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Top five Michigan defensive ends of the Jim Harbaugh era

Revenge Tours and Heisman finalists, this position has been a program anchor since 2015.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach at the University of Michigan, perhaps no unit has excelled more than defensive end. Of the six names below — including honorable mention — four players were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and all six were drafted in the first three rounds.

Again this is not a statistical ranking, but a celebration of five era-defining edge defenders. The top two of this list are unassailable no matter how you slice it, but that leaves four deserving players for three spots. Apologies to any remaining Luiji Vilain truthers.

Let’s get to it.

5. Rashan Gary (2016-18)

Depending on who you ask, Rashan Gary’s mileage varies drastically among the Michigan faithful. Gary was the No. 1 ranked player in the 2016 recruiting class and never quite reached the expectations inherently beset of the nation’s top rated prospect.

However, because Gary was a frequent victim of double teams, the gravity of his presence allowed his counterpart Chase Winovich to EAT opposite him in Don Brown’s aggressive defense. Gary was excellent against the run and one of the most athletic defensive linemen to ever wear the maize and blue.

4. Taco Charlton (2015-16)

Taco Charlton was one of my favorite Wolverines from the 2016 team for two reasons:

  • Against Rutgers, Charlton recorded two sacks and three stops in the second biggest Michigan victory in program history (78-0). If Charlton played more than a 1.5 quarters against a Rutgers team worthy of relegation banishment from college football, he would have put up Bobby Boucher sack numbers.
  • Against Ohio State in 2016, in the biggest game of his career, Charlton played the game of his life. He recorded nine tackles (career-high), three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. JT was short and Charlton’s magnum opus performance deserved a better final score.

3. Chris Wormley (2015-16)

Chris Wormley was an iron man at Michigan, appearing in 51 career games and 25 under Harbaugh from 2015-16. Prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, Wormley primarily played defensive tackle and although he pushes three bills (300 pounds), he was deceptively athletic and productive on the edge.

Wormley’s legacy is one of consistency and longevity. The Toledo native possessed no holes in his game and even a missing arm was unlikely to keep him from the field. Big Worm led by example and deservedly walked away with two Richard Katcher Awards presented annually to the top U-M defensive lineman.

2. Chase Winovich (2015-18)

Chase Winovich was a four-star outside linebacker recruited to Michigan to play tight end; by his second season, he made the permanent switch to defensive end; by his fourth season, he left Ann Arbor fourth all-time in tackles for loss in program history.

Statistics aside, Winovich helped reignited Michigan’s swagger in 2018 with two words: “Revenge Tour.” The Wolverines avenged losses from 2017 against Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Who can forget this interview after smothering the Spartans?

Unfortunately, the Revenge Tour fell short when the Wolverines again lost to Ohio State. However, the eventual savior of the program was already on the roster and learning directly under Winovich’s tutelage about what it takes to lead a program.

1. Aidan Hutchinson (2018-21)

Honestly, who else could it be?

In 2021, Aidan Hutchinson set the single season sack record (14) at Michigan, finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting, led the Wolverines to their first victory over Ohio State since 2011 while racking up three sacks in the process, led Michigan to its first Big Ten Championship since 2004 and restored the program to national prominence.

The Michigan native spoke this season into existence and delivered in the most critical moments to prove himself prophetic.

Hutchinson epitomizes what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine and they cannot build his statue soon enough.

Revenge Tour.... Complete.

*Honorable Mention: Kwity Paye

**David Ojabo and Josh Uche were ineligible because they are both technically linebackers.