Ranking 10 Michigan football WRs most likely to start against Florida
Jim Harbaugh replaces top 2 receivers from last season
In just three days, the Michigan football team will take the field for the first time in the 2017 season against the Florida Gators in Dallas. Jim Harbaugh's team is loaded with so many young players that it's difficult to know what to expect from this year's Wolverines.
It was even tougher without an official roster.
Harbaugh made headlines this month by not releasing the team's roster until just before game day. He promised in an Aug. 20 tweet that the roster would be "determined and publicized" Wednesday, and sure enough, he tweeted it out during the wee hours of the morning.
One of the positions that will be closely watched is the wide receiver corps, which lost 79.2 percent of its production in terms of catches from 2016. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson combined for 92 of the wide receivers' 120 catches before moving on to the NFL.
Who will start against Florida? There are so many options in the freshman and sophomore classes, and even a few veterans who might have something to say about this race. Knowing full well that Harbaugh might do something unprecedented on Saturday, let's take a stab at ranking the wide receivers' chances to start.
1. Eddie McDoom
2016 stats: 5 catches for 59 yards, 16 carries for 160 yards
I think the safest bet for a starting wide receiver is Eddie McDoom, who could wiggle his way into the lineup in a number of ways.
McDoom is likely to be utilized as a slot receiver, but he had more than three times as many carries as catches last year, as Harbaugh made a point to get him the football by any means. He averaged 10 yards per carry, most of which came on jet sweeps, and eight of his 16 carries went for at least 10 yards.
In the passing game, McDoom only caught five passes because he simply wasn't near the top of the target list. That can be said for every single member of this ranking, as Darboh, Chesson and Jake Butt got 60.5 percent of the team's catches.
McDoom can definitely be dangerous in the passing game, though. His speed and agility will make him a terror after the catch, and Harbaugh will continue to get him touches in space with handoffs and the short passing game.
2. Tarik Black
Recruiting profile: 4-star, No. 15 WR commit
The cards fell perfectly into place for a true freshman to start at wide receiver this season, but Tarik Black might have made a case even in a normal season.
Black came to Michigan as the No. 1 player in the state of Connecticut, but he was overshadowed by some of the team's more highly rated commits. During the spring game, he burst from those shadows, making four catches for 50 yards and a critical touchdown from John O'Korn.
The coaches have heaped praise on Black, and it's clear the early enrollee has benefited from learning the offense and working with O'Korn and Wilton Speight. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Black can go up and get the ball in traffic, and he showed he can also run routes more effectively than an average true freshman.
Black was clearly O'Korn's favorite target during the spring game, so it appears he's taken advantage of the openings left in the receiving corps. I would be surprised if he's not one of the starters to open the season.
3. Kekoa Crawford
2016 stats: 4 catches for 47 yards and 1 touchdown, 3 carries for 15 yards
With four elite receiver commits joining the roster in 2017, Michigan's top wideout from 2016 has flown under the radar. But Kekoa Crawford has suddenly become the team's most experienced outside receiver, and he's only got four catches in his career.
Crawford caught an 18-yard pass in his first college game, but it was his blocking ability that earned him playing time in all 13 of Michigan's games. Crawford contributed as a wide receiver and on special teams throughout 2016, and appears primed for a bigger role as a sophomore.
Again, he was used mainly as a blocker last season, but he was brought to Ann Arbor because he has reliable hands and can make plays downfield. Harbaugh got creative with Crawford in 2016, giving him three carries on sweep plays, but he figures to play a more traditional role than McDoom in the offense going forward.
4. Donovan Peoples-Jones
Recruiting profile: 5-star, No. 1 WR commit
Before Black's coming-out party in the spring, Donovan Peoples-Jones was the clear favorite to make an immediate impact at Michigan after committing out of Detroit Cass Tech High School.
It takes a deep set of skills to be named the No. 1 receiver in a recruiting class, and Peoples-Jones has all of them. He's fast, athletic and has very reliable hands. He has the playmaking ability of McDoom with a much bigger frame.
It wouldn't shock anybody to see Peoples-Jones on the field for Michigan's first offensive play. The early enrollee was another regular target during the spring game, though he didn't put up a stat line that rivaled Black's.
When coaches have talked about the young receivers this offseason, the only word standing between Peoples-Jones and a potential starting job has been "polish." While he's one of the top athletes on the roster, players like Crawford and Black might have the edge over him Saturday because of their route running and blocking abilities.
If we were ranking which receivers on Michigan's roster are most likely to become stars, Peoples-Jones would be at the top.
5. Grant Perry
2016 stats: 13 catches for 183 yards and 1 touchdown
Michigan's most experienced receiver made headlines this year for all the wrong reasons, facing sexual assault charges for an incident during last season outside an East Lansing bar. Perry was suspended from the team, but returned to the roster and accepted a plea deal to drop some of the charges.
From a football perspective, I can only imagine Perry was allowed back on the roster with an expectation that he will play a big role in this year's offense, and that's why he's so high on the list.
The Bloomfield Hills native caught 13 passes last season, more than anybody on the current (unofficial) roster. His experience in big games is the main reason to believe he could win a starting job out of fall camp.
Perry showed up on the biggest stage last season, catching four passes for 49 yards against Ohio State -- the program's most important game since 2006. His skills are best suited for a slot position, though he averaged 14.1 yards per reception last year.
Perry is the veteran of the group, and that alone gives him a chance to crack the starting lineup with Michigan kicking off the season on such a big stage.
6. Maurice Ways
2016 stats: 2 catches for 24 yards
We've reached the second half of the rankings, and this is the cutoff in which it would be a surprise to see anyone below Perry starting against Florida.
But if there's a favorite out of the underdogs, it's probably Ways, who is participating fully in practice and appears to be healthy for the first time in a year.
Ways has barely had a chance to make a splash at Michigan, battling injuries and combining for just five catches and 64 yards between 2015 and 2016. He's one of Michigan's bigger receivers, and like Perry, could get a chance based on his experience.
Even as a junior, Ways is among the unknowns at wide receiver heading into the season. He's likely to have the biggest role of his career, but that doesn't mean he'll be a starter.
7. Oliver Martin
Recruiting profile: 4-star, No. 29 WR commit
Oliver Martin was technically Michigan's fourth-ranked wide receiver commit this offseason, but Harbaugh has shown he's not afraid to play young players in the slot, and that's exactly where Martin could end up.
Martin's best attribute is expected to be his reliable hands, and even at 6-1, that could earn him some playing time as a true freshman. Martin was the No. 1 player in the state of Iowa because he's ready to contribute early. But Black and Peoples-Jones have an edge over him in the opener because they've spent five more months on campus.
McDoom enrolled last June as a three-star slot receiver and played in Michigan's season opener against Hawaii, so don't count out Martin making an appearance against Florida.
8. Nate Schoenle
2016 stats: None
Preferred walk-on Nate Schoenle saw the field in his first college action against Hawaii last season, but spent the rest of the year on the sidelines. Most fans probably didn't know his name until the spring game, but Harbaugh has made a point of mentioning the redshirt freshman ever since.
Schoenle earned a longer look during the spring game, when he caught two passes for 58 yards, including a diving 40-yard catch to set up the game-winning field goal. Since then, Harbaugh has mentioned Schoenle in most conversations about the wide receivers, insisting that he's in the mix for a major role.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) April 15, 2017
The Plymouth native doesn't match up to the rest of these names in terms of recruiting profile, but Schoenle has been singled out as a player who could surprisingly crack the starting lineup. I wouldn't count on him starting against Florida, but we can't rule him out after a strong offseason.
9. Nico Collins
Recruiting profile: 4-star, No. 23 WR commit
The final remaining piece of the incredible 2017 Michigan wide receiver class, Collins committed to Michigan out of Alabama. He's got one of the most valuable attributes that can't be taught: Size.
Collins might not be the most polished receiver on this list, but he's got red-zone target written all over him, and Michigan is very inexperienced in that regard. With an entirely new group of tight ends taking over this year, a 6-5 receiver like Collins is invaluable in short-yardage situations.
Collins is ninth on this list because he's not likely to start on Saturday, but he's up near the top in terms of upside. You probably won't see Collins much against Florida, but you'll see plenty of him during his Michigan career.
10. Jack Wangler
2016 stats: None
Jack Wangler has yet to catch a pass in his college career, and there's almost no chance he'll be a starter against Florida. But he's a former walk-on who has worked his way onto the field at Michigan, so his experience is valuable to this group of young players.
Wangler was targeted a few times during the spring game and was obviously an important part of the team since Harbaugh brought him back for a fifth year. It's not impossible that Wangler will make his first catch this season, but I don't see him making a start.
Position change: Nate Johnson
2016 stats: 1 catch for 4 yards
The third member of the 2016 class's wide receiver trio, Johnson didn't get as many offensive reps as Crawford and McDoom last season.
Harbaugh experimented with Johnson's speed and athleticism by testing him out at kick and punt returner during the spring and having him work with the defensive backs during the fall. In the roster that was released Wednesday, it appears Johnson has officially made the switch to defensive back, although it's not impossible that he'll make an appearance at receiver.
As a second-year player with high upside, he's still got a chance to get into the mix on both sides of the ball.
Former top recruit Drake Harris also made the move from receiver to defensive back this season.
Other receivers on the roster: Jake Martin, Brandon White, Eric Kim, Evan Latham
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