ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A year ago, Mason Cole had the chance to leave Michigan and pursue the riches of the NFL.
Cole, an offensive lineman for the Wolverines, was draft eligible but he didn’t go for the quick fix. Instead, he sought advice. He weighed the pros and cons of his situation.
“The biggest thing I did, I talked to my family and with as many people as I could,” Cole said. “Guys like Coach Harbaugh, guys that were already in the NFL. Just gather as much information as possible, to make an educated decision.”
Ultimately, he stayed at Michigan for his final year of college eligibility.
Three players over the last three seasons have left Michigan early to declare for the NFL draft. Defensive end Chase Winovich could be the only prospect among the Wolverines’ draft-eligible players to leave after this season.
Recent players who left Michigan early for the NFL draft
|Player||Year drafted||Round, No.|
|Jabrill Peppers||2017||First round, No. 25|
|Willie Henry||2016||Fourth round, No. 132|
|Devin Funchess||2015||Second round, No. 41|
NFLDraftScout.com projects Winovich, a redshirt junior, as the No. 11 defensive end available in the 2019 NFL Draft. Winovich hasn’t been projected in any early mock drafts so far this fall, but that could change, given his productivity at defensive end (74 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries and 2 forced fumbles).
Players who are three years out of high school are eligible for the NFL draft, yet who will stay and who will go for the Wolverines remains to be seen. Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft. There are five underclassmen on Michigan’s roster who qualify.
None of Michigan’s draft-eligible underclassmen has announced his intention to turn professional or to remain in Ann Arbor.
Last year, Michigan had several players who were eligible to pursue the NFL early, including Cole, fullback Khalid Hill, linebacker Mike McCray and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
They opted to stay for either a fourth or a fifth year. That choice could still pay off if any of those players are drafted or signed as undrafted free agents in the spring.
Michigan players who are NFL-draft eligible
|Maurice Hurst||DT||Fifth-year senior|
|Mike McCray||LB||Fifth-year senior|
|Patrick Kugler||C||Fifth-year senior|
|Khalid Hill||FB||Fifth-year senior|
|Chase Winovich||DE||Redshirt junior|
|Bryan Mone||DT||Redshirt junior|
|Ty Isaac||RB||Fifth-year senior|
|Tyrone Wheatley Jr.||TE||Redshirt sophomore|
CBSSports.com projects Hurst as a first-round pick, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. also lists him as a first-round selection on his most recent Big Board. WalterFootball.com projects Cole as the No. 8 center available in the 2018 draft.
Winovich said he is still deciding on his future, whether it is at Michigan or at the professional level.
“In a way, I’m kind of a free agent,” Winovich said Nov. 25, after the Michigan-Ohio State game. “I’m a senior [academically] and I’ll be graduating in the spring, so I’m just going to evaluate all my options.”
Cole offers advice to any NFL hopeful who is on the fence about staying in school or pursuing an NFL career.
“In the end, you’ve got to do what’s best for you,” Cole said. “For you as a player, for your family, whatever it might be. Do what’s best for you. For me, it was to come back. I don’t regret it one bit. If I could say that to anyone, I’d recommend coming back. Getting your degree, or whatever that could be. It’s important.”