Michigan Football’s Midseason Positional Grades

After a 5-2 start which includes two close losses to two top 10 undefeated teams, the Team 136 hype is as strong as it’s been in a decade. While most give credit to head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan players have really stepped their game up. I’ve broken down each position group’s performance so far and most have had better than passing grades.

Quarterbacks

At the beginning of the season, Jim Harbaugh said graduate transfer Jake Rudock was far and away his best quarterback. Rudock has had his ups and downs but definitely looks better than Shane Morris did the last time we saw him. Mid-way through the season, Rudock may have finally kicked the turnover bug, but he still has plenty to work on. One area of improvement is the deep ball- he has yet to connect with a pass catcher over 45 yards.  

Rudock is more of a game manager that relies on his defense and special teams to give him good field position. Once he gets that field position, his job is to protect the football.

Passing Leader

 GPEfficCMP/ATTPCT YDSTDINT LNG AVG/G
Rudock, Jake7119.87121/19661.713035644186.1

Grade: C+

Running Backs

De’Veon Smith has solidified himself as one of the top backs on the roster, but he may not be the best one going forward. We have yet to see Drake Johnson in full swing, but in the little time we have seen him, he looks to be the frontrunner for the job once he’s healthy.  

Johnson is working his way back from a couple of injuries, but his vision and speed are something that Smith lacks. Johnson brings power, along with vision and patience. Smith brings power and runs with a purpose.  By bringing different elements to the running game, they can both coexist in the backfield.  

Juniors Derrick Green and Ty Isaac, along with freshman Karan Higdon, make up a very capable and competitive running back group.

The fullbacks on the roster are getting more than they expected. Sione Houma and Joe Kerridge have combined for 25 carries to this point, and should anticipate plenty more. Houma is tied for second with three rushing touchdowns.

Rushing Leaders

 GPAttGainLossNetAvgTDLongAvg/G
Smith, De'Veon796448124364.546062.3
Isaac, Ty 73020612056.817629.3
Green, Derrick74215251473.521221.0
Johnson, Drake62613131284.9 22021.3
Houma, Sione716950955.9 32713.6
Kerridge, Joe69530535.9 0348.8
Higdon, Karan210245191.9 099.5

Grade: B+

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Michigan pass catchers have done well with the hand they’ve been dealt. Amara Darboh and Jake Butt have led the team in receptions since the Utah game. Both players are responsible for helping the Wolverines move the chains on passing downs, averaging over 11 yards per catch.

The explosive plays of Jehu Chesson, who may be the fastest player on the team, cannot go unnoticed. With Rudock struggling to complete the deep ball, the coaches have had to get creative with ways to get Chesson the ball.  He has carried the ball six times, scoring two touchdowns. Although he had a big drop on third down in the MSU game, he will continue to be relied upon for big plays and tremendous blocking.

Grant Perry’s play has decreased since the first game, but he’s still in the mix for playing time. Defensive back Jabrill Peppers just got his first taste of offense last game by lining up at wide receiver and setting up a second half touchdown on one of his two receptions.

The tight ends opposite of Jake Butt have seen success. Ian Bunting, Khalid Hill, and even A.J. Williams are proving to be reliable targets.

Receiving Leaders

 GPRecYds Avg TD Long Avg/G
Darboh, Amara72833211.923247.4
Butt, Jake72327812.114439.7
Chesson, Jehu71719011.202727.1
Williams, A.J.799911.002214.1
Harris, Drake76396.50135.6
Bunting, Ian745513.80217.9
Perry, Grant734113.70255.9
Hill, Khalid 623919.50206.5
Peppers, Jabrill723517.50285.0
Ways, Maurice523115.50216.2

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

The offensive line wins the most improved award. After a season of tumultuous blocking, this unit is actually stopping people and playing with confidence. Game by game, they continue to look more relaxed and less overwhelmed.

Walk on center Graham Glasgow and guard Kyle Kalis have become the team’s most noticeable linemen and look like future NFL prospects. The running game is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, and has accounted for 17 touchdowns.  

The line is far from perfect and they must continue to improve if they want to win out. Harbaugh needs this group to grow together if they want to remain in the Big 10 race. Magnuson struggled in the last game with blocking Shilique Calhoun, one of the elite playmakers in college football.

Grade: B

Defensive Line

This defensive line sets the tone every week. From Chris Wormley to the last guy on the depth chart, every man comes in and does his job. Only allowing 64 yards rushing per game, Michigan is dominant in the trenches. Making 18 sacks and forcing 13 quarterback hurries, there’s no sign of them slowing down.

Wormley started the season with a bang and has yet to let up. He and line mate Willie Henry have combined for 17 tackles for loss. Henry leads the team with six sacks, while Maurice Hurst is next with three.

Rotating six lineman, the Wolverines have confidence in whoever lines up.  

Opposing quarterbacks are completing less than 50% of their passes. Credit part of that to the pressure the defensive line is putting on them.

Grade: A

Linebackers

Joe Bolden, James Ross, and Desmond Morgan have held down the linebacker spot for the past few seasons. Ben Gedeon and Royce Jenkins-Stone round out the group of backers that are seeing significant playing time.  

Missing tackles early and struggling in pass coverage, this group has been interesting to watch through seven games. Morgan has played the most snaps and rarely sees the sideline. Ross and Bolden have been interchangeable- but none have really been irreplaceable. All have gotten stronger in the run game as the season progresses but still have lapses in coverage from time to time.  

The past couple recruiting classes were expected to produce some studs at linebacker. Next season will be interesting to see who steps up and fills the roles of the graduating seniors.

Tackle Leaders

 GP Solo Ast Total TFL/Yds
Morgan, Desmond72618441.5/8
Bolden, Joe71822403.0/4
Ross III, James785132.5/4
Jenkins-Stone, Royce7913222.0/5
Gedeon, Ben7810180.5/1

Grade: B

Defensive Backs

The defensive backs are running neck and neck with the defensive line for MVU- Most Valuable Unit (I made that up). We knew Jourdan Lewis was good, but he has taken a giant step forward since last year. Through seven games, Lewis already has 14 passes broken up. Soon enough, teams will stop challenging Lewis because they know the odds of completing the pass are better elsewhere.

Converted safety Jeremy Clark and Channing Stribling have been solid on the opposite corner of Lewis. Outside of Clark jumping the out and up route against MSU, neither has given up the big play.  

Jabrill Peppers has been as good as advertised. After getting his feet wet during the first half of the Utah game, he has been a terror. He has 4.5 tackles for loss and five pass break ups. Learning and lining up at safety, cornerback, and nickelback, the sky’s the limit for this redshirt freshman.

Michigan has only allowed three passing touchdowns up to this point.  

Interception Leaders

 Int Yds Avg TD
Clark, Jeremy 3206.70
Lewis, Jourdan 24623.01
Stribling, Channing 13030.00
Morgan, Desmond 100.01

Grade: A

Special Teams

Special teams have been a pleasant surprise. The kicking game was a huge question mark to begin the season. At this point, it looks to be solved by walk-on senior kicker Kenny Allen.

Allen, who earned a scholarship this season, is 10-12 kicking field goals this season. Connecting at an 83% clip, he is earning that scholarship.  

Punter Blake O’Neill is having a very solid season. Outside of the MSU blunder, he has pinned opponents inside the 20 yard line 17 times. Having a punter with this kind of accuracy is something the Harbaugh regime will be looking for when they recruit the next one.  

Peppers and Chesson are adding some much needed spark to the return teams. Peppers is averaging 10 yards a punt return, with a long of 34. Chesson has a 96 yard kickoff return touchdown, something the football team hasn’t seen since 2009 (Darryl Stonum vs Notre Dame).

The coverage units have been outstanding. By utilizing a great deal of starters, Harbaugh makes sure he’s getting the best people out there for the job.

Grade: A

Photo Credit: TOLEDO BLADE/LORI KING