ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh wasn’t joking when he said he expected to have a high number of his players from Michigan drafted by NFL teams in April.
“I don’t know how many guys will get drafted, but it’ll be double digits,” Harbaugh said in October, on his weekly radio show on WTKA-AM in Ann Arbor.
Given Wednesday’s release of the NFL Combine invitees, Harbaugh’s prediction could become a reality. Or at least a better measure of Michigan’s production of NFL-ready hopefuls.
The NFL announced Wednesday its annual list of invited players to its annual draft combine, Feb. 28 to March 6 in Indianapolis. Fourteen players from Michigan will take part in the event, which is a measure of physical and psychological standards for professional football hopefuls.
The 14 players from Michigan is the highest number of players from one school this year. Alabama and LSU each will have 10 players at the combine, while Miami (Fla.) and Ohio State each will have nine.
It’s also the second-highest number from one school in as many years; Ohio State had 14 players take part in the 2016 combine, and had 15 at the 2004 combine.
Here's the full list of NFL combine invitees from Michigan: pic.twitter.com/u0KZigDcGB
— Rachel Lenzi (@RLenziCMG) February 15, 2017
The fact that 14 players from Michigan will attend this year’s combine speaks to Harbaugh and his staff’s emphasis on player development.
While all of Michigan’s combine invites were recruited by Brady Hoke’s staff and enrolled in 2012, 2013 or 2014, Hoke’s staff didn’t have the same philosophy on development as Harbaugh’s.
That’s shown in the numbers — not just of players who were drafted, but players who were invited to the combine.
This is the most invitees Michigan has had in the past six years. Since 2012, Michigan has had no more than three players attend the combine, including only one — Denard Robinson — in 2013.
|Year||Michigan combine invitees|
|2016||Graham Glasgow, Willie Henry|
|2015||Devin Funchess, Frank Clark, Jake Ryan|
|2014||Taylor Lewan, Jeremy Gallon, Mike Schofield|
|2012||Junior Hemingway, Mike Martin, David Molk|
Being invited to the combine doesn’t necessarily mean that a player will be drafted. NFL draft analyst Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout and CBSSports.com pointed that out earlier this week:
A few numbers from last year's NFL Combine to remember:
35.2% – Combine invites who went undrafted
15.0% – Draft picks who were non-Combine
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 15, 2017
And there have been more undrafted free-agent signings out of Michigan in the last five years — a common trend not just for certain programs but for NFL teams.
But Harbaugh doesn’t just coach his players to prepare for the pro level. He also tries to create a professional environment, not just football-wise but holistically.
In his first year at Michigan, players noticed that change — Harbaugh encouraged his players to hold offseason jobs and to adhere to a daily schedule. At the time, it was a shock to the system for some of the Wolverines.
“I don’t know if you can compare staffs and cultures right now. It’s just so different,” former Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden said, prior to Harbaugh’s first season at Michigan. “Everyone has their way about doing things, and Harbaugh’s staff is so professional. I’m using that term loosely, because I don’t know exactly what I’m talking about, but they treat you like a mature adult, and you have responsibilities you need to take care of.”
Harbaugh included coaches and personnel with NFL experience on his coaching and support staffs, and made a point to invite NFL personnel to campus.
Michigan, Harbaugh said in October, “rolls out the red carpet” for NFL scouts and general managers who visit the program’s facility on a weekly basis.
“We aspire for our guys to play at the very highest level, the NFL,” Harbaugh said. “Anything we can do that’s more beneficial to our players, to be evaluated, the better.”