, led the team in receptions and receiving yards, and was named to the All-Big Ten second team.
Cornelius Johnson is moving on with Wilson, which also hurts the receiving corp for 2024. However, they’ll still have star tight end Colston Loveland, freshman standout Semaj Morgan, and sophomore receiver Tyler Morris, among others as pass-catchers.
Whoever lines up behind center for Michigan next season should have options, with a few who could have breakout seasons in 2024. But the room takes a hit without Wilson.
No. 4: Junior Colson
On a defense that had plenty of heroes, Junior Colson was not spoken about enough in 2023. He had 95 tackles, and the next closest was Michael Barrett who had 65. Part of that is because of the rotation Jesse Minter used at linebacker this season, but Colson was by far the best player on the second level of the defense.
Colson was a three-year starter and may have been the best linebacker all three of those seasons. They’ll surely miss Colson, who was one of the most underrated players on the defense this season.
Ernest Hausmann should be ready to make the jump to starter in 2024 after recording 46 tackles in 2023. Maryland transfer Jaishawn Barham may compete for some playing time as well, along with Jaydon Hood, Micah Pollard and Jimmy Rolder.
No. 3: Mike Sainristil
Any time the Wolverines needed a play from the defense, it felt like Sainristil was the guy who made it. His career was the dictionary definition of a Michigan man.
Sainristil lived by the “those who stay will be champions” mantra. Switching from wide receiver to corner is not easy, but Sainristil’s career projection would make you think otherwise. He went from a fourth or fifth receiver to an All-American corner who had six interceptions, two pick-sixes, two forced fumbles and two sacks in his final season.
Luckily, the best cover corner in college football returns to Ann Arbor in sophomore Will Johnson. Keon Sabb also had an excellent national championship performance against Washington and the coaching staff has been itching to get him on the field. Quentin Johnson, Rod Moore and Makari Paige returning should help this secondary be elite again.
No. 2: Blake Corum
It’s tough to put into words what Blake Corum has meant to this program. His decision to return for the 2023 season sparked the business-like mentality these Wolverines had. He easily could have gone to the NFL after suffering the knee injury late in 2022, been an early Day 3 pick (or higher) and started his professional career.
Instead, he unified the team, broke program records for rushing touchdowns, and so much more. Corum led the offense to a Big Ten Championship, made some of the most important plays in the Rose Bowl to come back to beat Alabama in overtime, and clinched the national title with a late touchdown run to put the Wolverines up by two scores. Corum will go down as the best running back in the history of the program.
Corum very easily could have taken our No. 1 slot, but the fact Donovan Edwards returns to a jam-packed running back room for 2024 pushed him back to No. 2. Edwards and Kalel Mullings will likely manage most of the carries, but guys like Benjamin Hall and Cole Cabana are ready to make their debuts. Incoming freshman Jordan Marshall could also take some snaps if he impresses in early camp.
No. 1: J.J. McCarthy
The unequivocal face of this run was J.J. McCarthy. There may not be a quarterback more suited to pair up with Harbaugh in his collegiate career. The two were constantly on the same wavelength, and McCarthy’s leadership was apparent. He excelled in every facet of the role he was given and he’s irreplaceable.
For so long it felt like the Wolverines were a quarterback away, and Harbaugh failed to find the right guy to lead this program to the promised land. That ended the day McCarthy walked in, and now they have to completely reset as he heads to the NFL.
It’s unfortunate because there is not the same replacement-level talent at the position currently based on what we have seen. Alex Orji saw the field in different packages, but he hasn’t thrown the ball much. Perhaps true freshman Jadyn Davis can impress the coaching staff this offseason and earn the starting role, but relying on a true freshman is never a sure-fire thing, especially with how difficult the schedule is next season. No matter what direction they go, the next quarterback will have impossible shoes to fill.