No offense is going to be successful without a strong offensive line, but few coaches are as dependent on this group as Jim Harbaugh. The Michigan head coach has built an identity around running the football and owning the line of scrimmage, and even as he has shifted more towards speed in space, everything for the Wolverines begins up front.
The 2021 squad is coming off a season that earned the line the Joe Moore Award as the best unit in the nation, but this was not the first time Harbaugh has featured some impressive players up front. Today we take a look at the best five individual contributors across the offensive line in the most recent era.
5. Ryan Hayes (2019-present)
An in-state product from Traverse City, Hayes was ranked 335th overall in the 2018 recruiting class, landing him at OT23. The four star redshirted before being thrown into action in the first two games of 2019, getting the nod at left tackle, of all spots. In total, he has made 18 starts at the position (while appearing in 28 games altogether) and was second-team All-Big Ten this past year. A repeat performance this season could see him drafted in the first round next spring.
4. Jalen Mayfield (2018-2020)
A little bit of “what could have been” here. Mayfield was plenty talented, even with a recruiting ranking of 268th, and there was a good stretch where he was being penciled in as a potential Day One pick. Instead, the 2020 kerfuffle really ended his development, as Mayfield initially opted out, then decided to play, then wound up only playing two games. All in, the Grand Rapids native made 15 starts at right tackle and was very reliable throughout his sophomore year in 2019. He did get drafted in the early third round by the Falcons, but if feels like both his college performance and draft stock could have been much higher had the timing not been so disrupted.
3. Ben Bredeson (2016-2019)
Bredeson came to Ann Arbor with plenty of hype and he lived up to the billing. He was not far off from five-star status as the 39th-overall ranked prospect and fifth-best tackle, and it was easy to see why scouts were so high on him. While he might have been able to play at tackle, Bredeson spent four years as a starter at left guard, including as a freshman on the talented 2016 squad. He ended his career with a bang, earning first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American honors before being drafted in the fourth round by the Ravens. Bredeson is now fighting for a spot with the Giants after missing much of last season with some injuries.
2. Mason Cole (2014-2017)
Cole is about as Michigan as it gets. Ranked G8 in the 2014 recruiting class at 125th overall, Cole was the rare talent who was able to start from his very first game. Four years later, he made a collective 51 starts, which includes a shift from left tackle to center to left tackle again. He was excellent at both positions and early multiple second-team All-Big Ten accolades during his Wolverine career before being drafted in the third round by the Cardinals. Cole is now in Pittsburgh after signing a $15.8 million contract this offseason.
1. Cesar Ruiz (2017-2019)
Coming from IMG Academy as the top-ranked center in the 2017 class (47th overall), expectations were high for Ruiz from the start. He came through in a big way, making 31 starts over three seasons, primarily at center, and grabbed national headlines from draft scouts and analytics alike. Ruiz would earn second-team All-Big Ten honors in his junior year before departing to the NFL. The Saints drafted him a few months later with the 24th pick of the first round in the 2020 draft.
Graham Glasgow, Erik Magnuson