Michigan has finished its spring football practices and has returned from Rome, leaving nearly three months before the start of preseason camp. The biggest question facing the Wolverines entering spring ball: How do they handle the loss of 17 starters?
Those spring practices revealed that what Michigan lacks in experience can be made up with a high talent level that has coaches excited about the 2017 season.
Land of 10 is taking a look at various position groups during the offseason and the battles for playing time that will take place when August camp arrives. Today: wide receivers.
A lot of hype
Michigan wide receivers caught 119 passes last season, but three players responsible for 105 receptions are no longer on the team. Amara Darboh (57 catches) and Jehu Chesson (35) were drafted by NFL teams Seattle and Kansas City, respectively. Grant Perry (13) is suspended from the team while he faces charges stemming from an incident in East Lansing last October during which he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman. Sophomore Eddie McDoom’s 5 catches are the most by any returning Wolverines player.
Whether incumbent Wilton Speight retains his starting quarterback job or is beaten out by Brandon Peters or John O’Korn, the passing attack must incorporate new chemistry lines in order to be effective. Speight had confidence last season to throw the ball up for Darboh and Chesson, that those two would be in the right position and would win their matchups. This season there will be a heavy reliance on a freshman class of recruits that includes five wide receivers. There is plenty of talent and potential on the roster, but it’s unproven.
The nation’s top-ranked receiver recruit (according to the 247Sports composite ratings) is well known in the state, having starred at Cass Tech in Detroit. Donovan Peoples-Jones (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) caught more than 100 passes for more than 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns the past two seasons combined. There will be a lot of pressure on Peoples-Jones to become the No. 1 receiver for the Wolverines. That’s a lot to ask of any freshman, but the coaches have liked what they’ve seen from Peoples-Jones in the spring as an early enrollee.
Tarik Black, also an early enrollee, impressed in the spring game, catching 4 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown on a fade pattern. He’s a little bigger (6-4, 206) than Peoples-Jones and can provide a more physical presence in his route running and in the red zone. The two should complement each other well the next few seasons. Black caught 127 passes for 2,239 yards and 31 touchdowns in his last three seasons at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut.
Tarik Black finds the endzone for BLUE!
Close game with 3:01 to go.
MAIZE – 28 // BLUE – 23
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) April 15, 2017
Eddie McDoom got to watch and learn last season while being utilized as a slot receiver. He had more rushing attempts (16) than receptions (5), but he will be more integral to the passing game this season. An ankle injury suffered in the spring game isn’t expected to hamper McDoom.
The veteran of the wide receivers, Maurice Ways has yet to make a big impact on the field, at least in terms of receptions (5 catches for 64 yards in two seasons). But he’s a team leader who understands the offense and will have a shot at a bigger role this season.
Another big-bodied target (6-4, 201), Nico Collins caught 103 passes for 1,968 yards and 25 touchdowns in his last two seasons at Clay-Chalkville High School in the Birmingham, Ala., area. He was ranked as the No. 23 wide receiver in the country in the Class of 2017.
Might be a surprise to see Nate Schoenle on this list, but the walk-on sophomore caught a pair of passes for 58 yards in the spring game, including a diving 40-yard reception that set up the game-deciding field goal. Schoenle will likely see limited action, but he might earn himself more time on special teams.
The native of Iowa City, Iowa, moved up the recruiting ranks with a strong showing last summer at camps such as The Opening. Oliver Martin then did nothing in his senior season at Iowa City West to diminish his ranking. Martin caught 85 passes for 1,272 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, helping West reach the Iowa Class 4A state championship game. He was listed at No. 28 among wide receivers, giving Michigan four freshmen in the top 30.
Brad Hawkins was originally a member of the 2016 recruiting class but he spent last season at Suffield Academy, a prep school in Connecticut. That allowed Hawkins to work on his game (51 catches, 868 yards, 11 touchdowns) and improve his academics as he and Michigan maintained their commitment to each other. At 6-2, 205 pounds, add Hawkins to the list of big receivers the Wolverines are stocking up on.