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Jaylen Harrell should make up for lost production at edge

The Wolverines will need the fourth-year defender to produce more in 2023.

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

The Michigan pass rush has undergone plenty of changes in the last two years. After seeing possibly the best edge duo in Michigan football history with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo in 2021, the team matched production with several players stepping up in the 2022 season.

One of those guys was Jaylen Harrell, who became a starter last fall. Although he did not explode into the Hutchinson-Ojabo kind of game wrecker that some thought he could, Harrell had a respectable season and looks to be building upon it heading into 2023. There’s a possibility he could be the best edge rusher on the team in a year where the Wolverines have national title aspirations.

The story so far

Harrell was a MIKE linebacker in high school and was a 247sports Composite four-star recruit, just sneaking inside of the top-300 players in the 2020 class. At 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, the Tampa, Florida product had a college-ready physique, and he earned offers from Alabama, Clemson, Auburn, and more. However, after a visit to Michigan the weekend of The Game in 2019, Harrell committed to the Wolverines just two weeks later.

At Michigan, Harrell was immediately moved to an edge rusher because of his size and unique attributes. He played in four games as a true freshman, but still earned his redshirt status.

He then started to show up on the field a little more as a sophomore. Harrell became a member of the edge rotation and filled in snaps behind Ojabo at the SAM linebacker spot in Mike Macdonald’s defense. This is when he started to pop on the radar of a lot of Michigan fans as a potential stud in the future after a season where he had 15 tackles and 2.5 TFLs.

Coming into his third season, the expectation was for him to be the best EDGE rusher on the team. However, it felt like we were all a year too early. Harrell still had a strong season — 30 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 7.5 TFLs — but his game didn’t elevate to that star level that some had thought he could achieve.

However, without a doubt, Harrell made improvements, and that is all you can really ask for when the team still made a College Football Playoff run. He started to play really well late in the year against Ohio State, Purdue, and TCU, so there is a lot of promise that he could make a jump in 2023. Harrell is equally as adept at stopping the run as he is getting to the quarterback, so he can affect the game on multiple fronts.

Outlook for 2023

Once again, I think Harrell will be looked at as a guy to take the next step and be the best pass rusher on the team. The coaching staff and the team are going to lean on him to be a difference-maker up front after losing some production and the position over the offseason.

“Jaylen is one of our most consistent, complete players of how he plays down after down, play after play,” defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said on the In The Trenches Podcast. “Versus the run and the pass. Very technical... He is one of the most self-made players in our program. The way he trains, the way he goes about his business, the way he studies other players, off the charts. Unbelievable.”

With another offseason in the Minter defense and plenty of time to continue to show off that work ethic and improve, there are a lot of reasons for optimism that Harrell pops off in 2023. He’ll be the starter off the edge and could see the most snaps in that pass-rushing rotation. The only guys that may compete with him for that would be transfer Josiah Stewart or redshirt junior Braiden McGregor.