Rashan Gary came to Michigan as the No. 1-ranked player in 2016 recruiting class. The Plainfield, N.J., native wasn’t just the top-ranked defensive end in the country but the top-rated player regardless of position. Chase Winovich was a 4-star recruit who played linebacker and quarterback at Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills, Pa., and in his first two years in Ann Arbor went from linebacker to tight end. Year 3 found Winovich at defensive end.
The paths Gary and Winovich have taken with Michigan may have started differently but they have converged, giving the Wolverines one of the best defensive end duos in the country.
“I think they’re going to be a big problem for the Big Ten because these are two guys that can definitely get after it,” NFLDraftBible.com’s Rick Serritella said. “As far as a duo, I don’t know if I can think of one that brings more pass-rushing ability than these two guys do.”
The choices are few.
Gary and Winovich are one of just three combinations of defensive linemen returning to their teams after earning first- and/or second-team league honors in a Power 5 conference. Gary was named first team All-Big Ten and Winovich second team by league coaches. The results flipped in the media voting.
The other pairs are tackle Jeffery Simmons and end Montez Sweat of Mississippi State (both first-team All-SEC) and at Clemson where the entire starting defensive line of ends Clelin Ferrell (first-team All-ACC) and Austin Bryant (second team) and tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence (both first team) return.
Coming back strong
Winovich and Gary are as good as any other returning lineman duo in the country. Here’s how they stack up against other returning pairs who were all-league performers in Power 5 conferences in 2017.
Note: * = DT
|Austin Bryant/Clelin Ferrell||Clemson||18.0||33.5|
|Montez Sweat/Jeffery Simmons*||Mississippi State||15.5||27.5|
|Chase Winovich/Rashan Gary||Michigan||14.0||30.0|
|Christian Wilkins*/Dexter Lawrence*||Clemson||7.0||3.0|
If there is a better duo of ends returning, Ferrell and Bryant would be it. But it’s tough finding other pairs that compare to Gary, a junior, and Winovich, a fifth-year senior. The cupboard is never bare at Alabama where junior Raekwon Williams will have two new starters alongside him for the Crimson Tide. Ditto at Ohio State where sophomore Chase Young is expected to take over the spot previously manned by Sam Hubbard and opposite of returning junior Nick Bosa.
BTN analyst Howard Griffith said the Gary/Winovich and Bosa/Young combos are the best in the Big Ten.
“You look at both of those duos and I don’t think anyone wants to be bothered with any of the four of those guys,” Griffith told Land of 10. “The way Michigan plays, and the way both [Gary and Winovich] play they’re relentless, they get after the pass rush, the play the run.”
The aggressive nature of defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme fits well with how Gary and Winovich play. It’s a combination of frantic energy combined with situational awareness. Brown’s defense may thrive on creating chaos for the offense but it’s organized chaos for his defenders.
Winovich and Gary played reserve roles behind Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton in 2016, players who are now in the NFL. Wormley was a drafted in the third round by Baltimore last year after Charlton went to Dallas in the first round with the No. 28 overall pick.
From our weekly Rashan Gary getting held without a call segment – there are TWO officials that can't see this blatant grab? pic.twitter.com/ICLidAWTtP
— Michael Spath (@MichaelSpathITH) November 8, 2017
“I watched at least seven or eight games last year and loved watching Rashan and Chase tear it up on the outside, and obviously Mo [Hurst] in the middle, but these guys can be as good as they want,” Wormley said. “Rashan was the No. 1 player coming out in his class. He’s got the framework, the body, the intelligence and work ethic to do that. Chase, too. He goes from an outside linebacker his freshman year to a scout player tight end his second year, and then coach [Greg] Mattison brings him with the D-linemen. He showed some flashes behind Taco two years ago and then last year he blossomed into the player that I think he was recruited to be.”
Winovich finished with 8 sacks and 18 tackles for loss last season. Gary had 6 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Stats are only a piece of the puzzle in explaining how good these two are and can be.
“One thing I notice is [Gary]’s not a freelance guy,” said Ourlads NFL Draft analyst Dan Shoka. “He plays within the scheme. That’s what you want to see a great athlete do, play within the scheme of the defense and that’s what he does. He’s got good hand use, which can improve. It’s good but it can get better. He’s a guy who played as a freshman and looked good as a freshman, and then last year he played really well. Now he’s got to take another step forward and do all those things that increase productivity while playing within the scheme of the defense.”
Shoka and Serritella agree that Gary is a potential top-5 pick whenever he chooses to enter the NFL draft — and could contend to be the No. 1 overall pick. Winovich chose to return for his final year of eligibility. Serritella said the NFL’s College Advisory Committee gave Winovich a grade of being selected between the second and fourth rounds.
Chase Winovich with the sack and forced fumble. Noah Furbush picks it up for the score. Michigan leads Florida, 33-17. pic.twitter.com/0zD1f9s7rE
— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) September 2, 2017
By coming back to Michigan, Winovich can take the evaluation he got from the committee and hone his game.
Serritella compared Winovich to Connor Barwin, a 2009 second-round pick by the Houston Texans who played tight end (and basketball) at the University of Cincinnati before being switched to defensive end his senior season. Barwin was turned into an outside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 scheme and has played nine seasons in the NFL with Houston, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Rams.
While 3-4 outside linebacker might be Winovich’s projected position in the NFL, he’s concentrating on defensive end with the Wolverines.
“I think that’s one of those things where you have to take a hard look at yourself and understand what’s going on around you to be able to make a decision like that,” Griffith said. “He’s going to continue to get better just by that style of defense and being able to have that knowledge of the game.
“Coming back is going to benefit that defense and it’s going to benefit a lot of young guys that are going get a chance to work with him and against him in the case of the offensive line.”