There might not be a group more at the forefront of any Michigan’s fans mind than the defensive tackles. Not because fans are spending time guessing if it’s person x or person y but because of preseason press releases that have fed the idea that “this group is going to be good.”
It helps that one of them was named college football’s No. 1 Freak by The Athletic a couple weeks ago. So naturally it makes sense to think if he is leading this group, they’ve got to be pretty good.
The man or “freak” himself, senior Mazi Smith, has all the potential heading into this season. Last year, Smith played in each of Michigan’s 14 games. He is the definition of building brick by brick to reach success, and that attitude will be reflected on the field this season.
The Michigan Wolverines now have Mike Elston at the helm of the defensive line, among the better defensive line coaches in America. With lots of attention and hope for similar defensive prowess, Michigan’s defense is in very capable hands with this group.
Here’s how I think the depth chart will play out.
Already the star of Michigan’s defensive line, Smith still comes in with a high ceiling for this upcoming season. Should he build upon his successes from 2021, he will prove to be an absolute nuisance to opposing offenses. The attention he has garnered this offseason only solidifies his work ethic and dedication to seeing Michigan and himself succeed.
Smith was one of the best in the Big Ten last year when it came to stopping the run. Where PFF stats tracked the number of run stops by the line of scrimmage, Smith recorded 19. This ranked him in the top 25 for all defensive tackles in college football. Expect a lot more disruption caused by Smith this season.
The next guy up should be Jenkins. Though initially quite leaner than some of his counterparts, he has been working hard this offseason to fill out the role a lot more fully. At 6-foot-4, he now clocks in at 290 pounds, putting on nearly 17 pounds from this past season. Smith, during Big Ten Media day, named Jenkins as a potential breakout star for the Wolverines this year.
The others on this list are in no particular order. After Smith and Jenkins, everybody else should receive ample playing time. The depth here should be good enough to keep the starters fresh and provide Elston a solid rotation of players this season.
Goode comes from UCF as a grad transfer. While with the Knights, he started three games and played in each of UCF’s 13 games in 2021. He recorded four fumbles this past season, tied for 12th in the NCAA. Another big guy on the line, coming in at 6-foot-2 and 353 pounds, he should work as a reliever early in the rotation.
The redshirt freshman saw game action three times last season, including in the Big Ten Championship, recording two solo tackles against the Hawkeyes. Benny should be utilized more often in Michigan’s rotation.
Dubbed the “Mazi junior” by Jesse Minter, Grant has been the center for a lot of talk regarding Michigan’s line. Grant is listed at 6-foot-3, weighing in at 356 pounds. He will likely garner some playing time late in games this year.
Another newcomer who should be on everyone’s watchlist should be Graham. He was able to hold his own in the spring game, even as a true freshman. This earned high praise from fellow teammates as his skills and knowledge directly lead to his success right off the bat.
Rooks, 6-foot-5 and 278 pounds, appeared in three games this past season. Though he is also on the smaller side compared to others on the line, his frame still contributes to disruption. Rooks, along with Graham, had high praise during spring ball.