One thing that all Maize & Blue fans know by now is that the Wolverines’ upcoming roster is absolutely loaded from top to bottom. In 2023, the Michigan football players return more production than any Big Ten team this fall, which is incredible considering that Jim Harbaugh‘s Wolverines just finished a 13-1 Big Ten title run a season ago.
Earlier this week, Pro Football Focus threw together a list of top-10 returning players at each position group heading into the 2023 season this fall. On PFF’s list are eight Michigan Wolverines — five on offense, and three on defense. Here are the Wolverines that PFF is high on this year.
Michigan Football Players 2023: PFF’s Top Offensive Returners
Michigan’s offense boasts five top-10 players for their position groups according to PFF’s list, in fact, one of the Wolverines’ newest transfer additions made the list. Here is who PFF is high on:
Junior QB JJ McCarthy
Pro Football Focus loves Michigan’s rising junior quarterback; in fact, the only people who don’t appear to be rival fans of the Michigan Wolverines. A season ago, J.J. McCarthy put up highlights, passing for over 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns while only throwing two interceptions. Now, as a full-time starter, McCarthy looks to make waves and possible break some UM records. Heading into the season, McCarthy is listed in the top-15 best odds to win the 2023 Heisman Trophy — an award that no Michigan football player has won since 1997 (Charles Woodson).
Senior RB Blake Corum
This one feels like a no-brainer considering the season that he just had. This year, Michigan’s elite rising senior running back is not just coming for a third-straight Big Ten title; he’s coming for the Heisman, and according to Corum himself, a National Title. Corum has been one of the Michigan Wolverines’ most important leaders both on and off of the football field — this year, massive things are expected of Corum and Co. A year ago, Corum would have been a Heisman finalist if it weren’t for a knee injury against Illinois in Michigan’s 19-17 victory. Corum is ranked 1st among running backs.
Junior RB Donovan Edwards
The other half of the Wolverines’ elite RB duo also broke PFF’s top-10 running backs, coming in at No. 9. At any other program, Edwards would be the clear-cut starter and likely a Heisman contender; however, at Michigan football, he is RB2 behind Blake Corum. Still, Edwards’ frame and unique skill set — which includes being an elite receiving back — sets him apart from what Corum brings to the table. This year, he will be an essential piece of a possible Michigan football national championship run.
Senior G Zak Zinter
This one is also unsurprising: Michigan’s elite right guard Zak Zinter made the top-10 guards list. Zinter is a multi-time All-Big Ten selection, Joe Moore Award-winner, and an Academic All-American. Zinter’s impact on the field cannot be overstated, as he is a huge reason that the Wolverines’ running backs always have a hole to run through. Zinter is listed at No. 3 for interior linemen.
Senior C Drake Nugent
This is one that many Michigan football fans did not see coming — largely because Nugent is a new addition to the Michigan Wolverines’ roster. Thus far in his career, Nugent has seen a great deal of playing time with the Stanford Cardinal, though over the offseason, Nugent chose to finish his academic and football career in Ann Arbor. Nugent is ranked No. 6 among interior offensive linemen. The Stanford transfer is quietly one of the most important Michigan football players in 2023.
Michigan Football Players 2023: PFF Top Returners on Defense
Like its offense, Michigan football boasts numerous top-10 returning players on its defense. Here are the three Wolverines that made PFF’s defensive list:
Could Kris Jenkins be the best defensive player for Michigan football in 2023?
With the loss of impact player Mazi Smith on the inside of Michigan football’s defensive line in 2023, Kris Jenkins will see a much larger role with Michigan football this fall. The Wolverines are counting on the veteran big man to step up and fill the shoes of Smith — who was an All-Big Ten and Academic All-American during his time in Ann Arbor. From what we have seen from Jenkins thus far, we have no doubt that he will be prepared for his heavier workload. Jenkins is ranked 4th among returning defensive tackles.
Sophomore CB Will Johnson
We wrote a piece on Will Johnson’s rank earlier this week, but in case you missed it, here’s an excerpt from that piece on Johnson: “During Michigan’s incredible 13-1 Big Ten title-winning season, Johnson compiled 27 tackles (25 solo), three passes defended, and three interceptions. These numbers — along with his incredible coverage skills that discouraged opposing quarterbacks from throwing his way — earned Johnson Michigan’s Defensive Freshman of the Year honors, as well has hist first UM varsity letter.” Johnson will come into the year as the Wolverines’ CB1, and as an experienced sophomore, could be one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten this year. He is ranked No. 3 among returning corners, and one of the best Michigan football players in 2023.
Junior S Rod Moore
If you haven’t already jumped on the Rod Moore hype train, I recommend that you do so ASAP. Moore is one of the top defensive prospects in the 2024 draft class heading into this season, and if he improves from what we saw last year, Moore could be the best safety in the Big Ten conference. Rod Moore is gearing up for a massive year in the Maize and Blue, and is ranked 5th among returning safeties nationally.
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