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Michigan 2023 WR Recap: Carving out a role in a run-heavy offense

Roman Wilson led the way, but we also saw breakout freshmen in the receiver room this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 08 CFP National Championship - Michigan vs Washington Photo by David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Jacob Singer Jake Singer is a junior at the University of Michigan majoring in Political Science. He is a Michigan Football and Basketball Writer for SB Nation's Maize and Brew

A season ago, the Michigan Wolverines’ wide receiver core consisted of Ronnie Bell, Cornelius Johnson, Andrel Anthony, Roman Wilson and AJ Henning. With Bell getting drafted by the San Francisco 49ers last spring, Anthony transferring to Oklahoma and Henning transferring to Northwestern, the wide receiver room looked very different a season later.

Coming into the 2023 season, Michigan returned Johnson and Wilson, gave an increased role to J.J. McCarthy’s high school teammate, Tyler Morris, and brought in true freshmen, Semaj Morgan, Fredrick Moore and Karmello English. The expectation was the whole room would need to step up in their roles, and they delivered.

Sherrone Moore let McCarthy air it out through the first three games, and the wide receivers benefitted immensely. Through those three games, Wilson led the country in touchdowns with six, Johnson had three straight games of 70-plus receiving yards, Morgan had a big 35-yard catch against UNLV, and Morris surpassed his season stats in 2022 in one game with three catches for 40 yards against UNLV.

Once Big Ten play began, big receiving games became a premium as the Wolverines blew out teams quickly. While Wilson still put up 50-yard games for the next three weeks, the other receivers started to trade off having big games. Johnson and Morris didn’t record a catch against Rutgers, but Morgan scored his first touchdown of his college career. Against Minnesota, Johnson put up 86 yards. It was then Morris’ turn to have a big game with 54 yards on four catches against Indiana. A few weeks later against Purdue, Wilson had nine catches for 143 yards, while the other three receivers didn’t crack 30 yards.

When Jim Harbaugh was suspended for the final three games of the regular season, Moore heavily relied on Blake Corum and the run game to defeat Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State. Essentially, all four receivers became non-existent during that stretch while, Corum ran for 327 yards on 20+ carries a game and two touchdowns in each of those games.

In the postseason, Iowa saw Johnson go off for nine catches and 64 yards, and Alabama faced Wilson and Morris who each made some big catches for touchdowns. But in the end, it was the Michigan rushing attack that paved the way for a deep postseason run and an eventual national championship.

Looking back on it all, it was a better-than-expected season for the receivers. There was a ton of talent in the room, and there is a lot of talent returning next season. Nonetheless, in a run-first offense with an elite offensive line and a superstar running back, it made sense for Michigan to lean on the ground game. Still, when the receivers needed to step up, they did, and they showed they were ready for the moment at any time.

Wilson and Johnson declared for the 2024 NFL Draft, but the Wolverines are returning Morris and Morgan with an expected increased role next season from the other two freshmen as well.