5 Players Most Important to Michigan Football’s Success
The Michigan Wolverines enter the 2022 college football season with the goal of defending their Big Ten title. Much has been made about the production that has been lost from that team, but there is plenty of talent still in Ann Arbor. This article will take a look at the players on which the goals of the 2022 campaign will depend. It is not a ranking of the best players, but a ranking of the most important.
To establish these players, we must first take a quick snapshot of what we know about Michigan Football.
The offense boasts, at worst, a Big Ten championship winning quarterback. The running back room will have to replace Hassan Haskins, though Blake Corum and Donavan Edwards are more than capable of leading the offense. The question here is who will step up to move the chains in gritty, high leverage, short yardage situations. The receiver room is loaded, as is the tight end room. The offensive line has to replace two starters, but with center transfer Olu Oluwatimi (Rimington Award Finalist in 2021) leading the way, the line may be improved.
Defense is where most of the questions arise. The program lost two transcendental edge rushers in Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, along with stars at safety and linebacker in Dax Hill and Josh Ross. The pass rush is a total question mark heading into 2022. That isn’t the only question surrounding the defensive line. On the interior, the Wolverines, already considered to lack depth, must replace Christopher Hinton. The linebacking core has some good starters, but lacks experienced depth. The secondary also must reload. Overall, there are many holes to fill, yet there are plenty of intriguing options that may allow for the defense to pick up where it left off.
This list assumes that returning players will make a similar impact to what they did a year ago. Given what was lost, and what must be added for the team to reach its goals, I put together a list of players who best address these.With that being said, here are the 5 players that will be most important to Michigan’s success in 2022.
Blake Corum, RB
We know Blake Corum is dynamic. If he would have stayed healthy all of last year, he would have easily broken 1000 yards rushing. We might not have developed the same narrative regarding Hassan Haskins’ heroics towards the end of the season had Corum been healthy.
Yet there is still a massive hole left by Haskins. Haskins was a true short yardage warrior, rarely losing yardage and picking up key first down after key first down on the ground. Yes, Corum is explosive. He could even be an All American this year. But can he make the gritty plays? That will be the major question surrounding Michigan’s ground game this year. If he can indeed pick up key first downs late in games against stacked boxes, the rushing attack should not miss a beat.
For what it’s worth, Corum added 12 pounds over the offseason.
Mazi Smith, DT
You don’t replace two historical edge rushers overnight. And while the Wolverines have some talent on the edges this year, it is going to have to be a collective effort to replace that production. Enter Bruce Feldman’s number 1 Freak.
Mazi Smith is exactly that, a freak. And he’s going to have to live up to the hype for Michigan’s defense to pick up where it left off a season ago. If Smith can generate interior pressure akin to what Maurice Hurst did as a Wolverine, I’d feel mighty confident in this defense.
DJ Turner, CB
In 2021, DJ Turner grabbed himself a starting job mid season in 2021 and never looked back. Also on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks list, Turner possesses elite speed and cover skills, and is Michigan’s top dog at corner. The dude ran a 4.28 40 yard dash – out of a 2 point stance. And he now has the potential to be an All-American caliber corner.
While there are also other talented corners on the roster, Turner stands out as one of Michigan’s most important players for one specific reason. Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Michigan’s goals are to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten. To do so, it will have to have an answer for arguably the best receiver in the country, and DJ Turner is Michigan’s best bet at slowing him down.
If Turner can adequately cover Smith-Njigba, then the secondary will not have to double or bracket him, and can focus their resources on Ohio State’s other weapons. That would go a long way towards defeating the Buckeyes for a second straight year.
Rod Moore, S
Rod Moore is essentially the brain of the secondary. In an anecdote sure to give coach Harbaugh the warm fuzzies, he recalled how Rod Moore, in his quest to earn playing time, had watched twice as much film as any other player on the roster.
Jim Harbaugh gushed about #Michigan DB Rod Moore during his recent "In the Trenches" podcast segment, revealing the moment last spring when he realized Moore was watching more film than any other freshman. pic.twitter.com/Y9aWGdf695
— Aaron McMann (@AaronMcMann) August 8, 2022
Moore took over as the starter at safety and never looked back. The true freshman developed experience in Michigan’s most important games last year, and will be a leader in the secondary in 2022. New defensive coordinator Jesse Minter will run a defense virtually identical to that which Mike McDonald ran, but there will still be terminology changes and other logistical problems to work out. That Minter has a cerebral leader on the back end will make this transition all the more seamless. Couple that with the fact that Michigan must replace multiple starters on the back end, and the value of Moore’s intelligence and leadership becomes apparent. He knows the scheme, and will ensure everyone is lined up properly. Oh, and he’s a pretty darn good football player in his own right.
Junior Colson, LB
Perhaps the most obvious inclusion to this list, Junior Colson needs to be a star for Michigan in 2022. He played exceptionally well for a true freshman last year, particularly given the complexities of the new defense. Despite not starting a game until October, Colson finished 4th on the team with 61 tackles – the most tackles by a Michigan freshman in 10 years. Colson was named a freshman All American for his efforts.
The secondary appears to be in good hands. The defensive line should be able to generate pressure-by-committee. Linebacker is a bit of a concern, however. Sure, there are some rock solid players back. Michael Barrett has been in the program forever and is great in coverage. Nikhai Hill-Green showed promise last year. But Josh Ross’s value to the program cannot be understated. In addition to being a leader, time and time again Ross came up with huge stops in massive moments. Think the tackle for loss against Ohio State on 3rd and 2 to open the second half. Total seizure of momentum. This year, it is up to Colson to create some moments of his own.
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