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Michigan Spring Football Rundown: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Today's Spring Game analysis takes a look at Wide Receivers and Tight Ends,

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

If there's one thing all of us Michigan football fans know, it's that Devin Gardner had a rough year getting the ball out of his hands and to his receivers. He went from 2,960 yards, 21 TDs, and 11 INTs in 2013 to 1,896 yards, 10 TDs, and 15 INTs. But, we're not here to debate Devin Gardner all over again; this is about what we may be able to expect out of a receiving corps that saw its productivity reduced by 1,000 yards from one season to the next. So here's a look at some of the receivers and tight ends heading into 2015...

Tight Ends

Tight End is my personal favorite position on the field, and it's the one that contributed a great deal to Michigan's National Championship in '97. In recent years, we've seen the position not utilized as much as in years past. Now, with HARBAUGH! one can expect to see the position rise to prominence once again.

The Man: Jake Butt

No. 88 | Junior | 6' 6" | 248 lbs.

(Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

The uber-talented junior has faced a lot in his short time at Michigan; a coaching change and an ACL injury is enough to fill anyone's career. As a freshman, Butt started in eight games and tallied 20 catches for 235 yards and couple TDs. After tearing his ACL, he rehabbed like a madman and came back in the second game of 2014, going for 211 yards and two TDs the rest of the way. That was frustrating to watch, as it was clear that he would become a beast if only he were used more often. At 6' 6" and 248 pounds, he's your prototypical tight end and his play on the field has shown it. Expect him to be even more of a featured weapon with Jim Harbaugh helming the program.

The Up-and-Comer: Khalid Hill

No. 80 | Junior | 6' 2" | 252 lbs.

The 6' 2" 252 pound junior did not see any playing time as a freshman and has seen a total of only six games, starting four. He has only 37 yards under his belt, but mostly due to the fact that he tore his ACL after only six games into the 2014 season, which means he will also be unavailable for spring football. He last saw playing time against Rutgers, when he caught one reception for twelve yards. Hill is all upside, and working in tandem with Jake Butt could give defenses nightmares.

The Unproven Commodity: Ian Bunting

No. 94 | Sophomore | 243 lbs. | 6' 7"

Bunting hasn't played at all for the Wolverines. He was a big-time recruit who will eventually be able to use his 6' 7" frame to do some wonderful things on the field, but he will still need to add a little weight if he wants to be a dominant force.

The Mountain: A.J. Williams

No. 84 | Senior | 285 lbs. | 6' 6"

(Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

Williams is a mountain of a man at 6' 6" and 285 pounds, but is more of the blocking kind of TE rather than the pass catching, TD scoring, type of guy. Either way, his 36 appearances at the position make him a valuable commodity under Michigan's new coaching staff, but everyone would like to know if he can be more than just a blocker in the run game--he's caught only five passes for 35 yards and one touchdown in his career. Here's to hoping that his presence on the field isn't a dead giveaway for defenses to focus on the running back.

It will also be interesting to see if his status as a senior will push him to not only perform well, but to help mentor someone like Bunting...and the incoming Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.

Wide Receivers

Look, the offensive output at every position really suffered, and the wide receiver corps was no different. With Devin Funchess the go-to player, all others were left looking in, even if there were flashes of ability. It's no stretch to say that things are going to be much different in 2015. There are twelve men listed as wide receiver on the roster, but here are the guys I think will have an early impact.

The Untapped Potential: Jehu Chesson

No. 86 | Senior | 6' 3" | 207 lbs.

(Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

Receptions Yards Average TDs
2013 13 213 16.4 1
2014 14 154 11 0
Total 27 367 13.6 1

So, his 2013 stats are a little better than in 2014, but that's probably true across the board for all offensive players. He finished 2014 as the number three receiver in yards (154), but he will no doubt move up to the number two position behind the gentleman below...

The Heir Apparent: Amara Darboh

No. 82 | Senior | 6' 2" | 216 lbs.

(Credit: Rick Ostentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

After playing four games at wideout in 2012, Darboh missed the entire 2013 season with a foot injury. In 2014, Darboh's 36 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns put him second behind Devin Funchess. I'll wait right here while you go and find someone who is going to be better. The consensus seems to be that Amara Darboh will be the featured man on the outside.

This Guy: Freddy Canteen

No. 17 | Sophomore | 6' 1" | 185 lbs.

(Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Canteen recorded 5 receptions for 22 yards and one touchdown in 2014. Under-recruited, but talented, Canteen can fill the void left by Jeremy Gallon in the slot. Canteen may not be the fastest guy on the team, but speed isn't a prerequisite for the slot position; you just need hands and an ability to run the routes.

The Beanpole: Drake Harris

No. 14 | Sophomore | 6' 4" | 174 lbs.

Harris didn't play at all in 2014, but don't think for one second that he won't look to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he decommitted from Michigan State and became a Wolverine. More bulk would be great, but if he's healthy and can catch, he could be a fan favorite when he does get his chances. Plus, he supposedly runs a 4.4 40, so hopefully we can see him break some routes wide open.

The Dancer: Dennis Norfleet

No. 23 | Senior | 5' 7" | 168 lbs.

(Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

THIS IS GOING TO BE THE YEAR!!!! We've said that every year for what seems to be an eternity. Hype, hope, and disappointment can pretty much sum up Norfleet's career with the Wolverines. As a receiver in 2014 he tallied 15 catches for 111 yards. In rushing, where all of the hope and hype started, he mustered 9 attempts for 64 yards. But, he ranks no. 1 in kickoff returns at Michigan, with 2,203, so there's that. But, he has given us brief glimpses of what he could be when used a receiver.

This really could be the year that Norfleet has a real impact. He's small enough and fast enough to get lost among the big uglies, so perhaps Harbaugh and his staff will recognize this and turn the diminutive young man into a tremendous mismatch.


Stay tuned to MnB for a look into who the breakout wide receiver/tight end may be in 2015.