The Michigan Wolverines saw 10 players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, which is second only to 2017’s class of 11 players sent to the pros by head coach Jim Harbaugh since he took the job. Looking ahead at the future roster, they could boast a similarly-impressive haul (with some more top-end talent) in next year’s class.
Here is a look at Michigan Football’s potential top draft prospects for the 2021 draft cycle and who scouts will be paying the most attention to while watching the film for next year’s cycle.
Senior wide receiver Nico Collins
This is the most obvious one after Collins elected to return to Michigan for his senior season. The argument could be made that he would have been a day two pick and potentially the best jump ball wideout in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he returns to Michigan as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver and one last attempt to hone his skills in college. He absolutely has a shot to be a first round pick next year.
Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield
The average fan does not talk a whole heck of a lot about Mayfield, which for an offensive lineman is generally speaking is good thing. Mayfield is athletic with a long reach and scouts will no doubt be watching how he progresses in 2020 as a possible early entrant. He should be a factor at either left or right tackle and another offseason of training could make him a valuable prospect — maybe even a first rounder in 2021.
Junior EDGE Aidan Hutchinson
Hutchinson was Michigan’s best defensive lineman last season as a sophomore and is someone that should warrant some early-entry consideration. He is already a physical specimen at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds and might have some room to add even more bulk to the frame of his. He gave the offensive tackles from every team Michigan played trouble and is another player that feels like has first round potential as soon as 2021.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Cameron McGrone
McGrone busted onto the scene in a big way last season and flashed some major potential. Anytime your defense loses a Devin Bush, there is going to be a dropoff, but there were times when McGrone looked like a carbon copy the way his speed and athleticism translated to the field. There were also times where he looked like a redshirt freshman. If he puts it all together with another offseason to grow, this is another guy that could potentially be in the mix to be a first rounder if he were to declare early.
Redshirt junior linebacker Josh Ross
Ross was injured last season after being projected to be the guy that stepped in to replace Devin Bush. Now, he probably finds himself in a bit of a different role playing one of the other linebacker spots while McGrone holds down the middle. He has always been a notable presence when he has been out there.
Senior cornerback Ambry Thomas
I’m not sure Thomas has played his best football yet, and that should excite both fans and scouts. Last year was really his first shot to be a big-time performer and his development took a hit when he dealt with colitis in the summer leading up to the season. He will be Michigan’s undisputed top corner in 2020 and with some continued plays made on film and adding some more weight to his frame, he might have a future as a day two prospect. The arrow is still pointing upward.
Senior defensive lineman Kwity Paye
Paye might be the most rock solid of the bunch here, as he brings a lot to the table and is a defensive lineman that the Wolverines can move inside and out. And truth be told, that is probably his best fit in the NFL, as well. Paye has the look of a player who might be a solid rotational piece at the next level and someone who can kick inside to rush the passer in certain sub-packages. It is just hard to get a read on where his best role would be, if there is one.
Senior safety Brad Hawkins
Hawkins is a player that has had a fascinating trek to where he is now. In 2018, there were times where he looked absolutely lost out there at safety, but over time has developed into one of Michigan’s most reliable players. He is another player where it feels like his best football is still very much ahead of him.
Fifth-year senior tight end Nick Eubanks
Eubanks is a steady prospect that will have a chance at an expanded role with Sean McKeon gone in 2020. He stated a handful of times last season that he had been watching film of Irv Smith Jr., a former pupil of Josh Gattis at Alabama, as a player he is trying to emulate. Smith was one of the best all-around tight ends in the 2019 NFL Draft and has good hands and is a willing blocker. With a handful of pass catchers gone from last year and a new quarterback, we will see where Eubanks’ pro stock goes.
Fifth-year senior running back Chris Evans
Evans is not going to be Michigan’s featured back in 2020, which may going to hurt any pro stock that he may have. For now, he is kind of “out of sight, out of mind” in the eyes of the NFL, so he will have to show in whatever role he has the versatility teams look for in an pro back. That said, Gattis’ offense lacked someone out of the backfield last year that could come in on third downs and be a threat in the passing game, so he should have plenty of chances to showcase what he can do. There are plenty of backs taken each year drafted based on traits as opposed to statistics. He should be a valuable weapon that has a chance to wind up on an NFL roster in 2021, at least for a cup of coffee.
Others to watch: RS Jr. QB Dylan McCaffrey, RS So. QB Joe Milton, RS So. OT Ryan Hayes, RS Jr. Chuck Filiaga, RS Jr. Andrew Steuber, RS Sr. K Quinn Nordin, RS Sr. P Will Hart
The Wolverines have another long list of prospects for next season, though it feels a little more top-heavy and balanced than what we saw this year. Eight of Michigan’s 10 selections came on the third day of the draft and five of those happened in the sixth round. If things break right here, they could be looking at as many as four first rounders (Collins, Mayfield, Hutchinson, McGrone) if certain guys decide to declare. Thomas might also be a player that benefits from an extended look as a No. 1 cornerback.
This team will be loaded with pro talent once again next season. Whether that translates to big-time success on the field remains to be seen, but they will not lack future NFL players.