Ed: Hey, guys. The football team will hand out awards next week at the annual banquet, so I figured we could get a jump on them and hand out some of our own first. Let’s start on the dominant side of the ball and look at the defense, a unit with talent everywhere. But I’m going to challenge you to pick just one guy: Who’s your defensive MVP?
Von: For me, this one is easy. It’s the man who should have been the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. That’s right, the defensive MVP for the team this season was Maurice Hurst.
His stats (59 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 5 sacks) aren’t as good as Winovich’s (74 tackles, 17 TFL, 8 sacks), but he was clearly the most disruptive player on the defensive line this season, and you could argue he is the most disruptive player on ANY defensive line in the country.
College PFF tweeted the other day that Hurst finished the season with the second-most QB pressures among all interior linemen with 45. The crazy thing is that Hurst is a nose tackle in Don Brown’s scheme, and nose tackles aren’t meant to be this dominant! It’s insane how good he has been this year, and he is my defensive MVP choice by a long shot.
Jared: There's really only one answer to this question; and that answer is Mo Hurst, the obvious Big Ten lineman of the year in my book. The way that Hurst was able to disrupt the offensive gameplan of every single opponent this season was nothing short of incredible. His first step is Aaron Donald-esque, in that he is in the backfield before the play has developed, wreaking havoc. If he is not a 1st round pick, I will be shocked.
Another guy that would at least be in the running would be Chase Winovich, as Von mentioned. The Norse God of defensive pressure is an absolute spark plug that wins with pure effort and strength. If you give Winovich some love, you almost have to mention Rashan Gary, as he drew double (and sometimes triple) teams allowing Winovich to work one-on-one.
Some honorable mentions would go to sophomore standouts Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush. On a normal defense, these guys would be the best players by a mile. On this loaded unit, they are battling for the 3-5 range of best players on that side of the ball, and that is sheer insanity.
Dan: I’m still going with Khaleke Hudson. His versatility on the backend was probably not utilized enough, and 10 times out of 10 I’d rather see him matched up on a running back or receiver than McCray or Mettellus. With that said, his stat-line is just ridiculous. Near the top of the team in sacks and ranked in the top 10 of a mountain of defensive statistics.
If we’re talking about “MOP”, someone like Hurst would fit the bill better but we’re discussing value. There is no one that could have replaced Hudson this year while I think a makeshift line with Hercules Solomon replacing Hurst doesn’t drop off too far.
Colman: The answer is Mo Hurst. He was the best player on the No. 3 defense in the nation. He disrupted pretty much every play that he was on the field for. The attention that he drew from opposing defenses allowed for the rest of the standout players like Winovich, Gary, Bush, and Hudson to more freely do their jobs. He is an absolute beast with a first step that rivals anyone I’ve seen play defensive tackle at Michigan in my lifetime.
The stats don’t need to be repeated, even though they are worth repeating, because his overall impact was far beyond stats. Many times when a LB or DE were getting their sacks or TFLs it was because Mo had destroyed the middle of the offensive line and flushed the play around him.
In the interest of giving love for another deserving player, Devin Bush had himself a heck of a year. He lead the team in tackles with 94 and everyone else was 19 or more tackles behind. He added 9.5 TFLs and 5 sacks, 8 pass break-ups and an INT. He broke out early and was on an incredible pace that slowed a bit but he was still almost always around the ball. His sideline to sideline speed, tackling ability and instincts are top notch and he’s just getting going.
Ed: Alright, there was more consensus there than I expected. Now let’s flip over to the offense, a much shakier unit throughout the season. Who’s your MVP on that side of the ball?
Von: This was a more difficult decision, but I’m going to roll with Karan Higdon on this one. Captain America Chris Evans was pretty good, too, but I’ve loved Higdon since last season. I’m probably beginning to sound like a broken record at this point, but I just love the way he runs.
Higdon can also be the first Michigan running back to finish the season with 1,000 yards since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011. He only needs 71 rushing yards against South Carolina to do it. The Gamecocks give up 146.7 rushing yards per game on average, so it is certainly possible he does it.
Karan Higdon was one of the few things to look forward to when the Wolverines had the ball, so he is my offensive MVP.
Jared: I don’t know how to answer this if I’m being honest. The passing game being in such a state of fluctuation all season really limits your options here.
Mason Cole played out of position and was still our best and most consistent lineman by far, but the offensive line was in no way a strength of this team.
Guys like Sean McKeon, Zach Gentry, and Donovan Peoples Jones really made some huge strides this year. Once again, it is hard to give that award to a position group whose leader totaled 307 yards receiving.
So with all of that, I will double down on Karan Higdon. He needs 71 yards in the bowl game to go over 1,000 on the season, making him the first Michigan back since Fitz Toussaint to do so. He will headline a deep group of talented running backs coming into the 2018 season.
Dan: The least awful answer is Higdon. Where I struggle though is that he made close to zero impact in any of the 4 losses. I guess that literally DEFINES value, but I’d like to see an MVP have big moments in the biggest games. That didn’t really happen.
But as the two gentlemen before me have laid out, his numbers were significantly better than anyone else’s, and the Indiana game alone was probably the best offensive performance we’ve seen a Wolverine have since Speight went off on Maryland last year. Good season from Higdon, and I hope he hits 1,000 in the bowl game.
Colman: UGH. Ummm. I’m going to try to be as nice as possible here. The passing game was such a mess that it’s really hard to pick any receiver and certainly no QB. The run blocking stunk early and came along but the pass blocking was pretty bad all year so it’s really hard choose a lineman. So it’s Higdon.
He averaged 6.3 yards per carry, which is phenomenal, had two 200-yard games and a highlight 77 yard run vs. Minnesota. His best game, though, was the 25-carry, 200-yard, 3 TD performance in a close game against Indiana which featured a 59-yard TD run. As the guys noted, if he gets 71 yards in the bowl game Michigan will have its first 1,000 yard rusher in, like, 500 years so that’s a thing. He was a very effective runner, picking the right holes most of the time and had good explosiveness off his cuts. He was the most consistent offensive player all year and is as about as reliable as a RB can be.
To note: Chris Evans should have probably been THE guy this year but struggled early. A lot of that was poor blocking luck, and I’ll maintain that he is Michigan’s best overall RB. Moving forward I think Higdon still gets a lot of work running the rock but Evans is more explosive and was underutilized in the passing game (again, the QBs and line had something to do with that) and should see more snaps next year which might make this pick a lot easier in 2018.
Ed: Geez, that one was apparently even easier than with the defense. So let’s change up the award a little. This was the youngest team in the country this season, with a ton of freshmen and sophomores finding the starting lineup for the first time. Who would you name as ‘rookie’ of the year?
Von: I will go with LB Devin Bush. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award, and the stats back that up. He finished the regular season as the top tackler on the team with 94, to go along with 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT and 8 pass break ups. The guy can do it all, folks.
The crazy thing with Bush is that he is only a true sophomore. This guy has, at the very least, one more season as a Wolverine, and I am really excited to watch him make hard hits and lightning quick plays one more time this season in the bowl game.
Jared: Devin Bush and Hudson are not true rookies, as they both saw some run in 2016. So I will go with DPJ at wide receiver. His numbers are not eye popping (16 rec, 219 yards rec, 0 td’s) but he became Michigan’s best big play option in the passing game late in the season after Tarik Black went down. He also provided a spark in the return game, and settled in as a reliable punt returner as well.
The defensive rookie of the year would probably be Aubrey Solomon. Once again, not huge numbers, but a guy that got better as the season progressed and set himself up for a huge 2018.
Dan: Staying on Jared’s line of thinking here, I’m going to avoid any of the sophomores. I was somewhat disappointed with this year’s freshman class. There were lots of opportunities to steal meaningful playing time, and very few fully took advantage of the opportunity.
With that said, my all-rookie team is DPJ, Tarik Black, Solomon, and my ROTY is Quinn Nordin. Yes, he struggled the back half of the year but his holistic numbers still are solid. He showed a very high ceiling and could become one of the elite kickers in the country.
Colman: The spirit of the question includes sophomores as rookies so I’m rolling with it. However, I’m not considering anyone who got significant snaps last year at their given position, AKA Rashan Gary. Bush and Hudson put up such absurd numbers for first year starters that it’s hard to go in any other direction, but they’ve been taken. DPJ is another good answer making an impact in several ways: 62 rushing yards, 219 receiving, and 307 PR yards including a couple spectacular returns and 1 TD, he was certainly the best true freshman on the team.
That said, I’m going to throw out Michigan’s #1 lockdown CB and Jourdan Lewis clone, Lavert Hill. Dude is going to be special. He came in with a comparison to a recently graduated all-time great CB and, with aplomb, solidified a very thin positional group in a year that Michigan lost it’s top three corners. He led the corners with 24 tackles, five TFLs and seven breakups. He tied with David Long and two others on the team with two INTs. He had the second lowest passer rating per PFF of any CB in the B1G when targeted…No. 1 was David Long. This tandem is going to be great. By mid-season opposing teams recognized his ability and virtually stopped throwing at him. Along with several other young Michigan defenders he will be likely All B1G or more for the rest of his college career.
Ed: Good, that one went much better. Now let’s end with some foresight toward next season. Here’s a little bit of a different one. Give me your “Mr. Upside,” the guy you think is most poised to be the biggest playmaker in 2018.
Von: It has to be Tarik Black, right?
He looked the part in the first three games this season before breaking a bone in his foot against Air Force. He led the team in catches and receiving yards, and had one touchdown on his resume. All Michigan receivers COMBINED had two touchdowns after Black’s injury. It was a rough go for the receiving group once Black was injured. With a comeback on his mind — and hopefully a consistent and capable QB to throw to him — Black should be the go-to guy next year.
I would also accept Donovan Peoples-Jones as an answer to this question, because quite frankly both he and Black are going to have to be big time play-makers next year if the Wolverines want to improve from a dreadful year on offense in 2017.
Jared: Now this a question that has some intriguing possibilities. I like Tarik Black or DPJ as Von mentioned — certainly nothing wrong with either of those answers. Brandon Peters would absolutely be an acceptable choice, and I am really excited to see what he does with a month of bowl practices. On the offensive line, Cesar Ruiz and Mike Onwenu showed flashes of brilliance, but need greater consistency.
I think that Zach Gentry could end up being one the best tight ends in the nation next year. The team's 3rd leading receiver is absolutely massive ( 6-7, 250 lbs) with soft hands and athleticism rarely seen from someone that size. He might be my overall selection, as he could honestly be the next Zach Ertz or Coby Fleener.
On defense, Khaleke Hudson, Devin Bush, and Rashan Gary form an uber-talented group of sophomores that are just scratching the surface of their potential. Rashan Gary does not even have a ceiling I don’t think, dude could be the next Julius Peppers and I would in no way be shocked.
Some guys that aren’t talked about quite as much: Aubrey Solomon, David Long, and Lavert Hill. These are all guys that got better as the season went along. Solomon is a former 5-star recruit with the size, speed, and athleticism to play at the next level already. I am insanely high on Lavert Hill as well. He posted similar numbers and ratings as Jourdan Lewis did his senior year, and he is only a sophomore. Just talking about the potential of some of these young guys gets me extremely hyped for 2018.
Colman: The options here are seemingly endless on offense. The guys have taken my top offensive options: Black and DPJ. They both showed flashes of incredible athleticism and playmaking abilities. From there my mind went to Gentry...um, also taken. These are all based on small sample sizes and production, so the upside part of the question is much more prevalent in their cases.
BUT sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Ya know, Chris Evans. His ‘dual threat’ ability in running and receiving can, and should, be put into hyperdrive next year and all the preseason predictions this year about his All B1G potential can be recognized. He started to flash his potential by midseason but if he puts together a full season and the coaches find more ways to get him the rock I think we will see the true emergence of a very special playmaker.
I have to go to the defense as well because it’s a fun question to think about. Seemingly everyone broke out this year due to many first year starters and contributors. To me, Gary, Bush, Hudson, Hill, Long, and Winovich are already playmakers and are, for the most part, closer to their ceilings so “upside” is a bit more limited.
If you ask who will be the biggest playmaker, I’d say Rashan Gary. But if you’re looking for the biggest upside I’ll say Aubrey Solomon as he has more of a leap to make than these others. He should step in as Mo Hurst’s replacement next year and show why he was a 5-star recruit no problem. I’m not saying he’ll be Mo Hurst. However, his quickness and power combo will allow him to disrupt the middle of opposing offenses and, like Hurst, be a big time playmaker at the heart of Michigan’s defense.