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Roundtable: Top 25 Players For Michigan Football

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Hey, guys. So, we’re going in a different direction this week. I’m going to give you my guesses for the top 25 players on the team right now - feel free to critique or analyze. Here we go:

  1. Rashan Gary
  2. Chris Evans
  3. Mason Cole
  4. Devin Bush
  5. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
  6. Khaleke Hudson
  7. Wilton Speight
  8. Tarik Black
  9. Mike McCray
  10. Chase Winovich
  11. Khalid Hill
  12. Grant Newsome*
  13. Maurice Hurst
  14. Ben Bredeson
  15. Josh Metellus
  16. Michael Onwenu
  17. Tyree Kinnel
  18. Kekoa Crawford
  19. Karan Higdon
  20. Zach Gentry
  21. Mike Wroblewski
  22. Donovan Peoples-Jones
  23. Jordan Glasgow
  24. Ty Isaac
  25. Bryan Mone

Alright, first impressions?

Eric: I think Hurst is underrated, that’s too big a gap between Black and DPJ and would pull Gentry for one of the corners.

Jared: I like the top 4, but Eric is correct in that Hurst is criminally underrated at number 13. Wheatley and Black above Hurst is borderline laughable to me because we haven’t seen close to as much from those guys. We literally haven’t seen anything from Black. No doubt Wheatley has the tools to be a great tight end, but 1 career touchdown is nothing compared to Hurst’s 7.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Wheatley certainly might be more talented and have a higher upside, but he is not a better player right now.

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I like Tyree Kinnel a little more than you, and would rate him above Mike McCray; another guy I think is a bit high. I am definitely putting Mone above Wroblewski and Jordan Glasgow at this point, but he seems to have regressed slightly. I also think Furbush is better than Wroblewski. A case could be made for Quinn Nordin, because if it is best player at their position, he could very well be that already. His leg is beyond impressive.

Will: Ty Isaac had a good spring game … in 2016. Point being, I think the guy’s a great athlete with big play flashes against inferior opponents, but he’s not an exceptional football player. It's time we all stop waiting for him to live up to his five-star past.

Gary: I agree wholeheartedly that Hurst is underrated. I feel like he will be more impactful than even Rashan Gary this year.

I also think Chris Evans needs to be in the bottom teens or maybe early 20s. I totally believe there is a chance he will break out, but I honestly like Kareem Walker to catch him, maybe even surpass him. Call me crazy on that one though, because I have no other evidence, but the spring game and some practice tape to prove it. In general, I am pretty low on all our running backs. There’s a reason we ran by committee last year. No one was very good. Only I just don’t think we can confuse the most talented players with players that play positions we just love to watch, no matter what.

Andrew: Most of this list is based on potential and although Gary is my favorite Wolverine, I think Mason Cole is the most proven player and a potential first round selection in next year’s draft. Nick, my friend, I thought we agreed to tailgate before games, not roundtables? Mo Hurst at 13 is criminal and Crawford should be higher solely because of his run blocking capabilities. Also where is the DOOOOOOOM?! Mone strikes me as the most interesting and if he can recover fully from his injuries, I expect him to fly up this list. Also, Quinn Nordin makes the top 10 of this list by the end of the season. Kickers are people too!

Nick: Alright, so I think I got the message on Mo Hurst. What would be a better fit for him, then? Probably 5, and knocking Ty Wheatley down a little bit? I’m bullish on all these guys, and I love Wheatley’s game, but 5 may have been a bit high, in retrospect.

Photo credit: Patrick Barron, MGoBlog

McDoom is definitely the best player not on this list, so I also see him up there with these guys. Nordin, though, I’m not convinced on. I had to (and love to) take risks on some guys that I think are going to break out, and Quinn fits into that category just like Kinnel or Hudson or Glasgow. And if he’s one of the best in the country at his position, then yeah, you have to put him somewhere. But I’m not sure I’m that confident yet that he’s in that tier without having played. I could be wrong, and he’s certainly got all the potential given that leg of his.

Andrew: That’s the right idea! Get Hurst top 5 and move Wheatley down some. The rest of the players remain a fun debate and one I think we can all tolerate. As much as we rip apart this list now, it will be far easier to put out rankings once the team plays Florida. Maybe even power rank the players weekly, bi-weekly, and keep the debate going throughout season.

Nick: We’ll at least get this to a more consensus agreement by the end of the roundtable, I’ll be happy to move stuff up or down.

What do you think about Michigan’s linebacking corps if all three guys - including Khaleke Hudson - are among the best players on the team? It’s fair to say, I think, that they’re all on the athletic side, and they’ve also been workmanlike and seemed very solid at diagnosing plays. On the other hand, linebackers are supposed to look like that at the spring game after practicing against their own offense so much. Anyway, thoughts?

Eric: You can probably caveat a lot of position groups that way. The speed/lateral movement and attitude will remain, but clearly they need some reps against different offenses (again, thanks for the Air Force game, Brandon :->). Confidence that Brown will have them in shape.

Jared: I think that is incredibly welcome news for Michigan fans as there has not really been a game changer at the position since Jake Ryan, and maybe David Harris before him. Now we look poised to march out a brand of athletic, heat seeking missiles to back up the already solid Mike McCray. I think you are right in tempering expectations based on what we see in the spring, but the guys on that staff know football--and they seem to like what they have, especially with Bush. Arguably the best linebacker recruiting class in Michigan history has not even gotten on campus yet, to boot. Linebackers are right up there with running backs for the position group poised to make the biggest leap in my opinion.

Will: The athleticism in the linebacker corps encourages me, because they don't have to be great for this defense to be dangerous. With such a formidable defensive line, they just need to be good. And a Dan Brown defense, which is pure aggression, requires a lot of speed from its linebackers to succeed. And these guys have it.

Andrew: The linebackers are a welcomed surprise, honestly. Devin Bush looked like Bobby Boucher getting to the quarterback so effortlessly (The Waterboy is still my football fix) and Hudson was a commanding Viper in the spring game. The athleticism is evident, but my concern is if Bush can stop the run like Ben Gedeon. No doubt in my mind he can play in coverage better, but Gedeon was a force inside last year at diagnosing and stopping the run. McCray returns and I believe will take another leap forward. This defensive line is a luxury to the linebacking corps and will cover up early season mistakes. That being said Devin Bush will eat you if you cross his line of scrimmage.

Photo credit: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog

Nick: We haven’t really talked about him very much, but how much of a difference would it be if this team had a healthy Grant Newsome in the fold? How has that changed the offensive line around?

Eric: Biggest concern on the team. Also, the hardest area to judge based on Spring practice. Neither Peters nor Speight will be able to look particularly effective with a line that can’t get it together.

Jared: It’s nice to dream. It would have made a huge difference for a lot of different reasons. Having Newsome back would have allowed us to move O line Swiss Army knife Mason Cole to wherever the next greatest deficiency on the line was. Maybe that means he swings out to right tackle, maybe that keeps him at center. Either way the line is just that much better for it. I have no doubt Mason Cole will hold down the left tackle position extremely well, but that is not his ideal spot on the line.

Will: I dunno. Maybe the difference between a conference title and another solid but disappointing year? It would free up others to move along the line and fill gaps, as Jared indicates. The difference between a good team and a playoff team lies with the line’s ability to push around elite defensive fronts, something it hasn't done for some time. Having a healthy Newsome on board might be just enough to push the squad to a dominant level.

Andrew: Experience is never a bad thing, but these “what if’s” can drive us all crazy. Newsome would sure up the tackle position and as Jared said, allow Cole to fill any glaring weakness among the line. I believe the line will be better this season, but Newsome’s return would only bolster the entire group’s play. Good luck with rehab, Grant!

Karan Higdon is a guy who went under the radar at first, but has blossomed into an exciting player.
Photo credit: Patrick Barron, MGoBlog

Nick: So, the list above has three early-enrollee freshmen and nine sophomores - it would have been ten if Devin Asiasi had stuck around. Another thing that struck me was how much of the top ten was occupied by Harbaugh recruits already. Is it possible, in all of Harbaugh’s success recruiting, to underrate his eye for talent and picking the right guys?

Eric: Harbaugh certainly deserves kudos here, but a big part of this distribution is the gaping hole that we have in our 3rd year players thanks to the Hoke ending.

Jared: I think you hit the nail on the head when say the “right” guys. The recruiting has been excellent under Harbaugh, but it is his ability to get his guys that has been crucial. Recruiting under Hoke was also very good, as evidenced by the 11 guys Michigan just sent to the NFL. It did seem under Hoke though, that he just threw out a net around the midwest; trying to land as many highly rated guys in the area as he could. Harbaugh is dipping into these other recruiting hotbeds; Georgia, California, Texas-- and getting quality players that fit what he and his staff like to do. Josh Metellus was one of the lowest rated guys from the 2016 recruiting class, and he looks like an absolute stud. Just goes to show that this staff absolutely know what they are doing.

Will: It’s easy to bag on Mark Dantonio right now given the program’s near-implosion, but the man has been a master at recruiting the “right” guys and developing them into his guys. I feel Hoke was a capable recruiter in pulling 4-star players, but failed to pick and develop the “right” guys for his system. Harbaugh is an elite recruiter, but whether he has that same elite eye for a good fit will become clear over the next couple years. I'm prone to always give Coach the benefit of the doubt, though.

Andrew: Harbaugh and his staff have done a masterful job of spanning the entire country for not only elites, but for players that fit the system. Hell, Georgia might as well be Detroit this season. Michigan has been known as a battleground of intoxicating competitiveness since Harbaugh arrived, but his eye for the right guys is undervalued. By consistently bringing in high-level competitors, Harbaugh is assured in always having a physical and deep team. More than anything, it appears Harbaugh wants a team of competitive, athletic, grinders who LOVE football. Essentially he wants a team of nothing but Jim Harbaugh’s and that is not a bad strategy.

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick: Penultimately, where else did you disagree with me on the list? Anybody I left off that you think should have made it? Eddie McDoom or one of the corners would have a good argument, certainly, and I’ll get to Hurst.

Jared: I think I already made my opinion known earlier, but I will gladly reiterate that Mo Hurst is WAY better than the 13th best player on this team. There is already a lot of chatter about Hurst potentially being a first round pick next year. Let’s be generous and say he only goes in the top 3 rounds. Can you possibly say that about all 12 guys ahead of him?

I think McDoom is better than Crawford right now. If we are talking potential, we may as just throw up a list of everyone's recruiting profile and rank them by stars. Mason Cole is also better right now than Captain America (Evans), but it is difficult to compare those two positions. Sorry to lay into your rankings Nick, but you asked!

Nick: I did!

Will: Yes, more McDoom; on the college level there's just no replacement for foot speed like his. Give me some Ian Bunting, who proved in a bowl game he's the best returning receiving end. Oh, and it's very exciting that we're even debating which true freshman receiver should be in the top 10. Should be a fun fall.

Gary: The only running back who deserves to be in the top 25 is Chris Evans, in my opinion, although not very high. I don’t think Crawford deserves to be there either, but I am hopeful in his potential. I love Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., but he was rarely used as a pass catcher. Was that just because of Butt? Does he not have consistent hands? Too slow? I just don’t the feeling the coaches are very high on him in the passing game. I would love him to be in the top 25, but I think he may have to be in the way back based on how little he may end up impacting the game.

Andrew: Besides what I previously mentioned, Khalid Hill at 11 seems too high. Okay, he is number one on the team in entertaining Instagram stories, but having him ranked ahead of Hurst should be punishable by banishment to Columbus (just kidding, no one deserves that kind of Hell). I don’t think Glasgow deserves a spot over McDoom of Brandon Peters. It is conceivable to me as well to have Peters on this list. He might not start this season (even though I bow to Ann Arbor three times a day and pray he does), but it is preposterous to say he isn’t one of the best 25. I’ll end the roast there and say thank you my friend for allowing us to colorfully tear apart your list.

Nick: You’re welcome! This is definitely a fun conversation. As for Khalid Hill, I had put him at 11 because I think he’s without a doubt the best and most deadly fullback in the country, a guy that teams have to gameplan for in a way that just doesn’t happen with other fullbacks. And bending the conventions of a position gets a lot of love from me.

However, because I don’t want to be banished to Columbus, how about I revise this list to reflect all of our discussion. More like:

  1. Rashan Gary
  2. Mason Cole
  3. Chris Evans
  4. Maurice Hurst
  5. Devin Bush
  6. Khaleke Hudson
  7. Wilton Speight
  8. Tarik Black
  9. Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
  10. Chase Winovich
  11. Mike McCray
  12. Eddie McDoom
  13. Khalid Hill
  14. Grant Newsome*
  15. Ben Bredeson
  16. Josh Metellus
  17. Tyree Kinnel
  18. Michael Onwenu
  19. Karan Higdon
  20. Kekoa Crawford
  21. Zach Gentry
  22. Donovan Peoples-Jones
  23. Brandon Peters**
  24. Ian Bunting
  25. Quinn Nordin

The quarterback discussion is always a bit heated, but Peters is really a wild card here. I loved what he did in the spring game, but it’s true that it’s only one practice.

Alright, is this more of a consensus list, would you say?

Andrew: Agreed! This list is much better! Granted I’m a millennial so I could still find a way to complain, but for now, you have purchased my silence (this purchase expires weekly).

Nick: Fair enough. :)