Michigan In Better Shape Than Misleading Stat Indicates

There are plenty of question marks surrounding the Michigan football team heading into 2021, but one area should be better than it looks on the surface.
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Who will be the starting quarterback? Who is going to start on the offensive line? Who is going to lead the team in rushing? Receiving? How will the defense look and how good will it be? These are all legitimate questions surrounding the Michigan football program heading into 2021? 

Which Wolverines will put pressure on opposing quarterbacks? That's also on the list of inquiries. According to CFB Film Room, Michigan is one of just two Big Ten programs losing its top two quarterback pressurers from a year ago — Kwity Paye and Carlo Kemp.

But that entire graphic is misleading when it comes to the Wolverines for one 6-6, 269-pound reason — Aidan Hutchinson. Sure, losing Paye hurts, but getting a guy like Hutchinson back on the field is a major shot in the arm for Michigan's defensive line.

The senior is still in the process of returning from injury, which should push him even harder than he already pushes himself. Couple that with being in a new system that no longer requires him to play the "anchor" position, and Hutchinson could be in line for a massive senior campaign. 

Hutchinson has the size, strength, talent and motor to have the kind of year that could result in him being a first or second-round pick in next year's NFL Draft, which is exactly why he returned to Michigan. Had he received a higher grade last year, he might not be back in Ann Arbor, but luckily for Michigan fans, they don't have to worry about that. Big No. 97 will be back and he should be a problem for opposing offense.

Of course, nothing guaranteed in college football, but Hutchinson should be one of the brightest lights on a Michigan defense that tries to figure things out under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Opposite him, another question mark. I would've thought that it would be Taylor Upshaw, but Jim Harbaugh's recent quote on Jon Jansen's podcast seems to indicate otherwise.

"Taylor Upshaw, Mike Morris, David Ojabo, Gabe Newburg, Jaylen Harrell and Braiden McGregor — those are players that were defensive ends that now are stand-up outside linebackers," Harbaugh said.

That doesn't leave too many options on the side opposite Hutchinson. Inexperienced players like Mike Morris, Julius Welschof and possibly Kris Jenkins are just about the only other players on the roster who fit the bill. Morris makes the most sense since we last saw Welschof playing on the interior and since Jenkins is a bit more sawed off at 6-3, 265.

However it shakes out, Michigan shouldn't be viewed as a team that has no returning pass rushing presence like the graphic above insists. Will Michigan be one of the better pass rushing teams in the conference? That might not be the case either, but it is possible with a guy like Hutchinson getting after it like never before, and athletic interior guys like Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith entering their third years. If someone steps up at the other end spot, the D-line could be better than people predicted.