gert orf me[Bryan Fuller]
|Kekoa Crawford||So.||Tarik Black||Fr.||Grant Perry||Jr.||Chris Evans||So.|
|Oliver Martin||Fr.||Donovan Peoples-Jones||Fr.||Eddie McDoom||So.||Eddie McDoom||So.|
|Nico Collins||Fr.||Moe Ways||Jr.*||Nate Schoenle||Fr.*||Ty Isaac||Sr.*|
They're gone, all gone. Michigan loses every receiver on the roster with more than 13 catches a year ago (Grant Perry). A couple of disastrous Hoke recruiting classes mean the chasm from the departed to the new generation is almost as large as theoretically possible. And Freshman Wide Receivers Suck™. Should Wilton Speight be shivering under his blanket at night?
Maybe. But maybe not:
by the year 2047 this jpg will be replaced by preprogrammed electronic disco[Seth]
Wait wait wait that's not what I meant to copy and paste at all.
Ahem. BUT MAYBE NOT:
Last year at this time you talked a lot about Chris Evans being an emerging player. Are there any players in that vein that have impressed so far?
HARBAUGH: “Did I? This time last year I said Chris Evans? [/pulls a Kip from Napoleon Dynamite] I was right.
“Alright, I’ll give you a couple. The receivers are doing really well. DPJ and Oliver Martin and Tarik Black are making a lot of plays. They really are. They’re making some superb athletic types of plays. I’ve never seen freshmen doing it the way they’re doing it."
247 is reporting that Michigan's freshman quartet has been excellent and that a source says the WR spot is "in better shape than it has maybe ever been in." Maybe not all freshman wide receivers suck. Also there's a sophomore.
OUTSIDE RECEIVER: YOUNG, THE GIANTS
please don't forget the guy wearing #1 [Patrick Barron]
With the departure of Chesson and Darboh and Drake Harris's flip to defense Michigan returns all of nine career catches on the outside. Those are about evenly split between KEKOA CRAWFORD [recruiting profile] and Moe Ways, but only one of those gents is currently projected to start: Crawford.
As is usual for freshman wide receivers, Crawford's first year was mostly spent blocking guys. He had one bad drop early and one circus catch late…
…and thus ends data about his actual receivering. He did make a catch on a dig against Hawaii and a couple others, but they were routine opportunities that can only give you pause if they were dropped; they weren't.
The blocking was an immediate plus. He came in with a reputation in that department and upheld it:
He looks like a worthy heir to Darboh and Chesson in that department, at least.
With insiders orbiting the freshmen like sharks circling a school of fish, there's been next to no insider talk about Crawford this fall. I did pick up this bit in spring:
Kekoa Crawford lacks DPJ's explosiveness—as do most humans—and looks about like he did when he got on the field this year: very good blocker, big target, good routes. Strong belief he can be a quality #2 receiver this year, and an okay #1 if necessary.
Webb called him a "reliable chain mover" and "really physical," and there are occasionally asides after various freshman raptures that oh yeah, Crawford is going to start. It says something that the Black rapture alternates with the DPJ rapture and Crawford's just hangin' out during both, starting:
Earlier in the week we talked about the big play antics of freshman Tarik Black. Late in the week it’s Donovan Peoples-Jones. … he stood out the most in first-WR-group that consisted of DPJ, Kekoa Crawford, and Eddie McDoom.
If Crawford is feeling rather overlooked, fair enough. He was an Army AA himself, a high four-star guy ranked in a tight band just outside of everyone's top 100. He's not chopped liver. From his recruiting profile:
- …electric in and out of breaks. …quickness to separate …brings a lot to the table after the catch as an elusive player with good moves.
- …very competitive speed and slippery elusiveness… knows how to use his feet, hips and burst to gain separation. … athletic and precise and has a good feel for the game.
- …does everything well. …solid frame and is much stronger than he looks. …nice burst, is a polished route runner and has good top end speed. …
He's already gotten some run and is holding his own athletically in college. Crawford won a couple of winter combine events and finished a close second to Donovan Peoples-Jones in a few more; the most notable results were a 4.49 40 and 35 inch vertical. That is in line with his top-ten SPARQ score from the Opening during his senior year. Crawford consistently tests in the NFL B+/A- range, and that'll be more than enough in college.
There's about to be several butt-tons of freshman hype in this post, but don't be surprised if Crawford emerges from this season as Michigan's leading receiver. Long term you're hoping he settles into the Avant sidekick role to one world-obliterating type; this year he should be the outside guy who is most reliably in the correct spot. If this sounds unimpressive, please review this site's abiding love for Avant.
[AFTER THE JUMP: seeking one freshman dude, maybe two]
Behind Crawford is the best wide receiver recruiting class in Michigan history. Any or all of the four incoming recruits could blow up and it would not be a huge surprise.
this was not freshman Manningham [Daily]
Before discussing anyone individually we should reflect on the recent history of freshman wide receivers. Your author frequently notes that they suck, flogging Mario Manningham's freshman year in an attempt to make the point. Manningham, a route artisan and technical savant, scuffled to 27 catches and 433 yards in year one. On one memorable touchdown the coaching staff spent 15 seconds screaming at him until he realigned.
That's fine, as far as it goes. If that's the best Michigan's #2 receiver can manage that's going to put a crimp in the passing game.
But that was a decade ago. High school passing games have advanced since, right? And we're gonna be okay, right? Well, let's check the numbers. User Bones032 put together stats for every freshman five-star wide receiver since 2000, finding that about a third of them cracked 500 yards. That jumps up to 50% over the last six years, though, and we have to qualify some of the failures by noting that an insane number of them (8!) decided to waste their careers at Les Miles's LSU.
Context is also important. Five star Clemson WR Deon Cain had 34 catches for 582 yards as a freshman in 2015, but he was in a loaded receiving corps featuring Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett, amongst others. Clemson did not need a #1 receiver. When Sammy Watkins arrived at Clemson in 2011 he was joining a team with one guy who had more than 31 catches. Clemson's #3 and #4 receivers were a running back and tight end. He immediately became #1 and a national star with a 1000 yard season.
Michigan has a lot of opportunity, and a lot of freshman contenders to seize that opportunity. There are four potential Manninghams, not one. Chances are one of them is a strike, and immediately.
man it's a hot one [Eric Upchurch]
This preview favors TARIK "Ol' Santana Guitar Solo" BLACK [recruiting profile] and DONOVAN PEOPLES-JONES [recruiting profile] because they enrolled early and will have an edge in the early portion of the season as a result. Also: giggity.
Black is your tentative leader for a starting spot that is likely to be ceremonial in nature. He's generated an increment more buzz than the other guys. Maybe that's because he's the only guy who enrolled early and didn't miss a bunch of spring, but if half the stuff that's been said about Black in the last eight months pans out Michigan has a future star on its hands. One who's seven inches from the midday sun.
Yes, the word "smooth" is mandatory here. It was deployed not one or two or three or eight times during his recruitment but a staggering 13, sometimes as often as thrice in one article. His coach took his best swing at de-jargoning that for you:
"It was clear to me two weeks into his freshman year how special he was going to be. Unbelievable ability to catch the ball, run routes. … I think his route-running ability is freakish, to be honest. He has an innate ability in and out of a cut and create separation, no matter what you're doing."
Black steadily rose up recruiting rankings and was one of the most impressive wideouts at the Army game; judging from his spring his rise was not steep enough. He was perhaps the standout of the spring game. Ace:
Black dominated much of the second half, becoming John O'Korn's go-to guy on a touchdown drive in which he caught a fade over Benjamin St-Juste for a big gain, then beat St-Juste to the back corner to cap the drive. He managed to get over top of St-Juste on fly routes a couple times, and he provides a big target.
Nick Baumgardner after observing him in Rome:
My biggest takeaway – and probably the best compliment I can pay a receiver – is that he looked absolutely reliable. …he has great hands, great technique, great feet and a great football IQ/knowledge on how to work a route and how to get open.
Insider information we received said he was "a tough cover with his size and physicality," which St Juste was on the business end of in the spring game.
The hype machine has not slowed down this fall. Doesn't matter who's doing the talking. Rivals: "[Black] is the best of the bunch right now … incredible hands." Webb talked up a bunch of receivers but brought it back to Black because he is the guy everyone brings up. In addition to the big burly stuff, Black's "ability to get on top of defensive backs is going to surprise." 24/7:
For this edition of camp notes, I worked with four different sources. When asking about the wide receiver position, all four of them mentioned Tarik Black before anybody else.
He dominated the practices in San Antonio. Now he is shining in practices here. I know he hasn’t played a college game yet, but I am convinced his ceiling is much higher than some of his rankings indicated. He has a chance to become a big time player in Ann Arbor. BIG TIME!
Jetting past the next guy on this list is an accomplishment already, and there's every reason to believe he'll follow that up on the field this fall. There will be some freshman hiccups and Black is going to suffer heavy competition for snaps and targets; something like 40 catches and 600 yards maybe?
DPJ is more of a Dick Dale kind of guy [Bryan Fuller]
Oh and also: Donovan Peoples-Jones. DPJ is already the most athletic player on the team and perhaps the nation (non-Gary division), the nationwide SPARQ champion as a junior and a man for whom there is unstinting praise. Recruiting profile highlights:
- "…prototypical college size … possesses speed, route-running ability, hands and an insane vertical leaping ability that put him heads and shoulders above many of his peers"
- "…no question one of the freakiest athletes in the United States."
- "difference maker vertically due to size/speed combo. … can routinely win one-on-one and take the top off a defense."
If he was at Ohio State they'd be crediting him with 4.1 40s. His recruiting profile leads off with an array of absurd physical feats including a front flip over a six foot fence he executed when he was like 15 or something, a 52 inch box jump, various long jump feats including a purported, unofficial national high school record, this dunk...
Absolutely no question who won pic.twitter.com/hiWmyeof8x
— jen-dye-ee (@JendayiN) March 24, 2016
...and this catch:
— Blake Parpart (@ESPN_BP18) November 20, 2016
As I said in that post, there are guys and there are dudes. Donovan Peoples-Jones is a dude.
DPJ missed chunks of spring with minor injuries, allowing Black to pull into the lead he's maintained since. When available he did the kinds of things you'd hope a guy with the above praise would. Pep Hamilton said he was providing "flashes of extreme talent," and Speight praised his ability to get anything in his general vicinity:
"Donovan was doing things today that were pretty freaky. Just the catch radius he had. If the ball is way out here; there was one that was going way out of bounds and he just plucked it. Some guys that were standing out of bounds just looked at each other after that one."
Our spring intel held that "it took him just a few practices to establish himself" and that early returns were "very encouraging."
DPJ is doing his darndest to pass Black on the final straight. Webb had a couple of rave reports, including this take:
“Sometimes it seems like the quarterback isn’t even looking… like they’ll just throw it up because they know he is going to run under it.”
He's "taken things up a notch" and managed to at least temporarily stall the Black hype train entering the last week of practice. "Living up to the hype" so far. 247 reports they're hearing great things and Lorenz asserted he believes DPJ will be Michigan's #1 WR this very fall:
Peoples-Jones has the "it" factor. He's a Jabrill Peppers-level athlete with the smarts and work ethic to make a huge impact early on. He is the exception to the rule that freshmen receivers don't normally make an immediate impact at the college level.
That might not be a bad bet. DPJ Is the consensus #1 WR prospect, and over the last five years the #1 WR has averaged 57 catches and nearly 700 yards.
While DPJ's limited route tree in high school is a minor drag on his freshman potential, he has the work ethic and mind to refine quickly. He's established himself in the Peppers/Gary mold of five stars who act like walk-ons. Harbaugh:
"He's really serious about being good, that's what's stood out the most. That's standing out even more than some of the physical attributes that he has. So far so good. But he's serious about being good. Very smart."
That'll pay off sooner or later. Probably sooner. DPJ will get time from the drop; initially he's going to rotate with Black and then as the season progresses and freshmen edge towards being sophomores he could start grabbing some of Crawford's snaps. The main complication with projecting his freshman season is Black. Pencil him in for 40-some catches and two ridiculous things as he looks towards a refined, bust-out sophomore year. Watch for him in the slot, where his athleticism threatens to disembowel safeties coast to coast.
that shirt though [David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen]
The other two freshmen come barely less hyped than the gentlemen covered above. OLIVER MARTIN [recruiting profile] enters with more fulsome praise about his polish than anyone since I've been collecting scouting on Michigan recruits. Highlights from his recruiting profile:
- "works the slot with the precision of a New England Patriot"
- "Very skilled, technical wideout. Excellent route runner with great hands and ability to make catches in traffic. Smart and understands how to get open."
- "He’s just really crafty in the way he’s able to maneuver his body and track the football. He makes every catch look really easy. He’s also extremely athletic and can get open in a lot of different ways."
In addition to the gritty gym rat stuff, Martin's SPARQ score was second in the country amongst WRs. Martin is not a guy who gets by on his advanced understanding of the game. He's an elite athlete. And he's also the stereotype.
Martin started delivering on his praise almost as soon as fall camp opened. Webb reported he's been "really impressive… REALLY impressive" and that he'll factor into the rotation immediately, in part because he's doing stuff like this, per JT Rogan:
"I go in to the building and I have multiple coaches come out and tell me, 'oh, you have to see this play... Oliver Martin put together a sequence of going up and over the back of a defender and snatching the ball away, beating a defender on a nine, and then juking a guy. So there was a lot of good stuff."
Yessir, there was.
Rogan cautions that sometimes you have to tell the guy where to line up, because freshman. Given his background and level of polish that's a deficit not long for this world. Martin is running third in the chatter sweepstakes behind the two guys covered above; 247 noted he's "getting significant hype and Webb asserted he has been "simply too good to keep off the field."
Martin's long term upside is in the slot, where he promises to be a man who can do both. Martin's route chops should give him the ability to be a consistent third and medium chain mover; his athleticism will make him a threat to torch a safety and hit on a big play. Early he'll probably get most of his time outside because of the slot logjam. He is more than capable of producing there, and immediately. Whether he will is up to a host of factors somewhat out of his control, but the bet here is that he gets 10-20 catches.
The fourth and final highly touted freshman is NICO COLLINS [recruiting profile]. Collins is not as polished as Black or Martin; he's not as stupid athletic as DPJ. It probably doesn't matter since he's 6'5"+ with freaky Devin Funchess arms:
Like every other freshman WR he's garnering hype, but often as an afterthought once the speaker gets done talking about DPJ, Black, and Martin. This is because he's in the bridge program and has classes that are cutting into practice time and should not be interpreted as a sign he's falling behind for the long term. He didn't get an all caps REALLY from Lorenz so he'll have to settle for a mere "really impressive," if you insist on being a downer.
If you put a gun to my head I'd say Collins ends up redshirting. Unlike the other freshmen he is not 1) an early enrollee or 2) the most polished receiver prospect I've written up in a decade of doing this. He's also not getting a full run at fall camp. It's difficult to see four freshman WRs finding snaps, and Collins's dominant skill—redzone fade merchant—is one that Black and various athletic pogo-stick tight ends can cover.
When Collins does make his way onto the field he will be King Kong batting away biplanes and should remind onlookers of Funchess.
A+ pointing [Fuller]
Veteran options are down to one after Drake Harris moved to cornerback. It's late early for MOE WAYS [recruiting profile], as it usually is for redshirt juniors who still have a recruiting profile linked after their name. Ways is the last survivor of Brady Hoke's disastrous wide receiver recruiting and seems no closer to the field than he was a couple years ago. He generated next to no spring buzz, which is especially bad news given the fireworks brigade that followed the two freshmen through spring, and the other two freshmen through fall.
When he did pop up it wasn't good news either. He had a couple spring game dorfs:
He ran a four yard route on third and five; he messed up his footwork so badly on a back-shoulder fade that both of his feet were out of bounds on a potential touchdown.
This is a disappointment. Last year's preview had heard enough about Ways to project him as the #3 outside receiver despite a foot injury that prevented him from participating in either the Ford Field open practice or the spring game. He technically may have been that, but in reality the #3 outside WR was nobody. Crawford got the most usage with four catches, all in garbage time. Every meaningful WR target went to the two seniors. This lone clip shows you over 90% of Ways's 2016 receiving yards:
Ways will get a crack at some playing time since he's on the two deep almost by default, and he'll either establish himself as a 15-20 catch guy who's worth keeping around or he'll be grad transferring.
SLOT: BESPOKE SWISS ROUTES
Route Artisan™ [Fuller]
GRANT PERRY missed three games, Michigan's bowl practices, and all of spring practice with his legal issues. This preview still has him atop the depth chart because he is secretly pretty dang good. His touchdown against Florida where he won inside against inside leverage on the goal line remains the canonical Grant Perry thing:
Perry runs routes that occasionally force the observer to kiss his fingers like he's just created the perfect Bolognese. He is a true Route Artisan™.
He's come a long way from the Utah game last year, when he was more or less responsible for two interceptions because of terrible routes. (CC: all the freshmen above.) He had a breakout Citrus Bowl and carried that over to 2016, emerging into one of those reliable underneath targets with enough shake and savvy to get open in tight spaces. This one against Hawaii was my favorite, as Perry feints in and out before finally breaking to the corner:
Perry has a subtlety to his movements that gets the opposition to bite, sometimes spectacularly. And his long speed might be underrated:
Perry is not a huge person but he's a determined blocker. He spectacularly cleared the way for Darboh on his tunnel screen touchdown, impacting three different Buffaloes over the course of 50 yards:
But just as his season began to build momentum he derailed it in East Lansing. Replacing him in the lineup was nobody, more or less, and that's why he's listed first in the slot. When Perry returned he was a major factor against Ohio State. Michigan correctly anticipated that Jake Butt would get overplayed and turned to Perry when they needed conversions. He delivered.
He's going to do similar work this fall.
It didn't take long for Perry's return to catch the eye in practice. Webb picked him out as a riser despite the missed time and brutal competition because he's "such a precision route runner" and "QBs know Grant Perry will be where he's supposed to be." Later he referenced Perry again, offering up a bonafide prospectin' nickname: "Ol' Reliable".
Perry's ability to set people up and get open will make him an asset underneath and in the redzone. He's now the most experienced option by a long shot despite the suspension and should at least double his 13 catches from a year ago. If the mass of humanity competing for snaps was not so roiling you could project 40 or 50 catches, but it is.
This was about to get crowded anyway, and then Michigan added a walk-on with a real shot. With four or five guys pressing for snaps on the outside, one of whom—Martin—is a great fit in the slot, snaps here are going to be hard to come by. It's best to have a niche.
Speaking of: EDDIE MCDOOM [recruiting profile] was Michigan's designated jet sweep guy a year ago, a role in which he was very good. PFF had him +6 on the ground in limited time; UFR wasn't too far behind. He averaged ten yards a carry on 16 opportunities and gave off a Steve Breaston aura at times:
McDoom was very much a stunt casting, though. He was barely involved in the passing game aside from a badass catch in the opener:
After Hawaii he had just three catches: a hitch against UCF, an out against Maryland, and the diabolical jet counter above. Limited involvement in the passing game is so normal amongst freshman WRs that it's banal, and now's the bit in the preview were I talk about McDoom emerging into a 20-30 catch guy in year two. That is within the realm of the possible, but the competition in the slot is suddenly brutal and McDoom hasn't drawn any mention as an option on the outside. He could easily get buried.
McDoom hasn't drawn a ton of talk until recently. He's "picked up the pace" per 247, but even that update makes it sounds like he's the kind of guy they want to get cheap yards with, not a centerpiece. McDoom is likely to maintain his status as the edge runner du jour and add at least a few actual downfield catches, if only so his entry doesn't telegraph Michigan's intentions so baldly. Anything more than that is difficult to project.
maybe this one can be Sugar Schoen[Fuller]
Redshirt freshman walk-on NATE SCHOENLE came out of nowhere this spring. One moment he was not even the walk-on WR fave-rave of people who have such things—that would be 6'6" Simeon Smith, who recently left the team. The next, Harbaugh was telling the assembled media that Schoenle was grading out as Michigan's top receiver.
He started delivering on the chatter in the spring game, first getting open on a crossing route to convert third and long...
...and then getting a step on Metellus on a wheel route that kicked off the Maize team's winning touchdown drive:
Those were the two highest leverage moments of Peters's spring game and he gravitated towards Schoenle. Says somethin' about somethin', that.
Schoenle might have more upside than Just Another Walk-on Slot Receiver. He was the WR corps' top performer in two of the three agility drills (the L drill and the 60 yard shuttle) and second to Peoples-Jones in the third. He was in fact the best on the team in the two drills he won. In high school he topped out at 11.39 in the 100 meter dash, and his coach claims he's got a sub-4.5 40. (Given the 100 he's probably a 4.6 guy.) Skepticism might be warranted but his coach has been on point so far:
“Nate’s a late bloomer but his upside is pretty steep, so they’re getting a pretty good preferred walk-on candidate,” said Gabriel Richard coach Mike Girskis. “He’s got fantastic speed, decent size and he’s working really hard in the weight room. His potential is exceptionally high from what I can see; I think he’s going to start as a project and wind up a steal.”
His senior highlights include a number of impressive catches where he adjusts to badly thrown balls, and that must be fairly representative of his hands if he's grading out so well. Speight mentioned him out of nowhere for that reason back in spring:
Nate Schoenle [had] an unbelievable catch today. I mean, Schoenle has been turning a lot of heads this spring."
Schoenle got a few plays against Hawaii as Michigan ran out the clock—for God knows what reason someone posted his contributions to Youtube—but is probably still a redshirt freshman since he did not appear afterwards. He'll play. He may not get much run because of Michigan's depth, but he does provide a downfield element out of the slot at 6'2" that his competitors do not. Also he is a "Harbaugh favorite." Look for him to get his shot, and in meaningful time.
NATE JOHNSON got moved to corner about a week ago and is addressed on defense.