2016 Season Countdown List

Tag: 2016 season countdown

3Sep 2016
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2016 Season Countdown List

Back on May 19, I started the countdown with a post about freshman defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour as the #97 most important player on Michigan’s roster. Every day (okay, most days) since then, there has been a profile of every noteworthy Michigan player. It’s a grueling process sometimes, and now that football season has started for me, sometimes I’m working 15 or 16 hour days before coming home to write a post or two. But I do it because it’s fun, so thank you for reading and arguing over the last few months.

Here’s the 2016 season countdown list (I don’t have time to include all the links, but a quick Google search will find any particular players’ profiles you want to find):

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2Sep 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #1 Jourdan Lewis

Jourdan Lewis (image via SB Nation)

Name: Jourdan Lewis
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 186 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) Cass Tech
Position: Cornerback
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #26
Last year: I ranked Lewis #5 and said he would be a starting cornerback with 50 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 8 pass breakups (LINK). He started every game and ended with 52 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions (1 TD), 1 forced fumble, and 18 pass breakups; he also returned 15 kickoffs for 378 yards (25.2 yards/return).

Lewis was a bona fide star in 2015, perhaps the best player in the country at his position. And he might even be underrated, even though he was an All-American. Perhaps the biggest highlight was when he wrested what appeared to be a reception away from a Northwestern receiver, somehow stayed inbounds, and raced down the sideline for a 37-yard touchdown. Behind De’Veon Smith’s 60-yard touchdown against BYU and the final play against Michigan State, it was the biggest “WTF just happened?” moment of the year. Just a week earlier, he had made a one-handed snag of a crossing route to wow the crowd at Maryland. And the week after the Northwestern game, he went toe-to-toe with Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge and ended the game with 7 tackles and a career-high 6 pass breakups in that one game. It was a three-game stretch of a ridiculously high level of play.

Hit the jump for more on Lewis.

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2Sep 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #2 Jabrill Peppers

Jabrill Peppers (image via The Big Lead)

Name: Jabrill Peppers
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 205 lbs.
High school: Paramus (NJ) Catholic
Position: Linebacker/safety
Class: Redshirt sophomore
Jersey number: #5
Last year: I ranked Peppers #3 and said he would be a starting safety and punt returner, plus a part-time slot receiver and kickoff returner (LINK). He made 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 10 pass breakups; ran 18 times for 72 yards (4.0 yards/carry) and 2 touchdowns; caught 8 passes for 79 yards (9.9 yards/catch); returned 8 kickoffs for 223 yards (27.9 yards/return); and returned 17 punts for 194 yards (11.4 yards/return).

It’s difficult to quantify what kind of impact Jabrill Peppers had on the Wolverines in 2015, even with all the stats listed above. He was tied for 7th in the Big Ten in pass breakups, mostly from the slot corner position. He was 4th in punt return average. He would have been #1 in kickoff return average if he had had enough opportunities. He was 6th on the team in tackles and 9th in tackles for loss. He did all that in one fewer game than many of his teammates, since he sat out the 41-7 drubbing of Florida with a hand injury. All that production came from one guy, like a created player on NCAA Football (may its soul rest in peace).

Hit the jump for more Peppers.

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1Sep 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #3 Mason Cole

10/11/14 The University of Michigan football team defeats Penn State, 18-15, at Michigan Stadium.

Mason Cole

Name: Mason Cole
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 305 lbs.
High school: Tarpon Springs (FL) East Lake
Position: Center
Class: Junior
Jersey number: #52
Last year: I ranked Cole #8 and said he would be the starting left tackle (LINK). He started all thirteen games at left tackle.

Cole has been eligible to play in 25 Michigan games over his two seasons, and he started every one at left tackle. He was a lightweight as a freshman in 2014, but he held his own. He was a little heavier in 2015, and he was good enough to be Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. His best quality was his ability to block on the edge and in space, but he was occasionally overpowered by bigger, stronger guys since Cole was only about 287 lbs. Still he was a solid player, and the offensive coaching staff favored the left side in crunch time. Combined with mammoth left guard Ben Braden and center Graham Glasgow, the left side got the job done pretty well.

With Glasgow graduated and playing for the Detroit Lions, Michigan needed a new center and moved Cole there in the off-season. They gave him a taste of center in the spring of 2015 in anticipation of Glasgow’s departure, so this isn’t brand new. There were some issues with shotgun snaps in the spring game, and it’s always a concern when a player moves to center because they have to get acclimated to calling protections, snapping under pressure, etc. Cole is arguably Michigan’s best blocker, and he’s the most suited to center because of his quickness. He was always unlikely to stick at left tackle because he lacks prototypical bulk and length, so center and guard seem more fitting. His primary backup is redshirt junior Patrick Kugler, who has looked overmatched in limited time. If Cole were to get hurt, it would create a void in the middle that would be difficult to overcome. Cole has a chance to be an all-conference player and set himself up as an NFL draft pick for 2018.

Prediction: Starting center; Second Team All-Big Ten

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1Sep 2016
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2016 Season Countdown: #4 Jehu Chesson

Senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson celebrates a touchdown against Florida at the Citrus Bowl.

Jehu Chesson

Name: Jehu Chesson
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 203 lbs.
High school: St. Louis (MO) Ladue Horton Watkins
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Fifth year senior
Jersey number: #86
Last year: I ranked Chesson #18 and said he would be a starting wide receiver with 25 catches for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns (LINK). He started twelve games, making 50 catches for 764 yards and 9 touchdowns; he ran 8 times for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns; and he returns 4 kickoffs for 166 yards and 1 touchdown.

Chesson was the offensive breakout star of the Michigan Wolverines in 2015. Earlier in his career, I had lamented his ball skills, and that even reared its ugly head early in the year when Jake Rudock tried to connect with Chesson on deep balls numerous times. The ball was either overthrown or Chesson wouldn’t adjust properly to it. Then about halfway through the year, the light came on for Chesson and he turned into one of the most dynamic receiving threats in the country. He had 33 catches for 632  yards and 7 touchdowns over the final six games, including a 207-yard effort against Indiana. One of the most exciting moments of the year was his kickoff return against Northwestern, which he took 96 yards for a touchdown and was completely untouched.

I have high expectations for Chesson in 2016. I think his game meshes well with Wilton Speight, who has a stronger arm than Rudock. Again, I’m putting my faith in Jim Harbaugh to pick the right quarterback, so hopefully Speight will push the ball down the field at times so he can connect with guys like Chesson. I’ve had questions about Speight’s accuracy on the deep ball, but Chesson can leave corners in the dust and out-leverage safeties. He may not be needed so much in the running game if the Wolverines can run the ball more effectively, but based on what teams saw him do last season, he can be a threat to make defenses pause on end around and jet sweep fakes.

Prediction: Starting wide receiver; 60 catches for 900 yards and 9 touchdowns