The 2020 NFL season is in the books, and plenty of former Michigan Wolverines football players made their presence felt all season long. The Maize and Blue were well-represented on both sides of the ball this past season, with youngsters and veterans alike impacting the sport in a big way.
Grizzled vets such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham each enjoyed two of the most successful years of their long careers, while a rookie in New England Patriots offensive lineman Mike Onwenu burst onto the scene and looks to be the next great Wolverine lineman in the pros.
Below is a closer look at which former Michigan players had the best NFL season at each position, beginning on the offensive side of the ball.
*NOTE: Running back was excluded from the list below, due to the fact that no Wolverines at the position resided on any NFL rosters in 2020
Quarterback — Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
How much really needs to be said for this one? Tom Brady not only had one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the NFL this year, but one of the best seasons of his entire career.
He completed 65.7 percent of his passes and threw for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, with his 40 scoring tosses tying for the second most in the NFL and his 4,633 yards checking in third.
Additionally, Brady’s 40 touchdowns were the second most he had ever thrown in the regular season, behind only the 50 he racked up in 2007. The 4,633 yards were the fourth most in his NFL tenure.
Oh, and by the way, he wrapped up the season with his seventh Super Bowl title, taking home his fifth Super Bowl Award along the way.
Wide Receiver — Donovan Peoples-Jones (Cleveland Browns)
Peoples-Jones earns the nod here by default, after what was a rough 2020 season for former Michigan wideouts (Packers receiver Devin Funchess decided not to play this year and Amara Darboh spent the whole campaign on the Steelers’ and Panthers’ practice squads).
The Detroit native started two of the 12 games he played in, hauling in 14 receptions for 304 yards and two touchdowns. The highlight of his season occurred in an Oct. 25 victory over the Bengals, when he caught the game-winning touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining.
Peoples-Jones’ 304 yards were tied for the fifth most on the team.
Tight end — Jake Butt (Denver Broncos)
Like Peoples-Jones, Butt also gets the nod here by default after playing in just five games and reeling in two catches for five yards (missed 11 contests with a hamstring injury).
Butt actually started two of those five outings he appeared in, but unfortunately, injuries got the better of him once again. Sean McKeon of the Dallas Cowboys was considered for this spot as well after he played in 14 of the team’s 16 games, but he never started a contest and never hauled in a pass.
Offensive Line — Michael Onwenu (New England Patriots)
Michigan has a plethora of linemen in the NFL who had stellar seasons (Mason Cole of the Arizona Cardinals, Graham Glasgow of the Denver Broncos, Cesar Ruiz of the New Orleans Saints, etc.), but a rookie in Mike Onwenu topped them all.
He started all 16 games for the Patriots and played every offensive snap in each of the team’s final 14 contests. The versatility Onwenu displayed was also impressive, with the Detroit native starting at three different spots on New England’s offensive line — 12 times at right tackle, two times at left guard and twice at right guard.
Onwenu was widely viewed as one of the best rookies in the NFL in 2020.
Defensive end — Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles)
He had one of the best seasons of his NFL career, registering 46 tackles, eight sacks, 13 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery while starting all 16 games for the Eagles.
Graham’s eight sacks finished tied for 21st in the NFL and his 13 tackles for loss were deadlocked for 23rd. His eight quarterback takedowns were also the third most he had ever compiled in a season.
The 32-year old’s impressive campaign earned him his first-ever Pro Bowl bid at season’s end.
Defensive Tackle — Mo Hurst (Las Vegas Raiders)
There weren’t many candidates to choose from in this category, with Mo Hurst and the Seattle Seahawks’ Bryan Mone being the two primary contenders. We ultimately settled on Hurst after he tallied 27 tackles, half a sack, one pass defended and one tackle for loss for the Raiders.
He only started three of the 11 games he played in in what was a bit of an injury-plagued 2020 campaign for Hurst. The ailments caused his numbers to take an unsurprising dip from the first two years of his pro tenure, after he had accumulated four sacks as a rookie in 2018 and 3.5 in 2019.
Linebacker — Rashan Gary (Green Bay Packers)
The options were very limited at linebacker, especially with Devin Bush of the Steelers tearing his ACL and missing all but five games. Gary nevertheless put together respectable statistics while starting four of the 15 outings he played in, racking up 34 tackles, five sacks, five tackles for loss, one pass defended and one fumble recovery.
His 2020 stats were substantially better than the rookie numbers he posted in 2019, which saw him register two sacks and three tackles for loss. Gary’s five sacks finished as the second most on Green Bay’s roster this past season.
Cornerback — Jourdan Lewis (Dallas Cowboys)
Lewis turned into a bonafide starter for Dallas this season, starting 13 games after only starting 13 throughout his first three years with the club. He also set new career-highs in tackles (59) and tackles for loss (seven).
The Detroit native’s 59 tackles finished as the third most on Dallas’ defense, while his seven stops behind the line of scrimmage checked in second. Lewis earned the nod for this category in a landslide, with Brandon Watson of the Jacksonville Jaguars and David Long of the Los Angeles Rams being the only other two Michigan cornerbacks who appeared in an NFL game this season.
Safety — Jabrill Peppers (New York Giants)
He put together by far the best season of his NFL career in 2020, recording 91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, 11 passes defended, one interception he returned six yards, one fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
His 91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, eight TFLs and 11 passes defended were all career-highs. Peppers’ 91 stops finished as the third most on the Giants’ defense, despite the fact he missed one game with an ankle sprain.
Peppers was an easy selection for this category, but Jarrod Wilson of the Jaguars at least deserves a shout out as well (69 tackles and an interception in just 12 games).
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