Position Previews 2016: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Thursday, August 25, 2016 - 5:50pm
As the final days count down until game week — starting Aug. 29 before the Michigan football team opens the 2016 season against Hawaii on Sept. 3 at Michigan Stadium — the Daily breaks down each position group heading into the upcoming season. We continue with two positions of depth for the Wolverines: wide receiver and tight end.
 
With nine days to go until the first snap of the season, the battle at quarterback may be still ongoing, but their targets are well solidified. 
 
Both positions return all starters from 2015, but a few younger players have started to earn the praise of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno. While it’s next to impossible that Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh will be unseated from their starter status, Grant Perry, Drake Harris and Moe Ways will battle for playing time at the wide receiver position, and so will Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Devin Asiasi at tight end.
 
Here’s how the groups stack up this year:
 
Who’s back: At wide receiver, fifth-year senior Jehu Chesson (6-foot-3, 203 pounds), fifth-year senior Amara Darboh (6-foot-2, 215), sophomore Grant Perry (6-foot-0, 196 pounds), redshirt sophomore Drake Harris (6-foot-4, 188) and redshirt sophomore Moe Ways (6-foot-3, 217).
 
At tight end, senior Jake Butt (6-foot-6, 250), redshirt sophomore Ian Bunting (6-foot-7, 252), redshirt freshman Zach Gentry (6-foot-7, 244) and redshirt freshman Ty Wheatley (6-foot-6, 276).
 
Who’s not: Tight end A.J. Williams, who logged 12 catches for 129 yards in 2015, worked out with the Bengals this summer following graduation, but he currently isn’t listed with any NFL team. Former tight ends Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi have both transitioned into fullback roles within the past year.
 
At the wide receiver position, every contributor returned, but early-enrollee freshman Ahmir Mitchell will be gone before he even gets to play a snap in Michigan Stadium. After Harbaugh announced that Mitchell was suspended from practice last week, Mitchell took to Twitter to announce he would reopen his recruitment.
 
Who’s new: Freshmen Kekoa Crawford (6-foot-2, 195), Nate Johnson (5-foot-11, 185) and Eddie McDoom (6-foot-0, 180) make up the newest crop of wide receivers, while freshmen Nick Eubanks (6-foot-5, 236), Devin Asiasi (6-foot-3, 287) and Sean McKeon (6-foot-5, 240) will join the tight ends. 
 
Stats in 2015: Chesson: 50 catches, 764 yards, nine touchdowns; eight carries, 155 yards, two touchdowns. 
 
Darboh: 58 catches, 727 yards, five touchdowns; two carries, two yards, zero touchdowns.
 
Perry: 14 catches, 128 yards, one touchdown.
 
Harris: Six catches, 39 yards, zero touchdowns. 
 
Ways: Three catches, 40 yards, zero touchdowns. 
 
Butt: 51 catches, 654 yards, three touchdowns. 
 
Bunting: Five catches, 72 yards, zero touchdowns. 
 
Contenders: It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Butt starting at tight end. After all, the 2015 Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year is now on a pre-season watch list for the John Mackey Award for the “most outstanding collegiate tight end.” Butt could have left Ann Arbor for the NFL draft following last season, but he returned to play his final year of eligibility. Last season, he was about 100 yards shy of Chesson’s team-high receiving yards total.
 
Though Butt will start, another tight end will need to step up under Michigan’s offense. That player will likely be Bunting. Though Bunting had just five receptions last season, Butt has praised Bunting’s improvement this offseason. 
 
Bunting will have his fair share of competition, with Wheatley and Gentry ready to take the field after redshirting their freshman year. Gentry, who transitioned to tight end last season after being recruited as a quarterback, is an unknown at the position, but had a full year to sit out and learn the ins and outs with tight end coach Jay Harbaugh. 
 
True freshmen Asiasi, Eubanks and McKeon will also add some pressure. Asiasi, a four-star recruit out of Concord, Cal., has received praise from Harbaugh during fall camp, so it’s possible he’ll contribute immediately this season. 
 
Just like how Butt has the tight end position locked down, Chesson and Darboh are miles ahead of their competition.
 
Chesson is full go after recovering from a partially torn PCL that kept him out of most of spring and summer practice. Last season, Chesson received All-Big Ten honors and now has made his way onto the 2016 Maxwell Award watch list. 
 
In 2015, he led Michigan in receiving yards, but Darboh actually had eight more receptions (58). Throughout the summer — while Chesson was still recovering — Darboh’s stock rose enough for Harbaugh to list him as the Wolverines’ top receiver. 
 
But there will be plenty of competition to be the complement to Darboh and Chesson
 
Perry, Harris and Ways have some experience from last season that should give them an advantage over Crawford, Johnson and McDoom, but none of them were standouts last season. 
 
There was some buzz surrounding Ways before he broke his foot in the spring, and Harris, who has battled injury throughout his Michigan career, is still looking for a breakout year. 
 
Prediction/Edge (No ifs, ands, or Butt(s) about it): Butt will start, with plenty of playing time going to Bunting as well. No one knows what to expect from Gentry, but big things are expected out of Wheatley and four-star recruit Asiasi. 
 
At wide receiver, Chesson and Darboh will run the show, but Perry, Harris and Ways will fit in nicely as complementary receivers. Anything the freshmen can do is just a bonus.