2017 Season in Review: Wide receivers
With the Michigan football team’s 2017 regular season in the books, the Daily looks back at the performance of each unit this year and looks ahead to the future in 2018. In this edition: wide receivers.
This season, the Wolverines had to absorb the loss of their two leading receivers from 2016 — Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson.
Quite simply, their departures showed.
The duo of fifth-year seniors combined for 1,362 yards and nine touchdowns to finish off their Michigan careers. This year, the Wolverines had five main receiving targets — junior Grant Perry, sophomores Kekoa Crawford and Eddie McDoom and freshmen Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black (the latter of whom fell victim to injury in September) — but managed just 938 yards and three touchdowns in comparison.
Perry, the veteran of the group, led the way with 25 catches for 307 yards and a touchdown, but even as the primary option, he faced a drop in production from a season ago. As the third receiver in 2016, he collected 183 yards and a touchdown on just 13 targets.
Crawford had a bright start to the season, hauling in a career-high four receptions for a career-best 83 yards with one touchdown against Cincinnati. But an increased role in the passing game didn’t last long for the sophomore, who didn’t catch more than two passes in a game for the rest of the year. His counterpart, McDoom, faced his own struggles in his second season, garnering just 81 yards all year.
Peoples-Jones, though he didn’t begin the season as a starter, turned into Michigan’s second-best receiver in his first year as a Wolverine, catching 16 passes for 219 yards. While he didn’t reach the end zone as a receiver, he did have a 79-yard punt return touchdown against Air Force. His classmate, Black, opened the year as a starter and looked poised to have a stellar campaign before a foot injury against Air Force derailed his season.
To be fair, Michigan’s receiving unit had to deal with a carousel of quarterbacks throughout the year. Redshirt junior Wilton Speight, redshirt freshman Brandon Peters and fifth-year senior John O’Korn all spent time under center for the Wolverines during various points of the season, which could have factored significantly in Michigan’s struggles through the air in 2017.
HIGH POINT: In a season with few options in this category, the Wolverines’ second game of the year against Cincinnati sticks out as the best performance from the unit.
All three of Michigan’s starting wideouts — Perry, Crawford and Black — caught four passes on the day, amassing a total of 160 yards.
Crawford and Perry also each found the end zone with 43- and 33-yard touchdowns, respectively — the only time that multiple receivers scored in the same game all year.
Granted, the Wolverines’ passing game did have a few other strong outings, but much of the credit for that belongs to tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry.
The pair combined for 561 yards and five touchdowns this year, and they connected especially well with Peters during his stint at the helm of Michigan’s offense.
LOW POINT: If his stellar start hadn’t reached an abrupt conclusion, Black might be in the above category. But just three weeks into his freshman season, the 6-foot-3 wideout had to be carted off the field late in the fourth quarter. He wouldn’t return for the rest of the year.
The day after the game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said that Black would need to undergo surgery to repair a crack on the outside of his foot. Though no announcement has yet to be made, Harbaugh said in mid-November that he will explore the possibility of pursuing a medical redshirt for Black, which would allow him to preserve four years of eligibility.
Through three weeks, Black was the Wolverines’ leading receiver with 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan certainly could have used his dynamic presence to breathe life into its passing offense in 2017.
THE FUTURE: The Wolverines won’t be losing anyone this time around.
All five receivers will be back to man the rotation next year, assuming Black’s recovery is smooth and he remains healthy over the course of the fall.
While seniors Drake Harris and Maurice Ways announced this week that they will pursue graduate transfers elsewhere, neither receiver made an impact on the field for Michigan. The most notable transfer news came from Speight, whose departure should stabilize the relationship between the Wolverines’ throwers and catchers next season.
With a full offseason as the presumed starter, Peters and his receivers will have plenty of time to develop their chemistry in order to turn the passing game around in 2018.