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Posted on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Michigan football over-under: How many players will leave early for the NFL?

By Nick Baumgardner


Michigan junior left tackle Taylor Lewan has already been pegged as a potential first-round NFL draft choice by analysts.

Melanie Maxwell |

The Michigan football program has had only one first-round NFL draft pick since Jake Long went No. 1 overall in 2008.

Moreover, the Wolverines haven't had a player leave school early for the draft since Donovan Warren opted to forego his senior season in 2009.

According to recent draft projections, both of those statements could change following the 2012 campaign. NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is one of several prognosticators who has rated junior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan extremely high on his board for next season.

The 6-foot-8, 302-pound lineman has all the physical tools of a prototypical NFL left tackle, and whether it's sooner or later, he likely will get a serious shot at contributing on Sundays.

Michigan Football Over-Under

This is part of a 14-day series featuring 2012 Michigan football-related debate from sports writers Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner.

July 11: Can the Michigan offense maintain its production?

July 12: Can the Michigan defense be as stout in 2012?

July 13: How many wins will Michigan collect away from home?

July 14: Can Denard Robinson reduce his interceptions into single digits?

July 15: How many sacks will Michigan's defensive line muster?

Monday: Will Devin Gardner become a full-time receiver?

Tuesday: How many true freshmen will see the field next season?

Wednesday: Uniforms: How many will Michigan wear in 2012?

Thursday: Will Fitz Toussaint reach his goal of 1,600 rushing yards?

Today: How many underclassmen will declare early for the NFL Draft?

Saturday: Will Thomas Rawls log more than 50 carries?

And, if junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint can further improve upon his breakout 2011 campaign, it's not foolish to think he could see a significant rise in his stock as well.

Michigan's first-round draft drought should end relatively soon, but will the Wolverines be hurt by an early departure or two following the 2012 season?

Over-under: Underclassmen leaving school early for the 2013 NFL draft -- 1/2

Kyle Meinke: Although Michigan hasn't sent many players into the draft lately, I'm pretty sure it's not going to send half a player next year. So basically, we're discussing whether at least one underclassman declares early for the draft.

And it shouldn't be much of a discussion.

I'm not saying Lewan will declare for the NFL Draft after the season -- but I say it's more likely he does than he doesn't.

Remember, Lewan redshirted as a freshman, so he's already a fourth-year player. He also started as a redshirt freshman, which means he's entering his third season as a starter.

That's a lot of mileage.

What will be particularly attractive to NFL clubs -- outside of that 6-8, 302-pound frame, which is ideal for an NFL left tackle -- is the fact he's been a star since first entering the lineup. Outside of some discipline issues early in his career, it's difficult to find a single blemish on Lewan's resume.

There's also the reality that Michigan's offense could take a step backward in 2013 after the departure of quarterback Denard Robinson, receiver Roy Roundtree, linemen Patrick Omameh and Ricky Barnum, tight end Brandon Moore -- and possibly Toussaint.

That's five or as many as six key starters, including two other lineman. Robinson's exit also could mean the offense is overhauled next offseason, as the staff fully implements its preferred West Coast scheme.

Does Lewan really want to stick around for a rebuilding project, including at his position group, when he's already being projected as a top-15 pick (by Kiper)? Maybe. But, it'd be awfully hard to turn down all that money, if he indeed is a solid first-round pick.

As for Toussaint? I'm with Nick here, in that his case is far murkier. But if last year indicates anything, it's that a healthy Toussaint could do significant damage next season.

He was named the featured back for the final five games of the regular season, and responded by rushing at a clip that equates to more than 1,600 yards over a full year. I think if Toussaint breaks even 1,500 yards, he could make his way to the NFL.

The flip side of posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, of course, is the odometer begins to tick. The average career length of NFL tailbacks continues to shrink, so it could behoove Toussaint to get paid in 2013 if he's projected to be an early-round pick.

Plus, like Lewan, the turnover on offense could factor into Toussaint's decision. Robinson is one of the most electric rushers in the game, which also means he's one of the game's most effective decoys. He sucks in the eyes of defenders, which certainly helps Toussaint.

Without Robinson, teams could begin to hone in on Toussaint in the rushing game.

Also, there's that matter of losing two linemen in front of him, and possibly a third in Lewan, not to mention Moore.

Prediction: I'm not saying Lewan for sure leaves, even if he has another Lewan-type year. I'm not saying Toussaint for sure leaves, even if he reaches his 1,600-yard goal. But I am saying it's more likely one of these guys leaves than both stay. Take the over.


Nick Baumgardner: Lewan's shot at NFL stardom is legit -- without question.

He's gigantic, but not overweight. He stands 6-foot-8 and has great reach and technique, and his foot speed doesn't seem to be at all hindered by his size. He's also got a bit of a mean streak when necessary, something he's worked at controlling over the years.

He'll be a three-year starter after this season, and he'll more than likely take a long look at his future following the season.

Toussaint, on the other hand, would be a bit of a stretch. If he catches lightning in a bottle, his stock could definitely rise. But will it rise enough to make it worth leaving early? That'd be a tall task.

As of right now, it'd be a bit of a surprise to see Toussaint test the draft pool early. As for Lewan? The situation will be tempting.

He's rated high right now on several draft boards, but -- as of now -- he's not a locked-in first-round projection. There's still plenty of things left for Lewan to accomplish this season, and next.

And, hey, Jake Long stayed in school through his senior season and it didn't turn out so badly for him.

Prediction: Toussaint will likely need to hit a perfect storm situation to make an early departure worth his while. So I'll say no on him leaving.

Lewan, meanwhile, could have a fantastic season and still be rated toward the end of the first round or later. If he plays well this year and returns for a successful senior season, he could potentially be a top 10 selection.

In the end, I say they both stay. I'll go under.


Macabre Sunset

Sat, Jul 21, 2012 : 5:37 a.m.

Yes, he is. I've posted here about it since he was a freshman. He is a natural between-the-tackles explosive runner, and exactly the type who succeeds at the next level. Don't believe for a second Hoke and his staff don't know what they have. Otherwise, why would he so quickly have risen to the top once his shoulder was sound? I think they're both gone after this season, barring injury. Toussaint might not have a first-round grade, but RBs will go if they have a grade in the first three rounds because their NFL careers are so short. For Lewan, as long as he continues to improve, he'll be ready. But that's the way the game works. For every top player you lose to early declaration, ten more top high schoolers are watching and adding Michigan to the list of places that they see produces NFL talent. That pays dividends down the road. Sometimes, it's a bad decision. Warren never played a down in the NFL and is now looking for a camp again. I don't think it would be a bad decision here if both went pro, assuming those productive junior seasons.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 11:41 p.m.

Lewan. Thats it. Is Tousaint even NFL woorthy ?


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 10:50 p.m.

Fitz is the real deal and could possibly be very marketable at the end of this season. Lets go Blue! I am ready for some physical, fast football!

Terry Star21

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 6:57 p.m.

Definitely 'under'. The difference here from the past is; now you have the three best coaches in college football to not only hone these players skills for the present - but prepare them for the future. Add to that college football's overall best team in Michigan, and it is not only the best scenario for academics and football, but the best in 'family' values to boot. I do agree with the one commenter on getting insurance (re; Jake Long) for their season - that's a win-win situation. MgoBlueForTim....Those that stay become Champions.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

If Michigan and Lewan have a successful season this year and win the BT championship, I think he will leave for a NFL career. Long returned to a team that was preseason ranked #2 and had a lot to play for and prove, they had not beaten OSU, won the BT or at that time a bowl game. Lewan on the other hand will not have that luxury, he'll return to a team that will be rebuilding, changing schemes, and not preseason ranked anything.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

A successful season is winning the NC


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

One thing Jake Long did that was great, was get some injury insurance on his body and stay for his senior year.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Both are kind of individual guys. Touissant is a RB. they have careers about 30 seconds long. I'd advise Touissant to go if he had a good season. Of course 78% of all NFL players are bankrupt two years after they retire. So he'd most likely make5-10 million dollars in a few years and be broke by the time he was 25. Nothing against Fritz. it's just the American way of doing things. A nation of 5 year olds when it comes to money. Lewan will have a long long career- so he may stay. Last until he's 38. And be broke by 40.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Depends on how the season goes for the individuals. It seems that playing for Brady Hoke is special. If Borgess and Mattison remain for the next 2 to 3 years, team loyalty will win to those who are marginally good enough to be NFL material. Maybe I'm too old school, maybe I'm not in the real world but I hope I'm right. Won't know until late November.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 12:25 p.m.

I'm not thinking that anyone is leaving early. Just my opinion. 1. There aren't that many players who could even potentially leave and 2. of those players none of them really seem like the type that would bolt; specifically Lewan.

Paul R Lamse

Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 11:58 a.m.

Relax, PHD. What else is there to talk about? I'm 50-50 on Lewan. 30-70 on Fitz. What effect would someone else emerging, have on his decision? Rawls, a freshman etc. Would having Denard gone give Fitz more carries? What progress will this year's freshmen make. (Will they project to be awesome for Fitz's senior season?) We should know by the middle of B1G conference play.


Fri, Jul 20, 2012 : 10:40 a.m.

Talk about premature -- we're still more than a month from the season-opener, and we're already discussing who is going to leave AFTER the season. Here's a thought: Let's play a few games this season before we think about who's going and who's staying. Tomorrow: Point spreads for the 2013 schedule.