Braylon Edwards (252 career receptions), Marquise Walker (176), Jeremy Gallon (173) and Jason Avant (169) combined for 770 catches at Michigan as the top four pass catches in U-M history. Yet, as freshmen none looked to be on that path – combined they had just nine total grabs as first-year players.
While rushers like Mike Hart (first all time in rushing), Anthony Thomas (third), Jamie Morris (fourth) and Tyrone Wheatley (fifth) all showed something in their rookie campaign – each rushed for at least 500 yards – Michigan’s top wideouts were slow out of the gate, leaving the title of best true freshman receiver to a different cadre of Wolverines.
That’s not to say they were a motley crew -- Anthony Carter is among their members – but the top five true freshman seasons by yardage belong to wideouts that currently rank No. 21, No. 5, No. 26, No. 13 and No. 11 among the top pass catchers in school history. In other words, there was no guarantee that a standout rookie season would mean very much in the end.
Greg McMurtry, 508 yards, 1986: The first Michigan player to wear the No. 1 jersey since Carter departed in 1982, McMurtry helped further the number’s legacy with his career.
Though he didn’t put up prolific stats – he never had more than 41 catches and never broke the 800-mark threshold – McMurtry led U-M in receiving yards in three of his four seasons while leading a contingent that included John Kolesar, Chris Calloway and eventually Desmond Howard.
As a rookie, he proved a tremendous big-play threat for the Maize and Blue, with five catches of 30 yards or more on the season, helping to lead the Wolverines to an 11-2 record.
Anthony Carter, 462 yards, 1979: Carter’s 17 receptions, 462 yards and seven touchdowns in 1979 were the most ever by a rookie wide receiver to wear the winged helmet. McMurtry would eclipse his catches and yardage seven years later, but in the 40 years since Carter’s freshman season, no one has topped his end-zone production (Mario Manningham is second with six).
Carter, of course, was just beginning his Michigan football revolution, recording 2,614 yards and 30 receiving touchdowns in his next three seasons. In the 10 years preceding Carter’s arrival, U-M averaged 1,071 yards passing per season. In the 10 years after Carter’s career, the Wolverines averaged 1,865 yards passing per year.
Martavious Odoms, 443 yards, 2008: With Manningham and Adrian Arrngton exiting the program after junior seasons (along with a slew of others who left when Lloyd Carr retired), Michigan was devoid of proven wide receivers in Rich Rodriguez’s first year. There was Greg Matthews, Junior Hemingway and LaTerryal Savoy though they weren’t the right fit in Rodriguez’s new spread offense.
One of four wideouts signed in Rodriguez’s first class, Odoms was a natural fit in the slot, capable of running all the short, intermediate and crossing routes to exploit his quickness against defenses still covering slots with outside linebackers and safeties. Odoms put up a freshman school-record 49 receptions (a tally that still stands today) as he proved a reliable, if not big-play, threat – Odoms had just five catches of 20 yards or more, three of 30 yards or more.
Mario Manningham, 433 yards, 2005: Braylon Edwards had graduated but there was a clear pecking order – Jason Avant would be the No. 1 receiver and Steve Breaston would be the No. 2. Breaston, however, was not quite ready for the role – in the first four games of the 2005 season, Breaston had just six catches for 43 yards – creating an opportunity that Manningham seized.
His very first catch was a 25-yard touchdown against Notre Dame and in Week 4 against Wisconsin, Manningham recorded the first 100-yard game of his career, going for 106 and a touchdown on four grabs. He would score twice in a 27-25 win over Penn State, including an instant-classic TD as time expired.
Overall, Manningham’s 27 receptions and six touchdowns both rank second for a true freshman wide receiver at U-M.
Amani Toomer, 238 yards, 1992: One half of, arguably, the most dynamic receiver classmate duo of all time, Toomer and Mercury Hayes helped fill the void with the departures of Desmond Howard and Yale Van Dyne – incredibly the top returning “receiver” was running back Jesse Johnson with 16 catches in 1991.
During their careers, Toomer and Hayes would jockey back and forth as the No. 1 target on the team, but in that first year, Toomer was the guy, catching 16 balls for 238 yards and a score; Hayes had 10 for 136 and two scores.
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