Michigan Football: Final 2015 Positional Grades for the Wolverines

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2015

Michigan Football: Final 2015 Positional Grades for the Wolverines

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    Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    The Michigan football team enjoyed a relatively strong campaign thanks to a few positional units, but a couple of factions on the roster failed to assemble a memorable year.

    Although most of the offensive groups improved their midseason grades, a majority of the defense received lower marks during the final stretch of 2015.

    However, one thing should be widely agreed upon: The defensive backs carried the Wolverines.

    How would you grade Michigan's positional units? Make your voice heard in the comments section.


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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Throughout the first half of the season, Jake Rudock looked like nothing more than a game manager. That changed in November.

    Rudock started guiding Michigan to victories, flipping the trend from the team winning in spite of his mistakes. The senior twice set a career high for passing yards and doubled his previous best for touchdowns, throwing six scores against Indiana.

    Jehu Chesson's emergence at receiver undoubtedly helped Rudock, but the Iowa transfer was a playmaker for Michigan. He finished with 2,739 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, adding four scores on the ground.

    Wilton Speight played limited meaningful snaps, but oversaw a game-winning drive at Minnesota.

    Grade: B+

Running Backs

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    De'Veon Smith showed encouraging signs with a pair of 100-yard performances in September, but Michigan's rushing attack was an emotionless charge the rest of the way.

    Beyond an unimpressive Drake Johnson, Ty Isaac and Derrick Green disappeared from the rotation while Karan Higdon provided no impact in limited attempts. Fullback Sione Houma was probably the most effective runner.

    Collectively, the backs averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and the Wolverines ground game finished 93rd in the country.

    Smith paced the unit with 644 yards and six touchdowns, adding 18 receptions for 159 yards. Johnson managed 213 yards and three scores.

    Grade: C-

Wide Receivers

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    At no point did the receiving corps pretend to be more than a two-man show. Considering the offensive scheme, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    Amara Darboh hauled in a Michigan-best 56 catches and 703 yards, tallying five touchdowns. Jehu Chesson snagged 45 passes for 646 yards and eight scores and waltzed into the end zone on two jet sweeps.

    Per MLive's Nick Baumgardner, teammates voted Chesson as the Wolverines' most valuable player.

    Depth was certainly a shortcoming, as no other receiver even hit the 10-reception mark. Finding someone from the reserve unit would've been a bonus this year.

    Grade: B+

Tight Ends

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    Following a strong performance in the season opener, Jake Butt was merely a one-play factor through November. As Rudock emerged, though, so did the tight end.

    The junior registered 21 grabs, 304 yards and two touchdowns during the final month of the year, posting a career-best 102 yards against Rutgers. Butt was ultimately named the 2015 Big Ten Tight End of the Year.

    Best of all for Michigan, Butta recently crowned second-team All-Americanintends to return for his senior season.

    A.J. Williams made a small impact as a pass-catcher, but the remainder of the tight ends contributed as blockers.

    Grade: B

Offensive Line

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    If nothing else, the offensive line assembled a consistent campaign, particularly during Big Ten action.

    With that being said, consistency isn't always great. By the end of the season, viewers knew to expect stout pass protection and mediocre-at-best run blocking.

    Although Graham Glasgow was the most penalized player on the line, he carried the group. Mason Cole was regularly effective, while Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson were decent.

    Most importantly, thanks to offensive coordinator and line coach Tim Drevno, each member of the unit had better technique and better understood how to react to different looks.

    The execution wasn't always there, but the line made significant progress after a dismal 2014.

    Grade: B-

Defensive Line

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    Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

    The defensive line could've had a reasonable argument for the team's best grade if injuries didn't affect the position.

    Unfortunately for Michigan, Mario Ojemudia—who technically played "Buck" linebacker but was essentially an edge-rushing defensive end—and nose tackle Ryan Glasgow sustained season-ending health problems.

    Chris Wormley, Willie Henry and Maurice Hurst picked up most of the slack, but Ojemudia's absence hurt the pass rush and Glasgow left a major void against the run.

    Nevertheless, the defense ended the year as the nation's No. 4 unit, and a strong front was paramount to that standing.

    Grade: B+


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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    While injuries hurt the defensive line, they exposed the poor finishing ability among the linebackers.

    Desmond Morgan, Joe Bolden and James Ross III were best described as garbage men, cleaning up the trash behind an effective front four.

    When forced to make a tackle in space, though, the linebackers often faltered. Blown gap assignments and an overall lack of quickness plagued the unit.

    Since the aforementioned trio is each out of eligibility, Michigan's main focus for the next two recruiting cycles should be linebacker.

    Grade: C+


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    Not only did opponents have to deal with a superb defensive line, they had to figure out how to beat Michigan's secondary, too. That didn't happen often.

    The Wolverines held 10 of 12 teams to less than 250 yards passing, including a five-game streak where they surrendered 150 or fewer. Michigan finished as the nation's No. 3 pass defense.

    Jourdan Lewis—a second-team All-Americanand Jabrill Peppers both achieved first-team All-Big Ten honors, while Jarrod Wilson received an honorable-mention nod.

    Wilson is the lone piece who cannot return, so the secondary could be even better in 2016 as long as Lewis follows through on his plan to forgo the NFL draft.

    Grade: A-


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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Most of the special teams units had respectable seasons overshadowed by one glaring slip-up.

    Blake O'Neill's mishandled snap led to Michigan State's improbable victory in Week 7. Kickoff coverage allowed a 98-yard return touchdown to Rutgers in Week 10. Punt coverage blew two tackles on a 51-yard punt score against Indiana the following weekend.

    Otherwise, the oft-overlooked facet of the game typically favored the Wolverines.

    Kenny Allen buried 13 of 14 field goals within 40 yards and 16 of his 20 total attempts. O'Neill netted 41.3 yards per punt. Chesson, Peppers and Lewis combined to make Michigan the second-best kickoff return team nationally.

    Special teamers don't receive much attention until they screw up. Excluding one everlasting mishap, Michigan avoided the negative spotlight.

    Grade: B

    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from cfbstats.com and B/R research using NCAA play-by-play data. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.


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