ANN ARBOR, Mich. — You’re going to miss them when you’re gone, aren’t you?
If you’re a Michigan fan, you’ve gotten used to seeing many of your program’s familiar names, including a few who have been there for four or five seasons — this year’s seniors and fifth-year seniors.
A handful, including Chris Wormley, Jake Butt and Jourdan Lewis, chose to return to Michigan this season, to help the Wolverines pursue their championship goals. But with Michigan needing help to earn a berth in the College Football Playoff, it’s more likely it will play in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Bowl berths and CFP berths will be revealed Sunday.
Michigan will lose its seniors either to graduation or to the NFL (or both), and could also lose several of its underclassmen to the NFL, notably Jabrill Peppers. The Big Ten’s defensive player of the year/linebacker of the year/return specialist of the year is eligible for the NFL Draft, as he is three years out of high school, but has not publicly declared his intentions for the 2017 season.
Here are five potential departures that will impact Michigan next season:
2017 NFL Draft ranking: No. 3 overall, No. 1 outside linebacker
It’s widely anticipated that Peppers will leave Michigan and pursue an NFL career. He’s likely again to earn All-American honors and is a finalist for several national awards, including the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
Peppers played in all three facets — defense, offense and special teams — and seamlessly adjusted to his role as a linebacker after playing at safety in 2015. This season, Peppers had 72 tackles, four sacks and eight quarterback hurries, and helped Michigan’s linebackers regroup after losses to graduation in 2015. On offense, he was used primarily in the Wildcat formation, and on special teams as a punt/kickoff returner.
He’s also a Heisman Trophy hopeful.
He's the most versatile player in college football.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) November 24, 2016
2017 NFL Draft ranking: No. 36 overall, No. 3 tight end
In an impassioned statement posted last December to his social media page, Butt announced he would return to Michigan for his senior season instead of opting for the NFL draft. Butt didn’t hurt his professional stock at all, with 518 yards and four touchdowns on 43 catches this season.
Additionally, Butt became Michigan’s all-time leading receiver among tight ends in November, and has a career 1,618 receiving yards prior to bowl season.
2017 NFL Draft ranking: No. 51 overall, No. 7 cornerback
Lewis also was targeted as an NFL prospect after an All-American season in 2015. But, like Butt, the cornerback chose to return to the Wolverines for his senior year, and to complete his degree.
He missed Michigan’s first three games with a back injury and a muscle strain, but didn’t miss much of a beat, following a junior season in 2015 in which he broke up 22 passes, including two interceptions. In nine games this season, Lewis defended 10 passes and had two interceptions and 23 tackles, helping Michigan to the No. 1 pass defense in the country (135.9 yards).
2017 NFL Draft ranking: No. 55 overall, No. 4 defensive tackle
An ACL tear in August 2012 — just before his freshman year began — ultimately gave Wormley another year at Michigan, and the 6-foot-7 defensive lineman thrived in his final two seasons. As a redshirt junior in 2015, he had 43 tackles (25 solo), including 14.5 for a loss of 77 yards. Wormley also had 6.5 sacks, one pass breakup, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
In his final season at Michigan — in which he was voted as a co-captain — Wormley continued that pace, with 39 tackles (17 solo), including nine for a loss of 30 yards. He also had six sacks, four quarterback hurries and, on special teams, two blocked kicks.
2017 NFL Draft ranking: No. 169 overall, No. 19 cornerback
When Lewis sat out Michigan’s first three games, Stribling seized his chance to shine at cornerback. In those three games, Stribling defended two passes (including an interception return for a touchdown) and had seven tackles.
His numbers previewed the rest of the regular season. Stribling finished with four interceptions, 12 pass breakups, one quarterback hurry, one sack and 27 tackles. Stribling’s play also became more valuable after Michigan lost cornerback Jeremy Clark to a season-ending ACL tear on Sept. 24.
“He’s not in the limelight as much as some other players across the country, but people should not sleep on Channing Stribling,” Harbaugh said in October on Detroit’s WXYT-FM (97.1). “This player will have a fine future. This guy will probably play 10 years in the NFL. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s steadily, consistently good.”
(All mock draft projections and rankings are via CBSSports.com’s prospect rankings)