A quarterback battle is the focal point of the practices happening in Ann Arbor, but the thing that isn’t talked about as much is that the result could mean a drastic difference in how explosive the Michigan Wolverines are in the receiving room.
New play-callers Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore could also spell some changes to a Michigan offense that was good, not great, in the air in 2021. With all the unknowns, we are going to try and predict the stats of the Michigan receiver room in 2022.
1. Ronnie Bell: 55 receptions, 925 receiving yards, 4 TDs
The 2022 season also brings back an old friend, as Ronnie Bell returns following an ACL tear last year. All reports out of camp are he is as explosive as ever and may be prepped for an even bigger season than the two impressive campaigns he has had so far.
With these numbers I am predicting, Bell would be about a top-50 receiver last season. Being on a team that will run the ball with their explosive backs and offensive line, this seems right around home for the best U-M receiver.
Touchdowns may be the most surprising, but Bell has never been one to find the end zone. For as illustrious as his career has been, you can count the number of touchdowns he has had on one hand. Even a four-touchdown season would almost double his career totals.
Whether it is J.J. McCarthy or Cade McNamara behind center, I fully expect Bell to be the head honcho in this receiver room. It may seem like a lot on his shoulders, but expectations should be high for him.
2. Cornelius Johnson: 33 receptions, 500 yards, 3 TDs
After Bell’s injury in 2021, Johnson fell into the No. 1 receiver role. He had a good season with 40 receptions, 627 yards and three touchdowns, but I don’t think he elevated his game to a bigger level, and down the stretch of the season reflected that.
The last time Johnson led the team in receiving was in the beatdown of Indiana in early November, where he posted just over 100 yards. That means his numbers against Ohio State, Iowa and Georgia (the biggest games of the year) were not up to par. He had just five receptions for 81 yards and no scores during that stretch.
Some of that definitely falls on the game plan, but I don’t think Johnson was a guy to go to if the outcome of the game depended on it. Bell certainly is, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few younger guys even jump ahead of Johnson stats-wise in 2022.
3. Roman Wilson: 28 receptions, 555 yards, 4 TDs
Wilson is the top guy in this room who could push Johnson for the second spot on the depth chart. Jim Harbaugh and his staff love speed, and Wilson has plenty of it. That explosiveness is what gets him more yards and touchdowns on breakaway balls, but fewer receptions than Johnson in 2022.
I think the race for the spot behind Bell is a lot tighter than it has been made out to be. While Johnson saw less of a role at the end of 2022, Wilson earned more opportunities. In the last five games of the season, he was the team’s leading receiver twice. He also was the recipient of one of the most memorable plays of last season:
I also think Wilson has really positive relationships with both quarterbacks. If there is a wideout who is most likely to break out, it’s Wilson, and I don’t think he is being talked about enough as that.
4. Andrel Anthony: 20 receptions, 305 yards, 2 TDs
A guy getting hyped a ton is Anthony, but I’m a little more skeptical. The three ahead of him are more proven than him. If McCarthy takes over as QB1, the trajectory could change rather significantly. However, everyone looks back to that stellar performance against Michigan State as the sole reason he turns into a star this season.
I just don’t see that happening, at least with the current wide receiver room in tact. Almost half his yards from last season came on one catch. College football is a fickle game. One performance can put you on every imaginable watchlist for a breakout season the following year. I fear that is what is happening to Anthony here.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Anthony. A lot. But with the guys ahead of him commanding targets, I don’t see the breakout coming just yet.
5. A.J. Henning: 18 receptions, 425 all-purpose yards, 4 TDs
Henning has expressed interest in a Deebo Samuel-type role in the Michigan offense, and I would not be surprised if they gave him some opportunities early in the season to see how it looks.
His speed and athleticism make Henning a difference-maker. That’s why he has received a bunch of end-arounds and screens to this point in his career. The problem is he isn’t as polished in his footwork and in his route tree, which has caused him to lose significant playing time.
I think the new offensive coordinators find unique ways to get the ball into his hands in 2022, resulting in some weird stats. Henning will get more snaps if he is productive with the football, which is what the former top-100 prospect will need to accomplish to avoid getting passed up in the depth chart.
6. Darrius Clemons: 12 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD
The only other Michigan receiver on this list that compares stature-wise to Clemons is Johnson. If anything were to happen to Johnson, I think Clemons would earn a huge opportunity as a true freshman. Everyone raved about how he came into spring camp, and then he showed out in the spring game for all of the Michigan faithful to see.
He takes the Anthony freshman hype train for me heading into 2023 and beyond.