Michigan junior defensive end Rashan Gary has broken the ice and declared early his NFL intentions, so will the dominos start to fall?
Will quarterback Shea Patterson also leave with a year of eligibility remaining? Will junior linebacker Devin Bush, a projected first-rounder, also head to the NFL?
The 6-foot-5, 283-pound Gary, the No. 1 player coming out of high school, is projected a first-round pick and announced his decision on a video Monday. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper ranked Gary No. 8 on his most recent Big Board, two spots behind fellow Michigan junior, linebacker Devin Bush Jr.
“I would like to thank my higher power, my family, the University of Michigan, the students and the fans,” Gary said in the video. “I will be foregoing my senior season to make a dream come true to declare for the draft. Thank you. Go Blue.”
Gary missed three games because of an injury to the AC joint in his right shoulder, and Kwity Paye earned three starts in his absence and gained valuable experience and freshman Aidan Hutchinson also got some playing time.
Which others will leave early? Cornerbacks Lavert Hill and David Long? Linebacker Khaleke Hudson. Offensive lineman Ben Bredeson?
Bush was No. 6 on Kiper’s most recent Big Board and was the best player on the defense this season. He finished the regular-season with 78 tackles, including 9 tackles for loss and five sacks. He left the Ohio State game with an unspecified hip injury that coach Jim Harbaugh said would not be “long term.” Last season, he led the team with 101 tackles.
“He’s the perfect linebacker for today’s game because, listen, yesteryear’s game used to be, you had to be a hammer in the middle and just be physical and take on the iso the fullback,” ESPN’s David Pollack said earlier this season about Bush. “He’s physical enough to have played in those eras but also sideline-to-sideline. That’s rare. You don’t find guys like that across the country. He’s one of the best in the country at his position. It’s fun to watch him, because I like the way he competes. “
He was voted a co-captain this season and it has felt all along like a foregone conclusion Bush will be moving on to the NFL. During an interview last week on the Big Ten Network, Bush was asked when he will make a decision regarding his playing future.
Bush said he planned to sit down with his family and coaches to discuss the options, but he did offer a timeframe.
“Probably late December, early January will be when I make my decision,” Bush told BTN.
Patterson transferred from Ole Miss last December, went through spring practice and was declared immediately eligible and he won the starting job early in preseason camp. He led the Wolverines to a 10-win season bookended by losses at Notre Dame and Ohio State.
He arrived at Michigan and the sense was he would be one and done. Patterson looked particularly devastated after the 62-39 debacle at Ohio State, suggesting perhaps there might be some wiggle room and he could push pause on NFL plans. Patterson finished the season completing 65 percent of his passes for 2,364 yards, 21 touchdowns against five interceptions. He had five, three-touchdown passing games, including at OSU.
In the aftermath of the Ohio State loss, Patterson made heartfelt comments about his feelings for the Wolverines.
“I love my brothers, I love this team, I love this university like no other,” he said, later adding, “I love this team, and I wouldn’t want to win or lose with anybody else on this planet.”
Patterson repeatedly has said he has learned more about football in a few months with head coach Jim Harbaugh and pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton than he had his entire football life. Another year at Michigan would give him an opportunity to get bigger and stronger, not to mention he’d develop his game more, and there would be those opportunities to try to beat Notre Dame and Ohio State at Michigan Stadium.
He was asked recently if he had thought about this being his last season at Michigan.
"Not at all," he said.
Long and Hill have earned consistent praise throughout their careers and likely will test the NFL waters and see what kinds of grades they earn. Long had 15 tackles this year, eight pass breakups and one interception. Hill had five pass breakups and an interception returned for a touchdown against Wisconsin. Long left the OSU game with a hip flexor strain, according to Harbaugh.
Other juniors who may be thinking about the NFL are Hudson and Bredeson. Bredeson has been starting at left guard since his freshman year and was a co-captain this fall. Hudson played the Viper in Don Brown’s defense and had 38 tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hurries in the regular season.