There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it might do so with empty stadiums or a limited schedule. Still, it is never too early to take a look at the Michigan depth chart and the players slated to contribute whenever football does resume. Join us as we comb through the roster and answer key questions heading into this fall.
Joe Milton, redshirt SO
247 Composite Ranking: 4 stars (PRO 9, Overall 204)
2019 Stats: 3-7 passing, 59 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 5 rush, 16 yards, 1 TD
Big schools bring in a top-tier quarterback just about every recruiting cycle if possible, and Michigan under Jim Harbaugh has been no exception. A year after reeling in Dylan McCaffrey, the Wolverines got a commitment from Joe Milton, another top-10 pro-style quarterback with an arm talent that has rarely been seen in Ann Arbor over the last decade.
Milton benefited from the new redshirt rule his first year of college, allowing him to see action in four games as a freshman, including at Columbus and in the Peach Bowl. He made four appearances as a sophomore as well, but has thrown the ball just 11 total times thus far. Nevertheless, Milton is squarely in a quarterback competition with McCaffrey thanks to his potential and is a legitimate challenger for the starting gig.
Can Milton put together a complete enough game to warrant the starting job?
Any description of Milton has to start with his arm. An absolute rocket by any account, there are mountains of numbers and anecdotes to support the incredible velocity that he sports. Given the talented Michigan receiving corps — and the recent struggles to fully execute in the downfield passing game — there is immediate intrigue in what he brings to the table.
Of course, there is more to quarterbacking than just throwing the ball really hard. Milton has struggled with accuracy and is still extremely raw. The potential is exciting, but if he cannot put his passes on target and cannot put together a complete game at the helm, the risk of starting him might just be too high. While he does have some mobility and apparent speed, he does not use his legs in the same way as McCaffrey. This may not be a deal breaker, but versatility goes a long way in the Josh Gattis offense.
It would make sense for McCaffrey to have the edge in this quarterback battle, given that he both has an extra year on campus and a little more in-game experience. However, it appears that Harbaugh is staying true to his philosophy of a meritocracy and will genuinely let the two play it out. The loser may still find the field this fall, but this is a golden opportunity for both players who have been longing for this moment to come.
As unproven as he is, it is harder to have a ceiling higher than Milton’s, and that alone has some fans calling for him to start. McCaffrey looks like the real deal, but his arm strength simply cannot compare, and if Milton can close the gap in some of the other parts in his game, that might be enough to win the coaches’ favor. Should he lose the battle, he may choose to hit the transfer market after the season, especially with J.J. McCarthy just a year away, but the coaches cannot make decisions with that in mind. If Michigan wants the offense to truly jump to the next level, Milton might be the guy needed to take it there.