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Michigan Football: Ranking the linebackers of the Jim Harbaugh era

Some Michigan greats highlight an overall solid group.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 05 Iowa at Michigan

The linebacker position during the Harbaugh era has been somewhat of a strength on defense thanks mainly to Don Brown’s “Viper” position. Most Michigan linebackers were tasked with being run-stoppers and racked up some impressive tackle stats. Others were utilized more as blitz specialists. Despite the various roles, let’s take a look at the top 10 linebackers of the past six years.

Honorable Mentions: Noah Furbush (2015-2018), Michael Barrett (2019-Present), Josh Ross (2017-Present)

10. James Ross III (2012-2015)

Four-star recruit — No. 113 overall, No. 3 ILB in 2012 class

Ross’ career at Michigan only overlapped with Harbaugh by one year, but he provided a steady and stable presence at linebacker. James accumulated 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and one sack his senior year. What Ross lacked in athleticism, he made up for in football IQ and the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

9. Jordan Glasgow (2015-2019)

Unranked recruit — Unranked overall, Unranked LB in 2015 class

How could I make this list and not include a Glasgow? The youngest of the Glasgows, Jordan was a star on special teams and bounced around on defense. The four-time letterman finally settled at linebacker and was even a Butkus Award semifinalist in 2019. His Michigan career culminated with a sixth-round draft selection by the Indianapolis Colts.

8. Cameron McGrone (2018-2020)

Four-star recruit — No. 118 overall, No. 7 OLB in 2018 class

McGrone had the look of the next great Michigan linebacker following a superb sophomore season in 2019. In his first year on the field, he racked up 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Unfortunately, the pandemic and injury issues plagued his 2020 season, though he was hardly the only defensive player to regress slightly. McGrone declared for the draft and was eventually taken by the New England Patriots.

7. Joe Bolden (2012-2015)

Four-star recruit — No. 76 overall, No. 2 ILB in 2012 class

Bolden was a tackle machine during his time in Ann Arbor. The year prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, Bolden amassed 102 tackles and two sacks in just 12 games. In Harbaugh’s first year (2015), he still managed to make 83 tackles and recover a fumble. Despite being remembered by most for driving a tent stake into Spartan Stadium and eventually jumping ship to coach at Ohio State, 270 career tackles are nothing to sneeze at.

6. Desmond Morgan (2011-2015)

Three-star recruit — No. 1,076 overall, No. 48 ILB in 2011 class

Joe Bolden’s companion at linebacker for most of their careers, Morgan was no slouch himself. He tallied 71 tackles, three pass deflections, one forced fumble and one interception in his lone year under Harbaugh. Despite similar statistics, I gave the nod to Morgan over Bolden due to Morgan’s even more absurd 300 career tackles.

5. Ben Gedeon (2013-2016)

Four-star recruit — No. 217 overall, No. 10 ILB in 2013 class

Of all the Michigan players to be drafted during the Harbaugh era, Gedeon is certainly the most surprising to me. If you would have told me Gedeon would be a fourth-round NFL Draft pick while he was a high school recruit, I would never have believed you. Yet his hard work and determination allowed him to continually improve. In his senior season, he racked up 94 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Gedeon certainly qualifies as a development win for the Harbaugh staff.

4. Mike McCray (2013-2017)

Four-star recruit — No. 144 overall, No. 4 ATH in 2013 class

It’s hard for me to get the memories of McCray getting torched on wheel routes by Ohio State out of my head. Once I’m able to get over it, I can truly appreciate just how good McCray was. As an upperclassman in 2016 and 2017, he had more than 70 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks in each season. Not to mention he also had two interceptions and a pick-six in 2016. McCray truly was the foundation of the defense during the early Harbaugh years despite his athletic limitations.

3. Khaleke Hudson (2016-2019)

Three-star recruit — No. 386 overall, No. 20 S in 2016 class

On the other end of the spectrum from McCray, Hudson was one of the most physically gifted athletes of the Harbaugh era. Hudson and Jabrill Peppers were the ideal Vipers for the Don Brown defense. Hudson recorded more than 215 tackles from 2017-19 alone. I haven’t even mentioned the effect he had on special teams, as he regularly blocked punts. Hudson is without a doubt one of my favorite players from the past few years.

2. Devin Bush (2016-2018)

Four-star recruit — No. 312 overall, No. 11 ILB in 2016 class

To me, there’s a pretty large gap between the rest of the list and the top two players. Both Devin Bush and the No. 1 player on the list were Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-Americans. Bush was a lightning-quick, undersized linebacker who exceeded all expectations at Michigan. He was eventually taken 10th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bush’s speed on the edges and underrated strength allowed him to be one of the greatest defensive players in recent Michigan history.

1. Jabrill Peppers (2014-2016)

Five-star recruit — No. 3 overall, No. 1 ATH in 2014 class

At the end of the day, Peppers had to be the top choice here. Say what you want of his utilization, but he was able to impact the game simply by his presence on the field. On defense, teams ran away from him. On offense, the opposing defenses routinely had to adjust to his presence despite the lack of actual production. I also have to mention how electric he was as a returner. Statistically, there have been more productive Michigan linebackers of the Harbaugh era, but there is more to football than just stats. Peppers impacted every part of the game and played a bigger part in Michigan victories than anyone else.