The top 10 Michigan football players you need to know for 2016. Get to know the Wolverine stars to watch out for.
1. DB/LB Jabrill Peppers, Jr.
Is he working at safety? At linebacker? At corner, kick returner or receiver? How about all of the above, being tried out mostly at linebacker this offseason to add some flash and dash in a hybrid sort of way. No matter where he lines up, he’s the best player on the field.
The fastest player on the team in a 6-1, 208-pound frame, he’s a top ten overall NFL Draft talent if he comes out next year, but first he’s set up perfectly for a dominant season after making 45 tackles, breaking up ten passes, averaging 11.4 yards per punt return, 28 yards per kickoff return, and running for two scores. He can do it all.
2. CB Jourdan Lewis, Sr.
One of the nation’s best cover-corners came back for his senior year and now should be up for the Thorpe. The 5-10, 175-pounder was a sensational kickoff returner averaging over 25 yards per try, picked off two passes, and came up with 52 tackles as a tough battler for his size with the quickness and speed to lock down on one side. With 20 broken up passes – highlighted by the six against Michigan State in an epic battle with Aaron Burbridge – he’s got the ball skills, but now he has to get used to not having anyone throw his way.
3. TE Jake Butt, Sr.
The former super-recruit from the Brady Hoke era turned out to have the game to go along with the name. The 6-6, 250-pounder has the frame and the skills to be an NFL starter right now, but he’s back for one more year to be an all-star go-to target who can stretch the field a bit and provide a blast of a block, too.
Like a wide receiver playing tight end, he caught 51 passes for 654 yards and three scores, turning into a consistent matchup nightmare with 102 yards against Rutgers and a season-high eight grabs against Utah. Now he’ll be the new quarterback’s best friend safety-valve.
4. DT Chris Wormley, Sr.
Part defensive tackle, part 3-technique defensive end, the 6-5, 303-pound Wormley is a versatile option in the interior and an all-star rock the run defense will work around. Quick for his size, he generated 6.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss – rolling over the second half of the season with 4.5 sacks in the last five games. With 43 tackles, he’s able to hold up well and can be an anchor if needed. He’s not necessarily a nose tackle, and he won’t need to be. He’ll be the leader up front whose job it’ll be to do a little of everything.
5. WR Jehu Chesson, Sr.
The team’s leading returning yardage receiver, Chesson is one of the team’s fastest players with the deep threat ability to make big things happen from anywhere on the field. At 6-3 and 207 pounds he has the size to battle for the ball and won’t get pushed around, but he’s at his best on the move. He returned four kicks with a touchdown, ran eight times averaging over 19 yards per pop with two scores, and caught 50 passes for 764 yards and nine scores.
He ripped up Indiana for 207 yards and four scores, but he wasn’t done with 100-yard games to close things out against Ohio State and Florida. One of the hottest receivers in college football late in the year, all nine of his touchdown grabs came in the final six games.
6. OT/OG Erik Magnuson, Sr.
At 6-6 and 305 pounds, Magnuson has a great frame and he’s a strong enough run blocker and steady enough all-around blocker to be an all-star right tackle, but he’s good enough to be a left tackle if needed. A good pro prospect at just about anywhere, there’s a chance he plays left tackle this season with Mason Cole likely moving to center, or he’ll likely slide in at left guard where he’ll be a veteran tough guy for the ground attack.
7. OG Kyle Kalis, Sr.
There might be plenty of shifting around on the line, but Kalis isn’t moving from his right guard gig. The 6-5, 305-pound fifth-year senior is the veteran rock up front with three years of experience and all-star production last year. A good recruit, he’s grown with the running game. While he’s built like a tackle, he’s a tough, reliable interior blocker.
8. WR Amara Darboh, Sr.
Jehu Chesson might be the team’s most dangerous deep threat, but Darboh isn’t all that far off with a team-leading 58 catches for 727 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-2, 215-pound veteran has a great build and he’s not afraid to get physical, but now he has the experience to do even more. Steady, but not often spectacular, he’s reliable and consistent.
9. DT Rashan Gary, Fr.
Arguably the nation’s top recruit this season, he was the big prize for Jim Harbaugh. He’s not going to be needed right away with enough talent and size up front to hold down the line, but he’s too quick, too talented, and too good to not be a part of the rotation. The total package, the only thing that’s missing is raw mass. He’s big enough at 6-4 and 286 pounds, but his game is about quickness for his size. At worst, he could be an occasionally unblockable part of the rotation right away.
10. QB Wilton Speight, Jr.
It wasn’t all that pretty when he got his chances last year, but most of his work came in garbage time against Ohio State – he completed just 9-of-25 passes for 73 yards on the year. It doesn’t matter – he looked and played the part this spring. Houston transfer John O’Korn is deep in the hunt for the gig, bit Speight was better. At 6-6 and 239 pounds he’s got the size, and he’s got the arm, and he’s got the mobility. Can he keep the mistakes to a minimum and take advantage of all the talent around him? If not, there are plenty of other options ready to give it a shot.