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.
Zach Charbonnet, true SO
247 Composite Ranking: 4 stars (RB 4, Overall 46)
2019 Stats: 149 rush, 726 yards, 11 TD; 8 rec, 30 yards
There is a long list of memes and tropes regarding the shortcomings of the Michigan football program, and the parade of blue chip running back busts is right up there with the best of them. So while expectations were high for Zach Charbonnet kicking off his college career, there were still plenty of dark, lingering thoughts in the back of many fans’ minds given the number of failures that preceded him.
After one year, it looks like the latest contestant may have broken the curse. Entering a season with a wide open depth chart, Charbonnet was given the starting role from the first carry and looked every bit the part. He ended up finding the end zone 11 times — a Michigan freshman record — and led the team in carries. With a year under his belt and an offseason to get healthy, it is all systems go for the impressive sophomore in 2020.
How heavily will the coaching staff lean on Charbonnet in year two?
Charbonnet did just about everything asked of him as a true freshman. He ran as a prototypical power back, charging through Big Ten defenses to 4.9 yards a carry and converting plenty of touchdowns in short field situations. He did not have a fumbling issue, and he was ready to go from Week 1, despite missing some time in the spring. The coaches trusted him so much that his second ever game featured 33(!) carries against an Army defense that was committed to stopping the run.
While he seemed capable of shouldering that level of responsibility, I think the coaches quickly realized they do not want to operate this way. Both from a durability standpoint and an efficiency angle, it makes sense to rotate the running backs when possible. The emergence of Hassan Haskins made this a lot more doable, and these two will lead a position group that has a little more depth in 2020 than it did last season.
Whether or not Charbonnet is deemed the actual starter is fairly unimportant; he is going to play a significant role in the offense. Michigan has the luxury of utilizing other backs that may be a little faster or more impactful in the passing game, but few can compare to the overall package and raw ability of Charbonnet. His vision and explosiveness are gifts, and he should only take a step forward in his sophomore season.
It would be nice for him to continue to build upon his role in the passing game, and it would be great to see some longer touchdowns as well, as most of his carries were for productive yards rather than huge pickups. Still, Charbonnet looked as good as advertised as a true freshman, and there is no reason to move away from him going forward. Balancing his workload makes sense for his own health and allowing the offense to give multiple looks, but he will be a key component of Josh Gattis’s plan this season.