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Michigan football’s 2016 recruiting class finished No. 4 in the Rivals.com national rankings, which tied the following year’s haul for the best overall crop head coach Jim Harbaugh has signed during his time in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines’ 2016 crew most notably helped lay the foundation for the success Michigan enjoyed in 2018 and 2019 (a combined 19-7 record and a pair of top-20 finishes in the polls those two years), with a handful of the signees also playing roles as freshmen on U-M’s 10‑3 squad in 2016 that finished ranked among the nation’s top 10.
The haul was exceptionally large, with 27 members, and inevitably featured several prospects who never panned out, but the flameouts were overshadowed by the superstars the class generated at the top.
Three players — linebacker Devin Bush Jr., cornerback Lavert Hill and offensive guard Ben Bredeson — earned AP All-America honors during their careers, while nine became NFL Draft picks.
Those who stuck around as fifth-year seniors in 2020 finished their careers with an impressive 39-19 record, helped lead the Maize and Blue to 10-win campaigns in both 2016 and 2018, and finished ranked among the nation’s top 20 in the two major polls three times.
1. LB Devin Bush Jr. — Placing him in the top spot on this list was an easy call. After biding his time and primarily seeing the field on special teams as a freshman in 2016, Bush exploded onto the scene the following year.
He started all 13 of Michigan’s games in 2017 and finished with a team-high 102 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches.
Bush took his game to an even higher level as a junior in 2018, kicking the campaign off by first being voted a team captain. His stats were comparable to 2017 (80 tackles, 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage and five sacks), but the hardware he reeled in was more significant. The Pembroke Pines, Fla., native took home the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year award and was named a consensus All-American.
Bush finished his collegiate tenure as a fan favorite and one of the best linebackers in recent memory at Michigan.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, making him the highest Wolverine defender to come off the board since cornerback Charles Woodson went No. 4 to the Oakland Raiders in 1998.
2. CB David Long — He didn’t put up eye-popping statistics during his three years in Ann Arbor, but stats are rarely indicative of how good a cornerback truly is. Long stepped into the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2017, and he helped anchor a Wolverine secondary that finished No. 1 in the country for passing yards allowed per game (150.1).
He concluded the year with 21 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defended, with opponents seldom throwing the ball his way. The storyline was much of the same in 2018 when he racked up 17 stops, one pick and nine passes broken up, with the Big Ten coaches tabbing him as a first-team all-conference performer.
Pro Football Focus was one of the few outlets that publicly recognized how dominant Long was as a cornerback. In June 2020, they revealed that opposing quarterbacks completed only 29 percent of their throws against him in 2018 and 31 percent in 2017. The former statistic was the best of any defensive back in the league since 2014, and the latter was third. The publication also revealed Long gave up just 18 receptions in 595 career defensive snaps. In other words, he gave up a catch on just three percent of the snaps he played.
3. CB Lavert Hill — His career followed a similar trajectory to that of Long’s. The two are oftentimes thought of in the same vein, since they started alongside one another in 25 of Michigan’s 26 games from 2017-18.
Hill put together a solid stat line of 25 tackles, five tackles for loss, two interceptions and nine passes defended as a sophomore in 2017. He was also one of the primary reasons opponents completed only 48.8 percent of their passes against the Maize and Blue that year, which checked in third nationally.
Even more national recognition then poured in for the Detroit native in 2018, when he was named an AP third-team All-American, a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection and a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (given to the game’s best defensive back).
Despite the impressive accolades, Hill decided to return to Ann Arbor for his senior season in 2019. He registered 16 tackles on the year and grabbed a career-high three interceptions, which tied position-mate Ambry Thomas for the team lead.
Hill concluded his U-M tenure with six interceptions and 29 pass breakups, the latter tying cornerback James Whitley (1997-00) for sixth on the school’s all-time list. He also became one of four Wolverines ever to tally at least two pick-sixes in a career.
4. DE Rashan Gary — He came to Michigan with immense hype, unanimously being tabbed as the No. 1 player in the nation out of high school. Though Gary didn’t quite live up to the sky-high expectations, he still put together a productive three-year career in the winged helmet.
Gary was a contributor from the get-go, seeing action in all 13 games as a freshman in 2016 and notching 27 tackles, five tackles for loss and one sack.
He then stepped into the starting lineup the following year and compiled 66 stops, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches.
Early season injuries limited him to just nine games in 2018, but he nevertheless recorded 44 tackles, seven stops behind the line of scrimmage and 3.5 sacks, once again earning first-team all-conference honors from the coaches.
The Plainfield, N.J., native wrapped up his collegiate career with 21 starts in 34 appearances, 137 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
Gary departed Michigan following his junior campaign and became the No. 12 overall pick of the Green Bay Packers, marking the highest a Wolverine defensive end had gone since Curtis Greer went No. 6 overall to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1980.
5. OG Ben Bredeson — He accomplished something that very few offensive linemen in Michigan history have done — earning a starting role up front as a freshman. Bredeson took over as U-M’s starting left guard during its 78-0 win at Rutgers Oct. 1 in 2016, and never gave up the spot. The only outing he didn’t start from that point on was when he missed the club’s 2017 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina.
Bredeson’s durability and consistency earned him back-to-back unanimous second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2017 and 2018, and then third-team AP All-America recognition as a senior in 2019.
Forty-six of his 50 appearances in Ann Arbor went down as starts. He was one of the key cogs who helped pave the way for running back Karan Higdon’s 1,178-yard season in 2018, while he also was part of the stalwarts from Michigan’s 2019 offensive line that saw all five starters drafted.
Bredeson was voted a team captain in both 2018 and 2019, becoming at the time just the 14th Wolverine in school history to achieve two-time captaincy.
• Exclusive features and interviews with new assistant coaches Mike Hart and Ron Bellamy, two alums who returned to Ann Arbor this offseason.
• Features on top players, including quarterback Cade McNamara, running back Hassan Haskins, offensive lineman Zak Zinter, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and safety Daxton Hill.
• A look back, 50 years later, at the legendary 1971 team that featured All-Americans Mike Taylor, Reggie McKenzie, Billy Taylor and Thom Darden.
• In-depth position previews, a breakdown of what to expect this fall, national college football experts on the Wolverines, an update of former players in the NFL and much more!