Michigan Football: 5 Wolverines Primed for Breakout Seasons
Due to Michigan's outstanding recruiting, it's easy to get caught up in projecting the fates of incoming freshmen. That's not exactly a bad thing, but it does somewhat of a disservice to those who've been on the Wolverines roster for years.
Sure, it's fun to talk about 4- and 5-star players who could immediately impact Team 135, but Brady Hoke has more than a handful of existing players who are itching to make things happen. Several are—or seem to be—more than ready to do so in 2014.
This slideshow focuses on those guys, the ones who've shown something but haven't yet reached the pinnacle of their careers.
Devin Gardner (6'4", 216 Pounds; RS Senior QB)
Putting the starting quarterback on a list of "breakout players" can get tricky: 1) It could mean that the player is so good that he's ready to impress even more, or 2) it could mean that said athlete just hasn't reached the levels expected of him and needs to immediately produce.
Devin Gardner is in limbo, in between. He's a great athlete—that's not up for debate. When consistent, he's a dynamic passer and incredibly instinctive quarterback.
When off, he's flat and prone to making mistakes. That costs both the team as a whole and Gardner as an individual. He's far too talented to play like an average quarterback, but that's been the case.
I'll be the first to admit that I was dreadfully wrong about him in 2013. I saw a guy who as talented as Ohio State's Braxton Miller, just without the experience. In addition to winning at least nine games, I saw a guy who could throw for more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. He tossed 21 touchdowns and fell 40 yards short of 3,000. But he also threw 11 picks and rarely seemed in command of the situation at hand.
After gutting out the home stretch of 2013 with a broken right foot, he's due to go out on a high note.
De'Veon Smith (5'11", 220 Pounds; Sophomore RB)
As a freshman, De'Veon Smith had 22 carries for 110 yards, good for an average of five yards per touch. Granted, he barely played until later in the year, but Smith definitely showed that he's capable of being the lead back.
Derrick Green is in better shape these days and could very well transform into a superstar on the field; but don't discount Smith, who was also one of the best running backs of the 2013 class. He has the size to bulldoze opponents like Green but also has hints of high-gear speed, which Green lacks.
It's difficult to judge Smith, and the backfield for that matter. But Smith is more than a sparse contributor. Expect him to battle head-to-head for the No. 1 job. Note: There probably won't a true No. 1 in the traditional sense because new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier prefers a multiback system. However, Smith could end up with the most carries, hence making him No. 1 in some sense.
Jehu Chesson (6'3", 197 Pounds; RS Sophomore WR)
Jehu Chesson started once in 2013 but got into 12 games, so it's safe to say that he'll get more action this season; he's due for a significant bump in playing time.
Devin Funchess returns as the true overall No. 1 option, but don't look past Chesson's team-leading average of 16.4 yards per catch. Sure, it's based from a smaller sample than Funchess', but it's a nice number to reference when looking at potential breakout players.
If Chesson can expand on his body of work, he'll be a wonderful complement to Team 135's aerial attack.
Of course, success with passing (and running) the football will hinge on Gardner's level of play and that of the offensive line. It's a domino effect. When one piece falls, the rest follow. When one piece stands tall, the rest do the same (or at least lean on the ones standing).
Look for Chesson to immediately make a difference this fall.
Desmond Morgan (6'1", 232 Pounds; Senior LB)
Have you heard about the linebackers? More specifically, have you heard about how the position group is a strength of this year's team?
Good. So we don't have much to cover here.
Although he's a senior, Desmond Morgan is certainly primed and ready for the spotlight. Perhaps slightly overlooked the past few years, Morgan is now in the position to help lead the linebackers, who'll need an experienced guide to help transition Jake Ryan back into the mix.
A year ago, Morgan, who's been hit with bumps and bruises for years, was Michigan's third-leading tackler with 73. This season, he could easily set the tone in that category.
Only one Michigan player has started more than 30 games in his career: LB Desmond Morgan (31). Next on the list: LB Jake Ryan (29).— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) July 3, 2014
Ben Gedeon (6'3", 240 Pounds; Sophomore LB)
There is a lot to like about Michigan's defense. The progression and development isn't by accident. If anything, feel good about Greg Mattison's side of the ball heading into the fall. The secondary is coming together, and the D-line looks like it'll be in good hands with Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Brennen Beyer and Matt Godin, among others.
As as I've stated several times since I don't remember when, the linebackers are key. Again, the linebackers are key. I'd put Joe Bolden on this list without hesitating. I wouldn't flinch while naming James Ross or Royce Jenkins-Stone, either.
But I'm going with Ben Gedeon, because he's been one of the most impressive players across the board since last year. Of course, he had to get his feet wet on special teams but was more than solid with five tackles in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Plus, with a nickname like "The Freak," or just "Freak" (depends on who's saying it), why not plug in Gedeon to this list?
Jadaveon Clowney did 21 reps on the bench press at the NFL combine (225lbs.) Michigan LB Ben Gedeon did it 26 times last spring. #Freak— Speed Kills (@mspeedkills) February 24, 2014
Honorable mentions: Derrick Green, sophomore RB; Kyle Kalis, RS sophomore OL; Ondre Pipkins, junior DL; Matt Godin, redshirt sophomore DT; and Erik Magnuson, redshirt sophomore OL.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.