This past season was a bright one for much of the Michigan Wolverines’ defense, but it was especially good for the corners. From the tone-setting of DJ Turner and Gemon Green, to the star-in-the-making performances of Mike Sainristil and Will Johnson, there was a lot to like, and there is a lot still to come in the Wolverines’ secondary.
Here’s how the season shaked out for Michigan’s top four corners.
Coming into 2022, Turner had gone from diamond in the rough prospect to a full blown diamond. As Michigan’s CB1, the senior wasn’t only playing with the weight of team expectations on his back, but a potential bid at significantly raising his NFL Draft prospects.
Turner wasted no time making his presence felt, putting up a web gem of a scoop n’ score in Week 1 against Colorado State:
Though he didn’t have many more flashy moments — an interception against Maryland, a key pass breakup against Illinois — what Turner provided was a consistent level of high performance. Starting all 14 games, Turner failed to record a tackle in just one, while adding 10 more pass breakups and a quarterback hurry on his stat line.
For his efforts, Turner was a second-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and a third-team selection by the media. While he may not have risen to the greatest heights of draft boards, his performance in 2022 is sure to net him a solid position within the class of corners this spring.
Admittedly, it’s hard to quantify Green’s 2022 season without at least acknowledging the shadow of Halloween weekend. After all, he almost certainly would have started in all 14 of Michigan’s games — and perhaps we wouldn’t have seen Will Johnson pop off as a star of the future — if Green wasn’t ruled out of the Week 10 matchup against Rutgers due to injuries sustained after being assaulted by a group of Michigan State players.
It’s a damned shame Green’s season will be defined by that, as the stats show he was a incredibly reliable player in 2022. While not the PBU generating machine like Turner, Green was third on the team in that stat with four on the year. His performances in both postseason games similarly was a solid benchmark for a defense that struggled in key spots.
Make no mistake about it, his honorable mention All-Big Ten selections by both the coaches and media was anything but a sympathy vote. Green earned his keep as Michigan’s CB2, and that is unquestionable.
If anyone has a better story on the 2022 Michigan roster than Mike Sainristil, I haven’t heard it.
Entering the season, Sainristil’s switch from offense to defense was regarded with a tinge of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Sure, he had played both sides of the ball in high school — but this isn’t high school football. And after three seasons as a solid-and-ever-improving wideout that culminated in being voted co-Offensive Skill Player of the Year in 2021, the switch to nickelback felt like shaking up the depth chart than a real seismic change.
Boy, was that a wrong assumption. He compiled 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two — two! — sacks, a pick and eight pass breakups, Sainristil did it all for the Wolverines in 2022. His crowning moment came against Ohio State, where his punch-out of what looked like a sure touchdown for tight end Cade Stover became an instant moment in Michigan history.
If you ask me, the fact he only received honorable mention All-Big Ten honors was highway robbery. Luckily for Wolverines fans, he’s coming back for one last ride in 2023.
If Turner and Green were the steady hands in the defensive backfield, Johnson was the one who brought the fireworks.
It wasn’t unexpected of him — as the 15th ranked recruit in the country according to the 247Sports composite, Johnson was a superstar in the making from the moment he stepped on campus last January. Like all freshmen, however, he needed some time to get the feel of college football. A few snaps here, a tackle there, slowly but surely he worked his way up the depth chart.
Once he made it though, Johnson played like a man possessed. In his five starts at corner, Johnson recorded all three picks and two of his three total pass breakups. While none came against Ohio State, he was a key factor in the defensive efforts that kept the vaunted Buckeye wideout corps at bay.
While Johnson didn’t recieve any third-party postseason honors, he was named co-Defensive Freshman of the Year at Michigan’s team awards ceremony. Don’t count on that being the only laurels he’ll get while wearing the maize and blue.