The Michigan Wolverines had eleven players go to the NFL Combine this year and lost several key players on both sides of the ball. Obviously the most notable departure is QB Shea Patterson, which paves the way for the battle of Dylan McCaffery and Joe Milton to claim the starting job.
There are several other position battles brewing on both sides of the ball that aren’t as talked about. Here are five players that no one is talking about who will need to excel for the Wolverines to be successful in 2020.
CB Vincent Gray
Gray seemingly came out of nowhere in 2019 as the No. 3 CB. He filled the role extremely well in one of the most concerning spots on the defensive side of the ball heading into last season.
Before the season, defensive backs coach Mike Zordich said that Gray was “(a) very naturally talented, gifted guy, so he knows the system now and now he’s going out there and playing. He’s not thinking.”
As just a redshirt sophomore, and with Ambry Thomas entering his senior season, Gray will find himself as the top cover corner on the roster sooner than later. Another step forward this season will be extremely important will LaVert Hill gone.
WR Giles Jackson
The wide receiving corps for the Wolverines will be one of the strongest units on the roster in 2020 as both Nico Collins and Ronnie Bell will be returning as the top-two targets for whomever is behind center next season. But after those two is a bit of a question mark as Giles Jackson, Cornelius Johnson, A.J. Henning, and Mike Sainristil will all fight for the No. 3 spot in an ever expanding offense.
In all likelihood, all of these guys will see considerable time on the field in 2020 with the spread offense being implemented more often under Josh Gattis. But one guy seems to be the favorite at this point and that is Giles Jackson.
Jackson was the returner on special teams and did special things like this:
Jackson has elite speed and when he gets in open space he is a threat to score every time. One of my favorite things about him is that you can line him up nearly anywhere on the offensive side of the ball. He can be utilized on the outside, in the slot, and even in the backfield. His versatility will be utilized in some very interesting ways in 2020 will the crazy ideas that generate in Harbaugh and Gattis’ minds.
OL Andrew Stueber
Who is Andrew Stueber? Well, he is the man that quite possibly could have beaten out Jalen Mayfield at right tackle last season if he had not torn his ACL in camp. It was a several week battle that quite literally may have gone until kickoff of the first game.
Mayfield went on to have an excellent season which helped the Wolverines have one of the best o-lines in the Big Ten last year. Now, he is the only one remaining as Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz, Jon Runyan Jr., and Michael Onwenu all graduated or declared for the draft.
The offensive line is going to be one of, if not the biggest worry heading into the 2020 campaign, but there should be a lot of hope with Andrew Stueber. If he comes back and has a strong showing in summer camp there will hopefully be a bit more confidence in the position group when the season opens.
DT Chris Hinton
The Wolverines haven’t had a dominant interior defensive lineman since Mo Hurst left. One man hopes to change that narrative is former five-star recruit Chris Hinton.
We saw only flashes of Hinton on the field last year, but we saw flashes of what’s to come. The Wolverines will need a run stuffer in the middle to help a rather inexperienced linebacker group heading into 2020.
What will be extremely helpful is the teaching from the returning captain Carlo Kemp on the inside. The greatness that will be Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye on the outside will also be a positive in his on the field play and in learning different moves to create havoc on the line. With an offseason of college workout plans hopefully Hinton can make the necessary steps to become what every fan is hoping he can be.
LB Mike Barrett
Last but certainly not least is Mike Barrett who is the definition of an athlete. He has been in the running back room and on special teams throughout his time in Ann Arbor and was a quarterback in high school.
Finally this past season it seems Barrett settled into a backup linebacker position. In my opinion this was in hopes for him to learn behind Khaleke Hudson and begin to develop into the future Viper in Don Brown’s defense. He saw a couple of snaps at the position against Rutgers last season where he had four tackles.
Being an incredible athlete is such a key to play the Viper spot as the demand for impact blitzes are regularly called upon along with the ability to cover tight ends and even running backs out of the backfield. It is by far the most versatile position on the roster and maybe the most important on the defense. It’s a huge role to fill, but at this point Barrett has to be the favorite to take the spot.