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2016 Preview -Backs and Receivers

August 29, 2016

QUARTERBACKS

Depth Chart – Wilton Speight (JR), John O’Korn (RS JR), , Shane Morris (SR), Alex Malzone (SO), Brandon Peters (FR) 

Overview

As of Monday of gameweek Coach Harbaugh has yet to officially name a starter, but all signs point to it being junior Wilton Speight.   This is somewhat of a surprise given that John O’Korn was rumored to be the best quarterback on the team last year, though unable to play since he had just transferred from Houston.  

You may remember Speight from last year’s Minnesota game where he surprisingly lead a game winning touchdown drive to save the win after Jake Rudock went out with an injury.  Speight is a former unheralded Hoke recruit, but the word on the street is that he is the one who knows the playbook backwards and forwards and makes significantly less mistakes than O’Korn.  

Beyond O’Korn and Speight, the quarterback depth chart is actually pretty stacked.  Senior Shane Morris is still on the roster (though he did play some wide receiver in the spring) as well as sophomore Alex Malzone.  If for some reason we get that far down the depth chart though, I’d expect to see freshmen Brandon Peters over both of them.  He’s probably the most talented quarterback on the roster and may push to be the starter next year once he learns the playbook.  Ideally, he’ll redshirt this year however, preserving four years of eligibility.  

RUNNING BACKS

Depth Chart –  De’Veon Smith (SR), Drake Johnson (RS SR), Ty Isaac (SR), Jabrill Peppers (JR), Karan Higdon (SO), Chris Evans (FR), Kareem Walker (FR), Kingston Davis, (FR) 

Overview

Michigan has no shortage of options at running back with three experienced backs returning, a bevy of freshmen and if needed, Jabrill Peppers.  De’Veon Smith was solid but not spectacular while rushing for 753 yards last year.  He’ll likely be the starter for the opener, and given his ability to catch out of the backfield and block, will likely get the majority of the snaps for the season.  He’s a good dependable back, but will need to improve his ability to find the hole in order to make a leap to the next level.  

After a freak offseason injury due to be running over by a forklift (not a typo) Drake Johnson is back to 100%.  He’s always had the ability to make plays and move the chains, the question is whether or not he can stay healthy.  He will get his chance to carry the ball though and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him have a big year if he can stay on the field.  

Ty Isaac is probably the most talented of the upper classmen but has yet to put it together mentally have transferring from USC.  He has the ability to break big runs and add a scary dimension to the offense.  Here is hoping it finally clicks for the senior.  

As for the young guys, Karan Higdon showed promise as a freshmen last year and could see some snaps even with this crowded depth chart.  Of the true freshmen, the name that keeps coming up is Chris Evans.  He’s probably the fastest of the backs not named Jabrill Peppers and is apparently pretty good catching the ball out of the backfield.  You’ll likely hear his name at some point this fall.  Kareem Walker was the highest ranked back coming out of high school but a variety of non football related issues have several indicating he will redshirt.  Davis is a candidate to redshirt as well unless he can contribute on special teams.  Finally, given the strength of the defense and improved offense, there may be less need for Peppers on offense.  That being said, he’s too talented not to use occasionally in a variety of ways, so don’t be shocked to see #5 in the backfield.  

FULLBACKS 

Depth Chart – Khalid Hill (RS JR), Henry Poggi (RS JR), Wyatt Shallman (RS JR), Bobby Henderson (RS SR) 

Overview

The graduation of Sione Houma and Joe Kerridge left a pretty large hole at FB.  On the list of things to still be angry at Brady Hoke for, burning Houma’s redshirt unnecessarily can be added near the top of the list.  

The good news is that the cupboard is not entirely bare.  Khalid Hill was an effective tight end last year and should be the starter.  Based on practice reports he has been doing a pretty nice job.  At 6’2, 260+ lbs, he certainly can open some holes.  Behind him is Henry Poggi, who started on the defensive line but was a backup option at fullback last year.  Poggi is probably the better blocker of the two, so he’ll definitely see the field when that skillset is needed.  

Last year the combination of Kerridge and Houma was an exciting surprise.  I’m not sure Hill and Poggi can replicate that kind of value to the team, but they should be more than serviceable.  

WIDE RECEIVERS

Depth Chart – Jehu Chesson (SR), Amara Darboh (SR), Grant Perry (SO), Drake Harris (RS SO), Moe Ways (RS SO), Eddie McDoom (FR), Kekoa Crawford (FR), Nate Johnson (FR)

Overview

After defensive line, the wide receivers may be the deepest position group on the team. Seniors Chesson and Darboh lead the way after breakout junior seasons where they combined for over 100 catches, almost 1500 yards, and 14 touchdowns.  Chesson is on several pre-season All American lists and Darboh is mentioned among the best in the Big Ten.  Together, they give Michigan the top receiving corps in the conference.  

After a strong end to his freshman season, Grant Perry will likely be the third receiver to see the field in the slot role.  He struggled a little bit with drops last year, but looked to get past that after a breakout performance in the bowl game.  Drake Harris, a highly sought after recruit is still looking for his breakout moment after battling hamstring issues his first two years on campus.  He has the talent and ability to be a very good receiver if he can stay healthy.   Moe Ways is recovering from an ankle injury from the spring but is back at practicing full speed and will probably see some time, especially in any blowouts.  

Despite the recent departure of Ahmir Mitchell, the freshman class is still impressive and may be tough to keep off the field.  Kekoa Crawford has drawn quite a few rave reviews in practice and the incredibly named Eddie McDoom might be the fastest guy on the team.  Given the talent above them they  might not see a ton of snaps, but don’t be surprised to see either make a big play, especially in one of the early season games. The other freshman to watch out for here is Chris Evans who is also a running back.  He’ll probably see some time in the slot as well as they look to get him the ball in space. Finally, Nate Johnson is destined to be a slot receiver, but will probably redshirt.  

Overall, this is arguably the most talented group of receivers Michigan has had since 2006 with Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington leading the way.  Assuming the quarterback situation gets worked out, we could see a lot of receiving yards being racked up this year.  

 

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