With the Michigan football team’s 2016 regular season in the books, the Daily looks back at the performance of each unit this year and looks ahead to the future in 2017. In this edition: wide receivers.
They were what we thought they’d be — sort of.
Returning two fifth-year seniors from an impressive air attack, the Wolverines delivered exactly the type of overall receiving season they were expected to in 2016.
The roles reversed for Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh — with the latter emerging as the go-to target and the former a complement — but the total impact was similar. When Michigan wanted to throw the ball, it had targets it could count on around redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight.
Darboh and Chesson combined for 1,295 yards between them, just 54 fewer than they posted a year ago. And while the team’s total passing yards were down — a consequence of several blowout wins and a late-season injury to Speight — the Wolverine receivers ensured an efficient passing game was still a core tenant of Jim Harbaugh’s offense.
HIGH POINT: When Central Florida stacked the box to take away the Michigan running game in the second week of the year, Darboh and Chesson made the Knights pay. Darboh posted five catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns, with Chesson adding four receptions for 84 yards.
It wasn’t often that teams could entirely shut down Michigan’s stable of backs, and in many games, the Wolverines led by so much that receivers were a moot point by the second half. You don’t typically need a big play when you’re up by 30 points.
But against the Knights, an aggressive run defense forced Speight to take the reins. He responded by throwing four touchdown passes (including three in the first quarter), with Darboh’s 30-yard dagger in the fourth sealing a 51-14 blowout win.
LOW POINT: Some of the Wolverines’ struggles at Kinnick Stadium are easily explained. The Iowa crowd was sufficiently rowdy to host the nation’s No. 3 team, and Speight struggled against a surprisingly tough Hawkeye defense.
But it was hardly all Speight’s fault. Late in the game, with the outcome still in doubt, Speight found Chesson at the sideline for what would have been a first down. Instead, though, Chesson couldn’t hang on, and Manny Rugamba took the pass away at the Hawkeyes’ 25-yard line.
With a completion there, the Wolverines would have been in field-goal range with a chance to go up 16-11 or better with under four minutes remaining. Instead, the Hawkeyes went on to win, 14-13.
It didn’t come down to that one play, though. Michigan threw for just 103 yards all game, not enough to win in an imposing road environment. If there was a game the Wolverine receivers could have back, this one would no doubt be high on their list.
THE FUTURE: With Chesson and Darboh departing, the future is a bit unclear.
Sophomore slot receiver Grant Perry was in and out of the offense this year, but he showed solid potential. His 183 receiving yards were fifth-most on the team and the third-most by a wide receiver.
The main question is who will fill in around him. Freshmen receivers Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford both got their feet wet in the offense, but McDoom was primarily used on jet sweep and screen plays. He had five catches for 59 yards, and Crawford added four for 47. The Wolverines will need both to step up and fill the shoes of Darboh and Chesson.
In addition, redshirt junior receivers Drake Harris and Maurice Ways will be looked to as veterans to step up. Harris was a highly touted recruit who struggled with injuries early and has yet to make a significant impact, while Ways has drawn praise for his contributions blocking, but struggled to produce statistically.
As for incoming players, Michigan is reportedly targeting some of the nation’s best high school receivers — including Detroit Cass Tech’s Donovan Peoples-Jones — and some could contribute early.
There will likely be some clarity by the end of spring practice, when the Wolverines have had their extra bowl practices plus their spring allotment to evaluate their next crop of receivers.