The Michigan Wolverines were a veteran-led team in 2021 with upperclassmen such as defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, linebacker Josh Ross, center Andrew Vastardis and running back Hassan Haskins paving the way. While these seniors were imperative to the best Michigan football season of the 21st century, it would not have been possible without the youngest members of the team.
Several true freshmen — TEENAGERS — stepped up in critical spots throughout this season and had to burn their redshirts. In order to attain the level of success experienced by Team 142, future eligibility was sacrificed for contemporary greatness.
These are the six freshmen who burned their redshirts in 2021. and also what to expect from them in 2022.
LB Junior Colson
Colson played in every game this season, finished fifth on the team in total tackles (second in assisted tackles), and will be the leading returning tackler in 2022. The highly touted former four-star recruit quickly worked his way from special teams to rotating starter on one of the most improved defenses in the country.
While Colson experienced his fair share of growing pains, he was quick to learn in a defensive scheme that placed an increased amount of responsibility on the linebackers. Under the guidance of Ross, Colson was able to learn from a team captain who had appeared in 40 career games at the position.
Colson is a lock to start and has the potential to lead the team in tackles in 2022.
RB Donovan Edwards
Behind a historic one-two running back punch in Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, RB3 Donovan Edwards was too talented to keep off the field in 2021. He played in 12 games this season and got increasingly better week by week.
In his first eight games, Edwards tallied only 26 touches between rushing attempts and receptions. However, in his final four games, Edwards accounted for 29 total touches, including a Michigan running back record 10-reception performance against Maryland.
And who can forget his Boobie Miles level of versatility against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship with this 75-yard touchdown pass. Edwards finished the season as RB3, QB3 and WR5 in terms of yards.
With Haskins leaving for the NFL, Edwards will split time with Corum next season. But much like this season, an RB1-A/RB1-B type of production balance is expected.
QB J.J. McCarthy
McCarthy is a name Michigan fans have been familiar with long before he set foot in Ann Arbor. The former five-star prospect committed to the Wolverines on May 11, 2019 and never wavered on his commitment during the turbulent 2020 season.
The Illinois native appeared in 11 games this season and had a knack for the spectacular. From his first appearance against Western Michigan completing a 69-yard across-the-field bomb to Daylen Baldwin, or his down-the-field block for Blake Corum against Iowa, McCarthy left his finger prints on this season despite being a backup.
McCarthy will challenge 2021 starter Cade McNamara for the starting job in 2022.
WR Andrel Anthony
Anthony burst onto the scene like very few Wolverines in program history. His first career reception was a 93-yard touchdown as a part of a six-catch performance for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan State. Also of note, he is from East Lansing.
Anthony finished tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions (three) despite only playing 11 games and only playing a featured role in the second half of the season.
The former three-star recruit will see more playing time throughout the season next year, but the wide receiver room is CROWDED. The only departing contributor is Daylen Baldwin and team leader/WR1 Ronnie Bell returns from injury. Not to mention, the four-star pair of 2022 recruits Tyler Morris and Darrius Clemons will now be competing for playing time as well.
If Anthony can add some size and master the mental aspect of the game, he could usurp returns such as Roman Wilson or Cornelius Johnson for more snaps.
S Rod Moore
Not many projected Moore to play a significant role this season and even fewer projected him to appear in 11 games. And no one projected him to tie for the team lead in tackles against Ohio State.
Moore was an overlooked three-star recruit entering a crowded room of safeties behind the likes of Brad Hawkins, Dax Hill, Makari Paige, RJ Moten and Jordan Morant, to name a few. But because of his high-level football IQ, he was able to carve a path to become a rotational starter and player in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s three-safety schemes.
With Hawkins and Hill departing, Moore sure seems like a lock to start in 2022.
C Greg Crippen
Crippen appeared in six games for the Wolverines in strict relief duty behind stalwart starter Andrew Vastardis. While sixth-year team captain Vastardis is leaving, Virginia transfer and Rimington Trophy finalist Olusegun Oluwatimi is coming to Ann Arbor next season.
While a positional “battle” will take place for the starting job, it would take a Herculean effort for Crippen to hold off Oluwatimi. Crippen will likely enjoy one more year as a reserve before presumably taking the starting position in 2023.