This list was a challenge to assemble. Several players that I left off have strong arguments in their favor. It’s worth a reminder that this is based solely on individual accomplishments, not how their respective teams fared during that player’s time in Ann Arbor.
We would be neglectful to not have some “honorable mentions” who just missed the cut.
- RB Chris Perry (2000-03): Perry had a productive four seasons in Ann Arbor, racking up 4,226 yards and 41 touchdowns from scrimmage, both good for top-10 among RBs in school history. If not for two guys on this list, he’d be slotted somewhere in our top 10.
- WR Mario Manningham (2005-07): Another under-reported career, Manningham totaled just over 2,300 receiving yards in three seasons, good for 5th all-time in program history. Perhaps an unsung hero on those strong Michigan teams in the early and mid-2000’s, Mario put together a very solid career.
- DB/R Jabrill Peppers (2014-16): The do-everything guy for the Wolverines blossomed into arguably the most versatile player in program history, at least in the last 20 years. Peppers’ athleticism and knack for creating plays all over the field deserves the utmost recognition.
All three of those players had fantastic careers for the Wolverines and would certainly make a top ten list for just about any other team in the country. In making this list I was reminded of how many great players the Wolverines have had on the field since 2000.
My goal was to treat each phase of the game with equal respect, it is unfortunate for some of Michigan’s defensive greats that Michigan has seen all time passing, rushing, and receiving records broke since the year 2000. I could talk for some time about the challenges of this list, but let’s get the debate going.
[Be sure to also check out our list of the top 10 greatest Michigan players of all-time.]
10. JAKE BUTT | TE (2013-16)
The most recent Wolverine to make this list is the best receiving tight end in school history. Jake Butt after his junior season many expected him to declare for the draft, yet he stayed to play four full seasons for the Wolverines.
His first two seasons were modest, catching 41 passes for 446 yards and four TDs. However in his final two seasons Butt was perhaps the best Tight end in the country. His third year he won the Ozzie Newsome Award. As a junior and as a senior, he was a first team All-American. Butt also won the Kwalick-Clark ‘Tight End of the Year’ award in both of his final seasons and was also the recipient of the John Mackey Award as a senior.
Butt finished his last two seasons with totals of 97 receptions for 1,200 yards and 7 TDs. His career receiving numbers of 138 receptions and 1646 receiving yards are both Michigan tight end records. Compared to plenty of wide receivers left off this list, such as Mario Manningham, those numbers are low, however, we have to differentiate by position. As a tight end, there has been no one better in Michigans history. That earns Butt the number 10 slot.
9. STEVE BREASTON | WR, KR/PR (2003-06)
Steve Breaston was a four-year player at Michigan and still holds multiple school and Big Ten conference records.In 2003 he was the Big Ten freshman of the year. Breaston is Michigans all time leader in punt returns (127 returns for 1,599 yards) and
In 2003, he was dubbed the conference’s top freshman. He is Michigan’s all-time leader in punt returns (127 returns for 1,599 yards), kick returns (81 returns for 1,993 yards.), and return touchdowns (5 – 4 punt, 1 kickoff).In his time at Michigan as a return man, Breaston had 10 games with more than 200 total yards.
Breaston was also a capable receiver. Finishing his career at Michigan with 156 receptions, 1,696 yards, and 10 TDs. He also logged 42 rushing attempts, good for 321 yards and two TDs during his time in Ann Arbor. All of these areas bring his total yardage to an astounding 5,609, and his total TD number to 17.
At No. 9, Breaston was close to not making this list, but his return numbers are not just No. 1 since 2000, but No. 1 all-time and for that, he deserves to make the cut.
8. LEON HALL | CB (2003-06)
Breaston’s teammate on the other side, cornerback Leon Hall, was a ball hawk for the Wolverines, grabbing 12 interceptions in his four-year career. To go along with those numbers he broke up 43 passes in his time in the maize and blue.
Hall was a consensus All-American in 2006 as well as making the first-team All-Big Ten that season. Beyond being a pass deflecting and intercepting wizard, Hall was a superb tackler across the field, finishing his Michigan career with 180 tackles and three sacks. Hall dabbled in specials teams from time to time, returning 15 in his time at Michigan with an average of 11 yards per return.
Hall was a part of some truly special defenses and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2007. The special combination of pass defense and tackling abilities are good enough to land Hall at number eight on this list. Though there was the temptation to replace Hall with Jourdan Lewis.
7. BRANDON GRAHAM | DE (2006-09)
Brandon Graham totaled 138 tackles, 56 tackles for loss, and 29.5 sacks during his four years at the Big House. Graham played at Michigan in some of the darkest days of the program. He was on the team for the loss to Appalachian State and the worst season in school history in 2008.
In times when there were not many positives to watch, Graham was a highlight reel. In 2009, Graham BY HIMSELF totaled 64 tackles and 10.5 sacks, A season which earned him Big Ten MVP, despite Michigan finishing an abysmal 5-7. Graham finished that 2009 season as a first-team All-American as well, parlaying that into being drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Brandon Graham was a happy reminder of the past in a time when it was painful to watch a Wolverines game, his career numbers and Michigan are special, but his ability to play at an elite level on a team that was so bad shows how special of a talent he truly was.
6. LAMARR WOODLEY | DE (2003-06)
Lamarr Woodley is one of the greatest pass rushers in Michigan football history.
During those four years, he totaled 177 tackles, 47 tackles for loss and 24 sacks. He was the team captain in 2006, the same year he won the Big Ten DPOY award and the Lombardi Award, which goes to the best lineman in the country. He finished the 2006 season will 12 sacks, leading the team and the Big Ten. In response to his stellar senior season, he was named to both the first-team All-Big Ten and first-team All-American.
Woodley was the best defensive player on a unit that overwhelmed opposing offenses for several seasons. His overwhelming tackle numbers, ability to get to opposing QBs and his leadership make him more than worthy of the sixth spot on this list.
5. JAKE LONG | OT (2003-07)
Jake Long was a staple on the offensive line for years and was the heart of the offense in 2006 and 2007. His blocking contributed to the all-time rushing and all-time passing records of Michigan history being broken during his time on the roster (both those record holders will be found later on this list).
Long steamrolled and pancaked opposing defensive linemen his entire career. During the 2007 season, he was spoken of as a potential Heisman candidate. Long was eventually selected as first-team All-Big Ten and twice the Offensive Lineman of the Year in the league.
His performance was unrefutable as the strongest of any lineman for Michigan since, 2000, if not ever. Long would go on to be drafted with the first overall pick of the 2008 draft.
4. DENARD ROBINSON | QB (2009-12)
Can you say too much about Denard Robinson? No 16 brought excitement to a team that had been struggling for years. After the worst times in Michigan football history, the man known as “Shoelace” inspired a fan base to believe again.
In his second ever start, Robinson brought excitement immediately, totaling 505 total yards of offense in a classic victory over Notre Dame. Robinson has seven of the top ten single-game performances in total yards in Michigan football history. Stat-stuffing “Shoelace” passed for 6,250 yards and 49 touchdowns in his career, adding 4,495 yards and 42 TDs on the ground.
Robinson also holds the record for most total yards in a single season and, even more impressively, most total yards from scrimmage in his career at Michigan. Denard also did something few people on this list accomplished: beat Ohio State.
3. BRAYLON EDWARDS | WR (2001-04)
Braylon Edwards was the primary wide receiver for the Wolverines over the final three years of his four spent at Michigan. Post-freshman season, Edwards totaled 3,503 yards on 249 receptions, while grabbing 39 TDs. All of those are still career records at Michigan.
Edwards senior season saw him grab 97 passes, a Michigan record, for 1330 yards and 15 Tds. He is only the third receiver ever to have three seasons in a row of over 1,000 receiving yards. After his senior season, Edwards was awarded the Big Ten MVP and named a first-team consensus All-American. Edwards would be picked third overall by the browns in the 2005 NFL draft. Edwards accomplishments are the greatest of any wide receiver in Michigan Football History. This makes him a lock for the number three spot on this list.
He, later on, would be picked third overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2005 NFL Draft. Edwards accomplishments are the greatest of any wide receiver in Michigan football history. This makes him a lock for the number three spot on this list.
2. CHAD HENNE | QB (2003-07)
Chad Henne is the all time leader in just about every Michigan passing record.
A four-year starter, Henne completed his career with 828 completions for 9,715 yards and 87 TDs. Every one of those is a Michigan record. Starting as a true freshman, a feat not accomplished since 1975, Henne was the Wolverines QB his whole career. Though he never led the Wolverines past the Buckeyes, no QB in Michigan history had a more successful individual career.
Henne played with some great offensive weapons, and he managed to make them all look better. Guys like Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, and the No. 1 player on this list were all better for having Henne as their QB. From times of great success, such as the 11-0 start in 2006, to the lows like losing to Appalachian State, Henne was always stable as an elite talent behind center.
Being the all-time leader in essentially every passing category in Michigan History gives Henne right to be the number two player on this list.
1. MIKE HART | RB (2004-07)
Mike Hart is one of the most special players to ever put on the maize and blue. The all-time rushing leader, in the 100+ years of Michigan football, Hart tops the record book in many categories.
The 5-9 running back could power through or shift past just about any defensive player in the country. Hart started as a freshman and finished that first season with 1,455 yards (a Michigan freshman record) and 9 TDs. His sophomore season was set to be another 1,000+ season until an injury derailed the season. As a junior, Hart had perhaps his best season, notching a single-season career-high 1,562 yards and 14 TDs. He finished 5th in Heisman voting that year.
Hart’s senior season he was set to win the Heisman until an ankle injury sidelined him for two games. Perhaps the most staggering feat accomplished by Hart was the fact he lost only 3 fumbles his entire career, two of which, oddly enough, came in the final game of his career.
All in all, Hart carried the ball 1,015 times for 5,040 yards and 41 TDs. That yardage total makes him one of the only four players in Big Ten history to pass the 5K-yard mark. Hart is perhaps the greatest running back to ever play in Ann Arbor and the best player to wear the winged helmet since the year 2000.