The Wolverine


The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MAY 2020 THE WOLVERINE 57 T he 2020 NFL Draft was a re- minder that Michigan has had talent. On April 23-25, the Wolverines had 10 players selected. They tied Ohio State for the second most among all schools and trailed only LSU, which had a record-tying 14 draft picks. Michigan is also near the top of the list for the most NFL Draft picks in the College Football Playoff era (2015-20). Michigan has had 34 play- ers selected during that span. This is the sixth-most behind Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Florida and Clem- son, and four of these schools are the only ones to win a national title in this era (Alabama, OSU, LSU and Clemson). So it would appear that Michigan has the talent to be on the brink of usurping Ohio State. However, the 2020 NFL Draft was also a reminder that Michigan has lacked elite talent. Particularly in one area. In 2020, Michigan had two play- ers taken in the first two rounds of the draft: center Cesar Ruiz with the 24th overall pick and defensive end Josh Uche with the 60th selection. This brought the total of Wolver- ines selected in the first two rounds under Jim Harbaugh's guidance (2016-20) to six. However, this is not close to the number of first- and second-round picks that the recent national cham- pions have produced. Alabama is re- sponsible for a whopping 28 first- or second-round picks during this time frame. In addition, Ohio State has had 22, LSU 17 and Clemson 13. The Wolverines have enough tal- ent that they should beat the Buck- eyes more occasionally than once every 17 years, but it is clear that they need more elite players to beat OSU consistently and contend for titles. U-M has been better in some ar- eas as opposed to others. Of their six picks in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, five have been on the defensive side of the ball (safety Jabrill Peppers, defensive end Taco Charlton, linebacker Devin Bush Jr., and defensive ends Rashan Gary and Uche). They may have had two more if corner Jourdan Lewis had not been defending legal allegations and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst had not been diagnosed with a heart issue. Michigan also has seen signs that it has been developing its offensive line further under Ed Warinner. Not only was Ruiz a first-round selec- tion this year, three of his fellow linemates (Ben Bredeson, Michael Onwenu and Jon Runyan Jr.) were also taken in this draft. It was the second time in the modern era that a school had four offensive linemen picked in the same draft (Oklahoma, 2019), and rising redshirt sopho- more tackle Jalen Mayfield has the potential to be a first-rounder next year. However, where the Wolverines have struggled to produce elite tal- ent is at its offensive skill positions. U-M has not had an offensive skill player picked in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft under Harbaugh. This is not just a Harbaugh prob- lem either. It is a program problem. Michigan has not had an offensive skill player drafted in the first round since 2005 (wideout Braylon Ed- wards, third overall) and has had only two such players taken in the second round (quarterback Chad Henne in 2008 and wide receiver Devin Funchess in 2015) since. To be fair, tight end Jake Butt, the former Mackey Award winner, likely would have been at least a second-rounder had he not torn his ACL in the Orange Bowl. However, Michigan has recruited too many stars at the offensive skill positions to not develop them into game-breakers. Quarterback Shea Patterson was a former five-star prospect. He went undrafted. Donovan Peoples-Jones was a former five-star and the top-ranked wide receiver in the 2017 class, yet he was the 28th receiver chosen in the 2020 NFL Draft, sliding all the way down to the sixth round due to, among other things, his subpar pro- duction (34 receptions for 438 yards and six touchdowns in 2019 before leaving early). On the other hand, in the past five drafts, Alabama has had eight offen- sive skill players plucked in the first two rounds, Ohio State and LSU have accounted for six apiece, and Clemson boasted three. Michigan cannot rely solely on its defense and offensive line to get the job done, particularly when the op- ponents preventing them for accom- plishing their goals have offensive playmakers. The Wolverines need offensive playmakers that scare de- fenses and can break open a game at any time. Maybe wide receiver Nico Collins can be that weapon for the Wol- verines as a senior if he is targeted frequently. Otherwise, it will be another year where Michigan lacks the elite tal- ent, especially on offense, to win big and another year where it watches weapons from other schools be drafted in the first two rounds. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Not All Draft Picks Are the Same Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. U‑M had four offensive linemen selected in the 2020 NFL Draft — just the second time in the modern era a school achieved that feat (Oklahoma, 2019) — but just one (cen‑ ter Cesar Ruiz, 24th overall) came off the board in the opening three rounds. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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