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Michigan recently had three players drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft – two seniors and a true junior, the latter of which was talented but never really hit his ceiling while in college. Over the past few days, I have seen some gnashing of teeth amongst Michigan fans about whether or not anyone will be drafted in 2016. It’s a somewhat valid concern because Michigan does not appear to have many superstars, and nobody leaps out as a likely first or second round pick for next year. However, there are numerous guys who could find their names called next spring. Here is a rundown of the players who could potentially get a phone calling bearing good news during next year’s draft. Some of them are young players who might make the choice – wise or not – to leave after their junior or redshirt sophomore seasons.
Joe Bolden, LB (Sr.): The 6’3″, 232 lb. senior became a part-time starter in 2013 and a full-time starter last year when he finished second on the team with 102 tackles; he also had 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. He will be counted on once again to be a leader on the defense, alongside fellow inside linebacker Desmond Morgan. Bolden has never been the most athletic linebacker, but he is known as a smart, high-character guy who usually gets to the right spot. If Jake Ryan is the standard for a 4th rounder, then Bolden might be a late-round selection.
Blake Countess (RS Sr.): Countess has had an up-and-down career for the Wolverines. After showing promise as a freshman, he tore his ACL in 2012. Then he had 6 interceptions in 2013, followed by zero – and basically losing his job – as a redshirt junior in 2014, when he did have 24 tackles and 3 pass breakups. If the odd year trend continues, he’s poised for a big year here in 2015. The 5’10”, 185 lb. Countess will be battling Jourdan Lewis and Wayne Lyons for playing time, but Countess has a shot to get drafted pretty high if he performs like he did two years ago.
Graham Glasgow, OL (RS Sr.): The 6’6″, 303 lb. Glasgow comes with some off-the-field issues having to do with alcohol, but he has been Michigan’s most consistent lineman over the past two seasons. He has the ability to play center, guard, or tackle, although his best fit is probably the guard position. He could probably carry some additional weight if necessary. If Michigan finds success on the ground, much of the credit will probably go to Glasgow, who will probably be the starting center this year now that Jack Miller has departed.
Hit the jump for some more seniors and some underclassmen who could be tempted to make a jump to the NFL.
Wayne Lyons, CB (RS Sr.): Lyons is transferring to Michigan from Stanford, where he had 30 tackles, 3 pass breakups, and 1 fumble forced as a redshirt junior last season. Two years ago he notched 69 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. Lyons is a solid tackler who isn’t necessarily a sticky cover guy, but he’s another high-character kid who could possibly develop into a second- or third-day pick.
Desmond Morgan, LB (RS Sr.): Morgan would have been pursuing an NFL career this spring if not for an early-season shoulder injury that allowed him to get a medical redshirt for 2014. In a little over three seasons – including 31 starts at weakside or middle linebacker – he has made 229 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 1 interception. The 6’1″, 236 lb. Morgan looks overmatched at times when playing in space, but he’s a bit of an old-school linebacker who excels against the run and can take on blockers without giving much ground.
Mario Ojemudia, DE (Sr.): The 6’3″, 252 lb. Ojemudia is coming off of his most impressive season and has steadily improved his production (32 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks last year). For the first time in his career, he is the front-runner to start at defensive end/outside linebacker. He is another guy who has shown flashes of pass-rushing ability and playmaking ability, but he hasn’t been extremely effective. When Frank Clark was kicked off the team late in 2014, Ojemudia stepped into a starting role to make 8 tackles and .5 tackles for loss over two games. His lack of size somewhat limits his options for playing in the pros, where he would probably have to transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Ondre Pipkins, DT (Sr.): I include the 6’3″, 317 lb. Pipkins almost exclusively due to his size. Some fans still have high expectations for him, thinking that a torn ACL suffered during his sophomore season is the thing preventing him from reaching his potential. That may be a factor, because it takes longer for big guys to recover from those types of injuries. However, Pipkins has just 23 tackles and 1 tackle for loss through three seasons. If he were to launch himself into a draftable player, it would essentially come out of nowhere.
James Ross III, LB (Sr.): Ross came into college with a great deal of potential, but he has been lost in the shuffle a little bit. He’s similar in stature (6’1″, 232 lbs.) to former Washington Husky Shaq Thompson (6’0″, 228 lbs.), who was drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft. Thompson is more athletic, but it underscores that NFL teams are moving away from prototypical 6’3″, 245 lb. linebackers and more toward guys who are a little smaller, more agile, etc. I have an inkling that when the league is full of 6’1″, 225 lb. linebackers who would have been safeties 20 years ago, the NFL is going to return to rolling out Jamal Andersons and Jerome Bettises at running back to truck the little linebackers. But in the meantime, the spread climate makes this a good era for someone like Ross. He should be a starter this year and he’s very physical for his size, so he has a chance.
Jake Rudock, QB (RS Sr.): Rudock has an MGoBlue profile already and everything (LINK). The 6’3″, 208 lb. quarterback basically lost his starting job at Iowa, but Michigan was in desperate need of a quarterback and worked out a transfer. As the Hawkeyes’ starter last season, he was 213/345 for 2,436 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. If his career had been over last season, he would not have been selected in the NFL draft, as only seven total quarterbacks were taken. However, Iowa’s playbook was mostly about managing the game, and while Michigan won’t air it out, Jim Harbaugh has had a way of making quarterbacks successful at his past stops. A standout season for the Wolverines could put Rudock into the draft discussion, although he probably lacks the tools to be a high pick.
Jarrod Wilson, S (Sr.): The 6’2″, 210 lb. Wilson has been pretty quiet during his career. His freshman season was rough, but it was followed by a promising sophomore year (50 tackles, 2 interceptions). Then injuries and ineffectiveness burdened him last year, when he looked like just another guy in his first season as a full-time starter (50 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 pass breakups). Wilson has grown into an in-the-box safety who’s most comfortable supporting the run, sniffing out screens, and being physical with tight ends and slot receivers. NFL teams will like his size, but he may not make enough big plays to make a name for himself.
Jake Butt, TE (Jr.): Coming off of a torn ACL suffered in spring of 2014, Butt was not extremely productive last season (21 catches, 211 yards, 2 touchdowns). Part of that can be contributed to a flailing offense and subpar quarterback play. Either way, he is 6’6″, 248 lbs. with pretty good speed and good hands. Butt is not an elite athlete, but Jim Harbaugh is a bit of a tight end whisperer. If the starting quarterback can find his rhythm, Butt is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the receiving corps. A good season could launch him into thinking of a jump to the NFL.
Derrick Green, RB (Jr.): Running back is a position that seems to have a lot of turnover. There is no guarantee that Green will be the starter in 2015, but he came into college with a lot of hype and an eye pointed toward getting to the NFL. If the offense and offensive line come together – and if Green wins the starting gig – then he could be looking to leave. Running backs take a lot of wear and tear, so making money while you can before injuries take a toll is not a bad plan. Green had 82 carries for 471 yards (5.7 yards/carry) and 3 touchdowns last season.
Willie Henry, DT (RS Jr.): Henry is 6’2″, 311 lbs. and has shown at various times that he can manhandle offensive linemen. After making some wow plays in 2013, he was expected to break out in 2014 but never really played well consistently; there were rumors that he had an Alex Boone moment and thought he had reached the top of the moutain. He made 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 1 interception against Utah that he returned for a touchdown last year. He has some competition at tackle, but he should get plenty of chances to show his stuff.
Ty Isaac, RB (RS So.): Much like Green, Isaac entered college (in his case, USC) with a lot of hype and NFL hopes. He had 40 carries for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns as a true freshman before sitting out last season while transferring. Isaac has a complete game – running, catching, and blocking – but it’s still not clear whether he will be the starter this year or not. Listed at 6’3″ and 240 lbs., he’s probably the biggest tailback Michigan has seen. If he wins the job and produces, he could be moving on for the same reasons as Green might.
Kyle Kalis, OG (RS Jr.): Kalis is essentially a returning two-year starter, and while he has not played up to his recruiting hype, he has the body to be an NFL offensive guard. The coaching at Michigan has been questionable for the past few years, but even so, Kalis has seemed not to fully understand his responsibilities. He has a mean streak and an NFL body, so if things click mentally for him this season, the scouts could come calling.
Jourdan Lewis, CB (Jr.): Lewis, who is listed at 5’10” and 176 lbs., might not be the biggest corner around (and 5’10” is probably a bit of an exaggeration), but he has the best man coverage skills on the team and can hang with just about any receiver. Even when he gets beaten, it’s done in a tight window. He’s also liable to get flagged for pass interference fairly often because he likes to be very hands-on with his coverage. Last season he had 39 tackles and 2 interceptions, and teams started picking on Lewis’s defensive backfield mates instead. Good cornerbacks are at a premium in today’s game, so if he continues to develop, he’s probably the closest to making the NFL jump based solely on his abilities.
DeVeon Smith, RB (Jr.): Smith (5’11”, 228 lbs.) was rumored to have some attitude issues with the previous coaching staff. He ended up leading the team in carries, yardage, and touchdowns (108 carries, 519 yards, 6 touchdowns) but most of that came after early-season starter Derrick Green was injured. Smith was the most impressive running back in the spring game, although Green, Isaac, and Drake Johnson were limited or sidelined by injuries. Michigan has the potential for a very crowded backfield, and one way to escape the jostling for position is to go get paid to jostle in the NFL.
Chris Wormley, DT (RS Jr.): The 6’4″, 300 lb. defensive lineman has always been pegged as a potential star, but his motor has been questioned at times (including by yours truly). He has flashed ability in his first couple years on the field after tearing his ACL as a freshman. This past season he notched 21 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. Michigan supposedly has big plans for him, and the new coaching staff may have lit a fire under his butt. Quick enough to play end in a 3-4 and big enough to play inside in a 4-3, he has the versatility and explosiveness to pique the interest of NFL scouts.