In its first year under head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan football team finished 10-3 — capped with a 41-7 blowout victory over Florida in the Citrus Bowl — to ride a wave of momentum and hype into the offseason.
That wave has only continued, as the National College Football Awards Association recently named seven Wolverines to preseason watch lists.
Senior defensive back Jourdan Lewis and redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers each found their name on three watch lists.
Lewis, who had 20 pass deflections and two interceptions last season, was put on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards, in which he was a semi-finalist last season. The Nagurski and Bednarik awards are decided by different organizations but are both given to the nation’s best defensive player, while the Thorpe award is given to the nation’s best defensive back. Charles Woodson is the only Wolverine to have won all three honors.
A finalist for the Paul Hornung Award last season — presented to the nation’s most versatile player — Peppers found his name on this year’s watch list. Peppers was also placed on the watch list for the Nagurski and Bednarik awards. Peppers burst onto the scene last season as a play-maker on both sides of the ball after missing most of his freshman year due to injury. The redshirt sophomore returned kicks and punts for the Wolverines while also playing a prominent role in the defensive secondary, tallying 5.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass deflections. Under new defensive coordinator Don Brown, Peppers will be a linebacker.
Senior defensive end Chris Wormley is the lone representative from Michigan’s D-line. The returning team leader in sacks and tackles for loss with 6.5 and 14.5, respectively, Wormley reached the watch lists of the Bednarik and Nagurski awards after starting all 13 games last season and earning All-Big Ten third team honors.
On the other side of the ball, junior center Mason Cole and senior tackle Erik Magnuson were both selected to the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation’s best interior offensive lineman. Cole — who switched positions from left tackle to center in the offseason — was also named in consideration for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the top center in college football. Cole and Magnuson were both steady presences on the line for Michigan last year, each starting all 13 games and earning spots on All-Big Ten teams in 2015.
Another Wolverine who has received considerable attention in the preseason is senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson. Chesson was named as the No. 2 wide receiver to watch in 2016 according to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. Chesson tallied 50 catches for 764 yards and nine touchdowns and capped off his season with five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl. Chesson, who also scored two rushing touchdowns and another off a kick return against Northwestern, warranted a first team All-Big Ten selection in 2015. Now entering his final season, Chesson has been placed on the watch list for both the Maxwell and Fred Biletnikoff awards. The awards are given to the nation’s best offensive player and wide receiver in college football, respectively. The only Wolverines to have won the Maxwell Award were Tom Harmon in 1940 and Desmond Howard in 1991, while Braylon Edwards took home the Biletnikoff award in 2004.
The final Wolverine to earn preseason accolades was senior tight end Jake Butt, who was placed on the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award and the John Mackey Award, given to the best tight end in college football. Butt was a semi-finalist for the latter in 2015, in which he collected 51 catches for 654 yards and three touchdowns. Though Arkansas’ Hunter Henry edged Butt for the award, Butt was still honored as a first team All-American and the Big Ten Tight End of the Year.