Death, taxes, and a Michigan football defensive lineman at or near the top of Bruce Feldman’s annual ‘freaks’ list. Like Thanos, these things are inevitable.
Last year, Aidan Hutchinson, the second-overall NFL draft pick, was No. 2 in The Athletic’s perennial look into the freakiest athletes in college football. The year before, Kwity Paye was Feldman’s No. 1. This year is no different, with another No. 1 across college football going to the Wolverines.
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The interesting thing here is that outside observers expect the maize and blue to have one of the most explosive offenses in the country, but have major questions on defense. Yet, Feldman includes four Wolverines on his list of 100 (usually one or two Michigan players make the cut) and all four of his inclusions from Ann Arbor come from the defensive side of the ball.
The distinction of being at the very top this season this season goes to Michigan interior lineman Mazi Smith, who goes ahead of an Ohio State wide receiver — an impressive feat, given Smith comes in at 337-pounds.
Here’s why Feldman says that the senior defensive tackle is the freakiest athlete in college football.
1. Mazi Smith, Michigan, defensive tackle
His former teammate, Aidan Hutchinson, almost was our top guy in 2021, but this year a Wolverine is the No. 1 Freak in college football. The 6-foot-3, 337-pound senior has rare power and agility. So rare, in fact, it’s hard to find the right superlative to begin with. But let’s start with this: Smith does 22 reps on the bench press, but that’s with 325 (not 225). He close-grip benched 550 pounds. He vertical jumps 44 inches. He broad-jumped 9-4 1/2. Smith, who had 37 tackles last season, has clocked a 4.41 shuttle time, which would’ve tied the best by any defensive tackle at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, and it would’ve been better than any defensive tackle weighing 310 pounds or more in the past decade. His 6.95 3-cone time would’ve been by far the fastest among defensive tackles in Indianapolis. The fastest was 7.33. Smith’s 60-yard shuttle time is 11.90.
The Wolverines do a reactive plyo stairs test, which is a series of seven 26-inch high stairs that players attempt to jump up as fast as possible. The team record is 2.21 seconds. Smith did it in 2.82. To better gauge just how impressive that is, Hutchinson, some 60 pounds lighter than Smith, did it in 2.57.
Even more remarkable: The Wolverines also do a workout on their combo-twist machine, which is designed to show a player’s ability to rotate an opponent but also their ability to resist being rotated in the trenches. Smith had the machine completely tapped out. There was only enough room for 300 pounds on each side of the machine for a 600-pound max.
“For Mazi, it wasn’t even challenging,” says one of the Wolverine strength coaches. A staffer called the manufacturer to see if there was a way to extend it, then ultimately contacted a private company to build custom extenders for the combo-twist, which made it capable of loading up to 800 pounds to accommodate Smith.
“Mazi’s rotational strength is ridiculous,” said longtime Michigan strength coach Ben Herbert, who said Smith is the strongest defensive lineman he’s seen in 25 years in the business. “He is an incredible combination of rare traits packaged into one player. He is just ridiculously strong and powerful.”
But Mazi was far from the only Wolverine to make the cut. Here’s who else Feldman says is something to keep in nature.
NEXT, a return player from last year’s list.