Finally, we’re onto the defensive line. This is undoubtedly the most important defensive position group heading into the 2023 season. In 2022, the line was likely Michigan’s biggest weakness. Although they were very physical and very talented, they struggled to get a pass rush, which ultimately doomed the Wolverines.
That looks to be fixed in 2023. Starting with the EDGE rushers, we have Braiden McGregor. After having an excellent end to the 2022 season, McGregor looks primed for a huge year. He’s finally healthy and has all the physical tools to be dominant. I’d expect him to be a starter, or at least begin the season as a starter.
Next, we have Josaiah Stewart. The transfer from Coastal Carolina is a bit undersized at 6’2 but has the drive to be great. All indications are that this kid’s motor is unmatched and that he is out to prove himself. Based on experience, he’s my bet to be a day-one starter. I’m really excited to see what Stewart can do against Big Ten competition.
The player I’m most excited about in this group is Derrick Moore. I’ve said multiple times that I think his potential is sky-high and that he’ll be a first-round pick, and I’m sticking with that. He showed flashes of dominance as a freshman and has the potential to take a massive sophomore leap.
I do expect Moore to be a starter by the end of the season, but I don’t know if he’ll begin as one. He’s definitely going to get a high amount of reps all season long, there’s no doubt about that.
Another player that could really step up and become a force this season is Jaylen Harrell. Harrell looks like a beast. He ended last season with a lot of momentum, and will definitely be in for more playing time this season. He could be a starter too, really.
All throughout his career, Harrell has made mind-boggling plays. Whether that’s somehow getting off of a block to make a huge tackle or breaking up a pass to the tight end on 4th & 2, he always makes his way into the highlight tape.
The key for Harrell heading into 2023 is consistency. If he can stay consistent, he can make himself into an NFL Draft pick. Now, to the interior of the line.
First, the obvious two: Kris Jenkins and Mason Graham. Jenkins looks to be a potential All-American and was recently put as the #15 player on Mel Kiper’s NFL Draft board. He’s another captain of this team and is going to be a huge part of the defensive success.
Jenkins was a great run-stopper in 2022 but is now also viewed as a great pass rusher in 2023. Preseason All-American offensive lineman Zak Zinter had this to say about Jenkins: “I don’t think I’m going to get a better pass rusher on the interior all year than Kris Jenkins“. That’s some high praise. I’m pumped to see Jenkins this season.
As a true freshman, Mason Graham was a star defensive lineman for the Wolverines. That doesn’t happen very often. He’s a special talent and should be even better in 2023. While primarily being a run stuffer in 2022, Graham should have increased pash-rushing skills in 2023. He’s another star of this defensive line.
Now the two intriguing backups: Kenneth Grant and Rayshaun Benny. Both have received tons of hype this offseason and should be key pieces of the defensive line. Grant is an athletic freak and is going to be able to wreak havoc when he’s on the football field. He reminds me a lot of Jordan Davis from Georgia in 2021. That’s the kind of impact I think Grant could have.
He’ll likely be more of a run-stuffer, but he does have the ability to run after the quarterback. Expect to see Grant on the field a lot in 2023.
Junior Rayshaun Benny has had the misfortune of being stuck behind some great Michigan linemen. It looks like it may finally be his turn to be one of those guys. He’s made tremendous strides, and Jesse Minter talked about Benny as one of the most improved players on the defense. Expect him to be on the field a lot more in 2023. His potential is very high.
This Michigan football defense should be one of the best in the nation, if not the best. It has all the necessary pieces to dominate games and should be much better than the defense last season. From the secondary to the defensive line, each position group is among the top in the nation.
The biggest thing to watch will be the Michigan football pass rush. In 2022, the inability to create pressure with four guys forced the Wolverines to blitz more than they wanted to, which ultimately burned them against TCU. That cannot be the case in 2023.
This defense should dominate, especially at the beginning of the season. Enjoy this. Go Blue!