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Ronnie Bell can be everything from safety net to dominant weapon

The shifty receiver led the team in catches last season and will again be a big part of the offense.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it might do so with empty stadiums or a limited schedule. Still, it is never too early to take a look at the Michigan depth chart and the players slated to contribute whenever football does resume. Join us as we comb through the roster and answer key questions heading into this fall.

Ronnie Bell, true JR

247 Composite Ranking: 3 stars (WR 212, Overall 1473)
2019 Stats: 48 rec, 758 yards, 1 TD

By now, everyone knows the story of Ronnie Bell. The no-name basketball recruit in whom Jim Harbaugh saw tremendous potential became the team’s leading receiver in his sophomore campaign despite sharing the targets with plenty of talented teammates. While it probably says more about Michigan than it does about Bell that he ended the year first in receptions and yards, the exciting receiver is clearly a talented player.

2020 will be a big season for Bell. While his 2019 production was a bit of a surprise, he will enter this fall with a clear role beside Nico Collins. Much of his value has come from working himself open and providing Shea Patterson with an option to pass the ball; with a new quarterback at the helm, it only stands to reason that this ability will be even more important this season.

Can Bell build upon his surprising 2019 and continue to grow as a receiver?

Few people expected Bell to have a prominent role last year, let alone lead the team in receiving production, although the talk out of Michigan camp has always been favorable. His work ethic, drive, and maneuverability stood out well before he put it into game action, so it makes sense that he started to play a big role so early on. Add to it the inability to unlock the downfield threat of the passing game, and he became the go-to option.

As fun as Bell is to watch, it definitely has not been all positive. 2019 started with multiple near-catches that ultimately fell just past his outstretched arms, and his infamous drop at Penn State was unfortunate, yet notable. He also had just one touchdown despite 48 receptions, which speaks somewhat to the part of the field where he operates, but also of the limit of his overall impact on the game.

Even if Bell never catches another pass, he will go down as a huge recruiting win, but the goal posts have rightfully changed. Michigan and whatever quarterback comes under center need Bell to continue to show his reliability this fall. With the offense still waiting to explode, he is one piece that can fit almost anywhere. He is really an outside receiver but can line up in the slot as well, making him the perfect option for Josh Gattis and the coaching staff to use all throughout the passing game.

I have said already that I prefer Collins to take the lead in targets, but that will still leave plenty of opportunities for Bell. If he can work a little on his hands and find a way to connect on some deeper catches, he will go from chain-mover to true weapon. It would not be a surprise to see his target share decrease while his overall output takes a huge leap forward. Growth is not always linear, but Bell is a good candidate to see even more development as he refines his game.