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9 former 4-star recruits who could break out for Michigan football this season

Wolverines looking to fill several holes on defense

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh leaves the field after a 42-21 win over Maryland on Oct. 6, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh leaves the field after a 42-21 win over Maryland on Oct. 6, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jim Harbaugh has landed three top 10 recruiting classes during his time at Michigan, and the Wolverines will need that depth as they try to replace some of their top players on both sides of the ball this season.

Michigan has gotten contributions up and down the roster from former three-star players. Unsurprisingly, a few of the team's top playmakers, such as Shea Patterson and Donovan Peoples-Jones, were five-star recruits.

VIEW CHART: Full Michigan football scholarships and roster breakdown

But if Michigan, picked as the favorite to win the Big Ten this season, finally wins a conference title in 2019, it looks like a handful of former four-star recruits will have to enjoy breakout seasons.

Here are nine former four-stars who appear to be breakout candidates for the Wolverines:

Ready to take next step

The first three players have already made significant impacts at Michigan, but now there's room for them to take on bigger roles.

DE Aidan Hutchinson

Hutchinson was one of only three true freshmen to earn significant playing time last season, appearing in all 13 games and recording 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

The defensive line was crowded last season, especially on the ends, as Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary earned most of the playing time. Hutchinson still managed to work his way into the rotation, though, despite being on campus for a short time before the season.

With a full year under his belt and both starting defensive ends now in the NFL, the door is wide open for Hutchinson to take a starting spot and become the next top Michigan pass rusher.

DT Carlo Kemp

Since stepping on campus in 2016, Kemp has been a model of consistency for Harbaugh, first as a rotational player and then as a full-time starter last season.

Carlo Kemp celebrates a win over Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018 in East Lansing. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Carlo Kemp celebrates a win over Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018 in East Lansing. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Kemp's numbers don't jump off the stat sheet. He's made 20 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and contributed to one sack in 27 games. He's one of the team's leaders in the locker room, and now he has one final chance to make more noise on the field.

Kemp will be in the center of a much younger defensive line this season, and the interior of that line is one of the biggest question marks for Michigan. Don Brown will look for Kemp to take a step forward as a senior.

LB Josh Ross

After playing in all 26 games his first two years on campus, Ross is primed to take over a starting linebacker spot.

Devin Bush moved on to the NFL and left a huge hole in the middle of the defense. Ross likely won't be as good as Bush, but he needs to be solid in run defense and as a pass rusher.

Ross made 61 tackles last season, including five for loss. He was a solid sideline-to-sideline defender and should be the No. 1 middle linebacker when the season begins.

Josh Ross tackles Avery Davis of  Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018, in South Bend, Indiana. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Josh Ross tackles Avery Davis of Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018, in South Bend, Indiana. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Now that Bush is gone, someone has to step up at linebacker. Ross seems like the most likely candidate.

Redshirt freshmen

Michigan's 2018 recruiting class was ranked outside the top 20 in the nation, but there were a handful of four-star recruits who could step into bigger roles this season.

LB Cam McGrone

Like Ross, McGrone is in the mix to get more playing time at linebacker. Other than Khaleke Hudson, who will certainly be the starting VIPER, most of the snaps are up for grabs.

McGrone was the No. 7 outside linebacker in the country according to the 247 Sports Composite Rankings, but 247 Sports actually had McGrone as a five-star and the No. 1 OLB in the nation.

The potential is obvious, and now that he's got a redshirt season under his belt, McGrone could earn his way into the lineup. At the very least, he figures to be part of the rotation.

TE Mustapha Muhammad

Michigan's top-ranked offensive commit from 2018 was Muhammad, a 6-foot-4 tight end who had offers from Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida, Auburn and in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M.

Fans didn't get to see Muhammad in 2018, but the offer list and recruiting rankings show how much talent he has as a pass-catching tight end. With Josh Gattis at offensive coordinator and top tight end Zach Gentry off to the NFL, there's an opportunity for a young tight end to have a breakout season.

Muhammad caught 68 passes for 1,040 yards and 12 touchdowns as a high school player. He could start showing glimpses of that production as early as this season.

RT Jalen Mayfield

One of the most heated position battles in camp is the one between Mayfield and Andrew Stueber for the only available spot on the offensive line.

Michigan returns four starters -- Jon Runyan Jr., Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Michael Onwenu -- who earned Big Ten honors last season. Either Mayfield or Stueber will get to play alongside them at right tackle.

Mayfield has as much potential as any Michigan lineman, especially at tackle. He's listed at 6-foot-5, 319 pounds heading into the season and has comfortability in Gattis' system because of the offense he ran in high school.

If he wins the starting spot, Mayfield could be a staple at tackle for years.

Late bloomers

Three players from the 2017 recruiting class haven't made a major impact in their first two seasons but should be part of the defensive rotation this year.

DE Luiji Vilain

Vilain was an elite defensive end coming out of high school, ranked No. 5 at his position and receiving offers from Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Florida, Penn State and others.

Injuries have derailed his first two college seasons and he's yet to appear on the field. This year, he appears to be healthy with only a few weeks left until the Aug. 31 opener against Middle Tennessee State.

Vilain was a pass-rushing machine in high school and looks like a perfect fit for Brown's defense. He probably won't be a starter at the beginning of the season, but Vilain could be a breakout defensive lineman without starting, as Kwity Paye showed last year.

DT Donovan Jeter

Depending on the health of Michael Dwumfour, Jeter could potentially find himself in a starting spot early this season, but either way, he'll see the field much more than last year.

Jeter made three tackles while appearing in seven games last season, but again, playing time along the defensive line is now much more available.

Jeter was a top 300 recruit who had offers from Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and dozens of others. If he lives up to that recruiting profile, defensive tackle won't be a weakness for the Wolverines.

S Jaylen Kelly-Powell

Five-star true freshman Daxton Hill is the popular pick to start alongside Josh Metellus at safety, but Michigan's coaches insist there are multiple players in the mix.

A.J. Taylor #4 of the Wisconsin Badgers catches a pass in front of Jaylen Kelly-Powell #16 of the Michigan Wolverines during the third quarter of a game at Camp Randall Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
A.J. Taylor #4 of the Wisconsin Badgers catches a pass in front of Jaylen Kelly-Powell #16 of the Michigan Wolverines during the third quarter of a game at Camp Randall Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Kelly-Powell is one of the names being mentioned, which is no surprise considering his recruiting profile and game experience. Kelly-Powell was the No. 5 player from the state of Michigan in 2017 and has appeared in 17 games his first two seasons.

While he's been mostly a special teams contributor as a freshman and sophomore, Kelly-Powell has made some appearances on special teams. Now that Tyree Kinnel is gone and Michigan is filling snaps at safety, Kelly-Powell has a chance to be more of a factor on defense.


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