The transfer portal has completely changed college sports. The portal has afforded athletes the opportunity to seek refuge and playing time in presumably greener pastures when they are unhappy in their current roles or situation. While the rules and restrictions of the portal change almost daily, it undoubtedly keeps fans interested as it serves as a faux free agency for college athletes.
So what happens when a player enters the transfer portal? Do they get sucked up into the sky like the virtuous being chosen in This Is The End? Or, do they just shout, “I AM IN THE PORTAL!” like Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy from The Office?
Sadly, the portal is less exciting than that and is more relatable to a break up and the changing of a Facebook relationship status to “single.” Now, old contacts from high school can flood DM’s, attempt to reconnect and court the talents of these players once again.
In the football portal’s first declaration window, chaos ensued as 16% of all FBS players decided to explore their options and entered the portal. The chaos resumes on Saturday when the transfer portal re-opens from April 15-30 for players to decide whether or not to switch teams post-spring ball.
So, how many Facebook statuses will change in the next two weeks?
Team 144 of the Michigan Wolverines is as deep and talented as any Michigan team in the past 30 years. However, there are still some needs on the roster and some excess where talented players could seek starting opportunities elsewhere.
I broke down the 11 key position groups into tiers similar to air traffic: departures, arrivals, and no traffic scheduled. For the next two weeks, players will be free to move about the country.
Watch for Departures
OL - Michigan’s offensive line is as deep as it has ever been in Ann Arbor. Karsen Barnhart, Trente Jones, Trevor Keegan, Zak Zinter, Drake Nugent, Myles Hinton, LaDarius Henderson, Giovanni El-Hadi, Jeff Persi, Raheem Anderson, Greg Crippen and Reece Atteberry are all starting-caliber offensive linemen in the Big Ten. Watch for potentially two players (one guard, one tackle) to look to start this season at a different school.
RB - Look no further than RB3 to understand Michigan’s positional depth. Who is it? Currently, CJ Stokes, Kalel Mullings and true freshman Benjamin Hall are the frontrunners, but don’t count out the highly touted Cole Cabana either. That’s four players battling for third string. Where does that leave players like Tavierre Dunlap, Isaiah Gash and Leon Franklin? Gash is highly unlikely to leave having just earned a scholarship, but Dunlap was recruited by the likes of Notre Dame, USC and TCU out of high school. Does he really want to be a seventh option in his third year?
S - Michigan’s safety room is overflowing with experience and talent. Rod Moore, Makari Paige, RJ Moten, Zeke Berry, Keon Sabb, Caden Kolesar and Quinten Johnson comprise the top of the depth chart in 2023 and could ALL return in 2024 if they wanted. Something’s got to give, or more aptly, someone is going to go.
DT - The defensive tackle room has four clear names head and shoulders above the rest: Kris Jenkins, Kenneth Grant, Mason Graham and Rayshaun Benny. UCF transfer Cam Goode has helped round out the depth, but what about a guy like third-year big man Ike Iwunnah? The 6-foot-3, 320-pounder has seen zero game action in two seasons and his path to being a contributor, let alone a starter, is steep.
No Traffic Scheduled
LB - Nebraska transfer Ernest Hausmann helped solidify a room inundated with experience and youthful talent. Junior Colson, Michael Barrett and Nikhai Hill-Green are all proven veteran commodities, and Jimmy Rolder, Jaydon Hood and Micah Pollard are glimpses into the future. This is Jim Harbaugh’s best linebacker room during his Michigan tenure.
TE - The emergence of Colston Loveland will help address the top-end production losses of Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker, and the returning Matthew Hibner and Max Bredeson help mitigate the departures of Joel Honigford and Carter Selzer in terms of depth. Coupled with the arrival of Indiana transfer AJ Barner, the position group is provided its preferred four-deep rotation and another dynamic play-maker in the receiving game.
QB - Michigan’s quarterback situation is very much like the early 2000s Indianapolis Colts. During one practice, Jon Gruden watched Peyton Manning essentially taking every rep during a practice session. When he asked offensive coordinator Tom Moore why none of the backups were getting reps, Moore responded, “Fellas, if ‘18’ goes down, we’re fucked. And we don’t practice fucked.”
The Wolverines do not need to think about life without J.J. McCarthy too much — that’s a grim place next season — but Michigan does still require a contingency plan if the worst happens. Indiana transfer Jack Tuttle brings much-needed experience and leadership to a young room that features Davis Warren and Alex Orji, both of whom have only seen garbage time duties in games.
Tuttle assumes the Alan Bowman role from the prior two years and provides Michigan with a three-headed monster replacement if ‘9’ goes down.
Edge - Could a player transfer out? Yes, but with as wide open as the competition still appears, it would be a little surprising. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter showed the willingness last season to deploy his pass rush by committee, and it appears unlikely to change in 2023. With experienced guys like Jaylen Harrell, Braiden McGregor and Derrick Moore, combined with transfer Josaiah Stewart and fast-riser Kechaun Bennett, the Wolverines will feature a deep unit of capable pass rushers who will split time appropriately.
The Arrival Gate Is Open
K - Jake Moody was the single biggest loss for the Wolverines from last season. Without Moody, does Michigan beat Nebraska in 2021 or Illinois in 2022? Who is going to replace Michigan’s all-time leading scorer?
No kicker on Michigan’s roster has attempted a live collegiate field goal. Junior Tommy Doman is the leader to start because he has at least attempted four career extra points. Freshman Adam Samaha is highly-regarded, but does Harbaugh really want to trust an 18-year-old with the season on the line? Charlie Mentzer is the only other kicker on the roster, and he’s never seen the field.
While the kicker market is scarce, bringing in a veteran if only for competition will help elevate the potential of the room. There is no replacing Moody, but that does not mean settling for the erratic tendencies of a Quinn Nordin-type either. With the season on the line, who will Harbaugh turn to?
WR - Is there a true No. 1 wide receiver on the roster? Who is WR3? Andrel Anthony moved to Oklahoma. Amorion Walker switched to defense. Darrius Clemons is built like Larry Fitzgerald but has played like F. Scott. Cristian Dixon was most recently seen as MISSING on the side of a carton of milk. Also, what happened to A.J. Henning? How in THE hell does he trail Khalid Hill in career receptions?
The battle between Tyler Morris and Peyton O’Leary does not exactly inspire confidence, and the addition of one more proven receiver could raise the floor of the room and mitigate any potential loss from injury.
Think back to the addition of Daylen Baldwin in 2021. He was thrust into a rotational role after the injury to Ronnie Bell and finished as WR4 in terms of receptions, yards, and tied for third with a pair of touchdowns. Michigan needs the 2023 version of Baldwin as an insurance policy to avoid experimenting with the towel boy at wide receiver.
CB - Remember when Harbaugh declared Amorion Walker as CB2? Was he being disingenuous or just trying to speak it into existence for the fall? Because after the spring game, if Walker is CB2, this team is in trouble. This defense is like the movie Goodfellas, but if Walker starts it would be like recasting Robert DeNiro with Mike Myers.
Does that mean the inexperienced and oft-injured Ja’Den McBurrows is the starter? Is Keshaun Harris expected to pick up some slack? This position group isn’t thin, it’s dangerously anorexic. The Wolverines desperately need to add a corner that has substantial experience and can provide a proven veteran presence to round out this secondary.