While former Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary has been moving the needle in terms of pre-draft conversation heading into the first day of the NFL Draft on Thursday, the Wolverines’ former standout linebacker, Devin Bush Jr., has been moving up the draft projection charts.
Gary and Bush are expected to be first-round selections, while former defensive end Chase Winovich slipped into NFL.com’s top-50 prospects list this week and is expected be a second-round selection along with former cornerback David Long, who had a strong showing at the NFL Combine last month.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah has three Michigan players in his latest top-50 list on NFL.com — Bush at No. 9, Gary at No. 10 and Winovich at No. 48.
Bush was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year and Linebacker of the Year last season and is now receiving accolades as potentially the best player in the draft.
Former NFL safety Louis Riddick, who is now an ESPN analyst, was asked Monday on the "Dan Patrick Show" who he thinks is the best prospect.
“The best player in this draft, for my money, pound for pound, the best player in this draft is Devin Bush from Michigan,” Riddick said. “If you can tell me exactly what his weakness is, I can show you a play that tells you it’s not a weakness. Played with his dad (Devin Bush Sr.) in Atlanta (and) this kid has all his father’s tenacity, speed, striking ability. He has better football instincts. (His) football smarts are off the charts.”
Mel Kiper, the longtime ESPN NFL Draft analyst, initially had Bush projected at No. 20 to Pittsburgh. But after an outstanding showing during the combine when he went neck and neck with LSU linebacker Devin White, long considered the best linebacker available, Bush's stock has continued to improve.
“Everybody’s so positive on Devin Bush,” Kiper said during a conference call Monday. “The game-to-game consistency. Love of the game. Today’s NFL fits him perfectly. There’s not much separating him from Devin White. If Devin White is going to go five to Tampa, they both ran similar (40-yard dashes), 4.42, 4.43, they were right there. Bush ran early, and White matched what Bush ran and exceeded it a little bit. They’re both really similar. I can’t see him getting past 11 (to Cincinnati).
“I think he’s one of the best football players in this draft. He’s right now No. 7 on my big board. I can’t see him getting past 11.”
Gary has been praised for his sheer athleticism, but the knock on him during the draft process has been his lack of production during his three seasons at Michigan. He had 10.5 career sacks but missed three regular-season games because of a shoulder injury and did not play in the bowl game last season. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Tuesday, citing sources, said Gary’s shoulder injury is a labral tear and it has been an issue for some teams. Rapoport reported Gary can play this season and have surgery afterward.
Kiper offered a lower selection range for Gary than he had previously.
“I just think by the time you get to the middle of the first round, maybe Miami at 13, the Giants at 17 if they get the quarterback early, you have Minnesota at 18,” Kiper said, regarding Gary. “I think somebody in that 13 to 19 range may look at Rashan Gary.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, a longtime NFL player and former 49ers coach, said on "The Harbaughs’ Podcast" this week that Gary is a top-10 pick.
“He’s going to get drafted in the top 10,” Harbaugh said. “These people that are trying to kid themselves that he’s not, it’s comical to me.”
Kiper said Winovich and Long are “two really good football players” and added he sees them as second-round picks. Running back Karan Higdon is projected to be a fifth-round selection, according to Kiper, who also sees tight end Zach Gentry and safety Tyree Kinnel as late-round picks.
“Gentry never emerged as the type of tight end … a little inconsistent at times with the hands, adjusting to some poorly thrown balls,” Kiper said. “I’d say late-rounder for him.”
Michigan draft prospects
►Rashan Gary, DL: Well-documented athleticism and versatility, but shoulder issue could be a holdup. Round 1.
►Devin Bush Jr., LB: Smaller for the position but makes up for it with speed, football smarts and tenacity. Round 1.
►Chase Winovich, DE: Worked hard to dispel notion he’s just a high-motor guy and proved he is tremendously talented. Round 2.
►David Long, CB: Began to make a case with his big numbers at the NFL Combine and continues to move up the charts. Round 2.
►Karan Higdon, RB: Higdon is a grinder who improved considerably his final two seasons. Round 5-6.
►Zach Gentry, TE: Didn’t post dazzling numbers at the combine and is likely considered more of a project for an NFL team. Round 7-FA.
►Tyree Kinnel, S: Was a strong captain for Michigan last fall and posted solid numbers at Pro Day. Round 7-FA.
►Bryan Mone, DT: Big, strong presence inside who can man the middle. FA
►Lawrence Marshall, DT: Took time for his career to take off, but he proved his athleticism last fall. FA
►Juwann Bushell-Beatty, OL: Missed the final two games because of a toe injury after starting all season at right tackle. FA.