There is no denying it — the wide receivers on the Michigan Wolverines were not good in 2017. In fact, I’d call them pretty mediocre.
From Eddie McDoom’s drop against Michigan State to everyone not being able to create separation and get open, the receivers struggled mightily last year. So much, in fact, that a receiver did not catch a touchdown pass from a Michigan quarterback AFTER Week 2.
That’s bad. Really bad. (#analysis).
But there is hope for 2018. The young guys have a year of experience under their belt and a wide receivers coach to help them out. Along with that, the group’s veteran is learning how to be a leader, and that is hugely important for this group moving forward.
With all that said, here is my predicted depth chart for the wide receivers this year.
WR1: Donovan Peoples-Jones, SO
Call me crazy — or other mean words I’ve heard plenty of times in my life — but DPJ is Michigan’s best receiver right now.
He has the most game experience of any of the young up-and-comers, playing in all 13 games last fall and showing development over the course of the year.
I left the in-depth analysis to my friend Sam Dodge on his position rundown, but DPJ had huge issues creating separation early in the year. Toward the end of the year, he was beating Wisconsin defenders for huge gains.
I don’t expect a sophomore slump by DPJ by any means. He’ll be Shea Patterson’s favorite guy to throw to when it’s all said and done.
WR2: Tarik Black, RS FR
Patterson’s second favorite guy to throw to will be Black, the redshirt freshman coming off a broken foot that limited him to three games in 2017.
Those three games were pretty special though, as he nabbed 11 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown, with the one touchdown coming on a 46-yard strike from Wilton Speight against Florida in the opener.
I list him as the second wide out as of now because of the question marks of him coming off the injury. We have not seen footage of him since his injury last September, and while reports say he is still looking good, it is an “I’ll believe it when I see it” scenario for me.
Let me make this very clear — I am NOT saying I dislike Black at all. I am NOT saying Black will be worse this year. I am NOT saying Black sucks. None of that would be true. I loved what I saw out of him last year. I just need to see it again in 2018 before I put him as the best wide receiver on the team.
WR3: Nico Collins, SO
Thanks to the transfers of McDoom and Kekoa Crawford, I think Collins is going to take a huge step forward this year with the ability to get on, and stay on, the field.
He only recorded three catches last season, but it’s hard to deny the potential, especially in the red zone, while standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 218 pounds.
I think he will become very valuable within the 20 yard line. I don’t know if it will be right away, but down the stretch of the season I believe Collins will be among Michigan’s best receivers. It really goes to show how important his 2017 last-second National Signing Day decision was for the future of the position.
Slot receiver: Grant Perry, SR
To me, this is a no-brainer.
I know Oliver Martin has been picking up his game, but Perry is the oldest receiver on the team, has the most experience and is the best route-runner. He also has fantastic hands and was able to consistently get open last season, even when all the others struggled.
This is Perry’s final ride to put together a good year. He led the team in receiving yards last season with 307, but there were five games in 2017 where he had two catches or less.
He will need to stay consistent in 2018 to not give up playing time to Martin. I think Perry can put together good numbers and production, but Martin is right on his tail.
Backup outside WRs: Nate Schoenle, JR; Ronnie Bell, FR
A junior walk-on from Plymouth, Schoenle hasn’t been talked about much at all this offseason. Jim McElwain mentioned him very briefly during his meeting with the media in the spring, but other than that the talk has been focused around Black and the others.
I would expect to see Schoenle mostly on special teams, but he will get some run on the offense, as well.
Bell, meanwhile, comes to Michigan as the lowest-ranked scholarship player in the 2018 class. He was barely recruited for football, and was considering taking up a basketball scholarship before Jim Harbaugh came a-knockin’. He is only 6-foot, but he can make plays down the field in the vertical passing game.
I would be surprised to see him on offense this year, but anything is possible, right?
Backup slot receiver: Oliver Martin, RS FR
Martin may be the best route-runner on the team by the end of the season if things go his way.
Obviously, Perry is going to be the starter, but Martin will have his time to shine if Perry slips up at all.
He has patiently been waiting as he acclimated himself to the college life, and the playbook, last year. Now that his knowledge of the playbook is up to par, it’s only a matter of time before we see him on the field and fighting for extended time.
There is a real chance this position group breaks out in 2018. If all goes well for Black’s health, Peoples-Jones’ development and the others continuing to grow, this group could be very special this season.