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Michigan Football: Ranking the defensive ends of the Jim Harbaugh era

Defensive end is one of the strongest position groups of the last few years.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Florida v Michigan Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Without a doubt, defensive end has been Michigan’s strongest position group of the Jim Harbaugh era. When compiling this list, the thing that stuck out the most was the sheer star power. Of the eight players listed below who have already left Michigan, seven of the eight have made (or are expected to make) an impact in the NFL. That kind of success is unparalleled among the rest of the Michigan position group alumni under Jim Harbaugh.

9. Mario Ojemudia (2012-2015)

Three-star recruit — Unranked overall, No. 28 WDE in 2012 class

Ojemudia’s career only overlapped with Harbaugh by one year as his first year at Michigan was Ojemudia’s last. He falls in the “what-if” category, as he was plagued by injuries. However, when he was on the field he was a force to be reckoned with. In 2015, Ojemudia had 19 tackles, six for loss and two sacks despite only playing five games due to injury.

8. Mike Danna (2019)

Transfer from Central Michigan

Danna transferred to Michigan following the 2018 season from Central Michigan. As one of the more high-profile transfers into Michigan in recent years, he was able to get on the field right away. In his one and only season in Ann Arbor, Danna collected 38 tackles and three sacks. He even managed to crack the rotation with Kansas City Chiefs this past year with 25 tackles and 2.5 sacks. I certainly didn’t see that coming.

7. Josh Uche (2016-2019)

Three-star recruit — No. 707 overall, No. 60 WDE in 2016 class

To be clear, I’m aware Uche spent lots of snaps in more of a linebacker role. However, with his proclivity to rush the passer and act as more of a speed end on third downs, I’m inclined to include him here. Uche barely saw the field his first three years at Michigan but exploded onto the scene as a senior in 2019. He collected 35 tackles and 8.5 sacks, leading to him being a second round pick of the New England Patriots.

6. Aidan Hutchinson (2018-Present)

Four-star recruit — No. 88 overall, No. 5 SDE in 2018 class

It’s hard to believe Hutchinson has already played three seasons at Michigan and is entering his fourth this fall, yet here we are. He has the potential to shoot up this list with a solid 2021 season as he steps into a leadership role. Aidan’s 2020 season was cut short due to an injury but he will look to bounce back and anchor the Wolverine defense. I’m expecting a monster season this year.

5. Kwity Paye (2017-2020)

Three-star recruit — No. 489 overall, No. 29 WDE in 2017 class

Paye, Michigan’s latest first-round draft pick, exceeded all expectations in college. As a relatively unheralded recruit out of Rhode Island, Michigan only had to beat out the likes of Boston College, Rutgers and Syracuse for his commitment. The Don Brown special then went on to amass 99 tackles and 11.5 sacks in his four years in Ann Arbor. It’s safe to say the Indianapolis Colts got a good one.

4. Chris Wormley (2012-2016)

Four-star recruit — No. 72 overall, No. 4 SDE in 2012 class

Wormley bounced around between end and tackle and was the epitome of consistency. In his four years on the field, he racked up 120 tackles, 18 sacks and a forced fumble. Amazingly, he never had less than 19 or more than 43 tackles during those four years. He also captained the 2016 squad to a 10-win season.

3. Taco Charlton (2013-2016)

Four-star recruit — No. 108 overall, No. 3 WDE in 2013 class

Charlton and Wormley proved quite the formidable duo during Harbaugh’s first two years in Ann Arbor. Charlton was never the vocal leader Wormley was, but he put up better sack numbers. In 2016 alone, Charlton recorded 9.5 sacks and two pass deflections to boot. He was a force to be reckoned with and was eventually a first-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2017.

2. Rashan Gary (2016-2018)

Five-star recruit — No. 1 overall, No. 1 DT in 2016 class

Gary’s sack numbers aren’t quite as high as Charlton’s, but any Michigan fan with eyes can tell you Gary was one of the most dominant defensive players of this era. As the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2016, Gary did not disappoint. He was tasked with countless double-teams along with the occasional triple-team. An athletic freak, Gary anchored the Michigan defense in 2017 and 2018.

1. Chase Winovich (2015-2018)

Four-star recruit — Unranked overall, No. 25 OLB in 2014 class

Winovich was the primary beneficiary of Gary being consistently double-teamed, as he was able to account for 70 tackles and eight sacks in 2017. He followed that up with 63 tackles and five sacks in 2018. His jaw-dropping 166 career tackles are 44 more than anyone else on this list. As the unofficial leader of the Revenge Tour, Winovich was certainly a fan favorite and has the stats and acumen to back up his ranking as the best defensive end of the Harbaugh era. A third round pick of the New England Patriots, Winovich has started to get his feet under him as a professional and has recorded 75 tackles and 11 sacks in two years as a pro.