Every year, on probably every college football team, a freshman comes along and makes an instant impact.
In Michigan, we saw several. In 2021, Andrel Anthony and Junior Colson; in 2020, Blake Corum and Roman Wilson; in 2019, Zach Charbonnet and Dax Hill; Chris Evans and Devin Bush in 2016 – so on and so forth. But who will these players be in 2022?
Although there are 23 students in the class (when you include Andrew Gentry), there are plenty of candidates to become instant impact players. While we already have a good idea of some players who are likely to end up in both depths, there are others – especially in positions of need – who could cause a stir in Year One.
Here are our top 10 picks, ranked last to first, of freshmen who could find themselves in the field early and often in 2022.
CJ Stokes – running back
Stokes has the advantage of coming on board where there is an area of opportunity. No, he hasn’t played any college football games yet (no one on this list has, obviously), but with Hassan Haskins leaving for the NFL, there’s no set return to short distance waiting in the wings.
Sure, sophomore tailback Tavierre Dunlap and walk-on Leon Franklin (who saw time in 2021) might have something to say about that, and sure, Michigan might do what we saw during of the spring game, replacing Kalel Mullings on the offensive side to accompany linebacker. But Stokes, who is 5ft 10in and 196lbs, could very well fill that role – if he works hard and plays his cards right.
Zeke Berry – defensive back
An extremely athletic and quick player, the Concord (Calif.) De La Salle product could be an instant-impact type of freshman.
A high school track racer, Berry sprinted 11.14 100 yards, and he did it at 6 feet, 195 pounds. He is Michigan-listed at 5-foot-11, 197, which is still very good at showing off his speed, while striking from the safe position.
The fact that the Wolverines have to replace last year’s two starting safeties also provides an opening for the Californian product, although he has a steeper learning curve than another position player who arrived on campus in January.
Amorion Walker – wide receiver
The receiving corps of freshmen is being swept up like the group that arrived in 2017. But unlike that group, Michigan won’t need to rely on them right away, given the depth of the position.
Still, a native of Ponchatoula, La., the 6-foot-3 wide receiver, like anyone coming into the freshman year, has the ability to make an immediate impact on the game.
He’s not our first choice for the position, but being all-out during Spring Ball gives him an edge, as he already knows the system and has already had two college conditioning cycles.
Keon Sabb – security
As with Berry, Sabb has an opportunity given the lack of established starters in the position. Unlike Berry, Sabb was an early registrant, getting his feet wet during the winter-spring-summer cycles.
Although he made some freshman mistakes in the spring game, he was once a five-star (he finished four-star) has elite athleticism and could feature in the backfield defensive rotation, if not in special teams. His experience at the IMG Academy for his senior season is a bonus.
Jimmy Rolder – linebacker
Jim Harbaugh spoke poetically of the Marist High School (Illinois) linebacker, noting that he just reminds you of the old-school Big Ten linebacker. He arrived on campus this summer, but linebacker is another group of positions that doesn’t have much established depth. Even when it does, we’ve seen freshmen permeate both depths, as we did with Junior Colson last year, and Devin Bush in 2016.
At 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, Rolder already has college-ready height, if he can put that and his ability to use, he could find himself seeing the first few minutes.
Mason Graham – defensive tackle
Surprisingly already at 317 pounds and in a position of need, first-placers are a factor in a rotation that needs body — and the ability to rush the passer. A native of Anaheim, Calif., Servite, Graham is already college-sized, despite having never played non-spring college football.
It drew rave reviews throughout the Spring Ball and is expected to be a contributor this season, even in its freshman year.
Darrius Clemons – wide receiver
Talk about players already ready to play. Clemons looked on as an established receiver early on in the spring game, scoring an impressive diving touchdown (above).
This is an absolutely loaded position group in an even more weapon loaded attack. However, Clemons is already college-height at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, to go along with a reputation for being amazing at road running and splitting.
He arrived at college ready, the bigger question is how do the Wolverines fit him in?
Derrick Moore – defensive line
When the four-star from St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, Md., arrived on campus at 250 pounds, we thought it would be an easy go-anywhere on board. That may still be the case, but at her fall weigh-in, Moore hit an astonishing 279 pounds. Now with the option to play inside or outside, Oklahoma’s disengagement, who was already considered an instant impact player, could impact the field from multiple positions.
He watched the role in the spring game, the question now is how does that carry over to the college game when the balls fly live.
Kenneth Grant – defensive tackle
Jim Harbaugh apparently praised Grant to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman during Big Ten media days last week, which made us wonder – is this the mysterious freshman Harbaugh alluded to during of his podium session?
Either way, the Merrillville (Ind.) product enters the 2022 season with the distinction of being Michigan’s tallest player at 357 pounds. Again, in a needy position at defensive tackle, and would have a good start to fall camp, it seems obvious he’ll see the field early and often, and could be a potential difference-maker in Year One.
Will Johnson – cornerback
Johnson, a five-star resident and Michigan heritage in 2022, is the obvious choice for No. 1 on our list.
He’s the only freshman player who could very well earn a starting role (at cornerback) right off the bat, potentially beating experienced statesmen who have started many games, like Gemon Green.
Johnson is tall, quick, athletic, instinctive and an absolute ball hawk. It’s in his interest and that of Michigan that he be ready for his freshman year. Typically, five-star players see the pitch early, so there’s no doubt he will. The question now is more: is he a starter or is he in a squad with another player?
Either way, we’ll be seeing a lot of Will Johnson this year.