Michigan football: The 10 most valuable players from the past decade
During the past 10 years, Michigan football has fought to reclaim its previous identity as a college football powerhouse. Jim Harbaugh has been head coach for seven of those years. In 2016, his second season, Harbaugh had the Wolverines on the doorstep of the College Football Playoff.
Things were going to change around Ann Arbor, and it looked like Year 2 would mark Michigan’s ascent. There were some bumps in the road, but eventually, Michigan reached its desired destination.
In 2021, Harbaugh finally won a Big Ten championship, beat Ohio State and made the College Football Playoff, completing one of the best seasons in program history.
The following list covers the most important players in Ann Arbor since the 2013 season, 2 years prior to the arrival of coach Jim Harbaugh and the bookend to a 5-year tailspin that had many questioning the direction of Wolverines football.
Performance and accolades will weigh heavy when sifting through the best; however, other factors will also be considered, such as what said player did for the culture of UM football.
A Heisman finalist in 2021, Hutchinson — without a doubt — has been Michigan’s top player from the past decade and easily the best player to suit up for coach Jim Harbaugh. In 2021, Hutchinson set a school single-season record with 14 sacks and went No. 2 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Detroit Lions.
In terms of importance, Hutchinson cemented his legacy while helping lead the Wolverines to their first outright Big Ten title since 2003 and first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
At one time, Jabrill Peppers was viewed as the No. 1-ranked player of the 2013 class. By the time the do-all landed on campus, he was the No. 3-ranked player, per 247Sports — a major score for the Wolverines. Recruited by former coach Brady Hoke, Peppers represented a new era of Michigan football.
A Heisman finalist and Thorpe Award-winner in 2016, Peppers was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and currently plays DB for the New York Jets. The arrival of Peppers to Michigan essentially re-opened the path for blue chips headed to Ann Arbor.
The No. 1-ranked player of the 2016 recruiting class, Rashan Gary was Harbaugh’s first superstar and quickly became a force for the Wolverines, who relied upon Gary to help carry the load of one of the nation’s top defenses. “Bane,” as he’s known as with the Green Bay Packers, has developed into one of the NFL’s best young defensive players and appears to be on course for a successful collection of Sundays in the future.
Landing Gary was beyond a win for Michigan — it was a game-changer. Because of Gary (and Peppers), many more high-end recruits scheduled visits and placed UM among their primary choices. Michigan didn’t always get the top players, but it owes some consideration to Gary (and Peppers).
Arguably one of the greatest tight ends in college history and the best to ever play at Michigan, Jake Butt set the bar for future Wolverines TEs by winning the Mackey Award in 2016. If not for a series of knee injuries, the first which was suffered during the 2017 Orange Bowl, Butt would have probably had a successful NFL career.
In hindsight, he could have opted out of the bowl game and focused on the draft. Had he done that … who knows? Maybe knee injuries wouldn’t have haunted him and he’d still be catching balls on Sunday. Butt’s commitment to his program can never be questioned. Today, we see stars bow out of bowl games for whatever reason. … Butt has said — on several occasions — that given the chance, he wouldn’t have changed a thing and certainly would have played in the Orange Bowl. The final college game mattered to Butt, who has evolved into a program-favorite since his departure in 2017.
Michigan has had a lot of solid running backs during the past decade, but none was as consistent and powerful as Hassan Haskins, who scored 20 rushing touchdowns while serving as the backbone of Michigan’s Big Ten-title winning offense last year.
Now with the Tennessee Titans, Haskins has drawn praise from superstar RB Derrick Henry and appears to be on track for a solid rookie year in the pros.
Recruited by Brady Hoke, Grant Newsome, a 4-star OL, was well on his way to having an incredible career in Ann Arbor before a devastating injury nearly cost him his leg. Against Wisconsin in 2016, Newsome suffered a severe cut on an artery after making a play, causing him to medically retire in 2018. The injury was just too much for Newsome to overcome, and there was zero sense in risking his leg by taking the field.
He was a fan favorite and one of the most well-liked by the media. Newsome was always polite and engaging; he had a way of relating to people so much that media would joke about him running for office in the future. He always appreciated the opportunities afforded by attending UM and playing football.
The two-time letterman and academic All-American is now a part of Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan, serving as the tight ends coach. Prior to that, he was a graduate assistant from 2020-21.
Jourdan Lewis might be the best defensive back not named Charles Woodson to ever play at Michigan, and that’s saying a lot for the current Dallas Cowboys DB. Who can forget Lewis’ incredible interception vs. Wisconsin in 2016?! Nobody. And it was arguably the greatest INT in Wolverines history and easily the best defensive play for Michigan in the past 10 years.
Recruited by Harbaugh but not necessarily known as the “Harbaugh QB” by fans and spectators (see below), McNamara lands on this list because he was one of the most consistent QBs in the nation during the 2021 season and led Michigan to an 11-2 record, season-ending win over Ohio State and appearance in the College Football Playoff.
He doesn’t get the respect he deserves, as Michigan fans constantly lobby for the star youngster to take the reins (see below); however, McNamara has never let that play with his focus or cloud his mind — he’s been exactly the QB Michigan needed in order to get over the hump, with that “hump” being Ohio State, Big Ten title, etc.
Jake Rudock was a grad transfer from Iowa and Harbaugh’s first starting QB. Wilton Speight was a Hoke-commit and took over for Rudock, who was immensely important in laying the groundwork for future quarterbacks. Shea Patterson, the No. 1 overall QB in the 2016 class, went on to have a respectable career at Michigan.
There were others in the mix, such as John O’Korn and Joe Milton (who was recruited by Harbaugh) — but Michigan never had a true “Harbaugh QB” until 5-star JJ McCarthy joined the show in Ann Arbor. Now a sophomore, McCarthy is viewed as the next superstar Wolverines QB and has to shoulder the enormous pressure of being “Harbaugh’s true guy.” The No. 1-ranked PSQB of the 2021 class, McCarthy has shown signs of being special but still needs seasoning in order to run the operation.
Regardless, he’s still one of the most important players at UM in the past 10 years, solely based on recruiting optics — another player like Gary and Peppers who told the nation that the best in the country still want to play in Ann Arbor.
Anyone named Glasgow
Ryan, Jordan and Graham Glasgow — obviously brothers — demonstrated the intense work ethic that drives Michigan football. While Graham was a bit earlier and not really a major contributor during the Harbaugh era — being a 5th-year senior in 2015, Harbaugh’s first season — he did set the tone for his two younger brothers to follow.
Ryan was a star DL and Jordan went from special teams to a key contributor as a senior. There may never be another set of kin to roll through and impact Michigan football the same was as the Glasgow boys. Really, it’d be hard to name a set of brothers who’ve made that kind of impact at any program, not just Michigan.