Now that we have seen two games this season, we have a good understanding on where this Michigan football team is at, and where this football team can go. We have seen positions from last season that are much improved (QB), position groups that may not be quite as strong (interior DL), and some that should make noticeable strides as the season goes on (OL).
But one group I don’t think is getting the credit that they deserve so far are the wide receivers.
Last season was a real struggle for the receiving corps. Maybe it was because of the struggling QBs that Michigan had to deal with every week. Maybe it was because the OL couldn’t give the QB enough time to find open receivers. Or maybe it was because this group was too young and inexperienced to overcome the loss to Tarik Black.
Whatever the reason was, the receivers had a hard time creating separation and making plays a season ago. Michigan’s leader in receptions in 2017 was a TE, Sean McKeon. He had 31 catches. When a TE leads your team in receptions, that’s usually a problem. When the amount of receptions that led your team was 31, that’s an even bigger problem.
Grant Perry and DPJ were second and third on the team in catches with 25 and 22 respectively. It’s no secret that bad QB play played a role in these incredibly low receiving numbers. But the fact is, the receivers had plenty of their own struggles.
The 2018 Hype
Coming into 2018, the hype for the receiving corps was very high. Tarik Black was healthy. DPJ was poised for a breakout season. Grant Perry and Oliver Martin would have the slot locked down and Nico Collins would provide Shea Patterson with another tall receiver capable of being a deep threat.
And then on August 26th, one week before the season opener, Michigan was hit with awful news. Tarik Black was injured in practice and would miss considerable time with another foot injury.
Michigan wide receiver Tarik Black is out indefinitely with an injured right foot. https://t.co/gwLQmo1lbH
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) August 26, 2018
So how have the Michigan receivers performed through 2 games without Tarik Black? Let’s dive into the numbers. First off, Michigan’s top 4 players so far in receptions are all wide receivers, so that’s a great sign.
Donovan Peoples-Jones leads the way with ten catches and a touchdown. Grant Perry comes in second with 5 grabs and Nico Collins and Oliver Martin both have 4. Are these crazy big numbers through 2 games? No. But last game Michigan only threw the ball 18 times and in their season opener against Notre Dame, they threw it 30 times.
Michigan hasn’t exactly aired it out yet so the receiving numbers won’t reflect how good this group is progressing especially without Tarik Black. They look light years more comfortable than a season ago and they seem to be creating better separation early in their routes.
Oliver Martin has been the biggest surprise so far as he looks extremely comfortable in the slot.
Nice catch by Oliver Martin. pic.twitter.com/dIw2xVr8Af
— Jeff Yoder (@jeff_yoder) September 8, 2018
Nico Collins has been exactly what Michigan needs him to be. A deep threat that can take the top off a defense. Here is his 44 yard TD grab from last week:
Shea Patterson hit Nico Collins for a 44-yard score.
It was the first touchdown by a Michigan wide receiver in 364 days. pic.twitter.com/BDrWyib7Cc
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) September 8, 2018
It’s also worth noting that the Michigan offense went almost a full year without a receiver catching a touchdown pass. This season through two games, they have three.
Stats will not show how well the receivers have progressed this season. As time goes by and they get more experience and more comfortable, expect this group to continue to thrive even without Tarik Black.
It also doesn’t hurt to have #2 throwing you the ball.