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O'HARA: Michigan well-represented at 2017 NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS -There are no ifs, ands or doubts for Jake Butt about his decision to return to the University of Michigan for the 2016 season.

If Butt could do it over, he'd do just that – do it over. He has no second thoughts about continuing his career for another year at Michigan, or for playing in the Orange Bowl, even though he sustained a torn knee ligament that is likely to affect his status in this year's draft.

Butt has a deep sense of pride of being one of the leaders in the wave of Michigan players who are participating in this year's Combine. Michigan has 14 players here, the most of any school. Butt is enjoying every part of the experience with his teammates, even though he is early in the rehabilitation process on his knee and will not be able to participate in any of the physical drills.

View photos of prospects during Day 3 of the 2017 NFL Combine.

"It's awesome having so many guys out here," Butt said in his media session Friday afternoon. "Even out where I was training (in San Diego) there were seven of us.

"To have 14 out here, that just speaks to the hard work this team has put in over the last three or four years."

It's not hard to understand why a young football player would want to extended his career to the fullest at Ann Arbor these days. Under Jim Harbaugh's two seasons as head coach, Michigan has risen from a program that banked on its history to one that has become a power of the present.

Harbaugh's high energy and willingness to push the limits to the breaking point – and sometimes beyond – in selling Michigan's program may grate on his competitors, but there's no denying the results he has gotten on and off the field.

Michigan has had 10-3 won-loss records both seasons. There is still work to do. Under Harbaugh, Michigan has yet to beat Ohio State or reach the NCAA championship game, but it has become a major brand in all of sports, not just college football.

The fact that Michigan leads all schools in the number of Combine invitees is one example of how highly the program is valued by NFL scouts.

That also has been true of the Big Ten in general over the years. Last year Ohio State had 14 players invited to the Combine, and 12 of them were drafted by the NFL. Five Buckeyes were first-round draft picks, including offensive tackle Taylor Decker, taken 16th overall by the Lions.

Two of Michigan's players are almost certain to be first-round draft picks this year – defensive end Taco Charlton and all-purpose defensive back/linebacker Jabrill Peppers. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is projected as a high second-round pick, with Butt and defensive tackle Chris Wormley projected in the second to third round.

Butt, who was voted a co-captain his senior year, holds Michigan's career records for receptions (135) and receiving yards (1,618) by a tight end.

Those records, being a captain, and the environment he played in the last two years are reasons he has no second thoughts about returning to Michigan for another year.

"Absolutely not," he said. "It was the right decision for me. We had a great year as a team. I improved upon a lot of the things I came back to improve upon. Even playing in the bowl game, I wouldn't change it going back.

"I was a leader on that team. I was a captain. I love that university. It's just the kind of player I am. I would never sit out of a game."

Michigan doesn't have 14 players at the Combine because of its name. They're here because of how they are regarded to play at the next level.

Players from major conferences might get a closer look because of the talent level they competed against – and practice against, too – but that's true of all big schools, not just Michigan.

"I'm a Big Ten guy, so obviously I have a little bit of bias that way right up here in the Midwest, being from Purdue up the road," said Houston Texans GM Rick Smith when asked specifically if teams look more closely at players from schools like Michigan.

"What you're speaking to as much as anything is the level of competition. The level of competition – where a guy is raised, and how he's trained and the competition and what the environment he's used to playing in, it matters.

"It's not the end-all, the be-all. There are certainly numerous and countless examples of players who have come from smaller schools that have not had the benefit of being in the big-time programs that are just as good in terms of playing football as those guys from other programs.

"It's something we look at. But again, it's not anything that's the end-all, be-all to any evaluation."

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