Earlier this summer, it was announced that Michigan‘s sophomore speedster Dennis Norfleet will be utilized as a slot receiver for the Wolverines in 2013. This would hopefully get more production from the gifted Norfleet by giving Michigan’s offense another weapon.
Since then, two more developments have raised Norfleet’s stock even higher. This past week, it was announced that sophomore wide receiver Amara Darboh would miss the entire season with a foot injury and that Norfleet would be the primary kickoff and punt return man.
Do these developments make Norfleet one of Michigan’s most important players now?
Michigan is not particularly deep at wide receiver. They have two seniors, Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon, who are very dependable and will be the top two options. But after that, there aren’t many experienced options on the roster. Darboh was expected to potentially be the third receiver option, as Michigan’s coaches loved the size he gave the that Dileo and Gallon lack.
There are other options who offer size like redshirted freshman Jehu Chesson and seniors Joe Reynolds and Jeremy Jackson, but none of them seem to have the potential of Darboh.
So, while Michigan searches for a big receiver to fill in for Darboh, Norfleet’s stock as a receiver could go up. If he proves that he is dependable in the slot, he could potentially receive a lot of the targets that would have gone to Darboh. Norfleet obviously can’t replace Darboh because they fill completely different roles, but he could replace some of his potential production.
If Norfleet is a top-four receiver for Michigan, he would be extremely important, as they need other dependable options besides Dileo and Gallon.
As the primary kickoff and punt return man, Norfleet could make a huge difference for Michigan on special teams. In recent years, Michigan’s return game has been pretty mediocre. Since 2007, Michigan has returned just one kickoff and two punts for TDs. Norfleet was the primary kickoff returner last year, averaging over 23 yards per return, which is pretty good, but not great.
Now he will have the added responsibility of returning punts as well, a role that Gallon primarily filled last year. A really good returner is game-changing. If Norfleet can flip the field from time to time with long returns as well as scare opponents, that would be a massive boost for Michigan. Norfleet has the ability to be that guy, now he just has to turn that into real production.
Dennis Norfleet has the chance to be an offensive weapon and a special teams game-changer this coming season. If he has a big season, that could mean great things for Michigan.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB.