The biggest development for Michigan's 2012 downfield passing attack just might end up being something that happened a long way from the football field, and months away from the season. Darryl Stonum's last dance with the law and eventual dismissal from the team after sitting out the 2011 season looks to be a huge impediment to the development of Michigan's passing game this year.
Stonum was supposed to be back for a RS-Sr year, his speed and hands were going to be showcased in an offense more suited for his skillset, and he was going to help solidify the position as the 2012 recruits got a chance to develop and the 2013 recruits got a chance to get on campus.
All that is left now is uncertainty.
(Don't worry, we'll be talking about the presumed starters Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon, as well as slot-ninja Drew Dileo in the coming days. This is all about depth or the lack thereof, yo. Also, we are going to hold off on any Gardner to WR speculation until fall camp when this will totally take off again and have everyone celebrating/panicking.)
The most seasoned veteran of the group is junior WR Jeremy Jackson, son of everyone's favorite hyperbole spouting running back coach Fred Jackson. Jackson came to Ann Arbor from Huron HS where he was one of those receivers that starts out as a projected four-star recruit and ends up a meh, three-star.
Still, Jackson found his way onto the field as a freshman, contributing in select spots because of -- you guessed it -- a lack of WR depth. Of course he didn't see much time, and his stat line through two seasons is just 23 catches for 91 yards.
Jackson isn't a burner, but he should be able to contribute as a solid number two-ish option and possession receiver.
The best hope for a down-field threat that was on the roster when classes ended last spring would be the emergence of RS-Soph Jerald Robinson as a viable number one receiver. That, of course, is dependent on his ability to extricate himself from legal trouble that could see him kept off the field.
Outside of that, Robinson has been the one young receiver to get the most practice hype over the past year, and Brady Hoke even mentioned Robinson as a potential down-field threat in the spring. However, Robinson was largely absent from the spring game, which could have something to do with the way the offense was run and the heavy dose of backup quarterbacks. Either way, expectations should be set low for now.
Those are your outside receiver options that were on the team a year ago. That's right, just two of them.
The final two options just stepped on campus as true freshmen, and will be looking to make a big impact from day one.
The first of which is Amara Darboh, a 6'2 receiver out of Iowa that got four-star praise from both Rivals and Scout. While Darboh doesn't flash the skills of a game-changing number one target at receiver, he doesn't really show any glaring weaknesses either, at least according to Magnus at TTB who rated Darboh an 80 and compared him to Adrian Arrington (which, yes please).
The second freshman option has become more and more intriguing over the past few months. Jehu Chesson is a consensus three-star recruit that spent most of his high school career flying under the radar. One of the reasons for this is that Chesson doesn't seem like the type of athlete that is going to do much in the open field after the catch. By all accounts he is a straight-line athlete.
However, it is becoming more and more apparent that Chesson has some solid physical skills with which to work down the field against shorter corners. Chesson is tall and wiry -- 6'3, 180lbs -- with good hands and a history of production in track and field that suggests a real ability to beat coverage deep and make plays in the air. Chesson was a state champion in the 100-meter dash and the 300-meter hurdles, while finishing second in the 110-meter high hurdles.
On top of that, Chesson was recently cited by Sam Webb as having run a 4.4 40-yard dash in off season workouts (H/T: Mgo). Six-foot three receivers that can run that fast and jump aren't easy to come by, and you can consider the hype meter for Chesson turned up a notch given what we have learned about his athleticism this summer. Still, the world is littered with guys who looked good on paper but failed to produce. Wait for fall camp and concrete reports before anointing Chesson as a sure thing.
We know that one of the outside receiver spots will be claimed by Roy Roundtree. We don't know what Roundtree will be able to do with that.
The worst case scenario for this unit is that nobody steps up to take charge and instead the combination of Jackson and Robinson get some snaps on the second team while Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon start the majority of the time on the outside. In this alternate universe, neither of the freshmen are ready to compete. Odds are we would see a lot more gimmicky formations with both Denard and Devin Gardner in the game if this happens. The offense would also most likely struggle as the burden on the run game would be considerably larger. Let's hope this doesn't happen, ok?
Best case scenario? Robinson spends the summer getting things straight off the field while adjusting to an increased role on it and eventually showing ability as a true number one receiver.. Jeremy Jackson plays up to the potential as a solid possession receiver that you thank God for at least 15 times when he makes a must-have catch for a first down. Finally, Jehu Chesson steps up big as a deep threat and is splitting snaps with the starters on the outside by the end of the year.
The truth? It lies somewhere in between. The odds are that Robinson is going to struggle, but there has been enough positive press about his ability on the field to think that he finds a role as at least a solid backup behind Roundtree. Jeremy Jackson should continue to be a good option and will probably win the starting job early on at the second WR position, allowing Gallon to move inside to the slot and Michigan more options to go four wide by bringing on Drew Dileo.
However, I can't get over the potential of Jehu Chesson to step up and provide a down-field threat for the offense. He has the physical skills, and if he is used correctly he could challenge for a good chunk of playing time by the end of the season. Darboh, is most likely the odd-man out. This isn't a bad thing, rather it gives him the opportunity to red-shirt and step into a larger role in 2013.
The Wolverines need a lot of help at wide receiver this fall, but there is potential there on the roster and in the most recent recruiting class. Whether those players step up or not is another story, and will ultimately be a big factor in the ability of Michigan's offense to continue its high level of production in 2012.