Michigan’s best defensive ends from the Harbaugh era

Since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach at the University of Michigan, perhaps no unit has excelled more than defensive end. Of the six names below – including the honorable mention – four players were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and all six were drafted in the first three rounds.

Again, this isn’t a statistical ranking, but a celebration of five era-defining peak defensemen. The top two on this list are unassailable no matter how you slice them, but that leaves four deserving players for three spots. Apologies to all the other truthful Luiji Vilain.

Let’s go.

5. Rashan Gary (2016-18)

Depending on who you ask, Rashan Gary’s mileage varies widely among Michigan devotees. Gary was the No. 1 ranked player in the 2016 recruiting class and never enough met the expectations inherent in the country’s top-rated prospect.

However, as Gary was frequently the victim of double teams, the gravity of his presence allowed his EAT counterpart Chase Winovich to face him in the aggressive defense of Don Brown. Gary was excellent against the run and one of the most athletic defensive linemen to ever wear corn and blue.

4. Taco Charlton (2015-16)

Taco Charlton was one of my favorite Wolverines from the 2016 squad for two reasons:

  • Against Rutgers, Charlton recorded two sacks and three saves in Michigan’s second-biggest win in program history (78-0). If Charlton played more than 1.5 quarters against a Rutgers team worthy of relegation banned from college football, he reportedly put up Bobby Boucher sack numbers.
  • Against Ohio State in 2016, in the biggest game of his career, Charlton had the game of his life. He recorded nine career-high tackles, three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. JT was short and Charlton’s magnum opus performance deserved a better final score.

3. Chris Wormley (2015-16)

Chris Wormley was an iron man at Michigan, appearing in 51 career games and 25 under Harbaugh from 2015-16. Prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, Wormley mainly played defensive tackle and although he pushed three bills (300 pounds), he was deceptively athletic and productive on the edge.

Wormley’s legacy is one of consistency and longevity. The Toledo native didn’t possess any holes in his game and even a missing arm was unlikely to stop him playing. Big Worm led by example and deservedly walked away with two Richard Katcher awards given annually to UM’s top defensive lineman.

2. Chase Winovitch (2015-18)

Chase Winovich was a four-star outside linebacker recruited from Michigan to play tight end; in his second season, he switched permanently to defensive end; in its fourth season, it left Ann Arbor Fourth all-time tackles for loss in program history.

Statistics aside, Winovich helped rekindle Michigan’s swagger in 2018 with two words: “Revenge tour.“The Wolverines avenged 2017 losses to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Who can forget this interview after suffocating the Spartans?

Unfortunately, the Revenge Tour fell through when the Wolverines again lost to Ohio State. However, the eventual savior of the program was already on the roster and learning directly under Winovich’s tutelage what it takes to run a program.

1. Aidan Hutchinson (2018-21)

Honestly, who else could it be?

In 2021, Aidan Hutchinson set Michigan’s single-season sack record (14), finished second in Heisman Trophy voting, led Wolverines to their first win over Ohio State since 2011 while racking up three sacks in the process, led Michigan to its first Big Ten championship since 2004 and restored the program to national prominence.

The Michigan native spoke this season in existence and delivered in the most critical moments to prove itself prophetic.

Hutchinson embodies what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine and they can’t build his statue soon enough.

Revenge Tour…. Done.


*Honorable Mention: Kwity Paid

**David Ojabo and Josh Uche were not eligible as they are both technically linebackers.

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