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Michigan football: three biggest roster holes heading into 2023

Michigan football will look to replace some key starters on both sides of the ball this offseason.



Michigan defensive back DJ Turner (5) tackles Ohio State wide receiver Xavier Johnson during the second half Nov. 26, 2022 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

While Michigan football returns the vast majority of the contributors that helped the Wolverines win a school record 13 games to next season’s squad, like any college program, they still have holes to fill. Here’s a look at the three positions with the most significant question marks and who we might see step up to fill those holes.


DJ Turner and Gemon Green have been mainstays in the Wolverine defensive backfield for multiple seasons. Green has been a starter in 28 games across the past three seasons, only missing time due to injury, and Turner has started in all 27 games the past two seasons. Turner led the defense in passes broken up in both years, while Green has always been a guy you could count on to be in the correct position to make a play, hardly ever getting beat badly.

Now they’re both off to test the waters of the NFL, leaving Michigan football with its most significant position hole. The Wolverines are in a good position with their cornerback room, as they’re returning possibly their best defensive player from a season ago in Will Johnson.

While he wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the year, it’s hard to deny the true freshman wasn’t one of the most impactful players by season’s end. Johnson’s two massive interceptions of Aidan O’Connell in the Big Ten Championship game helped seal the win. In the process, Johnson became the first freshman Wolverine to have a two-interception game since Leon Hall in 2003 and just the second since Charles Woodson did so against Ohio State in 1995.

Besides Johnson — who could be the best cornerback in the Big Ten in 2023 — the Wolverines are also returning fifth-year senior Mike Sainristril at nickel — who can also bump outside if needed. Additionally, Michigan has an excellent safeties room with returning starters Rod Moore, Makari Paige, and RJ Moten.

Replacement Candidates

So while Michigan’s secondary should be at the top of the conference once again, there are still the remaining questions of which other young guys will step to replace the outgoing Turner and Green. Luckily the Wolverines have been recruiting the secondary very well recently and have plenty of guys to pick from but little experience. Jalen Perry is expected back for a fifth season and was a highly recruited prospect. A four-star out of Dacula, Georgia, Perry was a top 200 guy in his class per 247sports and, at 6 foot, 190 pounds, has good size as well. Ja’Den McBurrows will be in his third season but has seen little playing time after dealing with injuries.

After that, it’s mostly the young guys, as Michigan brought in three cornerbacks in the 2022 class, including Johnson, Myles Pollard, and Kody Jones. They also added three safeties- Keon Sabb, Zeke Berry, and Domani Dent- who could make a switch. The Wolverines also added a couple of early enrollees in Jyaire Hill and Cameron Calhoun, both highly sought-after recruits with good size. D’Juan Waller Jr., a three-star from Youngstown, Ohio, will join the team in the fall.


Between the expected departure of Mike Morris to the NFL draft, Taylor Upshaw’s transfer to Colorado, and the surprising loss of Eyabi Okie to the portal, the Wolverines lose a lot of production off the edge. Morris, the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year, led the team in both sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (11), while Okie was second in sacks (4.5) and was expected to be Michigan’s number-one pass rusher in 2023. Upshaw added 4 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a game-clinching interception in Columbus against the Buckeyes.

Michigan should be stout up the middle with the return of Kris Jenkins, Mason Graham, and Rashaun Benny- plus an expected more significant role for Kenneth Grant- which will help prevent double teams on the outside.

Who’ll we will most likely see in 2023

The two-deep isn’t really much of a question at this point, with Jaylen Harrell (30 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 pass defends), Braiden McGregor (17 tackles, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 pass protects), and Derrick Moore (2 sacks, 1 pass defend) all returning after playing significant roles last season. Michigan football also picked up a commitment from Coastal Carolina’s edge rusher Josiah Stewart and is expected to round out the top four guys. Stewart will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after totaling 79 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles with the Chanticleers, albeit against a lower level of competition in the Sun Belt conference.

The more significant questions are, firstly, who will separate themselves as the starting duo, and which younger guys will emerge as the backups. Kechaun Bennett and TJ Guy will be in their third seasons and have flashed potential in their limited playing time. Michigan also brings in a handful of intriguing defensive linemen recruits in the 2023 class- including their highest-ranked player, Enow Etta, Brooks Bahr, Aymeric Koumba, and Roderick Pierce. Although some of those guys likely play the interior.

Wide Receiver

After leading the team in receiving in three of his five seasons in Ann Arbor, Ronnie Bell is headed to the NFL draft, leaving JJ McCarthy without his favorite target for the upcoming season. Bell led the Wolverines in receptions (62) and receiving yards (889) while adding 5 touchdowns. The 62 catches were nearly double second place- Luke Schoonmaker, who’s also in the NFL after 35 receptions and 889 yards were about 400 more than Cornelius Johnson’s 499. So, losing Bell is a massive blow to the team, and they could be the Wolverines’ most missed player next season.

Add that Adrel Anthony transferred to Oklahoma this off-season after being the fourth-most targeted receiver. Michigan will have plenty of new opportunities for the younger guys.

Next guys up

Michigan’s offense got a big boost last week when Cornelius Johnson announced his return to the Wolverines for his fifth season. This was massive news for the passing game as Johnson led the team in receiving in 2021 when Bell was out all season with an injury and was second in receiving yards in 2022 and 2020. Johnson now has 92 catches for 1441 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career in Ann Arbor and will bring back some desperately needed experience at the position.

The Wolverines also return senior Roman Wilson, who was third amongst receivers this past season in both receptions (25) and receiving yards (376), and second of any position with 4 receiving touchdowns. While a tight end, Colston Loveland will demand a lot of attention as a sophomore and could become McCarthy’s favorite target this fall.

Besides that, it leaves little-returning production. Senior AJ Henning will enter the season with just 25 career receptions, including 9 this past season. Rising junior Christian Dixon, highly recruited from high school but had one career reception from 2021, is the only other upperclassman. The Wolverines brought in a trio of highly sought freshmen last season in Darrius Clemons, Omarion Walker, and Tyler Morris, but they also combined for just 5 career catches.

Michigan just signed a three-man receiver class on early national signing day, with Semaj Morgan and Fredrick Moore enrolling early and Karmello English set to join the team in the fall.

Regardless of who wins these position battles, Michigan should be in an excellent spot for 2023. It will be some of the more interesting position battles come spring ball and fall camp as the Wolverines look to make three straight trips to the College Football Playoff.

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Married father of two who works in the medical field- loves snowboarding, disc golf, reading, writing and Michigan athletics.