One positional group where Jim Harbaugh recruits really well is wide receiver. The Michigan Wolverines have been blessed with some really impressive talent at the position since he’s been in Ann Arbor. It is astonishing how well he has done for a team that runs the ball as often as the Wolverines do. I mean, when was the last time we went into a season with a healthy receiving corps concerned about what it is going to look like?
This list reflects just that. There is a lot of skill and some pretty good production. Underperforming quarterback play has been more than a trend, it’s been an issue since he took over. Luckily, the tides have seemed to turn there (two of Harbaugh’s top five quarterbacks are currently on the roster) and if the receiver play keeps up, maybe some prolific offenses can be on the way.
Here are the top five receivers since Harbaugh has taken over for the maize and blue:
5. Donovan Peoples-Jones (2017-19)
Career Stats: 103 receptions, 1,327 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns
In terms of pure talent, there may not be a better receiver on this list. DPJ had it all and coming in as the No. 1 wide receiver and No. 12 player in the 2017 class, expectations were sky-high.
However, 2017 was the worst quarterback play of Harbaugh’s tenure. Then in 2018, he had his best season with 612 yards and eight touchdowns. An offseason injury shortened his final year at Michigan in 2019 and by the time he was fully healthy, Nico Collins confirmed his No. 1 receiver status.
Peoples-Jones is one of the biggest what if’s in Harbaugh’s tenure and he still makes the list. It also helps we have this to remember:
Throwback to when Donovan Peoples-Jones hit the Michigan State crowd with the Paul Bunyan stance pic.twitter.com/pQAY7fCAdP— Speak Up (@_SpeakU) October 30, 2021
4. Ronnie Bell (2018-Present)
Career Stats: 83 receptions, 1,380 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns
Bell was set for a huge season in 2021, but the injury bug had other plans. Present-day, he is the best wideout on Michigan’s roster. He was the leading receiver on the team in 2019 and 2020 in terms of receiving yards and he likely will take that crown again in 2022. It’s not just what he does in terms of production, but Bell is the type of guy that gives his all on every play.
Even for a 2-4 team in a COVID-filled season, Bell was the hype man and effort guy for a team that had a lot of guys who had given up. With quality play in 2022, Bell could push any of the top-3 currently on this list.
3. Jehu Chesson (2013-16)
Career Stats: 114 receptions, 1,639 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns
In terms of single-game performances, Chesson probably takes the crown. He had four games of more than 100 yards per game, tied with only Amara Darboh for the most on the list. Chesson’s 2015 season included three of those, including a 10-catch, 207-yard, four-touchdown performance against Indiana:
In 2016, he was supposed to have his best season. Instead, both Jake Butt and Amara Darboh took over as more preferable receivers for Wilton Speight. Chesson had 15 fewer catches and 250 fewer yards in his final season in Ann Arbor.
2. Nico Collins (2017-20)
Career Stats: 78 receptions, 1,388 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns
Had 2020 not been a cursed season with COVID, Collins was on pace to be the Wolverines' top option. Quarterback play would have still been a mystery, but Collins had two really strong seasons with Shea Patterson.
Collins was the ultimate big play guy in his time at Michigan. He averaged 19.7 yards per catch in his junior season. If there has been an NFL template of a wide receiver in Ann Arbor since Harbaugh has taken over, it’s Collins. Size, speed, contested catches, those all came with him as the No. 1 wideout. With a normal 2020 season, Collins may have been No. 1 on this list. Check out his big game against Indiana in 2019:
1. Amara Darboh (2012-16)
Career Stats: 151 receptions, 2,062 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns
Harbaugh lucked out taking over with both Darboh and Chesson on the roster. He’s the only receiver to surpass 2,000 career yards on this list. He also has way more receptions than anyone else on the list. Even with a quarterback change from Jake Rudock to Speight, Darboh stayed as the No. 1 wideout.
He has been the most consistent and reliable receiver Harbaugh has had. This team would not have been the same in 2015 and 2016 without the success of Darboh. On a week-in, week-out basis, you could always rely on him to get the job done and do it in style. Check out his career highlight reel:
Honorable mentions: Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson, Grant Perry