Five-star edge rusher Eyabi Anoma brings NFL-level talent to Michigan football

·4 min read

On the same day social media platforms frothed with speculation and, eventually, confirmation that Michigan football was adding a high-profile edge rusher through the transfer portal, the player himself — Eyabi Anoma — was already meeting his teammates at Schembechler Hall.

The former five-star recruit and No. 4 overall prospect in the class of 2018 joined the U-M program Thursday after two seasons at FCS-level Tennessee-Martin. Now a graduate student, Anoma begins anew in Ann Arbor at his fourth school in five years.

“Welcome him in with open arms,” edge rusher Jaylen Harrell said. “Cool guy. Excited that he’s ready to learn. I’m helping him a little bit with the playbook and stuff like that. Another man in the room to compete and get after it.”

Alabama linebacker Eyabi Anoma (9) during the second half in the Alabama A-Day spring football scrimmage game at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, April 13, 2019.
Alabama linebacker Eyabi Anoma (9) during the second half in the Alabama A-Day spring football scrimmage game at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, April 13, 2019.

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Without an official statement from the program or head coach Jim Harbaugh, who spoke to reporters the day before Anoma’s arrival was announced, the players scheduled to meet with the media Friday afternoon were left to answer questions about the newcomer with a checkered past.

Anoma, who was recruited by U-M out of high school, earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors at Alabama before the university dismissed him for undisclosed reasons. He enrolled at Houston and redshirted in 2019 only to be kicked off the team for what was described as a pattern of bad behavior, including tardiness, skipping class, clashing with teammates and insubordination. He landed with the Skyhawks and tallied 53 tackles — including six sacks and 9½ tackles for loss — in 2021 after sitting out one season due to NCAA transfer rules.

“He’s a baller,” running back Blake Corum said. “He’s going to help big time. Just gotta give him the playbook and he’ll be on the field causing havoc soon. I’m glad to have him here.”

Corum’s opinion is worth noting because he and Anoma both attended St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, and both played for head coach Biff Poggi, though their careers never overlapped. Poggi is now a member of Harbaugh’s staff in Ann Arbor and has facilitated a pipeline from St. Frances to Michigan that also includes inside linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green and edge rusher Derrick Moore.

There’s a strong chance Poggi played a key role in a swift recruitment process once Anoma entered the transfer portal earlier this week. Poggi described the edge rusher as “the best player I’ve ever coached” during an interview in 2017.

Based solely on physical traits and talent, Anoma is a legitimate NFL prospect. He measured 6 feet 4½ and 242 pounds with 33½-inch arms when scouts representing National Football Scouting visited UT Martin in the spring, according to data obtained by the Free Press. They gave him an estimated 40-yard dash time of 4.7 seconds, which would have ranked in the top 10 among edge rushers at this year’s combine — ahead of former U-M pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick. His overall grade was a fifth- to seventh-round pick.

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But Anoma’s off-field problems complicate his professional future, with one source suggesting certain NFL teams would likely remove him from their draft boards next spring. Michigan’s players weren’t briefed on Anoma’s past when the coaching staff informed them of the new addition to the roster.

“We keep that out of it,” Harrell said. “I don’t even know why he left those other schools. But he’s here. he’s cool, he’s going to be a great teammate for us. We don’t really worry about what happened in the past.”

The immediate focus is on football, where there are additional questions about Anoma and the role he might play this season. It’s unclear what kind of shape Anoma is in after a summer away from organized football, nor is it known how long he’ll take to grasp defensive coordinator Jesse Minter’s system. Anoma also hasn’t faced this level of competition since his freshman season in Tuscaloosa in 2018.

Yet he joins a position group in need of emerging talent after Hutchinson and fellow edge rusher David Ojabo left for the NFL. Little about this year’s depth chart has been decided, outside of Mike Morris’ spot atop the list. The competition includes Harrell, Moore, Taylor Upshaw, Braiden McGregor, Julius Welschof and TJ Guy, among others.

Now Anoma joins the fray.

“He’s a great guy to have in the room,” Harrell said, “and we’re just excited to have him.”

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Michigan football transfer Eyabi Anoma will fit with teammates