Senior NFL Draft Analyst Dane Brugler of CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com ranked six Michigan products among the top 100 (see chart at bottom) in his recently released 2017 NFL Draft guide. But that only starts to scratch the surface on the number of former Wolverines that Brugler thinks will hear their names called during the April 27-29 event in Philadelphia.
He listed 14 U-M standouts with draftable grades and a 15th — wideout Jehu Chesson — was right on the bubble. Brugler ranked Chesson 41st among available receivers and gave him the grade of a priority free agent — but the 40th wide receiver, Louisville’s Jamari Staples, was projected as a seventh-round pick, so it’s a razor-thin margin separating the draftees from the top free agents.
Even if Chesson went undrafted but the other 14 were selected, Michigan would still tie Ohio State’s 2004 record of having the most former players ever picked in one draft. However, they could also be able to notch a long-awaited gridiron win of sorts over the Buckeyes. Brugler went on to predict that the Wolverines might not have a top-20 selection in the first round, but they could accomplish other notable achievements, in addition to topping the Buckeyes.
“This class really is a special class for the Wolverines," he said. "When you look at each round, they could be represented in every round, and you never see that. I think it’s a testament obviously to the program, but especially Coach Harbaugh and what he’s been able to do to develop these players from what they were two years ago to what they are now and how optimistic scouts are about the talent coming out of Ann Arbor.”
While U-M lacks the “true elite prospect” that is a lock to be called in the opening half of the first night, the Wolverines do have two very intriguing prospects that Brugler thinks will give U-M at least its first first-round pick since 2014 (offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, No. 11 overall).
Defensive end Taco Charlton and safety Jabrill Peppers both have question marks but also the talent that could make 2017 Michigan's eighth draft with multiple first-round picks (wideout Braylon Edwards was drafted third overall by the Browns and cornerback Marlin Jackson came off the board at No. 29 to the Colts).
“I think between the two I would be shocked if Michigan was held out of the first round,” Brugler explained. “I think at least one, if not both, will be drafted in the first round. With Jabrill Peppers, we know what’s going on in terms of trying to figure out his position at the next level. When you talk about who he is as an athlete and the football instincts, I think you can project him as being a better pro than college player. Because of that, I think someone will take a chance on him in the first round.
“With Taco Charlton, it’s kind of a similar thing. He was really basically a one-year starter and you’re drafting Taco for what he will be down the road, not what he’s shown up to this point — which is a lot of potential. When you’re that size and you can move like he can, teams don’t usually pass on that when you get to the late first-round range. I think both have an excellent shot of going in that late first round.”
In his latest CBSSports.com mock draft, which was updated April 6, Brugler projects Peppers going 30th overall to the Steelers and Charlton coming off the board with the next pick, at No. 31 to the Falcons.
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The draft expert noted he has talked to several NFL teams that actually graded Peppers higher as a running back than any position on defense. However, he still contends the versatile athlete will be utilized as a safety at the next level — he’s just one that is hard to project in the draft due to his multi-faceted role in college and no perfect positional fit in the pros.
“He was asked to do so many different things, from corner to nickel, safety to linebacker, play up in the box,” Brugler said. “On one hand, I think it could be good for him long term because it got his feet wet with a lot of different things, in terms of recognizing certain formations and adjusting his coverage the way he needed to, just seeing the field from different angles to understanding how everything is going to play out.
“But I think once he gets to the NFL, he has to be in one spot. When he was in college, he was in the offensive meeting room then had to go down to the special teams meeting room then defense — he was just stretched so thin. You can get away with that when you’re an elite talent like he was at the college level, but when he gets to the NFL he needs to focus on one spot, let him develop and give him one set of responsibilities; let him get better at that.”
While Brugler foresees teams establishing Peppers as a returner on day one, he thinks that should be the extent of his non-defensive work in the NFL.
“What he can do on offense is he can help, there’s no question,” the scribe admitted. “But I think you can say that about a lot of these players in the NFL — a lot of these safeties and corners are elite athletes; you can put them on offense and they can make plays. We don’t see it a lot at the pro level. I think it’s more likely that Peppers is a return man. If he doesn’t have a single offensive snap his rookie contract, I don’t think anybody should be surprised by that.
“Hopefully the team that drafts him lets him focus on that one set of responsibilities and hopefully he can thrive in that role.”
Meanwhile, Charlton is a prospect that various experts view in different ways. Some don’t list him as a first-round choice while others, such as Brugler’s CBS Sports colleague Rob Rang, have him knocking on the door of the draft's top 10. Rang projects Charlton and his “Pro Bowl potential” to be selected by the Saints at No. 11.
Brugler likes to say Charlton is “not yet the sum of his parts,” but all of the pieces to being an elite edge rusher are present.
“He has the length, the size, he can give you some juice off the edge. … It’s a very strong pass rush class,” he noted. “That’s why I don’t think it should surprise anyone if guys like T.J. Watt [from Wisconsin] or a player like Charles Harris from Missouri go ahead of Charlton, but long term I think Taco Charlton definitely has a chance to be one of the better players from this draft class.”
The writer’s comparison for Charlton is former Notre Dame defensive end Justin Tuck, who played 11 seasons for the Giants and Raiders from 2005-15, totaling 66.5 sacks and earning a pair of Pro Bowl nods.
“You see all of the parts, he just needs to put it all together to be a more efficient pass rusher,” Brugler said. “Like I said, you see some flashes of what Justin Tuck did at Notre Dame — and he had an injury, which was a big reason he fell to the third round. Obviously, Tuck outplayed that draft status and it would not be a surprise if five years from now if we’re talking about Taco Charlton outplaying where he ends up in the draft as well.”
Even if Charlton is a late first-rounder as Brugler predicts?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “If you’re drafting him in the late first round, that means there’s a chance 30 players went ahead of you. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if we’re talking five years from now and Taco Charlton is one of the 20 best players in this draft class. It depends on his development and where he ends up — there’s a lot that goes into it because he’s a little bit of a projection, but when we’re talking five years out, I think you get excited about the player that he could be.”
Check back tomorrow for an article detailing Brugler’s thoughts on some of Michigan’s day two and three picks, headlined by cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
Michigan Players In Dane Brugler’s Top 100
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