The Michigan Wolverines played several freshmen in extensive roles in 2021. Defensively, linebacker Junior Colson was widely recognized as a freshman All-American and safety Rod Moore became a starter by the end of the season.
Offensively, the success of the freshman trio of quarterback JJ McCarthy, running back Donovan Edwards, and wide receiver Andrel Anthony was widely recognized and celebrated.
Five true freshmen had significant impacts on a veteran-laden team that resulted in Michigan’s first Big Ten Championship since 2004. This staff has proven that the best players will always play.
So, which freshmen could help the Wolverines defend their Big Ten title in 2022? Here are three likely candidates.
Cornerback Will Johnson
If Michigan cornerbacks Vincent Grey and Gemon Green both decide to move on and to not exercise their extra COVID-19 afforded eligibility, then there is no clear starter opposite DJ Turner next season.
While there is a plethora of unactualized talent waiting in the wings (Jalen Perry, Ja’Den McBurrows, Andre Seldon, George Johnson, Eamonn Dennis, Darion Green-Warren), it could be the true freshman Johnson who skips the line.
Will Johnson is one of the highest rated recruits in the history of the Michigan program and is a natural boundary corner. Johnson possesses excellent size at 6’3, 190 pounds and will be the tallest defensive back on the Michigan roster.
Johnson’s physicality and takeaway skills will make him impossible to ignore the moment he sets food in Ann Arbor. If Johnson can add 10 pounds of muscle to his frame and enrolls early at Michigan, the freshman could be starting Sep. 3 against Colorado State.
Tight End Colston Loveland
All tight ends should want to come to Michigan. Even with predominant starters Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker expected to return, the Wolverines frequently use between 3-4 tight ends every game. And with Joel Honingford and Carter Seltzer departing, there will surely be opportunities for Colston Loveland to contribute.
Loveland is a 6’5, 230 pound converted wide receiver who craves contact as a blocker and possesses soft hands as a wide receiver. With a 79-inch wingspan, Loveland has a massive catch radius and can high-point the ball with ease.
The also decorated basketball player, Loveland is a natural athlete that could become the best player from this entire class. If the freshman proves immediately capable, no team in the country is equipped to guard the trio of All, Schoonmaker, and Loveland.
Safety Zeke Berry
The safety position at Michigan has been well-recruited recently, but losing starters Brad Hawkins and Daxton Hill could open things up for true freshman Zeke Berry to break out. Rod Moore and RJ Moten are the projected starters in 2022, but defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald likes to frequently operate in a three safety scheme.
Third-year players Makari Paige and Jordan Morant will have an experience advantage early, but much like Rod Moore in 2021, Berry is a physical and cerebral player that plays years above his age.
Moreover, Berry’s versatility as a coverage or box safety increases the chances of him seeing game action. In coverage, Berry has shown a relentless motor necessary to play man-to-man and the discipline to play zone. Berry’s blitzing abilities around the line of scrimmage from a nickelback position could help fill the void left by Dax Hill’s departure as well. Berry brings an intangible X-factor to a defense.