In HTTV last year we made a strange assertion: that given the relative drop-off to their replacements, Kovacs would probably be missed more than Denard Robinson. I thought I'd pose the question now concerning this year's seniors, except there's one guy who could have gone 1st overall in the NFL draft LAST YEAR, and he's being replaced by either a member of the worst interior offensive line in Michigan memory or a guy who couldn't beat out one of those guys for playing time.
Actually, #2 Taylor Lewan's twosie and #3 Taylor Lewan's pet pig are also out of the running. [Upchurch]
So, OTHER than that guy,
Which senior will Michigan miss most next season?
Ace: I'll leave a couple very strong candidates aside—namely, Jeremy Gallon and Thomas Gordon—and go to the other bookend of the offensive line, Michael Schofield. Michigan already needs to get much (much) better play out of the interior of the line next year, not to mention a major step up in blocking from the backs and tight ends. Losing not just one, but two NFL-quality tackles means the Wolverines once again head into a new season with major uncertainty up front.
I expect the interior line to be better, especially since some of the true freshmen who weren't viable options this season—especially Patrick Kugler and David Dawson—should at least be ready to compete for a spot on the two-deep. Losing Schofield along with Lewan, however, means that there's almost no margin for error with the new tackles; Michigan needs to find two decent starters out of Ben Braden, Erik Magnuson, and... that's about it.
I guess Dawson could play right tackle, as could Kyle Kalis, but both are more natural fits inside. Chris Fox, coming off a major knee injury that delayed his freshman progress, and Logan Tuley-Tillman, a raw-upside prospect with a heavy emphasis on raw, probably won't be ready to step in and be very effective.
Losing Lewan hurts the most, of course; that's compounded by the absence of Schofield—who really came into his own this year—leaving Michigan with, at best, four relatively unproven players competing for two open tackle spots while the interior of the line is still very much a question mark.
They may not look like much on the football field or even at Benny's when you're making your customary scan for football players, but Michigan's mighty-mite wide receivers can play a little ball. This year they'll be joined by the vanguard of the Michigan receiving corps' future: enormous friggin' dudes.
Unfortunately, Amara Darboh checked out of the season with a foot injury, but there's enough here to provide Devin Gardner all the targets he wants.
FWIW, you might think there will be more opportunities for these guys to get their hands on the ball, with Robinson's departure, but Gardner averaged just over one attempt more per game than Robinson and Bellomy. He was more accurate, and should be more accurate still in year two, but that only adds maybe 30 catches to the 169 Michigan had a year ago.
[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.]
Okay, I know that JEREMY GALLON is sporting a close-cropped hairstyle that blows this comparison up, but is that tradition? Does that fill your heart with a mixture of joy and despair at both the passage of time and the Gordian Knot that is the American inner city? NO. JEREMY GALLON STILL LOOKS LIKE SNOOP FROM THE WIRE GODDAMMIT.
When Gallon is not looking exactly like Felicia Pearson no matter what he does, he specializes in leaping over guys a half-foot taller than he is. Here's the full-season UFR receiver chart with departures excised:
[Passes are rated by how tough they are to catch. 0 == impossible. 1 == wow he caught that, 2 == moderate difficulty, 3 == routine. The 0/X in all passes marked zero is implied.]
Gallon was not only Michigan's most prolific receiver, he was amongst its most efficient. With a 25/25 mark on routine 3s last year he's averaging a drop per year since Brady Hoke came to town. While a 7/12 hit rate on 2s isn't great, the entire 2011 Michigan team came up with four circus catches, which Gallon almost matched by himself. Football Study Hall'sWR targeting data has Gallon seventh of 41 qualifying Michigan receivers (2005-2012, 20 targets minimum) in yards per target, but that's not the whole story. For one: of the guys he is chasing is the 2011 version of himself. For two: at the top of the list only Mario Manningham approaches Gallon's 79 targets (he had 64). He was rather good.
Combine the frequency with which he was targeted with the number of yards you get per attempt and you have a credible case that Gallon's 2012 was the best Michigan receiver season since 2005*. FSH slams all the targeting data together in an attempt to come up with one receiver number to rule them all in a stat it calls RYPR; Gallon's 2012 leads Michigan receivers since 2005 and finished 14th nationally last year.
Pretty good. Then consider Gallon's yards per target leapt from 9.6 under Denard to 11.4 under Gardner at the same time his target rate shot up (33 targets in the first eight games versus 45 in the last five). Yeah. Full-season Gallon was one of the most efficient receivers in the country. Gardner Edition Gallon was an All-American. If you want it in the most basic numbers possible, average Gallon's production in the last five games and multiply by 13. You get 81 catches for 1330 yards. Why does that yardage number sound familiar?
who the hell is Jack Clancy and why have I never heard of him?
Oh. That's why.
So don't even ask. Jeremy Gallon is a legit #1 receiver and a lock for All Big Ten. His quickness means he's open on hitches all the time and once you get sick of that he shoots over the top:
In the redzone he is effective because his wiggle gets him open in tight spaces and he is wearing special rocket cleats:
He has a crazy mind-meld going on with Devin Gardner that only strengthened over the offseason. He is going to make any worries about wide receiver depth much less worrisome, because he's going to absorb 40% of Gardner's attempts. He's short, yeah. Okay. You got me there.
Gallon's going to be on that list of best Michigan receiving season at the end of the year, and the leading receiver in the league.
*[IE, 1 After Braylon. Would be fascinating to see where he ranks in here.]
[after THE JUMP: life after Darboh, the secret weapon, NORFLEET]
During a wee hours period break of a wee hours Wings game last weekend, I ended up in a conversation about the #1 jersey and who might be the next player to wear it. The guy was really high on Chesson or Drake Harris or some future giant; I was like thatsracist.gif because the best receiver since Braylon is on the roster RIGHT NOW
Unless you’re just categorically against changing numbers for seniors (which I totally understand in all circumstances but this), if we’re truly honoring elite receivers with the 1 jersey it could be time we give it to Jeremy Gallon. The case against: is 5’8, has always been just mediocre at returning punts and kicks, is 5’8, took some time to work his way up the depth chart, would ideally be a slot receiver because he’s 5’8. The case for: is secretly 8 feet tall, among his various Inspector Gadget peripherals is a cloaking device that saved Under the Lights I, and the WAR stat for receivers says he’s the best in the conference by a wide margin.
When I was doing the receivers pages of HTTV last week I went looking for some more advanced stats to put in tables aside from the usual Bentley things like receptions, yards, TDs, games played, and what you can get by dividing those things together. I remembered cfbstats’s Marty Couvillan last year made all of those targeting data available to the public, with an assist from Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall.*
What Marty did is took that play by play ticker information that the NCAA makes available, and through some ninja text-to-columns work, managed to pull out data for when each receiver was targeted. This is groundbreaking work in receiver stats, knowing what happens whenever a ball is thrown in the direction of a player. It still doesn’t say how well it was thrown, how deep if it wasn’t caught, or how many defenders had to be shooed off, but until we have official scorers UFR-ing every game this is about the best we can get. Guys like Bill began building their own stats out of the new data and came up with YRPR, which formula is:
The % of your team’s targets you receive
Times how many yards you average per pass thrown in your direction
Times an adjustment for the rest of your team’s passing game so we don’t just get the guys with great QBs and lines
Times an adjustment for how often your team passes, so that we don’t just award wide open receivers on run-heavy teams, e.g. Roundtree 2010.
And what it said was…
2012 Big Ten Receivers by YRPR:
I know what you’re thinking: that top five includes three of the receivers I drafted in last year’s Draft o’ Snark, and my fourth is in the Top 10. That and our tiny receiver who looks like Snoop was best in the conference and 14th in the nation. Not “one of the best after Allen Robinson and Kenny Bell and Jared Abbrederis and those Ohio State and Indiana guys,” but best-best.
Nationally Gallon was one spot behind West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, also a 5’8 mite, also the first receiver taken in this year’s NFL Draft. In fact most of the guys above Gallon were drafted this year—only USC’s Marqise Lee, SJ State’s Noel Grigsby, Bama’s Amari Cooper, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Mathews, and Fresno State’s Davante Adams return among those who finished above Jeremy Gallon in this metric.
When Brian gets to the receiver previews later this offseason he will undoubtedly point out that Gallon blew up after Gardner stepped in, projecting to Braylon-like numbers if you extrapolate the Gardner starts across an entire season. Well, the advanced stats guys took his entire year and said he’s Tavon Austin.
* [Where’s LSAClassof2000? Follow those links and stop writing personal diaries.]
[After the jump, how Gallon’s 2012 compared with those of past M receivers, and how the Big Ten has fared against the others]
This bit could be better. Roy Roundtree suffered more than anyone in the transition from the spread 'n' shred to the spread 'n' pasted-on-West-Coast-stuff, plummeting from 72 catches to 19. Notre Dame and Sugar Bowl savior Junior Hemingway is off to NFL practice squads as a seventh-round pick; following him out the door are Martavious Odoms (replaceable) and Kevin Koger (uh…).
In their stead Michigan will field a forest of unproven guys with limited upside, freshmen, their backup quarterback, and Jerald Robinson, the one vague hope for a high quality downfield threat who is not the backup quarterback.
It should be noted that Michigan is running the opposite of the Holgorsen style "you came here an X, you learned it in three days, you repeated it 60 times, you are forever an X" specialization offense. Jeff Hecklinski said as much last year…
"The difference in this offense is there aren't really slot receivers as much as outside receivers — they play everywhere on the field and we move them around," Hecklinski said. "The switch is big because of all the little things asked of them - they have to convert routes, pick up checks and route changes and coverages."
…and the frequent deployment of Junior Hemingway in the slot and Jeremy Gallon outside confirmed that over the course of the year. Therefore "slot" is used to denote the player who is going to get all the wide receiver screens, which will never be bubble screens.
Rating: 2, with upside.
Assertion: Junior Hemingway was the most valuable Michigan wide receiver since Braylon Edwards. Hemingway may not have been as good as Mario Manningham or even Adrian Arrington, but imagining last year without his ability to rise from a thicket of hands to snag "no no no no no no YESSSSSSSS" touchdowns is not a pleasant exercise. He is the undisputed king of yards per target since 2005. He was important.
Unfortunately, Hemingway's gone. Left behind is the mismatched collection of runty Rodriguez slot receivers, Rodriguez leapers who run like hobbled ducks, and… maybe Devin Gardner. Definitely Devin Gardner.
Aw, hell, I should probably start off talking about Roundtree and stuff but everyone wants to know about Gardner.
Yeah, man, he's going to play. Unless Jerald Robinson delivers on the perpetual low-level hype, no one else on the roster comes close to Gardner's combination of size, leaping ability, and speed. At the very least he'll frequently attempt the Terrelle Pryor "oops I'm huge" redzone fade…
…and it's hard to see him not being more than that given the alternatives. Gardner played exclusively at wide receiver at the Mott open practice, and with the first team. I've heard from multiple source since: that's no smokescreen.
While no one knows how this will go, the steady drumbeat of hype from players is encouraging. It took about all of a dozen spring practices for reports like this to reach my ears:
Someone who's seen Gardner at all of Michigan's practices so far says he's "instantly Michigan's best receiver and adds a new dimension to the offense." He's "crazy athletic" with "surprisingly great hands."
Similar reports popped up on the premium sites, and when fall camp started and everyone asked anyone in front of the mic about the possibility, his teammates said "dang." Kovacs:
"He's a great athlete, I feel like he could play anywhere and he could probably take my spot if he tried," Michigan senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "He's a natural athlete, and if they play him at receiver, I'm sure he'll be pretty good.
"Wherever he plays, he's going to make big plays."
"When he gets out to receiver, you think he's a receiver," Robinson said. "He looks like he's been playing there for years."
And then there's this extremely reliable and not all dated video of Gardner screwing around at WR as a high school kid:
That's the ticket, man. They might have to protect him from getting jammed, but that's not too hard: line him up off the LOS, possibly in those stack formations, and there you go. Then it's about running the routes and catching the ball.
The possibility of a "devin gardner dunked on tacopants" tag and a paucity of options to fill the Junior Hemingway role that bailed the offense out time and again last year will see Gardner on the field. It may be sparingly at first, but if it's crunch time against Alabama do you want him on the bench?
Attempting to predict what happens here is very difficult, but I'm betting Gardner is one of four players approximately level on catches and yards at the end of the year, with no true star player. The upside is tantalizing, though, and your best hope for an offense that scorches both ground and sky. Devin Gardner, you've been X-factor'd.
[hit THE JUMP to read up on Roundtree, Gallon, and company.]
Bye weeks seem to hurt more than they help. Since 2002 (to 2010*), teams of the six BCS conferences have an overall win pct of 0.480 when coming off of a bye week. The Big Ten teams in particular struggle when coming off of a bye. From 2002-2010* Big Ten teams are a combined 17-32 when coming off of a bye. This is good for a 0.35 win pct.
Denard Robinson's day started at 6:30 a.m., when his alarm clock went off in his off-campus condo bedroom.
He hit the snooze once, then twice, before getting out of bed to put on jeans, a red polo shirt, black Adidas training shoes and his varsity jacket. Then he hopped into his roommate Devin Gardner's family pickup truck, a beat-up 2002 Dakota.
It continues following Denard from there. Autograph seekers, man. We will be running another installment of the Q&A Monday or Tuesday, depending on how jam-packed Monday is. Three and Out is out October 25th.
[*cough* if you are planning on buying the thing you can support the site by purchasing Three and Out through MGoBlog affiliate linkage *cough*]
Pizza: we want it. There was a "We want pizza" chant as Michigan's goal count exploded against St. Lawrence, and this is why:
Also in 1997, there was free pizza. Back in the day, Cottage Inn sponsored a 10-goal promotion, where every member in attendance received a free slice of pie if the team reached 10 goals. Sounds awesome, right?
It was awesome all right — for everyone but Cottage Inn. Even though 1997 was the last straw, the restaurant still had issues with the promotion in previous years. The blame game can start with a man they called ‘Doughboy.’
In the early 1990s, when the Wolverines would put up seven or eight goals, the crowd would start to chant, “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!” It seemed that Michigan had a player who liked pizza as much as the fans did, as he would seemingly pick up his play whenever the total got close to 10. Hence, Cam Stewart became ‘Doughboy.’
Michigan's fallen off from their glory days and Cottage Inn could fire up the pizza promotion without too much damage—this was the first time it had happened since 2008.
I'm out of toner, too. I don't want to wade into a discussion about the content of this Dennis Dodd piece on why Rodriguez should get some credit. (Surprise: Dodd and Rodriguez share an employer.) I do want to linger on this image:
Rich Rodriguez still runs into his players during shopping trips in Ann Arbor.
"Office Depot or something," said Michigan's former coach. "You can figure, you've got mixed emotions. You're frustrated because it's your guys and you want to coach them."
That's the problem with the system: too much money going to students. The Big Ten and SEC made a case for "full cost of attendance" scholarships as caring more about student welfare than a level playing field, and they carry a lot of water in this town so I assume this will be killed and never brought up again:
Following a six-hour meeting in late September, the Resource Allocation Working Group, chaired by Georgia President Michael Adams, agreed to consider a reduction in FBS football scholarships from the current number of 85 to 80 and a reduction in the number of FCS football scholarships from 63 to 60. The reductions would likely follow a move toward a full cost-of-attendance scholarship that is expected to be passed in early 2012. In addition to football, the group agreed to consider a reduction in the number of men's basketball scholarships from 13 to 12 and in women's basketball from 15 to 13.
If it's not it's time to burn the NCAA to the ground. If you don't want to offer a full complement of scholarships, don't. Atlantic Hockey offers 13, not 18. Fine. Don't force teams awash in money to not offer scholarships because you cry poverty. The NCAA should be exploring relaxing or changing caps in money sports*, not increasing them.
*[The best anti-oversigning proposal I've heard is removing the overall cap entirely and just having a yearly one. Totally removes the motivation to kick a kid off the team unless he's Stephen Garcia.]