2011 Countdown: #6 Kevin Koger

2011 Countdown: #6 Kevin Koger


August 25, 2011
Kevin Koger (#86)

Name: Kevin Koger
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 258 lbs.
High school: Whitmer High School in Toledo, OH
Position: Tight end
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #86
Last year: I ranked Koger #20 and said he would have 18 receptions for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns.  He caught 14 passes for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Koger is that rare (soon to be) four-year starter at tight end.  Having been recruited by Lloyd Carr, he probably expected to be utilized like a Michigan tight end of old, grab 25-30 passes as an upperclassman, and move on to a journeyman NFL career.  Instead, he averaged 12 receptions and about 170 yards a season under Rich Rodriguez.  There was all kinds of scuttlebutt in the Rodriguez years that his coaching staff visited Oklahoma and got some tips on how to utilize the tight end in the spread offense, but the bottom line was that Rodriguez never used the tight end much at West Virginia and didn’t see a need to do it at Michigan, either.  So Koger was underused and became a glorified walk-on fullback, albeit one who can make maddeningly athletic catches before disappearing for long stretches and/or dropping a couple passes in between.

Now Koger enters his senior season with a coaching staff that seems to appreciate the tight end a little bit more.  Rumors out of August practices even indicate that Koger could end up being the player the offense targets most, that he might go from an afterthought to a primary target.  I have a hard time imagining such a drastic change for a player who has been exciting, frustrating, and underused so far in his career, but it’s very probable that we see an uptick in Koger’s production in his final year.  The Borges/Hoke offense at San Diego State last season had a freshman tight end, Gavin Escobar, who finished the season with 29 receptions for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Considering that Escobar was 6’6″, 230 lbs., and a true freshman, I have to think that Koger will squeeze some better numbers out of Michigan’s offense.  He ought to be the beneficiary of some waggles and bootlegs, not to mention a downfield threat on some quarterback play action much like (a slower) Roy Roundtree circa 2010.

Prediction: Starting tight end; 35 receptions, 420 yards, 5 touchdowns

Poll results: You people finally guessed correctly – Koger got 73% of the votes for the #6 slot, while Taylor Lewan got 16%.

18 comments

  1. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    I love this countdown. I'll recap the top 20 so far:

    6. Koger
    7. Omameh
    8. Hemingway
    9. Woolfolk
    10. Van Bergen
    11. Roundtree
    12. C. Johnson
    13. Kovacs
    14. Hagerup
    15. BWC
    16. Barnum
    17. Roh
    18. Odoms
    19. C. Gordon
    20. Huyge

    Which means the top 5 will be in some order:
    Denard (I think we know where he will rank), Martin, Demens, Molk, and Lewan.

    This is obviously a very subjective list and I think if 100 knowledgable Michigan fans put out a top 20 list, you would probabably see no less than 40 players mentioned and odds are there would be at least 95 different combinations/rankings.

    That said, of all the players you have ranked higly so far, Koger is the one I'm the most in doubt of. The running backs are difficult to rank. One or two of them will be grossly underranked, but that's the nature of having such an open competition. Koger is, after Denard, the one skill position player to have locked down a starting job. However, your ranking here hinges on the expectation that Koger is a featured receiver in this offense, which may or may not be true. He will also be important to the running game, of course, but not enough to merit such a high rank without the receiving threat.

    I would rate several key defenders, such as Kovacs, Roh, Woolfolk and Van Bergen ahead of Koger. I would also consider Gardner ahead of Koger, just because the risk of injury to Denard is significant. As Forcier showed against Indiana last year, a competent backup QB performance can quickly mean an extra couple of Ws if he's called upon. I would probably put Omameh above Koger as well, due to his importance to the running game. Huyge and Barnum are more replaceable.

    Again, I praise you for a great list, just offering my differing opinion on this pick.

  2. Comments: 21387
    Anonymous
    Aug 25, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    Koger SHOULD see improved numbers and targets. That said, he probably should have had better numbers ard more targets the last two years as well.

    I think we can all recall the maddening number of times that Michigan would have a 3rd and 3, run a bootleg, and Koger would be wide open two yards past the sticks, and either Denard or Tate would try and force one in to a guy well covered 15 yards downfield.

    I think that will be one of the biggest factors in determining Kogers production. Will Denard look for him on those plays, take what's there, and just move the chains? Or keep trying to thread the needle for the big gain?

  3. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    @ Rikard 7:13 a.m.

    I respect your opinion, but obviously I disagree. A guy like Roh and/or Van Bergen has a solid backup in the form of Jibreel Black, a kid who has played quite a bit and who looks like he'll be a good player. Jordan Kovacs is a good player, but he's got a solid backup in the form of Marvin Robinson. Behind Koger is…a redshirt junior who's barely played and a fifth year senior who converted from OLB/DE and has never caught a pass. Oh, and a freshman coming off ACL surgery and who's 278 lbs.

  4. Comments: 21387
    Anonymous
    Aug 25, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    WOAH. What do you mean "you people"? Just because I'm Polish and chubby you're gonna differentiate me like that?

    /S

  5. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    Wow, could I have timed my comment any worse? Your point about the lack of a quality backup is very valid and it just got worse (though probably not by much as Barnett was very unlikely to play this year).

    I agree, the "we have no one else"-argument makes Koger more important. My point – that he's likely to be less impactful on the field than the players I listed – still stands. But Koger is certainly key in terms of VORP.

  6. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    @ Rikard 10:40 a.m.

    I've been a little wary of saying this, but now that he's gone…Barnett is kind of flaky. I had concerns about him when he committed, and his disappearance confirms what I was afraid of. He's led a rough life and I feel bad for him, but he's not someone that I was really depending on.

  7. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 3:39 PM

    It's worth reiterating that the objective of the countdown is: "NOT a list of players ranked from worst to best. Rather, … the most valuable to the team right now."

    Not sure how Thunder's gonna finish it off, but it's not obvious that Denard should be #1, since he has what most consider to be a viable backup. If Denard is unavailable, it won't result in the team sinking into an abyss. Can't say the same for Martin, who IMO, is a clear #1.

    Even if a RB on the team rushes for 1,200 yards, that doesn't mean any of them are underranked necessarily.

    But yeah, the whole thing is pretty subjective.

    I've already said my piece about Koger – he's overrated here because you can scheme away from your TE being a critical piece in a way that you can't with say QB, OT, DT, or CB. Beyond that, I agree with everything that is written and I think Koger is due for a very productive year.

    As for his backups…Barnett's departure subtracts one option and the depth looks pretty scary next year. I wouldn't mind seeing them try to get back into things with Ron Thompson or another OT/TE big body. Schematically the depth at TE may lead to more spread-type formations and/or an offense more suited for Miller/Funchess types that uses it's TE more like Dallas Clark than Tony Gonzalez. But 2012 is still a long way off…

  8. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    I had high hopes for Barnett. I agree he seemed immature, but at the same time, he seemed to have some charisma and a firey personality. Maybe it was just talk, but I could have seen him mature into a real leader and with his talent not unlike say Jalen Rose (who for all his imperfections was generally pretty great on the playing field). I digress.

    The only silver lining I see to all these departures is that maybe people will stop pretending like Rodriguez had some fundamental deficiency in recognizing character in his recruits. Its always going to be a crapshoot. Hoke went after Posada and Barnett hard and they showed up fat and unwilling to do what it took and skipped town. Lloyd had his share of 'thugs' and had way more academic problems on campus than Rodriguez ever did but the perceptions were very different.

  9. Comments: 21387
    Painter Smurf
    Aug 25, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    At least some of Koger's lack of production is on himself. Of course, TE is not a primary target in RR's offense. But he also had some major drops over the last couple years that no doubt affected how RR deployed him. (RR seemed like the kind of coach who holds a grudge for mistakes). And it was evident to me in some games that when given multiple options, Denard just preferred throwing to other targets. Hopefully, their chemistry is improving.

    One thing I noticed last year is that Koger is improving as a blocker. He was particularly good from the H-back spot. Too bad this is his last season.

  10. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    Lank,

    I agree that one can scheme away from placing a burden on the tight end…but sometimes you're an idiot for doing so, like Jerry Angelo and Mike Martz this coming season.

    I'm not sure we can afford to under-use the very talented Koger, and this would cause a problem midway through the season if he gets hurt and a bunch of the playbook revolves around the tight end.

    I still agree with damn near everything you say here, which surprises me.

  11. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 6:32 PM

    Painter Smurf,

    I completely disagree that RR holds a "grudge" for mistakes like dropping passes. When Vincent Smith started fumbling and Gallon muffed everything in sight, did they lose their jobs? When Roundtree developed a case of the dropsies, was he targeted less?

  12. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    @David,

    I'm not saying they shouldn't use Koger, I'm saying that if he wasn't around they could use someone else at another position (i.e. Odoms, McColgan, Jackson, etc.) without too much trouble.

    I'd have put Koger high up on my countdown list, I'm just quibbling with exactly how high. He's an impact player.

    You might be right about a mid-season loss but IMO the offense is going to be a work-in-progress to some extent all season. They'll add plays as the season progresses, and they don't necessarily have to be plays with a TE.

  13. Comments: 21387
    Painter Smurf
    Aug 25, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    I'm not saying his grudges are consistent. And maybe grudge isn't the right word. Perhaps the TE was on a short leash in RR's offense because it did not fit into the core philosophy. Regardless, it was noticeable that Koger went invisible in the passing game after some of his drops. Not sure if this was due to RR or Denard losing faith.

    My overall point is that with more consistency, Koger would have gotten the ball more. I like him and I think he is a good player. He has made some nice catches. But he is one of the players UM fans tend to overrate.

    RR obviously let emotional or other factors play into his decisions. This is clearest in his depth chart management. Sitting Minor, sitting Demens, playing Sheridan… I assume these ridiculous decisions had to do with some emotional factor, grudge, etc.

  14. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    If your chief criterion is "value compared to most likely replacement player", then certainly Koger becomes a key kog. If you base your list more on "how important is it that this player fulfills or exceeds our expectations of him", then the rankings will be different. My argument was based on the latter.

  15. Comments: 21387
    Aug 25, 2011 at 9:28 PM

    I actually think Koger will have a monster year. IMO, he is extremely talented, but was a part of the offense that had no real need for him. He has very good hands, and he can block as well as any TE. He seems to do a great job of getting open, and is very physical when it comes to creating separation.

    I think the prediction is a worst case scenario IMO, I'd say closer to 600 yards and 6-7 tds. I think borges and Hoke know that teams will probably be keeping an eye on roundtree and hemingway, and since Koger wasn't used for 3 years, he'll be able to get a lot of mismatches.

  16. Comments: 21387
    Aug 26, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    I don't know where all this Koger skepticism comes from. When a guy is thrown at an average of like 1.5 times a game, your sample size simply isn't big enough. Roundtree also dropped a lot of balls last year and he was thrown at multiple times a game. I think when Koger is finally utilized correctly and gets into the proverbial "groove" I think you'll see him be a BIGTIME contributor for Michigan this year.

    Another reason why: Denard has yet to show me he can consistently throw an accurate deep ball. In fact, I think that's the most glaring deficiency of his game at this point and has been for the last two years. On the other hand, his short range and intermediate passes are a great strength (when on target), especially on the waggle or bootleg. So with such a great weapon at TE, I expect to see Koger used a LOT this season. I'm going on the record: breakout season.

  17. Comments: 21387
    Anonymous
    Aug 26, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Love the Countdown! Not only becasue I appreciate Magnus' POV, but also, it provides us an opportunity to discuss each player in his turn. Wonderful.

    I always assumed that Denard does not like to use the TE becasue: 1) he is not very good at throwing the ball over the middle; and 2) throwing the ball over the middle is something that taller QBs do because they can see the middle of the field over the already tall OLs.

    Obviously, #2 impacts #1. Thoughts?

    –TriFloyd

  18. Comments: 21387
    Aug 28, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    @ Anonymous 9:41 a.m.

    I agree about not throwing over the middle. I just think it's not something Denard is great at doing and, frankly, it's not something that someone who's 6'0" tall SHOULD be doing if he's uncomfortable with it. We have a 6'8" left tackle, a 6'5" right guard, and a 6'6" right tackle. Combine that with tall defensive linemen and it would be tough for Denard to see routes over the middle.

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