2012 Michigan Season Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Hopefully Roy Roundtree can come close to replicating his form during the game against Illinois in 2010, when he set Michigan's All-Time single game receiving yardage record (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images).
2012 Michigan Season Preview
* Defensive Line
* Offensive Line

Michigan's certainly had some prolific receivers in recent memory; guys like David Terrell, Marquise Walker, Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, and Adrian Arrington were all excellent playmakers who made it easy for quarterbacks to put up good numbers. In Rich Rodriguez's first two years, no one really stood out at the position--and that can be attributed, in part, to not having anyone with the ability to get them the ball--but Roy Roundtree emerged from the slot receiver position as Denard Robinson's favorite target in 2010. Last year, Roundtree regressed a bit and Denard turned to Junior Hemingway as his go-to target. Hemingway--a powerful receiver with deceptively good leaping ability--turned in a memorable senior season capped with a two touchdown, MVP performance in the Sugar Bowl.

With the departures of Hemingway (who was, and is, very underrated) and Darryl Stonum (who made too many bad decisions and was kicked off of the team), there aren't any proven receivers on the roster. Jeremy Gallon has shown promise and Roundtree did have that memorable season in 2010--72 receptions, 955 yards, and 7 touchdowns--but neither had the type of season last year that warrants any significant optimism for the position this year. With Denard's inconsistency as a passer, a go-to target would be an incredible luxury, but there probably aren't any receivers on the roster that have the talent to be a top-tier guy like some of the elite Michigan receivers in the past decade or so. Still, Michigan's hoping that it can cobble together a decent enough receiving corps to make Denard comfortable. Between a group of unproven outside receivers, some relatively dependable slot receivers, four promising freshmen, and a lone, veteran tight end, there are plenty of guys who could make an impact this season.

Outside Receiver

Starters: Roy Roundtree (Sr.) 6'0",180lbs, Jerald Robinson (So.) 6'1, 215lbs

Backups: Devin Gardner (Jr.) 6'4, 203lbs, Jeremy Jackson (Jr.) 6'3, 204lbs, Amara Darboh (Fr.) 6'2, 220lbs

Roy Roundtree's drastic regression production-wise was disappointing--after all, he did come into 2011 with big expectations--but it's not incredibly surprising. Roundtree's skill-set seems more suited for the slot and he absolutely thrived in Rodriguez's offense; catching dink-and-dunk passes off of bubble screens, slants, and the like, as well as finding himself wide open up the seam as terrified safeties focused on Denard's legs. In hindsight, a drop in production was certainly predictable -- partially due to Denard's struggles in a new system, partially because Roundtree would be moving to the outside and running completely different routes, and partially because he might have maxed out his potential in Rich Rod's offense back in 2010. Whatever the factors, the drop-off was stark: he only had 19 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns. His last-second touchdown catch against Notre Dame was one of the most memorable plays of the year, but otherwise, Roundtree really struggled in Al Borges's new offense.

Roundtree should be more productive this season, the only question is how much. He's not going to be able to be a star as an outside receiver -- he's not very tall and doesn't have elite speed -- but he'll be Michigan's best option at the position, so he'll likely see the most targets from Robinson. Roundtree runs routes well and will probably be used in a much different manner than Junior Hemingway was last year, running shorter slants, curls, and other quick routes. That would likely benefit Denard as well, as he's been better with shorter, easier throws in the past. Regardless of his lack of production last year and regardless of his low ceiling, Roundtree will be the top target in Michigan's passing game--out of the outside receivers, at least--and that, more than anything else, will be why he has a better season this year.

There are a few guys who could start opposite Roundtree this year. Gallon has played on the outside a little bit in the past, but at 5'8, he's not well-suited to spend the majority of his time out there. Jerald Robinson received the most hype in the spring and didn't wind up doing much in the spring game. He's a redshirt sophomore who hasn't caught a pass in his Michigan career, so Robinson is a huge unknown at this point. He's the projected starter because, well, who else is going to start? Devin Gardner is a very intriguing prospect: he is splitting time between quarterback and receiver, so to count on him to start is asking a bit much. Gardner's size, athleticism and speed were apparent during his cameo appearances at quarterback, so moving to receiver shouldn't be too difficult. With the extreme lack of information regarding fall practices, no one knows how good he is as a receiver, but my hunch is that he'll make a few big plays at the position, especially with jump balls in the red zone. Expecting more than that -- consistently contributing and being one of Michigan's top receivers -- is probably a bit too much to ask. Jeremy Jackson is the other veteran outside receiver; he's tall and blocks well, but doesn't have the speed to be a top target.

Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson are the two receivers that Michigan recruited for 2012, and both figure to play on the outside. While Chesson is very skinny and probably destined for a redshirt, Darboh is stepping in at an impressive 6'2, 220lbs and should be able to play right away if needed. He's basically the only guy who's received any sort of positive mention during fall camp (and even then, it was only a quote or two), so maybe he'll be able to contribute at some point this season.

Outside of tight end (which will be previewed later in the article), outside receiver is the biggest question mark for Michigan's offense. Roundtree is the nominal star by virtue of being the only one with any experience, but he could have a decent senior season with more targets from Denard. Gardner is the wildcard here; no one has seen him at receiver and he has the skills to make a huge impact, but then again, he could fail to make an impact entirely.

Grade: C (Starters C+, Backups C-)

Slot Receiver

Starter: Jeremy Gallon (Jr.) 5'8, 187lbs

Backup: Drew Dileo (Jr.) 5'10, 180lbs

Gallon, Dileo, and the now-departed Martavious Odoms were each recruited to Michigan for a specific purpose--playing in the slot, catching bubble screens, and working within the context of a spread offense--and with Al Borges and his West Coast offense, their position is being gradually phased out of the offense. Jeremy Gallon, to his credit, has performed pretty well -- one could make a case that he was the second-best receiver on the team behind Hemingway last year. Gallon did catch that jump ball against Notre Dame, but largely does his work on catch-and-run plays like screens, hitches, and short outs. The coaches like him enough to give him quite a bit of playing time, and he's actually the top returning receiver in terms of yardage and receptions. He's obviously not very tall, but he's very quick and runs with good vision after the catch. Gallon doesn't have elite speed and isn't a threat to score every time he touches the ball, but he's probably Michigan's most dependable receiver along with being a good punt returner.

Dileo hasn't made as much of an impact during his Michigan career because he's been buried on the depth chart. He did score two touchdowns and caught nine passes, but with the departure of Odoms, he'll see more playing time behind Gallon this year. Dileo isn't a burner either, but he, like Gallon, is quick, runs good routes, and is a good blocker. Dileo's also the holder for field goals, so he does have very good hands. Besides the two juniors, running back Justice Hayes could also see some time as the slot receiver after taking a redshirt last year. Theoretically true freshman Dennis Norfleet could as well, but he's probably not going to see much of the field this year outside of returning kicks.

Even though they weren't recruited by the current staff, Michigan does have some decent slot receivers. Gallon doesn't have the physical tools to be the featured receiver in the passing game and he'll still manage to catch thirty or forty passes and score a few touchdowns. Dileo will see an expanded role this year as well. Now if the coaches could run some bubble screens...

Grade: B- (Starter B+, Backup C)

Tight End

Starter: Brandon Moore (Sr.) 6'5, 268lbs

Backups: A.J. Williams (Fr.) 6'6, 283lbs, Devin Funchess (Fr.) 6'5, 229lbs

Tight end was a position that was basically neglected during the Rodriguez era, and it's starting to show: Kevin Koger's departure leaves Brandon Moore as the only scholarship tight end outside of the two freshmen recruited by Hoke. (Technically Jordan Paskorz is on scholarship as well, but he's a converted defensive end who probably won't play very much this year). Moore--a senior--is unproven; he only caught one pass last year. Moore was a pretty highly-regarded recruit, but his lack of production thus far is disconcerting. Outside of that, there isn't much to say because, well, he hasn't done anything in his career and has very little experience.

Those two freshmen tight ends are very interesting players -- A.J. Williams is huge and will basically play as a sixth offensive lineman, and Devin Funchess is basically a jumbo-sized receiver who's growing into the tight end position. Williams will play right away and will essentially be used as an extra tackle in the running game (he was a tackle last year in a run-heavy offense back in high school). Funchess should redshirt, but with the depth at the position, he might not. If he does play, he'll be used in the passing game as a U-Back or split wide as a receiver. These guys, as well as Jake Butt and Khalid Hill (who are committed as part of the Class of 2013), are evidence that the coaching staff would like plenty of tight ends with varied skill-sets, but the two freshmen aren't guys who can step in and make a huge impact right away. There are other tight ends, Paskorz, Ricardo Miller (who has moved from receiver to tight end and back to receiver), and walk-ons like Chris Eddins and Mike Kwiatkowski, but they probably won't see the field much.

Grade: D (Starter D+, Backups D)

--

Michigan's passing game is obviously a concern. Besides Denard's erratic arm and general inconsistency within Al Borges's offense, the receiver and tight end positions are glaring weaknesses. Counting on Roundtree to shoulder the load and turn in a Hemingway-like performance this year is too much to ask after a disappointing junior year, Gallon isn't the type of player who can become a number one guy, and the tight end position is a mess. Denard should improve as a passer because he's more familiar with the offense, but he's not going to get much help from his receiving corps. Since Zach gave the defensive line an overall grade of "C+", this will probably finish as the worst-graded position group on the team.

Grade: C (Starters C+, Backups C-)

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