"LITTLE AND DEADLY OR INEXPERIENCED AND TALL
MICHIGAN HAS IT ALL"
-Robert Frost, "Leaves Falling In A Wood"
|Jeremy Gallon||Sr.*||Jehu Chesson||Fr.*||Drew Dileo||Sr.||Devin Funchess||So.|
|Jeremy Jackson||Sr.*||Joe Reynolds||Sr.*||Dennis Norfleet||So.||Jake Butt||Fr.|
|Jaron Dukes||Fr.||Csont'e York||Fr.||Da'Mario Jones||Fr.||--||--|
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.
Reality bows to sentimentality. Rule #1.
|hitches you to death…|
|hitch go hitch|
|can't stay close|
|…then gets over the top|
|against 'Bama even|
|gets drilled, hangs on|
|makes tough catches|
|leaps for corner|
|over the shoulder|
|productive on screens|
|Heiko's favorite play|
|houses it against Illinois|
|quicks make dudes miss|
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's WR 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]
The spot next to Gallon was about to be locked down by Amara Darboh before a foot injury knocked him out for the season. This is a blow. I was hyped on Darboh since he signed up, and he'd done nothing to dissuade in his first year.
"The single greatest catch I've ever seen in person" –Devin Gardner
With excellent size and a reputation as a—yes—Jason Avant style slant merchant with great hands, Darboh provided something in short supply on a team with a lot of little guys on the outside.
Everyone thought he was going to blow up. When the Big Ten Network dropped by Michigan practice, one of the primary takeaways was how impressed everyone was with the kid. Borges "marveled at how strong his hands are"; Dienhart said he was "primed for a breakout"; Revsine said he'd "taken a particularly large leap."
C'est la vie. Next man in.
That figures to be the other second-year African refugee on the roster. JEHU CHESSON [recruiting profile] came to Michigan a generic three-star because of speed questions, but then did this on the track:
you'd look so cool
Not only did he look cool, he also ran very fast. Your author assembled the relevant data on the kid last year and named him co-sleeper of the year with Ben Braden, because Chesson was both fast and a progenitor of what this site would eventually dub The Pattern™, wherein Michigan acquires team-oriented awesome dudes at an incredible rate. The site has a tag entitled "jehu chesson is 1000 years old" because his maturity level is frightening.
Chesson redshirted in order to pack some mass on his skinny frame, and is now a plausible 196 pounds instead of 183. He's still got some growing to do; he is ready to get some time.
The hype here is that the track speed translates and the recruiting sites whiffed. Jeremy Gallon:
"Jehu, in one-on-ones, he’s just flying by people with his speed," Gallon said. "Doing all these amazing things. You can tell he’s learning."
That was in spring, where Al Borges also mentioned that both of his second-year guys but "particularly Jehu" have really good straight-line speed.
In fall, Hoke called Chesson out as a potential breakout player. A primary MGoHeuristic we use is to downplay coachspeak on leading questions ("talk about player X") and obsess over it when it's an answer to something open-ended ("who might break out?"). Hoke answered an open-ended Q about an offensive player to watch like so:
"One of the surprise dark horse guys will be a young man we redshirted a year ago. Wide receiver Jehu Chesson. He's a young man out of St. Louis, 6-foot-4, wide receiver, track guy, (can) catch it, works hard."
Chesson is rawer than Darboh and does not quite have his press-breaking strength, but he is a faster guy. When Michigan coaches were asked about who was emerging behind Gallon, they invariably said "Darboh and Chesson" like they were a twee indie duo. He should emerge into a quality option by midseason. Something not quite equivalent to Roundtree's final season (31 catches, 580 yards) is a reasonable expectation.
This is where the Darboh injury occasions a potentially serious dropoff.
Reynolds got some targets a year ago [Blade]
Two backup wideouts have actually seen the field: JOE REYNOLDS and Jeremy Jackson. Reynolds, a redshirt senior walk-on, started seeing time in the middle of last year. As ever when a wideout first starts seeing the field, his presence was a dead run giveaway. This was frustrating a lot of the time, but Reynolds did spring Fitzgerald Toussaint for a long gain against Michigan State by slicing down a Spartan safety:
Michigan doesn't teach cut blocking anymore, so file that under Jake Ryan-style improvisation.
Late in the season, Reynolds started playing on actual pass plays, catching a few long handoffs against Iowa (why Iowa was playing in the parking lot against Reynolds is unknown) and getting targeted on actual downfield passes twice, neither of which he had any chance of catching. Insider scuttlebutt that has reached my ears says Reynolds is a viable candidate for playing time as a fourth or fifth wideout—now third or fourth— and when Blake Countess was interviewed by Tom Dienhart he ran down the WRs in this order: Gallon, Darboh, Chesson, Reynolds, "and Dileo in the slot." He could be in line for ten to fifteen catches. He did have a sweet diving catch in the second scrimmage video. As a fifth guy—remember Dileo and Funchess—he'll be fine. A dozen catches is the over/under.
Jackson is invariably accompanied by defensive backs [Omaha World-Herald]
Fellow senior JEREMY JACKSON has always been a guy caught between tight end and wideout. Lacking the quickness to separate against man coverage, he's been a lightly-used option for the duration of his career. That figures to continue in his final season, but the coaches have been talking him up some:
"From last spring to right now, I think Jeremy Jackson may be playing the best he's ever played," Hecklinski said. "I can see him filling multiple different roles, inside and outside. He's catching the ball, running the best he's run.
"If I had a guy that I had to say was most improved, I would say it's Jeremy Jackson."
If there's a role for him it's as another underneath slot receiver who uses his frame to box out opponents. It's difficult to see Jackson being as effective at that third-and-seven stuff than Dileo. Dileo was criminally underused a year ago, though, so maybe there's something mysterious he lacks that would cause other folks to be a better option. Despite the coach hype, expect something on the order of last year's production of four catches. He may get some extra run as a blocker, since he is the largest wideout on the roster.
Finally, Michigan brings in three freshmen. All are middling three star types. Hemingway-but-tall JARON DUKES [recruiting profile] is an outside-only guy who figures to redshirt. CSONT'E YORK [recruiting profile] is a big-bodied box-em-out guy who had some Avant in him in summer passing camps but failed to impress in his high school season. Michigan pirated DA'MARIO JONES [recruiting profile] away from Central Michigan when they finally gave up on LaQuon Treadwell, and while that may not impress late offers from UCLA and Georgia might. It doesn't look like Michigan needs to play any of these guys just yet; one might what with the Darboh injury. Most expect that to be Jones. No matter who does, he'll get his feet wet blocking and do little else. The over/under on freshman catches is set at three.
Man, was DREW DILEO good last year. Using that targeting data from Football Study Hall, I can tell you that his Yards Per Target of 11.0 was Michigan's fourth-best since 2005, on par with Mario Manningham's 2006 season. Those who bested him are 2010 Kevin Koger, 2010 Martavious Odoms, and 2011 Junior Hemingway—two beneficiaries of a full season of the RR-Denard iso offense and the undisputed king of YPT.
Eyeballing it, Dileo caught everything within his admittedly small catching radius (save one drop against OSU)…
|lit up, holds on|
|maximized catching radius|
|oh noes target|
|gets up the seam|
|lacks elite speed, though|
|finds holes in zones|
|first down machine|
|is the threat|
|…but doesn't abort here|
…and had an amazing knack for keeping his feet after these catches even if he had to spin 360 degrees to do so. By midseason this blog had started openly pining for more passes to head his way:
…a week after he was the offense against Michigan State, Drew Dileo gets no targets. Instead Michigan throws at Jeremy Jackson five times, and on all of those throws there is a defender implanted in his chest. … Look at Dileo's chart! THROW AT THAT GUY.
That pine is ongoing, especially in the aftermath of the Darboh injury. Michigan acknowledges his speciality. Hecklinski:
"He's your third-down specialist. You need one of those guys on third down where Devin can look and say 'This is my guy. I know he's going to get 4 when we need 4, I know he's going to get 6 when we need 6 and I know he's going to make the tough catch in traffic.' That's what Drew is."
Amen. Dileo was 14/15 on routine balls last year, perfect on 4 moderate ones, and even had a 50% catch rate on circus attempts. Break out the Wes Welker comparisons. It's allowed.
Dileo's main weakness is a lack of flat-out speed. In a different receiver's hands, Denard's QB Oh Noes in the Michigan State game may have been a touchdown. In Dileo's it was a nice gain on which he got tracked down from behind. That's a major drawback when you've already got a small catching radius.
Dileo's got everything else, though. In his final year he should add ten or so catches to his 20 last year; I wouldn't be mad if it was 40, but the Gallon/Gardner mind-meld will probably hold other numbers down.
The influx of men with thighs as large as DENNIS NORFLEET's torso occasioned a position shift for the little darty bastard who's a demon in space but not exactly Brady Hoke's platonic ideal of a running back. He is now a slot receiver, and none too soon since after this year the slot depth chart reads:
There Is No 2
Other receivers may be able to play in the slot, but no one else is the kind of fellow who can make two guys miss to scratch out a first down on third and two, and that's a useful guy to have around.
The transition shouldn't be too difficult. Norfleet acquired plenty of experience as a receiver as he toured around the country with Shane Morris and Co., turning in jaw-dropping 7-on-7 performance after jaw-dropping 7-on-7 performance. An excerpt from his recruiting profile:
There are a select few players who can make defenders in position totally whiff in one-hand touch, 7-on-7 football. There may be only one Dennis Norfleet who seems to make a play or two like that every game. On one particular play, Norfleet put a move on two defenders at one time, splitting the pair and taking the ball in for a touchdown. He is electric with the football in his hands.
Oh, one more for fun:
"…is actually an outstanding receiver, and defensive backs could not hang with his speed. After creating separation, Norfleet also displays excellent hands to finish the play."
This seems to have transitioned to Michigan, as Jeff Hecklinski had high praise for him at Media Day:
"I think he’s found a home here with us on the perimeter and we can utilize his skillset.
"He’s got great hands. He’s picking up the routes, learning how to run the routes and he’s obviously very talented and skilled. He’s faster than I thought he was, which is obviously good. Anytime you can add to your speed on the outside, you’re improving your football team.”
Expect Norfleet to take over as Michigan's designated jet sweep guy (and jet sweep decoy guy) as he works his way into the lineup. Michigan was already using him there last year. That should earn him two or three carries a game and maybe a dozen catches over the course of the season. Next year he will be a badly needed source of WOOP in the new-era Michigan offense.
Michigan may also turn to freshman Da'Mario Jones here if injury hits Dileo, but it's more likely they'll run out tight end after tight end.