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NFL draft hopefuls talk breakout players for Michigan football in ‘23



INDIANAPOLIS — While Michigan sent nine players to the NFL Scouting Combine last week, that means there are holes to fill in 2023.

And while the Wolverines seem to have most of that figured out, some key cogs and draft hopefuls have their own take on what’s ahead this fall.

Speaking to reporters in Indianapolis, defensive end Mike Morris declared Michigan “Edge Rush U” before imploring outsiders to keep an eye on returners Jaylen Harrell and Braiden McGregor.

“Jaylen’s a SAM (linebacker) that can rush the passer on third down. Braiden is an athletic freak,” Morris said. “I think both of them are going to do really, really well. Like, Jaylen stepped up when I was hurt in the Purdue game. Braiden had a lot of great snaps as well; came in clutch in the Michigan State game with a sack.”

Elsewhere on defense, Michigan’s All-American center Olu Oluwatimi, a Rimington Award and Outland Trophy winner, says to keep an eye on the defensive line — especially returning tackles Kris Jenkins and Mason Graham, along with Josaiah Stewart, the incoming transfer from Coastal Carolina — and Amorion Walker, who recently moved over to the secondary.

More: Michigan OL Hayes, Oluwaitmi credit coach with unit’s success

“The front is littered with talent,” Oluwatimi said. “The front-seven is littered with talent. The back end is littered with talent. I think the defense has a real chance, a good chance, to be great again in Year 3 of the same system.”

All signs point to defensive coordinator Jesse Minter returning for his second year at Michigan, which boasted a top-5 unit last season.

Meanwhile, all the talk at the combine seemed to focused on the offense, and rightfully so. The Wolverines bring back starting quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, a deep, experienced offensive line and some familiar faces at receiver.

“Obviously my two guards, Trevor Keegan and Zak Zinter, but also Karsen Barnhart,” left tackle Ryan Hayes said. “I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people next year, and he’ll be a big name to watch.

“I’m expecting more of our running attack from last year. Obviously all those guys with another year of experience coming back together, they’re just going to keep excelling. I’m pretty excited to watch (it).

More: Stars align for Michigan WR Ronnie Bell at NFL combine

Receiver Ronnie Bell sang the praises of returning wideout Cornelius Johnson, who has 31 starts in four seasons outside, saying he has the skillset and talent to be “the best receiver in the Big Ten.”

“Nothing but smooth sailing,” Bell said. “I think that team’s going to be even better. I just think that’s a juggernaut of a program that coach Harbaugh has put together, and those guys are going to keep going.”

Oluwatimi went one step further, calling it “on paper right now, they probably have one of the best teams in Michigan history.”

“They just got to put in the work, trust the process, attack every day and don’t look forward to what’s to come,” he continued. “Just stay in the moment. Good things always happen when you work hard and have talent like they have.”

Michigan is coming off its best season ever under Jim Harbaugh, with a 13-1 record that saw the Wolverines beat rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, win a second straight Big Ten title and reach the College Football Playoff.

Read more on Michigan football:

D.J. Turner runs sub-4.3 40-yard dash at NFL combine

DT Mazi Smith flashes freak strength at NFL combine

Outgoing Michigan tight end opens up about playing for Jim Harbaugh

C.J. Stroud is so mad he never beat Michigan he nearly returned to Ohio State

K Jake Moody, Shrine Bowl MVP: ‘I’m worth a draft pick’

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