Donovan Peoples-Jones didn’t score a touchdown or notch more than 65 yards in a single game last year.
Then a freshman, he wasn’t alone in his struggles; the Wolverines’ leading receiver last year, Grant Perry, totaled just 307 yards himself. The offense as a whole managed 157 passing yards per conference game en route to a disappointing 8-5 record.
For the Detroit native, it was far from the first year he imagined.
“I feel like, as a competitor, any time where you’re not doing as well as you want, or the team isn’t doing as well as you wanted to, there can be tough times,” Peoples-Jones said Monday. “Just because you want to be the best. I’d just leave it at that.”
A year later, Peoples-Jones is helping lead a resurgent Michigan offense — and having quite a bit more fun doing it.
“Just playing with my teammates has been so much fun this year,” he said. “It definitely makes it fun to go out there and play each and every game.”
Success and enjoyment often go hand-in-hand, of course.
Peoples-Jones leads the Wolverines’ receiving corps in receptions (30), yards (447) and touchdowns (seven) — and it’s not hard to envision even more on the horizon.
The former five-star recruit came to Michigan with plenty of hype to his name. He flashed signs in 2017 — including a 44-yard run against Cincinnati and a 79-yard punt return score against Air Force — but struggled to sustain consistency.
This year, Peoples-Jones has emerged as a premier threat on an improved offense, adding new layers to his game each week.
“I think he has a better understanding of coverages and defenses, and how to get open on every play,” said junior tight end Sean McKeon. “He’s just making a lot of plays for us right now. He’s attacking the football, getting separation off really any kind of coverage.”
Against Michigan State, Peoples-Jones notched the play of the day — a 79-yard touchdown to break the 7-7 stalemate in the third quarter. As he swaggered into the end zone, Peoples-Jones posed like the Paul Bunyan trophy, a token he and his teammates would later hoist on the field.
But there have been more subtle examples, too.
Facing a third down against Rutgers on Saturday, Peoples-Jones lined up in the slot. He offered a deceptive move at the line to gain separation, then darted to the inside, catching a pass for a first down and carrying several defenders an extra 10 yards for good measure.
Together through 10 games, the receiving corps has 89 catches, 1,244 yards and 15 touchdowns. In the entirety of last season, the wide receivers totaled just 97 catches, 1,151 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s a unit that has unsurprisingly, given their relative youth, taken a signficant leap forward this season. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has taken notice.
“The biggest thing is the way (the receivers) catch the ball. All the pass receivers, still the amount of drops is really so low right now for the year. The way they’re catching the ball is really good,” Harbaugh said. “Also, the separation they’ve gotten in the passing game. The precision in how they run the routes has been really good. The third thing I would point out is their blocking.”
And on Peoples-Jones in those specific categories?
“Boom, boom, boom. Top of the list.”