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What can Michigan expect from Peoples-Jones? History is kind to nation’s top receivers — except at USC

Friday, December 16th, 2016


(Getty Images)

On Thursday night Michigan reeled in five-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, adding to an already impressive recruiting class. The Detroit Cass Tech star is the third receiver in the class but he’s also the highest-rated as the nation’s top receiver according to 247 Sports. So what can Michigan fans expect from Peoples-Jones in the maize and blue? A look at the history of the nation’s No. 1 wideout gives a lot of reason for excitement.

More than any other position on the field, receivers tend to produce the earliest when they arrive on campus. In a simplistic view, the position — more than any other — relies more on athleticism than a need to learn at the college level. Of course, route running, technique, strength, and a connection with the quarterback are important traits that can be developed in college, but an uber athletic receiver with good size and speed can produce right away.

Since 2000, the No. 1 receivers in the nation according to 247 Sports have produced an average of 34 receptions for 480 yards and four touchdowns in their first season of action. By comparison, as a senior, Jehu Chesson caught 31 passes for 467 yards and two scores as a senior this season (with a bowl game yet to play). That means that if Peoples-Jones performs just average as a true freshman compared to the past 17 No. 1 receivers, he would have been the third-leading receiver on Michigan’s roster this season. It gets better.

Nation’s No. 1 receiver since 2000 – by year
Freshman Season College Career
Year Name School Rec Yds TDs Rec Yds TDs
2016 Demetris Robertson Cal 50 767 7 50* 767* 7*
2015 Calvin Ridley Alabama 89 1,045 7 155* 1,772* 14*
2014 Speedy Noil Texas A&M 46 583 5 88* 1,134* 9*
2013 Laquon Treadwell Ole Miss 72 608 5 202 2,393 21
2012 Dorial Green-Beckham Missouri 28 395 5 87 1,278 17
2011 George Farmer USC 4 42 0 30 363 4
2010 Kyle Prater USC 1^ 6^ 0^ 71 654 2
2009 Rueben Randle LSU 11 173 2 97 1,634 13
2008 Julio Jones Alabama 58 924 4 179 2,653 15
2007 Terrence Toliver LSU 10 249 3 126 1,820 12
2006 Percy Harvin Florida 34 427 2 133 1,929 13
2005 Patrick Turner USC 12 170 2 138 1,752 17
2004 Early Doucet LSU 18 257 2 160 1,943 20
2003 Whitney Lewis USC 3 16 0 3 16 0
2002 Ryan Moore Miami 44 637 3 49 800 8
2001 Roscoe Crosby Clemson 23 396 3 23 396 3
2000 Charles Rogers Michigan State 67! 1,470! 14! 135 2,821 27
*Still in college
^Redshirted freshman season (redshirted due to injury)
! Sophomore season (academically ineligible for freshman season)

An anomaly among the previous 17 top receivers in the nation has been those who committed to Southern Cal. Four of them — George Farmer in 2011, Kyle Prater in 2010, Patrick Turner in 2005, and Whitney Lewis in 2003 — performed well below average. Those four averaged just five receptions for 58.5 yards and half a touchdown.

Farmer switched to running back, tore his ACL and MCL his sophomore season, and finished his career with just 30 catches for 363 yards and four touchdowns. Prater redshirted as a freshman due to nagging injuries and then transferred to Northwestern. He had originally committed to Pete Carroll, but didn’t stick it out with Lane Kiffin. Turner had the best freshman season of any of the four, catching 12 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, and went on to a decent career and a third-round draft pick. Lewis — like Farmer — was switched to running back for most of his freshman season before moving back to receiver where he caught just three passes for 16 yards. He sat out his sophomore season while academically ineligible and didn’t catch another pass in his career.

With four of the five worst freshman seasons among the last 16 No. 1 receivers nationally coming from USC — the other was LSU’s Rueben Randle, who caught 11 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman –, it’s worth looking at the freshman year production average without the USC guys. If they had all not been from one school, we couldn’t do this. But when it’s isolated to one program, we can reasonably assume that it’s more of a reflection of the program than the player.

The 13 non-USC commits averaged 42 receptions for 610 yards and five touchdowns as freshmen. A performance like that would have been very similar to Jake Butt’s 43 receptions for 518 yards and four scores.

Nation’s No. 1 receiver since 2000 – averages
Receptions Yards Touchdowns
All 17 34 480 4
Jehu Chesson 2016 31 467 2
Minus USC commits 42 610 5
Jake Butt 2016 43 518 4

Three of the 17 No. 1 receivers since 2000 would have been Michigan’s leading receiver this season — Julio Jones, who caught 58 passes for 924 yards and four touchdowns for Alabama in 2008; Calvin Ridley, who caught 89 passes for 1,045 yards and seven scores for the Crimson Tide last season; and Charles Rogers, who caught 67 passes for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2001. Last year’s No. 1 receiver, Demetris Robertson, had very similar numbers to Michigan’s leading receiver, Amara Darboh, catching 50 passes for 767 yards and seven touchdowns for California this fall.

Beyond just the freshman season, the nation’s No. 1 receivers have largely had outstanding college careers. Most of them didn’t stay all four years, but they averaged 102 catches for 1,461 yards and 12 touchdowns over their careers. Michigan State’s Charles Rogers turned in a two-year total of 2,821 yards, which would rank third in Michigan career receiving history. Jones’ 2,653 in three seasons would rank fifth and Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell’s 2,393 in three years would also rank fifth. Keep in mind that Michigan’s top four — Braylon Edwards, Anthony Carter, Jeremy Gallon, and Amani Toomer — all played all four seasons in Ann Arbor.

Of the 14 who are no longer in college, eight were drafted by the NFL — all in the top three rounds and four in the first round. Seven of them are still in the league.

Before Peoples-Jones’ commitment, the highest rated receiver Michigan had ever landed was Mario Manningham, who was the nation’s sixth-best receiver in the 2005 class. He turned in a 27-catch, 433-yard, six-touchdown freshman performance and ranks sixth in Michigan’s career receiving books.

Michigan’s top 10 receiver commitments in recruiting ranking era
Year Name Position Rank National Rank
2017 Donovan Peoples-Jones 1 11
2005 Mario Manningham 6 50
2001 Tim Massaquoi 7 47
2014 Drake Harris 7 67
2005 Antonio Bass 8 56
2008 Darryl Stonum 10 48
2004 Doug Dutch 10 71
2009 Je’Ron Stokes 10 90
2007 Toney Clemons 12 96
2002 Jason Avant 13 117

If recent history holds true, Michigan fans can expect a productive year from Peoples-Jones next fall and a solid career. He also comes in at the right time with the Wolverines losing their top three pass catchers to graduation. Jim Harbaugh has shown that he’s willing to play true freshman receivers as Grant Perry caught 14 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown in 2015 and Kekoa Crawford and Eddie McDoom combined for 9 catches for 106 yards and one score this fall, in addition to McDoom’s success on jet sweeps. The roster is certainly wide open for a go-to outside receiver and Peoples-Jones seems primed to fill that spot.

A high ranking doesn’t always guarantee success, and some of the best receivers in Michigan history weren’t ranked highly, but the recent history of the nation’s top receivers are good news for Michigan fans.