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A.J. Henning’s path to Michigan, outlook for 2022

Harbaugh wants Henning to have a Deebo Samuel role for Michigan.

Northwestern v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Speed kills, and Michigan receiver A.J. Henning has a lot of it. Henning’s made his presence known in a variety of ways at a variety of different positions for the Wolverines.

The story so far

Henning was ranked as the No. 102 overall prospect and No. 18 receiver in the 2020 class. A four-star prospect out of Lincolnway-East (Frankfort, IL), Henning received major interest from Notre Dame, and said his decision between the Fighting Irish and the Wolverines was “very close”, but Henning said Michigan felt like home.

During Henning’s senior season he excelled as a running back and as a pass-catcher — recording 52 receptions for 835 yards with 13 touchdowns, with 648 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Henning won two state championships at Lincoln-Way East and was the 2019 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year.

Henning played sparingly in 2020 but that all changed in 2022. Henning returned kicks and punts, was a receiver and received carries out of the backfield via jet sweeps. Michigan found creative ways to use Henning.

Henning had a 74-yard rushing touchdown versus Western Michigan on an end-around, he had an 81-yard kickoff return against Maryland due to lateral pass trickery on the play by Michael Barrett.

Henning rushed for 162 yards with two touchdowns and had 10 receptions for 79 yards. Henning also returned 29 punts for 274 yards and returned 6 kicks for 179 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s been explosive, and the guys look back there, and it inspires them to play harder to do a better job blocking downfield, making better decisions downfield, being smart,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said last year about Henning’s prowess on returns. “The whole thing feeds off itself. It all goes back to when you talked about trust earlier. When you’re a punt return player and you know A.J. Henning’s back there, you have to have a level of belief, like, man, this guy could do anything with the ball in his hand.”

Outlook moving forward

Something great about Henning is he embraces playing as many positions as possible, he wants the balls in his hands every chance he can get. A player Henning models his game after is a player with a similar skill set, San Francisco 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel.

“Deebo Samuel is a unique talent that you sort of see that level of football, that position being modeled into the NFL level,” Henning said. “Just being versatile, being able to be put in different positions, different matchups is huge. And I feel like that’s what I bring to the game, versatility.”

Ironically enough, Jim Harbaugh not only would agree with Henning’s assessment of Samuel, he also envisions Henning having a Samuel-type role.

”A.J. Henning, we’re experimenting with at running back. It’s not really the experimental stage, he’s got the skillset to do it,” Harbaugh said in April. “Kind of envision a Deebo Samuel type of role. Ways to get him more touches, ways to get him the ball more.”

Henning’s outlook moving forward is bright. Henning could be a major asset to Michigan receiving, returning, and rushing. At Michigan’s spring game Henning even made an impressive catch in traffic and his route running, physicality, and sure-handedness all seem to be on the up and up.

If Michigan’s offense and special teams are to be more explosive in 2022, Henning will be a major reason why.