Michigan Needs To Use Its Wide Receivers Better In 2021

Michigan has had and still has talented wide receivers but the production hasn't been there.
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Today's college football is all about offense. Alabama won the national title last year and gave up nearly 20 points per game over the course of the season. Ohio State gave up nearly 26 points per game. All told, 59 programs gave up more than 30 points per game in 2020. Scoring is the name of the game and Michigan hasn't done enough of it over the last few seasons.

Part of the problem for Michigan has been the lack of an explosive passing game. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to a passing offense being successful — the offensive line has to give the quarterback time, the quarterback has to be able to go through his progressions, get the ball out quickly and accurately and make something happen when the play breaks down and the running game has to be complimentary at the very least. And then there's the wide receivers, of course.

Michigan has had some really good ones over the last few years, but none of them have been overly productive. It's been well documented that Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was a five-star prospect and the No. 1 wide receiver in the country coming out of high school, never had a 100-yard receiving game while at U-M. Michigan hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jeremy Gallon in 2013. Nico Collins, who at 6-4, 220 pounds and with 4.4 speed, never had 40 catches or double-digit touchdowns in a single season. Those numbers just simply aren't good enough.  

Collins' lack of production in particular is especially frustrating. Partially because he didn't put up big numbers in 2018 or 2019, and also because he opted out in 2020. With that said, one can't help but think that he would've considered playing last season had he been utilized more. His combination of size, strength, speed, ability after the catch and body control make him a quarterback's dream. Throw in the fact that he was actually really good when targeted downfield and you almost can't comprehend how his numbers were so pedestrian. In fact, per CFB Film Room, Collins was the third-best deep threat drafted in this year's NFL Draft.

Almost 20% of Collins' receptions were 20+ yards downfield — he simply didn't get enough opportunities. When you stack up his numbers against the other four receivers on this list, it's almost laughable. We decided to use the 2019 season since Collins and Ja'Marr Chase both opted out in 2020, Tutu Atwell and Jaylen Waddle both missed time due to injury and obviously the season wasn't normal in length for anyone.

Wide Receiver Production

PlayerReceptionsYardsTouchdowns

Ja'Marr Chase

84

1,780

20

Dyami Brown

51

1,034

12

Nico Collins

37

729

7

Jalen Waddle

33

560

6

Tutu Atwell

69

1,272

11

Some might look at this list and see some problems with it.

Obviously Ja'Marr Chase's season was part of one of the best offensive campaigns ever with a Heisman winning Joe Burrow throwing him the ball. That obviously helped his cause and a lot of fans blame the quarterbacks as the reason why the receivers aren't productive at Michigan. However, Dyami Brown had a true freshman Sam Howell throwing to him, while Tutu Atwell had a very inconsistent Malik Cunningham throwing to him. They both put up huge numbers.

Jaylen Waddle did not put up huge numbers, which may cause some to say that the numbers don't carry weight. "Waddle was just a first-round pick and his numbers are worse than Collins' in 2019." The problem with that argument — Waddle was the No. 4 receiver for Alabama that year behind Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III. He was almost as productive as Collins as a true sophomore behind three first-round superstars. 

When you look at these numbers, you can't help but scratch your head because Collins might be the most physically gifted receiver of the bunch. He's not as fast as the others, but he's got plenty of speed and is much bigger than every other receiver on this list. Hell, Atwell is all of 5-9, 155 pounds and he nearly touched 1,300 yards. When you have a guy like Collins you have to feed him. Throw it to him, throw it to him and then throw it to him again. It is absolutely criminal that Nico Collins averaged just 2.7 receptions per game during his time at Michigan. 

So now it's about correcting it. Michigan doesn't have anyone on the roster that looks like Collins, Peoples-Jones or even Tarik Black at this point, but that's okay, because there is a lot of speed and talent in that receiver room. Plus, Atwell (5-9, 155), Waddle (5-9, 180) and Brown (6-1, 189) are all small guys. They can fly, but so can Roman Wilson and AJ Henning. Wilson (6-0, 180), Mike Sainristil (5-10, 183) and Henning (5-10, 185), along with Ronnie Bell (6-0, 190) and Cornelius Johnson (6-3, 205), could all fit in physically just fine with the players mentioned above. 

No more excuses. Josh Gattis, Matt Weiss and Jim Harbaugh need to figure this thing out. It's time to play to the strengths of the talented players on the roster and step into 2021. Coach up the quarterback, whoever it is, scheme receivers open, push the ball down the field, get the ball to speedy guys in one-on-one situations and in space and let the playmakers make plays. The DPJ/Nico ship has sailed, but there's still plenty of capable pass catchers on the roster.