After a subpar 2021, Michigan’s defense returned to its top 10 form in 2022. Much of that defense is back in 2023 along with some key additions. Last season, Mazi Smith ended his Michigan career as one of the best interior defensive line prospects in the nation. Entering 2023, Kris Jenkins has a chance to follow in Smith’s footsteps. Aside from Jenkins, the Wolverines return a good collection of young, emerging talent along their front. Here is what to expect from Michigan’s defensive line.
Who Is In and Who Is Out?
Returners: Kris Jenkins, Mason Graham, Kenneth Grant, Rayshaun Benny, Cam Goode, Ike Iwunnah, Peter Simmons
Key Additions: Cameron Brandt, Brooks Bahr, Trey Pierce, Alessandro Lorenzetti (switched from the offensive line)
Key Losses: Mazi Smith, George Rooks
Smith is a big loss, but Michigan’s defensive line should be a strength in 2023 given the talent returning. Jenkins is an impact player, but sophomores Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant both had impressive moments as freshmen last season. Graham and Grant will push for full-time starting roles this fall. Rayshaun Benny was a part of the rotation last season and should once again play a prominent role. Cam Goode and Ike Iwunnah are two other returners that should push for playing time. A former UCF transfer, Goode played in nine games last season as a reserve. Iwunnah is a former three-star recruit from the 2021 class and has mostly served on the scout team during his career.
The Wolverines added three defensive linemen through the high school ranks. Three-star Cameron Brandt committed to Michigan on National Signing Day and may offer the highest upside. Three-stars Trey Pierce and Brooks Bahr are high-floor prospects with starter upside. Pierce is built well with good quickness, play strength, and technique for a player his age. At six-foot-six, 270 pounds, Bahr has the frame of an odd-front defensive end. He is able to use his length and natural strength to anchor runs lanes and win battles in the trenches.
Projected Depth Chart
Starters: Kris Jenkins, Mason Graham, Kenneth Grant
Backups: Rayshaun Benny, Ike Iwunnah, Cam Goode
Key Contributors: Trey Pierce, Cameron Brandt
In Michigan’s multiple-front, Jenkins and Graham are locked in as starters at five-technique defensive end and three-technique respectively. Grant will likely start at nose tackle when the Wolverines deploy their odd-front looks. The combination of Jenkins, Graham, and Grant is formidable on paper and may be one of the better fronts in the conference. Benny and Goode will likely see most of the reserve snaps. Iwunnah has spent the past two seasons developing on the scout team. However, he will have to prove he is ready for a spot in Michigan’s defensive line rotation.
Michigan’s top six will likely see the majority of the playing time. However, some younger players could be in the mix for playing time. Pierce may be the best bet of the three freshmen. His combination of strength and quickness could earn him some playing time at some point. Brandt needs to fill out his frame more, but Michigan’s coaching staff could try to get him some game reps. Overall, Michigan has enough depth to preserve redshirts along their defensive line.
Read more Michigan Football position previews here: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Line
Outlook At Defensive Line In 2023
Michigan entered the offseason seeking to improve the front seven of its defense. While transfers were added at multiple levels of the defense, the Wolverines returned a talented group on the defensive line. Jenkins is an impact player and could enter first-round discussion in the 2024 NFL Draft with a strong season. He recently made Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List and is one of the best athletes in the country relative to his position. Youngsters Graham and Grant may soon follow as top prospects. They help form one of the better defensive fronts in the Big Ten and maybe even in the entire country.
While the starting group is top tier, there are questions when it comes to depth. Benny and Goode are solid pieces, but Michigan may need younger players to step up at times. Overall, the Wolverines’ defensive line should be the foundation of a strong defense in 2023. Add in the firepower Michigan has on offense and the Wolverines should once again be competing for a Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.