This is part three of our Michigan Football 2014 season preview series. This edition will take an in depth look at the wide receivers and tight ends, a group that is headlined by All-American candidate Devin Funchess. Part One in the series focused on the offensive line and Part Two on the defensive line.
What we know
Devin Funchess set a school record for a tight end with 748 receiving yards last season. He is a tight end in name only though as he primarily plays outside at wide receiver where his size, 6-5/230, and athleticism make him a matchup nightmare for opposing cornerbacks. The knock on Funchess has been far too many dropped balls. He has the catch radius of a Pterodactyl and is literally able to leap over helpless defenders. If he takes the next logical step in his development and becomes a pillar of focus and preparation, he will have an All-American caliber season.
Areas of concern
Beyond Funchess, the rest of the receivers and tight ends are a largely unproven group. Jake Butt (20 receptions, 235 yards and 2 TDs) was a revelation at tight end last year, but unfortunately he suffered a knee injury in spring practice and will miss the start of the season.
Of the returning receivers, Jehu Chesson leads the pack with 15 career receptions for 221 yards and 1 touchdown. After Chesson, the player with the most career production is Dennis Norfleet with 6 catches for 46 yards.
Potential breakout player
There are a host of candidates for this honor, but I’m going to zero in on redshirt sophomore receiver Amara Darboh. He was slated to start at receiver last year before suffering a season ending injury. He is now fully recovered and in his third year at Michigan. He is a chiseled 6-2/211 and has great hands. Think of a Jason Avant type receiver. That’s high praise indeed, but it’s the ceiling for Darboh.
Also keep an eye on true freshman receiver Freddy Canteen. He was an early enrollee, participated in spring practice and by the spring game, he was lining up with the first unit. He has tremendous speed and quickness. He’s working on bulking up his 6-1/176 frame, but can certainly make an impact this fall.
WR: Devin Funchess (6-5/230) Junior
WR: Amara Darboh (6-2/211) RS Sophomore
WR: Jehu Chesson (6-3/197) RS Sophomore
TE: AJ Williams (6-6/260) Junior
Key reserves: Freddy Canteen, Khalid Hill, Dennis Norfleet, Da’Mario Jones, Jaron Dukes, Jake Butt (injured).
True freshmen: Ian Bunting (TE), Drake Harris, Maurice Ways, Freddy Canteen
Despite the youth, this group is in pretty good shape. Funchess is going to have an outstanding season, one that might propel him to early entry in the NFL Draft as he is already being projected as a 1st round pick. Jake Butt is slated to return sometime around conference play. He is going to be very good. The knee injury will likely slow down his ascent, but he will get there. In the meantime, keep the name Ian Bunting in mind. He’s a massive (6-7/222) true freshman tight end. He might benefit from Butt’s absence and get some early playing time.