The University of Michigan is currently the winningest college football program ever.
Since being established in 1927, the Wolverines have compiled a staggering 939 wins and a .731 winning percentage, both tops in the nation entering the 2017 season. In addition, they currently rank in the top-5 among Division I programs in national titles (11 – 3rd), conference titles (42 – 3rd), and consensus All-Americans (81 – 3rd).
There have been some great coaches and especially players have had to come through the tunnel at The Big House and made Michigan football what it is today. However, we’d be unfair to not list some honorable mentions that did not quite make the cut.
- LaMarr Woodley (OLB, 2003-06): Woodley and the word “stud” go hand in hand. 130 tackles in four season to go along with 24 sacks made Woodley a force to be reckoned with. He was drafted 46th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2007 draft, where he played until 2013.
- Glen Steele (DL, 1994-97): Glen Steele was a solid defensive lineman for the Maize and Blue, accruing 112 tackles in four seasons, helping the team win the National Championship in 1997.
- Anthony Thomas (RB, 1997-2000): Oh, the A-Train. One of the hardest runners you will ever see. The A-Train rumbled through his four-year career in the winged helmet gaining over 4,000 yards and scoring 29 Touchdowns.
- Ron Kramer (TE, 1954-56): Ron Kramer was the Gronk before Gronk was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. In a day and age where the forward pass was just in its infancy, Kramer racked up 880 yards and 8 touchdowns in just three seasons.
Here’s a list of the top ten greatest Michigan Wolverines of all-time.
[Be sure to also check out our list of the top 10 greatest Michigan players from this century.]
10. JAKE LONG, OL (2003-07)
Jake Long really came into his own to start the 2006 college football season for Michigan at the left tackle position. He was a staple at the position for the next two years in Ann Arbor and there weren’t much better at left tackle in the country than Long.
The Lapper East High School product and 2-time consensus All-American went on the be selected No. 1 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and had a stellar first six seasons in the league before injuries began to plague his career.
Looked at to be a left tackle in the league for the next decade, Long fell a little short in that regard, but his time playing football at Michigan can’t go unnoticed. He was as good as it got at left tackle in the nation.
Long announced his retirement from the NFL in April of 2017 after nine seasons with four different teams.
9. DENARD ROBINSON, QB (2009-12)
Arguably the most exciting player to wear the maize and blue in the last two decades, Denard Robinson makes the list for one reason: his production. When putting together a list of the top players of all time, team performance should not enter into the equation. Simply put, Denard Robinson is the best offensive player the Wolverines have ever had.
Robinson played for the maize and blue during the “dark ages” of the Rich Rodriguez era, yet still managed to play his way into the top five all-time in both passing and rushing in Michigan history.
Passing: yards (5th – 6,250), touchdowns (4th – 49), completions (6th – 427), attempts (5th – 747)
Rushing: attempts (5th – 723), yards (2nd – 4,495), touchdowns (3rd – 42)
If you’re keeping count at home, Robinson was responsible for a combined 91 touchdowns over his four seasons and 10,776 yards (he had 3 catches for 31 yards too). Had he played on better teams, Robinson could have been in the Heisman talk while with the Wolverines.
He was drafted 135th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
8. CHAD HENNE, QB (2004-07)
Henne took over as a freshman for Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines and amassed 33 wins over his career in the winged helmet. Playing on a team with Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, and Jake Long the Wolverines, under Henne’s lead, were a force to be reckoned with.
When all was said and done, Henne was the career leader in yardage (9,715), attempts (1,387), and touchdowns (87). For a program that boasts of names like Tom Brady, Rick Leach, and Brian Griese these are pretty high marks indeed.
Henne turned his success in college into a second round draft pick, being selected 57th overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Since being drafted he’s bounced around, currently competing for the starting job against Blake Bortles in Jacksonville.
7. ANTHONY CARTER, WR (1979-82)
Blessed with tremendous speed, Anthony “AC” Carter used that speed and his playmaking ability to become one of Michigan’s all-time most productive wide receivers.
He played under the legendary Bo Schembechler and anybody who follows Michigan football knows just how much out of his players that Bo got. He demanded a lot but was so respected that the players gave it their all out on the football field. Not the tallest of receivers, standing at just 5-11, Carter didn’t let that affect his game at all. He finished his college career with over 3,000 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns, both second only to another wide receiver on this list in school history.
Carter was drafted in the 13th round, pick 334 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1983 NFL Draft. He went on to have three 1,000+ receiving yard seasons, while also being selected to three Pro Bowls. Carter wore No. 1 in Ann Arbor, a number that just isn’t given out to anybody, you have to earn the right to wear number one for Michigan. It’s something that Anthony Carter had no issues with doing.
6. MIKE HART, RB (2004-07)
He might have been small in stature, but Mike Hart ran with a purpose every time he got the ball for the Wolverines.Hart eclipsed 1,350 rushing yards in three of his four seasons in Ann Arbor. Hart accomplished a little history while playing for the Wolverines as well. His 28 career 100+ yard rushing games and five 200+ yard rushing games are both the most in the Michigan’s storied history. Finishing his career with more than 5,000 rushing yards, Hart became only the fourth Big Ten player in history to conquer the feat.
Hart eclipsed 1,350 rushing yards in three of his four seasons in Ann Arbor. He rewrote the rushing section of the record books while playing for the Wolverines. His 28 career 100+ yard rushing games and five 200+ yard rushing games are both the most in the Michigan’s storied history. Finishing his career with more than 5,000 rushing yards, Hart became only the fourth Big Ten player in history to conquer the feat. It also still stands as the most ever by a Michigan running back
He was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the 6th round, pick No. 202 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Hart didn’t have much success at the professional level as he rushed for only 264 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons with the Colts.
Hart has since then been on the sidelines coaching in recent years, making multiple stops as a running backs coach. He was recently hired back in March of 2017 to assume that same position at Indiana Universty.
5. BRAYLON EDWARDS, WR (2001-04)
Another wide receiver for the Wolverines would earn the right to wear No. 1, Braylon Edwards originally wore number 80 for Michigan but transitioned to No. 1 during his junior season.
The Harper Woods Gallagher product went on to record his second straight 1,000+ yard receiving season at Michigan and transitioned that into a career-best senior season for the Wolverines.
He was selected 3rd overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2005 NFL Draft. Edwards’ best professional season came in 2007 when he was selected to the Pro Bowl with 1,289 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns for the Browns. His next best season came in 2009 as a member of the New York Jets, but then soon found himself trying to keep a job more than anything.
His performance against the Michigan State Spartans in the infamous ‘Triple Overtime’ game in 2004 is one of the best performances by a college wide receiver in Michigan football history.
4. RICK LEACH, QB (1975-78)
Leach was a legit ‘dual threat’ quarterback, he excelled at both throwing the football and had the ability to use his legs when needed. He went on to pass for over 4,200 yards and rush for over 2,100 yards during his four years playing for the Wolverines from 1975-78.
Not only was Leach a great football player, he wasn’t too shabby of a baseball player as well. In 1979, the Flint Southwestern product was drafted in the first round, pick No. 13 overall by the Detroit Tigers, while also being drafted by the Denver Broncos in the NFL. Leach took the baseball road and signed with the Tigers to play professional baseball instead of football.
3. DESMOND HOWARD, WR (1989-91)
“HELLO HEISMAN” … Who can forget Keith Jackson’s legendary call when Desmond Howard returned a punt against the Ohio State Buckeyes back in 1991? The punt return really solidified Howard as the recipient of the Heisman Trophy and Jackson’s call was icing on the cake.
In three seasons at Michigan, Howard compiled over 2,100 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns, while also racking up over 1,500 combined kick and punt return yards. His speed and agility were phenomenal. He had the ability to make a special play every time the ball was in his hands.
Howard went on to be selected 4th overall in the 1992 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. He had a pretty successful professional career, mostly as a kick/punt returner. Howard received Super Bowl MVP honors as a member of the Green Bay Packers when they defeated the New England Patriots 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI. Desmond now serves as a college football analyst and can be seen on the ever popular ‘ESPN College GameDay’ show that airs every Saturday.
2. TOM HARMON, RB (1938-40)
Legend… That is the word that comes to mind when talking about the late, great Tom Harmon.
Harmon played three seasons at Michigan. During that time, he seemed to do a little bit of everything for the Wolverines. He rushed for over 2,100 yards and punched it in the end zone 15 times, while also passing for over 1,300 yards and adding another six scores. He’s tabbed with being the only Michigan football player to ever receive a ‘standing ovation’ from the rival Ohio State crowd.
In 1940, the same year that saw Harmon as the recipient of the Heisman Trophy, the ‘little bit of everything’ mentioned above was full circle for the annual Michigan/Ohio State game. totaled five touchdowns on offense, kicked four extra points, reeled in three interceptions and even managed to punt three times for an average of 50 yards.
For someone to contribute that much in one football game is absolutely remarkable.
Harmon went on to be selected No. 1 overall by the Chicago Bears in the 1941 NFL Draft. He didn’t even end up signing with the Bears, as Harmon took a different career path and pursued a career in broadcasting. He also saw time in the military as a member of the United States Army. In 1946, Harmon signed a two-year deal to become a member of the Los Angeles Rams. That’s all the professional football that Harmon played in his life. He later then found himself back in the broadcasting world.
Harmon passed away on March 15, 1990. His legacy will forever live on for eternity in Ann Arbor.
1. CHARLES WOODSON, DB (1995-97)
There are guys who just seem to make your football team that much better and Charles Woodson is the perfect example of that.The legendary career that Woodson had at Michigan is one that will be talked about for years to come. Listed as a defensive back on the depth chart, Woodson had the ability to play on offense as well, along with being a key special teamer and returning kicks/punts. His presence was felt on each and every down that he was on the field for. He was one of those guys that opposing teams game planned around when they saw Michigan on the schedule while Woodson was there.
One of his many claims to fame at the collegiate level was his capturing the 1997 Heisman Trophy. To this day, he remains the only primarily defensive player to take home the hardware. And like Brady, Charles has put together a marvelous career in the NFL. In 18 seasons, he was a 9-time Pro Bowl selection and named to the All-Pro team eight times (4x on first-team, 4x on second-team)
His interception against Michigan State back in 1997 is still talked about to this day. How he was able to even get one foot down with how far he already was out-of-bounds was simply unheard-of.
Woodson returned a punt against Ohio State, very similar to the punt Desmond Howard returned against the same team and really solidified him as the outright recipient of the Heisman.
He’ll go down as one of the greatest players to ever play both college and professional football. He is currently an NFL analyst for ESPN and one of the main panelists on Sunday NFL Countdown.