The Michigan Wolverines have less than three weeks from kickoff at Minnesota, and look to have their roster set for another grueling Big Ten schedule. After losing 10 players to the NFL Draft and a couple guys opting out, this year’s team is left with some new faces who will play key roles going forward. Let’s take a look at how each position group stacks up.
1. Running backs
From top to bottom, the backfield is probably the deepest position group in Ann Arbor. Zach Charbonnet has superstar upside and returns for his second year after a promising freshman campaign, leading the team with 11 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Hassan Haskins is also back after 121 rushes last season. Chris Evans is back and will be a legitimate threat in the passing game. True freshman Blake Corum may get some run, as well, as one of the jewels of the 2020 class. And just over the weekend, Christian Turner opted back in for the upcoming season, providing further depth. This is easily the position group to have the most confidence in. Jim Harbaugh and Josh Gattis will surely have a lot of debates about how to utilize them all properly.
Everyone is juiced to see what the former five-star recruit Daxton Hill can do in the Michigan secondary. He has elite speed and made some big plays as a backup/nickel cornerback last season, and his progression over the offseason seems very promising. But many forget about Brad Hawkins, one of three starting seniors in Don Brown’s defense, who has seen significant playing time the last three seasons. Both will have to have huge seasons to help ease the workload on a young cornerback room if the team wants to succeed this season.
3. Defensive Line
You have to love the pass-rush potential Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye have on the outside. They are one of the best outside rushing duos in the Big Ten and have the potential to be one of the best in the country. Both are projected to be Day 1 or Day 2 NFL Draft picks.
The reason they aren’t ranked higher is because of the interior line. Carlo Kemp is a satisfactory role-filler, but the redshirt senior is not a difference-maker. Hopes are high that redshirt freshman Mazi Smith or sophomore Chris Hinton could play an expanded role, but we are likely a year out from seeing a significant jump at the position.
4. Wide Receivers
This receiving corps is going to look a lot different this season. Donovan Peoples-Jones went pro, Tarik Black transferred and Nico Collins opted out. Now the onus will fall on Ronnie Bell’s hands to be the true No. 1. He had the most receptions and yards last season and seems to have a solid relationship with new quarterback Joe Milton.
Behind Bell, there is still a lot to like despite little playing time. Giles Jackson, Mike Sainristil and Cornelius Johnson all had less than 10 receptions last season, but look to be a part of an offense that hopes to explode in production this season. They all fit the “Speed in Space” mantra and will be counted on to make big plays this season.
Devin Gil, Jordan Glasgow and Khaleke Hudson are all out, but there is still a lot to like here. Cameron McGrone played excellently in his first year as a starter and will only continue to grow. Josh Ross would have been a starter last year had he not suffered an ankle injury. He will return to that role in 2020. Talented athlete Michael Barrett has seen playing time all over the field but will settle well into Don Brown’s VIPER position this season. The SAM linebacker role is up for grabs, and it appears former running back Ben VanSumeren is the favorite to land that role in 2020.
6. Tight Ends
Nick Eubanks took over as the guy last season, leading the tight ends in receptions and yards. He’ll be back for round two this season and will look to be even more productive as the clear No. 1 guy. Harbaugh loves having tight ends involved in his offense — Eubanks has a lot of pass-catching skill, but will need to develop more as a blocker to be an every-down player. As the only returning senior, he will need to be a leader for a young offensive squad.
After Eubanks comes Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker. The past few seasons, Michigan has been blessed with talent at tight end from guys like Zach Gentry, Sean McKeon and Eubanks all jostling for reps. Now, All and Schoonmaker will have to prove themselves in a unit that has a little less reputability.
A new era of Michigan football has begun as Milton will take the reigns of the offense. The redshirt sophomore has received high praise from nearly every coach who has taken the podium in training camp, and there is a lot of buzz about how well he is performing.
There is just too much unknown to rank him higher than this among the Michigan position groups. The film raves at his massive arm and ability to improvise and extend plays. The issue is if he will have the same accuracy and decision-making issues he has shown throughout his career.
Milton has real boom or bust potential and could easily find himself catapulting up these rankings.
8. Offensive Line
There is no question about it, this offensive line is not as sturdy as the last two seasons. Four starters are gone, and Jalen Mayfield will be called upon to anchor the line after opting back into the season.
Ed Warinner is one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, so it is not the group I am most concerned about, but this will be a transition year. There are multiple options to play at the other four spots aside Mayfield, so the depth is there, it’s just a matter of who will step up and how quickly can they become cohesive to protect their new quarterback.
Confidence in the cornerback room was relatively high before Ambry Thomas opted out. The Thomas-Vincent Gray combo was an entertaining thought with the third spot up in the air between some pretty talented underclassmen. But Thomas’ departure left a gaping hole for the team’s lockdown corner.
Gray showed upside last season, but to ask him to jump all the way to the leader of the group is a tall task, especially with the plethora of receiving talent in the Big Ten. Week 1 against Minnesota will help define expectations for the crew as they face one of the top QB-WR duos in the conference in Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman.