ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Which pair of Michigan football players who share a jersey number will unite to be the most valuable this season?
One week before the eve of Michigan’s return to the field, we present the preseason candidates for the inaugural Most Valuable Jersey (MVJ) award.
NCAA rule changes
The NCAA passed a new rule for 2020 that says no more than two players on a roster can share the same jersey number. That’s a big change for Jim Harbaugh’s team, which has stretched the limits of certain numbers farther than a waistband on Thanksgiving.
As many as five players have worn the same number for Michigan in the past few years. In 2017, the team’s starting quarterback (Wilton Speight), starting kicker (Quinn Nordin), all-conference punter (Brad Robbins) and star defensive lineman (Rashan Gary) all wore No. 3.
It was very confusing. When announcers started saying Gary converted extra points and Speight delivered big hits on the opposing quarterback, we all knew it was time for a change. Heck, 16 numbers between 1-99 went unused that season. Speight wouldn’t have been the first Michigan QB to wear No. 98!
This year’s roster, with the new rule in place, has 45 duos who will wear the same jersey number.
A couple of notes:
- No. 0 is available this season, for the first time.
- Two players wearing the same number can never be on the field together.
- Currently, three players are wearing No. 6 for Michigan. Wide receiver Cornelius Johnson is the only one guaranteed to do so when the season begins. Either R.J. Moten or Darion Green-Warren, both true freshmen defensive backs currently listed as “6/TBD” on the roster, will also wear No. 6. The other will find a different number.
Some of the Michigan jersey number duos contain players who will contribute on different sides of the ball. One of those will ultimately win the MVJ award.
Since this is the first year of the prestigious MVJ award, we need to establish some ground rules.
Rule No. 1: Both players must wear a jersey number for the entire season for their stats to qualify in favor of said jersey number. In-season switches will not benefit the player’s new number, even if that jersey was once worn by a Michigan Legend.
Rule No. 2: Both players must contribute for a jersey number to be eligible for the award. If Chris Hinton wins the Heisman but Andy Maddox doesn’t play a single snap, No. 15 won’t make the cut.
Rule No. 3: Courteous debate only. We here at MVJ Enterprises don’t stoop to toxic Twitter-style bickering. (But you’re WRONG if you disagree with me.)
Top preseason candidates
This year, the MVJ board of directors recognizes eight duos on the official preseason watch list.
No. 0: WR Giles Jackson and DB Andre Seldon
In its first year stitched into a Maize and Blue jersey, No. 0 will have a say in the inaugural MVJ award.
It’s candidacy will rest on the shoulders of true freshman Andre Seldon, who joins the Wolverines as a four-star recruit and the No. 11 cornerback in the 2020 class.
Giles Jackson will almost certainly do his part as the team’s top kick returner and second or third option in the passing game. Last year, Jackson caught caught nine passes for 142 yards, rushed 10 times for 69 yards and returned 24 kicks for 622 yards.
He finished with three total touchdowns. This year, without Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins or Tarik Black ahead of him on the depth chart, Jackson’s numbers should soar.
If Seldon finds his way onto the field at a position that’s wide open behind No. 1 cornerback Vincent Gray, No. 0 might do its best Las Vegas Golden Knights impression and challenge for the title its first year of existence.
No. 2: DT Carlo Kemp and RB Blake Corum
MVJ voters commend Carlo Kemp’s intangibles and leadership, but only his contributions on the field will be factored into this award. The two-time team captain will start again on the interior of the defensive line after making 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2019.
This is a true tale of old and young. Experience and youth. Master and apprentice. Kemp, a fifth-year senior with 39 college games under his belt, must count on true freshman Blake Corum to keep their MVJ candidacy alive.
While he’s probably fourth on the running back depth chart, Corum has a chance to contribute right away, thanks to his elite speed and sneaky power for a 5-foot-8 runner. Last season, Michigan’s fourth-string running back got 44 carries. Would that be enough for Corum to boost No. 2 to the top?
No. 3: K Quinn Nordin and WR A.J. Henning
If the MVJ award was introduced a decade ago, No. 3 would be a powerhouse. The Alabama Crimson Tide. Duke basketball. The New York Yankees.
This year, No. 3 is hanging its hat on special teams. Can Quinn Nordin kick his way to an NFL gig? Will A.J. Henning be the main punt returner as a true freshman?
Henning was the top-ranked prospect in Michigan’s 2020 recruiting class: A four-star wide receiver just outside the top 100 players. He’ll be part of Josh Gattis' offensive attack this year, we just don’t know the size of his role.
Nordin looked like he was handing the reins to Jake Moody when he missed five field goals in 16 tries in 2018, but he regained his role as the starter last year, making 10 of 13 kicks, including one from 57 yards.
Voters might be hesitant to give the first-ever MVJ award to a duo that includes a kicker. Henning will have to earn some style points and help overcome that hurdle.
No. 5: QB Joe Milton and CB D.J. Turner
If kickers are the Achilles heel of MVJ duos, starting quarterbacks might as well be wearing Hermes' winged sandals.
Milton is the presumed starter heading into the season, and coaches and teammates have been raving about him for weeks. If he’s one of the best players on the team, at the most high-profile position, all D.J. Turner has to do is earn playing time without sinking the secondary to give No. 5 a chance.
Turner was under-ranked as a three-star cornerback from Florida. His scholarship offers included Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, LSU, Notre Dame, Auburn and in-state powerhouses Florida and Florida State.
He’s already been named by defensive coordinator Don Brown as one of the young players in the mix for snaps at cornerback. If he finds his way on the field, this duo could be a problem.
No. 9: RB Chris Evans and CB Sammy Faustin
No. 9 wouldn’t have made the preseason watch list if not for Sammy Faustin’s position swap. Harbaugh said the redshirt sophomore is in the mix for a starting cornerback job.
As a safety, Faustin would have been buried behind Brad Hawkins and Daxton Hill. But even if he doesn’t win the No. 2 cornerback spot, he’d see the field plenty as the third option.
Chris Evans has a chance to be a stat machine in Gattis' offense. He gained more than 2,000 total yards his first three seasons and is now in a scheme that better fits his speed and elusiveness.
Neither Evans nor Faustin will be at the top of their respective depth charts, but they’re safe bets to be contributors. In this MVJ field, that might be enough.
No. 12: LB Josh Ross and QB Cade McNamara
If No. 12 winds up in consideration for the MVJ award, that means something went terribly wrong for No. 5.
Cade McNamara will be Milton’s backup heading into the season, but if Milton falters or suffers an injury, the coaches sound confident in McNamara’s ability to step in.
Josh Ross, meanwhile, is cemented into the starting WILL linebacker roll. The redshirt junior made 61 tackles and five tackles for loss in 2018 before missing most of last year due to injury. His stats will be good enough to keep No. 12 afloat in case McNamara gets an opportunity.
No. 19: DE Kwity Paye and WR Mike Sainristil
There aren’t many duos that include two players guaranteed to earn regular playing time, but No. 19 is one of them.
Kwity Paye is among the best players on the team, coming off a 50-tackle, 6.5-sack junior season. Paye has 19.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in his career, and he should put up even bigger numbers this season with better pass rushers around him.
While he didn’t live up to the offseason hype as a true freshman, Sainristil played in all 13 games and made eight catches for 145 yards and a touchdown in 2019.
Sainristil’s speed makes him a home run threat on offense and in special teams. Behind Ronnie Bell, Sainristil is likely in the mix for Michigan’s No. 2 receiver, along with Jackson and Johnson.
Paye is a star at a critical position. Sainristil has huge potential on offense. This is a duo to be reckoned with.
No. 25: RB Hassan Haskins and LB Cornell Wheeler
With each passing day, it sounds more and more like Zach Charbonnet has a slight edge over Hassan Haskins in the starting running back battle. But if last year is any indication, both will get their share of touches.
Haskins gained 622 yards on 121 carries last season. He’s not a receiving threat, and Charbonnet poached most of his touchdowns, but Haskins had the best rushing average (5.1 yards per carry) for a Michigan running back in 2019, so he’s not going to be banished to the bench.
One of the most important questions in this year’s MVJ race: Will the depth of Michigan’s running backs room prevent any one player from standing out statistically? If Charbonnet, Haskins, Evans and Corum all cannibalize each other’s stats, that could bolster the duos that don’t include a running back.
Cornell Wheeler won’t be a starter, but Brown has specifically mentioned him as a true freshman who could see the field this year. Think about how much Cam McGrone impacted the defense when he took over for Ross midway through last season. Wheeler could be an injury away from the same type of opportunity.
Five duos received consideration for the preseason watch list, but ultimately did not qualify. Inclusion on the watch list is not a requirement to win the MVJ award.
No. 13: S Eamonn Dennis and K Jake Moody -- Dennis might be the fastest player on the team, and Moody is one Nordin slump away from being the starting placekicker. Everything would have to fall perfectly into place, but sleeper potential exists for this duo.
No. 17: P Will Hart and DL Braiden McGregor -- Hart has been the Big Ten Punter of the Year and a semifinalist for the Ray Guy award. He had 15 punts of 50+ yards last season and pinned 11 inside the 20-yard line. McGregor was a five-star recruit before missing his senior season of high school ball due to injury. If he comes back healthy and Michigan’s offense stinks (meaning lots of punts), this is a dark horse duo.
No. 23: LB Michael Barrett and RB Gaige Garcia -- Barrett might be the starting viper, and that translates to big-time stats (just ask Khaleke Hudson). Gaige Garcia doesn’t figure to be a contributor, but after what Ronnie Bell -- a one-time college basketball commit -- did as a true freshman, we won’t count out the star wrestler. Michigan’s coaching staff loves sticking it to the recruiting doubters.
No. 55: LB David Ojabo and OL Nolan Rumler -- It’s possible neither of these players see the field this year. But they were both highly rated recruits with high ceilings who might crack the two-deep.
No. 58: OL Zach Carpenter and DT Mazi Smith -- Carpenter was the presumed starting center before an injury interrupted his camp, while Smith has the talent to be the best pass rusher on Michigan’s interior defensive line, if he can put it together.
Other eligible duos
Here are all the other jersey number duos listed on the 2020 Michigan football roster, as of Oct. 16.
- No. 4: CB Vincent Gray and QB Dan Villari
- No. 6: WR Cornelius Johnson and CB Darion Green-Warren/S R.J. Moten
- No. 7: S Makari Paige and QB Peyton Smith
- No. 8: WR Ronnie Bell and LB William Mohan
- No. 14: WR Roman Wilson and S Quinten Johnson
- No. 15: DT Chris Hinton and QB Andy Maddox
- No. 16: CB Jalen Perry and QB Ren Hefley
- No. 18: DL Luiji Vilain and QB Max Wittwer
- No. 20: S Brad Hawkins and RB Nicholas Capatina
- No. 22: CB Gemon Green and RB Danny Hughes
- No. 24: RB Zach Charbonnet and S George Johnson
- No. 26: LB Kalel Mullings and WR Jake Thaw
- No. 27: DB Hunter Reynolds and WR Christian Bartholomew
- No. 29: LB Joey Velazquez and DB Jared Davis
- No. 30: S Daxton Hill and WR Will Rolapp
- No. 31: S Jordan Morant and RB Lucas Andrighetto
- No. 32: DL Jaylen Harrell and LB Nolan Knight
- No. 35: DB Caden Kolesar and TE Luke Buckman
- No. 36: LB Charles Thomas and RB Nico Tiberia
- No. 37: LB Edward Warinner and LB Jonathan Lampani
- No. 40: LB Ben VanSumeren and LB Ryan Nelson
- No. 41: LB Nikhai Hill-Green and RB Isaiah Gash
- No. 42: RB Ben Mason and DB John Baty
- No. 44: LB Cam McGrone and DB Joshua Luther
- No. 45: LB Adam Shibley and LS Greg Tarr
- No. 49: DB Keshaun Harris and LS William Wagner
- No. 54: LB Adam Fakih and OL Kraig Correll
- No. 81: WR Nate Schoenle and TE Will Sessa
- No. 88: TE Matthew Hibner and WR Matthew Harrison
- No. 91: DL Taylor Upshaw and P Brad Robbins
- No. 92: DL Phillip Paea and K/P Karl Kerska
- No. 94: DL Kris Jenkins and P Izaak Gerkis
Here’s the preseason MVJ top 10:
- Paye/Sainristil (No. 19)
- Kemp/Corum (No. 2)
- Evans/Faustin (No. 9)
- Milton/Turner (No. 5)
- Nordin/Henning (No. 3)
- Jackson/Seldon (No. 0)
- Haskins/Wheeler (No. 25)
- Ross/McNamara (No. 12)
- Dennis/Moody (No. 13)
- Hart/McGregor (No. 17)
No. 2, No. 9 and No. 19 stand out above the rest because it’s a near guarantee that all six of those players see the field for Michigan in some capacity.
Overall, Paye and Sainristil are the clear favorites to take home the MVJ award for No. 19. Paye is already a star, and Sainristil is one of the team’s top receiving options.
Don’t count out Milton or any duo with a possible breakout freshman, but the voters have spoken: No. 19 is the duo to beat.