Michigan Football: Power Ranking Michigan's Positional Units for 2014

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor IJune 23, 2014

Michigan Football: Power Ranking Michigan's Positional Units for 2014

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    No. 18 Blake Countess covers No. 17 Freddy Canteen
    No. 18 Blake Countess covers No. 17 Freddy CanteenTony Ding/Associated Press

    After last season’s 7-6 finish, Brady Hoke needs a solid season to quiet the rumblings of discontent in Ann Arbor. But the path to the Big Ten title game is harder than ever now that both Ohio State and Michigan State are in Michigan’s division.

    With the season quickly approaching, it's time to rank Michigan’s position groups.

    Power rankings are based on past production, depth, spring progress and anticipated growth during the season. Top players and solid contributors will be identified, along with those who will play critical roles this season.

Defensive Secondary

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    No. 18 Blake Countess
    No. 18 Blake CountessUSA TODAY Sports

    Top Player: Blake Countess

    Solid Contributors: Raymon Taylor, Jarrod Wilson

    X-Factors: Delano Hill, Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    The defensive secondary has the skill and depth to be the strength of the team. Led by Countess, who will wear the hallowed No. 2 jersey, this group is solid. But if Lewis can build on an outstanding spring game and Peppers can live up to his billing, this unit could be amazing.


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    No. 47 Jake Ryan
    No. 47 Jake RyanGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Top Player: Jake Ryan

    Solid Contributors: James Ross, Desmond Morgan

    X-Factors: Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Ben Gedeon


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Ryan, Ross and Morgan form a solid group of linebackers that will benefit from defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s extra attention as he takes over coaching this position group.

    Ryan should be fully recovered from an injury that forced him to miss the beginning of last season. He’ll need to be since he’s moving from the outside to the middle linebacker position.

    The biggest question is how the backups (Bolden, Jenkins-Stone and Gedeon) respond when pressed into service. Mattison likes to rotate players to keep his defense fresh, and one of these players will need to prove themselves as a viable option if one of the starters goes down.

Running Backs

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    No. 27 Derrick Green
    No. 27 Derrick GreenAssociated Press

    Top Players: Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith

    Solid Contributor: Joe Kerridge

    X-Factors: Justice Hayes, Ty Isaac


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Green and Smith are deadlocked at the top of the depth chart, and both appear ready to carry the load at running back. Both should be an upgrade over last season’s starter, Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was never the same after breaking his leg several seasons ago.

    Kerridge is solid at fullback and will be a key blocking contributor, especially with the offensive line in flux.

    Hayes will see time as a third-down back, although he ran hard during the spring game and might be ideally suited to move the ball in Michigan’s new offense.

    There’s no word on whether transfer Isaac will be eligible this season. If he is, Michigan might have one of the best group of running backs in the Big Ten.


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    No. 7 Shane Morris and No. 98 Devin Gardner
    No. 7 Shane Morris and No. 98 Devin GardnerTony Ding/Associated Press

    Top Player: Devin Gardner

    Solid Contributor: Shane Morris

    X-Factor: Devin Gardner


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Gardner is the top returning quarterback on the team, even considering his injury last season and the introduction of a new offense.

    He has overcome adversity before, and it’s hard to imagine a quarterback with less experience thriving behind Michigan’s patchwork offensive line.

    Morris got extra practice time and showed moxie filling in for Gardner in the bowl game. If Gardner goes down, Morris will be ready.

Special Teams

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    No. 23 Dennis Norfleet
    No. 23 Dennis NorfleetGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Top Player: Dennis Norfleet

    Solid Contributors: Will Hagerup, Matt Wile

    X-Factors: Jourdan Lewis, Jabrill Peppers


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Norfleet has been a great return man for Michigan, and Lewis and Peppers will also get a chance on returns this season.

    Peppers is the most intriguing talent to play for Michigan since Denard Robinson and should get ample opportunities on defense, offense and special teams to make an impact.

    Hagerup will handle punting duties with Wile handling kickoffs and field goals. Wile will replace Brendan Gibbons, who was expelled for off-field problems.

    Michigan is in good shape on special teams heading into this season.

Defensive Line

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    No. 57 Frank Clark
    No. 57 Frank ClarkGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Top Player: Frank Clark

    Solid Contributor: Brennen Beyer

    X-Factors: Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Clark is a major force at defensive end and Beyer is a good bookend to match. Both will pressure opposing quarterbacks and cause mayhem in opponents’ backfields.

    Unfortunately, the middle of the defensive line isn’t as experienced, with Henry and Pipkins expected to start.

    Expect Wormley, Glasgow and Charlton to see significant playing time to keep Henry and Pipkins fresh.

    The defensive line is one of the top concerns of the team, but Clark and Beyer are solid, though the inside tackles are question marks.


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    No. 87 Devin Funchess
    No. 87 Devin FunchessUSA TODAY Sports

    Top Player: Devin Funchess

    Solid Contributor: Jehu Chesson

    X-Factors: Freddy Canteen, Amara Darboh, Drake Harris


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Funchess is a legitimate No.1 receiver; unfortunately, after the that the depth chart is light on experience. The loss of Jeremy Gallon to the NFL leaves Michigan with lots of potential but practically no experience at wide receiver.

    Chesson, Darboh and Harris will all have a chance to get reps, but Canteen dominated spring camp and will be the player to watch when the games begin.

    The wide receiver position group will be a cause for concern until someone seizes the opportunity.

Tight Ends

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    No. 88 Jake Butt
    No. 88 Jake ButtChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Top Player: Jake Butt

    Solid Contributor: A.J. Willliams

    X-Factor: Keith Heitzman


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Butt is the best tight end on the team, but his injury leaves this position group shorthanded until his expected return by midseason.

    Williams will fill in, with Heitzman switching over from defensive end to help cover the team’s tight end shortage.

    Butt will be missed; he was an important piece of the offense last season. Williams and Heitzman have a tall order to replace him.

Offensive Line

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    No. 78 Erik Magnuson
    No. 78 Erik MagnusonGene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Top Player: Erik Magnuson

    Solid Contributor: Graham Glasgow

    X-Factors: Mason Cole, Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden


    Why They’re Ranked Here:

    Last season, the Michigan offensive line was historically bad, and now they need to replace their top two players from last season—tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.

    Magnuson and Glasgow will anchor this season's offensive line, but after that it’s an open competition.

    Bosch, Kalis, Braden and Cole will all battle for the remaining positions, a competition complicated by Glasgow’s suspension for the season opener.

    This position group was Michigan’s Achilles' heal last season and could very well be so again. The line needs to improve, or a repeat of last season’s disappointing finish could be on tap.