Defensive Tackle U. Michigan is putting together a nice crew of defensive tackles, and the least heralded one is the guy making plays most consistently, it seems. Sophomore Mason Graham made 5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks against UNLV, eating up the interior offensive line repeatedly. The Rebels ended the game with 61 rushing yards on 31 attempts, which includes sacks, but still . . . the middle was stuffed up all day. Kris Jenkins made 5 tackles and 0.5 sacks and Kenneth Grant made 4 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and 1 pass breakup. The title of this section is a little facetious, but the defensive tackle play has been terrific.
Name: Kris Jenkins, Jr. Height: 6’3″ Weight: 305 lbs. High school: Olney (MD) Our Lady of Good Counsel Position: Defensive tackle Class: Redshirt junior Jersey number: #94 Last year: I ranked Jenkins #18 and said he would be a starting defensive tackle with 35 tackles and 2 sacks (LINK). He made 54 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 quarterback hurries. TTB Rating: 77
If there’s anyone who seems to follow right in his dad’s footsteps – after all the legacies Michigan has seen – it appears to be Jenkins. Jenkins, whose dad and Uncle Cullen played defensive tackle in the NFL for a long time, has grown immensely over the past two years, putting on 20 pounds in each of the past two off-seasons. Last year’s 20-pound jump put him at 285, which is feasible defensive tackle size. He proceeded to blow up a bunch of run plays, get after the passer a little bit, and put himself on the Honorable Mention All-Big Ten team. He was named Michigan’s Defensive Player of the Week five times (including sharing the honor against Illinois in week eleven).
You could make an argument to place Jenkins higher in the countdown, but I think Michigan’s defensive tackle depth is solid, especially in the two-deep with Mason Graham, Kenneth Grant, and Rayshaun Benny. Throw in grad student Cam Goode and that’s a solid fivesome, which doesn’t include redshirt sophomore Ike Iwunnah or any of this year’s freshmen. Jenkins is Michigan’s top entry in Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” for this year, and in some of the workout videos produced by the @umichfootball Twitter account, he looks jacked and supremely confident. I think it’s going to be a fun season of seeing him consistently in opposing backfields.
Name: Kris Jenkins, Jr. Height: 6’3″ Weight: 285 lbs. High school: Olney (MD) Our Lady of Good Counsel Position: Defensive tackle Class: Redshirt sophomore Jersey number: #94 Last year: I ranked Jenkins #78 and said he would be a backup defensive tackle (LINK). He started four games and made 22 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. TTB Rating: 77
Jenkins didn’t exactly have a breakout season in 2021, but he definitely made his presence felt, which is saying something for a redshirt freshman defensive lineman. Weighing in the 260s, he used his quickness, leverage, and strength to get underneath and split offensive linemen. I kept expecting to see him get blown off the ball, and it almost never happened. In Michigan’s amorphous defensive front, he started a handful of games, playing 3-tech and some 5-tech. He didn’t make a lot of plays, but he didn’t get taken advantage of very often, either.
Jenkins has put on about 20 pounds this off-season and appears to be ready to take over for Chris Hinton at defensive tackle. There have been positive reports from practices talking about his ability to make an impact. I expect him to be a starter, but how much of a difference-maker will he be? Considering his quickness and pedigree – his dad and uncle play defensive tackle in the NFL – he has the potential to be pretty good, but whether he gets there as a redshirt sophomore is a question. I tend to think most interior defensive linemen need to get to year four or year five before they really take off. Jenkins should begin to break out this year and then 2023 could be a very good year.
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Let’s see more of this guy on offense . . . A.J. Henning. Assuming Ronnie Bell is out for a while (hopefully not!), I think Henning is probably the guy who needs to see more touches. Michigan needs a guy who can run through tackles and make something happen after the catch. As much as I like Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson, and other guys, I’m not sure that any receiver besides Henning can offer that ability after the catch. Henning had a 74-yard touchdown on an end around and caught 1 pass for 11 yards from J.J. McCarthy.
Name: Kris Jenkins, Jr. Height: 6’3″ Weight: 265 lbs. High school: Olney (MD) Our Lady of Good Counsel Position: Defensive tackle Class: Redshirt freshman Jersey number: #94 Last year: I ranked Jenkins #101 and said he would redshirt (LINK). He played in one game. TTB Rating: 77
Jenkins is the son of former Central Michigan and NFL defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, so the bloodline is there. Brought in to be bulked up into an interior defensive lineman, he was not ready last season. That didn’t stop him from getting thrown in there against Wisconsin when the Badgers were running all over the starters, the backups, the ushers, and the concession stand workers. But that was Jenkins’s only appearance of the season.
This year I don’t expect Jenkins to play much more than last year. For one thing, he’s still too light at 265 lbs. to play inside. For another thing, the coaching staff’s switch to more of a 3-4 look should prioritize size with the linemen, which might require Jenkins to spend a prolonged period eating and lifting before he sees the field. And those things don’t take into the equation that the Wolverines brought in 358-pound transfer nose tackle in Jordan Whittley to take at least some of the snaps inside. This should be another developmental year for Jenkins.