The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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72 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIME TO SOAR U-M's Pass Catchers Hope To Take Off In 2021 BY JOHN BORTON [ W I D E R E C E I V E R S ] M ichigan football found itself grounded merely halfway through its original 12-game regular-season schedule last year. That premature landing took with it plenty of would- be high-flyers. Nico Collins never got off the ground, opting to sit out the season amid autumn uncertainty. That took a third-round NFL Draft pick out of the lineup. Inconsistency and upheaval at quarterback impacted the receivers as well. Dylan McCaffrey bowed out before the season ever started. Joe Milton played in all six games, but he completed just 56.7 percent of his attempts and threw as many interceptions as he did touchdown passes. Following the truncated season, he hit the transfer portal as well. Life appears more settled these days among Michigan's skill-posi- tion players. Young veterans, a hotshot rookie and insurance in the form of a transfer in have quarterback looking more stable — at least for now. Normal spring sessions and a hoped-for full schedule could assist in tak- ing Michigan's offense to the anticipated speed-in-space format desired by offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. It would beat the suffering-during- shutdown look the Wolverines endured when idled last year. Gattis talked about what a boost it was, diving into full spring sessions for development. He also noted, on Jon Jansen's 'In The Trenches' podcast, some additional elements for a rising tide among the receiving corps. "We finally feel we have the speed needed, and we have come along with the detail," Gat- tis said. "We've got some guys right now that are playing at a really high level from a detail standpoint. "Cornelius Johnson and Mikey Sainristil — those guys stand out when you walk out to our field. Seeing the level of consistency they're playing with — the plays they're making, they're making because of the details, not just because of how athletic or how fast they are. They're applying the whole toolbox." Both sophomores eligibility-wise, Johnson and Sainristil ought to play major roles for the Wolverines this season. Johnson led the team in touchdown receptions (three) during the shortened campaign, while finishing second in catches (16) and receiving yards (254). He led U-M in average yards per reception (15.9). "He's got more confidence," Jansen told The With 82 career catches for 1,304 yards, junior Ronnie Bell has nearly double the amount of college production as the rest of the receiving corps combined (50 grabs for 723 yards). However, Bell has found the end zone just four times, while sophomore Cornelius Johnson has done so four times, sophomore Mike Sainristil three and freshman Roman Wilson once. Sixty-seven of the team's 123 completions last year went for 10 or more yards, a total that ranked 78th in the land. While more than half of U-M's connected passes gained double-digit yards, only seven throws went for at least 30 (tied for 93rd nationally) and one for 50 or more (tied for 84th). According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Bell moved the chains a team-high 18 times on his 26 grabs last year (69.2 percent). He also led the Wolverines with 207 yards after the catch and cut his drop percentage in half — going from 14.8 the year prior to 7.1 — while his 8.0 yards after the catch per reception tied for 20th nationally among FBS pass catchers with at least 30 targets. Johnson's first-down rate was not far behind Bell (11 of 16, 68.8 percent), while Wilson had the highest NFL passer rating when targeted (115.8) among U-M wideouts, though he did not top Bell (111.8) by much. [ F Y I ] Sophomore Cornelius John- son led Michigan in touch- down receptions (three) during the shortened 2020 campaign, while finishing second on the team in catches (16) and receiving yards (254). PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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