Last week I wrote part one of my argument for Michigan as “Lineman U” during the Jim Harbaugh era, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t already.
The genesis for this series was nothing more than a hunch I had that Michigan has had one of the more impressive runs on both lines ever since Jim Harbaugh arrived. As I began putting this together, I quickly realized there was some validity to my working theory.
For my criteria for this exercise, click that link above. But for now, let’s dive into part two.
2019 Season (‘20 Draft)
Cesar Ruiz: 1st Round Draft Pick
Josh Uche: 2nd Round Draft Pick
Ben Bredeson: 4th Round Draft Pick, Second Team All-American, First Team All-Big Ten
Mike Danna: 5th Round Draft Pick
Michael Onwenu: 6th Round Draft Pick,
Jon Runyan Jr: 6th Round Draft Pick, First Team All-Big Ten
Derrick Brown (DT): 1st Round Draft Pick, All-American, First Team All-SEC
Marlon Davidson (DE) 2nd Round Draft Pick. First Team All-SEC
Jack Driscoll (G): 4th Round Draft Pick
Prince Tega Wanogho (T): 6th Round Draft Pick, Second Team All-SEC
Best of the Best
K’Lavon Chaisson (DE): 1st Round Draft Pick, First Team All-SEC
Damian Lewis (G): 3rd Round Draft Pick, Second Team All-SEC
Lloyd Cusheberry (C) : 3rd Round Draft Pick, First Team All-SEC
Lucas Niang (T): 3rd Round Draft Pick
Saahdiq Charles (T): 4th Round Draft Pick
Rashard Lawerence (DT): 4th Round Draft Pick, Second Team All-SEC
Adrian Magee (G): Second Team All-SEC
Joe Moore Award-Best Offensive Line
The 2019 Michigan offensive line was, from an individual talent standpoint, one of the most talented to ever take the field at Michigan, and that is not hyperbole. Every single member would end up on an NFL roster, with four of five being taken in this draft.
The rushing totals were pedestrian when comparing them against the best in the nation (No. 30 rushing offense, 26 touchdowns, 204 yards per game), but that is pretty impressive considering they came into the year with walk-on Tru Wilson as the lone known commodity in the backfield and were praying for one of Zach Charbonnet, Christian Turner or Hassan Haskins to hit at the position.
Ruiz was the first center off the board in the first round despite not making a first or second team in the Big Ten. Bredeson finally declared for the draft after one of the more dominant careers any Michigan lineman has had in the 21st century, ending his career as a second team All-American. New England and Green Bay got two of the absolute steals of the draft by taking Onwenu and Runyan, respectively, in the sixth round. Have to highlight Runyan here, a former three-star recruit that many people (myself included) did not think would crack the starting lineup at Michigan upon arrival. He is now starting for the Green Bay Packers.
The 2019 defense does not receive the praise it probably should among Michigan fans because, as it had in the previous two seasons, it fell off a cliff when the calendar flipped to November and December. The No. 2 total defense in the nation allowed only 275 yards per game, with 127 yards rushing per game allowed and gave up 19.4 points per game.
Uche was listed as a linebacker in the draft, but played the same role David Ojabo did in 2021, so I had no problem listing him as a defensive end for this exercise. He took a huge leap and ended up leading the team in sacks with 7.5 along with 10 tackles for loss. Mike Danna (three sacks) was a one-year player after transferring from down the road at Central Michigan, but showed enough at Michigan to get drafted by the Chiefs.
This crop of Michigan players, in particular along the offensive line, was so good I tried to convince myself to put the entire group at the top, but I just couldn’t get there. That 2019 LSU title team is probably the best National Championship winner of the last 20 years, and they deserved the accolades that they were showered with and sent an absurd six linemen into one draft.
2020 Season (‘21 Draft)
Kwity Paye: 1st Round Draft Pick
Jaylen Mayfield: 3rd Round Draft Pick
Josh Myers (C) : 2nd Round Draft Pick
Wyatt Davis (G): 3rd Round Draft Pick
Tommy Togiai (DT) 4th Round Draft Pick
Jonathan Cooper (DE): 7th Round Draft Pick
Alex Leatherwood (T): 1st Round Draft Pick
Landon Dickerson (C) : 2nd Round Draft Pick
Christian Barmore (DT): 2nd Round Draft Pick
Deonte Brown (OL): 6th Round Draft Pick
Best of the Best
Liam Eichenberg (OL) : 1st Round Draft Pick
Aaron Banks (G) : 2nd Round Draft Pick
Robert Hainsey (T): 3rd Round Draft Pick
Daelin Hayes (DE): 5th Round Draft Pick
Adetokunbo Ogundeji (DE): 5th Round Draft Pick
I am not going to spend too much time on what is inarguably the lamest year of college football in living memory. The Covid year was a completely hodge-podge season where every single team was impacted in some sort of way by the pandemic.
That is in no way a knock on the players coming out of this class or the talent on the field, it was simply much harder to get a read on what was real and what wasn’t. Michigan still put some quality players on the field and into the draft, I just have less of a read on the actual depth and quality than I do in the other years discussed, and this is by far the worst submission into the discussion.
Going strictly on accolades, Michigan does not take the top spot once again, but still put lineman into the NFL in the first and third rounds of the draft. Given we only played six total games and finished 2-4 (throw me off a bridge), I suppose that was worth something.
Paye was Bruce Feldman’s “freakiest” player” coming into the season, which was neat, I suppose. When Aidan Hutchinson went out with an injury, Paye was about the only player on the defense worth watching. Jalen Mayfield was the lone holdout from the previous offensive line and came into the season as a projected first round draft pick. He would actually slip into the third round, so it is hard for me to give any extra credence to his year, though his drop was not in any way his fault.
Notre Dame gets the top spot as I decided against counting conference awards in a season where conference play was heavily disrupted and there was extreme inequality of competition league-wide. It has nothing to do with the fact Michigan did not register a single all-conference award in this farce of a season, and you cannot prove otherwise.
2021 Season (‘22 Draft)
Aidan Hutchinson: 1st Round Draft Pick, All-American, First Team All-Big Ten
David Ojabo: 2nd Round Draft Pick, First Team All-Big Ten*
Andrew Steuber: 7th Round Draft Pick
Ryan Hayes: Second Team All-Big Ten
*Joe Moore Award — Best Offensive Line
Ed Ingram (G): 2nd Round Draft Pick, Second Team All-SEC
Neil Farrell (DT): 4th Round Draft Pick
Austin Deculus (T): 6th Round Draft Pick
Andre Anthony (DE): 7th Round Draft Pick
Best of the Best
Travon Walker (DE): 1st Round Draft Pick
Jordan Davis (DT): 1st Round Draft Pick, All-American, First Team All-SEC
Devonte Wyatt (DT): 1st Round Draft Pick, First Team All-SEC
Justin Shaffer (G): 6th Round Draft Pick, Second Team All-SEC
Jamaree Salyer (G): 6th Round Draft Pick, Second Team All-SEC
Jalen Carter (DT): Second Team All-SEC
The season that changed everything for Michigan, the 2021 team got it done on both sides of the line regardless of the fact it didn’t take the top spot in the rankings. It feels redundant to reflect on the laurels of a team so fresh in all of our collective memories, and yet I am elated to do so.
The 2021 offensive line for the Wolverines is actually fascinating when you look at the individual contributors and the success they were able to have as a unit. Ryan Hayes at left tackle was the only member to make a first or second team, and will likely be taken in the first five rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft when the time comes. Andrew Vastardis made the nearly unheard of fifth-year senior leap to become an outstanding leader at the center position, despite being unheralded his entire career. The best player on the line was probably right guard Zak Zinter, who was thrown into the starting lineup the year before as a true freshman. Andrew Steuber was taken in the seventh round but likely should have been drafted higher, and Trevor Keegan was nothing if not consistent and rock solid.
This unit however will be remembered for their collective work, and not for the stellar play from any individual.
The line blocked for one of the most successful rushing attacks since Chris Perry finished fourth for the Heisman in 2003. Haskins ran for 1,327 yards and 20 touchdowns and was the sledgehammer for the offense, while Corum was the scalpel (952 yards, 11 touchdowns, 6.6 per carry). If the legend himself John Madden says your unit gave the best performance he has ever seen from an offensive line, you are doing something right.
As good as the offensive line was last year, the most important player to Michigan’s run was on the other side of the line. Michigan’s favorite son and the most important player to suit up in the maize and blue in well over a decade, Hutchinson threw offensive tackles around like they were made of straw all season long. The Heisman runner-up and consensus All-American set the single season sack record (14) and brought home a list of accolades that reads like a Tolkien novel.
On any other team and lined up alongside anyone other than Hutchinson, Ojabo would be the player we all remembered and held in iconic esteem. His 11 sacks were more than Gary, Uche, Paye or Taco Charlton ever put up in a season. He was also part of a two-handed effort with Gus Johnson for inarguably the best call of the 2021 season. Not bad for a kid who grew up in Scotland and didn’t start playing football until his sophomore year in high school.
As awesome as both of these lines were, they end up taking the second spot once again to the eventual National Champions. Michigan drew the unenviable task of matching up with another historically awesome team in the 2021 Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP semifinals — a team that put three linemen into the first round of the NFL Draft. Statistically, the Georgia defense was the second-best to take the field since they started tracking the data. There is no shame in being a shade below historic greatness.
Looking at this exercise in totality, I feel like my initial hypothesis is more than validated. Every single year outside of the shortened season, Michigan was either the best in the country or in the top three for production and accolades on either side of the line. All-Conference accolades can be tricky because of the variations in depth and quality within a conference from year-to-year (particularly in the ACC), but Michigan finishes short of only Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State as far as total appearances on first and second teams.
Lineman in the NFL Draft (2016-’22)
Ohio State: 17
When it comes to draft picks along the lines, only the football factory down in Tuscaloosa can claim more during this run, and not by a wide margin. Considering Michigan was known for strong play in the trenches for decades before the down years of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, this is a return to form from the Harbaugh staff.
With what looks to be another extremely competent offensive line and the early returns on the “no-star defense” on the 2022 team, the Wolverines will remain one of the premier schools in developing talent in the trenches.