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.
Luiji Vilain, RS JR
247 Composite Ranking: 4 stars (WDE 5, Overall 57)
2019 Stats: 7 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF
Not every top recruit is going to turn into a star, and that has been painfully true at Michigan, but there is a reason why players end up in the top 100 of their recruiting class. Luiji Vilain was a big-time get for this coaching staff, but his career to date has been completely anonymous, no thanks to some significant injuries that canceled his first two years.
Now healthy, Vilain will be called upon in a significant way. He is arguably the most talented option among the defensive line reserves, and he will need to be a noticeable contributor if the Wolverines are going to have a successful pass rush. While this is a tall task for a player with just seven appearances to date, he has the talent to make this a reality.
Can Vilain be a legitimate threat as a key pass rush contributor?
Vilain was a candidate to see playing time as a true freshman, but knee surgery would delay his debut. The next season was more of the same story, and yet again he was unable to play a single snap. Last year was his first chance to take the field, but with some developed weapons on the edge, Michigan only needed to use him sparingly during his first taste of action.
The situation is different now. Vilain looks like a clear backup for Kwity Paye at the weakside defensive end position, and he boasts more ability than any other backup in contention. While he lacks the experience, he was very well acclaimed coming out of high school and looks like a force waiting to happen coming off the edge. He may be able to play the anchor as well, but the weakside is where his skills could best be displayed.
Vilain checks almost every box for a pass rushing fiend. He has great quickness and explosiveness to burst past blockers and has an aggressive motor for getting after the quarterback. With Josh Uche heading to the NFL, Michigan can really use players who can disrupt the passer and cause some havoc in the backfield. This seems like the perfect task for Vilain, who had a knack for quarterback hurries and hits in high school.
There are a few candidates for breakout players across the defense, but Vilain would be a plausible choice and a huge win for the Wolverines if he can put it all together. A top-10 recruit at his position, the talent is obviously there, and he will be given the opportunities to showcase his abilities. With both starters on the ends looking to move on after this season, a huge step forward from Vilain is almost a necessity this fall.