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Posts Tagged ‘Devin Funchess’

M&GB Roundtable discusses Michigan Football Legends jerseys

Friday, July 11th, 2014


Roundtable-Legends jerseys

Gardner legends jersey(USATSI)

Two weeks ago we debuted our M&GB Roundtable series that will run every couple weeks throughout the summer. Each of these roundtables will discuss a hot topic related to the upcoming season. Last time, we discussed the status of Brady Hoke’s hot seat and the consensus seemed to be that unless Michigan goes downhill once again this season, Hoke is safe heading into 2015. Today, we continue the series, this time giving our thoughts on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys. Here’s the question:

What’s your take on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys? Do you like or dislike them? Are they a good way to tie in tradition or are they too gimicky? Do you think they should be given out every year? If so, who should get numbers 11 and 21 this season? Finally, are there any other numbers you feel should be given legends status?

Justin banner

I really like the Legends jersey program because, even though it was started just a few years ago, it is unique to Michigan and it is a great way to tie in the glorious history of Michigan football. The majority of the numbers that have been given legends status thus far are great players from long ago that most Michigan fans today weren’t alive to see play. Sure, we have read about them and have maybe seen a few photos or video clips, but by and large, Tom Harmon, the Wistert brothers, and Gerald Ford were relics locked away in a time capsule. By bringing their numbers out of retirement, giving their families a pre-game ceremony, and designating the jerseys with their numbers on them with a patch, it’s a great way to both honor those legends and educate the younger generation of Michigan fans.

In addition to honoring the legends and their families and educating Michigan fans that weren’t around to see them play, the program is special and unique for current and future Michigan football players.

“It was an amazing feeling when I was awarded this number,” said Jeremy Gallon when he was given Desmond Howard’s No.21.

“I got it when I was a redshirt sophomore,” recalled Jake Ryan, who wears Bennie Oosterbaan’s No.47. “It was after the Alabama game and coach Hoke brought me in and it was a huge honor knowing that I was wearing the same jerseys as one of the legends who played for Michigan. I had to study up on him, to see what he did to represent this university. It was cool. I learned a lot.”

The current and future players that earn the numbers see it as an honor to get to wear a number that was made famous by a legend before them. Desmond Morgan got to meet Gerald Ford’s family and learn more about him when he was awarded No.48.

That said, I’m conflicted about when each number should be awarded. On one hand, it seems silly to switch a player’s number after he’s already made a name for himself in his current number. For example, Jordan Kovacs, who was No.32 for more than three seasons before switching to 11 for a handful of games. But then again, I like the way No.21 has been given to a top receiver each of the past three seasons, first Junior Hemingway, then Roy Roundtree, then Gallon. I feel like all three guys earned it and looked great in it. Unfortunately, the only receiver who fits that mold this season is Devin Funchess, but he already has Ron Kramer’s No.87. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I would switch Funchess to 21 and award 87 to Jake Butt. Funchess is a star receiver who could very well make the jump to the NFL following this season, which would open up 21 again next season for another star receiver should Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh or Freddy Canteen break out this fall.

No.11 is a tough one. Since the Wistert brothers were offensive tackles, but the number can’t be used for offensive linemen in modern college football, I like the idea of awarding it to a player on the defensive line. But so far it has been given to a safety (Kovacs) and a linebacker (Courtney Avery). I would bring it to the line this fall and give it to Frank Clark. Yes, he has an off-the-field issue from a couple years ago that could keep him from being awarded a legends number, but if Brady Hoke feels Clark has learned and grown from it, I’d be okay with him getting it. If he can’t get No.11 because of that, the only other player I’d give it to this fall would be linebacker James Ross.

Finally, I would give Charles Woodson’s No.2 legends status, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that happened this fall. The staff already gave Blake Countess the number, and Woodson is in likely his final season of an outstanding NFL career. He has always given back to Michigan and represented himself and the university well. As Michigan’s latest Heisman Trophy winner, he would be a great player to honor.

Drew banner

When it was announced prior to the 2011 season that Michigan planned to implement the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Most college football programs honor their legends by retiring their numbers in perpetuity. This is a grand gesture, but then fans are unable to see the numbers of their favorite players on the field. Over time, the stories and memories of these legends become lost. Heck, in some cases, even the names are forgotten. According to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, “99 percent of [Michigan] fans couldn’t name the jerseys that were retired—either the numbers of the people.”

With the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, you get the best of both worlds. The legends still are honored. Each Michigan legend is the subject of a pre-game ceremony that commemorates their time at Michigan and showcases the debut of their Legends patch, which will forever be stitched upon the jersey of the number they wore so long ago. And the numbers those legends wore are reinserted into circulation for current and future players to don. For many Michigan fans that have been alive for decades, they had never seen a Wolverine wear Tom Harmon’s No. 98 or President Gerald Ford’s No. 48. Now? They can see those legendary numbers each week in the fall  and recall what made No. 98 and No. 48 so special. It is a great tie to Michigan football’s tradition and to the players that made the program so prestigious.

However, rarely is anything—no matter how great—flawless. I still have a positive view towards the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, but it has problems that must be addressed. The biggest problem I have is when Michigan’s best players switch to a Legends jersey when they are juniors or seniors. By then, those players have begun creating a legacy for the number they first wore as freshmen. But, by switching, their legacy instantly becomes overshadowed by the legend whose number they now wear. It prevents current players from establishing their own legacy. How can a player who wears a Legends jersey become a Michigan Football Legend on his own in the future? The answer: he cannot.

A great example is former safety Jordan Kovacs. In all likelihood, Kovacs will never be honored as a Michigan Football Legend. And that is okay. But I was frustrated when Kovacs switched from No. 32 to No. 11—one of the Legends jerseys—for the final three games of the 2012 season and his career. Before then, Kovacs had blazed his own trail as the unheralded walk-on everyone initially scoffed at that became one of Michigan’s most beloved players and its best safety in over a decade. And he did all of this as No. 32. This is the number with which he should have finished his career, not No. 11—no disrespect to the Wistert brothers. No. 32 was Kovacs’ legacy. He never should have worn another number.

Therefore, I propose that Legends jerseys only be offered to players prior to their freshman and sophomore seasons. Then those players can decide what number with which they want their legacy to be associated. It does not matter to me if the Legends jerseys are handed out every year. If they are, great. It would be a tribute to those Michigan Football Legends each season. If they are not, that works for me, too. It would make the offering of a Legends jersey more special in the eyes of the players and the fans. The only other number that deserves Legends status is No. 2. All three of Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winners then would be represented. I also would like No. 1 to receive Legends status, but, alas, that number essentially has gone into retirement thanks to Braylon Edwards. And it does not matter to me which players are offered available Legends jerseys this season. As long as they are freshmen or sophomores.

Josh banner

I really like the concept of the legends jerseys. It is not realistic to retire numbers in college and this allows the legends to still be honored without taking away all the numbers. However, I have not been a fan of how they’ve been given out. I’d like to see guys ‘earn’ these jerseys, the same way Hoke said Jabrill Peppers needs to ‘earn’ the coveted No.2 (even though it’s not a legends jersey). Jake Ryan earned his No.47 but other than that I haven’t seen much rhyme or reason with handing them out.

While I feel they deserve their legends jerseys now, Gardner and Funchess got them without making much noise in the previous season. If the Devin’s got their legends jerseys AFTER the 2013 season, rather than before, I’d have no problems with it. The fact that Courtney Avery got one upset me a bit, he was an average player at best and even that is being generous.

That said, I’m sure you can guess that I don’t think No.11 or No.21 should be given out this year. There are too many young and unproven guys on this roster to do so. This is not to say there isn’t anyone who could earn them, but no one has done anything to ‘earn’ the right yet. I’d like to see No.1 and No.2 be brought into legends status as well. No.1 for Anthony Carter and No.2 for Charles Woodson, as soon as he retires.

If we’re going to honor the legends of the past I’d prefer to see their numbers bestowed upon guys who have ‘earned’ it on and off the field, but mostly on it. If it has little to do with on-field performance, and middle of the road guys like Courtney Avery can get them, then I’d rather see the players vote on who gets them.

Derick banner
The legends jerseys have a chance to be a great tradition, but only if the players are forced to earn the honor of wearing them. If Michigan insists on giving out the numbers each year and the players wearing them aren’t stars, then the value of the legends jersey is lost. So far Michigan has given the jerseys to some players with lesser roles, and it has tainted the idea behind honoring these football legends.

With a young team taking the field in 2014, and a group of returning starters that largely underachieved in last year’s 7-6 effort, the Nos. 11 and 21 should be kept off the field until players earn them. If a wide receiver or cornerback steps up and leads the team to a great first half of the season, then a jersey should be awarded to that player.

If the program makes it clear that the numbers are earned, not given, then the legends jerseys will be a great tradition for Michigan football. If not, then it will represent just another gimmick put on by the athletic department.

Sam banner
While the NCAA is in turmoil right now and the future of college sports paints a somewhat murky picture, I think everyone can still rest assured that America loves watching our college athletes play far too much for these games to disappear completely. And in these beloved college sports, tradition reigns supreme. Every university tries to hold up their own traditions higher than any other institution’s. Alumni of the University of Michigan will be quick to defend the Maize and Blue in any battle, pointing out that we are the most winningest college football program in history, that Ann Arbor is the best college town God has ever created, that the Victors is the best fight song known to man, and that, quite simply, Michigan is unlike any other school out there.

One of the many ways Michigan has now decided to honor this glorious history is by assigning Legends numbers to a select few football players each year. I, for one, am a big fan. I don’t know of any other program in the country that reminisces over star players of the past in such a way, and though a small patch and a special plaque in the locker room might not seem like much, I really do think these legendary players and their families take great pride in seeing their legacies live on in the Big House. I also think it can’t hurt on the recruiting trail.

With that being said, there are a few “rules and regulations” that I would put into play if I oversaw the program. First, there needs to be some cap on the number of Legends numbers issued. There is no problem with designating a few players with the status every single year, but if the number of Legends jerseys continues to grow to 15, 20, 25 different players, it will lose its luster. I would cap the total number of jerseys in circulation at 10. In order to honor future Legends, however, there needs to be some room to make more though, right? Right. So every 50 years, every Legends number is officially put in the vault (or Schembechler Hall) and is available for re-circulation as a “regular” number. After those 50 years have passed, up to 10 more Legends, preferably representing as many different positions as possible, can be selected and issued with patches, plaques, and pictures and the cycle repeats. This way every Michigan football player will have the chance to earn this incredible honor; if it so happens that a player wearing a Legends jersey becomes a legend himself, that number will remain in issue but the patch will be replaced to honor the more recent standout.

I also think there needs to be some sort of regulation on when the jerseys are issued in relation to a player’s career. As it stands now, it seems that any player can earn the right to wear a Legends number at any point during his four years. Devin Gardner changed from No.12 to No.98 (Tom Harmon) early in his junior year. Jordan Kovacs mysteriously changed from No.32 to No.11 (Francis, Albert, and Alvin Wistert) well into his senior year. Going forward, I think the Legends jerseys should be designated to rising sophomores or redshirt freshmen. With this policy in place, the coaches have a full year to decide who is worthy of the honor based on their play on the field and their actions off it and the player will not have already established himself fully while wearing another number.

As far as the current available Legends jerseys go, I would like to see No.11 stay on the defensive side of the field and No.21 as a wide receiver for at least the near future. Sticking to my own rules, I will give No.11 to either Henry Poggi or Maurice Hurst, Jr., who apparently both impressed on the practice squad last year and will look to make an impact as redshirt freshmen this season, and No.21 to Jaron Dukes, an Ohioan just like Desmond Howard with great potential. When thinking of other potential Legends going forward, I can only think of one obvious one – No.2 for Charles Woodson.
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Now that we’ve all given our answers, we’d like to hear from you. Do you like the legends jerseys? Do you agree or disagree with us? Give us your answer to the question in the comments below.

Countdown to kickoff: 53 days

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-53

Predicting Michigan: The tight ends

Monday, June 23rd, 2014


Predicting Michigan-TightEnds

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan

Michigan football made a few announcements this offseason that gutted the tight end depth for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The team’s top option throughout much of the last two seasons was Devin Funchess, who will be moved permanently to wide receiver for his junior season. Transitioning Funchess was much easier after the emergence of freshman Jake Butt, but a torn ACL sidelined the young star and left the Wolverines without their top two options at tight end, at least for the first few games of the season.

Brady Hoke opted against moving Funchess back to tight end, and will instead choose from a number of veteran options that have made smaller impacts during their Michigan careers.

The Starters

With the offense under construction after the hiring of Nussmeier, it remains to be seen what type of role the tight ends will play in 2014. During the spring game, the majority of Michigan’s sets featured one tight end, often junior A.J. Williams.

Williams played a very limited role in his sophomore campaign, catching just one pass for a two-yard touchdown in the loss at Iowa. The 6’6″ tight end started six games, but was rarely featured as an integral part of the offense. The junior will be asked to play a much bigger role in 2014, as he holds the No. 1 tight end spot on the depth chart and received the most reps during the spring game.

Fellow junior Keith Heitzman lineup up with Williams on the first team during double tight end sets at the spring game, revealing Nussmeier’s willingness to at least experiment with more than one tight end on the field.

Heitzman has played 23 games for the Wolverines in his career, but all of them have come on the defensive line. The 271-pound junior separated himself from the rest of the pack as the No. 2 tight end, but will likely be featured as a blocker and less of a receiving threat.

Butt, meanwhile, is expected to be out until Big Ten play, but when he returns, will slide back into a starting role. The 6’6″, 250-pound sophomore impressed as a true freshman in 2013, catching 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. That’s five more catches and one more yard than Funchess had in his freshman campaign. Butt saved his best performance of the season for the matchup against his hometown Buckeyes, recording five catches for 85 yards and a score. Butt won’t match Funchess’ 2013 numbers, but will play a major role in the offense once he returns.

Projected Stats – Williams
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
9 100 11.1 1 7.7
Career Stats
2013 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 1 2 2.0 2 1 0.2
Projected Stats – Butt
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
21 250 11.9 4 27.8
Career Stats
2013 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Totals 20 235 11.8 37 2 18.1
Projected Stats – Heitzman
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
16 200 12.5 2 15.4
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2011 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Veteran Depth

Tight end remains one of the thinnest positions on the Michigan roster leading into the 2014 season, but quality recruits over the past two seasons have provided the Wolverines with some talented options. The struggle for Nussmeier in 2014 will be finding a tight end that can both protect the quarterback and hurt defenses in the passing game.

Redshirt freshman Khalid Hill figures to be an option if Williams and Heitzman struggle, as the former consensus three-star offers Michigan more of a receiving weapon. Hill is smaller than the other tight ends, but makes up for it with quickness and essential receiving skills like strong hands and great route running. Hill is more likely to be a difference-maker in the future, but a strong spring could put him on the radar for 2014.

Projected Stats – Hill
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
13 150 11.5 1 11.5
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Newcomers

Michigan welcomed one key tight end prospect in the 2014 recruiting class in Ian Bunting. Bunting is a tall, but athletic tight end that should evolve into Michigan’s top receiving threat from his position. The freshman played wide receiver throughout much of his high school career, which molded him into the offensive threat that Hoke recruited.

Bunting figures to compete for playing time as a true freshman, since the Wolverines could really use a receiving threat from the tight end position. His versatility can only improve his chances to crack the lineup, as Nussmeier owns the option to line him up in the slot or out wide.

If a largely unproven wide receiver unit struggles during the non-conference season, expect the coaching staff to consider awarding Bunting more time at tight end to give the offense more options. The freshman fits the mold of Funchess and Butt as a pseudo-receiver at tight end.

Projected Stats – Bunting
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
10 150 15.0 1 11.5

2014 Big Ten position rankings: Wide receivers (part two)

Friday, June 20th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-WR

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go blue are ranking who will be the best wide receivers in the Big Ten this upcoming season. The players listed are whom we believe will be the most successful in 2014, not necessarily the players who have had the most success in previous years. Part One of our wide receiver rankings was posted yesterday. It revealed who is in the bottom half of the Big Ten’s top 10 wideouts. If you have not had an opportunity to read it yet, I encourage you do so before proceeding. On that note, let’s unveil who will be the five best wide receivers in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously
Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two.
Running Backs: Part One, Part Two.
Wide Receivers: Part One

5. Deon Long, Maryland | Senior - 6’0”, 195 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 32 489 1 15.3 47 69.9
2012 (Iowa Western) 100 1,625 25 16.3 90 135.5
2011 (New Mexico) 47 809 4 17.2 80 80.9
Career Totals 179 2,923 30 16.3 90 100.8
(Tim Drummond, The Diamondback)

(Tim Drummond, The Diamondback)

Deon Long—a fifth-year senior—will play his final season of collegiate football in 2014, but he took the road less traveled to be here. Long did not start his career at Maryland. In high school in Washington, D.C., he committed to West Virginia, but exited four months after he enrolled. He wanted to be a Terrapin, but a provision in his scholarship release prevented such a move. So Long transferred to New Mexico instead, where he led the Lobos with 47 receptions, 809 receiving yards, and four touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in 2011. But Long was not satisfied at New Mexico, so he enrolled at Iowa Western, a junior college, with the hopes he would be able to transfer to a top FBS program. In his one season at Iowa Western, he led the NJCAA in receptions (100), receiving yards (1,625), and touchdowns (25) and captured the 2012 NJCAA national championship. Long became the No. 1 junior college recruit nationally as his performance swung open doors at the likes of Florida, Nebraska, and Illinois. But Long committed to the one place he had wanted to be for years: his home-state school, Maryland

It did not take very long for the former junior college star to make his mark in College Park. Long established himself as Maryland’s No. 2 receiver in his first seven games of 2013. In those contests, he was thrown at 55 times for a target rate of 24.66 percent—the third-highest among returning Big Ten receivers. Generally, more targets mean more receptions, and it was no different for Long. He caught 32 balls and never hauled in fewer than three in any of his first seven games. In addition to consistently getting open, Long exhibited the explosion which made him the best junior college player in the nation the previous year. Long averaged 15.28 yards per reception—the sixth-most among returning wideouts in the conference—and gained at least 15 yards 15 times. Through those first seven games, Long had 32 catches for 489 yards and one score, and appeared to be on his way to a 1,000-yard campaign.

However, in that seventh game against Wake Forest, Long broke his right leg, fracturing his tibia and fibula. It was a significant injury that forced him to miss the remained of the 2013 season. This is why Long’s statistical totals from last season are not impressive. But his averages paint a different picture. When Long is healthy, he is one of the best and most explosive wideouts in this conference. He may not have been completely healthy during spring practices, participating in drills only, but there is no doubt he will be full throttle when fall camp rolls around. Expect Long, who will once again be teamed up with underrated, dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, to finish his journeyman career on the highest of notes and near 1,000 receiving yards this season. Yet, he is only No. 5 on this list because he will not be Maryland’s No. 1 wideout—a player we will discuss further down.

4. Devin Smith, Ohio State | Senior – 6’1”, 197 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 44 660 8 15.0 90 47.1
2012 30 618 6 20.6 72 51.5
2011 14 294 4 21.0 40 22.6
Career Totals 88 1,572 18 17.9 90 40.3
(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

(Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

For the majority of his career at Ohio State, Devin Smith has been a one-trick pony. His trick: speed. Very few Big Ten wide receivers, if any, are faster than Smith. He is a speed demon. Have you ever heard the terms “track speed” and “football speed” thrown around when people discuss a football player’s physical abilities? Smith has track speed. So much so, in fact, that he actually spent one season sprinting with the Buckeyes’ track and field team. With this speed, Smith is able to repeatedly run past the secondary and get behind the defense for big plays. Just look at his yards per catch in his first two years. As a true freshman in 2011, Smith averaged an insane 21 yards per catch and needed only 14 catches to score four touchdowns. The following season, he averaged a 20.6 yards per catch, which was almost two yards per catch better than any other Big Ten receiver who averaged a minimum of two receptions per game. There is no deep threat in the Big Ten more dangerous than Smith.

In 2013, Smith began to round out his game. As quarterback Braxton Miller’s No. 2 option, he no longer relied solely on his speed to get open. Rather, he began to run better routes for short and intermediate gains. This caused his yards per catch to sink to a still-above average 15 as a junior, but he became more of a target for Miller. Accordingly, Smith set personal bests with 73 targets, a 21-percent target rate, and 44 receptions. This meant more chances for Smith to increase his production. He finished with career highs for receiving yards (660) and touchdown receptions (eight) in 2013. Smith still showcased his blazing wheels. Six of his eight touchdowns were longer than 20 yards. Half of them were longer than 40 yards. Nevertheless, Smith slowly redefined himself.

With the exit of Ohio State’s leading receiver from last season, Corey Brown, Smith will become the No. 1 wideout on the Buckeyes’ depth chart in 2014. This is an envious position in head coach Urban Meyer’s potent offense which amasses yards and points in a hurry. There is little doubt that Meyer will look to utilize Smith’s speed to land quick scoring strikes on opposing defenses. But, to be one of the best ball catchers in the conference, Smith will need to prove he has what it takes to be an all-around wideout. He needs to show he can run crisp routes. He needs to show he can move the sticks on critical third downs. He needs to show he can find open space in a crowded red zone. And he needs to show he can do this over and over again, especially since there are no other outside wide receivers nipping at his heels. It would be a surprise if Smith does not live up to the challenge.

3. Shane Wynn, Indiana | Senior – 5’7”, 167 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 46 633 11 13.8 68 52.8
2012 68 660 6 9.7 76 55.0
2011 19 197 0 10.4 32 16.4
Career Totals 133 1,490 17 11.2 76 41.4
(David Snodgress, Herald-Times)

(David Snodgress, Herald-Times)

Last season, Indiana had one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, let alone the Big Ten. The Hoosiers were ninth in the country in total offense and one of only 12 schools to average over 500 total yards per game. While Indiana was no slouch when it came to running ball (see: Tevin Coleman), the engine of its offense was its aerial attack. No Big Ten school attempted more passes than Indiana in 2013. Additionally, Indiana’s passing game was efficient, notching 7.8 yards per pass attempt. This was second in the conference behind only Michigan. Accordingly, the Hoosiers were the only Big Ten school to average over 300 passing yards per game.

The Hoosiers were so proficient through the air not only because it had two quality quarterbacks in pocket passer Nate Sudfeld and dual-threat Tre Roberson, but also because it had a wonderful cast of wide receivers. One of those cast members was slot receiver Shane Wynn. Wynn may be small in stature at only 5’7”, but he possesses many traits coaches want to see in their receivers. For example, he runs fantastic routes. Despite splitting targets with stud outside wideouts Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes and quality tight end Ted Bolser, Wynn still was targeted 65 times. This was the result of running tight routes and finding ways to create space between him and the defender. Wynn also has quite the grip. He caught 70.77 percent of the passes that came in his direction. This is the highest catch rate among returning Big Ten wideouts that were targeted at least 10 percent of the time. But, most importantly, Wynn is fast, explosive, and nimble. He is able to use his athleticism not only to gain yards after the catch, but to also slip behind the defense and get open for longer throws. Consequently, Wynn accumulated 46 receptions for 633 yards, 13.76 yards per catch, and 11 touchdowns—second-most in the conference.

And Wynn should improve those numbers this season. Indiana already had a strong inclination to air out the football, but it appears it will do so even more in 2014. Last year, the Hoosiers utilized a two-quarterback system with Sudfeld and Roberson. When Sudfeld was in, the Hoosiers relied more upon a passing spread offense. When Roberson was in, the Hoosiers relied more upon the running game and called read-options for Roberson. However, Roberson recently decided to transfer to another program that will allow him to be the full-time starter. This means that Sudfeld will be the Hoosiers’ full-time starter and that the passing spread will be a permanent fixture this fall.

This would be pleasant news for any Indiana wide receiver. Yet it is especially great news for Wynn because he is the only returning Hoosier that had at least 20 receptions last year. All three other key Indiana ball catchers from last season—Latimer, Hughes, and Bolser—have departed. Wynn’s role in this offense will expand substantially as he will be the best receiver on a pass-happy team. Wynn’s targets, catches, and yards should all surge in 2014, and it would not be a surprise if he scores double-digit touchdowns for the second straight season.

The only red flag is that whether Wynn will be able to make the leap from the No. 3 receiver to the No. 1 wideout in one season, especially as a slot receiver. The concern is that the presence of Latimer and Hughes kept the defense’s attention off of Wynn, allowing him to work one on one underneath. With Latimer and Hughes gone, and two inexperienced players about to assume the starting outside receiver spots, Wynn may not be as productive as defenses devise their coverages to contain him. Nonetheless, Wynn should still be one of the best wideouts due to his role in this offense, but the foregoing concern prevents from jumping ahead of the next two players on this list.

2. Devin Funchess, Michigan | Junior – 6’5”, 230 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 49 748 6 15.3 59 57.5
2012 15 234 5 15.6 30 18.0
Career Totals 64 982 11 15.3 59 37.8
(Tony Ding, AP)

(Tony Ding, AP)

When Devin Funchess signed his letter of intent with Michigan in 2012, he had been recruited by head coach Brady Hoke as a tight end. Initially, some thought that Funchess may need to redshirt his first season in Ann Arbor because, at 6’5” and 230 pounds, he was too skinny to be an effective tight end. The worry was that Funchess would be abused when trying to block when he lined up with a hand in the dirt. However, as reports from fall camp leaked, the word was that Funchess’ athletic ability and receiving prowess was too good to keep off the field. Subsequently, Funchess turned in a solid season as a true freshman, recording 15 catches, 234 receiving yards and a team-high five touchdown receptions.

However, the concerns about Funchess being too skinny were true. He really struggled to block opposing defensive ends and outside linebackers and was a turnstile of sorts. Michigan hoped that Funchess would be able to add some weight to his frame in the offseason, so he could develop into an all-around tight end in 2013. Yet, Funchess reported to fall camp at the same weight he did the previous year. And, once again, Funchess struggled to perform his duties as a tight end in Michigan’s four non-conference games. Not only was his blocking a mess, he also managed only eight catches for 145 yards and one touchdown in those first four contests. If Funchess was going to be more effective, a change needed to be made.

In Michigan’s first conference game against Minnesota, Funchess lined up on the outside as a wide receiver for the first time in his career. The result? It was a career game for Funchess. He had seven grabs for 151 receiving yards and a touchdown. The apprehension of moving Funchess to the outside had always been that he would not be able to create separation against cornerbacks that were much quicker and shiftier than linebackers he lined up against as a tight end. However, Funchess demonstrated that was not a problem for him. And, with his imposing height and leaping ability, Funchess became a nightmare matchup on the outside for Big Ten defenses. In his final nine games as an outside receiver, Funchess recorded 35 catches for 603 yards, 17.23 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. Even though he was Michigan’s No. 2 target behind senior Jeremy Gallon, Funchess transformed into one of the Big Ten’s best wide receivers.

This season, Funchess will step into the No. 1 role with Gallon graduating and moving onto the NFL. Although some continue to list Funchess as a tight end, there is no doubt in Michigan’s mind that he is a wide receiver. And Funchess will terrorize opposing defenses on the outside even more so this season than he did last season. Quarterback Devin Gardner tends to lock onto his No. 1 receiver rather than make his progressions when throwing the football. This means that Michigan’s one or two best receiver see the vast majority of Gardner’s passes thrown in their direction. Last season, Gallon was targeted 37.1 percent of the time, while Funchess was targeted 24.9 percent of the time. With Funchess as the No. 1 option with no clear-cut No. 2 behind him, he should see his target rate skyrocket to about 35 percent. There is no limit to what Funchess can produce this season with that many balls headed towards him.

Actually, there is one limit: his hands. Funchess suffers from a bad case of the dropsies. He was targeted 92 times last season, but caught only 49 passes. This calculated to a catch rate of 53.26 percent. This is far below average and a major eyebrow-raiser. While some of the missed catches can be blamed on Gardner for inaccurate throws made while under heavy pressure, too many of those missed grabs were the result of Funchess simply letting the ball slip through his hands. If Funchess can correct this issue this upcoming season, he very likely could be the best wide receiver in the Big Ten. However, it is difficult to remedy a case of the dropsies, so he slides in at No. 2 behind the following Big Ten newcomer.

1. Stefon Diggs, Maryland | Junior – 6’0”, 195 lbs
Receptions Receiving Yds Rec TDs YPC Long YPG
2013 34 587 3 17.3 66 83.9
2012 54 848 6 15.7 66 77.1
Career Totals 88 1,435 9 16.3 66 79.7
(Mitch Stringer, US Presswire)

(Mitch Stringer, US Presswire)

While Ohio State’s Devin Smith will be the most dangerous deep threat in the Big Ten next season, Maryland’s Stefon Diggs will be the most explosive all-around. As a high school recruit in 2012, Diggs was a consensus five-star prospect and considered to be one of the ten best players in his class. The reason he was held in such high regard was his athleticism and explosiveness. And Diggs demonstrated why as soon as he stepped on Maryland’s campus. As a true freshman, he led the Terrapins with 54 receptions, 848 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. Although Diggs did not have the most yards per catch on the roster, his average of 15.70 yards is an average playmaking wide receivers register. His performance as true freshman earned him an honorable mention on the All-ACC team.

Last season, Diggs was on pace to improve upon his impressive debut. In his first seven games of 2013, Diggs had the highest target rate on the team at 25.11 percent, earning 56 targets. He turned this into 34 receptions, 587 receiving yards, 17.26 yards per catch, and three touchdowns. He averaged 4.9 catches and 83.9 receiving yards per game. If Diggs had maintained these averages through Maryland’s final six games of the season, he would have hauled in about 63 passes for 1,090 yards. Instead, like his teammate Deon Long, he suffered a broken leg in the seventh game against Wake Forest that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. And, yet, despite missing half the season, the ACC media and coaches still selected Diggs as an honorable mention on the All-ACC team. There is little doubt that he would have been a member of the first team if he had not been struck with an injury.

In 2014, Diggs should be fully recovered. Some may be concerned that Diggs will lose some of his explosiveness as a consequence of the injury, but this would be more of a worry if he had torn a muscle, like an ACL, rather than break a bone. Plus, Diggs participated in 7-on-7 drills during Maryland’s spring practices, and all reports indicate that he has full use of his speed and athleticism. When training camp opens in College Park in August, Diggs will be 100 percent and ready to go.

And a 100-percent Diggs means he is the best wide receiver in the Big Ten. Diggs may not have the height, but he excels at every other skill or trait the best wide receivers possess. He is explosive, has top-end speed, runs great routes, is explosive, has solid hands, can beat defenders one on one on screens, can beat the secondary over the top, and is explosive. Did I mention Diggs is explosive? With underrated sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown back for one more season, Maryland’s passing attack will be devastating in 2014. No one will be a bigger reason for this than Diggs. Expect Diggs to shine brightly on his new Big Ten stage and quickly assume the title as the best wideout in the conference.

So what do you think? Do you agree with out lists? Will Stefon Diggs be the best wide receiver in the Big Ten next season? Or will it be someone else? And what do you think about Devin Funchess’ rank at No. 2? Too high or too low? Please let us know in the comments below. Next week, we will rank the other pass catchers quarterbacks target: the tight ends.

New in Blue: Tight end Chris Clark

Thursday, June 19th, 2014


Chris Clark(247 Sports)

Chris Clark – TE | 6-6, 247 | Avon, Conn. – Avon Old Farms
ESPN: 4-star, #3 TE Rivals: 4-star, #4 TE 247: 4-star, #2 TE Scout: 5-star, #1 TE
Other top offers: Alabama, Auburn, FSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Miami, South Carolina

Michigan seems to be gaining momentum on the recruiting trail, as just a day after picking up a commitment from 2016 quarterback Messiah deWeaver, the Wolverines got the nod from one of the top tight ends in the country, Chris Clark. After visiting Ohio State on Tuesday and Michigan State on Wednesday, the Avon, Conn. star pledged his commitment to Michigan on his visit this afternoon and announced it on Twitter.

Clark is rated four stars by Rivals, 247, and ESPN and five stars by Scout. Scout considers him the top tight end and 26th-best overall prospect in the 2015 class. 247 ranks him the second-best tight end and 101st overall prospect. ESPN has him as their third tight end and 108th-best overall prospect, while Rivals ranks him fourth and 146th, respectively. All but Rivals are in agreement about his height (6’6″) and weight (247-pounds). Rivals lists him six pounds heavier.

Scout lists Clarks’s strengths as blocking ability, hands, concentration, and size, and his weaknesses as downfield threat and elusiveness. Scout’s Brian Dohn had high praise for Clark.

“Clark is a complete tight end who can block, get out and catch the ball and also be a factor in the red zone,” said Dohn. “He has very good hands and is a red-zone threat. He does a nice job running routes and he is a big, physical player. He also embraces the blocking portion of the game, and does a good job getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly. All around, Clark is a complete tight end who should havea big impact quickly in college.”

Make no mistake about it, this is a big pick up for Hoke and staff. Clark held offers from nearly every major program in the country, including Alabama, and Michigan’s three main rivals, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame. He originally committed to North Carolina on March 16, but decommitted less than a month later and promptly visited Michigan and Ohio State.

On May 4, Clark tweeted that he would make his announcement at The Opening on July 8, but his visit to Michigan today, during which he met with quarterback commitment Alex Malzone, was enough to get him to end his recruitment a few weeks earlier. He’s the only current commit that will participate in The Opening, an invite-only competition for elite prospects at the Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, but he will join a pair of former commits — George Campbell and Shaun Crawford — as well as several targets.

Clark is the eighth member of the 2015 class and the only tight end. When he gets to Michigan next year — assuming his commitment holds through signing day — he will join a talented group that includes fellow four-stars Jake Butt and Ian Bunting and three star Khalid Hill. For what it’s worth, Devin Funchess was a three-star, though it’s a stretch to consider him a tight end at this point.

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier likes to utilize tight ends, so the success Hoke and staff have had recruiting the position the past few years bodes well for the future. Clark has also said that he will do some recruiting for Michigan to try to lure other top prospects to join him in Ann Arbor.

Predicting Michigan: The wide receivers

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014


Predicting Michigan-Receivers

Devin Funchess, Jake ButtWhen wide receiver Jeremy Gallon walked off the field in Arizona after Michigan’s loss to Kansas State, the Wolverines lost 42.6 percent of their receiving yards for the season and the top playmaker on the team.

Michigan’s receiving corps was a one-man wrecking crew in 2013, with Gallon averaging 15.5 yards per catch and scoring nine times. His departure leaves room for a deep group of young wide outs to grow with the rest of the Wolverine offense.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs

The Starters

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Canteen showed plenty of promise in his first spring

Devin Funchess represents Michigan’s top returning receiver after transitioning from tight end to wide out during the 2013 season. Funchess was moved to receiver officially after playing a tight end-wide receiver hybrid position that highlighted the tall sophomore’s downfield skills.

As a junior, Funchess will be asked to show more consistency in the receiving game. Though he was one of the more explosive options for Devin Gardner in 2013, catching 49 passes for 748 yards, he struggled with concentration lapses that turned into dropped passes. Funchess holds all the tools to be a dominant receiver in the Big Ten, as his size and athleticism make him a mismatch for virtually every defender in the conference.

Funchess is more valuable to the Michigan offense as a wide receiver because of a 6’5″, 230 pound frame that makes him a huge red zone target. The former tight end has done his best work in the end zone for the Wolverines, catching 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Michigan entered spring camp with a second wide receiver position wide open until a true freshman charged out of the pack to grab the spot. Freddy Canteen dazzled the coaching staff the day he stepped on campus and has been the talk of the team ever since. The lightning-fast receiver turned heads with his quick feet and athleticism, leaving no doubt that he will line up opposite Funchess for the Wolverines on August 30.

Canteen and Funchess give Michigan a receiving duo with a remarkably high ceiling. Funchess can only benefit from an offseason exclusively dedicated to becoming a wide receiver, and Canteen’s quick rise up the depth chart offers him the opportunity to blossom with first-team reps.

Projected Stats – Funchess
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
65 900 13.8 8 69.2
Career Stats
2013 49 748 15.3 59 6 57.5
2012 15 234 15.6 30 5 18.0
Totals 64 982 15.3 59 11 37.8
Projected Stats – Canteen
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
35 600 17.1 5 46.2

Veteran Depth

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Darboh was in line to start last fall before a foot injury sidelined him for the season (Scout.com)

Depth at wide receiver is one of the biggest questions facing the Michigan offense as it prepares for the 2014 season. Jehu Chesson is the only returning wide receiver that recorded over 100 yards in 2013, doing so on just 15 receptions.

Chesson was the forgotten man for much of his redshirt freshman season, playing in all 13 games but catching three or fewer passes in each one of them. Despite his inconsistency last season, the sophomore will be asked to provide stability to an otherwise young group of wide receivers in 2014.

Chesson’s struggles can be largely attributed to the circumstances that thrust him into the regular rotation last season. Amara Darboh was well on his way to earning a starting position last fall before suffering a foot injury in August and missing the entire season. The explosive sophomore has been rehabbing his injury throughout the past eight months and appears ready to make a return to a unit that sorely needs him.

Darboh sat out the spring game, but announced that he feels 100 percent and hopes to be a full participant in fall camp. If he regains his previous form, Darboh will be a huge asset to the offense, as his hands were the surest of the young receivers in camp last offseason. His pure catching ability offers Michigan a Junior Hemmingway-type player that can beat defenders to the ball.

If Doug Nussmeier decided to utilize a slot receiver, then junior Dennis Norfleet is the most likely candidate to earn that role. Michigan regularly features the speedy Norfleet as a kick returner because of his big-play potential; but the junior’s quickness could make him a valuable weapon in the passing game, in which he caught six passes for 46 yards last season.

Projected Stats – Chesson
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
25 350 14.0 3 26.9
Career Stats
2013 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 15 221 14.7 58 1 17.0
Projected Stats – Darboh
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
18 200 11.1 2 15.4
Career Stats
2013 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Projected Stats – Norfleet
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
12 100 8.3 0 7.7
Career Stats
2013 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5
2012 0 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Totals 6 46 7.7 15 0 3.5

Newcomers

Brady Hoke added a major piece to the receiving corps when Drake Harris committed to the Wolverines out of Grand Rapids. The consensus four-star turned heads during his junior season in high school, catching 91 passes for 2,016 yards and 23 touchdowns. Harris was considered one of the top recruits in his class before missing his entire senior season with a hamstring injury.

Harris sat alongside Darboh in the spring game, continuing a quiet offseason for the talented receiver. At 6’4″, Harris could be a valuable target during his freshman campaign, but health concerns will continue to surround the youngster until he steps foot on the field.

Michigan’s roster also features a host of young receivers hoping to crack the lineup this fall. Da’Mario Jones was blocked by Chesson last season after Darboh’s injury figured to bring him into the mix. Former three-star recruit Jaron Dukes is eligible in 2014 after redshirting his freshman season and could earn playing time with a strong spring.

Projected Stats – Harris
Receptions Yards YPC Long TDs YPG
22 300 13.6 2 23.1

Countdown to kickoff: 80 days

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-80

Countdown to kickoff: 87 days

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014


Devin Funchess, Jake Butt

Countdown to kickoff: 88 days

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-88

Countdown to kickoff: 92 days

Friday, May 30th, 2014


Countdown to kickoff-92_edited-2