All-Harbaugh Team: Defense and Special Teams

All-Harbaugh Team: Defense and Special Teams

August 10, 2020
Jabrill Peppers

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Last Monday I posted the top performers under Jim Harbaugh on Michigan’s offense (LINK).

DEFENSIVE END: 2016 Taco Charlton
Charlton’s performance in 2016 is underrated by some, even though it resulted in the highest sack total since Brandon Graham matched it with 10.0 in 2008. Charlton finished the season with 43 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 8 quarterback hurries. He was taken in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Hit the jump for more.

DEFENSIVE END: 2017 Chase Winovich
Once Winovich settled into a position (after moving from linebacker to tight end to defensive end), he became a disruptive force on the defensive line. Taking over for Charlton, he made 79 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 quarterback hurries. He’s #6 all-time at Michigan in tackles for loss during a single season.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: 2017 Maurice Hurst, Jr.
In his fifth season, Hurst became Michigan’s most dominant defensive lineman since Graham left. His final year in a winged helmet included 61 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 pass breakups, and 3 quarterback hurries. He was in the conversation to be a 1st round draft pick, but a reported heart issue caused him to fall to the 5th round in 2018.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: 2015 Willie Henry
Henry had an outstanding final season in Ann Arbor, making 34 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 3 quarterback hurries. He played with good leverage and could be extremely disruptive on the interior.

LINEBACKER: 2017 Devin Bush, Jr.
Bush was great in his final two years at Michigan, but I give the edge to his true sophomore season in 2017. He finished with 102 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups, and 1 quarterback hurry. Bush had the speed to go sideline to sideline, and he arrived with bad intentions. He could rush the passer and play in coverage. After one more year, he was picked in the 1st round by the Steelers.

LINEBACKER: 2019 Josh Uche
It’s almost cheating to include Uche here, since he spent part of the time playing like a defensive end. But he was also surprisingly good in coverage at times and used in a bunch of different ways by creative defensive coordinator Don Brown. Uche made 35 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 2 forced fumbles during his final campaign.

LINEBACKER: 2017 Khaleke Hudson
Maybe Hudson wasn’t the revelation at the Viper spot that Jabrill Peppers was in 2016, but Hudson had the more impressive season in a number of ways (though Peppers was a more dynamic overall player with his contributions on offense and special teams). But if we’re talking about linebacker only, Hudson made 82 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 9 pass breakups, and 4 quarterback hurries. Even without his ridiculous 8-TFL, 3-sack game against Minnesota, he still would have had a very solid 10 tackles for loss and 5 sacks on the year.

CORNERBACK: 2016 Jourdan Lewis
Raw stats don’t necessarily tell the whole story at cornerback, where Lewis made 25 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 11 pass breakups in 2016. He was a First Team All-American.

CORNERBACK: 2018 David Long, Jr.
Michigan cornerbacks have put up excellent seasons virtually every year under Jim Harbaugh and cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich. Again, this wasn’t the most impressive statistical season, but Long was a shutdown corner in 2018 when he made 17 tackles, 1 interception, and 8 pass breakups.

SAFETY: 2015 Jarrod Wilson
Safety has not been a dynamic position in the last 15 or so years at Michigan, but Wilson became a “Steady Eddie” late in his career. He finished that 2015 season with 61 tackles, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, and 3 pass breakups.

SAFETY: 2018 Josh Metellus
Metellus rescued the 2018 game against SMU when he returned an interception for a touchdown against the Mustangs as time ran out in the first half, giving Michigan some momentum when they were struggling. He finished that season with 48 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions (for 104 yards and 1 touchdown), and 6 pass breakups.

KICKER: 2016 Kenny Allen
Allen is an easy choice for best kicking season, though he was pretty good in 2015, too. He finished 19/23 on field goals and 53/53 on extra points. He also created a touchback on 60.7% of his kickoffs (next best: 2018 Jake Moody’s 48%) and didn’t kick a single kickoff out of bounds.

PUNTER: 2018 Will Hart
Hart was a weapon in 2018. He averaged 46.98 yards per punt for the season, which would have been #5 in the country if he had enough attempts to qualify for the national lead. He was First Team All-Big Ten and the conference’s punter of the year.

PUNT RETURNER: 2016 Jabrill Peppers
Peppers made you hold your breath at punt returner, because you never knew when he was going to make coverage teams look slow. He was also excellent at sprinting to catch punts, which saved Michigan a bunch of yardage. Overall, he returned 21 punts for 310 yards (14.8 yards/return) and scored a touchdown against Colorado.

KICKOFF RETURNER: 2019 Giles Jackson
Michigan has had a few solid years of kickoff returners, but Jackson seemed like the guy who really settled into the position the most (and he was only a freshman). He returned 24 kickoffs for 622 yards (25.9 yards/return) and 1 touchdown, which came against Maryland.


  1. Comments: 1357
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Aug 10, 2020 at 9:06 AM

    Not the worst effort I’ve ever seen from a kicker, but it’s up there.

  2. Comments: 6285
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Aug 10, 2020 at 10:59 AM

    Finding a way to leave Jabrill Peppers off is something.

  3. Comments: 6285
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Aug 10, 2020 at 12:05 PM

    I guess it says something about Harbaugh’s defenses that we can even have a debate about leaving guys like Peppers, Wormley, Gary off. What a run it’s been!

    My take:

    NT: Hurst
    DT: Wormley
    Anchor: Gary ’17
    DE: Winovich
    MLB: Bush
    WLB: Hudson
    Viper: Peppers
    CB: Lewis
    CB: L.Hill
    S: Wilson
    S: D. Hill

    And if you’re going to have specialists on O you can have them on D too. We’ve had some great ones.

    Nickel DB: Long
    I gave the edge to Hill since he stuck around longer and garnered more accolades in college but this is mostly interchangeable IMO.

    Edge Rush: Uche
    most dangerous pass rusher I can remember in a Michigan uniform, with apologies to Hall, Woodley, and Winovich

    Jumbo short yardage: Mone
    though Henry and Glasgow would be good too, I want the beef

    Couple cheats above (Hudson and Wormley) but you find a way to put your best guys on the field and Michigan tends to put their best at Anchor and Viper.

    Wormley is playing inside in the NFL and did so at Michigan too so that’s not much of a stretch.

    Hudson might be light but we saw J. Glasgow transition from safety/viper to ILB, so Hudson is probably capable too. Maybe you see some undersized LBs and try to run through us — but good luck with that DL.

    My quibbles with the list above:

    I thought Metellus was a really good player and had an excellent career but probably a better fit at viper given he kind of lacks for 1-on-1 coverage skills against elite talent. I’m putting in Hill for more speed matching up against some of the RBs and Slots we’ve seen at OSU and PSU.

    DE is another tough spot. Charlton had a helluva year in 2016 but the talent and depth around him was incomparable. He put up stats that season, but the years before he only showed flashes. And then in the NFL he’s been a huge disappointment and pulled in passing downs. I like Charlton but have to ding him for only having one good year in extremely favorable circumstances. With the competition being so high, stuff like that counts, though opinions will vary.

    Special teams could have been it’s own post. What a ride for Kenny Allen!

  4. Comments: 22
    Joined: 8/20/2015
    Aug 11, 2020 at 7:01 AM

    I know it has been debated to death, but with this post and Lanknows reply, it really gets me thinking about Peppers and Gary. I think the inclusion or exclusion of Peppers can be justified based on what Hudson was able to do in his best season compared to Peppers at that position. Within a different context, you could argue that Peppers was a more dynamic overall player that was used so much all over the place that he didn’t shine in one specific area…fine either way, but that’s a tough argument for me.

    As for Gary though. I think people both overly criticize because he was a mega 5 star player, and also overly defend because they tend to think he was always double and triple-teamed. Gary played the role he was supposed to play but never seemed to be the sort of game-changer we hoped for. Sure it can be debated back and forth, but the way I see it, you could swap Gary for Charlton or Wormely and not really notice a drop-off. Like any good player, he helped his other teammates, to include Wino, but I just don’t understand the perspective on Gary from either extreme. He was neither a bad player nor a bust. He was also not the awesome force from the heavens that was only limited because every snap all 5 O-linemen went directly after him (joking).

    As a side note, I find it interesting when people bring up NFL stats for only one side of the story. Sure Charlton hasn’t been great in the NFL, but what about Gary? I think my point is selective cherry-picking doesn’t add the full context to one side or the other.

    All that being said, I love these posts and looking back on the players throughout the years. Also, even though I hardly post, I appreciate discussion generated by Lanknows and other people, keeps these interesting.

    • Comments: 1357
      Joined: 8/13/2015
      Aug 11, 2020 at 7:31 AM

      People feared Peppers. I think his numbers were reduced some by people just deciding to stay the hell away from him.

      With the exception of Minnesota, everybody accounted for Hudson on every play … particularly after Minnesota … but I don’t think that anybody actively avoided him.

    • Comments: 6285
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Aug 11, 2020 at 5:42 PM

      Good perspective.

      It’s true that Gary hasn’t done anything in the NFL but he’s been there one year. If he is a bust in the NFL it won’t change what he did at Michigan but it will lend some credence to those that say he wasn’t all that good IMO.

      I think it’s also worth noting that Gary was injured in 2018. The previous year he was a better player than Winovich – named DL of the year. And his performance against OSU was absolutely elite. NFL draft stock isn’t everything but it’s notable that Gary was better than Winovich before 2018 and was draft higher afterword despite some serious concerns about injury severity (though Wino had some too.)

      Point here is not to quibble about individuals but to just say that the circumstantial evidence might be relevant when we are talking about a bunch of all conference players who go off to the NFL. It’s not as simple as just tallying up sacks.

  5. Comments: 14
    Joined: 4/11/2017
    Aug 11, 2020 at 8:40 AM

    I think Peppers belongs on here purely from his ability to impact opposing game plans. He basically erased portions of the playbook like screens to his side. His intangible impact on the game was huge, as was his obvious tangible impact. I normally don’t disagree with Magnus on much but I don’t see how you can leave Peppers off.

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