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Kris Jenkins’ path to Michigan, outlook for 2023

The defensive lineman could be a star in 2023.

Big Ten Championship - Purdue v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Michigan’s defensive line was among the best in college football last season and helped propel the team to the No. 1 ranked rush defense for most of the year.

A massive reason for the Wolverines’ dominance was a couple of breakouts from the rotating interior defensive lineman, with Kris Jenkins at the center of that. Coming into 2023, he’ll have lofty expectations and big shoes to fill, but he’s capable of doing so.

The story so far

Jenkins was born to be a football star. His father was a three-time All-Pro defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets and attended the University of Maryland.

The younger Jenkins didn’t get much love coming out of high school, though. As the No. 513 player in the 2020 class, there weren’t a ton of expectations for him to turn into the player he is today.

Jenkins came into Ann Arbor as a defensive end, but his role shifted once Don Brown was fired and Mike Macdonald implemented a new scheme. That’s why he was at the end of the defensive line rotation in 2021 following a redshirt freshman season. He appeared in all 14 games and even started four of them in his second year in Ann Arbor.

Once Jesse Minter took over in 2022, it was clear Jenkins was going to be an important part of the defense. He’s had one of the biggest transformations in the weight room, putting on 45 pounds since stepping foot on campus. This meant a move toward the interior, where he excelled last season.

Jenkins finished his first full season as a starter with 54 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, earning him an All-Big Ten honorable mention. He was named or shared Defensive Player of the Week honors five times throughout the season.

In the offseason, there was some speculation he could go to the next level. Instead, he was one of several Wolverines that decided to come back for one more shot at a National Championship. Jenkins is one of the key reasons why they could get there in 2023.

Outlook for 2023

Praises are being hurled Jenkins’ way throughout the offseason. Braiden McGregor called him “a monster,” telling The Michigan Daily, “everyone will see this year come fall like, ‘yeah this guy’s going to be one of the best guys in the country.’”

Jim Harbaugh echoed that sentiment in February saying, “Kris Jenkins, potentially our best player on the defense, is going to be really good.”

Jaylen Harrell chimed in back in March: “He looks even more powerful, more explosive, (he) keeps getting better each and every day. He’s a dog for sure.”

ESPN even mocked Jenkins as a first-round pick in their way-too-early 2024 NFL Mock Draft.

Needless to say, there is a huge spotlight on the redshirt junior heading into the season. The team is going to need him to live up to these lofty expectations with the loss of Mazi Smith to the NFL.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we are talking about Jenkins at the end of this year in the same class as Smith heading into the NFL Draft. He’s going to be among the elite defensive lineman in all of college football, and the unit as a whole shouldn’t miss a beat because of it.

Expect Jenkins to be the top dog on the defensive line and a leading voice in the locker room as the Wolverines try to three-peat as Big Ten champions.