Without Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo in 2022, the Michigan Wolverines have a lot of production to fill on their defensive line. Thankfully, there are plenty of options across the board of guys who can hopefully fill their roles admirably this upcoming season.
Among the guys need the top of the list is returning fifth-year senior Taylor Upshaw.
The story so far
Upshaw is one of the few remaining players on this roster from the 2018 recruiting class. Coming to Ann Arbor, he knew the competition at his position was going to be fierce. As the No. 561 player in the country, Upshaw had a lot to prove before actually seeing the field.
However, it didn’t take long for that underdog narrative to flip. After redshirting his freshman season, Upshaw appeared in six games along the defensive line and had two tackles. Then, in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Upshaw made two starts after injuries to Kwity Paye and Hutchinson. He had two sacks in six games along with 17 tackles.
With the rise of Ojabo, and Hutchinson returning in 2021, Upshaw some himself as a situational pass rusher again. Still, he appeared in 12 of the 13 games and had 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble on a limited snap basis. Production like that from your third or maybe even fourth-best pass rusher shows how deep the edge room truly was last season.
Outlook for 2022
Upshaw finally looks like he is in line to start, but there are certainly guys who can challenge him. Braiden McGregor, Mike Morris and Jaylen Harrell are just a few guys who will be fighting for those top two spots.
That competition is not worrisome for Upshaw, who claimed in March he wants to be one of the best players in the country, saying, “I have all the intangibles to be one of the most versatile players in the country. I can pass-rush from a three-tech (stance), I can play interior, I can play the edge, I can drop into coverage. I can cover tight ends. I can cover running backs. I can do it all.”
In the same breath, Upshaw acknowledged the guys who are no longer in that edge room in 2022. However, he and others are ready to keep that momentum going.
“We have a lot of new guys — including myself — who are going to have to take on roles they’ve never had. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’re good.’ We have a lot to prove. I have a lot to prove. And we’re not satisfied.”