The players who could have insane production for the Wolverines in 2018 that you may not be expecting.
Michigan Football ‘Wild Cards’ At Every Position
Every year, new, forgotten about, or emerging players come out of nowhere and become a productive force in college football. Here’s our picks, position-by-position, for Michigan.
Whether it be a true freshman, a former walk-on, a transfer — whatever — there’s always a name that comes up that fans didn’t expect, that make a name for themselves for the Wolverines.
We’re old enough to remember when an unknown running back named Mike Hart took over for prolific running back Chris Perry. We remember when Jordan Kovacs burst onto the scene as a walk-on, and never relented, becoming a star player in the process. The quarterback hype in 2009 belonged to Tate Forcier, but it became the Denard Robinson show, thereafter.
Last year, there weren’t many surprises — but there were some. Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon supplanted Ian Bunting and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. as the top tight ends. Tarik Black started over Donovan Peoples-Jones. Nolan Ulizio started at right tackle, though he lost his job down the stretch.
There are the names you know, but what if, some other name came in and ended up being the guy? Here’s our choices for who that would be, if the tables turn this fall.
Quarterback – Dylan McCaffrey
All the hype in Michigan football currently belongs to Shea Patterson, the former five-star who transferred to Ann Arbor after two seasons at Ole Miss. Now that he’s been declared eligible by the NCAA, expectations are that he, or Brandon Peters — who started in four games last season — will be the guy.
But what about Dylan McCaffrey, the redshirt freshman?
At the end of last season, McCaffrey drew rave reviews from defensive coordinator Don Brown at his ability to run the scout team — which, unsurprisingly, he won Scout Team Player of the Year for the team at the year-end Football Bust. As the younger brother of Stanford phenom Christian McCaffrey and son of Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and former Stanford star soccer player Lisa McCaffrey, Dylan has elite athletic blood running through his veins.
One of the big questions facing Dylan is how much weight has he added to his frame? That’s a question we don’t yet have answers to, but given the changes made to the strength and conditioning staff, and the reported results there, we’re betting it’s been significant.
McCaffrey can make all the throws, and per what we’ve heard, he’s a smart, capable decision-maker. We’re still putting him third on the depth chart — for now — but we wouldn’t at all be surprised if he made a big move once fall camp arrives.
Offensive line – Juwann Bushell-Beatty
Going into his final year, Juwann Bushell-Beatty has starting time. He’s started at both left and right tackle — having replaced Grant Newsome in 2016 after his gruesome knee injury, and Nolan Ulizio at right tackle when pass protection in 2017 failed to improve against Big Ten competition.
But he hasn’t been able to become stalwart or retain a starting position long-term.
Last year, sources told us that Michigan’s strong hopes relied on JBB winning a starting job and running with it. We heard that there was no one who the staff wanted to win out more, because that meant that he was finally leaning into his development. However, the big-bodied lineman couldn’t go out and grab the position, and was relegated to the bench.
Now, Michigan has a wealth of emerging linemen, coupled with a superstar offensive line coach. We reported late last week that Jon Runyan Jr. has been a surprise this offseason, and there are players such as Chuck Filiaga, James Hudson and Andrew Stueber waiting in the wings for their turn.
This is Bushell-Beatty’s final go — his make or break season. Players with his potential have a tendency to turn on the gas with their backs against the wall. It would be a great thing for these Wolverines if Bushell-Beatty were to take the reins and run with them.
Running back/Fullback – Christian Turner
We already know that Karan Higdon and Chris Evans constitute a formidable one-two punch, having rushed for over 1,600 yards combined a year ago. But who will that number three back be?
WTOL’s Jordan Strack reported earlier this month that Kareem Walker has departed the program and the jury is still out on O’Maury Samuels and Kurt Taylor. Jim Harbaugh said on his podcast that Tru Wilson, a preferred walk-on, is currently sitting at third on the depth chart, and having had a few years in the program, we expect him to continue to battle.
But Christian Turner, a true freshman, could come in and make an immediate impact upon arrival, depending on how quickly he can acclimate to the playbook and strive for greatness in pass protection.
As far as we see it, that third position is wide open, and Turner could provide that bruising style which former Harbaugh teams are accustomed.
But don’t over look these other guys: fellow true freshman Hassan Haskins — who the staff saw as an absolute recruiting steal, as well as second-year fullback Ben Mason — who’s coming off a spring injury — and true freshman fullback Ben VanSumeren.
Wide receiver – Nico Collins
All eyes are going to be on second-year wideouts Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, while leading receiver Grant Perry returns for one more year. We get questions all the time about Oliver Martin, but our wildcard at the position is Nico Collins, the talented former four-star out of Alabama who saw some time late last season.
Like Black and DPJ, Collins has the ability to take the top off a defense, with above-average speed and height. After having had a year in the system, and now getting personalized attention from new wide receivers coach Jim McElwain, we’re optimistic that Collins gets past any early growing pains he may have had, and takes a big step forward in 2018.
Will it be enough to supplant the others? We’re not sure, but he has the talent and ability to make a name for himself this season.
Tight end – nick Eubanks
Third-year tight end Nick Eubanks out of Florida had something of a coming out party against his home-state Gators in the season opener a year ago, but we didn’t hear much from him since.
He sustained an injury early in the season, got back in the lineup for a second, and went back out again, this time, for the duration. Should he remain healthy, he’s the speediest, shiftiest tight end on the roster, and could be a huge receiving threat when in the game.
We still see Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon as the likely culprits to make a big impact, considering their production in 2017. But the other wild card is Tyrone Wheatley Jr., who should be an unguardable weapon at the tight end position. However, injuries have continued to keep Wheatley sidelined, and he sustained yet another in the first practice this past spring.
Eubanks will also have to hold off true freshmen Mustapha Muhammad — who we project to get some playing time this year — and Luke Schoonmaker, who’s something of a prototype. But he has the tools to be a huge success out of the gates in 2018.