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CB Spring Preview: Could the position be better than expected?

This room may have more depth than anticipated.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Texas Christian at Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the Michigan Wolverines cornerbacks from 2022, DJ Turner and Gemon Green, are hoping to hear their names called in the NFL Draft. What’s left for Michigan is a vacant starting role, while two players at the position remain as starters in 2023.

Many people are pointing to this position as the biggest flaw on the team, but I beg to differ. It gives me similar vibes to the defensive end group from last offseason that was rather deep with a few bigger names at the top.

Here’s how I expect things to look once spring ball begins.

Will Johnson

The former five-star prospect is very highly thought of across the country. He’s easily the No. 1 corner on the roster and is capable of being the best in the nation in 2023.

Admittedly, Johnson had a bit of a slow start to his career, but he caught on really fast. Johnson needed to step in to be the starter following Green’s concussion in the Michigan Stadium tunnel assault by MSU players. Johnson quickly turned from a rotational player to maybe the best player at the position by the season’s end.

Whether it was laying out Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, intercepting Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell twice in the Big Ten Championship or having Ohio State move Marvin Harrison Jr. away from him in coverage, Johnson was seemingly making big plays every week.

That’s why PFF named Johnson the No. 3 returning corner in college football. The potential is there for him to be the best defensive back Michigan has had in a long time his next two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Mike Sainristil

After the 2021 season, Michigan was loaded in the wide receiver room. Jim Harbaugh and the staff posed Sainristil with an incredibly difficult challenge: go over to nickel corner and be our starter.

Many fans were shocked in the spring game last season to see Sainristil lined up on the other side of the ball. He was the Wolverines’ No. 3 receiver in 2021, but he had the talent and football IQ to be just as good in a completely different position.

All Sainristil did on defense in 2022 was make big plays. He had a sack in the opener against Colorado State, and it immediately appeared he was going to fit in.

He made the defensive play of the game against Ohio State, making an insane recovery to knock the ball out of tight end Cade Stover’s hands with under eight minutes to go:

If the touchdown were converted, it could have brought Ohio State within three points on what was a really impressive drive. Instead, the Wolverines maintained a touchdown advantage and, well, we all know how that one ended.

The Wolverines are extremely lucky to have a locker room leader and a seasoned vet returning to the room in 2023 in Sainristil.

Amorion Walker

The Ponchatoula, Louisiana product is making a name for himself in his second year with the program. Walker is an extremely gifted athlete and based on how things went for Sainristil last season, the staff is hoping he makes the same transition.

“I consider him a starter right now,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said a week ago. “Based on the first two practices.”

As of right now, Walker is listed as both a wide receiver and a defensive back on the roster, but many expect him to be the second outside corner. He’s 6-foot-4, 175 pounds and has blazing speed. Lining him up with Johnson (6-foot-3) on the other side could be a nightmare for opposing offenses.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he would excel and thrive both at the wide receiver position and as a defensive back as a corner. Just really trying to find the absolute best position for him for his career,” Harbaugh said. “Where is he going to make the greatest impact over the course of his career, benefit the most from his football ability. You just don’t know for sure whether it’s receiver or corner. But the length he has, the athletic ability that he has, speed that he has — and the change of direction mainly for a guy that’s 6-3, 6-4, it’s rare. It’s rare for a corner to be able to have that length and speed, and be able to have that change of direction.”

Harbaugh would go on to say Walker will line up at corner this spring, but should see time on both sides this fall. All he did was rave about Walker and his abilities, and it will be fascinating to see what they do with him on the field.

Keep an eye on...

Ja’Den McBurrows, German Green, Myles Pollard, Jyaire Hill.

Many forget McBurrows was likely a rotational piece before tearing his ACL in 2021. He’ll fight for the starting position along with Walker and sixth-year senior German Green. Speaking of Green, he played the fifth-most snaps at the position in 2022 and is only coming back to compete for the starting role this fall.

Pollard played in two games early in the season last year as a true freshman and won Scout Team Defensive Player of the Week for preparations for Rutgers. Expect him to get more snaps this year.

Hill will be a true freshman and was highly sought after. Harbaugh called Hill a “game-breaker type guy as a kick returner and as a defensive back,” and a “unique player.” He could see snaps at either position during spring ball and moving forward.