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2021 Michigan football position unit grades: Offense

The offense made a leap from last season.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Josh Gattis won the Broyles Award for best assistant coach in the nation. It was well deserved for the obvious leap that the Michigan Wolverines offense took this season in route to a 12-1 season and a Big Ten Championship. Now, with a matchup against Georgia in the College Football Playoff ahead, let’s play teacher and hand out some grades for each offensive positional unit for how they performed this season.

Quarterbacks: B+

Cade McNamara was a surprise this season. He was coming off a strange in-season battle with Joe Milton for the starting gig last year, and he had to fend off incoming five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy even after taking over. Still, McNamara was named starter by Jim Harbaugh earlier than any other quarterback in his tenure, and he proved why throughout the course of the season.

Michigan never really looked to McCarthy despite several pundits thinking he should be the starter from Day 1. The true freshman showed flashes of greatness throughout his in-and-out plays and drives this season, but McNamara never really gave him the chance to become the full-time starter. On the field, nothing McNamara did was particularly extraordinary. He averaged 190 yards per game and had only 15 touchdowns this season. He finished 59th in passing yards, t-72nd in TDs and 19th in QBR.

Where he made up for it was with his leadership qualities and ability to be a game manager. McNamara hardly made a mistake this season. He was intercepted just four times and he never cost the Wolverines a game. Staying within the confines of the Michigan offense, McNamara was a leader when it mattered the most.

Running Backs: A+

Michigan’s offense was carried by their running backs this year. Blake Corum was an early-season Heisman candidate and Hassan Haskins was one of the best rushers in college football in his stead. The two were regarded as the top running back duo in the country for a majority of the season. Haskins continued to impress this year even when he had to become the workhorse for the team midseason.

Then, when Corum went down with an ankle injury, Donovan Edwards seemingly came out of nowhere and became a receiving threat out of the backfield for Michigan. He was the perfect five-star fill-in for Corum while he was down. Now, that Corum has been back for the last two games, Michigan has found a way to incorporate all three to offense.

When Corum has been in the mix, he adds a dynamic presence to the offense that can seemingly burst any play open for big yards with his elusiveness, vision, and speed. When any of these three guys are clicking, the Michigan offense has been nearly impossible to slow down. They were the No. 8 rushing offense in all of college football because of how well they performed this season.

Offensive Line: B+

This unit was one of the veteran-most in the country. Andrew Vastardis led this group all season long by being an anchor on the interior and being a physical presence up the gut for Michigan. Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan were also rather impressive on the interior, particularly in the running game. In pass blocking, Andrew Stueber didn’t even allow a sack as the primary starting right tackle this year.

But, there were times this team was stagnant because they couldn’t open up holes for the Michigan backs and it put the team behind the chains. Still, there was a reason they are a finalist for the Joe Moore Award for the toughest offensive line in college football. They completely decimated the Ohio State and Iowa defensive lines in the biggest games of the year. Now, they will have to repeat that against their toughest opponent of the season: the Georgia Bulldogs.

Wide Receivers: B

It’s tough to judge this receiver room when this Michigan team was so fundamentally built on the running game. But what I do know is when Ronnie Bell went down with a significant knee injury early in the season, the receiving corps took a major hit. Cornelius Johnson did a solid job becoming the team’s No. 1 receiver, but he was far from a superior talent in the country’s standards.

In 2019, Bell led the team in receptions and yards with 48 and 758, respectively. Johnson finished the season with slightly worse numbers with 38 catches for 609 yards. Still a good season for an ascending player, just not quite at the same level as what should be expected for a top receiver on a top-4 team in the country. PFF also says that Johnson dropped seven balls this season which certainly adds something to the argument. Mike Sainristil’s name could probably be thrown into the conversation of guys who could have maybe had a bigger year with the opportunity given to him.

A.J. Henning was a force with end arounds all season long, but he did only have nine catches for just 78 yards this season. Many experts and fans had much higher expectations for the speedster. Another one of those guys is Daylen Balden who was a fine player this year. But, he falls into the same category as a guy who probably should have been better than the No. 4 receiver on a Ronnie Bell-less Michigan squad.

Roman Wilson and Andrel Anthony were the two really bright spots in this group and provide some really interesting prospects to this group as maybe the next No. 1 receiver. Hopefully, Henning will be in that conversation too.

Overall, there is a lot of talent in this room, but it feels like there is no elite player that has appeared, yet. Maybe that will change as we head into the playoffs.

Tight Ends: B+

Erick All became one of the better weapons on the team this season after being a huge disappointment a year ago. Every other ball thrown his way in 2020 seemed to go in and out of his hands.

This year, he was one of the most efficient tight ends in the country. Targeted 41 times this season, All had 34 receptions for 374 yards. Michigan lined him up in the slot, out wide, and in the traditional tight end position to make him a versatile weapon. His pass blocking needs some work, but he was a good option for McNamara on plenty of third-and-medium situations throughout the year.

In the one game that All was hurt, Luke Schoonmaker had a solid performance scoring two touchdowns against Indiana. Had he been the starter, I think the Wolverines would have been just fine. Both proved they can be legitimate threats throughout the season.