Jeremy Gallon may be the physically smallest player that MIchigan lost this offseason, but the hole he leaves in his place is huge. Gallon was Michigan's do-everything receiving option. Capable on jet sweeps and deep routes, a master of route running and finding the soft spot in a zone defense, Gallon was perhaps the only player that could still fly under the defenses radar on his way to setting a Big Ten single game receiving yard record.
Michigan also loses Drew Dileo, who lacked the overall production of Gallon but spent the last few years playing the security blanket role. He was who Michigan threw to when it absolutely needed a catch, and his work in the small windows of underneath coverage was exceptional.
These two short receivers have burned their names into Michigan lore and provided fans with a number of great moments. Now it is up to an entirely different looking group of players to push Michigan's passing offense into the future.
What will all of this end up looking like.
Michigan's new coordinator has been discussed ad nauseum when it comes to his impact on the offensive line and the run game, but Michgian's passing attack stands to change a bit as well. Namely, where players fit and how Michigan can best allocate its resources.
Tight End is still thin. Devin Funchess is clearly not a tight end — at least in the traditional sense where he is the type of player you want to line up on the line — and Jake Butt will likely miss substantial time this season because of an ACL injury. AJ Williams is still around, Keith Heitzman is now on offense as the latest position switch to TE, and Michigan has a number of H- and U-back options to experiment with. But does Michigan have the slot receivers to spread things out? DaMario Jones is coming off a redshirt, Freddy Canteen enrolled early, and Dennis Norfleet is now fully a slot receiver (for the love of god somebody give him the damn ball in space already), but that depth chart is about as proven and confidence inspiring as the tight end
Michigan has a lot of big bodies on the outside, and Devin Funchess is versatile enough to move around, but Michigan's spring practice is going to be about figuring out just what types of offensive calls this roster is able to support. The Wolverines don't have the roster (and thankfully, the inclination) to go heavy, and the same can be said for going ultra-spread. What is the right balance? It will depend on what players announce themselves this spring and in the fall.
Who Do We Know
Devin Funchess. He goes from being nominally a tight end last year to Michigan's number one receiving threat, and a damn effective one at that. Funchess looked good in his shift outside last year, showcasing the kind of route running that combined with his size and speed made him a matchup nightmare for even corners, much less safeties and linebackers.
Can he be that effective as the clear number one option? Did the threat of Gallon across from him open up things that otherwise might not have been there? Can he avoid the drops this time around? Michigan needs him to step up and thrive even as the focal point of opposing defensive game plans. He has the physical talent to do so. He just needs to work on his consistency.
The Next Big Thing
Congrats to Amara Darboh for winning this honor two years running. The big-bodied receiver was turning heads in practice a year ago before a broken foot sidelined him for the year. After having a redshirt year to recover, Darboh should have every opportunity to step in and compete for one of the starting outside receiver roles. Michigan used a combination of Jehu Chesson, Jeremy Jackson, and Funchess outside opposite Gallon a year ago, and getting Darboh back will certainly help MIchigan deal with the loss of Gallon. Darboh looks to be the full package at receiver, a bigger kid capable of making an impact blocking and threatening over the top.
Of course there is a wildcard. Drake Harris enrolled early this winter and will be getting his first run with the team this spring. At 6'4 180lbs, Harris has the kind of length and athleticism to be a home run threat for Michigan's offense. If he can bounce back from the injury that sidelined him for his senior year of high school, he could work his way into the rotation this spring.
Other Names To Watch
Jehu Chesson - A bowling ball of a blocker, Chesson struggled at times with the finer points of being a receiver. However, the athleticism is certainly there and with some additional maturation as a player Chesson could be a monster.
Dennis Norfleet - Criminally under-utilized in his first two years on campus. Let's hope Nussmeier is more comfortable using the pocket-sized, pinball slot receiver than Al Borges was.
Khalid Hill/Wyatt Shallman/Sione Houma - Michigan has a handful of not-quite-fullbacks and not-quite-tight-ends at its disposal. How do they fit in the passing offense and can any of them paper over the deficiencies at tight end?
Jaron Dukes/Csont'e York - Can either make a move at playing time after a redshirt year in the program?
Freddy Canteen/DaMario Jones - Does Michigan have an old-school Michigan sized slot receiver on the roster that can play right now?
What Does It Mean
Despite losing one of the best receivers in program history, Michigan looks to be okay on the outside. Funchess is still around and should be ready for the increased pressure that comes along with being the number one guy. Getting Darboh back in the lineup next to an older Chesson should keep Michigan in good shape on the outside.
The issue comes in just what Michigan has and just what it is able to do inside at the tight end and slot receiver position. The Wolverines need to figure out what they have and how best to structure the offense with a diverse range of players that don't have much in the way of proven production. This spring is about figuring out which of those guys are ready to contribute so that Michigan can go full speed ahead with a plan this fall. The talent is likely there. Michigan has to find out if it is ready.