It is no secret that Jim Harbaugh loves the tight end position, and he has brought in all sorts of options since taking over the Michigan Wolverines. The traditionally run-heavy nature of the offense requires these players to be physical blockers, but weapons like Jake Butt and Zach Gentry really stood out with their pass-catching ability as well.
Luke Schoonmaker looks to be another player in this mold. He has good hands and surprising speed for his size, and with the Michigan passing game potentially opening up a little, the opportunities should be there this fall. There are plenty of mouths to feed among pass catchers, but Schoonmaker is a mismatch waiting to be unlocked.
The story so far
Schoonmaker was a three-star recruit out of Connecticut, which is not surprising to anyone who followed Michigan recruiting in the late 2010s. Whether or not his ranking — 796th overall — was appropriate is mostly irrelevant, as this is clearly the type of player Harbaugh would take as others completely ignore (though having Don Brown on staff significantly increased the odds of recruits being found in New England).
Despite his development potential and clear fit in the Michigan offense, Schoonmaker was never going to make a huge impact right away. He logged just two catches in his first three years on campus, though one did go for a touchdown against Illinois. This was always the type of player who would need time to develop, and that maturation process is finally coming to fruition.
Even with Erick All performing at a high level, Schoonmaker brought in 17 passes in 2021 for 165 yards and three scores. All three touchdowns came on passes right near the goal line, which is where the shifty tight end is such a mismatch on defenders, as he is quick enough to get free but big enough to provide an easy target for the quarterback and is hard to bring down after the catch.
However, the most memorable moment from Schoonmaker came in the Big Ten Championship Game, as he athletically brought in a one-handed catch down the sideline after getting through his man at the line. The concept of athleticism in tight ends can be overused, but Schoonmaker certainly looks different than many of his peers:
Outlook moving forward
Had All departed for the draft, Schoonmaker would be in line for quite a jump in usage this season, but instead Michigan returns one of the best tight end duos in the country. Both players will see plenty of snaps — including many formations that will have both on the field together — but targets will be divided between the tight ends, a loaded wide receiver corps, and two lethal running backs.
That being said, pass attempts should go up regardless of quarterback, and there is no scheme under Harbaugh that will forget about this position. Schoonmaker in may ways broke out already last year, but do not be surprised to see him leap even farther forward in 2022, especially in the red zone. Whether it is gaining those final yards near the goal line or breaking away from linebackers with surprising speed, Schoonmaker should be running a healthy number of routes this season, and the catches, and hopefully touchdowns, will jump up accordingly.