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80 days until Michigan football: Wolverines have dominated The Athletic's 'Freaks List'

clayton-sayfieby:Clayton Sayfie06/12/24

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There are 80 days until the defending national champion Michigan Wolverines football team takes the field in the Aug. 31 opener against Fresno State. Each day until then, we’ll discuss current Michigan events, the upcoming season and/or take a look at a significant number that correlates with how many days remain until kickoff, whether it be a player’s jersey number, a year, a date, a score, etc.

With 80 days until kickoff, we examine Michigan’s success landing player on The Athletic reporter Bruce Feldman’s annual ‘Freaks List.’ The relevant number is 800 — the amount of pounds former U-M defensive tackle and current Dallas Cowboys lineman Mazi Smith was able to do on the combo twist machine, which is “designed to show a player’s ability to rotate an opponent but also their ability to resist being rotated in the trenches.”

For the average fan like us, there’s no point of reference for 800 pounds on a combo twist machine. But this quote from Feldman helps provide some context: “A staffer called the manufacturer to see if there was a way to extend it, then ultimately contacted a private company to build custom extenders for the combo-twist, which made it capable of loading up to 800 pounds to accommodate Smith.”

Michigan has a new director of strength and conditioning in Justin Tress, but he’s been at U-M for the last six seasons, working under Ben Herbert, who left with head coach Jim Harbaugh to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Wolverines should be able to continue producing ‘freaky’ athletes, especially considering players have said Tress’ system is similar to Herbert’s, with no drop-off.

It hasn’t just been Smith — who was No. 1 in the nation in 2022 — on the freaks list, either. Michigan has had a top-10 ‘freak’ in five of the last six years, including three No. 1 ratings — defensive end Rashan Gary in 2018, defensive end Kwity Paye in 2020 and Smith in 2022, and a No. 2 selection, Aidan Hutchinson, in 2021. Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who was picked with the No. 49 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft, was the No. 6 ‘freak’ in the country entering the 2023 campaign.

Michigan has two players still on the roster who were named top-100 freaks last season: junior wide receiver Amorion Walker and junior quarterback Alex Orji.

Walker played cornerback last season, before transferring to Ole Miss for the spring semester. He eventually transferred back to Michigan and will play wideout this coming year. He famously ran a 6.10-second 3-cone drill last offseason, at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds.

“It’s the fastest time I have ever seen and likely the fastest I will ever see,” Herbert told The Athletic.

“Walker’s 3.89 shuttle would’ve been tops at the [2023] combine as well,” Feldman noted. “[Jaxon] Smith-Njigba ran a 3.93 with Brandin Cooks’ 3.81 in 2014 the record. And there’s more: Walker vertical-jumped 42 1/2 inches. He did 11-4 in the broad jump and he clocked a 4.34 40, and he did it out of a two-point stance.”

Orji, meanwhile, was the most freaky quarterback in the country last season, per Feldman. According to the reporter, several Michigan players actually have said he was the top ‘freak’ on the team.

“The 6-3, 237-pound sophomore quarterback ranks No. 1 on the team in its cumulative KPI score, which is made up of 48 Key Performance Indicators they use to track frame analysis: flexibility/mobility; strength/power; and agility/speed,” Feldman wrote of the Michigan signal-caller. “Orji vertical-jumped 41 inches and did 2.34 in the reactive plyo stairs; broad-jumped 10-6; and did 3.97 in the shuttle and 6.65 in the 3-cone. On the field, the Texas native ran for two touchdowns and completed one pass in mop-up duty in 2022.”

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