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Examining Where Michigan’s Wide Receiver Haul Ranks In The Recruiting Era

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

It was a fairly quiet National Signing Day this year, I think - not just for Michigan, but for most of the country. Certain teams were happy with their last-minute gifts (Michigan, FSU, Alabama), and other teams were not (Georgia, MSU), but regardless of how the day ended there wasn’t any ridiculous drama or grand philosophical conundrums like have happened before. It was a chicken soup kind of day.

For Michigan fans, though, there’s still an interesting question yet to be answered - how great, historically, was this haul of wide receivers? So I decided to do some digging.

We can only look back to 2002, unfortunately, and I also want to try to skirt around a discussion of college production vs. recruiting rankings if I can. After all, we can safely say that Vince Young was one of the greatest college players of all time, regardless of what he did at the next level, and we can also at least try to tackle this question without waiting four or five years to find out how productive Nico Collins, Donovan Peoples-Jones & company end up being in college. So I’ll keep recruiting, and rankings, and high school production separate from college for the purposes of this discussion here.

To do this, I looked at recruiting rankings dating back to ‘02 using the 247Sports Composite. I wanted to find a formula that balanced numbers and rankings in the right way; obviously getting four or five blue-chips is better than getting two five-stars, but the ranking of each player should also be taken into account. So what I did was simple: add up the Composite rankings of every blue-chip wide receiver in a class, for every school dating back to ‘02. That way, a team that added 7 three-star receivers wouldn’t be included, but overall numbers still would be strongly emphasized.

The list below reflects what the best recruiting classes were using that approach. Composite scores for each player are on the right, and the total is in the upper-right-hand corner.

#1. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2017

I didn’t have to look far to find a group that was better, admittedly, than Michigan’s: the Crimson Tide’s 2017 class featured four receivers with a Composite ranking of .9500 or better. That’s just ridiculous.

Jerry Jeudy 6'1" 177 WR (3) ★★★★★ .9878
Devonta Smith 6'1" 160 WR (9) ★★★★ .9679
Henry Ruggs III 6'0" 175 WR (11) ★★★★ .9613
Tyrell Shavers 6'6" 196 WR (12) ★★★★ .9564
Chadarius Townsend 6'0" 190 ATH (6) ★★★★ .9226

Meanwhile, Chadarius Townsend is a guy who’s being looked at as a possible Kenyan Drake-type play-maker on offense, both running and catching the ball, and he could also slide over to defense. I didn’t include him in the total listed above, but he is worth a mention in case he ends up at receiver down the road.

#2. USC Trojans, 2016

USC barely edges out Michigan here thanks to the blue-chippers, but they also had a couple high-three-star kids in this class as well. Again, it’s hard to argue against putting this class ahead of Michigan as well, so my metric seems to be holding up well.

Tyler Vaughns 6'2" 177 WR (3) ★★★★ .9800
Michael Pittman, Jr. 6'4" 209 WR (8) ★★★★ .9645
Trevon Sidney 5'11" 157 WR (26) ★★★★ .9336
Josh Imatorbhebhe 6'2" 205 WR (29) ★★★★ .9294
Keyshawn Young 5'11" 175 WR (67) ★★★ .8789
Velus Jones, Jr. 5'11" 180 WR (78) ★★★ .8727

As an ‘fyi,’ only Michael Pittman caught a pass this year, getting 6 catches for 82 yards.

#3. Michigan Wolverines, 2017

Not including Composite three-star players in this measurement meant that Brad Hawkins’ .8783 wasn’t added to the total, but he was a four-star receiver in 2016’s Composite rankings with a .8997 rating - trailing only Kekoa Crawford and Devin Asiasi among Michigan pass-catchers in that class. If I had included that figure, Michigan’s total would jump up to 4.694, which would be #1.

Donovan Peoples-Jones 6'2" 193 WR (1) ★★★★★ .9922
Tarik Black 6'4" 208 WR (17) ★★★★ .9417
Nico Collins 6'5" 195 WR (23) ★★★★ .9353
Oliver Martin 6'1" 188 WR (28) ★★★★ .9251
Brad Hawkins 6'1" 202 WR (63) ★★★ .8783

Then again, there’s a reason why they say ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics.’

#4. Florida Gators, 2010

Florida’s 2010 class was just nuts, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The wideouts were good, too, even though Will Muschamp would end up wasting them.

Chris Dunkley 5'11" 170 WR (6) ★★★★ .9804
Adrian Coxson 6'2" 194 WR (16) ★★★★ .9383
Solomon Patton 5'10" 175 WR (20) ★★★★ .9279
Quinton Dunbar 6'3" 170 WR (32) ★★★★ .8971
Robert Clark 5'9" 175 WR (115) ★★★ .8451

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that recruiting rankings aren’t, indeed, everything - though of course we already knew that.

Texas v Texas Tech Photo by: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

#5. Texas Longhorns, 2004

Texas fans had a love-hate relationship with Mack Brown’s wide receiver coaching. Some guys like Shipley turned into stars; many others did not.

Jordan Shipley 6'0" 180 WR (16) ★★★★ .9323
Nathan Jones 6'1" 180 WR (17) ★★★★ .9222
George Walker 6'3" 190 WR (21) ★★★★ .9000
Myron Hardy 6'3" 195 WR (23) ★★★★ .8970
Chris Ogbonnaya 6'1" 200 WR (35) ★★★ .8556

Still, few programs have ever had a run of recruiting like Mack in the 2000’s at Texas, up there with USC under Pete Carroll and Nick Saban at Alabama. Michigan seems to be gearing up into a run like that under Harbaugh.

So, that’s that. This was an interesting exercise for me - there have been a surprisingly large number of elite receiver classes in the last 16 years, with many of them concentrated on a few programs like USC, Notre Dame, Texas and LSU.

Michigan also belongs in that group, and if I had stretched this list to a top ten, Michigan’s 2004 receivers would have made an appearance. Even so, the Wolverines’ recruiting under Harbaugh has taken a noticeable upturn, and that’s been the case at almost every position across the board.