The 2016 Michigan Wolverines finished with a 10-3 record and had one of the top defensive units in all of NCAA Football. They finished first in fewest yards per game at 261.8, second with an average of 9.3 tackles for lose per game, second in fewest points per game at 14.1 and fourth in sacks at 3.54 per game. Looking to add even more to this dominating defense is second-year defensive end Rashad Gray.
Gray has the number one ranked recruit for the incoming class of 2016. As a senior in high school, Gray had 13 1/2 sacks, 55 tackles and 29 of those tackles were for a loss of yardage. Add on four forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown in just nine games and he undoubtedly deserved his billing as USA Today Defensive Player of the Year. To top off a remarkable high school career, Gray has three sacks among his six tackles in the 2016 Under Armour All-American Game. He visited several top football programs in the nation, including Auburn, Clemson, USC and Ole Miss before committing to Michigan.
In his first season at Michigan, Rashad Gray appeared in 13 games, recording a modest 27 tackles, 5 of them for a loss and one sack. In his debut game against Hawaii, he had four tackles and enjoyed his best game against UCF, getting five tackles, two for a loss.
The Wolverines lost several key components on offense, as wide receive Amara Darboh will be playing for the Seattle Seahawks, tight end Jaake Butt is with the Denver Broncos and wide receiver Jehu Gheson is with the Kansas City Chiefs. On top of that, De’Veon Smith, the team’s leading rusher last season, will be playing for the Miami Dolphins. Quarterback Wilton Speight returns, but will have fewer weapons and will need the recruiting class and the likes of running back Chris Evans to step up.
The schedule this season is somewhat favorable with only five road games, the toughest likely will be Penn State on the road in the middle of the season. Home games against rival Michigan State and Ohio State at the end of the season highlight the schedule.
For the Wolverines to finish high in the Big Ten and have a chance at top bowl game appearance, the defense will have to carry the load. Expect Rashad Gray to improve significantly from this first season and be an integral part of a defense that will likely again be one of the best in the nation.
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