ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh has been “uncoverable” for most of the 2016 season. And really, the fifth-year senior showed hints of such ability in 2015, quickly emerging as one of the best receivers in the Big Ten.
This past Saturday, Darboh caught eight passes for a career-high 165 yards during the then-No. 2-ranked Wolverines’ (8-0, 5-0) 32-23 rivalry win over Michigan State. In 2014, he caught nine versus Indiana. One year ago, he had a pair of eight-catch games; he even added a seven-catch performance for good measure.
He can catch.
Through eight games, only one player in the Big Ten has netted more passes per game than Darboh: Northwestern’s Austin Carr averages a staggering 7.3 receptions per Saturday. Darboh catches roughly five per game (4.8), averaging 17.5 yards per grab.
With five touchdowns, he’s already equaled his total output from 2015 — which was impressive in its own right. With 664 yards, he’s on pace to shatter his career-high of 727, again set in 2015.
Darboh remains focused on Saturdays, but he should probably start thinking about Sundays too. According to NFL Draft Scout, he’s the No. 4-ranked (of 372) draft-eligible wideout of the 2017 class.
“I’ve been thinking about him in terms of college receivers, and comparing him to college receivers, but I think he’s at the highest level, right now, of college players (who are) playing the receiving position,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said during Tuesday’s conference call. “And now lately, when I watch him, I still think of him… pro players, pro receivers that he reminds me of. You know, just keep going… just keep attacking… onward.”
One year ago, Darboh helped the Wolverines further establish and expand their aerial threat, which ranks among the most lethal in the nation (despite not being ranked among top-50 passing offenses, per NCAA.com). With that said, Darboh has done more than simply meet expectations, he’s continuously created and set new standards.
“It’s great to see that he’s finding another rung on the ladder — almost each and every game — and that he goes out (continues to do so), and that his play is ascending that much,” Harbaugh said. “And it was pretty darn good to begin with, last year, and early this season as well.”
For Harbaugh, everything has a place in the relative order of things. One part can’t function without proper balance from other components. That rule applies to the team, as a whole, but also to individual players.
“He’s at the top of the charts in every way you assess a player or a person: Football character, human character, talent, great teammate — just at the very, very highest level of being conscientious, (others) being important to him, excelling on the field, excelling in the classroom… excelling in the relationships on the team… It’s just been plus-plus-plus across the board,” Harbaugh said.
“And it keeps getting better. You say, ‘OK, I think he’s at the highest that he can be — but then he reaches another rung that you didn’t know that was there. He keeps ascending and climbing — so just really, really, really thrilled to be experiencing it and what he’s doing for our team.”
According to NFL Draft Scout, Darboh’s 40-yard dash has been clocked at 4.46 seconds. However, due to being “banged-up,” he didn’t run an official 40 during spring ball — so 4.46 may not be entirely accurate.
And for a receiver, speed varies with scenario and situation. Being quick is one thing, but being quick and skilled — that adds another degree of difficulty to the task.
“I feel like I’m faster, but I think it’s also understanding football speed and all that,” said Darboh, who leads Michigan with 38 catches for 664 yards and five touchdowns. “Sometimes when the ball was in the air, I was looking too soon, allowing a DB to put hands on me.
“Now, I just get my release and then try to pick up speed — get to my top speed — while I’m looking for the ball and run forward straight and keep my posture straight. So I think all that helps.”
Getting open sounds simple. And when you’re good at it like Darboh, it can appear to be easy. But appearance composes just one slice of the process, which Darboh thoroughly outlined while fielding questions from the media Tuesday night in Ann Arbor.
“When it’s off-coverage, it’s easier, obviously; but when it’s press (-coverage), you’ve got to buy time at the line,” said Darboh, whose hands and quickness torched the Spartans — and everyone else Michigan has played this season.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight has been one of the league’s best since the beginning of the fall. From footwork to arm strength, the 6-foot-6, 240-ish pounder has consistently fueled the Wolverines through the air, throwing for 1,691 yards, 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Sure, success can be traced to his offensive line. He’s improved as a player, too. When one jumps forward, the other follows. Call it a slingshot effect.
“I think the quarterback, from their perspective, they see you win off the line and you get a good release, they trust you to put it out there more,” said Darboh, who also connected his rise to passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch. “So I try to win off the line most of the time.
If I don’t win off the line, I try to get the DBs hands off me — because that’s what they usually try to do — and then I try not to look back too soon… not until I’m down the field a little bit more. I try to keep my body straight-forward, and not turn to the side… just little things like that.”
The “little things like that” have the Wolverines on pace for history. However, the small details, literally and figuratively, separate Darboh from his field of competitors. That set of skills should help do the same on Sundays.
But Darboh’s more worried about the handful of remaining Saturdays.
“I mean, we watch a lot of NFL film. Coach Fisch, Coach Harbaugh — all of them — try to give us clips to watch, because (NFL players) are doing it at the top level,” Darboh said. “I try to imitate that. So hearing that from (Harbaugh) means a lot. But yeah, I’m trying to focus on the season, trying to focus on the team and all that. But I mean, it means a lot coming from him.”
— Adam Biggers (@AdamBiggers81) November 2, 2016