The talent has certainly been there but production hasn’t always followed.
In Jim Harbaugh’s six-year tenure in Ann Arbor, the wide receiver position has been arguably the most talented out of any position group. Despite sub-par quarterback play for the most part, the wideouts were able to make up for some errant passes and provide constant deep threats.
Today, we’ll rank the wide receivers who played at any point during the Harbaugh era. For the sake of consistency, we only ranked receivers with more than 200 yards in any season.
9. Kekoa Crawford (2016-17)
Four-star recruit (No. 135 overall prospect), No. 20-ranked WR in 2016 class
Many people forget Kekoa Crawford had 17 receptions for 243 yards during his sophomore season in 2017. Originally a top 200 prospect out of California, expectations were high for Crawford. He has been remembered as more of a jet-sweep specialist than a downfield threat prior to his transfer back home to Cal.
8. Cornelius Johnson (2019-Present)
Four-star recruit (No. 160 overall prospect), No. 24-ranked WR in 2019 class
Johnson comes in at No. 8 on our list following a 254-yard campaign in 2020. He was a Don Brown special, hailing out of the Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut. While it is obviously still early in his career, Johnson has shown flashes of promise and should be in store for a big 2021 and beyond.
7. Tarik Black (2017-2019)
Four-star recruit (No. 194 overall prospect), No. 28-ranked WR in 2017 class
Black burst onto the scene with a long touchdown haul in his first collegiate game against Florida. After that, he was plagued by injuries during his three seasons in Ann Arbor. A healthy Tarik Black likely jumps way up this list, but he consistently struggled to stay on the field prior to transferring to Texas.
6. Grant Perry (2015-2018)
Three-star recruit (Nationally unranked prospect), No. 131-ranked WR in 2015 class
Perry was a local prospect coming from Brother Rice in Bloomfield Hills. He was a vocal leader of several of the early Harbaugh teams, despite never putting up gaudy stats as a slot receiver. I ranked him sixth due to his durability, leadership and consistency during his long career in Ann Arbor.
5. Ronnie Bell (2018-present)
Three-star recruit (Nationally unranked prospect), No. 168 WR in 2018 class
Ronnie Bell is undoubtedly one of Harbaugh’s biggest scouting wins. Bell was originally going to play college basketball before Michigan came calling for football. He has turned into a reception machine and surpassed more than 750 receiving yards in 2019. Bell is the unquestioned leader of the receiver room and is headed for another big year in 2021.
4. Nico Collins (2017-2020)
Four-star recruit (No. 200 overall prospect), No. 29-ranked WR in 2017 class
It pains me to put Collins this low in the rankings. The 6-foot-4 outside receiver put up 632 receiving yards in 2018 and 729 in 2019, but both should have been much higher. Poor quarterback play and a lack of verticality in the Michigan offense caused Collins to be routinely missed despite being open downfield. Following 2019, Tarik Black exited for Texas and Donovan Peoples-Jones left for the NFL. Collins announced his return and would have been the undisputed top playmaker at Michigan, if not the whole Big Ten. Then the pandemic hit and Collins opted out to focus on preparing for the NFL Draft . Collins holds the top spot in the “what-if” department in my book.
3. Jehu Chesson (2012-2016)
Three-star recruit (Nationally unranked prospect), No. 56-ranked WR in 2012 class
Chesson came to Michigan as a fairly unknown prospect all the way back in 2012. He wasn’t utilized much as an underclassmen but his career took off upon Harbaugh’s arrival in 2015. In Harbaugh’s first year alone, Chesson caught 50 passes for 764 yards with nine touchdowns, along with 155 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Plus, who could ever forget Chesson’s kickoff return touchdown in 2015 against Northwestern? While not regarded as an elite receiver, Jehu’s combination of size and speed allowed him to produce more results than most Michigan receivers of the modern era at Michigan.
2. Donovan Peoples-Jones (2017-2019)
Five-star recruit (No. 26 overall prospect), No. 2-ranked WR in 2017 class
By far the most hyped prospect on this list coming out of high school, DPJ joined a loaded recruiting class with Black and Collins. Many Michigan fans expected him to be the best receiver Michigan has had since Braylon Edwards. While the consensus seems to be he never reached those lofty expectations, it can’t be downplayed the amount DPJ did actually contribute. He posted three consecutive seasons of over 12.0 yards per catch and made numerous highlight plays, including the Paul Bunyan pose at Michigan State. In addition, he has easily had the most successful football career post-college from this list.
1. Amara Darboh (2012-2016)
Four-star recruit (No. 199 overall prospect), No. 26-ranked WR in 2012 class
Darboh may not go down in Michigan lore, but he should in my opinion. In the three years he saw action on the field in Ann Arbor, he easily dominated every other receiver of the Harbaugh era statistically. Prior to Harbaugh’s arrival, Darboh had 36 receptions for 473 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. Once Harbaugh arrived, Amara put up 58 receptions for 727 yards and five touchdowns in 2015, and 57 receptions for 862 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Having the two best seasons of any receiver in the Harbaugh era makes Darboh an easy choice to put first overall. I hope you’ll join me in regarding Darboh quite a bit higher in your memory bank.