The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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68 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW WIDE RECEIVERS BY CHRIS BALAS M ichigan entered the 2019 season with a lot of chatter about the "All- NFL" receiving corps many figured could rank with some of the best in U-M history. The Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black duo had the potential to be the next Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant or David Terrell and Marquise Walker tandem, they thought … at least if they lived up to their potential. Instead, neither Peoples-Jones nor Black finished among the top two receivers on their own team, let alone the country or Wolver- ine record books. Junior Ronnie Bell led the team with 48 catches and 758 receiving yards, while senior Nico Collins was next with 37 receptions for 729 yards. Fair or not, several might argue Peoples- Jones and Black (whose 761 yards combined were only three better than Bell's total) got what they put in effort-wise, while Bell and Collins emerged as the go-to guys. When quarterback Shea Patterson needed a critical first down or a big play, he knew where to turn. Per Pro Football Focus (PFF), Bell and Collins garnered 149 combined targets to Peoples-Jones and Black's 103, and turned them into first downs or touch- downs 44.3 percent of the time, compared to Peoples-Jones and Black's rate of 35.9. The same duo should lead the 2020 re- ceiving corps after Collins chose to return for his senior year rather than test the NFL waters. "Those guys are great with each other, being led by Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins," offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said this spring. "I couldn't be more excited about the wide receiver room right now." And that's without see- ing them go through spring ball on the field. The March session was canceled due to coronavirus concerns, of course, and Gattis only got to teach virtually. Bell, Collins and the rest were left to work out at home, and they often had to find creative ways to do it. In one Twitter video, in fact, Bell was seen pushing a truck in neutral down the street. But Collins was and should remain the big-play guy after averaging 19.7 yards per reception and leading the team with seven touchdowns in 2019. Thirty-one of his 37 catches moved the chains (83.8 percent), and he dropped just four of his 66 targets according to PFF. His 76-yarder for a score at Indiana was the team's longest of the year, and the 6-4, 222-pounder is primed for an even more productive season in 2020. West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School head coach and former Michigan wide re- ceiver Ron Bellamy has spent ample time around his former program over the last few years, and he has seen plenty of the U-M receivers on film and in person. He believes Collins is primed for the next step in his development. "Nico is one of the better college wide receivers not just for Michigan and the Big Ten, but also nationally," he said. "That's huge, especially with Donovan Peoples- Jones declaring for the draft. "I think it's an understatement to say ev- ery team needs a big receiver to be success- ful. I look at the Clemson receivers, how much havoc they caused. I look at OSU with Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack, who is 6-2; the LSU guys … you need these big re- ceivers that can blow the top off their routes, but more importantly win the 50-50 match- ups that I know Nico can win." His size and speed combination sets him apart, Bellamy added. There aren't many, if any, cornerbacks who can match up with him physically, and graduated corner Lavert Hill even once said he was the toughest to defend because of his strength once he gets his hands on the ball. "Usually when you take a receiver that PRESEASON ANALYSIS: WIDE RECEIVERS STARTERS ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Nico Collins and Ronnie Bell could start for most Big Ten teams, and both are candidates for 1,000-yard seasons. The Wolverines' third option is open, but it will likely be someone who has played a lot (likely sophomore Mike Sainristil or classmate Giles Jackson) and made big plays in big games. DEPTH ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The Wolverines could use another big re- ceiver or two — sophomore Cornelius John- son is the only scholarship receiver besides Collins who stands over six-feet tall — but there are a lot of playmakers in this group. One or both freshmen (A.J. Henning and Ro- man Wilson) could also see the field. They're that talented. X-FACTOR Can Bell catch everything thrown his way in 2020? He had his share of drops in 2019, but was still the most targeted (by 17) of the Wolverines' talented receiving corps because of his route-running ability. His quarterbacks trusted him. He could be a 1,000-yard guy if he hauls in his opportunities this fall. OVERALL ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Gattis seems legitimately more excited about this group than he did last year 's bunch that featured former five-star Dono- van Peoples-Jones and fellow top-100 recruit Tarik Black. Both have moved on, leaving Collins and Bell to lead the way — and that's a great duo around which to build. There is want-to, depth and versatility in this bunch. QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Josh Gattis (second season). Returning Starters: Nico Collins (22 career starts) and Ronnie Bell (10). Departing Starters: Donovan Peoples-Jones (26) and Tarik Black (10). Projected New Starter: Giles Jackson or Mike Sainristil. Top Reserves: Cornelius Johnson, A.J. Henning and Jackson or Sainristil. Wait Until 2021: Roman Wilson. Newcomers: Henning and Wilson. Moved In: None. Moved Out: Black (transferred to Texas) and George Johnson (moved to DB). Rookie Impact: Henning. Most Improved Player: Cornelius Johnson. Best Pro Prospect: Collins. The CompleTe paCkage U-M's Pass Catchers Boast Talent, Depth And Versatility YEAR-BY-YEAR RECEIVING LEADERS Year Player Catches Yards TD 2019 Ronnie Bell 48 758 1 2018 Nico Collins 38 632 6 2017 Grant Perry 25 307 1 2016 Amara Darboh 57 862 7 2015 Amara Darboh 58 727 5 2014 Devin Funchess 62 733 4 2013 Jeremy Gallon 89 1,373 9 2012 Jeremy Gallon 49 829 4 2011 Junior Hemingway 34 699 4 2010 Roy Roundtree 72 935 7

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