[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: moderate. 1: difficult. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
|Devin Funchess||Jr.||Amara Darboh||So.*||Dennis Norfleet||Jr.||Jake Butt||So.|
|Jehu Chesson||So.*||Freddy Canteen||Fr.||Bo Dever||So.*#||Khalid Hill||Fr.*|
|Da'Mario Jones||So.*||Moe Ways||Fr.||Ross Douglas||Fr.*||--||--|
[NOTE: though flex tight ends are listed above since they will fill some of the WR snaps they are addressed in the TE & Friends post, not here.]
It's not often you lose a guy who broke the single-season receiving record and think that things could get better, but it's not often you come across a guy like Devin Funchess, either. Behind Funchess there's not a whole lot that's proven but there are sufficient numbers and hype to believe that Michigan goes five or six deep in quality options, especially after Jake Butt gets back.
If things break right, this unit could hearken back to the Breaston/Edwards/Avant days where you had the NFL-level ludicrous deep threat, the possession ninja, and the screen merchant all in one receiving corps, getting all mother/maiden/crone in your face. It'll take some luck… but not that much luck.
everybody get up [Fuller]
The charade is over. Devin Funchess is a wide receiver, 100%. Not that you had to be told that after he spent 87% of last year split wide, faking bubble screens and occasionally catching them and oh right running downfield and leaping over dudes. Funchess put his hand in the dirt in passing situations only, and no one has tried to suggest he might do even that much this year.
This is pretty terrific. Michigan had a guy break Braylon Edwards's single-season receiving record and there was still enough left over for Funchess to rake in 49 catches for almost 750 yards. By the Big Ten opener he was just, like, running right by cornerbacks.
At the end of the year Michigan was handing him the ball on end-arounds and watching him nearly break them for touchdowns, if only Devin Gardner could ID the safety he needs to block. Oh, and this!
A man that large should not be able to move that fast. Take it from someone who played against him:
"I can't believe he's that big and that fast. He made us look silly. You can't get around him. He's just such a big body that he's going to block you from making a play on the football. …
"He could be like Calvin Johnson in the red zone. Just throw it up and let him go get it. I bet we see a lot more of that this year."
I didn't say it! I may have thought it, but I didn't say it. I did call him Minitron a few times, and I may have wondered privately about whether Funchess could be, like… him. But naw. I mean, Calvin Johnson ran a 4.35 at his NFL draft combine.
Funchess proved last season he's capable of being an elite-level receiver. There were some dropped passes here and there, but his combination of size and speed (he clocked a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash in the spring) remains unmatched on the U-M roster.
FAKE! FAKE, I say! That is not a real thing, because physics. Only… you know, it's only almost impossible. Because Calvin Johnson. And when you watch him go up against top corners like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, a second round pick last year…
…or Trae Waynes, a projected first rounder this year…
…it's just like… maybe I should make this comparison I should not make. Because he is smoking those dudes. Not every time, because it never happens every time, but enough. A lot. At 6'5".
BUT WHAT ABOUT HANDS, the bits of the internet with short attention spans ask. Okay, yes. The one catch was a late-season spate of dropped balls. He derfed three in the Iowa game alone, greatly contributing to Michigan's inability to move the ball. One of those was a very conspicuous one on a screen, and that is currently playing an outsized role in people's brains. Because the last thing that's happened is the thing that is always going to happen, Funchess now has a rep for having shaky hands. Once you see the first derf it is a natural inclination to start judging harshly, like when he gets hit in the back by Gardner because of a bad blitz pickup.
This is why we track the numbers, and the numbers say Funchess is anything but a problem:
But once you get a reputation in this area people start looking at anything you don't catch as a drop. This is probably one of the plays that stick in skeptics' minds:
That's crazy tough! That's low and behind him and it's only his freaky long arms and Brad Nessler that even give that pass the semblance of a drop.
Until the Iowa game, Funchess's catching ability was unquestioned. Don't let one bad game in the bitter cold overwhelm a large sample size that indicates Funchess's hands are in fact an asset, especially when you consider that the chart above doesn't take the fact that he's 6'5" and can leap over defensive backs into account.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THAT CALVIN JOHNSON IS A UNIQUE UNREPLICABLE HUMAN WHO IS PROBABLY PART ALIEN AND BITTEN BY A RADIOACTIVE SPIDER, says the tiny bit of the internet with common sense. And… okay, well, yeah. You should never project anything at the extremes of possibility because probability is going to make you pay for that, son.
So Devin Funchess probably isn't Calvin Johnson. Michigan should try to prove that assertion wrong. Expect something between first team All Big Ten and an All-American followed by an early entry into the NFL draft. He may even win the Mackey award, because people don't pay attention.
[After THE JUMP: refugees, JUNGLE BEATS, and tiny dancer.]
[UPDATED 12:25p.m. Now with 100% more Ace]
The Q: Michigan graduated much of its 2013 receiver depth chart and did away with the fancy Borges stacks and routes. In this new world, after Funchess, who's going to be Gardner's favorite target this year? Who are we going to see more or less of among the receivers/tight ends?
Brian: 1. Amara Darboh. Darboh was going to start last year and the buzz there was palpable. He brings physicality against what I promise you will be the grabbiest set of Big Ten pass defenses you've ever seen—the MSU effect—and he's even got mutant muscles in his arms, which I assume will be the entirety of Ace's response. He should ease past Canteen for the starting job, at least to start, and Canteen will have a tough time catching up since he's not going to drop off the face of the earth.
2. Dennis Norfleet. This is an artifact of some assumptions about the rest of the offense. Namely, that they won't be able to run that well and the tight end situation is going to be suboptimal. With reports that Norfleet looks great in space and an offensive coordinator who's not afraid to throw to his WRs on the perimeter, Norfleet's catch volume should spike as Michigan looks to him for easy yards that get defenders out of the box.
3. Freddy Canteen. Yeah, he's probably Manningham again, but even Manningham had a bit of a slow start. It'll be close with Norfleet.
4. Jehu Chesson/Jake Butt. Your guess is as good as mine about relative frequency here. I have a hunch we're going to see tight ends stay in to block frequently this year what with the lack of NFL OTs, and Butt is going to miss at least a game or two after his ACL tear. But he's got a much clearer path to playing time than Chesson and already had more catches than Chesson did a year ago.
Everyone else gets scraps, maybe a dozen catches spread between AJ Williams, Keith Heitzman, Da'Mario Jones, and Jaron Dukes and another dozen to the tailbacks. I hope we don't see any of the true freshmen other than Canteen, because there's not much need either this year or next and all could use work.
[Jump for the rest of us twisting ourselves to not have the same responses]
Bill Connelly a few years back created a new uberstat for receivers called RYPR (receiving yards/total team plays *Passing S&P+). His description:
Below, you will find a measure that attempts to answer the following questions about a given pass-catcher:
- 1) How much do you produce?
- 2) How important are you to your team's passing game?
- 3) How good is the passing game to which you are important?
- 4) And how much is the forward pass featured in your team's offense?
The idea was to simply multiply the following four factors together: a player's Yards Per Target, his Target Rate, his team's Passing S&P+, and his team's pass rate. Target Rate x Yards Per Target x Passing S&P+ x Pass Rate = RYPR.
Let's skip right to Michigan
I went through several iterations trying to match exactly what Connelly had done, so this may not match the results I reported beforehand. Here's the breakdown of Michigan's targets with NCAA averages in parentheses:
|Target #||Receiver||RYPR (NCAA avg)||Yards/Tgt||Target Rate|
|1||Jeremy Gallon||178.0 (102.6)||10 (8.6)||32% (23%)|
|2||Devin Funchess||97.0 (68.8)||8.1 (8.1)||21% (17%)|
|3||Drew Dileo||22.6 (49.5)||5.8 (7.8)||7% (12%)|
|4||Jake Butt||30.5 (36.6)||8.7 (7.7)||6% (9%)|
|5||Jehu Chesson||28.7 (27.0)||9.2 (7.2)||6% (7%)|
|6||Fitz Toussaint||26.3 (20.9)||10.2 (6.7)||5% (6%)|
|7||Jeremy Jackson||9.2 (17.1)||7.1 (7.0)||2% (5%)|
Funchess's 97.0 was 22nd among teams' second targets though his yards per target were average for No. 2 guys. The max protect stuff in the season's third quarter (Indiana through Nebraska) bore out in the numbers, with that third receiver (Dileo) far under the typical third receiver's usage.
Best Receivers in a Bad B1G
Gallon wasn't the only long term top receiver to graduate last year, and the conference wasn't very deep on receiving talent to begin with. The result is not many wideouts left in-conference to have cracked that 100 (average for a team's best receiver) mark. In 2013 the Big Ten average RYPR for its teams' top three receivers was 69.5, last among major conferences and just ahead of the Sun Belt and Conf USA. When I removed all seniors the Big Ten was behind the MAC (Conference USA was still very worse). Here's the best among those that remain.
|Receivers||Team||Tgt||Rec||Yds||YPT||Tgt Rt||1st Dn%||RYPR|
|Devin Smith||Ohio State||#2||44||660||9.0||20.9%||34%||88.7|
Maryland has lots of receivers. Northwestern's Joneses were pretty productive, and could be more so in a Trevor Siemian offense. The tight ends:
|Tight Ends||Team||Tgt||Rec||Yds||YPT||Tgt Rt||1st Dn%||RYPR|
|Jeff Heuerman||Ohio State||#4||26||466||12.9||10.3%||44%||62.6|
|Jesse James||Penn State||#3||25||333||8.3||10.2%||33%||39.0|
Remind me to draft Heuerman in the draft-o-snark.
The youtube search I have that usually turns up Michigan State fans in gorilla costumes and ads for illegal streams has hit upon something actually interesting for a change: cut-ups from the Michigan coaches' clinic.
This one is on Michigan's perimeter blocking:
Hit up 25 minutes for always-entertaining editions of the Michigan drill
The good blocks are widely distributed between Roundtree, Gallon, and Dileo with some cameos by Gardner(!) and Darboh. Darboh just buries a couple guys; Dileo and Gallon bring that Martavious Odoms mountain-goat-style blocking to the party. These clips are just the good bits, for the most part, but it seems like Michigan likes what they have in that department this year. Gallon in particular is ruthless in his desire to put guys on their ass 40 yards from the play.
Darboh should be an asset, as he's got a lot more size than anyone they played last year save Gardner and seems to have the same desire the mighty mites do.
The second item is about 5 minutes of individual WR drills featuring everyone's favorite training landmark:
The big takeaway there is the huge agility gap between Jackson and Darboh/Chesson, let alone the slot-type guys at the top of the depth chart.
Number one breakout. ESPN's Travis Haney compiled a list of 50 breakout players for the upcoming season based on "a lot of input from coaches" and your new favorite quarterback is #1:
“I recruited him,” said one of the Big Ten coaches who played against Gardner late last year. “I know how good he can be. I would say I have been looking forward to him getting his chance, because he’s a really good kid, but they’re on the schedule again this year.”
Frank Clark also features at #35.
Swag. We are totally losing Michael Ferns to Mississippi State, you guys.
Following up on earlier assertion. I mentioned in passing in a previous post that I felt Bill Connolly was way underrating LeVeon Bell and way overrating Michigan State's offensive line in his Spartan preview for the year, and as I was looking up various things about Derrick Green I came across a stunning stat on Bell:
Le'Veon Bell gained 921 yards after contact in 2012, most among players from AQ schools. Bell gained more than 50 percent of his yards after contact and averaged 2.4 yards after contact per rush.
Bell got 2.3 yards before contact and 2.4 after. That is a man doing work to clean up for a terrible offensive line. And quarterback: Bell's 382 carries led the nation by 26.
Countdowns to kickoff. Taylor Lewan:
Lewan is a thousand times more boring than he used to be. Leadership!
Also Quinton Washington and Jeremy Gallon. True story: bought a chair at Art Van this summer, marveled at the size of the guy they had hauling stuff around, realized that I knew who this was: Quinton Washington. Woo minimum wage, for one more year.
Also, the first day of practice:
Derrick Green's first carry went for 50 yards and birthed a unicorn.
Wide receivers block, then they receive. In-depth ESPN article on the blocking aspects of playing out wide comes highly recommended for interesting quotes and such. Minnesota safety Brock Vereen is either worried about his knees or an expert at backhanded compliments:
“They act as if they are more excited to block than they are to catch a pass,” Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said. “Sadly, I’m not even exaggerating.”
Michigan's dumped cut blocking for a lot of reasons, but the primary one is the fact that defensive backs just get up too darn fast these days:
“They are like those Weeble Wobbles that you had growing up,” Hecklinski said. “You can throw a great cut and he’s right back up making a play and golly, that’s a great cut."
"Golly," says the man eating everyone's lunch on the recruiting trail. #TheMichiganDifference.
The article gestures at one of the main reasons Michigan's wide receivers were so pumped up to block: with Denard Robinson on your team, any play could be a 20 yard run you fail to turn into 80, and then your ass is roasted. Hopefully they maintain the same urgency as Michigan moves to a system more likely to get you five (after contact, and by "contact" I mean "safety murder") than 50.
Hoke advocates earlier official visits. Makes sense, will never happen for the same reason a baseball season that makes sense will never happen:
“Having an official visit date in June would help football,” Hoke stated. “I know some of our friends in the Pac 12 and the SEC probably don’t want the young man and his family coming up to Michigan during the first two weeks in June, because they’re hoping it’s 10 below zero when those official visits take place.”
A rather large win. Wolverine Historian puts up the '95 Minnesota game:
Mack Brown offer letter. I just find this interesting. It's an official offer letter from Mack Brown to a guy named Lorenzo:
- The first bullet is basically Michigan's much-discussed and much-misunderstood "policy" about commits taking visits: you are committed if you are not taking visits, and if you visit elsewhere Michigan will not consider you committed. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll pull your scholarship offer, but your spot is no longer reserved and they may recruit someone else or just reconfigure their class. Why recruiting sites, opposing fans, and Michigan fans keep going on and on about it is a mystery to me.
- Texas is explicitly offering four year scholarships, and seems to state that a fifth year is also guaranteed… but I think the fine print there means the firm handshake is still an option if the Head Coach wants it to be.
- The pointlessness of the rule where players cannot get written offers before August 1st of their senior year is brought home in the first paragraph: Texas is "pleased to reconfirm our commitment to the football athletic scholarship you committed to earlier this year." The lack of written offers has led to the rise of the incredibly annoying "uncommittable offer" and prevents players from getting the exact stipulations of their scholarship offer in writing until long after many of them have committed. And it obviously does nothing to slow down the pace of recruiting.
The only way to slow down the pace of recruiting, by the way, is to let kids sign whenever they want. Eighth grader offers will come to a screeching halt, for real.
SBNation has a roundup of offer letters from around the country, featuring Comic Sans from Virginia Tech, "formally" spectacularly misspelled as "formerly" by Virginia, and Illinois claiming that those who attend there will play "championship football." That latter might be true if in fact the Big Ten has been relegated to the second level of English soccer. Which it probably has after last year. We done got relegated you guys.
Quite a rise. Four Michigan players make the final roster at the USA World Juniors evaluation camp: JT Compher, Tyler Motte, Boo Nieves… and Andrew Copp. I think 14 of the 18 forwards on the roster will be on the WJC team, so Copp's gone from JJ Swistak But Big to a guy with a very good chance of making the WJC team in 12 months. Wow.
Amen. Hoke on ND:
"I do not like the fact it's going away," Hoke said.
Asked who is a fault for all this, Hoke responded simply: "We would like to continue the series."
Realignment has replaced the ND game and games against Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northwestern with Rutgers and Maryland.
Etc.: Harmon Of Michigan's theme song is a "Hollywood-style rendition of the Victors," and MVictors has it. Michigan Hockey Net posts the famous 2002 Denver-Michigan West Regional Final at Yost. Michigan players on the O'Bannon case.
[Sorry this one will be short but HTTV is going out today.]
I love me some plumb-able data, like the kind cfbstats puts out at the end of every year. And I love me some stats made out of ingredients that are don't get mentioned, like receiver targets and Bill Connelly's ensuing RYPR metric. Yes I've played around with it before, usually in context of how awesome Jeremy Gallon is.
RYPR (stands for Target Rate x Yards Per Target x Passing S&P+ x Pass Rate) is useful because it cuts through some of the usage bias. Penn State's Allen Robinson put up conference-leading numbers last year because Matt McGloin's brain was capable of processing just two commands: "run around a bunch" and "find A-Rob." Usage isn't a total red herring; a receiver earns his targets, and the more the offense focuses on him the more defenses do as well. However the thing to do in late June isn't so much awarding production in 2012 as trying to spot guys who are going to be a handful in 2013.
The last couple of weeks I've been referencing it while adding flourishes to the pages of Hail to the Victors 2013. I thought I'd spill some of those results onto the interwebs.
Here's the top 25 guys Michigan will probably face this season:
|2||Allen Robinson||6'3||201||JR||Penn State||61.1%||8.1||133.3||4-B1G||36|
|3||Corey Brown||6'1||197||SR||Ohio State||70.6%||7.9||118.2||6-B1G||52|
|4||TJ Jones||5'11||190||SR||Notre Dame||61.0%||7.9||109.5||n/a||70|
|5||Devin Smith||6'1||200||JR||Ohio State||51.7%||10.7||109.2||7-B1G||73|
|10||DaVaris Daniels||6'2||190||JR||Notre Dame||67.4%||10.7||82.7||n/a||137|
|15||Kyle Carter||6'3||247||SO||Penn State||69.2%||8.7||59.3||20-B1G||240|
|19||Brandon Moseby-Felder||6'2||195||SR||Penn State||49.2%||6.9||57.2||24-B1G||252|
CR is catch rate, i.e. the % of balls thrown at him that he caught. YPT is yards per target.
One of Michigan's smaller concerns going into this season is coverage. We'll be starting a new safety, almost assuredly Jarrod Wilson. Blake Countess comes back and J.T. Floyd graduated but it's not a one-for-one trade: Raymon Taylor is expected to shift to boundary while Countess resumes the field duties. Those familiar with Floyd's career here know his specialty was blanketing big receivers who didn't have enough speed to simply leave J.T. in the dust. Taylor is smaller, and not that guy. Depth there is still quite young and/or tiny. It's possible one of the tall freshman corners or nickel-safety Dymonte Thomas ends up spelling Taylor if Michigan comes up against a particularly large human.
Well look at the table above and find the deep threats. There really aren't that many. Kenny Bell and Allen Robinson are the guys to watch out for. Neither is paired with a secondary threat—Nebraska's next best receiver is Jamal Turner, and Penn State's Moseby-Felder is just a guy (their tight ends, e.g. Carter, are a bigger concern). Ohio State's Corey "Philly" Brown was their slot guy much of the year—the offense creates those yards for him—but Devin Smith is a go-long threat. Indiana's three guys look less scary when you consider they'd be ranked as highly in the MAC as the Big Ten.
Notably missing from that list is State's Aaron Burbridge. We saw the recruiting profile and that he was obviously better than Mumphery or Fowler, but his stats are really unimpressive: 62 targets, 364 yards for a 46.8% catch rate, 5.9 yards per target, and 40.6 RYPR. Like the other two Spartan receivers, he did seem to fall victim to Michigan State's tendency to do a lot of their passing only when they had to. One of the stats Connelly tracked was how often the guy was being targeted on a passing down (2nd and 10+, or 3rd and 6+), when presumably the level of difficulty rises. Of the guys on this list, four of the top six are Spartans, all of whom had about half of their targets come on passing downs.
Some of these guys appeared to be the focal point of their offenses:
|1||Corey "Philly" Brown||Ohio State||85||60||669||70.6%||7.9||32.0%||54.1%|
|2||Allen Robinson||Penn State||126||77||1018||61.1%||8.1||28.7%||64.3%|
|3||TJ Jones||Notre Dame||82||50||649||61.0%||7.9||22.5%||69.5%|
|4||Devin Smith||Ohio State||58||30||618||51.7%||10.7||21.8%||69.0%|
A picture emerges of go-to guys who get about 20% of balls. The exceptions were Allen Robinson and whoever's playing the Percy Harvin position for Urban Meyer.
By "%SD" that means the percent of balls thrown his way that were on standard downs, as opposed to passing downs—the reverse of what I was talking about above. It helps to pick out different types of receivers: Notre Dame and Ohio State will chuck their long balls to TJ Jones and Devin Smith, respectively, but look elsewhere when trying to reach the yard marker. Conversely Connecticut seems to save Shakim Phillips (40.4% standard downs) for when it needs a conversion.
|3||Jesse James||Penn State||276||60.0%||11.0||5.7%||11.0|
|4||Devin Smith||Ohio State||618||51.7%||10.7||21.8%||10.7|
|5||DaVaris Daniels||Notre Dame||490||67.4%||10.7||12.6%||10.6|
|6||Titus Davis||Central Michigan||850||54.4%||10.8||20.7%||10.5|
|8||Kyle Carter||Penn State||453||69.2%||8.7||11.8%||8.7|
|12||Matt Lehman||Penn State||296||66.7%||8.2||8.2%||8.2|
|13||TJ Jones||Notre Dame||649||61.0%||7.9||22.5%||8.1|
|14||Allen Robinson||Penn State||1018||61.1%||8.1||28.7%||8.1|
These are sorted by "real yards per target", which is yards per target adjusted to what it would have been if your %SD correlated to the national average.
The point of this was to spot anyone who might be particularly dangerous given Michigan's defensive backfield. Your answers in order: Kenny Bell in single coverage, Kenny Bell's hair, Allen Robinson, Indiana, and Penn State's tight ends.