While the future for sports in 2020 is still unclear, I am confident that the greatest sport on planet Earth in College Football will adapt to the unusual situation and continue with the 2020-2021 season. With a multitude of Wolverines being drafted this past month in the NFL draft (10), it leaves a lot of vacancies in starting positions on the roster. I’ll be ranking each position group against one another as the roster stands right now. I have separated the roster into 10 position groups: quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, and special teams. I will not be including incoming freshmen into consideration for these rankings as we have not had the opportunity to see these young players in action at all yet (thanks COVID). Today I’ll be covering rankings 10-6, with 5-1 following in the near future.
10: Offensive Linemen
What was arguably the greatest strength of the 2019 roster has lost the most production by far heading into the 2020 season. In order, Cesar Ruiz, Ben Bredeson, Michael Onwenu, and Jon Runyan were all drafted in the 2020 NFL draft, leaving Jalen Mayfield (RT) as the lone returning starter to the OL unit. I would like to point out that besides the QB position, I see this position group as the one that could make the largest jump in rankings by the end of the year. Ed Warinner has been a fantastic addition to the coaching staff, and in my opinion is Harbaugh’s best hire since coming to Ann Arbor. Since joining the staff in 2018, Warriner has turned the OL back into one of the strengths of this team the past two years, and I believe he can continue his success this upcoming year. Unfortunately, as it stands now, there is little experience on the line and there will be growing pains this upcoming season.
9: Tight Ends
The 5th year return of Nick Eubanks is nice, but the loss of Sean McKeon is going to be a big one. Eubanks had a limited role outside of run blocking last year, accumulating 25 grabs for 243 yards, but with McKeon now gone, I would expect a significant uptick in production in the passing game. Another guy to keep an eye on is junior Luke Schoonmaker. 6’6 and 240 as a sophomore is impressive, and while he had limited playing time last season, I could see him taking a big step forward with 2nd on the depth chart wide open.
Khaleke Hudson, Devin Gil, and Jordan Glasgow all departed from Michigan this offseason. I felt that our linebackers were relatively proficient in run support last season, but pass coverage was more than lacking. I personally think it’s due to the scheme and situations that the players are put in. Against opponents like PSU, OSU, and Bama, I saw again how fast and agile receivers were able to line up against linebackers and get what they wanted all day long. It’s something that has been a problem for years now, but Don Brown refuses to change. That being said, there is a large portion of the LB production that has been lost, and it will be up to Josh Ross and Cam McGrone to shoulder the weight of the unit. I think both of these guys can have super great years, but again I don’t know if they’ll be put in the right positions to succeed. Cam McGrone had a breakout year last year and I expect him to keep up with his progression and continue to improve in his quickness and vision. At 6’1 and 230, this guy is an absolute freight train in run defense and blitzing. If he can improve on his lateral quickness and put on some more weight, this guy can be a real monster that Don Brown can use in multiple places on the field. I’m very excited to watch 44 this upcoming season and see what he does.
Tough position to grade for sure. Many disliked Shea Patterson (myself included most of the time), but no matter how you felt about him, a QB change is a significant one. I’m on team McCaffrey personally, and I feel that he will get the job this offseason, but I wouldn’t be upset if Milton snagged the starting job. Both of those guys have a high ceiling, and if Gattis expands the playbook to accommodate for McCaffrey’s ability to run the ball in an RPO setting consistently, we could see a new type of Michigan offense we haven’t been introduced to yet. I think it’s unlikely Michigan runs a dual QB set, but am again not opposed to it whatsoever. I think a large determinant of QB play this season falls on how the offensive line develops. Without a foundation to protect the new guy, things could get ugly quickly. The good news is that whoever does win the starting job will have plenty of battle-tested teammates in the backfield and on the perimeter to help them during the adjustment phase. Having guys like Nico and Ronnie to throw to will help make the adjustment period a lot easier on the rookie, and once that chemistry has been formed, that connection could be special!
Another position group with some great young talent. Brad Hawkins is now a senior, and should bring some much-needed experience to the backside of the defense this season. Daxton Hill played significant minutes as a true freshman last year, and I felt that he was really solid wherever he was lined up. When lined up as a DB, I thought his coverage was super reliable, and I felt the same way in regards to run support. I hope to see him take another big step forward this season and improve all aspects of his game. The loss of Josh Metellus will sting at first, but I actually think his departure will benefit the defense long term. I wasn’t a huge fan of Josh last year, and I can think of a few plays in particular where he totally blew the coverage (K.J. Hamler, Garrett Wilson) and cost us a touchdown that really shifted the momentum of big games. I’m very happy that Minnesota drafted him and I hope that with proper guidance and use he can be a great player, but I think our defense is better off without him moving forward. I like where this position is at with the mix of experience and youth, and their speed which in my opinion was the biggest issue with the defense last season.