There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it will do so likely in empty stadiums with a conference-only 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.
Ambry Thomas, true SR
247 Composite Ranking: 4 stars (CB 12, Overall 90)
2019 Stats: 38 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PD, 2 FR
What a difference a year can make. Last offseason the cornerback situation was looking bleak, first with the departure of David Long to the NFL then a nasty ulcerative colitis bout that just about knocked out Ambry Thomas. The spot opposite Lavert Hill was to be manned by Vincent Gray and the hopefully recovered Thomas, but there were no guarantees heading into the season.
Apparently the illness was not enough to hold back Thomas, who went ahead and started throughout the entire year. Despite his definite talent, his performance was a bit of a surprise, as he clearly solidified himself in the defensive backfield and was good enough to earn All-Big Ten recognition. With Hill now gone as well, the corner position starts with Thomas in 2020.
How good of a cornerback can Thomas be in his final year at Michigan?
Thomas gave some thought to going pro during the offseason, but he decided to return for one more year. Though he was a high recruit and a very capable player, his smaller size may limit his draftability, so the senior will use his last season to show scouts that he can effectively play the position with his skill and speed. While he may never turn himself into a top pick, his talent will not stop him from attaining high collegiate achievements.
Pro Football Focus placed Thomas on the second team All-Big Ten last year and graded him as one of the top corners in the entire conference. He allowed just one touchdown compared to three interceptions and three pass break-ups, and he put his speed on display on numerous occasions, keeping in coverage and closing downhill to the line of scrimmage. He was not used as a returner in 2019, but defensively he did not show any limitations despite his offseason health concerns.
The task will be a little taller this year as he looks to take over the number one corner role. Gray struggled a bit last season, meaning Hill’s spot should go to Thomas. All signs point to Thomas being able to stay with opponents’ top receivers, but assuming the top role will be a bit of a change. He has not shown a ton of weaknesses, but coordinating with his teammates on different coverage concepts will be key as he effectively becomes the leader of the secondary.
Michigan is fortunate to get Thomas back and have an anchor in the defensive backfield. He may not quite match up to the level of Long or Hill, but it is not out of the question. He will relieve some pressure from players like Gray, DJ Turner, and Andre Seldon and buy the Wolverines a little time for their development. Thomas looked like one of the best corners in the Big Ten as a junior; he should be even better during his final campaign.