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Five things to know about Mike Sainristil

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The Washington Commanders drafted Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil with the No. 50 overall pick. Here are five things to know about the team's newest defensive back.

1. He started his career as a receiver.

Sainristil was known as one of the best players on Michigan's dominant defense, but that wasn't always the case. Prior to his senior year, most of his time was spent on the other side of the ball.

Sainristil came to Michigan as a top 100 cornerback prospect and the best high school player in Massachusetts. Despite being the Gatorade Player of the Year at the position, the Wolverines put him at receiver, and the former four-star recruit had his moments on offense. His first touchdown came during his freshman year, when he hauled in a 26-yard catch against Notre Dame.

Sainristil became more ingrained in Michigan's offense from there. He made three starts in the team's COVID-shortened six-game season, recording two touchdowns and averaging 11.7 yards per catch. The 2021 season was his best as a wideout, accounting for 312 yards and two scores. That was the year he grabbed a career-high 51-yard pass against Rutgers and scored a touchdown in the Big Ten Championship.

Even after he made the position switch, Sainristil still had his skills as a pass-catcher. They were what helped him stand out to the Commanders.

"He was incredible doing the DB drills," said general manager Adam Peters. "And then he was the best one on offense doing the receiver drills, outstanding route runner, outstanding ball skills, and he could just go all day."

2. Switching positions started as a joke.

It was a running joke between Sainristil and Michigan's defensive coaches that he wanted to try playing on defense. He would give passing comments like "Whenever you guys need me to play defense, let me know I'll come and play." Coaches like Mike Macdonald brushed it aside...until the team's defensive backs lost three starters.

Then they started to take those attempts a bit more seriously.

"Did I know it was actually going to happen? No, but you know, I'm glad it did," **Sainristil said via The Michigan Daily.** "I like where I'm at playing defense right now."

Michigan's coaches liked it, too. He started splitting reps during the 2022 offseason but eventually committed to the defense full-time. He got more comfortable in his role by the week, and by the time Michigan kicked off the season, he was an integral part of the unit, starting in 11 of 14 games.

Clearly, the switch worked out in Sainristil's favor. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and First Team All-American in 2023, recording 102 tackles over his last two seasons. His field awareness has been praised by multiple draft analysts, and his PFF grades of 83.3 and 81.4 ranked in the top 10 among Big Ten defensive players.

Sainristil still has much to learn, but he's already shown that what he can do on the field is no joke.

Check out the top photo of the Washington Commanders' second pick of the second round, Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil.

3. His family fled from Haiti.

Sainristil established himself as one of the best defensive players in the country with a bright future in the NFL, but his life could have been drastically different.

Although Sainristil spent most of his childhood in Massachusetts and played at Everett High School, he was born in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and spent the first seven months of his life there with his parents, Carlot and Raymonde Sainristil.

His family had to flee the country following the 2000 presidential election.

"I am glad we left because in America, you have more chances to have a better life," **his Carlot Sainristil, said via The Chicago Tribune.** "If he was in Haiti, he would not be able to do this. We don't have football in Haiti. We have soccer, real football."

Carlot was the newsroom director at a Haitian radio station, but telephone threats eventually forced him and Raymonde to move to the United States in the Boston area. Carlot resumed his radio career, while Mike went on to dominate at the high school level.

4. His turnovers can change games.

Sainristil has proven that he has a nose for the ball, corralling seven interceptions and forcing two fumbles. Getting the ball back for your team is one thing, but turning those opportunities into points is on another level of production.

It turns out that Sainristil excels at that, too.

Of Sainristil's six interceptions for the Wolverines last season, two were returned for touchdowns. The first came as a response to a mistake from the defensive back. He fell down in man coverage, giving Rutgers an easy 69-yard touchdown. He made up for it later in the game, jumping a screen pass and taking it 71 yards to the end zone.

"That's a difference-maker," **Jim Harbaugh said after the 31-7 win.** "The guy that makes the magic happen when you need the magic to happen. ... It's a beautiful thing."

The second interception came as part of an onslaught against Michigan State. Sainristil got underneath an overthrown pass and returned it 72 yards, putting the Wolverines up 35-0.

And then there was one of Sainristil's final plays with Michigan. It was an 82-yard return in the National Championship game, and while he didn't score, the pick did effectively dash Washington's hopes of a comeback.

For a team like the Commanders, who had the third-fewest interceptions in the league last year, Sainristil's skill set is one they desperately need.

5. Nick Saban loves him.

Former Alabama head coach Nick Saban has some of the highest standards in college football; after all, you can't win seven national championships without demanding excellence.

Sainristil never played for Saban, but he has earned the head coach's respect.

"There's a difference between love and LOVE," Saban said. "I LOVE this guy. "This guy may be the best football player pound-for-pound in the draft."

Saban has coached some of the league's best defensive players in the NFL. He had a hand in mentoring both Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne in addition to defensive backs like Patrick Surtain and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Saban isn't comparing Sainristil to those players, but he did have to prepare for the defensive back when Alabama played Michigan in the College Football Playoff.

After seeing on tape and on the field, Sainristil has received the Saban seal of approval.

"He's instinctive, he's physical," Saban said. "I know he's not very big, but I'll tell you what, this guy makes plays. He can cover, he can tackle, he's tough, fast reactor. I just love the way this guy plays."

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