Everyone is waiting to see how Michigan looks in 2021 — at quarterback, along the offensive line, defensively and really just overall after a lackluster, 2-4 campaign in 2020. Michigan fans are waiting to see some highly-touted true freshmen, some young players in more prominent roles and at least one fan favorite returning from injury. Here are our lists of Wolverines we're most excited to see in 2021.
Brandon Brown's List
10. DT Mazi Smith
With Michigan switching to what should resemble a 3-4 most of the time, I'm really curious to see how the defensive tackle position is used. Mike Macdonald doesn't really have a 350 pounder to put in the middle (yet) but he does have a couple of 300-310 pounders in Chris Hinton and Smith. I feel like we know what we're getting with Hinton, but we're still waiting for Smith to break out. When he's good, he's really good, but when he's off, he can't find the field — an issue that dates back to his days at East Kentwood. If he can't find the right gear in year three, he might never find it at Michigan.
9. DE Mike Morris
At 6-6, 276 pounds, with long arms and a great physique, he's one of the first guys you want getting off the team bus, but we all know that doesn't make someone a great football player. With a proven commodity in Aidan Hutchinson at one defensive end, I'm curious to see who plays opposite him and also who backs him up. I think Morris needs to work to be seriously in that conversation and if he is, he could be in line for a solid season.
8. RB Donovan Edwards
Running back is a position where true freshmen can make an impact, and Edwards is certainly an impact player. He'll likely start the year as the third-string running back behind Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, but he's the best all-around back on the team. Once he's ready, he'll be hard to take off the field, but he probably won't be there right away. He's going to play, so I'm just really curious to see how much and exactly how he'll be utilized.
7. WR Roman Wilson, 6. WR AJ Henning, 5. Mike Sainristil
We know what we're getting out of Ronnie Bell, and I think I know what to expect from Cornelius Johnson, but Wilson, Henning and Sainristil are wild cards. All three can really run, can turn short catches into long gains and have very versatile backgrounds that include playing multiple roles like playing out of the backfield for Henning and Sainristil in particular. Wilson can absolutely fly and Henning and Sainristil wouldn't be far behind him in a race. I really hope we get to see that speed unleashed in Josh Gattis' third year.
4. DE/LB David Ojabo
Because Michigan is switching to a base 3-4 defense, and Ojabo is tailor made for the rush end position, I think he'll be on the field often. At 6-5, 250 pounds and with track speed (he won the 2018 prep state title in the 100-meter dash with a personal-best time of 10.93 seconds) he could be a nightmare at that position. When I saw him in high school, I was very intrigued by his size-length-speed combination and I think if used correctly, he could be a budding star.
3. S Daxton Hill
By all accounts, Hill is on another level as a junior. He has worked extremely hard to get even faster and simply made play after play during spring ball. One parent of another player said, "Dax is on some other shit this year. He looks great and is ready to blow up." That's very encouraging considering Michigan's secondary needed a lot of help last year.
2. RB Blake Corum
There were several times last year where I found myself saying, "Blake Corum just did something no other back on the roster can do." That's really encouraging as Corum enters his sophomore year. He and Haskins should make for a very solid one-two punch, with Edwards factoring into what could be a dangerous trio. Corum isn't a large back but he's jacked and he has phenomenal speed. He's got great vision, always seems to fall forward and has shown that he can catch the ball pretty well out of the backfield. I'm curious to see how Mike Hart uses his guys, but Corum should get plenty of opportunities.
1. DE Aidan Hutchinson
Hutchinson has a chance to explode in Macdonald's system because of how he'll likely be used. Under Don Brown, Hutchinson played the anchor position, which didn't really allow him to pursue the quarterback with everything he has. Under Macdonald, who has a strong NFL background and understands the importance of utilizing talented DEs to pressure the quarterback, Hutchinson should have a chance to put it all on the line and terrorize quarterbacks on a down-by-down basis. That should allow Hutchinson to play himself into first-round discussions, which is exactly what he wants. He's a leader, he's a captain, he's hungry after being injured, he should be allowed to showcase his talents more freely and he's motivated by his currently-low draft stock. Throw in the fact that he's 6-6, 270 pounds and really athletic, and you should be excited to watch him too.
Chris Breiler's List
10. QB Dan Villari
Head coach Jim Harbaugh shared some interesting information about redshirt freshman quarterback Dan Villari during a recent stop on the In the Trenches Podcast with Jon Jansen.
“Dan Villari, for those who saw the spring game, was really good, really effective,” said Harbaugh. “Excited about Dan. Was kind of looking at Dan in multiple ways — throw out the name Taysom Hill. We’re going try to do some things like that with Dan Villari as a quarterback/athlete that can really help our team. I think he can do it. A lot to like about Dan Villari.”
Based on Harbaugh’s apparent plans for Villari this fall, it’s certainly something I’m looking forward to seeing.
9. S Makari Paige
Paige competed in all six games during his freshman year and earned the high praise from former defensive coordinator Don Brown as a player who competes at the highest level. Paige notched a career-high three tackles during his first game as a Michigan Wolverine, playing on the road at Minnesota in week one and on national television. It’s no secret that the Michigan secondary struggled mightily in 2020, but a new defensive scheme and an entire year of experience should spell good things for Paige in year two.
8. DE Braiden McGregor
After suffering a serious injury during his final year of high school, it looks like redshirt sophomore Braiden McGregor is fully healed and ready to show why he was one of the top defensive end recruits in the country back in 2019. The 6-5, 260-pound product out of Port Huron (Mich.) is expected to finally hit the field in 2021 and should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skillset on the edge.
7. RB Donovan Edwards
If you’re excited about seeing Donovan Edwards on the field this fall, join the club. Fresh off of being named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Michigan, Edwards arrived in Ann Arbor with the lofty expectations that inevitably come along with being arguably the top running back recruit in the country. Though I don’t expect Edwards to contend with Haskins and Corum in year one, I do expect that Jim Harbaugh and Josh Gattis will do everything they can to get Edwards on the field and to utilize his elite athleticism this fall. Whether it’s in the slot, as part of a wildcat package or on special teams, we’re all eager to see what Edwards does in his first year at Michigan.
6. WR Roman Wilson
Roman Wilson quickly became a reliable target during his freshman campaign for former Michigan quarterback Joe Milton. Wilson’s footwork and speed make him a nightmare matchup for anyone trying to cover him, and fans saw flashes of that during the shortened 2020 campaign. With a year in the program under his belt, Wilson will likely emerge as one of the top wide receiver targets during the 2021 season.
5. S Daxton Hill
The whispers coming out of spring camp suggest that Daxton Hill has finally elevated his game to another level - which is welcome news for the Michigan faithful who have high hopes for the man Michigan stole away from Nick Saban and Alabama. Though Hill has been a factor on the field both defensively and on special teams, the former No. 1 safety in the country has yet to show everyone why he was such a highly-coveted recruit coming out of high school. With the Michigan defense desperately looking for leadership in the secondary, it looks like it might finally be Hill’s time to shine.
4. DT Christopher Hinton
Though Hinton has been relatively productive during his first two years at Michigan, the 6-4, 305-pound defensive lineman is well-positioned to have a breakout season in year three. Hinton has appeared in all 18 games since he arrived on campus back in 2019, making five starts and notching a career-high six tackles against Ohio State during his freshman campaign.
3. RB Blake Corum
By all accounts, sophomore running back Blake Corum has positioned himself as one of the top two running backs returning to Michigan - along with veteran running back Hassan Haskins. During the 2020 season, Corum needed to split reps with three other running backs on the roster - Haskins, Zach Charbonnet and Chris Evans. That is all expected to change in 2021 with new running backs coach Mike Hart in town and Charbonnet and Evans no longer on the roster. Personally speaking, I’d be shocked if Corum didn’t solidify himself as the top running back on the roster by mid-season.
2. DE Aidan Hutchinson
Hutchinson’s season-ending injury in 2020 all but guaranteed his return to Michigan in 2021. The returning captain has plenty of unfinished business in Ann Arbor and will likely serve as the focal point on Harbaugh’s new-look defense, led by first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. With many draft boards already predicting Hutchinson to go in the first round of the NFL draft, look for him to be eager to prove what he’s fully capable of.
1. QB Cade McNamara
As it currently stands, Cade McNamara is QB1 in Ann Arbor. Though Texas Tech transfer quarterback Alan Bowman has yet to arrive on campus, all eyes will continue to be on McNamara as he looks to become the first Harbaugh-quarterback recruit to solidify the starting job at Michigan.