11 Michigan football players who need to decide whether to sit out Citrus Bowl vs. Alabama

Jim Harbaugh says he will have conversations with each player

Wide Receiver Nico Collins #4 of the Michigan Wolverines gets tackled by defensive back Jaylon McClinton #7 of the Army Black Knights during the second half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Wide Receiver Nico Collins #4 of the Michigan Wolverines gets tackled by defensive back Jaylon McClinton #7 of the Army Black Knights during the second half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team is heading to the Citrus Bowl to battle Alabama on New Year’s Day, and there are 11 players who need to decide whether or not to sit out the game and begin preparing for the NFL draft.

Both teams are loaded with NFL talent and could see players elect to forego the Citrus Bowl, which isn’t part of the College Football Playoff or even a New Year’s Six bowl.

Jim Harbaugh said he prefers his players finish what they started by suiting up for the game, but as a former NFL coach, he also understands the risks associated with taking the field, especially against a physically dominant team like Alabama.

In 2016, surefire draft pick Jake Butt suffered a serious injury while playing for Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Last season, Devin Bush and Rashan Gary decided to sit out the Peach Bowl against Florida and ended up being first-round picks.

Here’s a look at the players who have to make the decision this year.

Ben Bredeson

Situation: Graduating, early to mid-round NFL draft pick

Like Butt, Ben Bredeson decided to return to Michigan for his senior season and has been a leader in the locker room. He seems like the type of player who will take the field without a second thought, but it’s still a decision he needs to consider.

Bredeson was a captain for the second year in a row and earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors at left guard. He’s as reliable as they come on the interior offensive line and will likely be selected on the second day of the NFL draft.

Alabama has a vicious pass rush, so losing Bredeson for the Citrus Bowl would be tough.

Nico Collins

Situation: Possible early NFL draft entrant

Nico Collins #4 of the Michigan Wolverines makes a catch for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Western Michigan Broncos at Michigan Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

While he hasn’t made an official announcement yet, Nico Collins is widely expected to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft. He’s proven to be a dangerous weapon downfield and in critical third down situations.

If Collins elects to go to the NFL, playing against Alabama’s elite secondary could be an opportunity to showcase his ability against the best college competition. It’s also a risk, though, and one that Collins will need to weigh.

The junior led Michigan with seven receiving touchdowns this year and finished second with 33 catches and 681 receiving yards. He also drew around a dozen pass interference calls that resulted in big yardage but didn’t actually count toward his final numbers.

Playing without Collins would be a crippling blow to Michigan’s offense, especially against that Crimson Tide defense.

Michael Danna

Situation: Graduating, mid- to late-round NFL draft pick

It was a successful single season in Ann Arbor for Michael Danna, making 35 tackles and adding three sacks as part of Michigan’s defensive line rotation. Combine that with the 9.5 sacks he racked up as a junior at Central Michigan and an NFL team will likely take a chance on him.

One of the strengths of Michigan’s team was depth along the defensive line, and Danna was a big part of that. If other players sit out the bowl game, he could get a chance for more snaps.

Lavert Hill

Situation: Graduating, early to mid-round NFL draft pick

Lavert Hill has been one of the best cover cornerbacks in college football the last three seasons, and he held up just fine at the top of the depth chart this year.

Hill made a career-high three interceptions this season, upping his career total to six. He also defended 12 passes, giving him 28 for his career.

Michigan is inexperienced behind Hill and junior Ambry Thomas, and Alabama has perhaps the best group of receivers in the nation. If Hill isn’t on the field, the defense could put up ugly numbers for the second straight game.

Khaleke Hudson

Situation: Graduating, mid- to late-round NFL draft pick

Khaleke Hudson #7 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. of the Army Black Knights fumbled the ball which was recovered by Michigan during the second overtime to end the game at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Don Brown’s viper position has lost some of its previous luster with the defensive struggles in big games and the diminished production from the position.

His drop-off from sophomore to junior season was well-documented, and his senior season fell somewhere in the middle. He posted a career-high 97 tackles but made just 3.5 tackles for loss and no interceptions.

Hudson had a very solid Michigan career, but it’s hard to say where he’ll fall on NFL draft boards.

Michigan’s reeling defense can’t afford to lose one of its most reliable tacklers, and Hudson will probably suit up for the game. If not, fans will get a peek into the upcoming competition for next year’s starting spot.

Josh Metellus

Situation: Graduating, mid- to late-round NFL draft pick

The decision for Josh Metellus feels similar to the one involving Hudson. He’s a veteran and a solid player for Michigan’s defense, but his NFL draft profile is hard to gauge.

Metellus made 11 tackles, seven tackles for loss and five interceptions the last two years, along with 16 passes defended. He’s a hard-hitting safety with some coverage skills, but he doesn’t have elite speed.

That could be an issue heading into the NFL draft, but Metellus still figures to be selected at some point. The impact of him sitting out would depend on the health of Brad Hawkins.

Donovan Peoples-Jones

Situation: Possible early NFL draft entrant

Donovan Peoples-Jones #9 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts after a touchdown during the first half against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

A former five-star prospect with great speed, size and intelligence? Donovan Peoples-Jones is the type of player who could work his way into the first round of the draft this off-season.

Peoples-Jones missed the first few games of the season but still managed to make 33 catches for 404 yards and six touchdowns. He struggled with drops at times -- namely the Ohio State game -- but has been a reliable home run threat throughout his career.

It still feels like there’s a wealth of untapped potential in Peoples-Jones, and that’s a jackpot for NFL scouts.

There’s obviously a chance Michigan goes into the Citrus Bowl without two of its top three receivers. If that’s the case, Ronnie Bell, Tarik Black, Mike Sainristil, Giles Jackson and Cornelius Johnson will make up the receiving corps.

Kwity Paye

Situation: Possible early NFL draft entrant

For some reason, there isn’t a lot of talk about the possibility of Kwity Paye entering the NFL draft this off-season. Teams always need defensive ends who can get to the quarterback, and that’s exactly what Paye provides.

Paye had a breakout junior season with 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He paired with Aidan Hutchinson to make a dangerous Michigan pass rush off the edges and figures to be a pro whenever he decides to leave college.

Alabama will be playing with a very capable passer in Mac Jones, and if he has time in the pocket, Michigan’s defense won’t have any chance. With Paye and Hutchinson on the field, he would at least be uncomfortable.

Cesar Ruiz

Situation: Possible early NFL draft entrant

Michigan center Cesar Ruiz (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Cesar Ruiz was the No. 1 center in the 2017 recruiting class and quickly became one of the best centers in college football for the Wolverines.

One of the smartest players on the offense, Ruiz valuable to Michigan both as a blocker and during the pre-snap checks. Losing him for the bowl game would not only weaken the interior offensive line, it could hurt the cohesion of the entire offense.

Ruiz would probably be the first center drafted this year or next year. He just needs to decide if he wants to return to an offensive line to mentor three new starters, including the guards on either side of him. If not, he’ll need to decide whether to suit up for one last time.

Jon Runyan

Situation: Graduating, early to mid-round NFL draft pick

The lone player remaining from Harbaugh’s first recruiting class at Michigan in 2015, Jon Runyan will go out as a member of the All-Big Ten First Team. He is one of the most improved players on the roster since taking over as a full-time starter in 2018 and will certainly be selected at some point in the upcoming draft.

Runyan has an excellent opportunity to play against an elite pass rush in the Citrus Bowl, and as someone who could have gone pro last year but returned, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he plays.

Josh Uche

Situation: Leaving for NFL draft, but plans to play in bowl game

The only player who has officially made an announcement about his bowl status is Josh Uche, who announced last week that he would be entering the NFL draft. Uche tweeted that he’s preparing to play in the bowl game, which is big news for Michigan.

Uche is known for his elite pass rushing ability -- 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss this season. But he’s also been better in other phases this season, making 34 tackles, defending two passes and forcing a pair of fumbles.

Every NFL team needs someone who can get after the quarterback, and that’s exactly what Uche does. Michigan needs him on passing downs, so it’s a major victory that he plans to play, as long as that’s still the case.

Other players

Michigan has a few other players who will put their names into the NFL draft but seem unlikely to sit out the Citrus Bowl. Shea Patterson, Carlo Kemp, Sean McKeon and Michael Onwenu will all hope to hear their names called in April, but they aren’t early round players and have more to gain by playing Alabama than most of the surefire NFL players above.

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