The Michigan Football Seniors Most Likely To Return In 2022
Of the 24 scholarship players who are in at least their fourth of fifth year of college on Michigan Wolverines football's roster, just three of them — safety Brad Hawkins (fifth year), center Andrew Vastardis (sixth year) and defensive tackle Jordan Whittley (seventh year) — do not have the opportunity to continue playing college football past this upcoming season, with the NCAA having deemed the 2020 campaign a 'free year' of eligibility due to the pandemic.
That's right — 21 Wolverines who will have been in school at least four years (and likely will have received their undergraduate degrees) will have big decisions to make. Eleven Michigan players will have the chance to play two more seasons, while 10 will have the opportunity to return for one more.
Right now, Hawkins and Vastardis do not count against the scholarship limit of 85 since they are currently using the extra year of eligibility (Whittley counts because he transferred in from Oregon State), but that is expected to change for players using their extra year starting next season. The Michigan coaching staff is not obligated to fulfill any of the potential wishes to return for the extra year because they may not have the room for it, considering a whole new batch of freshmen will be set to arrive.
Below is a ranking of the 10 Michigan players who will potentially opt to use their extra year, in order from who is most likely to return to Ann Arbor (1) to who is least likely to suit up in Maize and Blue again (10). This list does not include players who are seniors by school classification but juniors by eligibility. It only includes seniors or graduate students by eligibility who are able to return for the 2022 season.
Note: The number year of college each player is entering in 2021 is listed in parentheses.
10. Defensive Tackle Jess Speight (5th Year)
A former walk-on who was granted a scholarship ahead of the 2019 campaign, Speight is the least likely of the group to return for one more season. He has made one career start, but has seen action on just 104 total snaps his entire career.
The Michigan staff is unlikely to ask Speight back for another campaign, due in large part to the fact that the program brought in three freshmen defensive tackles in the 2021 signing class and that Speight hasn't seen the field much throughout his first four years.
9. Offensive Tackle Joel Honigford (5th Year)
8. Defensive End Aidan Hutchinson (4th Year)
While Hutchinson remarked at Big Ten Media Days that he's back for "one last ride" in Ann Arbor after opting to return this offseason instead of declaring for the NFL Draft, he's not No. 10 on this list.
The preseason All-America and projected first-round 2022 NFL Draft pick checks in at No. 8 on this list because, by all accounts, the Michigan staff would take him back in a heartbeat if he, for some reason, wanted to give it one more go in a winged helmet.
However, Michigan fans shouldn't get their hopes up on this one.
7. Offensive Guard Chuck Filiaga (5th Year)
A returning starter at guard, Filiaga is battling to retain his job after redshirt freshman Trevor Keegan surpassed him during the spring. The 2021 season will determine a lot when it comes to Filiaga's future with the program.
At this point, he's a fifth-year player who is sitting second on the depth chart. In addition, there are six interior offensive lineman younger than him, with that number likely to increase when the 2022 signing class is all said and done. There likely won't be room to keep him on the roster (if he even wants to return), unless players at his position transfer.
6. Wide Receiver Ronnie Bell (4th Year)
Bell led Michigan in receiving yards in both 2019 (758) and 2020 (401), and is primed for another big season in 2021.
With another productive year, he'd most likely be selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, but if he wants one more season to bolster his stock, he could come back to Ann Arbor. There's little doubt that head coach Jim Harbaugh and Co. would allow him to do so.
5. Defensive Tackle Donovan Jeter (Fifth Year)
Michigan is thin at defensive tackle — it's no secret — and Jeter is one of the most experienced players at the position, having played 401 career snaps and started four of last season's six games.
Jeter has proven to be a serviceable option on the interior of the defensive line, though his numbers (14 tackles, zero sacks) don't stand out, and it may be wise to keep an experienced veteran around for one more year. Still, with three freshmen tackles coming in this year, he probably won't be needed for a sixth season.
4. Linebacker Josh Ross (5th Year)
Amid all the uncertainty surrounding Michigan's program — especially on the defensive side of the ball — Ross, who led the Wolverines in tackles last season with 53 stops, quietly made his choice to return for his fifth season before he even knew who would be his defensive coordinator.
There is perhaps no player who has been more vocally supportive of Harbaugh and the program over the last calendar year, which leads one to believe he'd be open to coming back for a sixth season. On top of that, at 21 years old, Ross is young for his grade and may not be in a hurry to head out.
Still — and as Harbaugh said at Big Ten Media Days — it's believed that Ross has an NFL future (probably as a late-round pick), and he could get his pro career going following the 2021 campaign. As we saw with Austin Davis on the basketball side of things this offseason, having a guy, especially one who has dealt with injuries, to stick around for a sixth year is a tough ask.
3. Offensive Lineman Andrew Stueber (5th Year)
Just when it looks like Stueber's career is going to take off, he's hit with adversity. In 2019, he was battling to start at right tackle but tore his ACL in preseason camp. In 2020, he was a shoe-in to start on the right side of the line — and did, for all six games — but it was a shortened season in which he wasn't able to fully showcase his skills.
A lock to start somewhere on the right side of Michigan's line in 2021, Stueber, who hasn't received any NFL Draft buzz to date, could play his way into being a pro. If he doesn't, and wants to come back, the Michigan staff would likely be more than happy to grant his wish.
2. Punter Brad Robbins (5th Year)
This one is about numbers more than anything. Robbins overtook Will Hart, who has since transferred out of the program, as the starter at the beginning of last season.
He has plenty of experience, having booted it away 91 times in his career, and there's only one other scholarship punter — freshman Tommy Doman — on the roster. Not only does Doman, who's believed to have a bright future ahead of him, have no college experience, but he also has the ability to be a kicker and may be a better fit at that position.
If Robbins wins the job this season and does well, he could be asked back for another year, and may want to return.
1. Kicker Jake Moody (4th Year)
Moody has plenty of experience as both a kickoff specialist (193 kicks) and a place kicker (17-for-24 in his career), and is the favorite to handle both duties this fall. Depending on Doman's development, and what position he ends up at, Moody may be the best option for Michigan at kicker in 2022, and Harbaugh has shown in the past that he places a high value on specialists.
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