It wasn’t too long ago that the Michigan Wolverines were a mediocre team. I know, it seems implausible considering the success the program had up until Lloyd Carr and now with Brady Hoke. But sandwiched in between were some shoddy teams under an out-of-place Rich Rodriguez, and it was reflected in the NFL Draft, both on offense and defense.
For instance, between the 2007 and 2008 drafts (the last two classes coached and recruited fully by Carr), the Wolverines had 13 players drafted, including No. 1 overall pick in ’08, OT Jake Long. The 2009, 2010 and 2011 classes (coached by Rodriguez), combined for seven. And heck, nearly all of those guys were recruited by Carr.
Now that the Wolverines are back under the guidance of a “Michigan Man,” the talent level has been building back up to normal UM levels. Let’s take a look at some of the top offensive prospects for Michigan that will be in the 2014 NFL Draft.
This year’s crop of draft prospects in Ann Arbor resembles a classic Michigan team (aside from the highly versatile dual-threat quarterback under center), and it all starts with big Taylor Lewan, the blindside protector of the Wolverines.
Lewan is right at the top of one of the best tackle classes we’ve seen in years. Between Lewan, Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) and Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), there could be three tackles taken in the top 5 for the second year in a row. Lewan, had he come out after his junior campaign last fall, easily would’ve been a first-round selection, and more than likely a high one. Yet, he stuck around for his senior season (much to the delight of both Hoke and QB Devin Gardner), to improve his draft stock and have another go at the National Championship.
Lewan (6-foot-7, 310-pounds) was outstanding all of last season, but when he saw his stock rise the most was when he went against All-Milky Way Galaxy defensive end for South Carolina, Jadeveon Clowney. Now don’t get me wrong, Lewan didn’t raise his stock by dominating, or even winning all of his one-on-one battles, it improved because he just held his own, something not many people in the college game can say. Lewan is a good athlete with the perfect size and demeanor to win in the trenches and off the edge play in and play out. At this point, it’s very realistic Lewan will go in the top five, though it will be very tough to go higher than No. 3 overall (behind Clowney and Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater).
Another Wolverine offensive linemen who is looking for a big senior season is the bookend opposite Lewan, Michael Schofield (6-foot-6, 305-pounds). Schofield is a natural left tackle who’s been forced to play the right due to the presence of Lewan (similarly to Matthews being stuck at RT last year because of LT Luke Joeckel). Schofield has the feet and lateral quickness to stick with edge rushers, and strong enough to be a bull in the run game. With a strong senior season, I could see him going in round three.
The Wolverines also have some interesting skill position players in the aforementioned Gardner and with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. Gardner is a classic dual-threat QB in that he’s a fantastic athlete with all of the physical skills you could imagine, but has a long way to go mechanically. He played very well down the stretch last year, however, and could see his stock rise significantly with another year of tutelage under offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Toussaint will be a good fit in a one-cut, zone-blocking scheme (like the Houston Texans or Washington Redskins), but has had a heck of a time trying to stay healthy for a full season. Gallon is on the tiny side (5-foot-8, 187-pounds), but is grease lightning in a bottle. He’ll be able to carve out a niche as a slot receiver and return man. If both stay healthy and productive, they could be looking at late-round selections.