Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and athletic director Warde Manuel shoot down NFL rumors on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, at Crisler Center.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Michigan likely won’t match its record-setting NFL Draft output from 2017 next spring, but depending on who declares, the Wolverines could have a high number of players taken in the draft again in 2019.
Michigan has several juniors who have yet to make announcements on their futures and one player, Rashan Gary, who has already to declared.
The Wolverines put 11 players in the 2017 draft, a program record. This group could possibly be looking at six draft picks. Perhaps more. And the one player who continues to trend upward in most everyone’s eyes is junior All-American linebacker Devin Bush Jr.
“I really like Devin Bush. I have him somewhere in the middle of the first round, he’s where the NFL is going to right now. A super athletic three-down player who can play different spots as a run and chase linebacker,” NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller told the Free Press this week.
Both ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay agree with Miller’s assessment.
Kiper now has Bush at No. 8 on his big board. McShay slots him at No. 21. Most all agree his explosiveness as a blitzer and ability to cover the field side-to-side are his best attributes.
Michigan lists Bush at 5-foot-11, 233 pounds. Those listings aren’t always accurate. If Bush declares for the draft — he hasn’t yet — his measurement testing at the combine would be important. At the same time, most teams are already aware he’s a bit undersized.
And plenty won’t care.
“The only thing that I could see hurting him is if he comes in and just bombs the measurements,” Miller added. “If he has super short arms or something. But then again, everyone already knows he’s sort of small. So it shouldn’t get held against him too much.”
Gary, who will not play in the Peach Bowl, continues to sit firmly as a first-round talent with regard to most expert opinions. McShay had him at No. 2 overall in his latest mock draft, despite the fact he missed roughly half of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury and never really recorded eye-popping numbers in college.
Same time, teams are focused elsewhere with Gary.
Scouts have been waiting to see what he does at the combine since he was a senior in high school. If he lives up to the hype in that setting, he’ll be a top 10 choice.
“He’s exciting athletically and it sounds like from a character standpoint he’ll be great. For him, maybe it’s more ‘what could have been (at Michigan).’ I think he got played out of position some as an edge rusher instead of a three-technique,” Miller says. “But he’s going to test so well. People are going to fall in love with his potential. He’ll end up as a top 10 pick as long as everything checks out medically and it should.”
Two other juniors who have yet to make announcements on their future plans are cornerbacks David Long and Lavert Hill.
Hill was a third-team All-American this season and a Thorpe Award semifinalist. He’s a two-time All-Big Ten performer at 5-foot-11, 168 pounds. He’ll have to get stronger and improve his tackling, but he’s versatile enough to cover receivers inside and out.
Long might be more physically put together, and perhaps faster. He’s only truly been a full-time corner for his three years in college, as he spent most of his prep career playing receiver. Neither Long nor Hill are seen as players who have hit their ceilings yet, though the case could be made that Long’s growth could really take off the more he plays.
“I’ve watched them enough to be familiar with them in case they declare, but I haven’t watched them enough to have a full grade on them,” Miller said. “I know any time I talk about Michigan, fans ask me about those two. They’re both really good, it’s been obvious. But I haven’t watched enough to be able to get too much into it.”
Michigan is still, of course, waiting on a decision from junior quarterback Shea Patterson. Miller said this week that he believes Patterson could work his way up to a day two (second- or third-round) pick if he declares this year, though there’s a case to be made for him returning as well.
Those are the top juniors. Michigan junior guard Ben Bredeson has said he’s returning to school. Safety Josh Metellus said he’d do his due-dilligence. Tight end Zach Gentry has not made any public comments about his plans. Junior linebacker Khaleke Hudson drew buzz before the year started, but hasn’t seen as much of late. Underclassmen have until Jan. 14 to declare for the draft.
As far as the senior class is concerned, Miller loves both defensive end Chase Winovich and running back Karan Higdon.
Winovich, he says, could be a first-rounder depending on his testing.
“It’s going to be about how well he tests. But everyone loves him. You talk to coaches and they all tell you ‘we love that dude.’ He’s kind of the heart and soul of their team, that’s very important,” Miller said of Winovich, who could be a hybrid outside linebacker in the NFL. “He’s not as strong as Sam Hubbard, but he’s in that area of every time you watch him he stands out. Makes a ton of hustle plays and he’s super smart. Teams could fall in love with a guy like that. If he tests well enough, he could be a first-round type guy. If he tests poorly, could fall to like the third round. A lot will depend on how he tests.”
Higdon, meanwhile, has had the attention of scouts for most of the season. He considered leaving early last year and might have been able to work his way into a decent grade. Though coming back, being a captain and delivering with production has turned plenty of heads.
As important? He currently only has 471 college carries on his body.
“I’m excited to see him at the Senior Bowl. Every time I watched Michigan play this year it was like ‘can they please just feed him the ball,’ ” Miller says. “He’s a little small, change of pace guy. I want to see how he catches the ball. Because with his frame, that’s what he’ll have to do at the next level.
“He doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear, that’ll help. But we have to see what he can do catching the ball. Senior Bowl practices will give him a ton of opportunity to show that. He’s quick and powerful, though.”
Contact Nick Baumgardner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.