The Wolverine

March 2024

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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78 THE WOLVERINE ❱ MARCH 2024 BY CLAYTON SAYFIE M aybe Jim Harbaugh wasn't crazy after all. Fans across col- lege football rolled their eyes when the former Michigan head coach told The Athletic at Big Ten Media Days last July that the Wolverines would break Georgia's NFL Draft record for the most picks in a year, which is 15 selections set in 2022. After all, Harbaugh was always prone to hyperbole in the preseason. He never shied away from making a bold state- ment, and this was one of them. This one might just come true, though. "I think we'll have 20 guys picked," Harbaugh said. OK, 20 might be a bit far-fetched, but the Wolverines have a great chance of hitting 15 or surpassing it. The Wol- verines have 18 prospects invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins in late February in Indianapolis, shattering LSU's previous record of 16 in 2020. The next-highest this year is Wash- ington, the national runner-up with 13, followed by Florida State (12), Georgia (11), Texas (11), Alabama (10) and Penn State (10). The Wolverines and Nittany Lions are the only teams that competed in the Big Ten last season to earn double- digit bids. There were 321 total draft hopefuls who received invites. That means over 5 percent of all invited athletes hail from Michigan. There will be 257 overall selec- tions in this spring's NFL Draft, meaning that at least roughly 20 percent of com- bine invitees won't be taken by a team (there will be players who weren't invited to the combine that are picked, too). From our view, Michigan has double- digit prospects that are all but locks to be chosen in April, including quarter- back J.J. McCarthy, running back Blake Corum, wide receiver Roman Wilson, tight end AJ Barner, offensive lineman Trevor Keegan, offensive lineman Zak Zinter, edge Jaylen Harrell, edge Braiden McGregor, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, linebacker Michael Barrett, linebacker Junior Colson and defensive back Mike Sainristil. There will be others among the rest of the group, too, that get selected, of course. The Wolverines have a chance to make history. BLITZ, MICHIGAN, BLITZ Hiring Don "Wink" Martindale as defensive coordinator kept Michigan's defensive system in place, and there was absolutely no reason why head man Sherrone Moore shouldn't have done just that after Jesse Minter departed with Har- baugh for the Los Angeles Chargers. Martindale was the coordinator in Bal- timore while Minter and Mike Macdon- ald, U-M's defensive coordinator in 2021 (now head coach of the Seattle Seahawks), were position coaches. They learned the system and applied it in Ann Arbor. Mar- tindale will be able to do the same, even if he has a different style than the others, just as Minter called games differently than Macdonald. The "Blitz, 'Bama, Blitz" video featur- ing comedian and actor Druski and Ala- bama superfan "Roll Tide Willie" took the college football world by storm be- fore Michigan played the Crimson Tide in the Rose Bowl, especially after Roman Wilson and teammates made a parody of it after winning the CFP semifinal. Now, more than likely, Michigan will see an uptick in its blitz rate under Martindale. Here are the blitz rates on passing downs and NFL ranks for Martindale's defenses during the last six seasons in which he was a coordinator (via Pro Foot- ball Reference): Season Team Blitz Rate NFL Rank 2018 Ravens 39.6% 1st 2019 Ravens 54.9% 1st 2020 Ravens 44.1% 1st 2021 Ravens 31.1% 8th 2022 Giants 39.7% 1st 2023 Giants 45.4% 2nd For comparison, Michigan blitzed (five or more rushers) on 44 percent of drop- backs last season under Minter. He did mix things up week by week, though, just like Martindale has been known to do. The Wolverines blitzed 50-plus percent of the time in six of 15 games and also had four outings with a blitz rate under 35 per- cent. Junior cornerback Will Johnson played zone coverage on 58.6 percent of his cov- erage snaps last season, the ninth-highest mark in the Big Ten among those with 300-plus snaps. The data shows that Martindale more heavily favors man-to-man coverage, but that's not to say that he won't adapt to the college game and how opponents are playing, while playing to his team's strengths. Last season under Martindale's lead- ership, the Giants were well under the league's average in percentage of pass- ing plays in cover 2, cover 3 and cover 4, according to They were well above the league average in passing snaps in cover 2 man, cover 0 and cover 1. There are more similarities than dif- ferences, though. Martindale will use the same fronts that Michigan ran — primar- ily a nickel 4-2-5 defense — with a light box, great disguises, simulated pressures and multiple coverages. ❏ SAYFIE BLITZ ❱ CLAYTON SAYFIE U-M Gunning For A Major Record Quarterback J.J. McCarthy is certain to hear his name called during this year's NFL Draft. The Wolverines had a record-setting 18 players invited to attend the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. PHOTO BY DOMINICK SOKOTOFF Staff writer Clayton Sayfie has covered Michigan athletics for The Wolverine since 2019. Contact him at Clayton.Sayfie and follow him on X (Twitter) @CSayf23.

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