Michigan cornerback Will Johnson was PFF's highest-graded true freshman defender in 2022
Michigan Wolverines football cornerback Will Johnson was tied for the second-highest graded true freshman in the country in 2022, per Pro Football Focus (PFF), and ranked first among defenders with an 88.2 overall rating. Michigan defensive tackle Mason Graham, one of Johnson’s classmates, slotted 10th overall and third, respectively, with an 80.7 grade.
Johnson began the season as a rotational player, but was a starter by season’s end. He opened four of the final six games of the campaign, and totaled 25 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. A pair of his picks came in the second half of the Big Ten championship game against Purdue.
“Will Johnson was a top-20 recruit coming out of high school and showed that he should’ve been rated even higher this season,” PFF’s Max Chadwick wrote.
“The former five-star recruit locked down his opposition this season en route to a Power-Five-leading 91.1 grade in man coverage. Johnson’s three interceptions in man coverage were also tied for seventh among all cornerbacks in college football.”
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Graham was a force on the interior of Michigan’s defensive line, which is perhaps just as impressive given the nature of the tackle position. He totaled 27 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks and 1 pass breakup in 14 games. His pass rush skills from the interior really stood out to Chadwick and PFF’s graders all season long.
“Will Johnson wasn’t the only true freshman to make an immediate impact on Michigan’s defense,” Chadwick wrote.
“Only Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton earned a higher grade than Graham this season among Big Ten interior defensive linemen. The former four-star’s 11.8-percent pass-rush win rate ranked fifth among that same group.”
Both Johnson and Graham, along with tight end Colston Loveland, were named true freshman All-Americans by On3.
“Will Johnson ranked as a five-star and as the top prospect in Michigan in the 2022 recruiting cycle,” On3’s Charles Power wrote. “Fast forward less than a year later and Johnson is making huge plays down the stretch for his home state Wolverines.
“You don’t typically see true freshmen play early along Michigan’s defensive front. That wasn’t the case this year, as Mason Graham made a sizable impact for the No. 2 Wolverines.”
Both have big opportunities to take steps forward heading into 2023. Johnson is the only returning Michigan cornerback with starting experience, while Graham could start at the nose tackle position following Mazi Smith‘s departure to the NFL.