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Predicting Michigan’s defensive starting lineup in 2019

Expect a fast and aggressive, but maybe somewhat leaky defense early on.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Florida v Michigan Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A few weeks back, I posted a prediction on who will fill out the starting offense for Michigan Football and now it is the defense’s turn. Losing the plethora of NFL talent that they did after last season feels like a daunting task in terms of how they replace it, but after that initial concern subsides and you look over the roster, it is pretty obvious that this is going to be one of the better units in the country once again with talent all over the field.

So let’s get right to it.

(Note: Michigan’s defense will have different looks and different fronts obviously, so this is my best guess at basic roles)

Defensive End: Kwity Paye

Paye is ready for a breakout season and it’s coming this year, I believe. Michigan has a lot to prove up front and really on the defense as a whole and he should slide in and be one of their better pass rushers.

Defensive Tackle: Carlo Kemp

Kemp finally gets a chance to make a big splash in the Michigan defense and it should be interesting to see how he fares getting kicked inside. He has a chance to be one of the more unheralded, yet important players on this side of the ball.

Defensive Tackle: Donovan Jeter

Jeter sounded like a man during spring football that was ready to take a big step forward in his sophomore year. He may not start out in the starting lineup (we will not know until we actually see games), but I see him being one of Michigan’s best defensive linemen by the end of the season.

Defensive End: Aidan Hutchinson

I expect Hutchinson to sort of grab the baton from Chase Winovich as the straw that stirs the drink on the Michigan defensive line. He does everything well and flashed a ton of promise as a freshman and believe that he is in for a nice step forward in an expanded role.

VIPER: Khaleke Hudson

What more can be said about Hudson, who feels like he has been at Michigan forever at this point? What he brings to the table is tailor-made for the Viper position in Don Brown’s defense and now he will be looked at as one of the leaders on the team after losing what they did after last season.

MIKE: Joshua Ross

Ross projects to slide into the role once held down by Devin Bush and he might be every bit as fast, but it could be an adjustment early on. He has the chance to be a good player, but we might find out early on this season that some of us may have taken what Bush brought to the table for granted. Still, the brother of former Wolverine standout James Ross III can certainly play.

SAM: Josh Uche

If you’re looking for a breakout pick for a defensive player this year, Uche might be the guy. He has the ability to do it all and I can see Michigan moving him all around the field, whether he is playing stand-up linebacker or up front as a pass rusher. Do not be surprised if he winds up as a strong contender for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

WILL: Jordan Anthony

We have not seen much of Anthony early in his Michigan career, but he was part of a wave of linebacker prospects that saw the team finally bringing some much-needed speed and athleticism to the position group. Weak-side linebacker is generally speaking the first player off the field in nickel and dime situations, but he should still have a widened role in the defense.

Cornerback: Lavert Hill

Hill is a player with All-Big Ten/All-American ability and gets a shot as the team’s CB1 heading into the 2019 season, as he is easily the most proven corner they currently have. A strong senior season could have him come off the board as another Michigan cornerback on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.

Cornerback: Ambry Thomas

Thomas has primarily made his impact on special teams, but did play in eight games on defense last year and also saw a handful of snaps on the offensive side of the ball, as well. Much more should be expected of him in his junior season and he has a shot to stabilize the cornerback situation, as there is not a whole lot of proven players behind Hill.

Safety: Daxton Hill

I’ve been going back and forth on this one, but at some point, pure talent and explosiveness wins out here and Hill has all of that and then some. Michigan might have its Derwin James/Minkah Fitzpatrick-type of player here and he is going to play a key role on the back end early on. He is too good a football player to not see immediate action in year one. Don’t be surprised if this is J’Marick Woods early on until Hill gets acclimated.

Safety: Josh Metellus

Metellus might be the most underrated player on Michigan’s defense and one of the most underrated on the team, in general. He somewhat quietly has been a two-time All-Big Ten performer (honorable mention in 2017, second-team in 2018) and could be one of the impact players on the back end.

Nickel: Brad Hawkins

Hawkins looks like a candidate to slide into the slot if he does not wind up starting at safety. He was another player from last year who had a few lowlights, but overall was a positive and think that they will find ways to keep him involved and on the field.


Michigan’s defense is going to be good and Don Brown’s resume would suggest that they will probably be elite as it pertains to rankings nationally. With so many new faces, there are likely going to be some hiccups early on, but it will not be for lack of talent. Defensive line-wise, they should wind up being just fine and still are fairly deep up front, but it is in the back seven where the lion’s share of any potential struggles may come. Linebacker and cornerback are currently the two biggest questions, but to see who develops and fills those roles is going to be fun to watch (if not a little nerve-racking early on).

For our projection on the offense, hit our earlier piece here.