Michigan football news was overwhelmed this week with guys announcing they were either transferring or leaving for the NFL – oh, and the Jim Harbaugh-to-the-NFL drama – so yours truly just had no chance of keeping up with all those developments.
Posts on each one of these guys will be coming down the road to summarize their careers, but I wanted to address each one here and now.
DE Aidan Hutchinson: Hutchinson played four years at Michigan and could have returned for a fifth. He was the Heisman runner-up and set the school record for sacks with 14. He has nothing else to prove and will likely be a top-5 pick in the draft, so this was the right decision for him. Draft projection: 1st round
OLB David Ojabo: Ojabo had 11 sacks rushing the quarterback opposite Hutchinson one year after making 1 total tackle. As a redshirt sophomore, he could have come back for a couple more seasons, but he’s striking while the iron is hot. Hutchinson and Ojabo surely helped each other out, and there would be a risk in returning for 2022, considering there’s no proven pass rusher on the opposite side. He could very well have returned and put up mediocre sack numbers, hindering his draft stock. Even though Ojabo is not a good run defender, he does have outstanding athleticism and could be a year one pass rusher for an NFL team. Draft projection: 1st round
Offensive guard Chuck Filiaga has entered the transfer portal. Filiaga started four games at guard in 2021 and eight throughout his career on the way to appearing in 39 total games.
Filiaga was a class of 2017 recruit and could have returned in 2022 for a sixth year, considering the 2020 COVID year was a free year of eligibility. Instead he’ll play the year elsewhere. He was a 4-star, the #13 offensive tackle, and #112 overall. I gave him a TTB Rating of 86 (LINK). It turns out I should have paid more attention to my red flags:
On the negative side, it’s a bit of a red flag that Filiaga doesn’t have more film as a big-time recruit. His junior highlights are just over two minutes long, and his senior highlights last 38 seconds. It may be an issue with the film or technology or the coach, so it’s not necessarily a lack of highlight-worthy plays, but it’s still a question mark. That dearth of highlights also shows up when it comes to pass protection, because there’s not a whole lot that shows his ability to fend off edge rushers. I think Filiaga shows some weaknesses when it comes to footwork and needs to be more consistent in that area. Another inconsistency is his stance, where he frequently seems to telegraph run vs. pass or even the direction of his block. If defenders get underneath him or slant across his face, he sometimes has trouble adjusting.
Filiaga did okay at Michigan, but he was pretty much always the weak link when he was starting. His lateral quickness was lacking, which made him a liability in pass protection, and he seemed to be a step late to identify blitzes and stunts. He played decent at times and starting at a big program is no small feat with all the 4-star prospects Michigan has landed, but it seemed like the competition in Ann Arbor was just a little too good for him. He could certainly go somewhere else and start next year, and that includes for plenty of other teams in the Big Ten. In general, it seems like a high percentage of transfers head closer to home, so the Texas native could very well end up closer to SEC/Big 12 country.
The only remaining 2017 signees are offensive tackle Andrew Stueber, punter Brad Robbins, tight end Joel Honigford, and defensive tackle Donovan Jeter. I use the word “remaining” loosely because I expect most of them to also jump to the NFL, except perhaps Honigford. Honigford came in as an offensive lineman and transitioned to tight end, losing a bunch of weight in the process. I will be interested to see whether he tries to hone his skills at that position for one more year, make an attempt at the NFL as is, or perhaps bulk back up to play offensive line now that Michigan is losing a couple guys.
I’m projecting next year’s offensive line to look like this:
Jim Harbaugh came to Michigan to right the ship and return the program to national prominence. Rich Rodriguez went 15-22 at Michigan. Brady Hoke went 31-20, which isn’t terrible overall, but things were going downhill. But that’s a 46-42 record over seven years. Jim Harbaugh is 61-24 with a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff appearance. Has he won a national championship? No. But that’s the only feat he hasn’t accomplished, other than some personal goals he might have (winning 100 games, becoming the winningest coach in Michigan history, etc.). Ultimately, seven years is a pretty long tenure for any coach by modern standards, and especially if you consider he was at both Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers for four years each.
Harbaugh’s career is essentially the envy of any coach ever. He’s won in the NFL and gone to the Super Bowl. He’s won in college and coached a team to the playoffs. He’s taken broken and abused programs and turned them into perennial double-digit winning programs.
But if you want to win at the highest level, that’s the NFL.
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With all the news surrounding coaching movement in the off-season, there’s a lot to cover. First of all, though, I want to mention that former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who worked under Rich Rodriguez in 2009-2010, passed away from Alzheimer’s complications at the age of 70.
Don Brown (Head Coach, UMass): UMass hired Brown to be its new head coach. This is actually his second stint as the head coach of the Minutemen; he was there from 2004-2008 and went 43-19, the best five-year record in school history. But that was when the program was in FCS (DI-AA), so this is a level up in competition.
Erik Campbell (Wide Receivers, Bowling Green State): Campbell finished up his third season as BGSU’s wide receivers coach.
Tony Dews (Running Backs, Tennessee Titans): Dews had been the running backs coach for the Titans since 2018.
Quarterback Dan Villari has entered the transfer portal after redshirting and then playing mop-up duty. Villari was a 3-star, the #42 pro-style quarterback, and #1225 overall out of Massapequa (NY) Plainedge in 2020. I gave him a TTB Rating of 69 and suggested he would finish his career playing a position other than quarterback (LINK).
Villari redshirted in 2020. This past season he played in four games toward the end of blowouts, appearing mostly as a runner (9 carries, 35 yards). He did throw 3 passes against Maryland in extended blowout time, completing just 1 for 26 yards. He was the #3 quarterback behind Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, and the only reason that might change is if McNamara or McCarthy leaves.
Villari’s departure does not concern me much, considering I don’t see him as a quarterback, or at least not a Michigan-caliber one. The one potential problem might perhaps come from additional attrition, such as if McNamara/McCarthy transfers and/or if Alan Bowman transfers. As good as this season was for Michigan, players want to go where they’re going to play. There’s at least a chance that the loser of the McNamara/McCarthy derby leaves town, along with former Texas Tech starter Bowman, who’s on the outside looking in. It would not be too surprising to have Michigan go into the fall of 2022 with the winner of the McNamara/McCarthy duo and the two true freshmen, Jayden Denegal and Alex Orji.