|Tarik Black||Fr.*||Donovan Peoples-Jones||So.||Grant Perry||Sr.||Chris Evans||Jr.|
|Nico Collins||So.||Oliver Martin||Fr.*||Nate Schoenle||So.*||N/A|
|Ronnie Bell||Fr.||Jake McCurry||Fr.*||Oliver Martin||Fr.*||N/A|
Say it with me: Freshman Wide Receivers Suck. Last year this space faced down an outside WR situation featuring true sophomore Kekoa Crawford and a fleet of freshmen. Numbers were cited. Folks checked the recent history of the highly touted. It was hoped that one of Michigan's four lottery tickets would come good immediately. And one probably did! Then he broke his foot in game three.
Also the sophomore was a complete disaster...
Michigan's opening snap was a bomb in [Crawford's] direction, and hoo boy do I hate this:
Crawford has no idea how to judge this ball. It's in the air, he's staring at it, and he still fades to the sideline like he's Kevonte Martin-Manuel trying to bring in a Jake Rudock seam throw. (YES I AM STILL BITTER ABOUT THIS.) The ball hits about a yard from the sideline, and it's a little short. A ton of wide receivers catch this ball, or at least force a PI out of the DB. Crawford does neither, and I'm immediately reminded of Darryl Stonum. This is the kind of throw where you have given your WR a shot, and it deserves better.
...to the point where he transferred out despite getting the second-most targets of any outside WR last year. It's bad when a returning starter transfers for playing time. On the bright side, it does give me an excuse to post this photoshop.
spiritually pictured: Michigan receiving, 2017 [Seth]
With the lottery ticket sidelined and the sophomore auditioning for an Unnecessary Roughness reboot, Michigan turned to five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was definitely open on several hundred deep shots, half of which were not thrown because of QB or OL malfeasance. The other half sailed forlornly into the East carrying a bunch of damn Elves. Why are we talking about this again?
The combination of youth and a lack of coaching was poison to an already extremely dead passing game. The players hope to repair the youth by being slightly older. The program did get an actual WR coach after a year of pretending Pep Hamilton had anything to do with being that sort of position coach. And yes, for all his many flaws Jim McElwain does have a decade-long tenure as a WR coach in his past. It sounds like he and GA Roy Roundtree are doing some stuff the previous setup was not:
This spring, Martin says, the coaching staff - led by new wide receivers coach Jim McElwain - has made it a point to emphasize point of contact at the line of scrimmage.
Getting clean breaks. Not getting jammed up. Both were issues last season, evident by Michigan's difficulty finding an open receiver.
"Just getting our feet active, swiping hands off of us," Martin said. "They've broken it down from a technical standpoint really well, and we were able to do the releases that we are equipped with."
So stay healthy, get crafty, and-
#Michigan WR Tarik Black sustained a right foot injury at Saturday's practice. He's being evaluated and no definitive time frame has been determined for his return to play.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) August 26, 2018
OUTSIDE WR: STRIKE ME DOWN AND I WILL BECOME MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY AW POOPERS YOU STRUCK ME DOWN AGAIN NVM GG
4 3 So, TARIK BLACK
What are you doing here, bolded alter ego? I'm busy weeping and striking through all the stuff I wrote about Tarik Black.
you know you can just delete that, it's a computer
Please get to the point.
that kind of is the point you're being a little weird
one drinks and weeps and drinks tea at times like this, it is known
oh hey but...
"He'll be out for some weeks," Harbaugh said of Black. "He has a right foot injury. He had one fixed last year, this injury is very similar to the one he had last year. The good news is that both will be fixed. He's being evaluated right now."
"some weeks"? eh? eh? eh?
TARIK "Ol' Santana Guitar Solo" BLACK [recruiting profile] has been hewn down before he can even build up a head of steam and will once again observe Michigan's progress from the sideline. For... a while. An unspecified while. One that if it is indeed similar to last year's injury should take him out for at least eight games and possibly longer.
The amount of suck this contains is lots. Black's 11 catches in his two-and-change games project out to a palpable freshman hit; 8.8 yards per target was nearly two yards better than Michigan's #2 WR in that department. That's a little data we are making big, but also Black just felt like he had The Proverbial It. Every other word in his above recruiting profile was "smooth," thus the prospecting name, and that translated. His touchdown against Florida was a post on which his drift outside seemed to dupe the UF safety into passing him off...
...and when he set up for shorter stuff it was just... smooth, man.
His high school coach got into some detail about what all the smoothness actually translated to on the football field, and we were in the early stages of seeing a college version of that when the above play knocked him out last year:
"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."
There were some freshman dorfs, as there always are...
You said in the game column that you thought there were a bunch of subtle WR screwups that were hurting the offense. Find any?
Yes. Some weren't that subtle. Black twice failed to crack block, once on an Eddie McDoom bubble that he juked back into productivity...
...and once on one of those redzone plays.
But the combination of early productivity, recruiting hype, and program chatter pointed towards a genuine breakout year last year, and talk this year was that Black had maintained his lead over his classmates despite missing all that time at the worst possible juncture. This space was going to project an 800 yard season. Instead it will kick dirt and be sad. I won't bother you with the various hype items he's gathered over the offseason; they would only depress.
[After THE JUMP: Persons who are Available!]
OUTSIDE WR: LARGE MARGE TO BE IN CHARGE?
juuuuuust a bit outside [Eric Upchurch]
So everyone else bumps up a slot and it's take two for the next guy. After Black went out, DONOVAN PEOPLES-JONES [recruiting profile] ascended to the #1 WR role, for what little good that did anyone. Poor Damn Donovan Peoples-Jones.
That was his season: roar past some dude with your patented Five Star Athleticism (with an assist from Michigan's increasingly punishing ground game) and then get overthrown. Or get overthrown and have your arm grabbed.
Or get underthrown and forced out of bounds.
I didn't bother to clip many of these events because inaccurate deep throws are rarely interesting, but there were plenty. There was one that was accurate, and sure enough:
That's what you get for wearing a hoodie! WOO!
The MGoBlog theory that Freshman Wide Receivers Suck barely got tested here because DPJ was not given an opportunity to confirm or dis-confirm this. As the season progressed and the passing game regressed, Peoples-Jones was rarely tasked with anything other than running downfield really fast against little to no safety help. This made sense. With the run game getting steadily better and any throw risking an interception, max-protection play action bombs were the safest and most potentially profitable things around, especially when you had a guy like DPJ laying around. When almost all of those get overthrown and several others are inexplicably not thrown at all, data is thin.
When DPJ did get targeted on shorter stuff he was often very open, whether that was because he demanded respect or it was just smart to play it soft and let Michigan shoot itself in the foot at a later date. He made the catches he was supposed to make and got some bonus yards after:
In a different offense he could have been another freshman lottery ticket who came through. As it is he gets an incomplete.
There were still blips that tended to confirm the freshman WRs theory. Michigan QBs threw a number of drag routes that looked like terrible decisions but were actually reasonable choices—drags are good against man—that didn't get the requisite rubs from Michigan's WR corps. This was not solely or even mostly a DPJ thing, but he did chip in.
There were also flashes of what you hope to get once your five star freshman is no longer a freshman who may or may not suck, like this tough basket catch on some O'Korn improv business:
These were little bits indicating progress typical of a freshman WR; it's just that in DPJ's case he was also the #1 guy getting little bits. This section is surprisingly short despite your author going back and grabbing everything about Peoples-Jones's freshman year (on offense), because despite getting more snaps than any other WR there just wasn't much freshman year to be had.
A revitalized passing game with a strong-armed quarterback should be a godsend for DPJ. If there is one thing DPJ can do, it's get open deep. He was the top receiver in his high school class because he is a capital-A and capital-everything-else ATHLETE:
- "…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."
And if there's one thing Shea Patterson can do, it's nail a guy open on a deep route. It's not too hard to plug Peoples-Jones into various Patterson bombs from a year ago, in your imagination place next to the penguin. Practice reports might help:
"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."
As the designated Go Long guy, Peoples-Jones's sophomore production is high variance. He could be sophomore Braylon, what with the catching all the bombs and scoring all the touchdowns. He could be a seldom-used sideshow as Michigan runs a bunch of RPOs and throws it to their blocky/catchy guys and tries to avoid getting Shea Patterson atomized by bad pass protection. Split it down the middle and you're looking at 600-800 yards, a half-dozen deep shots, and the lingering feeling that Michigan should be getting a little more out of their crazy-talented top WR.
action pictures of Collins are Not Yet Available but Coming Soon [Bryan Fuller]
Also getting bumped up to Above The Fold status is Black and Collins's classmate NICO COLLINS [recruiting profile].This is less a coincidence and more somethin' about somethin' in re: WR recruiting. With the complete demolition of the 2016 WR recruiting class, all that's left on the outside is the four-man 2017 class, a true freshman, and some walk-ons. Much then depends on the other two guys in their second year.
Camp chatter on Collins, a Giant Person, has been uniformly positive, with a couple different reports claiming that Collins is getting more talk than anyone not named Grant Perry. He's featured in three different Webb reports as he "continues to hear raves" and "everyone [he's] spoken two about the offense mentions him."
Michigan pulled his redshirt midseason in the vague hope that might do something to goose the passing game. It did not. Collins caught this hitch against Rutgers...
...and two other balls and that was his year. He displayed some inexperience when he failed to high-point a ball early in the bowl game and turned a third and long conversion into an incompletion. The end.
Despite the scanty on-field evidence there's not much debate about what Collins looks like as a finished product. It's Devin Funchess. Or a petrodactyl. Collins has WINGSPAAAAAAAAN:
Zach Shaw described him after the open practice, and his impression is both 1) similar to mine and 2) the same kind of feeling I had when I first saw Devin Funchess lope improbably onto a football field:
-I see why Nico Collins is getting a lot of fall camp buzz. He's ginormous and moves very fluidly around the field. Seems to have a nice catch radius, too.
No goofy TE business here, though. And fades?
We're gonna have some fades. Collins should be a quality #2 who high-points some stupid stuff but doesn't get quite as open as the other guys and thus exists as a second or third option on most plays. 30-40 catches, a couple of them ludicrous, is the projection.
now wearing 80 fwiw [Eric Upchurch]
The fourth and final member of the heralded 2017 class did manage a redshirt; he is OLIVER MARTIN [recruiting profile], an inside/outside guy with the route chops to play in the slot but size and athleticism that makes him a candidate for the outside. His redshirt was slightly surprising since he was regarded as one of the most polished WR prospects in his class nationwide...
- "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."
...but he was transitioning from Iowa and maybe that jump was a shock to the system. Martin also suffered a (then) unpublicized shoulder injury that slowed him down and nudged him towards that redshirt.
Webb has made a couple positive mentions of Martin but usually as part of a general wide receiver take that mentions a couple other guys first. He still seems like someone Michigan is developing for the future.
This is a bit of a surprise to me since Martin didn't just come in with the above chatter but the second-best WR SPARQ score in his recruiting year. If the talk is true he should have been immediately useful and also high upside; so far the chatter doesn't match the snaps. He must not be doing this regularly:
Camp chatter has occasionally singled out Martin for approving notes, and in a discussion of Michigan WR development Martin said something that's probably true given his tape and Martin's general reticence:
...technique at the line of scrimmage helped set him apart as a recruit. His footwork is terrific, and he uses his hands well.
Michigan's wide receivers struggled to get clean releases at the line of scrimmage against man-to-man defensive backs last year, especially after top receiver Tarik Blackwent down with injury. If a wideout can't get off the line clean and get into his route quickly, the timing of the entire play is shot. Michigan's entire passing game, which ranked 110th in the country last season, suffered because of it.
"I think we're all pretty well-rounded. I think one of my strengths is releases, though other guys are (improving, too)," Martin said. "We saw that as an area of improvement last year, so that was kind of one of our focuses coming into spring ball.
"Getting our feet active, swiping hands off us."
If Martin's back from the injury and has the playbook down he will emerge into something or other. That could be in the slot or on the outside; it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he pushed past Collins at some point. A median expectation is in the 10-20 catches range.
The only other scholarship WR who is not definitely a slot is true freshman RONNIE BELL [recruiting profile]. Bell was a late flier Michigan flipped from a Missouri State basketball commitment after a hugely productive senior year, but he's slight and looks very unlikely to defy Freshman Receivers Suck so it's a redshirt for him and ask again next year.
Long term he might have more upside than you'd expect a random flier pickup to have. He looked like the basketball player he was slated to be at the open practice, bouncing up in the air to display his legitimately rad vertical. Grant Perry:
“He can jump out of the gym. He goes and gets the jump balls. He’s explosive, too. Really fast, good hands. And he’s picked the playbook up really well, really fast. You tell him something and he does it right. That’s good to see.” ...
“I’m rooming with him, and he’s been asking me questions on questions in the hotel at night,” Perry said. “I’ve been quizzing him and drilling him and try to help him. Because that was me four years ago. So, I know the pain. But he’s picked it up really well.”
Bell avoided camps to the point of obtuseness as a recruit, explaining some of the odd shape of his recruitment, and is the son of a former collegiate WR coach; he has a good story as to why he was overlooked, a good highlight film with a number of eyepopping catches, and, uh, well, the WR room isn't very crowded anymore. If he doesn't play it's because he's still in basketball player mode and would get snapped in half like a twig.
When Michigan does reach down to this level of the depth chart it'll be walk-ons, and that is a bit of a concern since they're just
one injury away from on the two-deep. Two guys have names known to Michigan fans: NATE SCHOENLE and JAKE MCCURRY. Schoenle got a fair bit of playing time last year, making four catches and chipping in some blocking here and there. At 6'2" he operated mostly as a jumbo slot but also flashed some potential on the outside:
Another smooth catch and turn upfield in that Purdue game seemed to presage bigger things for him, but for whatever reason he fell off the radar soon after. One major reason: Michigan spent big chunks of the rest of the season with one WR on the field.
Even though Schoenle wasn't able to divert Jim Harbaugh from his Neanderthal nesting instincts his blocking was consistently good, and that's always step one for someone trying to get on the field. His crack blocks on edge runs were effective:
WR #81 top of screen
And I thought this decision on a crack sweep against Air Force was pretty pretty good:
He's lost the initial block so he goes and gets someone to the interior, carving out that lane.
Schoenle isn't going to set secondaries on fire but might have more upside than you think when you hear "walk-on WR" last year's internal combine numbers were released to the public and in that considerably more crowded WR room Schoenle was the top performer in two of three agility drills and second to DPJ in the third; his high school 100M dash was also in the "plausible 4.6 guy" range.
Schoenle didn't seem out of place as a redshirt freshman and has both good size and good testing numbers; 50/50 he graduates from walk-on territory to become an honorary Glasgow this season. With Black's injury 15-20 catches is well within the realm of reason. If Michigan stays healthy and guys like Collins and DPJ come through he could get squeezed back into his peripheral role from 2017; he will see the field. He'll block well on the edge; he'll sit down in zone pockets, that sort of thing. Heady football gym rat stuff.
For his part, McCurry redshirted last year but came up a couple times over the offseason. When Wolverines Wire called out McCurry as a guy to watch after a strong spring session, that assertion was endorsed by various Michigan players on Twitter. That's unusual to say the least. McCurry is likely to remain a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency piece, I'm saying there's a chance...
Probably in the slot, and he'll have to wait a year, because:
SLOT: JUST THROW THE BALL TO THE OPEN GUY PLEASE
DO THIS MORE [Patrick Barron]
Nobody on the roster was more negatively impacted by the chaos in the passing game than GRANT PERRY. Perry was verging on a breakout season with 18 catches through five games; the rest of the way Michigan managed to get him the ball just seven more times. The dropoff isn't easily explained, as Perry maintained his production through the Michigan State game (5 catches, 61 yards) that the non-Purdue version of John O'Korn piloted. Perry evaporated only after that.
The addition of competent quarterbacking, more spread sets, and the much-ballyhooed RPOs should see Perry's production take off. He has always been a Route Artisan who is open damn near every time he runs into a secondary. I had him perfect on routine catches last year and 4/6 on moderate attempts—about par. My chief complaint with Wilton Speight before he got knocked out was his refusal to use Perry as a crutch:
Also an irritant I've mentioned twice already: Speight isn't locking onto his best receiver. This could have been the whole offense:
Surely Grant Perry should be the first read on most plays, but too often in this game a blitheringly wide open Perry was not located. This is two guys on one zone corner with a safety on the next planet, and Speight's staring right at it after a great blitz pickup:
#88 slot WR
I have no idea how he doesn't throw that. Look at this!
That is the easiest read Speight will ever have, and the open guy is the one he should be using as a crutch. WTF! /spikes clipboard
This has been the site's position for two solid years now. Perry hampered his own production with some Very Bad Decisions in East Lansing two years ago but has cleared the bars set for him after being suspended for about a third of his sophomore year and in any situation short of mass chaos would have already had a breakout year. It's not a mirage based on level of competition, as Perry gave the Florida secondary some serious work in the opener:
Perry was the story for me. Perry is extremely legit and Speight trusts him. This was apparent in last year's OSU game and it's apparent here, as there were a couple of third downs where he did his Route Artisan thing and moved the chains. He gets yanked back here and still extends to catch:
He's reliable, he's able to put some dang on it, he's viable downfield, he's going to lead Michigan in catches this year. Probably.
I wish Speight trusted Perry more, actually. When UF went cover zero on that third down after the fumble I saw Perry in the slot and was like YES HIM YES HIM; Speight chose one of those close but not quite fades. Perry torched his opponent for an easy throw over the middle on one of three or four bad Speight decisions on the day. Notably, the next time that guy matched up with Perry on cover zero he gave him three more yards of cushion. Put some respect on it, son!
This followed on from his Giving Of Work to Florida in the Citrus Bowl, where he got a touchdown by winning on a slant versus inside leverage:
Should Michigan and Florida meet in a bowl this year—please God no I don't want to go to Shreveport—the Gator secondary will be displeased. So should large numbers of secondaries leading up to absolutely not that bowl game. Because almost every blip of competent passing offense post-Purdue O'Korn managed was Perry.
Because every offseason features Sam Webb posts where he relays that people inside the program are raving about Perry's metronomic precision. Last year's preview:
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".
-The best receiver in camp thus far has been Grant Perry. One observer told me “Grant has been fantastic.” Release moves, route precision, hands… all of them have been on display.
Because Grant Perry has learned his lesson and is spending his recreation time productively.
Grant and Shea hung/golfed together during summer. That vibe looks to be carrying over to the football field.
You ain't got no OL! THROW IT TO THE SLOT RECEIVER 120 TIMES. FFS.
Perry's main issue with getting a zillion catches, if there is one, which there shouldn't be, is discussed in the next post: Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon. If Michigan finds itself in a situation where they don't have snaps and targets for all three that's great for the team and bad for someone's individual production. Ideally Perry is somewhat limited because Michigan is pounding it on the ground and hitting Gentry over the top for easy scores; in a less ideal world Perry will be heavily depended on to keep the offense on the field and pick up some chunks of his own. In a post-Black world that might be less of a concern. Michigan had some stuff for Perry where he could use his route chops on the outside...
...and unless Michigan does get a breakout year from Collins or Martin you're probably going to see more of that.
Figure on the less ideal world and Perry leading the team in receptions, because he is always open. Look, he's open right now. Throw it to him. FFS.
Perry's backups, such as they are, were addressed in the outside WR group because Michigan's numbers at WR are alarmingly low. OLIVER MARTIN and NATE SCHOENLE are the most likely to see snaps as a third WR that do not go to Perry, with a side of ZACH GENTRY, CHRIS EVANS and DONOVAN PEOPLES-JONES when Michigan wants to get weird or really really stress some safeties.