11 candidates to be Michigan football's best player this season

Wolverines begin season in 12 days

Shea Patterson reacts to a teammate's second-quarter touchdown against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018, in East Lansing, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Shea Patterson reacts to a teammate's second-quarter touchdown against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Oct. 20, 2018, in East Lansing, Michigan. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It's been a wild offseason for the Michigan football program, with major coaching changes, players leaving for the NFL and the Big Ten's No. 1 recruiting class arriving on campus. But as the dust settled, the Wolverines find themselves in a familiar position: loaded with talent, but facing plenty of questions.

Will Josh Gattis revitalize an offense that became stale after four seasons under Jim Harbaugh? Can Don Brown replace elite players at all three levels of the defense? Which incoming freshmen can make an immediate impact?

Michigan has enough talent to ease those concerns, but it will take contributions up and down the roster. That means Michigan's best player could come from just about anywhere.

Last season, Devin Bush, Chase Winovich and David Long were clearly among the team's best players. This year, it'll be someone else.

Here's a look at 11 candidates.

QB Shea Patterson

Last season: 64.6% completion rate, 2,600 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions

The starting quarterback is almost always a candidate to be the best player on a football team, and that's certainly the case considering how effective Shea Patterson was last year.

He took care of the ball, was efficient in the passing game and could make a play with his legs when necessary.

Patterson is also getting a chance to play in an offense that appears to better fit his skill set, and there are plenty of weapons for him to target.

Karan Higdon and Chris Evans are gone, so Michigan will be more reliant on the passing game. Patterson could easily surpass last year's numbers.

WR Nico Collins

Last season: 38 catches for 632 yards and six touchdowns

If Patterson's numbers improve, the wide receivers will obviously benefit as well. Nico Collins led the team in receiving yards last season and emerged as the most reliable downfield option for Patterson.

Collins is a mismatch in the end zone because he has good hands and can win a jump ball. Size is more his strength than speed, but Collins will fit into Gattis' new offense as the No. 1 or No. 2 receiver.

Will he approach 1,000 receiving yards? Probably not. Michigan has a lot of receivers to spread the ball to. But that doesn't mean Collins won't be the best player on the team.

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

Last season: 47 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns

While Collins was leading the team in yards, Donovan Peoples-Jones did so in terms of catches and touchdown receptions.

Peoples-Jones is the perfect fit for what Gattis wants to do on offense. He has great speed and can make defenders miss in space.

He also has the added advantage of returning punts. If he scores a couple of touchdowns on special teams and leads the offense in catches and scores again, Peoples-Jones could very well end up as the best player.

LT Jon Runyan

Last season: First-team All-Big Ten

Jon Runyan was perhaps the most improved player on the roster last season, starting the year as a relative unknown and finishing as a first team All-Big Ten representative in the coaches vote at left tackle.

With another year under Ed Warinner, Runyan figures to be among the top tackles in the conference again. To do so, he'll have to adapt to a new, faster offense.

There's no guarantee Runyan will even be the best player on Michigan's veteran offensive line, but whoever is will be in consideration for the team's best player.

LG Ben Bredeson

Last season: Second-team All-Big Ten

Ben Bredeson is a four-year starter and a leader in the locker room who spurned the NFL draft to finish out his career at Michigan.

He was named second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media last season and figures to be in the mix for first-team honors this year.

Some of what Bredeson brings to the team happens off the field, but he does enough on the field to be in this discussion.

LB Khaleke Hudson

Last season: 44 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks

If Khaleke Hudson plays like he did last season, he won't be in contention for this distinction. If he plays like he did in 2017, he might run away with it.

READKhaleke Hudson is Michigan's most important defensive player this season

As the Wolverines try to recover from losing Bush, Winovich, Long and Rashan Gary, Hudson is one of the few players who can be productive in the backfield and in coverage.

In his first season starting at viper in 2017, Hudson made 18.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks while knocking down 11 passes and picking off two more.

That Khaleke Hudson could be the best player on the team.

S Josh Metellus

Last season: 48 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, three interceptions

Michigan really would have been in trouble at safety if Josh Metellus had entered the NFL draft. Instead, he's one of only two returning starters in the secondary.

Metellus led the team with three interceptions last season and knocked down nine passes. He's developed into a solid pass defender after coming to Michigan as more of a hard-hitting run stopper.

As a third-year starter, Metellus will be asked to lead a much less experienced secondary.

CB Lavert Hill

Last season: 14 tackles, six pass breakups, one interception

Lavert Hill only had 14 tackles and one interception the entire 2018 season because quarterbacks rarely threw in his direction.

Hill and Long made up the best coverage cornerback duo in the country last season. Now, with Long in the NFL, Hill will take over the No. 1 spot with a much younger player alongside him.

Michigan's pass rush might not be as formidable this season, so Hill needs to be even better in coverage. Based on what he's done so far, he should be up for the challenge.

S Daxton Hill

Recruiting ranking: Five-star, No. 1 safety, No. 14 player in 2019 class

It's probably a long shot to say a true freshman could be Michigan's best player, but Daxton Hill has the elite speed the defense was lacking a year ago.

He was the top safety in the 2019 recruiting class and ultimately chose Michigan over Alabama, Clemson and many other top schools.

Hill hasn't nailed down a starting spot yet, but he's got the highest ceiling of anyone at his position. Whether it happens at the beginning of the season or not, Harbaugh will want Hill's speed on the field.

By the end of the year, it wouldn't be a surprise if he's one of the team's best defenders.

DE Kwity Paye

Last season: 29 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks

One of the players Michigan is counting on to replace Winovich and Gary in terms of rushing the passer is Kwity Paye, who emerged as one of the top backup options last season.

Paye made a handful of big plays in limited action and will have starter's reps this year. If he can be as productive in a bigger role, it would go a long way toward keeping Michigan's defense among the best in the country.

DE Aidan Hutchinson

Last season: 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss

If Paye doesn't end up as Michigan's best edge rusher, it might be Aidan Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was one of only three freshmen who didn't redshirt last season. This year, he should be the second starter across from Paye.

He was the top recruit in Michigan's 2018 class and the No. 6 strong-side defensive end in the country. Hutchinson is primed for a breakout year.

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