With young WR room, can Michigan’s Cornelius Johnson emerge as go-to target?

Expectations were high for Cornelius Johnson heading into 2022.

The former top-200 recruit in the 2019 class emerged as Michigan’s No. 1 receiver in 2021 following Ronnie Bell’s season-ending injury in Week 1. 

His 620 receiving yards on 39 catches was good for 14th in the Big Ten, but there was a belief those numbers could improve last season with he and Bell forming a one-two punch for an entire year.

Bell picked up right where he left off before suffering a torn ACL, but Johnson’s production dipped, finishing with just 32 receptions for 499 yards. 

The 6-foot-3, 208-pounder opted to return for a fifth year in 2023, determined to untap more of his potential.

“Over the offseason, just focusing on catching and route-running and reforming all the stuff I’ve done throughout my career and just working on all those weaknesses,” 

Johnson has flashed the ability to be a No. 1 receiver, most notably last season against Ohio State when he eluded a defender 

and broke free for a 69-yard touchdown before burning a Buckeyes defensive back with a double-move for a 75-yard score later in the game.

But the consistency hasn’t been there. Johnson averaged 46 offensive snaps last season but was targeted six or more times just once, according to Pro Football Focus. 

That partially can be attributed to the Wolverines’ run-heavy offense – they threw the ball 39% of the time in 2022 – 

but they likely will need to get Johnson more involved this season if they are going to deploy a more balanced attack like Jim Harbaugh has alluded to during fall camp.

Receivers coach Ron Bellamy said Wednesday he is impressed with how Johnson has approached this preseason.

Just a from a development standpoint Cornelius coming back for his fifth year there are some things he wanted to improve with his game, and he’s attacked those things during this camp,” Bellamy said.

There also hasn’t been much continuity at the quarterback position during Johnson’s career. This is the first time he will have the same starting signal-caller for consecutive seasons. 

Shea Patterson was the starter in 2019 before giving way to Joe Milton during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. 

Cade McNamara earned the No. 1 job in 2021, but J.J. McCarthy unseated him last season.


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