Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, Daxton Hill and Hassan Haskins all could have returned for one more year at Michigan. As the headlining stars of the Wolverines’ incredible dash to the College Football Playoff, they were the driving force behind UM’s miracle and laid the foundation for the coming years.

Don’t forget about kicker Jake Moody, either — he was invaluable this past season.

The Wolverines would probably love to have them all for one more go-round. They’d be among the favorites to make another run at the 4-team CFP postseason, wouldn’t they?

Well, the NFL is calling.

And hell, even Daylen Baldwin picked up and decided to jump into draft process. So did Christopher Hinton. They were two lesser-known players, but they each made major contributions to the Michigan run in 2021 and would have provided great leadership and experience next season.

Tough losses.

But that’s how the cycle goes in college football. Even with players having an extra year due to COVID in 2020, it seems like the Wolverines are unexpectedly losing a lot of key talent all at once. Players like Hinton and Baldwin were expected to stick around.

So who is the biggest loss?

Let’s take a look at how stars’ absences will impact the Wolverines next year. For the sake of grading/evaluating impact of loss, we’ll use a 1-5 system, with 5 being the most difficult to replace.

Hutchinson – 4

It’s very, very easy to say that Hutchinson is Michigan’s biggest loss heading into next year. So easy, that we’re not going to even say it — because as great as he was this past fall, he won’t be the most missed player (at least stat/production-wise). He was a captain and everything, so of course players will miss him. Fourteen sacks, Heisman runner-up — yeah, all of that was pretty great.

But Michigan seems to find guys on defense.

There might not be another Hutchinson, but there will likely be another star coming off the edge. The Wolverines have had some during the Harbaugh era, namely Rashan Gary and Taco Charlton. There will be another rising star among the defensive ranks in Ann Arbor — of that you can be sure.

Another Hutchinson? Probably not. But again, due to the track record of recruiting and development, Harbaugh will likely have another at least similar player in the near future.

Moody – 4

He’s probably the greatest kicker in Michigan history. Moody won the Lou Groza Award in 2021 and led the Wolverines in scoring. He was  among the top 15 in scoring nationally. Special teams have always been part of the Wolverines’ success, particularly on the kicking and punting end.

Note: Good thing punter Brad Robbins is returning for a 6th year, otherwise Michigan would be really hurting in the special teams department.

Haskins – 3.5

A career 2,000-yard rusher and UM single-season rushing TD king, Haskins might be the most difficult Harbaugh-era RB to replace. Who else is going to bulldoze Ohio State for a rivalry series-record 5 rushing TDs?

The term “workhorse” comes to mind when thinking of Haskins, much like it did when thinking about former UM star RB Karan Higdon. Replacing Haskins won’t be easy, but it probably won’t be impossible. Michigan might not have another with an identical style, but it will certainly have another star ball-carrier. As a matter of fact, UM already has one in the making with sophomore-to-be Donovan Edwards — a different style of player, but one who’ll help fill the void left by Haskins’ departure.

Hill – 3

If not for Hill’s game-sealing interception against Rutgers in 2020, the Wolverines’ momentum may not have grown into the monster it was in 2021. That moment, although against an inferior team, served as a catapult for Michigan. Even QB Cade McNamara has pointed to that game as a springboard.

Hill had a team-high 2 INTs (tied with DJ Turner) and a team-high 8 pass deflections. Because of his stellar 2021, he’s recognized as one of the top safeties eligible for the upcoming NFL draft.

Ojabo – 3

O-JA-BO! Remember Gus Johnson’s famous call when Ojabo would strike on Saturdays? With 11 sacks, Ojabo was one-half of Michigan’s dominant pass-rush attack. A projected first-rounder, Ojabo came to Michigan with very little football experience — now he’s bound for Sundays.

Development has always been a key factor for Harbaugh’s Wolverines. Ojabo was a diamond in the rough. Replacing him won’t be easy … but again, Michigan always seems to find standouts on defense. There may not ever be another Ojabo-Hutchinson combo at Michigan — one that accounted for 25 sacks in one year — but there certainly will be more star pass-rushers for as long as DC Mike Macdonald is in town.

And now, with the hiring of former Notre Dame DL coach Mike Elston, Michigan’s D-line seems to be in position to grow even stronger than ever.