[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.]
Go time [Maize and Blue Nation]
Beyond Funchess there is a panoply of options. Despite the depth chart, the bet here is that the foremost will be AMARA DARBOH [recruiting profile], who ran exclusively with the ones during the open fall scrimmage and was a frequent, effective target. Darboh looks and feels like Jason Avant 2.0, a sure-handed possession option with some leapy endzone upside. Here is the obligatory picture Devin Gardner tweeted when Darboh made the "single greatest catch [he'd] ever seen in person":
Darboh was set to start opposite Gallon last year when a foot injury hewed him down the week before the season; I remember angrily deleting his section in last year's edition of this post.
Because of that injury we don't have much on-field stuff to go with—he was held out of spring. But whenever anyone drops by a practice they come away rumbling that the kid can play. Last year 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."
And this fall we found out that Darboh is a mutant!
“He has an extra muscle on his forearm that makes sure he secures the catch,” Funchess said.
“Yeah, an extra muscle.”
He and Funchess can start a superhero group called the M Men that will drive neutral fans crazy by doing things that everybody else does but seem annoying to neutrals for no reason.
(Doctors, your pedantic explanations for why this is not in fact evidence that Darboh is a mutant are unwelcome here. You had your chance:
A request for an official explanation from the U-M medical staff went unanswered for this story.
I say GOOD DAY SIR.)
Darboh also has some downfield upside at 6'2" with good speed. It would be silly to make him the top downfield target on a team with Funchess, but there will be matchups he can exploit against #2 corners who are slow or wee. Darboh should establish himself a quality #2 WR this year with 40 to 50 catches at a middling yards per catch.
Michigan has numbers and even some experience behind their starters. Redshirt sophomore JEHU CHESSON [recruiting profile] had a promising debut season, catching 15 passes as a third option and laying out a half-dozen defensive backs along the way. Most famously there was the Notre Dame bowling ball, of course.
When it came to catching the ball, Chesson was inconsistent. His hands we fine, but when he was targeted deeper he had some Stonum-like issues:
Unfortunately, Chesson showed his inexperience on his two deep targets; he should have been able to shield the corner off the ball on the first one and misjudged the second, possibly because he'd just been chewed out about shielding the ball earlier in the game.
He also occasionally ran the wrong route. This from the Ohio State game just seemed… odd. This should probably be an out; instead it's a look-back-at-the-QB-uncertainly:
None of that is particularly surprising. Chesson came to football late and had a reputation as a raw guy who needed a lot of molding. As late as this summer, Jeff Hecklinski was saying he was a promising kid with a ways to go:
"He has still got a lot of learning to do but the one thing that he brings is strength and speed. The deep game with Jehu is something that, at times, has been impressive throughout the spring and that is something that we’ve got to continue to develop with him along with all the underneath routes."
So, I think from the standpoint of being able to get down the field, I think a strong physical fast off the line guy that has very solid hands and can get open in small spaces, but yet with length and long arms.”
The kid is super-smart, and will get there. His recruiting profile notes that he just drops references to the placebo effect in responses to questions and sounded like he was 1000 years old as a high school sophomore.
Chesson is at the top of the depth chart currently, which seems like a good sign to me given that Darboh played opposite Funchess and looked good doing it just a couple weeks ago. They bring different things—Darboh is more likely to blow through a corner en route to a slant; Chesson is more likely to get separation over the top. Jeremy Gallon last year:
"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."
It's hard to project what his stats will look like given the uncertainty as to who's getting snaps. But let's try it anyway: somewhere between 30 and 40 catches and 500 yards.
Beat Countess over the top. [Upchurch]
And then there's FREDDY CANTEEN, freshman sensation. I don't have much more to offer than what's in his recently-completed recruiting profile. What's there is tantalizing. Canteen is a route artisan straight out of the Manningham school:
There may not have been a better route-runner on the field than Canteen. If he gets a clean release from the line, the defensive backs were rarely able to catch up and make a play on the ball. One of the things that stood out about Canteen was his explosiveness out of his breaks. One multiple occasions, Canteen fooled the defensive back with a hitch-and-go route and ending up with a wide open touchdown catch.
That was at a camp against high school kids; when he replicated that same hitch-and-go against Blake Countess in the spring game it was only incomplete because it was underthrown. That plus an excellent 44-yard corner route completion solidified a flood of hype ("Teammates and coaches raved about Canteen's impact almost from the first day of spring camp") that had been building ever since he was an obscure kid who played three games his junior year. Here's Wilton Speight:
"Freddy is a freak and is going to shock everyone. We called him Freddy ‘Footwork’ because his feet are so fast. He loves to work, we worked out a lot after spring practice and he’s just an unreal talent.”
Even if Canteen is going to be Manningham 2.0 down to the uniform fibers, he's probably going to start slower than people want him to. Manningham was only a bit player as a freshman, catching 27 passes for 433 yards. Canteen enrolled early and probably doesn't have the issues that saw Manningham suspended a couple times during his career, but Michigan has a lot more depth at wideout than they did when Manningham was breaking in. (With Breaston quickly proving himself a slot-only option the third outside WR in 2005 was Carl Tabb.)
Canteen ran into some struggles late in fall camp, dropping a few balls at the open scrimmages, and got a little of a grumble from Hoke when asked about it:
We heard a lot about Freddy [Canteen] in the spring and saw a lot of him in the spring scrimmage. Is he the slot guy or is Dennis [Norfleet] the slot guy?
“Dennis right now. I think one thing, Freddy, he started a little slower but he's finished very well.’
He should work his way into the lineup slowly as he tries to match that Manningham 2005 season; he should also get work in the slot.
Ways and Dukes may get some snaps. [ESPN/Fuller]
Barring injury, no one past Canteen figures to get much, if any, playing timets. There are a number of guys waiting in the wings even so. Freshmen JARON DUKES [recruiting profile], MOE WAYS [recruiting profile], and DRAKE HARRIS [recruiting profile] are highly similar: 6'4" leaping catch-radius demons who may or may not have the speed to take the top off the defense.
Harris is by far the most touted of the bunch, even after a hamstring issue that ended his senior year of high school before it began. That hamstring cropped back up in spring and the other one got dinged at the beginning of fall camp, so the sensible thing seems to be a rest and recuperation redshirt. If healthy he has scads of upside, "let's compare this guy to Randy Moss" upside. That "if" gets bigger by the day. As of Saturday he was still running steps instead of participating in practice.
Ways and Dukes were both flung one four-star rating apiece by the recruiting sites and come with flaws: Dukes is not a blazer and Ways had hands issues as a junior. Dukes redshirted a year ago and should be ready to tip run plays. Ways was very impressive in the fall scrimmage, making several downfield catches in the Hemingway vein.
Hoke quickly threw some water on that:
“(Saturday's scrimmage) was one of the better days Mo’s had,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “He’s got some talent, obviously."
It's possible a redshirt is still in the offing. He was not included on any of the special teams units, FWIW.
SLOT: WE GOT ONE, LET'S USE HIM
Here's this instant as a Michigan fan: I'm hoping to spend big chunks of this year still mad at Al Borges.
This particular anger is generated because Borges did not utilize DENNIS NORFLEET as anything other than a circus freak predictable end-around guy. It was already old by UConn.
The Norfleet stuff…
…is unbelievably predictable. He was in for one play in this game where he was not provided the ball. His first jet sweep was a success largely because UConn was badly misaligned, and now that it's in the books teams will be prepared for that. I'm hoping that Borges assumed these last two games would be blowouts in which he wouldn't have to show anything he hasn't put on film already.
NOPE. Once opponents figured that out, Norfleet disappeared. The next time he got an touch was a nine-yard catch in the bowl.
The upcoming Five Questions bit will address the insanity of relying on tight ends who can't block any better than Norfleet; suffice it to say I am of the belief that going three wide and dumping the ball to Norfleet five times a game would have 1) averaged more yards than no yards and 2) opened up things on the interior.
The obviousness of that first assertion is the big worry here: if the problem was Norfleet's ability and not Borges's sanity, then I'm going to be real sad and Michigan's not going to have access to a bunch of easy yards. I think it's the latter because Norfleet made his name as a recruit by tearing up 7-on-7 camp after 7-on-7 camp…
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.
…and last year Jeff Hecklinski was describing his hands as "great"…
"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.”
…and we have some inside scoop that says nothing's changed now that he's a bit older:
Norfleet looked "f---ing great" and is the #1 slot. No, the insider is not me. I swear. Canteen is practicing both inside and out as they try to figure out their best configuration.
…and for pants sake I'd better be right that he can make some dudes miss because I've been going NORFLEEEEEET for two years now and that's a long time not to take a breath.
Given the state of the offensive line, Norfleet could have a major role. Ace has a post today about how a lot of zone teams use the threat of an end-around as a constraint, and Norfleet is a pretty obvious answer in that department. Meanwhile, there are worse ideas than seeing what he can do isolated against a cornerback after your open scrimmage saw the starting line get their tailbacks 33 yards on 20 carries.
But… we just don't know, man. They didn't use him last year, so maybe it's him. What a sad universe that would be.
It's looking like Canteen will get a large number of the slot snaps Norfleet doesn't, as he's practicing both inside and out and has the routes and quickness to succeed at both spots.
may explode if exposed to sunlight [Fuller]
Those that escape Canteen's clutches will fall to… uh… BO DEVER? Looks like it. Dever, a walk-on legacy named Bo, was impressive in a Dileo way during the fall scrimmage. While he's significantly bigger than the guy I never stopped calling a "sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome" as soon as I thought of it, Dever seems to bring a lot of that underneath shake-and-bake-and-catch-it-off-the-grass that Dileo did.
His routes were good, his hands were, good, and he's clearly a guy the backup quarterbacks have a lot of faith in. Sometimes too much faith, as when Wilton Speight tried him on a wheel route against Stribling it ended up with no separation and an interception.
He's the second-string slot on the two deep; put him in the third down slot role and I can see it working out. He may get a dozen catches. He may disappear.
Jones (left) and Douglas (right, now wearing #29) are battling for a few snaps a game. [Fuller]
Sophomore DA'MARIO JONES [recruiting profile] is listed on the outside at the moment but given the shape of the roster he probably ends up in the slot sooner rather than later. The roster is long on catching-radius freaks, short on guys who can make people miss in space. While Jones is shaped more like Roy Roundtree than Norfleet he brings a reputation as a guy who can on occasion leave you in the dust.
Jones burned his redshirt last year getting hit by a punt on a special teams and doing almost nothing else, so we don't have anything to go on yet other than his already-sparse recruiting profile. Jones did not impress much in the open fall scrimmages, dropping a lot of balls and double-clutching several others besides. A year with the jugs machine beckons.
Behind Jones there isn't much. Redshirt freshman ROSS DOUGLAS [recruiting profile] just moved over from running back. Since that's his third position in a year—he came in as a corner—that doesn't exactly bode well. In his defense, Michigan's got just piles of both corners and tailbacks now.
Douglas was a well-regarded recruit (3 out of 4 sites gave him four stars) who decommitted from Penn State after the NCAA dropped a bomb on Happy Valley, so he's got some athletic chops. It'll probably take at least a year before he adapts to the position, at least on the college level. But Douglas was "always Avon's primary offensive weapon" as a high school tailback and he is now competing at a spot Michigan hasn't emphasized in recruiting, so he's got a shot.