We were robbed of a potential career year from Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell when he went down with a season-ending knee injury returning a punt in the 47-14 win over Western Michigan in Week 1. The shake-up of the receiver room left plenty of guys who could wind up taking over for Bell and be Cade McNamara’s go-to target.
“I don’t know if Ronnie Bell will be replaced by one guy as it may be by committee of everyone,” Josh Gattis said after the injury. “Ronnie was off to having — it was his best camp, his best offseason since he’s been here and obviously that showed up on the field. He was off to a great start. He’s gonna be very important to us moving forward as he remains with his leadership.”
Concern crossed Schembechler Hall as to who could be the dude to stand out. Unfortunately, as Gattis suggested, it was more of a group effort for the Michigan Wolverines. Here is the list of players who finished as a leading receiver in a game this season:
- Erick All: 3
- Cornelius Johnson: 3
- Roman Wilson: 3
- Daylen Baldwin: 1
- Andrel Anthony: 1
- Mike Sainristil: 1
- Donovan Edwards: 1
While the wealth of talent is certainly appreciated, it also showed a lack of trust for one guy to step up and push this team over the top.
True freshman Andrel Anthony had the single best performance by a wide receiver this season in the loss to Michigan State. His six receptions for 155 yards and two scores were what pushed the Wolverines to a two-score advantage at one point in that game.
The most consistent options for the team this season were receiver Cornelius Johnson and tight end Erick All. Johnson was the guy everyone turned to after Bell’s injury and was expected to become the top-dog. He had a good season, but Johnson’s biggest games came against Northern Illinois and Indiana, two of the weaker opponents on the schedule. Those two performances accounted for 225 of his 627 yards this year.
Then, against Ohio State, Iowa and Georgia, or the three most important games of the year, Johnson was held to a grand total of 81 yards on five receptions and no scores. As the assumed best option on the field for McNamara, he disappeared in the spotlight against tougher competition.
All was one of the brighter transformations for this Michigan squad this year. A season ago, he was a drop machine and lost some significant playing time because of it. This year, those struggles were put aside and he became one of the most consistent third-down options the Michigan offense has seen in quite some time.
All missed one game, but was just two receptions behind Johnson for the most catches on the team. He also made one of the most memorable plays of the year scoring a vitally important touchdown in Happy Valley:
Shoutout to Erick All for turning on the jets here and saving our season pic.twitter.com/RJLJwSgvrO— Josh Augdahl 〽️ BIG TEN CHAMPS (@UMFanAugdahl) December 18, 2021
The big play factor missed by Bell thankfully came at the hands of Roman Wilson. He had seven receptions of 20 yards or more in 2021 while only having 25 catches. This averaged out to a team-high (min. 15 receptions) 16.8 yards per catch, which is right about on par with where Bell had been the last two years. Unfortunately, the volume didn’t really come for Wilson like it had for Bell in previous seasons. With his blazing speed and big-play ability, it would be nice to get the ball in his hands a little more often in 2022 whoever may be throwing him the football.
The passing game always played second fiddle to moving the ball on the ground in 2021. While the unit had a good year without Bell, no one stepped up to the plate to be the top option. There is a lot of promise in the group, which is why in the preseason it was one of the positional units that we at Maize n Brew had the most confidence in.
Johnson showed flashes, All improved, Sainristil and Wilson made some big plays, Anthony had a big game, but still, it felt like more could have been done. Luckily, Bell will return to round out what could be a dangerous group in 2022 if they stay on track. The Wolverines should have a lot of veteran options to attack with down the field in the fall.