ESPN.com college football staff writer Bill Connelly ranked the top 80 defensive players of the 21st century thus far (not including the 2020 season due to the oddities involved with it), and two former Michigan Wolverines football players made the cut.
Former safety/viper linebacker Jabrill Peppers was tabbed as the 53rd-best defender of the century, while linebacker Lamarr Woodley checked in at No. 78 in the rankings. At the top of the list (top five, in order) are defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska), safety Ed Reed (Miami), defensive end Terrell Suggs (Arizona State), linebacker Khalil Mack (Buffalo) and defensive tackle Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh).
A Paramus (Nj.) Catholic product, Peppers was the No. 3 overall recruit in the country for the class of 2014, per Rivals.com, entering Ann Arbor with plenty of hype surrounding him. All told, he totaled 125 tackles, 21.5 stops for loss, four sacks, 11 passes defended and one forced fumble.
He also contributed on offense, registering six touchdowns as a running back, wide receiver and wildcat quarterback, and served as the team’s primary punt returner.
As a junior, his last season in Ann Arbor before entering the NFL Draft and being chosen in the first round, Peppers was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and attended the ceremony in New York.
“[Former defensive coordinator] Don Brown was an immediate hit as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, but he had a cheat code in Peppers, an early nickelback/outside linebacker prototype who recorded 13 TFLs and finished fifth in the Heisman voting in 2016,” Connelly wrote.
Woodley contributed right away during his time in Ann Arbor, and he exploded as a sophomore in 2004, posting 70 tackles, 16 stops for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles while helping lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten title. All told, he made 177 tackles, 50.5 sacks, 24 sacks, five passes defended and 10 forced fumbles in his career, before being picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of the NFL Draft. He was a unanimous All-American as a senior in 2006.
“The center of gravity for arguably Michigan’s best team of the 21st century, Woodley capped a solid career by recording 16.5 TFLs and 12 sacks, taking home the Lombardi Award and unanimous All-America honors in 2006,” Connelly wrote.
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