Michigan Football Defensive Linemen Defend Their Numbers in NFL Combine Story

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a line that’s been popularized by artists like Lil Wayne and Yo Gotti in recent years: “Women lie, men lie, numbers don’t lie.”

Some select Michigan football defensive linemen would like to, respectfully, push back on the sentiment.

The Wolverines have an NFL-record 18 players at this week’s NFL combine. three of whom work along the defensive front — Kris Jenkins, Braiden McGregor and Jaylen Harrell — and believe their numbers from the past season didn’t tell the full story of their year.

“Go out there and look how many snaps we played,” McGregor said. “Didn’t play into the fourth quarter until what, Penn State? That’s something the team’s know … so just be transparent. So yeah, I could have went somewhere, had 10 sacks and had all the accolades I wanted. But at the end of the day I did what was best for the team and that was be part of a rotation.”

Harrell and McGregor rotated on the edges with Josaiah Stewart and Derrick Moore, while Kris Jenkins was a part of a five-man rotation in the middle of the line with Mason Graham, Kenneth Grant, Cam Goode and Rayshaun Benny.

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That kind of depth helped U-M on the field, but hurt some individual numbers.

Jenkins played 418 defensive snaps — down from 536 snaps in 2022, despite playing an additional game — while Harrell played 474 snaps (31.6 per game) and McGregor 415 (27.7 per game). For perspective, some of the top prospects in this year’s class like UCLA’s Laiatu Latu took 535 snaps in 12 games (44.6 per game) while Florida State’s Jared Verse took 586 snaps in 13 games (45.1 per game).

And neither of them compare to Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton, who took 749 defensive snaps in 12 games (62.4 per game), more than double any of U-M’s three prospects, which not to say those aren’t the better players, but context is important.

“That showed in the end of that Bama game when we rotated our d-line so much,” McGregor said. “Our edge guys are able to collapse on both the tackles, make the play.”

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Harrell’s numbers were impressive — 31 tackles, 10 for loss and a team-high 7½ sacks — but for 15 games, not exactly eye-popping. The same goes for McGregor, who had 26 tackles, nine of which went for loss and 4½ sacks.

Jenkins said before the 2023 season began that he wanted to improve his pass rush to the point he had double-digit sacks. He ended the year with 36 tackles, 4½ for loss, and 2½ sacks.

But those former Wolverines said they are in no way concerned about their numbers, or lack thereof, impacting their individual draft status.

“Dudes in the league watch the tape,” Harrell said. “There’s guys sometimes who get two sacks and they go in the first round. So production matters, but also traits, like, what can you bring?”

They get the benefit of the doubt as this crop of defensive linemen is far from the first to come from Michigan in recent years. In nine years of the Jim Harbaugh era, the Wolverines produced 12 draft picks along the defensive line, half of whom were selected in the first two rounds.

Taco Charlton (No. 28 overall) became the first first-rounder of the bunch in 2017, followed by Rashan Gary (No. 12 overall) in 2019, Kwity Paye in 2021 (No. 21 overall), Aidan Hutchinson in 2022 (No. 2 overall) and Mazi Smith in 2023 (No. 26 overall).

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There’s also a second-rounder David Ojabo (No. 45 overall, 2021), who would have been a first-round pick had he not suffered a torn ACL during his pro day at U-M, as well as third-rounders Chris Wormley (2017) and Chase Winovich (2019), fourth-rounders Willie Henry (2016) and Ryan Glasgow (2017), and fifth-rounders Mo Hurst (2018), Mike Danna (2020) and Mike Morris (2023).

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“I think the thing is we just have so much depth there,” McGregor said of how U-M continues to turn out defensive linemen. “When I came in, I had Kwity, Aidan, Ojabo, Jaylen, Mike Morris (in the edge room); at Michigan, when you come in you have to compete.”

A nine-man rotation, coupled with the fact the Wolverines didn’t trail in the second half of a single game all season, meant players weren’t on the field for a ton of key moments; at least not until late in the season.

Harrell made the hit on Ohio State QB Kyle McCord which forced the game-sealing interception on the Buckeyes’ final drive. McGregor had a pair of sacks in the Rose Bowl. Jenkins was a second-team All-American.

“It speaks volumes to be able to have the coaches put us in position to be coached up the right way,” Harrell said. “The year we were able to have as a team, and a unit up front.”

Harrell, a projected Day 3 selection, has had both formal and informal interviews with more than a dozen teams, where he’s discussed playing on the outside in both three-down and four-down fronts, and feels he’s shown his ability to drop into coverage from his position.

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McGregor, who generated 28 total pressures per Pro Football Focus, has had sit downs with teams like Arizona, Miami, New York (Giants), Washington and the Chargers — he “wanted to say what’s up” to the Harbaugh-led staff — and at 6-5 and 267 pounds, already looks built for the next level.

Jenkins’ first NFL memory was getting brought onto the field after his father (Kris Jenkins) on the Panthers played against his uncle (Cullen Jenkins) on the Packers in 2005.

Now, the younger Jenkins feels he can pitch himself to NFL teams in the same way so many other former U-M defensive linemen have in recent years.

“I’m a disciplined player,” Jenkins said of his message to GMs. “If you need me to be an impact player, I’ll do everything in my power to do that. If you ned me to be a gritty player and do the dirty work, I’ll do whatever I can. I’m gonna do whatever you need.

“I’m humble, I’ve learned to be humble and be where my feet are, so I’ll impact and help a team any way I can.”

Contact Tony Garcia: [email protected]. Follow him at @realtonygarcia.

2024-02-28 23:28:04
#numbers #lie #Turn #tape


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