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Spring Ball WR Preview: Who’s going to be top dog?

Ronnie Bell is headed to the NFL Draft, so who takes his spot?

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

It’s no secret the Michigan Wolverines offense was more explosive in 2022 thanks to J.J. McCarthy taking over at quarterback. His impressive arm opened up a lot more opportunities for the passing game as he developed into a Big Ten Championship-winning starter.

With his return in 2023, the expectation is going to be National Championship or bust. He has the talent on the offensive end to crush opposing defenses, and that includes a robust catalog of weapons in the wide receiver room.

Ronnie Bell, the top target in 2022, is headed to the NFL Draft. However, there are still several returning starters and some young guns who should be ready for more prominent roles.

Here’s a quick preview at the Michigan wide receiver room headed into spring practice.

Roman Wilson

If you look at the profile of Ronnie Bell, there may not be a closer receiver on the Michigan roster to his capabilities than Roman Wilson. Any time Wilson touches the ball, the end zone is screaming his name. With his elite speed, he can burn past defenders and line up anywhere on the field.

The Wolverines loved to get the ball in Wilson’s hands in 2022. A lot of his receptions came on screen plays that he would burst open for big gains and touchdowns. His four scores last season tied Bell for the second-most on the team.

Had McCarthy been more accurate with his deep ball, I think Wilson’s production would have skyrocketed even further. An injury midseason didn’t help, either. In my opinion, he is the most well-rounded receiver on the roster and his connection with McCarthy will only get better.

Cornelius Johnson

The senior spurned the NFL for one more year in Ann Arbor. With Bell back, Johnson regressed in receiving yards and receptions in 2022. But he scored almost as many times last season with a team-high six touchdowns, as he did for the first three years of his career.

There is a lot to like about CJ. He’s a big, vertical threat in an offense cluttered with smaller, faster receivers. The only other receiver on the roster who comes close to him physically is Darrius Clemons, who will likely earn some more snaps on the outside in 2023.

Johnson will fight for that WR1 spot with Wilson next fall, and the battle will start early in the spring. His biggest obstacle will be overcoming some of the drops he had last year and using his frame to win 50-50 balls over defenders.

A.J. Henning

After the first two receivers, there are some question marks. Shockingly, there is not another wideout on the Michigan roster who has ever finished a season with more than 10 receptions.

That includes senior A.J. Henning, who is destined for a larger role in 2023. The former highly-touted prospect has been somewhat slow to develop in Ann Arbor. He’s electric with the ball in his hands, which is why the Wolverines use him in motion and hand him the football on end around.

However, there is much to be desired with his footwork and route-running. Until he improves in those areas, I’m not sure he is going to be more than a gadget guy and returner.

Darrius Clemons

The hype train was massive for Clemons last season after he showed out in the spring game including a memorable celebration:

His teammates have raved about his size and athleticism. His biggest fan was former quarterback Cade McNamara who said, “We noticed as soon as he walked through the door that physically, he’s put together well. He’s a big dude. He’s got muscle, he’s got speed, he’s got strong hands. I think we were able to just show that a little bit today, and I can’t wait to see where his talents can go.”

We never got to see what he was truly made of as a freshman, but perhaps 2023 will be the breakout season for him.

Tyler Morris

We should also see an expanded role for Morris in 2023. He led the true freshmen class with three receptions last season and has a longstanding bond with McCarthy as his quarterback, dating back to Nazareth Academy in Chicago and the Midwest Boom seven-on-seven team. It’ll be really interesting to see how their relationship continues to flourish at the collegiate level.

Honorable Mentions

  • Peyton O’Leary: He was being talked about a lot last preseason as a walk-on. Now he is on scholarship, which could mean a bigger role.
  • Semaj Morgan: Harbaugh loved this kid so much he helped him wash the dishes after dinner on the recruiting trail. He could be the Darrius Clemons of 2023.

Key Losses

  • Ronnie Bell: NFL Draft hopeful. Could possibly be a Day 3 pick.
  • Andrel Anthony: The promising sophomore dipped to the portal to head to Oklahoma. Read more about his comments about why he left Michigan.


Michigan should throw the ball a little more in 2023 with a full season of starting under McCarthy’s belt. The Wolverines know how talented he is, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the Heisman conversation next year.

If that is the case, he’s going to need some production from his receivers. At the top will be Johnson and Wilson contending for WR1. There is some promise from Henning, Clemons and Morris. However, there are still real questions about what they are capable of on the field. We’ll get a glimpse of it in spring ball and hopefully gain some clarity about the depth of the room.