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An Early Look At 2017 Michigan Football: Wide Receivers Preview

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NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Personnel

Who’s definitely leaving? Two big ‘uns: Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. So long, guys, we’ll miss ya.

Who might, or might not, be around? We came so close to having a pretty clear-cut picture this time. Alas, Grant Perry has gotten himself indefinitely suspended, and it’s not clear if or when he’ll be back on the team. I’m assuming that he’ll end up getting kicked off, but who knows.

As for recruiting, Michigan is still chasing Nico Collins, who will be a Signing Day decision.

So, who’s definitely going to be in town, fighting to start? This is definitely a crowded field, to be honest, and very similar to the running back situation.

First off, veterans Maurice Ways and Drake Harris will have the best chance of their careers to win starting jobs. Young guys Kekoa Crawford, Eddie McDoom, and Nate Johnson are talented second-year players. And incoming freshmen Donovan Peoples-Jones, Brad Hawkins, Tarik Black, and hopefully Nico Collins are in town to steal playing time as well.

Talent? Check. Depth? Check. 23 catches at the collegiate level? Um, check.

The Depth Chart

A complete shot in the dark as to who will start: I’ll cheat here a little bit and choose three: Kekoa Crawford, Brad Hawkins and Tarik Black.

Right on their heels: In all seriousness, not to sound like a cop-out, but everybody’s going to have a very good shot to start. There’s size (Harris, Ways, Black, and Collins, hopefully), speed (Johnson, Dooooom) and a few guys with a solid blend of both (Kekoa Crawford, Brad Hawkins, DPJ). Depending on who plays the best in 2017, Michigan could be looking like a Big 12 transplant or an NFL factory.

But, probably an NFL factory.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State
Pretty soon, Darboh will be doing this in the NFL.
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Eight Questions

Will Donovan Peoples-Jones be an immediate star? Hey, no pressure, kid. I do expect DPJ to see the field against Florida, and he’ll probably be used a lot as a deep threat.

Does Michigan land Collins? Getting Nico Collins from Alabama would make for a couple huge commitments (literally, with Tarik Black at 6’4”, Nico at 6’5”) in the 2017 class. They probably won’t get quite as much hype or attention as DPJ, but both are phenomenal in their own right.

Will Hoke’s holdovers continue his terrible track record? Let’s be honest, Hoke had a somewhat difficult time recruiting wide receivers. (Thanks for Amara and Jehu, though.)

Now, Maurice Ways and Drake Harris are the last two Hoke commits in the program - and I’m slightly less than optimistic that they grab starting roles. Still, they’ll have opportunities.

How long will Brad Hawkins go under the radar? DPJ will get his love. Nico Collins will get his love, too, assuming he commits to U-M on Signing Day, from the state of Alabama, after fans have been hearing his name for months and months on end. And I’ve been giving Tarik Black a lot of love lately, as well. So love all around.

But Brad Hawkins seems to slip through the cracks for the most part, even though his prep school highlights show - not just a prospect - but a legit college receiver already with blazing speed and awesome leaping ability. A lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised when he steps onto the field.

Does Doom have more to his game than the jet sweep? I would certainly hope so. It would make his jet sweep more deadly, for one. It would also get him on the field more, for another. And it would give us more reasons to shout “Dooom!” for thirds.

Simple: who has a good track record of catching the ball? Here’s a not particularly fun fact: out of all of Michigan’s wide receivers with 10 or more catches last year, nobody had a catch rate better than 60%. Michigan was bailed out in that regard by Jake Butt, Khalid Hill, and the running backs.

To simplify this whole race for playing time just a little bit - every last one of these guys are athletes, but whoever shows the best hands is going to be a very good bet for early playing time and leaving an imprint (hehe) on the offense.

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Could a walk-on end up making an impact? I’ll mention walk-ons a couple times in these previews, and this is a position where Michigan has a really good one who deserves a shout-out.

Simeon Smith, a preferred walk-on in 2016, has a really similar game to Nico Collins and Tarik Black: he’s downright huge (6’6”, 210) and has a rare blend of soft hands, body control and physicality. Harbaugh’s brought in a few other walk-ons who are decent prospects but lack enough speed to end up seeing the field. Smith, though, is worth highlighting early.

Got a niche? Good, then you’ll get some playing time.

Final Verdict

We’re going to miss Amara and Jehu, but this is a position that needed some new blood. As it turns out, we’re about to get a full-blown transfusion.

There might be some early bumps in the road, and your guess is as good as mine who makes it out of September (or October, or November) with a starting spot. One thing about Jim Harbaugh is he plays his offensive depth, so I’m sure we’re going to see most of these guys regardless. And whoever can claim a niche of some sort, no matter how predictable that may be for us sitting at home, is probably going to get some playing time sooner than later.

The main takeaway, though, is this: Michigan is about to hand its offense a full arsenal of weapons, and Florida is in for a few surprises come September.