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The Unsung Heroes of the 2021 Michigan Wolverines

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Let’s shine a spotlight on some of the less-heralded key players responsible for this team’s success.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines have been led to the College Football Playoff this season in large part due to the contributions of the team leaders. Defensive end and and Heisman finalist Aidan Hutchinson, running back Hassan Haskins, linebacker John Ross, center Andrew Vastardis and quarterback Cade McNamara have led by words and actions throughout this historic run.

But there are a myriad of additional contributors to commend for this run: running back Blake Corum, linebacker David Ojabo, cornerback DJ Turner and virtually every other starter top to bottom on the roster.

However, there are a select few who have contributed on the margins and have not been as widely celebrated. Let’s take a look at some of these unsung heroes.

Safety Rod Moore

True freshman and former three-star recruit Rod Moore has quickly become one of my favorite players on the team. The overlooked Ohio prospect has been contributing since the season opener, but the last quarter quarter of the season has seen Moore take a leap usually reserved for second- or third-year players.

Moore was inserted as a starter against Penn State and has yet to relinquish that role. The freshman always demonstrated the required aggression and athleticism for a safety, but what has separated him from so many other freshmen is his cerebral understanding of the game.

Frequently, Moore is communicating with other players and moving them into the correct position to stop an opposing offense. Coupled with his physical traits, it is no surprise he was tied for the team lead in tackles against Ohio State (9).

For someone who only turned 18 in July, the ceiling is the roof for the talented freshman. He is going to be special.

Wide Receiver Mike Sainristil

Mikey Sainristil is fourth on the team in receiving yards, second in receiving touchdowns and has a knack for the spectacular. Everyone remembers THIS catch against Nebraska and the even more absurd one against Maryland.

But what I want to discuss is Sainristil as a blocker. The junior from Massachusetts is the best blocking wide receiver at Michigan I can remember since…someone on the 2011 team? Maybe? Back when receivers tracked “knockdown” blocks for a run-heavy offensive attack would make sense, but he might still remain a cut above.

Every receiver on the 2021 team has grown as a blocker, but it is Sainristil who does the most impressive and consistent work. Corners, safeties, linebackers and occasionally defensive linemen, he blocks them all.

Look no further than this block 40 yards downfield to secure running back Blake Corum’s touchdown against Iowa.

Punter Brad Robbins

Brad Robbins is quietly having his best year as a Wolverine. The fifth-year senior is averaging 46.4 yards per punt, which would rank him No. 11 nationally, but he does not qualify because his punts per game numbers are below the required criteria.

Despite his decreased volume (which is a great thing for team success), Robbins was recognized by the Big Ten coaches and media as an honorable mention selection for the all-conference teams. He has increased his hang time on punts and has been able to flip the field for the Wolverines when called upon in critical situations.

If Michigan didn’t have the 2021 Broyles Award winner Josh Gattis orchestrating the offense and calling plays, Robbins might have a case for first-team. I am sure Robbins is okay paying this success tax.

Linebacker Jaylen Harrell

Jaylen Harrell recorded a few starts throughout the year, but has become a rotational player down the stretch. However, his value has not been diminished. For example, in just three snaps against Ohio State, Harrell was still able to record an emphatic tackle-for-loss.

Harrell has been a deployable piece reminiscent of former Wolverine and current New England Patriot Josh Uche. While primarily a pass-rushing specialist, Harrell has made his impact in each of the last two games whether he appears on the stat sheet or not.

Just ask Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras.

Rotational Defensive Tackles: Donovan Jeter, Julius Welschof, Kris Jenkins, Jess Speight

Hutchinson and Ojabo have become a generational pass-rushing duo for many reasons. One of the most overlooked, however, is the emerging depth across the interior of the defensive line.

Defensive tackles Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith have rightfully garnered the bulk of the praise, but they are supported by a quartet of reserves to help keep them fresh.

Donovan Jeter, Julius Welschof, Kris Jenkins and Jess Speight have been able to provide valuable rest to Smith and Hinton, with minimal drop-off in productivity. Clogging the interior is essential for this Mike Macdonald defense, and these four players have allowed Michigan to do that all season.

The defensive tackles set the table so the defensive ends can eat.

Who have been some unsung heroes in your eyes? Joel Honingford stans stand up, this is your time!