Michigan signed the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class in 2017, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Wolverine faithful waiting in anticipation to see those young talents take the field may not have a long wait.
While Michigan has not released a depth chart for Saturday’s opener against Florida, true freshmen are expected to see the field.
The most obvious position to begin with is wide receiver, where four true freshmen have been standing out in practice, according to reports. At least one in the group – among Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, Oliver Martin and Nico Collins – will have a great chance to start.
“Donovan and Tarik, one of those guys will start for sure,” The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb said. “I’m guessing Donovan at this point. Oliver stands a good chance to play. He has come on in camp really well.”
Other than wide receiver, the next most likely freshman starter may come as a surprise.
“Brad Robbins may start at punter,” Webb said.
Robbins, a native of Westerville (Ohio), was not offered a scholarship by Michigan until National Signing Day. He was ranked the No. 1 punter in the country by Kornblue Kicking. He had scholarship offers from other programs, but Michigan proved to be worth his wait.
On defense, head coach Jim Harbaugh recently named defensive back Jaylen Kelly-Powell as one of the recent risers in practice.
“There is a good chance Jaylen sees time in nickel and / or dime scenarios,” Webb said. “He came in working out at safety and viper, but his cover skills and size, at this point, are more conducive to playing one of the coverage positions (nickel and cornerback), so they made that move and it was beneficial for the team and him. He has done well in practice. He’s the highest of the young defensive backs right now.”
In addition to Kelly-Powell, highly-regarded cornerback Ambry Thomas and safety J’Marick Woods may also have opportunities to play. The hard-hitting Woods is the backup to Tyree Kinnel while Thomas is working behind David Long, Lavert Hill and Brandon Watson.
Linebacker Josh Ross and former five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon also figure into the mix defensively.
“Josh Ross will be in the two-deep,” Webb said. “He will play. Aubrey Solomon will play for sure. Luiji Vilain and Kwity Paye may get playing time. Harbaugh mentioned Luiji was a little banged up, but he’ll be fine. Before Harbaugh mentioned he was banged up, (defensive line coach) Greg Mattison mentioned a few weeks prior those guys were battling equally or the spot behind Chase Winovich.”
Webb mentions fullback Ben Mason, center Cesar Ruiz and linebacker Drew Singleton as other true freshmen who could play.
There are six who he fully expects to play, however: “Donovan Peoples-Jones, Aubrey Solomon, Tarik Black, Brad Robbins, Jaylen Kelly-Powell and Oliver Martin – those are the most likely guys to get meaningful snaps with the game in question.”
Allen Trieu began covering the state of Michigan for Scout.com in 2005 and began managing the entire Midwest in 2009. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.