With Jake Moody and Brad Robbins both taken in the 2023 NFL Draft, Michigan is now only one of two schools in the current draft format to have had both its kicker and punter selected in the same draft. Furthermore, with AJ Henning entering the transfer portal, the Michigan Wolverines will need to find new blood at the three most important positions on special teams for the upcoming season: kicker, punter, and returner.
Replacing that degree of talent in those highly specialized positions will not be completed overnight. Thankfully, however, Michigan has put in the work to mitigate the impact of these three key departures. There might not be a Jake Moody-lite on the roster next year, but as we will preview shortly, several Wolverines, both new and familiar, have the opportunity to step up to keep Michigan’s special teams humming along.
Michigan lost a legend to the 2023 NFL Draft in Jake Moody. With 355 career points, the Northville High alum finished his tenure as the all-time scoring leader in Michigan football history and the program record holder for the longest-made field goal: the 59-yard bomb he knocked through in the loss to TCU. Moody is simply irreplaceable, but Michigan will try to do just that.
The Wolverines snagged the commitment of Louisville transfer kicker James Turner last week, whom many peg as the favorite to replace Moody. In the college kicking game, reliability often trumps range, and Turner, whose accuracy outstrips his power, can be an asset for the Wolverines when drives sputter. The Saline native finished the 2022 season with 20 made field goals, a tie for Louisville’s single-season field goal record.
Bolstering Michigan’s kicker depth, Turner may have an apprentice. Provided he can pick up where he left off in high school, freshman Adam Samaha could be a respectable backup if things go sideways. Samaha’s time will come, but for now, it appears that the void left by Moody will be filled by Turner.
Brad Robbins — the internet’s favorite punter — was the steady hand (foot) that Michigan’s punt team needed. He didn’t see the field too often, but when he did, he did his job with a panache befitting his mustachioed vibe. Now that Robbins has ascended to the next level, the Wolverines will look to St. Mary’s Prep grad Tommy Doman to take the reins.
Doman has seen the field multiple times in the maize and blue as an occasional replacement for both Moody and Robbins, but his greatest potential is as a punter. In last year’s campaign, he helped to pin UConn inside the 20-yard line to earn his first varsity letter. And in the spring game, Doman booted an impressive 54-yarder was also downed inside the opposition’s 20-yard line.
This combination of leg strength and precision connotes that he may have a higher ceiling than his predecessor. Doman will also be a factor in the competition for the placekicker role. However, unless Turner, Samaha, and Charlie Mentzer aren’t up to the task, his time is best spent punting.
Of all of the special teams’ egresses, Henning’s leaves the Wolverines with the most options. Henning’s 8.3 yards per punt return average indicates just how reliable a returner he was, but aside from a punt return for a touchdown against UConn, it seemed like he left a lot of meat on the bone in terms of explosiveness. The Wolverines will draw upon an assortment of young speedsters to fill his role.
Having fielded punts in the spring game, Samaj Morgan and Jake Thaw come to mind when discussing potential punt returners. Between the two, Morgan has the bigger upside but is only a freshman. Veteran options for punt returners include Roman Wilson and Cade Kolesar; Zeke Berry and Cole Cabana could also make a push for the job in the spring.
At first blush, Wilson would be the most logical choice. But with Bell’s devastating injury in 2021, the coaching staff will likely be a little gun-shy. Of the remaining options, Morgan appears to be the favorite. His inexperience may give one pause, but he’s the most logical option given his abilities and the lack of depth at the wide receiver position.
Whether Wilson or another of the above-mentioned candidates joins Morgan in the kick return game depends on the coaching staff’s risk tolerance. Odds are Wilson will act as a secondary returner/decoy on kickoffs. In all, this is an intriguing and developing situation to look out for, and we probably won’t know the outcome until the season’s first return opportunity.