Every year there are a handful of players who fly into a new season under the radar for various reasons. Players recovering from injuries, have buried depth maps, don’t have a lot of playing experience, or just play in a position that doesn’t get high praise.
Some people just don’t appreciate dragging and blocking left guards on the second level as much as one-handed receptions.
Think back to last season for some examples. David Ojabo became a starter, accumulating 35 tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss, 11 sacks and five forced fumbles. And he started the year with just one (!!!) career tackle and zero tackles-for-loss, sacks, or forced fumbles during his first two seasons at Ann Arbor.
DJ Turner, Andrew Vastardis, Rod Moore and Andrel Anthony are other great examples from Team 142 of under-the-radar players who played a crucial role in the team’s success.
So who are some of these potential key pieces for 2022 that aren’t making the headlines?
Diploma Senior Defensive Lineman Julius Welschof
Julius Welschof has been on everyone’s lips since his arrival in 2018. “Have you seen that boy from Germany?!” “Imagine what he could be with his frame!” But unfortunately it has recently become: “Is that Welschof in the game? I forgot him.”
Listed at 6’6, 288 pounds, Welschof Moonlights is the colossus of Rhodes and just a year away from appearing in Bruce Feldman’s annual “geeksperform. Welschof has all the necessary qualities to be successful, but just didn’t bring everything to the pitch.
Could this be an Ojabo-like situation where it CLICKS for the 25-year-old German when it clicks?
Junior linebacker/running back Kalel Mullings
If you haven’t consumed Spring Games content, listing with two positions makes no sense. But if you’ve done it, you’ve seen the flashes of potential as a run-stopping linebacker and as a punishing running back.
At 6ft 1 and 236lbs, Mullings is a human force who could add valuable depth and versatility to either position group. As a linebacker, he excels at filling in gaps, but also possesses enough speed to run in open space with opposing skill players.
As a running back (whom he also played in high school), Mullings was able to take away some of the short distance and bruises from Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards’ fatal 1-2 smash, and help maintain their health down the track.
Also, given Hassan Haskins’ recent success in switching between running back and linebacker, it’s difficult not to giddy about Mullings’ potential.
Senior offensive lineman Karsen Barnhart
Karsen Barnhart is currently battling Trente Jones for starting position in the right tackle but all signs point to him losing that fight. However, this “loss” goes beyond simply losing in a positional contest
By keeping Barnhart as the utility’s fifth lineman, it’s a move by the coaching staff. Unlike Jones, Barnhart can seamlessly play in either the guard or tackle position, and for a unit that will no doubt see some injury turnover, Barnhart’s tucking and playing mitigates any significant drop in performance.
Being the fifth attacker is a dubious honor, but having a versatile player like Barnhart in that role could mean the difference between a return to the College Football Playoffs or finishing third in the Big Ten East.
Graduated senior wide receiver Ronnie Bell
Ronnie Bell has quickly become the epilogue to bar talk when it comes to Michigan talent returning in 2022.
Bell – injured in the first game of 2021 against Western Michigan – was undoubtedly the player with the best skill position for the Wolverines in his extremely limited action. The team captain caught a pass for a 76-yard touchdown and a Circus one-handed reception on the sidelines who didn’t count because of a fake OPI call.
With his third and final touch of the game, Bell made an electric punt return and solidified his Biletnikoff campaign when BAM, an awkward hit and his season was over.
If Ronnie Bell can return to 100%, he will be WR1 and be in contention to be the first Michigan receiver with 1,000 yards in nine years.
Graduating senior linebacker Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett is the knight on defense coordinator Jesse Minter’s chessboard; While not used as prominently as the Queen, Barrett’s size and versatility allows him to maneuver around defenses like few players.
A limited starter last season, Barrett was used against quick spread offenses when defensive substitutions were limited to negating potential mismatches. Barrett is tall enough to hold his own against the barrel and athletic enough to protect himself in space.
Barrett will be an X factor in certain match-ups, particularly against Penn State and Ohio State.
Honorable Mention: Defensive Tackle Kris Jenkins, Safety Makari Paige, Defensive End Derrick Moore, Wide Receiver Darrius Clemons, Defensive End Taylor Upshaw