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5 Michigan football players the Lions could draft this year

Wolverines have 14 players in NFL combine

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DETROIT – The NFL draft is creeping closer, and unlike in recent years, Michigan football fans have more than one reason to tune into the event.

For the first time in a decade, the University of Michigan will likely have double digit players selected in the draft. As many as 17 Wolverines have an opportunity to play in the NFL, and a nation-high 14 Michigan players were invited to this year's combine, tying the record for most players from one college in a year.

Thanks to geography and many other series of unfortunate events, most Michigan football fans are also Detroit Lions fans.

After winning 10 games and backing into a playoff spot, the Lions own the 21st overall pick in this year's draft. They also have picks No. 53, 85, 126, 166, 205 and 215.

Last season, the Lions drafted two Michigan football players -- Graham Glasgow and Jake Rudock. As a rookie, Glasgow was one of the top performers on the Lions' offensive line. Meanwhile, they used a roster spot to make sure Rudock couldn't be plucked off the practice squad by the Bears.

But now that Michigan has much more to offer in the draft -- whether it's first-round talent, middle-round options or late-round steals -- will the Lions ask more Wolverines to take the trip across M-14 and I-96 to the Motor City?

READ: Which Michigan players are going to the NFL combine?

Here are five Michigan players the Lions could consider:

DE Taco Charlton

Taco Charlton was one of the players mentioned in our mock draft roundup and would be a nice fit for the Lions on the defensive line. Even when Ezekiel Ansah returned from injury last season, the Lions' pass rush wasn't as strong as fans had been used to during the Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Nick Fairley days.

As he demonstrated in the Orange Bowl against Florida State, Charlton is one of the best end rushers in the draft. He had a sack, two tackles for loss, a pass defended and several quarterback hurries. He was a one-man pass rush against a Florida State team that was slicing through the Michigan defense early in the game.

Charlton was named to the All-Big Ten first team after finishing the year with 9.5 sacks, the 14th highest total in the nation. He made 43 total tackles and 13 tackles for loss in Don Brown's aggressive defense.

Ansah is the anchor of the Lions' defense, but if they want to address the other side of the defensive line in the first round, Charlton is one of the top options.

S Jabrill Peppers

For some reason, the criticism of Jabrill Peppers reached a peak at the end of his college career. Was it the fact that he was an elite five-star recruit? Was it his ability to play three different primary defensive positions in his three college seasons?

The over-criticism of Peppers is ridiculous. The former Michigan star entered college as one of the most talented high schoolers in the country, and three years later, he's entering the NFL as one of the most talented college players in the country. He was a top five recruit in the 2014 class, and he was a top five player in the country this season, according to Heisman Trophy voting.

Peppers has a chance to be a great professional safety, especially with his elite tackling ability and knack for making plays in the open field. As a linebacker in 2016, Peppers racked up 72 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and four sacks in 12 games. Those numbers should put the "he's not a playmaker" argument to rest, regardless of how many interceptions he had (only one in his college career).

Covering wide receivers isn't Peppers' strength, but he had 10 pass break-ups in 2015 as a safety.

On special teams, Peppers is the best punt returner in the draft. He's a consistent home run threat and can make something out of nothing when punts are well covered. Lions fans could also rest easy knowing he makes good decisions and has reliable hands receiving punts.

TE Jake Butt

Some draft experts are predicting the Lions will draft Alabama tight end O.J. Howard with their first-round pick, but that could go horribly wrong for a franchise with much greater needs. Detroit has holes on all three levels of its defense, the offensive line and at running back. Depth in the trenches is much more important than investing a second first-round pick in four years on a tight end.

With that said, tight end is still a need for the Lions. The Brandon Pettigrew era feels like it came to an end years ago, and Eric Ebron has proven to be the player many feared he would be, dropping crucial passes, struggling to block and taking too many plays off.

Jake Butt is exactly what the Lions need. A captain for Michigan his senior season, Butt was an undisputed leader in the locker room and on the field. He spurned the NFL draft to return for Michigan last year and refused to sit out the team's bowl game to protect his draft stock. Butt is the kind of attitute to build a clubhouse around.

He's not a bad player, either. In his final two seasons as Michigan, Butt played in all 26 games and caught 97 passes for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. He was Rudock's favorite third-down target in 2015 and Wilton Speights top option this year. When Michigan needed to convert on a big passing play, Butt was the guy they went to.

DE Chris Wormley

Chris Wormley was Michigan's defensive captain this season and earned that title with another strong campaign. Wormley finished with 40 tackles, six sacks and nine tackles for loss, creating a dangerous combination with Charlton on the edges.

Wormley isn't as explosive as Charlton, but he was extremely reliable throughout his Michigan career. In four seasons, he racked up 123 tackles, 18 sacks and 33 tackles for loss while playing in all 51 of his team's games.

If the Lions decide not to address this need in the first round, Wormley is one of the options they could consider on day two or three of the draft. Like Butt, Wormley is a strong presence in the locker room and backs it up with his play on the field.

DT Ryan Glasgow

Why not bring the Glasgow brothers back together, right? Ryan Glasgow was probably the most under appreciated player on Michigan's team from a national perspective, especially after what happened at the end of 2015 when he was injured.

Glasgow helped anchor a top-five defense in each of his last two seasons, and a late-season injury in 2015 proved how valuable he is as a run defender. A front seven that was difficult to run against for most of the season got slashed after Glasgow went down, giving up over 300 rushing yards to Indiana and Ohio State.

This season, Glasgow added more of a pass rush to his arsenal, picking up four sacks and nine tackles for loss in Brown's system. His specialty as a run stopper would be valuable for the Lions, especially with a similar player in Haloti Ngata entering his age 33 season.

Detroit drafted A'Shawn Robinson in the second round last season, but building quality depth on the defensive line, especially with a pick like Glasgow in the later rounds, would only improve the roster.