2018 Season Countdown: #40 Joshua Uche

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18Jul 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #40 Joshua Uche

Josh Uche is changing from #35 to #6 (image via MWolverine)

Name: Joshua Uche
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 226 lbs.
High school: Miami (FL) Columbus
Position: Linebacker
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #35 #6
Last year: I ranked Uche #51 and said he would be a backup SAM linebacker (LINK). He made 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 sack.
TTB Rating: 82

Uche has the unfortunate luck of being a little bit of an odd fit in Michigan’s defense. Last year I thought he would be a backup SAM linebacker when Michigan went to heavier fronts, but it turned out that Michigan mostly just kept Khaleke Hudson in there at Viper most of the time. Uche is more of a pass rush specialist, but you don’t always need pass rush “specialists” when your regular defense is getting home with blitzes and excellent play from the defensive line. Furthermore, Michigan had Noah Furbush to come in as a part-time pass rusher and blitzer, and Furbush did a good job as a sub package guy.

Khaleke Hudson returns this year at Viper, and once again, Furbush remains present as a sub package player. Michigan wants to get Uche on the field, so he’s playing some at WILL linebacker. He’s battling Devin Gil, Josh Ross, and others, and I think Uche will lose the battle to be the starter. However, defensive coordinator Don Brown has mentioned that they have certain packages designed with Uche in mind, and he can be a rusher like Furbush. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing some third down packages with both Uche and Furbush on the field; since Michigan can lock up on the back end, those are some dangerous guys to send on a blitz package.

Prediction: Backup linebacker, special teamer

17Jul 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #41 Joshua Ross

Joshua Ross (image via MLive)

Name: Joshua Ross
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 229 lbs.
High school: Orchard Lake (MI) St. Mary’s
Position: Linebacker
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #12
Last year: I ranked Ross #59 and said he would be a backup linebacker (LINK). He played in all thirteen games and made 4 tackles.
TTB Rating: 79

Ross’s 2017 season went about as expected. Michigan doesn’t rotate linebackers a lot, so Ross didn’t play a ton of defense. The defense is complicated, so Ross didn’t play a ton of defense. The team had Devin Bush, Jr. and Mike McCray II at inside linebacker, so Ross didn’t play a ton of defense. He did play as a backup on occasion and he spent quite a bit of time on special teams, which is where he made his impact.

The coaching staff did find him worthy of burning his redshirt, and I think that’s noteworthy going into the 2018 season. Jordan Anthony and Drew Singleton kept their redshirts, but they got Ross’s feet wet. Now he appears to be in a battle for the WILL linebacker position vacated by McCray, with the other candidates being Josh Uche and Devin Gil. I think Gil has the inside track with Uche beind a wild card, since Uche has bounced around a bit. But out of those three, the guy with the highest upside at inside linebacker is Ross. I view him as someone who could start to steal more and more snaps as his career progresses and push some other guys to the side.

Prediction: Backup WILL linebacker

17Jul 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #42 J’Marick Woods

J’Marick Woods (image via Twitter)

Name: J’Marick Woods
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 203 lbs.
High school: Florence (AL) Florence
Position: Safety
Class: Sophomore
Jersey number: #26
Last year: I ranked Woods #54 and said he would be a backup safety and special teamer (LINK). He made one start and totaled 9 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss for the year.
TTB Rating: 80

For a first-year safety at Michigan, Woods had a solid season. Safety is not an easy position to play as a true freshman when the game is moving quickly, the defense gets more complicated, and you have to communicate so much with your teammates while processing everything the opposing team is doing. Luckily for Woods (and Michigan), there were a couple more veteran guys to handle the majority of the snaps, while Woods was able to sit back and learn. He played spot duty before earning a start in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina.

This year Woods is roughly in the same spot as last season, but with an extra year of experience under his belt. Starting safeties Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel return, and so does utility man Jaylen Kelly-Powell, who has earned a lot of off-season hype. The safeties were the weak spot of the defense last season, however, and Woods could supplant someone like Metellus if he’s unable to improve on his performance from last year. Woods is known as a big hitter, but he needs to work on his coverage before becoming a full-time player. And once Kinnel graduates after the 2018 season, Woods could step into a starting role in 2019.

Prediction: Backup safety, special teamer

17Jul 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #43 Kekoa Crawford

Kekoa Crawford

Name: Kekoa Crawford
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 195 lbs.
High school: Rancho Santa Margarita (CA) Catholic
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #1
Last year: I ranked Crawford #13 and said he would be a starting receiver with 40 catches for 520 yards and 3 touchdowns (LINK). He made 17 catches for 243 yards and 1 touchdown; he also returned 8 kickoffs for 139 yards (17.4 yards/return).
TTB Rating: 81

As you can see, Crawford dropped significantly on the countdown from 2017 to 2018, from #13 down to #43. And that was before he left the team to pursue greener pastures elsewhere. Crawford played a lot last season, especially after starting wide receiver Tarik Black went down with a foot injury midway through the year. Crawford’s numbers look okay for a #3 or #4 receiver for a whole season, but he was expected to do more and never seemed to mesh with any of the three quarterbacks who saw game action.

This year Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones are both expected to be starters, and they’re a year older. Meanwhile, Nico Collins saw more action late in the year, Grant Perry is a senior, and Oliver Martin is coming off a redshirt. The arrow seemed to be trending down for Crawford. I still think he has talent and could have been a decent contributor at Michigan if he stuck around, but with only 2018 and 2019 remaining, he was destined to be overshadowed by Black and Peoples-Jones, if not others.

Prediction: None; he transferred

16Jul 2018
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2018 Season Countdown: #44 Oliver Martin

Oliver Martin (image via MLive)

Name: Oliver Martin
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 198 lbs.
High school: Coralville (IA) West
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Redshirt freshman
Jersey number: #2
Last year: I ranked Martin #62 and said he would be a backup slot receiver (LINK). He redshirted.
TTB Rating:

Last year I expected Martin to play without being a huge factor on the field, but he was the lone receiver from the 2017 class not to play. Injuries were a part of that. He wasn’t totally healthy throughout the year, and Michigan’s need at slot receiver wasn’t huge.

Hype for Martin has increased this off-season, and he should find a decent chunk of playing time. One piece of evidence is that rumors were floating around that incumbent slot receiver Grant Perry was exploring transfer options. Perry opted to stay and will almost surely play a large role, but he’s hearing footsteps. Furthermore, Michigan lost Maurice Ways, Drake Harris, and Kekoa Crawford since last season, and the only replacement in the 2018 class was Ronnie Bell. Ways and Harris barely played, and Crawford was a disappointment, but there’s still room for someone to take some snaps that were vacated. I don’t expect Martin to be heavily targeted, but I think he’ll be an enticing option for the future and we should get a glimpse of what Michigan will have in store when Perry graduates.

Prediction: Backup slot receiver; 10 catches for 110 yards and 1 TD