ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Replacing 18 starters is no easy task for a football team. Especially not a football team such as Michigan, which had 11 players taken in the 2017 NFL Draft. All 11 of those players helped the Wolverines to one of their most prosperous seasons.
When No. 11 Michigan opens its season Saturday against No. 17 Florida in Arlington, Texas, many expect to see new faces at defensive back and wide receiver, where Michigan took the biggest personnel hits. Many also expect to see players who have never taken a snap in college.
247Sports ranked Michigan’s 2017 freshman class at No. 5 nationally. Here are five freshmen who could see playing time for the Wolverines this season.
Cesar Ruiz, C
Michigan’s offensive line isn’t in shambles, but it needs to fill holes left by the graduation of three starters. While many have penciled in fifth-year senior Patrick Kugler at center, there’s also a feeling that Cesar Ruiz could get a few snaps this season. Ruiz is a product of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a boarding school that prepares its football players in a similar fashion to college programs and plays a national-caliber schedule.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR
Donovan Peoples-Jones immediately gets a nod, given his status as a 5-star recruit. He will have a chance to earn a spot at a position that lost its starters from 2016 to graduation and to the NFL. Peoples-Jones is part of a group of incoming freshmen receivers that has plenty of talent in Tarik Black, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin. He also is part of a group that lacks experience, outside of redshirt junior Maurice Ways and sophomores Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford.
Ben Mason, FB
Fullback is a staple in Michigan’s offense. Judging by the productivity of former fullbacks Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma, and current fullback Khalid Hill, Ben Mason could take on a similar role. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh had high praise for Mason earlier this month, saying: “He’ll help us win games. He’s climbing up the depth chart at the fullback position. He’s made to be a fullback. Just real excited to watch him. Every day you just get excited to watch him come play.”
Aubrey Solomon, DT
Aubrey Solomon is another 5-star recruit and joins a position group that is fashioned on its depth. It’s not uncommon for talented freshmen to contribute to Michigan’s defensive line. As a freshman in 2016, Rashan Gary came off the bench to register 27 tackles, including 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 7 quarterback hurries. Solomon also could provide support for defensive tackles Bryan Mone and Maurice Hurst.
Jaylen Kelly-Powell, DB
Jaylen Kelly-Powell will have an immediate opportunity to contribute to a secondary that is young and has to build experience. Michigan’s secondary lost its starters to the NFL and to graduation, which gives younger players a chance to play. Secondary coaches Mike Zordich and Brian Smith praised Kelly-Powell’s ability to cover opposing players. Zordich said the freshman also has worked with the linebackers, and Kelly-Powell can play both positions in the secondary, which can help his long-term versatility.