As there always seems to be, there is excitement for the Michigan Wolverines going into the new season. There will be a new quarterback, to most fan’s pleasure, along with a ton of talent coming in from the 2020 recruiting class.
But what positions do Michigan sit the best with? With just a couple months before the 2020 season is (supposed) to begin, let’s take a look at how I would rank them.
10. Tight End
Senior Nick Eubanks is a well-known commodity, but everyone else after him doesn’t have a lot of mileage. Good things have been said about sophomore Erick All (one catch in 2019) and redshirt sophomore Luke Schoonmaker (two catches in 2019), but neither guy emerged as a legitimate option in the passing attack last year. The coaches are high on incoming freshman Matthew Hibner, but tight ends don’t typically make an immediate impact their first season in college. There is talent in the room, but too many unknowns for me to move them any higher at the moment.
With Lavert Hill onto the NFL, Ambry Thomas will be the team’s leader in 2020. He and Vincent Gray bring a decent amount of experience to the defensive backfield. But everyone behind them is a mystery. Fans should be looking for DJ Turner or Jalen Perry to solidify a role this year after both taking a redshirt in 2019. I will also be interested to see if can Andre Seldon makes a splash as a true freshman playing the nickel. The cornerback position at Michigan, led by coach Mike Zordich, tends to outplay their projections and rankings, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen once again for the Wolverines this year. But until I see it, this is where I have their group.
We have seen a decent amount of Dylan McCaffrey during his time in Ann Arbor. We have seen slightly less of Joe Milton. And we haven’t seen Cade McNamara at all. McCaffrey has the edge with experience, but Milton may have the most upside. I think the starter will be one of those two guys, with McNamara having a better chance in 2021. I could have slotted this position at No. 10, but I am higher on this group than I am the previous quarterbacks at Michigan since Jim Harbaugh as taken over.
7. Offensive Line
Let me preface this by saying I am very high on the offensive line moving forward. But with one returning starter and a ton of question marks along the interior of the line, I couldn’t let them slip any longer. Jalen Mayfield is one of college football’s best returning offensive tackles, so there is nothing to doubt about him. Ryan Hayes has some experience at left tackle, but is he ready to take over the starting job? I think he is. But who takes over at left guard, center and right guard? There are a ton of talented guys who will have a crack at winning a job, and I am stoked to see what the lineup looks like this fall.
6. Defensive Line
Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson return to anchor the edge spots. Carlo Kemp also returns as a fifth-year senior to solidify a spot on the interior, but who will line up next to him? Chris Hinton began to emerge as a real threat toward the end of 2019, but no one else consistently stepped up there. Perhaps Mazi Smith can make a name for himself after taking a redshirt 2019. Or maybe this is the year Donovan Jeter can put it all together. I think Taylor Upshaw could be a capable reserve edge guy, as can David Ojabo and Luiji Vilain (if he stays healthy), but there are a lot of unknowns regarding the depth as of now.
5. Special Teams
Giles Jackson proved to be a dynamic kick returner during his freshman season in 2019, taking one back for a touchdown on the opening kick at Maryland. There is no reason to change it up there. Meanwhile, there will be a new punt returner, but I find it hard to believe the new guy will be a downgrade from who Michigan put out there the last three seasons.
Jake Moody and Quinn Nordin will once again compete for extra points and field goals, and Will Hart has some competition at punter in former starter Brad Robbins, who missed all of 2018 and most of 2019 with an injury. As a whole, special teams are in a good spot.
The starters are penciled in for 2020 — Brad Hawkins and Daxton Hill — and I think they got a shot to be the best safety duo at Michigan in a long time. But who will be the first guys up if one of the starters gets injured? Sammy Faustin has been with the program for a couple of years now; perhaps he will be a guy to watch for. If not, one of Michigan’s coveted safeties from the 2020 class (four-stars Jordan Morant, Makari Paige, and RJ Moten) could make a case for playing time. Regardless, I think the position will be very solid in 2020.
With Cameron McGrone and Josh Ross back, linebacker may be one of the stronger position groups heading into 2020. Khaleke Hudson, a three-year starter at viper, is onto the NFL. Josh Uche and Jordan Glasgow were also drafted back in April. Michael Barrett looks like the shoo-in to replace Hudson, and I am particularly excited to see if Anthony Solomon can crack the lineup consistently this year. I am also very high on incoming freshman Kalel Mullings, who had a very good showing at the All-American Bowl back in February. I know more starters left than came back, but I am confident in placing linebacker in my three spots. It’s been a consistently good position for Don Brown his entire time at Michigan, so I don’t expect it to change now.
2. Wide Receiver
Nico Collins returns as the No. 1 guy at the wideout spot, and is a potential team captain for the upcoming season. Joining him are Ronnie Bell (48 catches, 758 yards, one touchdown), Giles Jackson (9, 142, one), Mike Sainristil (8, 145, one), Cornelius Johnson (four, 61, one) and incoming true freshman speedsters Roman Wilson and A.J. Henning. The sky is the limit for this group of guys, and I am very excited to see how it plays out for them. I could have easily put this group at No. 1, but I am just a sliver of a hair higher on the final group.
1. Running Back
The running back position is in the best shape of any position group for Michigan heading into 2020. With two returning starters (Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins), an incoming true freshman who is highly-regarded (Blake Corum), and a veteran returning for his senior season (Chris Evans), the position group is in good hands. If Josh Gattis can utilize Evans’ and Corum’s strengths — speed, shiftiness — in the passing game, the offense has a chance to take a big step forward in 2020. I think Gattis can accomplish that and take the running back position to the next level.