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Recruiting class leaves Michigan football with stacked offense, holes on defense

Wolverines add elite offensive talent, fail to address most pressing defensive need

Cornelius Johnson #6 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate a fourth quarter touchdown during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Michigan State 44-10.
Cornelius Johnson #6 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate a fourth quarter touchdown during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Michigan State 44-10. (2019 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football has officially signed 20 new players, and the overwhelming theme of this roster is a stacked offense and a defense with major holes.

Offensive firepower

There will certainly be transfers, NFL draft declarations and possibly even some late additions to the roster before the 2021 season, but as it stands, Michigan’s offense looks completely loaded.

It starts at quarterback, where, for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, the Wolverines might actually have multiple options.

Cade McNamara is a safe, low-floor player who proved he can make throws and lead the offense effectively. At the very worst, Michigan can count on him to win the job and do what Josh Gattis wants: get the ball to playmakers.

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But the best-case scenario comes in the form of five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy, who was dominant in high school and ranked among the top quarterback recruits in the country.

McCarthy has already shown the leadership and poise to become the face of the program, navigating a group of high school athletes through a season when the Wolverines offered every chance for the recruiting class to fall apart.

Now he’ll have to prove he’s just as valuable on the field. All signs point to him having what it takes.

The running back room is almost too crowded, but that’s better than being bereft of talent. Top 50 recruit Donovan Edwards joins a room that brought in top 50 recruit Zach Charbonnet two years ago and four-star recruit Blake Corum in 2020.

All three were stars in high school and highly regarded during the recruiting process. Both Charbonnet and Corum have had some success already at the college level.

By the way, the most likely scenario is probably that none of those three even start the season atop the depth chart. Hassan Haskins, a former three-star linebacker, was by far team’s best option this season, and he’s earned his spot over the last two years.

It feels like Michigan might see some transfers at this position in the near future, but with Haskins returning and Edwards coming in, the running back spot is in great hands.

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Xavier Worthy, one of the fastest players in the country, and Christian Dixon, a four-star and top 250 player in the class, highlight the new wide receiver class. Andrel Anthony was insanely productive in high school and shouldn’t be forgotten, either.

Those three receivers join a group that already features Ronnie Bell, Giles Jackson, Cornelius Johnson, Mike Sainristil, Roman Wilson and A.J. Henning.

The depth of this unit, especially in terms of speed and big-play potential, is exactly what Gattis has been trying to build at Michigan. Assuming the Wolverines can find a quarterback to get them the ball, the passing attack should be dangerous next year.

Louis Hansen is a dangerous receiving tight end who will compete with Erick All for snaps next season.

Meanwhile, Ed Warinner added Giovanni El-Hadi, a top 100 player at offensive tackle, No. 3 center Raheem Anderson, four-star Greg Crippen and tackle Tristan Bounds to a crowded offensive line room.

If Jalen Mayfield opts to enter the NFL draft, Michigan will still return Ryan Hayes, Trevor Keegan, Nolan Rumler, Trente Jones, Karsen Barnhart, Zak Zinter, Andrew Stueber, Jeffrey Persi and Reece Atteberry to compete for the five starting spots.

Talent and names doesn’t always equal success, but Michigan has the pieces in place to field a great offense.

Defensive holes

Michigan’s real weakness this season came on the defensive side of the ball, as Don Brown got exposed by the likes of Rutgers, Wisconsin, Indiana and Penn State.

It seems likely that Brown’s time in Ann Arbor has come to an end, along with some of his position coaches. Michigan’s success in 2021 will depend on who gets hired to fill those positions, if they become available.

The biggest issue the last two seasons has been the inability for Michigan to get pressure on the quarterback. That will be further exacerbated in 2021 with Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye likely moving on to the NFL draft.

Losing commit Quintin Somerville to UCLA on Wednesday was a major blow for the 2021 class, as now, Kechaun Bennett, T.J. Guy and Dominick Giudice signed along the defensive line. Michigan is missing the true difference-making recruits at that position.

Former high school stars such as Chris Hinton and Mazi Smith really have to step up next year to fill those holes, but so far, they haven’t shown that type of ability. The defensive line could really be a major issue for the Maize and Blue going forward.

At linebacker, signing Junior Colson and Jaydon Hood -- both four-star, top 250 players in the class -- certainly helps. The linebacker position wasn’t as strong as expected for Michigan this year, and both Cam McGrone and Josh Ross have dealt with injuries.

Keeping Ja’Den McBurrows committed was a big victory for the secondary, which was a weakness early in the season but improved under Mike Zordich. Gemon Green and Vincent Gray both had their struggles, but they also showed signs of maturing.

With McBurrows joining the likes of D.J. Turner, Jalen Perry, Andre Seldon and Darion Green-Warren next season, there’s some hope for the cornerbacks.

Safety looks to be in good hands, as Daxton Hill returns to lead a young crop of former four-stars, including Makari Paige, Jordan Morant, R.J. Moten and newcomer Rod Moore.

The major holes are all along the defensive line, where Michigan now has to rely on breakouts from unproven players. Hinton, Smith, Donovan Jeter, Luiji Vilain, Jaylen Harrell, Braiden McGregor and others have talent, but Michigan has to bring someone in to get the most out of them.

Linebacker is also a concern, but young players such as Hood, Colson, Kalel Mullings, Anthony Solomon, Nikhai Hill-Green and William Mohan at least provide some hope.


About the Author:

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.