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Where 2024 Michigan football position groups rank nationally by Phil Steele

clayton-sayfieby:Clayton Sayfie06/12/24

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Michigan Wolverines football is the second-least experienced of 18 Big Ten teams entering the 2024 season, according to college football expert Phil Steele, which certainly impacts how the team is viewed in preseason prognostications.

Last offseason, Michigan had five position units rank top 10 in the nation per Steele, but that figure is down to three ahead of the 2024 campaign, with the expert releasing his preseason magazine this month.

Here’s a look at where each Michigan position group checks in on his unit rankings. Steele ranks 68 teams at each position, and quarterback was the only unit that didn’t appear.

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Defensive line: No. 4 nationally, No. 3 Big Ten

It’s no surprise that Michigan’s defensive line is its top-rated unit in comparison with other teams, even though three starters have departed.

The projected starting lineup of senior EDGE Josaiah Stewart, junior EDGE Derrick Moore and junior defensive tackles Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant were the foursome on the field for the Wolverines’ final stop in overtime against Alabama last season. That group also combined to make 27 tackles for loss and 17 sacks a year ago. The depth is the only thing holding it back, per Steele.

“You could argue the starting four is the best in college football with Derrick Moore, Kenneth Grant, Mason Graham and Josaiah Stewart all NFL caliber, but unlike last year the unit’s question mark is depth, as they lose three defensive linemen to the NFL,” Steele wrote.

Big Ten teams in the top 15: Ohio State (1), Penn State (2), Michigan (4), Nebraska (5), Iowa (13)

Special teams: No. 5 nationally, No. 1 Big Ten

Michigan’s special teams received a huge boost after spring practices wrapped up, with Arkansas State kicker Dominic Zvada committing out of the transfer portal. He’s made 34 of 40 field goal attempts over two seasons, including 14 of his 17 attempts from 40-plus yards. Senior punter Tommy Doman and production in the return game are also back.

“The Wolverines have finishes of No. 1, No. 4 and No. 20 [in Steele’s special teams rankings] the last three years. They do lose their kicker but bring in Dominic Zvada, who hit 17-22 FGs at Arkansas State last year with a long of 53. Punter Tommy Doman had a 41.4 net and 69 touchbacks on 99 kickoffs. Their top punt returner and kick returner is back, as well as long snapper.”

Big Ten teams in the top 15: Michigan (5), USC (8), Penn State (9), Iowa (10)

Defensive backs: No. 8 nationally, No. 3 Big Ten

Michigan’s secondary could’ve contended for the No. 1 spot in the country if it weren’t for senior safety Rod Moore suffering a major knee injury early on in spring ball. The Wolverines brought in reinforcements to join graduate Makari Paige — a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten selection — at safety, though, with Wesley Walker (Tennessee) and Jaden Mangham (Michigan State) committing out of the transfer portal. Graduate Quinten Johnson also decided to come back for his sixth season.

The cornerback spot is home to one of the nation’s top players, a Phil Steele preseason first-team All-American in junior Will Johnson, who picked off 4 passes last season. There’s competition for the cornerback job on the opposite side of the field.

“The defending national champs did lose one starter, free safety Rod Moore, who tore his ACL in the spring,” Steele wrote. “Last year, they lost three starters and still finished No. 5 in the pass defense rankings with an 8-18 ratio. Will Johnson and Makari Paige headline this year’s secondary.”

Big Ten teams in the top 15: Ohio State (1), Iowa (5), Michigan (8), Penn State (9), Oregon (11), Wisconsin (12)

Linebackers: No. 18 nationally, No. 6 Big Ten

Michigan has a pair of junior linebackers projected to start in Ernest Hausmann and Jaishawn Barham, both of whom could be breakout players in the Big Ten and nationally in 2024. Hausmann was a backup last season but saw significant playing time (338 defensive snaps, 16th-most on the defense), finishing third on the team with 46 tackles. Hausmann, meanwhile, transferred in from Maryland, where he produced 37 tackles with 3 for loss and 3 sacks in 11 outings.

Depth is a question mark following those two, with junior Jimmy Rolder — who battled an injury and redshirted last season — and senior Jaydon Hood, who hasn’t earned much significant playing time, as the primary backups.

Big Ten teams in the top 15: Iowa (1), Penn State (6), Oregon (7), Wisconsin (9), Ohio State (12)

Running backs: No. 20 nationally, No. 5 Big Ten

Blake Corum, a third-round NFL Draft pick to the Los Angeles Rams, is no longer on the team, after being a huge part of the offense’s identity over the last three seasons. Senior Donovan Edwards (119 carries, 497 yards, 5 touchdowns in 2023) and graduate Kalel Mullings (36 attempts, 223 yards, 1 touchdown) are the headliners in the backfield, with four-star freshman Jordan Marshall as a potential wildcard.

Big Ten teams in the top 15: Ohio State (1), Penn State (2), Minnesota (6), Oregon (16)

Offensive line: No. 36 nationally, No. 7 Big Ten

Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s top group in 2021 and 2022, before being named a semifinalist for the honor in 2023. The group lost its top six players to the NFL, and Steele expects a major drop-off.

The Wolverines do have multiple players with starting experience, though, which should help soften the blow — graduate Josh Priebe (29 starts at Northwestern), fifth-year senior Myles Hinton (four at Michigan, 16 at Stanford) and senior Giovanni El-Hadi (three at U-M).

Big Ten teams in the top 15: Oregon (3), Ohio State (12), Wisconsin (15)

Receivers: No. 58 nationally, No. 9 Big Ten

Steele combines all pass-catchers into one category, which helps Michigan’s case even though it’s ranked low at No. 58. Junior tight end Colston Loveland is a preseason first-team All-American per Steele, after totaling 649 receiving yards — the fourth most by a U-M tight end in a single season — last year.

The Wolverines’ top two wide receivers became NFL Draft picks — Roman Wilson (third round, Pittsburgh Steelers) and Cornelius Johnson (seventh round, Los Angeles Chargers) — leaving the bulk of the targets and catches up for grabs. Junior Tyler Morris (13 catches last season) and sophomore Semaj Morgan (22 receptions) are expected to break out.

Big Ten teams in the top 15: Oregon (1), Ohio State (3), USC (5)

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