|Roy Roundtree||Sr.*||Devin Gardner||So.*||Jeremy Gallon||Jr.*||Brandon Moore||Sr.*|
|Jeremy Jackson||Jr.||Jerald Robinson||So.*||Drew Dileo||Jr.*||AJ Williams||Fr.|
|Amara Darboh||Fr.||Ricardo Miller||So.*||--||--||Devin Funchess||Fr.|
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.
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.]
2011 was not 2010 for Roy Roundtree
That Roy Roundtree gets second billing here is indicative of a one-year falloff that was essentially the Michigan defense in reverse. Thanks to a hefty serving of effective screens and safety freakouts, Roundtree was the Big Ten's second-leading receiver in 2010 with 935 yards on 72 catches. A year later he limped home with 355 yards on just 19 catches. I've only got four clips for him from the Big Ten season, the same number as Drew Dileo.
This was a combination of being targeted far less frequently and doing less when he was on the receiving end of a throw. Thanks to a huge Football Study Hall spreadsheet we know that opportunities for Roundtree catches were more than halved (107 to 49) last year; worse than that—much worse—was a near-halving of his catch rate. After bringing in 67% of the balls tossed his way in 2010, he brought in 39% last year. If you're thinking this is due to the disappearance of bubble screens, sure, that's a factor, but Roundtree's catch rate was the second-worst of anyone since 2005. Only a very bad WR (2008 Darryl Stonum) getting even worse passes directed his way was even in the ballpark.
But this isn't all, or even mostly, on Roundtree. Denard's erratic 2010 hit him hardest of all. Compare the UFR season totals for the three main WRs at the end of the regular season:
[0 = uncatchable, 1 = remarkable, 2 = tough-ish, 3 = routine]
Roundtree did as well as anyone on the team at catching the ball, he just got far crappier opportunities. A third of the balls thrown his way were totally uncatchable compared to 23% for Hemingway and 20% for Gallon; just 27% of throws at him were filed routine compared to 53% for Hemingway and 71% for Gallon. After a year of easy catches, Roundtree got pounded by the WCO transition. Maybe some of that was the fact that he couldn't turn some of those zeroes into better-than-zeroes like Hemingway could; I don't think that explains much. The numbers here are low enough that we are probably talking about the luck of the draw.
Still, it's hard to see Roundtree reinflating back to his sophomore numbers. He was a slot for a reason. His willow-thin frame makes him easy to jam and he doesn't have the size to make himself a major deep threat. His athleticism is good for going up against safeties and linebackers; he struggles to get separation from high-quality corners.
He can be better. He has worked on his Manningham-esque bump-and-extend technique, using it for big gains against Northwestern…
Roundtree slowed up a moment before this still. If he runs through the ball this is a touchdown the DB can't do anything about. Arggggh.
Work on that and Roundtree can haul in some long ones. That's still a relatively low-percentage play. Much more so than this from last year's preview:
There's a certain theme running through many of Roundtree's long receptions: desolation. When Denard catches the safety the resulting throw looks like post-apocalyptic football. Where is everyone? They're dead. Let's run through this tumbleweed-infested secondary.
That's not coming back. Roundtree's best hope is a major leap forward from Denard that finds him open in holes in the zone. A rebound should be expected, but to 30 or 40 catches only.
[Roundtree's knee scope shouldn't be an issue, FWIW.]
Jerald Robinson has been talked up for a few years now without any on-field impact following, and if Devin Gardner does end up being a full-time wide receiver that is unfavorable commentary on his ability to get it done.
Robinson does have believers. When Michael Rothstein surveyed the outgoing seniors($) on who would break out next season, Robinson got the most votes and high praise:
"He's got it. I see him in practice, special teams, scout team. He can do it." … "He could be that guy that people don't know about yet. Watching him on the scout team, he has great body control in the air, can really go up for the ball. He's a good guy coming up."
That's the kind of talk I believe since those surveyed could have picked anyone. Kevin Koger talked him up (along with Rawls and—er—Stonum) as well. He's mastered the art of the nothing quote, something that must greatly please his head coach.
But that doesn't change the fact MGoBlog has nothing on him other than that hype. He had a similar amount last year, and was invisible in the spring game. He was invisible again this year and hasn't generated as much fall buzz as Amara Darboh, let alone Gardner. It's anyone's guess as to whether he makes it on the field much this year. If he doesn't, turn out the lights.
Jeremy Jackson remains the son of hyperbole volcano Fred Jackson and a guy who ESPN described as "lumbering" in the first sentence of their evaluation. He does have a big frame and may emerge into a box-'em-out possession guy as Michigan seeks to replace their lost production. He's a guy Michigan will throw on the field in multiple WR sets, hoping they can get him singled up on a linebacker or that he can out-jump a defensive back.
His catch against Northwestern is a good example of where he can be effective. There he dragged across the field on a play action waggle, coming open past a couple linebackers, and provided a big target for Gardner. Ballpark production: a dozen or so catches with a YPC just over ten.
Two freshmen are next on the hit list. Amara Darboh [recruiting profile] and Jehu Chesson [recruiting profile] are both big targets and refugees from African countries. Darboh's a lot thicker; Chesson is taller, possibly faster, and a better leaper. Borges says both will play. Historically, "play" has meant "block" for freshmen wideouts at Michigan. This year they might get some actual targets. Darboh is in the lead for those, it seems.
Finally, Ricardo Miller moves back from tight end. Moving a guy his size to tight end is to slap him across the face, tell him he has the athleticism of a dizzy hippopotamus, and challenge him to a duel. He gamely added some weight, was still way too small, and now returns to wideout. After that journey any remaining recruiting hype is gone. He'll get some sporadic snaps; more than a couple catches would be a surprise.
Yeah. That's the stuff.
When not looking exactly like Snoop from the Wire, Gallon spent his 2011 engaging a cloaking device that rescued the Notre Dame game…
…and made Borges's throwback WR screens all but unstoppable. The targets listed above demonstrate where he was used: short, short, short. Denard occasionally took shots at him deep when he was single covered (and sometimes double), but he was mostly an underneath guy.
|pancakes on the edge|
|flying squirrel block|
|IT ALWAYS WORKS|
|DOES GET DOWNFIELD|
|hauling in a bomb|
Michigan will have to switch up their screens for Gallon to continue his production on balls thrown behind the line of scrimmage; they will and he'll get a bunch of targets on short stuff that he'll turn into nice gains. He'll also get a lot of run for his ability to headbutt opposing secondary members. Remember this from Denard's opening veer TD against OSU?
CJ Barnett, please report to aisle shame and regret.
Al Borges told Tom Dienhart that Gallon had the best camp of the WRs, but I'm not sure how much more production Michigan can get out of him without resorting to the dread bubble screen. The throwback stuff is great if used sparingly, but no more, and the combination of an erratic passer and a short guy led Borges to focus on other wide receivers last year. There's no reason that should change now. Meanwhile, Gallon's proved only somewhat slippery. He's not doing crazy stuff when he gets the ball; he'd have to to warrant increased short-range chances with Denard and Toussaint around.
He'll probably get a few more targets just via seniority. Other than that, production on par with last year is reasonable.
Junior Drew Dileo is the last of the Rodriguez waterbugs (though Hoke's collected a couple now). He's got a few catches to his credit, most impressively a 20-some-yard snag on Michigan's final drive against OSU:
He also was on the receiving end of a Vincent Smith toss, got some mountain-goating in, and held on to a seam despite getting lit up. By the end of the year he'd reeled in 9 catches, seven of which were in the UFR charts, and had an impressive 4/5 on moderately tough catches to go with three routine ones. So far he's been a reliable option.
His height will always make him a less-than-great option—the gap between Denard's margin for error when throwing to him versus, say, Devin Funchess, is enormous—but that doesn't mean he can't be pretty good. With Odoms and Grady moving on there's another 20 slot targets available and with Kevin Koger out of the picture the slot's going to be on the field quite a bit this year. Dileo should get another ten or so opportunities, which he'll probably do well with.
While there are no scholarship slots behind Dileo, both Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet are running backs of the tiny jittery sort and may find their way onto the field as a third option at this spot when Michigan goes four wide. Both were regarded as excellent receivers coming out of high school (size caveats granted), and provide a big play possibility that Dileo might lack.
Funchess / Williams / Moore
What tight end? Kevin Koger's out the door and with him goes Steve Watson, leaving one veteran scholarship option: Brandon Moore. Moore's only notable contribution to date is blowing a protection on Michigan's disastrous fourth-and-inches against Michigan State. He was behind Watson (a James-Rogers-like positional vagabond). He made his second career catch against Purdue last year. The other was against Delaware State. Baby Seal U. Blast from the past, that.
That doesn't inspire much confidence. Then Michigan moved walk-on Chris Eddins to TE, featured fellow walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski heavily in their spring practice videos, and ran an absolute ton of three-WR, two-RB sets in the spring game. I'm thinking that the coaches don't have a lot of confidence in Moore, you guys.
Therefore this preview expects that freshmen AJ Williams [recruiting profile] and Devin Funchess [recruiting profile] get a plurality of snaps handed over to tight ends this year. Williams, a guy who moved to right tackle as a senior in high school, is 15-20 pounds heavier than anyone already mentioned and has spent his entire career to date run blocking. He will be featured on short yardage and goal-line packages and whenever Michigan decides to slam its head into the I-Form power wall.
Funchess is one of those 6'5" Brent Petways that NFL teams like. While he's rail thin and likely useless as an inline blocker, Michigan should find him a better option than Moore or Eddins or anyone else on underneath stuff when Michigan's in the spread or on passing downs. He's bigger (at least in terms of catching radius) and more athletic than anyone else Michigan would consider in that role, including Jeremy Jackson, Roy Roundtree, etc etc etc. In the Mott practice Michigan went deep to him twice with good success; you know that Borges is plotting maniacal ways to occupy the safeties with other receivers so Funchess can burst into the second level. Once he ramps up a few games into this year he'll quickly find himself a safety blanket and possibly more. Twenty or even 30 catches are within reach.
Moore and Kwiatkowski should play as well, especially early. Kwiatkowski featured as a guy making ridiculous catches in Three And Out and maybe gave you a flutter of hope in those spring videos. He may surprise.
In any case, Michigan can't expect super production out of this spot since no one they've got can block and catch, but since they've at least got a guy or two who can do one or the other I'll bump this up to 2, i.e. "not quite the Never Forget Secondary."
Ain't nobody I haven't mentioned. /spits