The Michigan Wolverines have had an incredible run at edge rusher, where the maize and blue have often sent their top players at the position to the NFL.
In the past decade, though not always, the top pass rusher for the Wolverines any given year has tended to go in the first round of the NFL draft (Taco Charlton in 2016, Rashan Gary in 2018, Kwity Paye in 2021, Aidan Hutchinson in 2022). But even those who didn’t go early did get selected, pretty much without fail. Even rotational EDGE Mike Danna (not listed below) was an NFL draft pick — that’s how good the position has been for the maize and blue.
Below, we’re ranking the 10 best of the Jim Harbaugh era when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
Surpassing the sack record set by his father two decades earlier, Hutchinson was the engine that drove the Wolverines to their first Big Ten Championship since 2004. With 14 sacks in 2021, the team captain was integral in the culture turnaround in Ann Arbor, and helped will his team to the first win over Ohio State since 2011. Relentless, Hutchinson was thought by many to be a ‘work-hard’ type, but his talent, combined with work ethic, helped him go No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions in the 2022 NFL draft.
He didn’t have the best stats, but the former linebacker-turned-tight end-turned-defensive end quickly became a fan favorite, thanks to his high-motor and quirky character. Winovich lands so high on our list in large part due to exceeding expectations after languishing on the bench at multiple positions for the first few years of his career. But in 2016, the lightbulb turned on, and he was a star player as a starter the next two years. He was drafted in the third-round of the NFL draft in 2019.
A former three-star who came on strong starting in 2018, Paye was a bright spot as the defensive line reshuffled in the ensuing years. He really cemented himself as one of the best in the Jim Harbaugh era in 2019 when he had 6.5 sacks, but his 2020 campaign was cut short due to injury. He ended up being a first-round draft choice in 2021 by the Indianapolis Colts.
Coming from seemingly out of nowhere in his junior year in Week 5 at Wisconsin, Ojabo became one of the best edge rushers in the country in short order. Paired opposite Aidan Hutchinson, he was considered to be a large part of why Michigan had success in 2021, thriving in the new system led by defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Finishing the season with 11 sacks, his sack against Ohio State near the end of the game was a dagger that will continue to cement his legacy in Ann Arbor.
Despite having Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, it was Josh Uche who led the team in sacks in 2018 and again in 2019. More of an outside linebacker than a defensive end, the lean edge rusher was a third-down specialist under defensive coordinator Don Brown, and always seemed to be able to get to the quarterback even though opposing linemen knew he was coming.
Though he wasn’t as productive as his counterpart in Taco Charlton in 2016, Wormley tied for the team-lead in 2015 with 6.5 sacks. He felt like the engine to the defensive line and ended up being a second-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten in his senior campaign.
The No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school, Gary didn’t put up the stats that many expected, but he was solid with the Wolverines. Amassing 10.5 sacks in three seasons of work, Gary often took up double-teams and allowed for Chase Winovich to win coming off the other side. He was picked in the first-round of the 2019 NFL draft following his junior year.
Charlton got a quarter of his production in his final year at Ohio State, in a game where he could not be stopped. He led the team with 10 sacks on the season, but got 2.5 in The Game against the Buckeyes. A first-round pick in 2017, his NFL career didn’t quite follow his college trajectory, but as an athletic EDGE, he set the tone for what was to be expected in the Jim Harbaugh era.
His senior year perhaps tarnished by late injury, Morris was a beast coming off the edge for much of the season. Limited or unable to play in the final few regular season games of the 2022 season, Morris led the team with 7.5 sacks. His timely pressure helped seal the game in Week 5 at Iowa when the Hawkeyes were mounting a comeback and paired with one-year rental Eyabi Okie, he was a force up front.
Somewhat underrated, Harrell was athletic and made some timely plays for the maize and blue — none more timely than his pressure on the final defensive play of the 2023 Ohio State game, which led to Kyle McCord’s game-ending interception. Workmanlike in his approach, Harrell didn’t really garner many national headlines for being an elite pass rusher, but he got the job done and will see when his name is called in the upcoming NFL draft.