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Jonesin’ for a Breakout

The nation’s No. 1 wide receiver recruit is off to a historically slow start, and that can’t continue

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Michigan Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

I’m writing this about 36 hours removed from Saturday’s frustrating, unacceptable, disappointing and sickening loss to Big Brother, and I think most of the writers here agree that there are no easy answers. Ed’s post game article hits on this perfectly. The defense, again, was fantastic, but the offense continues to be infuriating outside of Ty Isaac’s start and the second half against Purdue.

Five games into a season that is still filled with potential chances to get back into the thick of things, I want to focus in on what has now become the biggest disappointment so far this season for me personally, and that is the nonexistent impact of the wide receivers from the class of 2017, and specifically Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Tarik Black’s injury has had a major impact, but DPJ was the higher rated recruit, and, according to Rivals and Scout, the No. 1 receiver in the country. While Alabama’s Henry Ruggs was 247’s top pick, Peoples-Jones was rated higher on their composite.

Through five games, the homegrown product only has 3 catches for 60 yards and no scores. Extrapolated over the course of a 13-game season, you’re looking at a first-year stat line of 8 catches for 156 yards. That’s unacceptable, particularly within the context of Michigan’s current receiving problems. Presumably the opportunities should be there for DPJ, but they haven’t materialized. What’s weirdest is that clearly the team wants to get him the ball as evidenced by attempted end-arounds and his responsibilities returning punts. This kid has the potential to be a play-maker, we’ve all seen it.

I went back 10 years looking at the 247, Rivals and Scout rankings to find the top-ranked wide receiver according to each service for the given year. This list extends back to 2008 and Julio Jones. The results were admittedly quite troubling. Out of 19 possible players to qualify for this comparison (including DPJ), and taking into consideration those who were red-shirted with injures, Peoples-Jones finds himself in a troubling space. Ranking by receptions with yardage used as a tiebreaker, you get this:

Player, Year (Receptions, Yards, Touchdowns)

  1. Calvin Ridley, 2015 (89 - 1045 - 7)
  2. Sammy Watkins, 2011 (82 - 1219 - 12)
  3. Laquon Treadwell, 2013 (72 - 608 - 5)
  4. Robert Woods, 2010 (65 - 792 - 6)
  5. Julio Jones, 2008 (58 - 924 - 4)
  6. Juju Smith-Schuster (54 - 724 - 5)
  7. Demetris Robertson (50 - 767 - 7)
  8. Speedy Noil, 2014 (46 - 583 - 5)
  9. Travis Rudolph, 2014 (38 - 555 - 4)
  10. Deon Cain, 2015 (34 - 582 - 5)
  11. Dorial Green-Beckham, 2012 (28 - 395 - 5)
  12. Trey Meteyor, 2011 (17 - 148 - 1)
  13. Ruben Randle, 2009 (11 - 173 - 2)
  14. Donovan Peoples-Jones, 2017 ( 8* - 156* - 0)
  15. Preston Williams, 2015 (7 - 158 - 2)
  16. Robert Foster, 2013 (6 - 44 - 0)
  17. Henry Ruggs, 2017 (3 - 32 - 3)
  18. Ricky Seals-Jones, 2013 (RS INJURED)
  19. Kyle Prater, 2010 (RS INJURED)
NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Kickoff-Alabama vs Florida State Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, something could click and he climbs up the leaderboard, but it’s difficult to even say there have been real glimpses. He’s only netted receptions in 2-of-5 games and has only one multi-catch game. While he may not have the size of Tarik Black or Nico Collins (who has also been a ghost), and he’s not as polished as Black, there’s a reason why DPJ was almost the consensus No. 1 recruit at his position and why he was so highly touted as a five-star.

He’s big, strong, fast and has elite body control. Look at his high school tape or some of his punt returns this year. This is a world class athlete who runs more like a running back than a receiver with the ball in his hands, but isn’t being put in the right situations to maximize his impact.

I’m not at practice and I don’t know where he’s at with the playbook, but something has to change here. While solid, Grant Perry is more of a third-down security blanket than game-changing talent, and Kekoa Crawford has failed to live up to some of the promise he flashed at the end of 2016. I thought DPJ would break out in the wake of Black’s injury, but that hasn’t been the case. That’s on the coaches.

Going back to the list of other No. 1 receivers coming out of high school, Peoples-Jones finds himself within a subset of players that never fully realized the potential many expected when they stepped onto campus. While Ruben Randle had a solid career at LSU and Green-Beckham was a fairly productive player when he wasn’t allegedly being a garbage human, you’d prefer to see #9 closer to the Deon Cain or Travis Rudolph levels of production.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The last two seasons have seen distinguished production from Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt, so I don’t buy the argument that this offense can’t get pass-catchers the numbers they want. We’ve seen it. DPJ’s production has been so low though, it’s hard to say what exactly we should be seeing more of. I firmly believe he needs at least one end-around or wildcat carry a game and at least a couple opportunities to catch a screen pass or a slant in space. If the route-running or downfield awareness are not where they need to be, the coaches need to figure that out. In the meantime, give him the damn ball where he can use his physical gifts to get to the second level and beyond.

The Wolverines have to avoid a slump against Indiana because they’re two weeks away from a potential season-altering game against Penn State. Getting Peoples-Jones going this week would go a long way in setting up a terrific back half of the season. I’ve been a believer since Week 1, and I’m not ready to waver yet. This kid’s got all the talent in the world and it’s time for this offensive staff to get out of their own way and let him make some plays.