Preview and full Michigan football depth chart with fall camp beginning

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·20 min read
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Michigan football is finally here, albeit unofficially for fans, as the Wolverines get to work with eyes on the 2022 season with fall camp officially beginning on Wednesday.

The start of fall camp marks the one-month-to-go point for the maize and blue, as the regular season will commence on Sept. 3 with Colorado State coming to The Big House. But who will see the field at each position is a different story.

While that means we have a full month before we know for sure who will be the biggest contributors, as those position battles will officially be worked out, here’s how we believe the roster looks as Michigan formally begins to prepare for the season.

First up (on the next page) we start with the offensive side of the ball.

Offense

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Primer

This side of the ball is absolutely loaded for the maize and blue, with the bulk of the offense returning from a year ago. Before we get into each position group, it could be instructive to take a look at the key additions and losses from last year’s Big Ten championship team.

Key Losses

Key Additions

RB Hassan Haskins

C Olu Oluwatimi

RT Andrew Stueber

WR Darrius Clemons

C Andrew Vastardis

WR Amorion Walker

WR Daylen Baldwin

TE Colston Loveland

LG Chuck Filiaga

WR Tyler Morris

While the loss of Haskins, who really carried the load for the offense in the last third of the season in 2022, is a huge blow, Michigan obviously has a lot of capability returning at running back. The addition of Oluwatimi could be a game-changer, as he was a Rimington finalist for Virginia in 2021, and could potentially be an upgrade on Vastardis — despite Vastardis being a driver on the O-line towards its Joe Moore Award-winning season. Similarly, any of Michigan’s three freshman receivers could be big contributors, despite the loaded room, as could Colston Loveland, who is more of a receiving tight end.

However, the biggest addition isn’t listed here, as Ronnie Bell returns after tearing his ACL in the season opener last year. Bell led the team in receiving the previous two years and looked like a game-changer in Week 1 prior to his injury. Expect more of the same in 2022, assuming he stays healthy.

Of course, the offense will only go as far as the man under center takes it, and Michigan does have something of a debate as to who that man should be. On the next page, we’ll discuss the quarterback position for the Wolverines as it stands entering fall camp.

Quarterback

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth chart

1.

Cade McNamara

2.

J.J. McCarthy

3.

Alan Bowman (or)

3.

Davis Warren

5.

Alex Orji

Analysis

There could have been an ‘or’ designation between McNamara and McCarthy at No. 1 had McCarthy been able to participate fully in spring ball, but a shoulder injury precluded him from truly taking part, aside from essentially a series of walkthroughs. As Jim Harbaugh said at Big Ten media days: ‘Gosh, Cade is gonna be tough to beat out for the starting job. J.J. — it’s gonna be tough for Cade to beat J.J. out. It’s gonna be tough for J.J. to beat Cade out. But, put the balls out there on August 3 and then they’ll they’ll have at it.’ However, he also added: ‘Yeah, Cade is the starting quarterback. He’s gonna be lining up, first practice, he’s gonna be taking the — be with the first team. Now, eventually over the training camp J.J. will get the same opportunity, he’ll get the same opportunity that Cade will. They’re both gonna get a ton of reps. And, you know, there’ll be time to for to have that competition and determine who will be the starting quarterback for the first game.’

Of course, given McCarthy’s talent level, this will be upsetting for some fans, but McNamara did lead the Wolverines to their first Big Ten championship since 2004, and he’s much more capable than much of the fan consensus appears to be — hence he was the starter throughout the year last year. That said, McCarthy does have next-level talent — which isn’t a knock on McNamara, solely an acknowledgement that McCarthy has the potential to be one of the best in the country — and this will be a battle. McNamara enters camp with the lead, but it’s going to take everything he has in him to keep the No. 1 spot and to retain it throughout the season.

Behind them, we put Bowman and Warren at No. 3 with an ‘or’ designation, because they seemed essentially at par with each other at the spring game. Bowman has loads more experience, but Warren may be more talented and refined overall, despite having missed much of his high school career.

We put Orji, the true freshman, at No. 5, as he provides a running element none of the other players have, and we feel he’s ahead of fellow freshman Jayden Denegal.

Up next, the running backs, and the conundrum of a third back.

Running backs

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth Chart

1.

Blake Corum

2.

Donovan Edwards

3.

Tavierre Dunlap (or)

3.

Kalel Mullings

5.

C.J. Stokes

ANALYSIS

While there isn’t much of a running back controversy, given that Corum has a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot, perhaps there should be.

Corum was absolutely electric in 2021, perhaps outshining Hassan Haskins for most of the season, but sophomore Donovan Edwards has an opportunity to really burst onto the national scene. In our conversation with FOX Sports’ premier color commentator, Joel Klatt, he described Edwards as a ‘dark horse Heisman contender,’ which certainly would indicate that he’ll be beyond stellar in his second year. Edwards is a bit more sure-handed in catching the ball out of the backfield than Corum, but Corum is a problem in the open field, and we haven’t quite seen what Edwards is capable of on that front.

Behind them, the question is who will be the third-down back? Dunlap enters his second year, and has the body profile to be a bruiser, but Michigan did deploy linebacker Kalel Mullings in that role in the spring game. Behind them will likely be Stokes, a true freshman.

What we don’t know — and really didn’t have to talk about last year — is how everyone outside of Corum will handle blocking, because we didn’t really need to have that conversation with him and Haskins in the backfield. The rest are somewhat unknown commodities, but running back blocking had been a problem for the Wolverines in the recent past, so that will be something to look out for — whether it will remain at the same level or if pass protection will take a drop-off at all.

Up next, the very loaded tight ends room.

Tight ends

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth Chart

1.

Erick All (or)

1.

Luke Schoonmaker

3.

Joel Honigford

4.

Carter Selzer

5.

Matthew Hibner

6.

Colston Loveland (or)

6

Louis Hansen

Analysis

“Tight ends (are) really deep, playmakers. Erick All. I think, in my opinion, his biggest competition for being the best tight end in the country will be Luke Schoonmaker and I think Luke Schoonmaker’s toughest competition to be best tight end in America will be Erick All. Honigford, Seltzer, Hibner.”

Those are the words of Jim Harbaugh at Big Ten media days, and it wouldn’t surprise us if either All or Schoonmaker won the Mackey Award this year. Though tight end rooms at Georgia, Notre Dame, and others appears to get much more respect, Michigan is absolutely loaded at the position. All is a fearless blocker and excellent receiver, Schoonmaker is just as good at both in his own right. All is a bit more explosive, but Schoonmaker is definitely a mismatch, particularly in short-yardage situations, as a receiver. Honigford is used almost strictly as a blocker, and Selzer is a leader in the room, likely to see increased production in his final year with the program.

Hibner has yet to see the field and is entering his third year with the program, and while big things are expected from Hansen, true freshman Loveland could see the field in year one due to his prowess as a receiver.

Up next, the equally loaded wide receiver room.

Wide receiver

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth chart

Outside

Inside

Outside

1.

Cornelius Johnson

Ronnie Bell

Andrel Anthony

2.

Darrius Clemons

A.J. Henning

Roman Wilson

3.

Amorion Walker

Mike Sainristil

Cristian Dixon

4.

Tyler Morris

Analysis

Receiver is one of the toughest to project, because it could go one wide up to four wide. Players who normally play outside could play inside and vice versa. And, honestly, pretty much any of the above could be included on the first play of the game, because they have such varied skill sets.

As far as power rankings are concerned, this could look a lot different. Ronnie Bell should be considered the clear-cut No. 1, but beyond him, a player like Mike Sainristil (who’s moonlighting at cornerback) could be the No. 2 player behind him, depending on in-game deployment. Cornelius Johnson is probably the No. 1 possession receiver, while Anthony is likely the biggest deep-threat. Roman Wilson and Cristian Dixon are the more speedy options, and Darrius Clemons is likely the top freshman entering fall camp, given what we saw in the spring, and he’s likely the top breakout candidate.

That is besides A.J. Henning, who is expected to take on more of a Deebo Samuel-type role in the offense, utilized heavily both laterally and in the run game, as we saw late in 2021. Ultimately, he could be the biggest breakout in 2022 as he offers a different type of electricity as an athlete and offensive weapon in this offense.

Amorion Walker is a taller option that needs to fill out a bit more, while we know little about Tyler Morris, as he was still rehabbing his own ACL injury from high school. Dixon is still something of an unknown commodity entering his second year.

Next, the offensive line.

Offensive line

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth Chart

LT

LG

C

RG

RT

1.

Ryan Hayes

Trevor Keegan

Olu Oluwatimi

Zak Zinter

Trente Jones

2.

Jeffrey Persi

Giovanni El-Hadi

Greg Crippen

Reece Atteberry

Karsen Barnhart

Entering fall camp, the starting line is mostly set, with the first four being obvious, while the battle for right tackle is likely to rage on through the entire month of August. Trente Jones appears to have a lead on Karsen Barnhart, who has started many a game already, but that could dwindle quickly, given the nature of competition.

The rest are all but set, with the stars coming in the middle. Oluwatimi should be a Rimington Award finalist, Zinter has been widely-hailed as the top lineman overall, and Keegan was a mauler in his first year as a starter. Ryan Hayes is a little under-appreciated given his skill set and very well could take a big step forward in his final year with the program.

The second line is a bit more of a projection. While Persi and Crippen are pretty much locked in as a tackle and center, respectively, the O-line has tended to be a bit ambidextrous, in that someone who plays inside could very well play outside, and vice versa. For instance, El-Hadi, entering his second year, was long thought of as a tackle but played guard in the spring game. Atteberry was long thought of as a center but we’ve seen him play guard, as well. Raheem Anderson (not listed above) is a center but could also enter the guard conversation. We’re not even mentioning other contributors, such as Tristan Bounds, because we honestly don’t know where they fit just yet.

This is a deep room with a lot of talent, but we have a pretty good idea of who the main contributors will be.

Onto the other side of the ball.

Defense

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Overview

After a successful one-year stint as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald is gone, but another Baltimore Ravens acolyte in Jesse Minter is in.

There’s a lot of retooling that is required on this side of the ball, as there are so many big losses, but a lot of players expected to suddenly be impact players in 2022. Instead of doing key additions and losses, it’s probably more  instructive to look at key losses and their potential replacement in terms of production.

Key loss

Potential replacement

DE Aidan Hutchinson

DE Mike Morris

OLB David Ojabo

OLB Jaylen Harrell

S Dax Hill

S Rod Moore

CB Vincent Gray

CB Will Johnson

LB Josh Ross

LB Junior Colson

It’s not a perfect tit-for-tat replacement system, because it’s unlikely that Morris will follow up on Hutchinson’s record-setting season with similar numbers, same for Harrell for Ojabo, but either or both could fall in line with numbers consistent with previous edge rushing production. Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley were incredibly productive, despite putting up gaudy numbers. Same for Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary and even Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye in 2019. The Michigan defense doesn’t have to be record-setting in order to be among the nation’s best.

In fact, despite the loss of star power, Jim Harbaugh expects the defense to be better in 2022, even having lost so many big-named players.

“I have a sneaky suspicion that it could even be better on defense,” Harbaugh said at Big Ten media days. “Last year offensively is the perfect example. I mean, there was a real no-star offense last year and they played really good together. The line the tight ends, the quarterbacks, the receivers, backs — everybody, everybody meshed. And now you have some you have some real legitimate stars over there.”

If fully healthy, Rod Moore might be a steal as a former three-star from Ohio, as he has similar instincts and capability to the aforementioned Dax Hill. Will Johnson comes in as a five-star cornerback, one of the most coveted players in the country. Junior Colson plays a different brand of linebacker than Josh Ross, but should be the star of the room.

We’ve seen previous Michigan defenses enter the season with little experience and thrive — ahem, 2017 — and despite the Wolverines getting no benefit of the doubt, this has the potential to be a very good unit, given that there are so many players who have experience that are now stepping into bigger roles. They might not have been starters last year, but potential starters — Mike Morris, Kris Jenkins, Jaylen Harrell, Taylor Upshaw (he actually was a starter), RJ Moten — and others have plenty of experience, and could propel the defense to still being an upper-tier unit.

Let’s start with the edge rushers, combining nominal defensive ends and outside linebackers.

Edge rushers

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Power rankings

1.

Mike Morris

2.

Jaylen Harrell

3.

Taylor Upshaw

4.

Braiden McGregor

5.

Derrick Moore

6.

TJ Guy

7.

Kechaun Bennett

Analysis

Given that they’re multiple positions and that players will move across the line, into the backfield, and all over the place, it was more instructive to utilize power rankings rather than breaking down a traditional depth chart of the position.

It was speaking about Mike Morris’ emergence in spring that Jim Harbaugh called the defense and team ‘scary good,’ and he appears poised to be the top-rated defensive end in this defense. Jaylen Harrell is more Josh Uche than David Ojabo, but he should take a major step forward in his third year. Taylor Upshaw has started games and is in now-or-never mode, but Braiden McGregor — who has been limited after tearing his ACL in his senior year of high school — has the capability to be a game-changer at the position, and could usurp any of the above if he reaches his potential.

Behind them, true freshman Derrick Moore is already at playing weight and has superior instincts for a young player. We’ve seen TJ Guy enter games last year, an indication that he’s ready to get into the conversation. We know little of Kechaun Bennett, but he looks the part, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he burst onto the scene in 2022.

Up next, the interior defensive line.

Defensive tackle

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth Chart

NT

DT

1.

Mazi Smith

Kris Jenkins

2.

Kenneth Grant

Cam Goode

3.

George Rooks (or) Mason Graham

Rayshaun Benny

Speaking of star potential, Mazi Smith might be the best player on the entirety of the defense. An absolute beast in the middle, if Smith is able to improve on his already very good 2021, he could be a force to be reckoned with at the nose, echoing Mo Hurst’s senior year in Ann Arbor. Next to him, Kris Jenkins elevated his play in his second year and is reportedly up to 290-pounds at the outset of fall camp. He was mentioned by Smith at Big Ten media days as a potential breakout candidate in 2022.

As for the others, speculation indicates that Kenneth Grant is the mystery freshman that Jim Harbaugh called ‘an absolute gift from the football gods’ at Big Ten media days given his conversation with Bruce Feldman. A first-year player, he has unparalleled size, so it will be interesting to see what he can do out of the gates. Cam Goode was productive in his UCF tenure, and comes aboard as a grad transfer this year.

We’ve heard a lot about Benny in the spring as being a likely big-time contributor in his second year, and he very well could end up playing in the second rotation. Rooks’ name came up a bit as well all spring, as did true freshman Mason Graham.

Next, the linebackers, where we’ll stick with our power ranking structure more than depth chart due to the evolving nature of the position group.

Linebackers

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Power Rankings

1.

Junior Colson

2.

Nikhai Hill-Green

3.

Mike Barrett (or)

3.

Kalel Mullings

5.

Joey Velazquez

6.

Jaydon Hood

7.

Jimmy Rolder

8.

Tyler McLaurin

Analysis

The linebacker group isn’t as deep as some of the other positions, but it has some established, as well as emerging, playmakers, across the board.

DC Jesse Minter described Junior Colson as the next elite Michigan linebacker, and that tracks, as he has the speed and instincts, and now experience, to make good on his potential. Hill-Green was a starter last year and should make a big jump from last year. Michael Barrett has started before in the VIPER position, and can be a bit of a mistake eraser, though more so in a hybrid role. Mullings is a little bit more of a traditional Big Ten throwback, but he still appears to be finding his way (he also may moonlight at running back, a position he played in high school). Velazquez has seen time, primarily on special teams, and appears to be poised to step into a bigger role.

The next group are players we haven’t really seen yet. Hood has the look of being a great linebacker, as we saw in the spring game, and should take a big step forward in his second year after being a four-star from a talent-rich high school in Florida. Rolder is a true freshman who Jim Harbaugh described as being in the vein of the elite Big Ten linebackers, and could be an early contributor, to be sure. McLaurin we haven’t really seen, and he isn’t much of a known commodity at this point.

Next, let’s look at the safety position.

Safety

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth Chart

FS

SS

1.

Rod Moore

RJ Moten

2.

Makari Paige

Quinten Johnson

3.

Keon Sabb

Kody Jones

ANALYSIS

Now, Moore will have to re-earn his starting role after being held out of spring with injury, which saw Paige finally get his opportunity to play. But if everything holds, Moore and Paige could be interchangeable, which would signal more Paige’s emergence than anything else. Moten got a lot of time in 2021 and played when injuries surfaced to either Brad Hawkins or Dax Hill, as well as when Hill was in nickel. Quinten Johnson was mentioned as an emerging player at Big Ten media days, which would be beneficial given the lack of overall depth at safety.

The freshmen, Keon Sabb and Kody Jones, are poised for early playing time, and Sabb saw quite a bit of time in the spring game. Not mentioned is freshman Damani Dent, who the staff is really high on.

Finally, we’ll finish out the defense with the cornerbacks.

Cornerbacks

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Power rankings

1.

DJ Turner

2.

Mike Sainristil

3.

Gemon Green

4.

Will Johnson

5.

German Green

6.

Jalen Perry

7.

Zeke Berry

Analysis

Turner has the capability of turning into a star in his senior year. After spelling Gemon Green following his late-season injury, Turner took the role and ran with it, holding his own against elite offenses down the stretch. Sainristil’s move to corner appears to be legit, and it’s a position he played at a high-level in high school. He’s destined to play more nickel, but could also split out wide like we saw in the spring game. Gemon Green has started for the bulk of two years and is increasingly dependable, and will likely reprise his role in 2022.

The most intriguing player across the board is former five-star, Michigan legacy corner Will Johnson, who will be tough to keep off the field. He has size, speed, instincts, and everything you want for the position.

German Green switched over from safety, and could squeeze himself into a role in his fifth-year. Jalen Perry has yet to really make waves, so it will be interesting to see what he does, now that it’s his senior year. Zeke Berry holds a lot of intrigue himself, but arrived in the summer. He could be a factor given his skill set.

Lastly, let’s take a look at special teams.

Special teams

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Depth chart

K

P

KR

PR

LS

1.

Jake Moody

Brad Robbins

A.J. Henning

A.J. Henning

William Wagner

2.

Rhett Anderson

Tommy Doman

Blake Corum

Ronnie Bell

Greg Tarr

Analysis

The best special teams unit in the country last year returns mostly intact, and has a chance to either keep the status quo, or even potentially get better.

After winning the Lou Groza Award, Jake Moody gets to reprise his 2021 performance in 2022, and Brad Robbins enters as one of the best punters in the nation. A.J. Henning became a star returner, and will likely get the opportunity to keep that role this year, potentially returning both kicks and punts. Blake Corum started last year as the primary kick returner and will likely back him up, as Ronnie Bell could return as a punt returner — despite that being the role he was playing when he tore his ACL.

William Wagner returns as a solid longsnapper, and is backed up by Gregory Tarr at the position.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire