ESPN still high on Michigan football defense in future defensive power rankings

For the many rivals who hope Michigan football falls off a cliff following the Wolverines’ national championship win, hopes and dreams do not represent reality.

The maize and blue are pretty loaded on the defensive side of the ball with three likely first-round picks in defensive tackles Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant as well as cornerback Will Johnson. The linebacking duo of Ernest Hausmann and Jaishawn Barham represent also potential day-one or day-two picks down the road and the safety room is absolutely loaded.

So, despite having lost a ton of talent across the board, Michigan is primed to be among the nation’s elite — at least on the defensive side of the ball.

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg put together future defensive power rankings of the top attacks working to stop offenses (subscription required) and he had the Michigan Wolverines at No. 3 — where they were at this time last year.

Scouting the Wolverines: Michigan’s 2023 defense could eventually be remembered like Georgia’s in terms of excellence and historical significance. But unlike Georgia in 2022, Michigan actually retains several of its highest-level NFL prospects for the ensuing season. Cornerback Will Johnson and linemen Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant are all back, along with other key players such as edge rusher Josaiah Stewart and safeties Makari Paige and Quinten Johnson. The big changes come on the staff, as Martindale returns to the college ranks for the first time since 2003, and Michigan has three new position coaches (linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary also coached at U-M in 2020). The secondary could remain a strength with Johnson, a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore. Michigan needs to find answers at the other corner spot, at safety after Rod Moore’s knee injury, and at nickel following Keon Sabb’s transfer. Sophomores DJ Waller Jr. and Jyaire Hill will be closely watched.

Rittenberg goes on about the depth up front, on the edges, and at linebacker — all positions where there may be some unknowns beyond the starters, but with multiple players emerging this spring.

Among those with heavy mention include defensive lineman Enow Etta, edge rushers TJ Guy and Cameron Brandt, and linebacker Jaydon Hood. Though he hasn’t received much publicity, interior lineman Trey Pierce is talented and large and could be poised for the same type of ascendance as Kenneth Grant made a year ago moving from his freshman to sophomore season.

As far as other defenses are concerned, only Georgia and Iowa ranked ahead of the maize and blue. Ohio State was No. 5, 2024 Week 2 opponent Texas is No. 8, Penn State is No. 9, Oregon is No. 13, Wisconsin is No. 17, and Rutgers is No. 23. [autotag]

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire