ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In the past week, six key Michigan football players have announced they will return for the 2023 season.
The Wolverines are coming off one of the best seasons in program history, winning 13 games for the first time, blowing out Ohio State, and earning a second-straight Big Ten championship.
With uncertainty once again surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s future plans, many of the team’s draft-eligible players have difficult decisions to make. Nobody would blame them for ending their college careers on a high note and moving on to the NFL.
But between Name, Image, and Likeness dollars and a draft class that’s still bloated by players who gained an extra year of eligibility in 2020, there’s a lot more going into these choices than just, “Do I feel ready to be a pro?”
A few Michigan players have declared for the draft already. Defensive linemen Mike Morris and Mazi Smith are moving on, as are defensive backs D.J. Turner and Gemon Green and tight end Luke Schoonmaker.
But the last week has also given the Wolverines some positive news.
It began last Monday (Jan. 9), when All-American running back Blake Corum announced his return on the Rich Eisen Show.
The importance of Corum’s return can’t be overstated. He was a threat to win the Heisman Trophy before suffering an injury against Illinois and finished the year with 1,463 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
But Corum wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without Michigan’s elite offensive line, and that line got two big boosts for 2023 when guards Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter announced their returns.
Zinter was a consensus All-Big Ten First Team honoree, and Keegan was a First Team selection by the coaches and a Second Team selection by the media.
Not only do Zinter and Keegan give Michigan one of the strongest starting lines in the nation, they also give the position critical depth with the likes of Trente Jones, Karsen Barnhart, Drake Nugent, Myles Hinton, and LaDarius Henderson battling for spots.
Wide receiver Cornelius Johnson, another offensive starter, is also staying in Ann Arbor for another year. While his pro opportunities might not have been as plentiful as those of Corum, Zinter, and Keegan, this is still an offseason victory for J.J. McCarthy and the passing game.
Johnson will be Michigan’s top returning receiver in terms of yardage, after catching 32 balls for 499 yards as a senior. He also led the team with six receiving touchdowns.
Though his raw numbers weren’t overwhelming, Johnson put his stamp on the 2022 season with a pair of long touchdowns against Ohio State in Columbus. His 69-yard score ignited a stagnant Michigan offense, and a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the following drive gave Michigan its first lead.
Johnson has caught 92 passes for 1,441 yards and 13 touchdowns in his four seasons at Michigan.
On defense, Michigan will bring back linebacker Michael Barrett, who evolved into a leader this season. His ability to drop back into coverage or make plays at the line of scrimmage make Barrett one of the most underrated players on the roster.
Barrett’s return is especially important for the Wolverines after the departures of Green and Turner. He’ll join Mike Sainristil to give Jesse Minter a veteran duo to build around next season.
As a fifth-year senior in 2022, Barrett ranked second on the team with 72 tackles, including 37 solo tackles and 3.5 sacks. He rescued Michigan from a dangerous situation at Rutgers, picking off two passes and returning one for a touchdown.
Over the past four seasons, Barrett has racked up 143 tackles, 77 solo tackles, and 5.5 sacks. He’s also one of the team’s most versatile and valuable special teams weapons.
The Wolverines are still awaiting official decisions from a few players ahead of Monday’s NFL draft decision deadline, but there will certainly be a strong returning core for the 2023 team.
On Monday morning, defensive lineman Kris Jenkins announced he will also return to Michigan for another season.
Jenkins enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, making 54 tackles, 29 solo tackles, and two sacks from the interior of the defensive line.
With the departures of Morris, Smith, and Eyabi Okie (transfer portal), Jenkins will have an even bigger role on next year’s line.