Donovan Edwards: Michigan’s “Wide Back”

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Donovan Edwards: Michigan’s “Wide Back”

Deebo Samuel of the 49ers was so uniquely talented that he invented a new position. Despite being officially listed as a wide receiver, he identifies as a “wide back.” This term is probably more accurate, as he plays a much broader role than just a receiver. His physicality in the backfield, speed in space, and reliable hands make him a true wide back.

With running back Donovan Edwards flashing his Samuel-like skills at the end of the 2021 season, it looks like Michigan may have a wide back of their own.

Finding Space in a Crowded Running Back Room

Michigan’s running back room packed a real punch this year. The stars of the show were Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, commonly referred to as the “thunder and lightning” in Michigan’s backfield. Haskins’s strength and physicality perfectly complemented Corum’s shiftiness and speed. With those two dominating the running game, there was no need for a third running back to take many snaps. It wasn’t until Corum suffered an ankle injury late in the season that Edwards was given the opportunity to truly showcase his talent.

It is expected that Edwards will have a much heavier load on offense next season. With Haskins entering the draft, Michigan will be looking for a power back to split carries with Corum. Edwards is smaller than Haskins but has the potential to be a physical back like his predecessor, especially if he is able to add some bulk this offseason. There is no doubt that co-offensive coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore will be looking to maximize Edwards’s role in the run game. His versatility should add another level to strengthen an already tough offense.

In some ways, Edwards is an even better partner for Corum than Haskins was. Although thunder and lightning were a dominant combination, Edwards’ ability to catch and run makes up for Corum’s struggles in that area. Corum dropped some crucial passes at big moments this season, most notably during Michigan’s loss to Michigan State. If Corum’s hands remain unreliable next year, Edwards will surely be a perfect target for JJ McCarthy and Cade McNamara.

Getting Out Wide

In 2021, Edwards had his break-out game as a receiver against Maryland, where he lead the team in receiving yards. With ten catches for 170 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, Edwards tore up the Terrapin defense.

Edwards’s catches in this game really showcased the versatility that he has to offer as a receiver. His first reception of the game came on an end around in the red zone. Edwards caught a pass from McNamara while he was still five yards behind the line of scrimmage. After making the catch, he was able to go into running back mode and simply out-race the Maryland secondary until he was forced out of bounds at the one yard line.

Still, his most noteworthy reception against Maryland came on a third and eight from the Michigan 22 yard-line. Edwards started the play in the backfield lined up next to McNamara. He then raced out wide and got open quickly. McNamara dropped a dime to Edwards who then dashed to the end zone, making multiple defenders miss tackles.

During the Maryland game, Edwards caught passes on a huge variety of routes. He proved that he really can wear the wide back hat for the Wolverines. The playbook is wide open for Edwards if he continues to show the high level versatility that he flashed in 2021. His presence in the backfield or out wide will force defenses to cover him both as a running back and as a receiver.

Is Donovan Edwards a Quarter Wide Back?

One of Donovan Edward’s most jaw dropping plays came in the Big Ten Championship game against Iowa. Edwards caught a lateral from McNamara behind the line of scrimmage and looked ready to run for what would likely be a very short gain. After taking a few steps to sell the run, Edwards launched the ball 45 yards downfield to a wide open Roman Wilson. The pass hit Wilson right in stride and he was able to walk into the end zone for an easy touchdown.

Obviously, Edwards won’t be making major contributions as a passer during his career. However, this play demonstrates that the offensive staff at Michigan is willing and eager to capitalize on his versatility. Should he continue to progress this off season, he will be a major weapon for the Wolverines in 2022 as a do-it-all wide back.