Michigan Football begins spring practice for the 2017 season on March 24 and plays their annual spring game on April 15 at Michigan Stadium. Until then, we’ll be previewing each position group one-by-one. We’ve already looked at the offensive line, linebackers, defensive backs, and defensive line, so next is the wide receiver corps for the Wolverines.
Michigan will be losing two extremely talented receivers in Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson to the NFL, but there are more than a few guys ready to take their places. Though they may only have a combined 23 catches at the collegiate level, this group is brimming with potential. No matter who the starters are, expect to see all of them playing in some capacity.
Jedd Fisch, the team’s quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach, and passing game coordinator, departed for UCLA in January. He will be replaced by Pep Hamilton, who has coached extensively in the NFL and college, and also worked alongside Coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford.
As Grant Perry‘s status with the team for next season remains uncertain, I’ll be leaving him out of projections.
Wide Receiver 1: Kekoa Crawford (So), a former 4 star recruit, has a nice blend of size and speed similar to Chesson’s. The 6’2 Crawford is known more for his blocking, but has the ability to keep defenses honest with his deep receiving ability. Harbaugh loves receivers who bring a lot of toughness to the table, and Crawford has plenty of it. He won’t be handed a starting spot, but I get the feeling he’s the closest to earning one.
Wide Receiver 2: Drake Harris (Rs Jr) is one of the last Brady Hoke commits left on the team, and though those guys don’t have an excellent track record, Harris has an excellent shot of claiming a starting job for the first time now that he’s healthy. He has plenty of size at 6’4 and is the team’s most experienced receiver (aside from Perry). It seems like forever now that Michigan fans have been waiting on Harris to breakout since he came on as the #67 recruit nationally in the 2014 class, and this is probably his last chance to do so.
Slot Receiver: Nate Johnson (So) has the ideal size and athleticism for a slot receiver, and received a bit of praise from Coach Harbaugh last year for standing out in practices. Though the 5’11 Johnson has only played in three games and logged one reception, his skillset is especially unique among wide receivers on Michigan’s roster. Only three other receivers on the roster are under 6 feet tall. Most of the guys over that bar don’t possess the shiftiness and route-running ability required to play in the slot, which gives Johnson a unique advantage.
Key Reserves: Maurice Ways, Brad Hawkins, Nico Collins, Eddie McDoom, Simeon Smith
Early Enrollees: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black
Michigan will miss both Darboh and Chesson, but with so many talented players primed to take their place, the wide receiver group should be just fine going forward. In all honesty, this is a group that sorely needed an injection of youth, and it’ll be getting plenty this year.
Early enrollees Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black could both make significant contributions early in their careers as deep threats if they don’t win starting jobs. 6’5 freshman Nico Collins and 6’6 walk-on Simeon Smith round out Michigan’s huge (literally) receiver depth chart and both are already well on their way to becoming fan favorites. They are less likely to contribute this year, but are key players going forward.
Though there are no “superstars” here yet, as Harbaugh likes to say, “Iron sharpens iron.” The competition for starting spots at this position will be fierce, and the players will be made better for it. Rather than three clear-cut winners, I expect the competition to be close among four to six guys, and seeing as how Harbs likes to play with his offensive depth, there will probably be a lot of rotating going on not only through spring practices, but into the regular season.
This group will be one of the more exciting to monitor in spring practices. Don’t expect everything to fall into place right away, but this group could end up being surprisingly solid this year.
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