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Michigan has a true No. 1 receiver in Donovan Peoples-Jones

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Target distribution has been heavily skewed in favor of the sophomore standout.

SMU v Michigan

By now, everyone has seen highlights of Donovan Peoples-Jones from Michigan’s victory over SMU. Against the Mustangs, the wide receiver easily had the best game of his young career, hauling in four balls for 90 yards and three touchdowns, the latter two being career-highs. On a day where the offense looked more sluggish than it should have, at least one star came to play.

On Saturday, Peoples-Jones showed why recruiting rankings placed him as the best receiver in the country. He was elusive with the ball in his hands, ran excellent routes downfield and was tough to guard in the end zone. Shea Patterson clearly has a connection with him, and both will reap the benefits going forward.

The emergence of Peoples-Jones is vital for a Wolverines passing game that lacked any sort of consistency last season. The shortage of touchdowns by Michigan wide receivers in 2017 is well-noted, but scoring was not their only issue. No receiver had more than 25 receptions the whole year, and it was actually a tight end who led the team there.

Issues at quarterback are certainly to blame for this diminished production, but there was not a clear safety net in the receiving corps for the struggling signal callers to rely on. Three games into their new partnership, Patterson and Peoples-Jones have already shown a connection unseen last season.

Michigan receptions by season

Season Total Receptions Leading Receiver Second Receiver
Season Total Receptions Leading Receiver Second Receiver
2013 237 Jeremy Gallon (89) Devin Funchess (49)
2014 189 Devin Funchess (62) Amara Darboh (36)
2015 258 Amara Darboh (58) Jake Butt (51)
2016 228 Amara Darboh (57) Jake Butt (46)
2017 185 Sean McKeon (31) Grant Perry (25)

With 14 catches already this season, Peoples-Jones is on pace for at least 60 over a 13-game season. This would give him the highest total since 2014 for a Michigan wide receiver, slotting him into a role similar to Devin Funchess or Amara Darboh.

What stands out about the last three seasons is the closeness between the receptions leader and the next-closest player. No gap was larger than 11 catches during this stretch. However, Peoples-Jones is already doubling Zach Gentry (seven receptions) and has eight more catches than Grant Perry (six receptions), the next-closest receiver. While three non-conference games are not nearly enough to tell the whole story, there is clearly a gap already starting to form.

Relying on one player alone is a dangerous game, but Michigan is not without other pass-catching options. Nico Collins and Oliver Martin have stepped up in Tarik Black’s absence, and Gentry and Sean McKeon have been involved, along with Chris Evans. Still, the possibility of a true No. 1 receiver should really get fans excited.

The bar is set high for Peoples-Jones; that is what comes with being a five-star recruit. While he was not solely responsible for the lack of passing game production last season, he will be on the hook this year. Fortunately, it looks like both Patterson and the coaching staff will give him every opportunity to produce. Odds are he is up for the challenge.