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April 30, 2012

What history teaches us about defensive line expectations

Freshman Ondre Pipkins may live up to his five-star hype someday, maybe even immediately. Willie Henry, Matthew Godin, Chris Wormley, Tom Strobel and Mario Ojemudia may be standouts at some point too, but predicting the success of defensive linemen is difficult ...

From 2004-07, Michigan signed 14 defensive linemen, ranging from two-star Marques Walton to five-star Brandon Graham. Overall, the 14 had an average star rating of 3.71, but they would average just 11.2 starting assignments, 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.6 sacks over the course of their careers.

Perhaps this was just a bad stretch for U-M, with so many colossal busts - James McKinney, Marques Slocum, Eugene Germany and Jason Kates among them - but the simple fact is not everyone pans out.

The good news is that out of these 14 (and really 13 since John Ferrara moved to offensive line), five would end up as multi-year starters. Two of those five - Graham and Alan Branch would become All-Americans - while Will Johnson, Terrance Taylor and Ryan Van Bergen were lunch-pail players that got the most out of their ability.

In that respect, Michigan doesn't need all six of Pipkins, Strobel, Henry, Godin, Wormley and Ojemudia to be stars. It only needs half, or maybe even two. Now, could they all be a success, making up the entire front four starting lineup in 2013 or 2014? Sure. Could they all rack up double-digit sacks during their career? Why not. But it doesn't have to happen because other classes will supplement this one.

Looking over this list, though, serves as a good reminder that hype's worth ends the day a recruit sets foot on campus. At that moment, what he has done means nothing as he begins his Michigan career with a clean slate. Each of these players were recruited so they could offer a meaningful contribution. Few did.

Pipkins is a talent, but the expectation that he will start along the defensive line from day one should be tempered. Not one of these players on the list was a standout as a rookie, not Graham nor Alan Branch. They all struggled adjusting. Of course, that was then, and this is now, and freshmen are better prepared every year it seems, but the answer for the Wolverines up front in 2012 rests with the veterans returning this fall, not with Pipkins.

Someday, but not yet.

Player
Year
Stars
Starts
Tackles
TFLs
Sacks
Marques Walton
2004
**
0
0
0
0
Alan Branch
2004
****
21
61
11.0
6.5
Will Johnson
2004
****
24
81
7.5
4.0
Eugene Germany
2005
****
0
3
0
0
James McKinney
2005
****
0
0
0
0
Marques Slocum
2005
****
0
8
0.5
0
Terrance Taylor
2005
****
36
114
17.5
6.0
Greg Banks
2006
***
8
55
8.5
3.0
Brandon Graham
2006
*****
29
138
55.5
29.5
Adam Patterson
2006
****
1
24
2.0
2.0
Jason Kates
2006
****
0
1
0
0
Renaldo Sagesse
2007
***
0
16
3.0
0
Ryan Van Bergen
2007
****
38
134
26.5
13.5
John Ferrara* 2007
***
0
2
1.0
0
*Moved to the offensive line in 2009









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