ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Spring practices don’t begin until March 24, but it’s never too early to think about what could be for the 2017 Michigan football team. That means formulating a depth chart.
Michigan did not distribute depth charts in 2016, but with the departure of more than 40 seniors or fifth-year seniors, as well as Jabrill Peppers’ early departure for the NFL draft, it opens up plenty of holes that need to be filled on Michigan’s roster in 2017, particularly at wide receiver, offensive line and in the secondary.
Last month, Land of 10 took a hypothetical look at Michigan’s depth chart, prior to National Signing Day on Feb. 1. With the incoming 2017 freshman class set, as well as a handful of pending or reported departures for Michigan, here’s an updated yet strictly hypothetical look at Michigan’s 2017 depth chart:
Note: all rankings per 247Sports.com’s composite ratings
A quick look: The status quo remains with the quarterbacks, with Speight as the starter and O’Korn as No. 2. However, Malzone enters his third year with the program and Peters his second, and both O’Korn and Malzone could contend to be Speight’s backup. McCaffrey, a 4-star recruit, will be a true freshman, and it’s likely his first year with the Wolverines will emphasize adjustment to the college game and development.
* Michigan is pursuing a sixth year of eligibility for Johnson, who did not play this past season because of a hamstring injury.
A quick look: Michigan assistant Jay Harbaugh takes over for the departed Tyrone Wheatley as running backs coach and inherits a productive unit that loses only one player — De’Veon Smith, who graduates. But a new coach could bring a change in strategy. Michigan played four running backs (who combined for 2,302 yards and 25 touchdowns) in 2016 but could switch to a No. 1 back for the fall. Evans is the top returning back, production-wise (614 yards, four touchdowns in 2016), but Isaac returns with three seasons of experience (he transferred from Southern California prior to the 2014 season and sat out that year). Walker took his first year with the program to firm up his grades and to adjust to the college schedule, and he could factor into the rushing fold.
A quick look: The fullback position has become a staple at Michigan, and someone finds a way to thrive in it. Hill was productive both as a blocker and in short-yardage rushing, and he finished with 39 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns and 118 yards receiving and three receiving touchdowns in 2016. Poggi is a fifth-year senior who primarily plays in a blocking role.
* Perry is indefinitely suspended from the program following his arraignment in December on four charges related to an alleged sexual assault from an incident in East Lansing last October.
A quick look: Michigan graduated its top receivers — Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, who combined for 1,408 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016. This means Michigan’s younger players will have the chance to immediately contribute, including 5-star recruit Donovan Peoples-Jones and 4-star recruits Collins and Black. McDoom, one of Michigan’s speedier players, will likely also see more playing time.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
* Asiasi is reportedly transferring, though he has not officially announced his intentions for the 2017 season.
A quick look: All-America tight end Jake Butt graduates, but he tore his ACL in the Orange Bowl in December, which gave Bunting the opportunity to step in and audition for the position for 2017. Gentry was recruited as a quarterback and played in seven games last season at receiver, tight end and on special teams, while Asiasi — should he return — could also challenge for the spot.
Mason Cole, C/OT
Ben Bredeson, OG
Cesar Ruiz, C
Michael Onwenu, OL
Juwann Bushell-Beatty, LT
Grant Newsome*, LT
* Newsome missed nine games last year because of a knee injury, and Michigan has not announced an update on his health or his availability for spring practices.
A quick look: Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and tackles/tight ends coach/run game coordinator Greg Frey will work with the position group that will include Ruiz, a 4-star recruit, and Onwenu, who will move from the defensive line to the offensive line. Michigan needs to build depth on its offensive line. Not only did Michigan lose Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson to graduation, but its lack of experience showed during the season, especially after injuries to Newsome and to Braden.
Maurice Hurst, DT
Bryan Mone, DT
Aubrey Solomon, DT
Michael Dwumfour, DT
Rashan Gary, DE
Chase Winovich, DE
A quick look: The signing of Solomon — a 5-star defensive tackle — as part of this year’s incoming class will help a unit that’s already deep and has game experience despite losing fifth-year players and defensive leaders Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow and Matt Godin. Hurst will take the leadership reins among the defensive ends, while Mone will be a key contributor at tackle, provided he can stay healthy. Winovich thrived in his first full season at defensive end (35 tackles, five sacks, four quarterback hurries), as did Gary as a freshman (27 tackles, one sack, seven quarterback hurries).
Devin Bush Jr.
A quick look: The linebackers lose a pair of key players from 2016: the versatile Jabrill Peppers, who left Michigan after three years for the NFL draft, and Ben Gedeon, who graduates and is also training for the NFL draft. Michigan’s younger linebackers — notably Bush, Uche and Kemp — will get more reps this season. Bush played in 13 games last season both at linebacker and on special teams, while Uche played in four games.
Lavert Hill, S
Tyree Kinnel, S
Josh Metellus, S
Khaleke Hudson, S
Brandon Watson, CB
David Long, CB
A quick look: The secondary will be a position group where Michigan will have to do what is essentially on-the-job training; of its returning players at cornerback or safety, only a handful appeared in more than 10 games last season, including Kinnel, Watson and Hudson. Michigan graduated all four of its starters in the defensive backfield: cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling and safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. The loss of cornerback Jeremy Clark threw another wrench into Michigan’s secondary plans — Clark was denied a sixth year of eligibility after sustaining a torn ACL in September.
A quick look: Michigan lost its kicker and punter with the graduation of Kenny Allen. Tice was Allen’s backup on field goals and point-after kicks. Tice went 7 for 7 on extra points but missed his only field-goal attempt, a 40-yard try Oct. 1 against Wisconsin. Much of the focus could be on Nordin, who didn’t play in 2016, in part because of an injury, but who joined Michigan in 2016 as the nation’s No. 1 kicker.
A quick look: Prior to signing day, this was a big question mark for the Wolverines, who lost Allen to graduation. Robbins will have the chance to step in and contribute right away, almost by default. Robbins was an 11th-hour addition to Michigan’s incoming class, but 247Sports ranked Robbins as the No. 14 prep punter in the nation.
A quick look: With the loss of Peppers, Michigan has minimal returning experience as it opens spring practices. Evans and Hudson combined for three returns for 47 yards in the fall. Thomas, a cornerback and a wide receiver in high school, could be an X-factor at the return position in a program where many younger players earn positional reps through special-teams performance.