UofM football news ESPN ranks Will Johnson returning defensive back

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for many — such as PFF — Michigan football junior cornerback Will Johnson is the best defensive back in the country.

However, that’s not how everyone sees it.

ESPN put out its rankings of the 10-best defensive backs (meaning both cornerbacks and safeties) entering the 2024 season, and though Johnson has been seen by many as the No. 1 cornerback, the worldwide leader has him at No. 3 overall, behind Georgia safety Malaki Starks and Colorado cornerback Travis Hunter.

3. Will Johnson, Michigan

2023 stats: 4 interceptions, 4 passes defended, 27 tackles

Points: 60 (three first-place votes)

One of Jim Harbaugh’s more decorated recent recruits, Johnson immediately lived up to blue-chip hype, allowing just a 44% completion rate and an 11.9 QBR in coverage and playing a major role for the Wolverines’ 2022 CFP team. In 2023, both Michigan and Johnson raised their respective games. He allowed just a 42% completion rate and a 4.3 QBR as the Wolverines won a national title with the No. 1 defense per SP+.

Just about everything is changing for Michigan in 2024 — Sherrone Moore replaces Harbaugh as head coach, Wink Martindale replaces Jesse Minter as defensive coordinator, and only about five total offensive and defensive starters return. But any secondary with Johnson in it will automatically be one of the nation’s best, especially with the veteran safety help he should receive. So that is something the Wolverines can bank on. — Bill Connelly

Of course, as Connelly notes above, the defensive changes coaching-wise certainly could play a difference. But considering many seem to believe that Johnson has an opportunity to be the first defensive player off the board should he enter the 2025 NFL draft, it seems hard to believe that he’s the third-best defensive back in college football — no matter what the situation is in Ann Arbor. Especially considering Johnson was the defensive MVP of the national championship game just a few short months ago.

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