Michigan has a proud history at the wide receiver position, all-time greats including Braylon Edwards, Anthony Carter, Mario Manningham, Desmond Howard, David Terrell, Amani Toomer and John Kolesar among a cohort that has produced 12 1,000-yard seasons (though none since 2013).
Michigan's 2017 wide receiver class, on paper, was supposed to be the best of them all. For only the second time in 20 years (as old as recruiting sites), the Wolverines brought in three four-star or better WR recruits: five-star Donovan People-Jones was the No. 12 player in the class, per 247Sports.com, while four-stars Tarik Black (No. 116) and Nico Collins (No. 138) were both in the Top 150.
The only other time a class included three four-star wideouts came in 2002 when Jason Avant (No. 118), Steve Breaston (190) and Carl Tabb (215) arrived in Ann Arbor together.
That trio would combine for 348 career receptions, 4,144 receiving yards and 23 touchdown receptions, most coming from Avant and Breaston (Tabb finished with 23 career catches for 201 yards and zero scores).
So far, the famed 2017 class of Peoples-Jones, Black and Collins has combined for 221 receptions, 3,222 yards and 29 touchdowns, the latter speaking to how dangerous this trio - all at 6-2 or taller - has been capable of all along.
After the 2019 season ended, the 2017 class splintered, Peoples-Jones announcing his intentions to go pro (he was drafted in the sixth round April 25) and Black transferring (he picked Texas April 28).
Only Collins returns for a senior season, and the legacy of the 2017 class rests squarely on his shoulders, though that's a bit misleading because, to some degree, the legacy has already been written - one in which two of the famed three largely underachieved, whether for their own fault or because they were misused.
Collins, thus, can do what many others have done before, distinguish himself individually from an otherwise forgettable receiver cohort.
That's what Roy Roundtree did in a 2008 class that also included Darryl Stonum, Terrance Robinson and Martavious Odoms. Roundtree finished with 154 catches for 2,304 yards and 15 scores. The rest of his classmates had 172 combined grabs for 2,151 yards and 11 TDs.
Other examples included: Junior Hemingway in 2007 (classmates Toney Clemons and Zion Babb); Mario Manningham in 2005 (Antonio Bass with the unfortunate career-ending injury and LaTerryal Savoy); and Adrian Arrington in 2004 (Doug Dutch and Keston Cheathem).
The 2017 class arrived at Michigan in what was supposed to be a golden age of offense. The Wolverines were set to feature a second-year starting QB their rookie year (Wilton Speight) while former five-star recruit Shea Patterson quarterbacked the offense for their sophomore and junior seasons.
During the 2017, 2018 and 2019 campaigns, there were 110 1,000-yard receiving seasons from pass catchers across the country, yet the best this trio could do was Collins' 729 yards in 2019. An incredible 290 pass catchers did better than that over 2017-2019 campaigns.
Peoples-Jones' 47 grabs in 2018, meanwhile, represented the most receptions any one of the three had, and 296 pass catchers nationally, including 10 running backs and eight tight ends, had more grabs in a season during 2017, 2018 and 2019.
If there is one thing this group can laud, its touchdown production demonstrates its capabilities. Peoples-Jones caught eight TDs in 2018 and six in 2019 while Collins had six in 2018 and seven in 2019. That ranked Peoples-Jones 51st nationally in 2018 and Collins 57th nationally. Still, when there were 84 pass catchers with 10 or more TDs from 2017-19, it once again demonstrates there was more to be had.
Collins gets the last word, however, and while he alone can't be expected to haul the in 127 balls needed for the 2017 class to tie the 2002 class for career receptions, he could get the 922 yards receiving to exceed the production of Avant, Breaston and Tabb. The 2017 class has already surpassed the 2002 cohort in TDs.
The proverbial "writing on the wall" was there for Peoples-Jones and Black had they returned for senior seasons - rising junior Ronnie Bell was likely to team with Collins to be Michigan's 1-2 punch in some fashion while sophomore Giles Jackson may have edged out Peoples-Jones and/or Black for No. 3 - but we'll never know what the entire 2017 class was capable of with one final go-round.
The 2002 class benefited greatly from senior seasons, Avant and Breaston recording career highs in catches (82 for Avant, 58 for Breaston), yards (1,007 for Avant and 670 for Breaston) and touchdowns (eight for Avant); Tabb had only one catch as a senior for two yards.
If Michigan's offense builds off its performance in November - the passing attack averaged 307.8 yards and 19.5 completions per game - Collins (or Bell) could have a 1,000-yard campaign, end U-M's drought, establish a personal legacy, and, maybe, just maybe, give the 2017 receiver class something positive to be remembered for.