Predicting the stats for Michigan football's top 5 wide receivers this season
Josh Gattis should bring improved pass attack to Ann Arbor
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan football team is coming off another disappointing end to a promising season, but there's more optimism for 2019 after the hire of new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
Jim Harbaugh decided to officially hand over the reins of the offense after another year in which the Wolverines lacked explosiveness against top competition.
Gattis is a first-time play caller, so fans don't know exactly what to expect, but he hasn't been shy in promising that the team will utilize the speed its wide receivers.
Luckily for Gattis, he has a loaded group of receivers to choose from.
Michigan will still run the ball and emulate some form of Harbaugh's offense, but the wide receivers should be more involved. That's a positive for the Wolverines, because receiver is one of the strongest positions on the roster.
Here's a prediction of what the stats could look like for Michigan's top five wide receivers this season.
1. Donovan Peoples-Jones
2019 stats: 47 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns
Look no further than Peoples-Jones to see how little Michigan utilized its wide receivers a year ago.
As a sophomore, Peoples-Jones led Michigan with just 47 catches in 13 games. The next-closest receive had just 38 catches.
Peoples-Jones was the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2017 recruiting class, and while he's been a good weapon for the Wolverines, he hasn't been a superstar. With Gattis at the helm, there's hope he'll have an opportunity to show his full potential.
Peoples-Jones made the biggest play of the season for Michigan, catching a 79-yard touchdown down the right sideline against Michigan State. The play wasn't anything fancy -- Peoples-Jones simply outran his defender and stepped out of the tackle. That turned the tide in a 7-7 road game.
He has excellent speed and great hands, but Peoples-Jones' best weapon is his elusiveness. That makes him a great punt returner and could make him even more dangerous if Gattis gets him the ball in space.
Expect Peoples-Jones to lead Michigan in receptions again this season, but it should be well over last season's total.
Prediction: 63 catches, 880 receiving yards, eight touchdowns
2. Nico Collins
2019 stats: 38 catches for 632 yards and six touchdowns
In his first year as a starter, Collins became quarterback Shea Patterson's favorite target in some of the biggest situations.
Collins finished second to Peoples-Jones in receptions and led the team with 632 receiving yards. Among all Wolverines with at least 10 catches last season, Collins posted a team-best 16.63 yards per catch.
When Michigan recruited Collins, he was advertised as a rare combination of size, speed and strong hands. That's exactly what Harbaugh got from the junior last season.
He's not a typical "speed in space" receiver, but Collins will get plenty of work in Gattis' offense. He should become the best red zone target due to his size and ability to get open on short routes over the middle.
Collins caught a touchdown against Michigan State, made four catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State and added five catches for 80 yards in the Peach Bowl. He showed up in big games, and he was only getting his feet wet at the college level.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see Collins develop into Michigan's best receiver this season.
Prediction: 55 catches, 835 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns
3. Tarik Black
2019 stats: Four catches for 35 yards
Michigan is one of the few teams in the nation with three wide receivers who have a chance to be stars. Black flashed that potential early in 2017, but injuries have kept him from having a chance to realize it.
A lot has changed since Black caught 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown during the 2017 nonconference schedule. He looked like Michigan's No. 1 receiver, but a foot injury against Air Force ended his season, and a preseason foot injury completely derailed his 2018 campaign.
When Black was last a full member of Michigan's offense, Patterson was playing for Ole Miss and Gattis was at Penn State. Grant Perry led the team with 307 receiving yards that season.
The situation looks much different in 2019.
It's up to Black to reacclimate himself into the offense and become the player he was trending toward as a true freshman. If he can do that, Michigan might just have the best trio of wide receivers in the Big Ten.
Prediction: 30 catches, 430 receiving yards, five touchdowns
4. Mike Sainristil
Recruiting ranking: No. 59 cornerback in 2019, No. 1 player from Massachusetts, No. 595 player overall
It feels risky predicting a true freshman to be the No. 4 receiver before watching him step on the field, but he's been the most talked about player during the offseason and there aren't many other realistic options.
Sainristil was a three-star cornerback when he committed and it didn't make many waves when he chose Michigan over the likes of Virginia Tech, Boston College, Indiana, North Carolina and Ole Miss.
He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Massachusetts as a senior and fits perfectly into Gattis' offense, if the coaches are to be believed.
As an early enrollee, Sainristil has an advantage over a pair of four-star wide receiver commits, Giles Jackson and Cornelius Johnson. He's been on campus since January and working in the new offense for half a year.
When Aug. 31 rolls around, Sainristil is expected to get significant playing time as a true freshman. That alone gives him a chance to be the team's No. 4 receiver.
Prediction: 28 catches, 380 receiving yards, four touchdowns
5. Ronnie Bell
2019 stats: Eight catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns
Bell wasn't a huge contributor for Michigan last season, but he certainly made his catches count, averaging 18.1 yards per reception and scoring twice in eight tries.
Speed and quickness are Bell's greatest weapons, and Gattis is expected to take advantage of those more often that Michigan's previous playcallers. There are only so many passes to go around, but Bell should see a bit of an increased role in 2019.
Harbaugh used Bell a few times on sweep plays, but it never worked. Gattis will likely find creative ways to use speed guys such as Bell and Sainristil out wide, in the slot and in the backfield -- whatever gets them the ball with room to turn a short pass into a big gain.
He only had eight catches as a true freshman, but it was enough to prove he belongs on a Big Ten roster.
Prediction: 25 catches, 290 receiving yards, three touchdowns
Other possible contributors
Both Jackson and Johnson could see some time as true freshmen this season. Jackson has the versatility and speed Gattis loves on offense, so he could be a player who sees his role increase throughout the year.
Johnson has good size at 6-foot-2, so if any of the top three receivers suffer injuries, he could be an option to step in.
Jake McCurry and Nate Schoenle have been contributors in the past but shouldn't see more than a few targets this year.
Oliver Martin transferred, so Michigan's depth took a bit of a hit this offseason.
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