July 4, 2012

July 4 fireworks: Michigan's most explosive players

Senior quarterback Denard Robinson is a big play waiting to happen. In his three-year career, the dual-threat QB has broken off a 20-yard run 30 times among his 546 carries - one every 18 attempts - making him one of the most explosive athletes in Michigan history ...

There is no perfect way to measure sure a distinction, leaving the paring of a list to subjective opinions. Or so we thought, but we came up with a formula. Essentially, using the archived statistics at our disposal, we ranked a Top 10 based on the number of 40-yard plays one had in a career. Robinson has had eight, ranking him second among ball carriers - Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94) had 10 rushes of 40-plus yards.

However, Robinson is confined to rushing attempts only (at least thus far in his career), which leaves him outside of this particular Top 10 list.

Here is a look at the 10 players with the most 40-yard efforts.

T1. Anthony Carter, 18 40-yard plays, 1979-82: Carter's top priority was as a receiver, but he was also a kickoff returner (five 40-yard plays) and punt returner (four plays). At wideout, he had nine such plays, including an astounding five of 60 yards or more.

T1. Steve Breaston, 18, 2003-06: After showing glimpses of his potential as a receiver in 2003 (38 grabs), Breaston struggled to develop that part of his game over the next two years (averaged 30 catchers per season), but he enjoyed a breakthrough year as a receiver in 2006 (58 receptions). Still, he did most of his damage as a special teams wunderkind, recording eight kickoff returns of 40 yards or more, including a 95-yard touchdown against Minnesota in 2005, and seven punt returns of such length.

T3. Tyrone Wheatley, 16, 1991-94: Wheatley's 88-yard touchdown run against Washington in the 1993 Rose Bowl is the fifth-longest rush in U-M history. He also has the second-longest kickoff return (99 yards against Houston in 1992) among his three KRs of 40 yards or more, and added three receptions of such distance to go with his program-best 10 carries.

T3. Desmond Howard, 16, 1989-91: Howard is the only player on this list with at least one 40-yard play as a rusher, receiver, punt and kick returner, and can lay claim to a unique record - he is the only Wolverine in school history with three 90-yard plays (93-, 93- and 95-yarders).

5. Jim Smith, 15, 1973-76:For those of you born after Smith's career ended, he was Carter's predecessor, spearheading the change from an option offense to more of a pro-style scheme after making 10 grabs of 40 yards or more over four seasons.

6. Derrick Alexander, 14, 1989-93: Alexander's 90-yard reception against Illinois in 1993 remains the second-longest pass completion of all time, and is one of eight grabs of 40 yards or more he accumulated during his career. Alexander also contributed two kickoff returns and four punt returns, including three of 70 yards or greater.

T7. Amani Toomer, 13, 1992-95: Like Bert and Ernie, you can't have Toomer without (Mercury) Hayes, but Toomer proved the bigger big-play three, with nine career receptions 40 yards or more. Hayes had four. He also had one kickoff return and three punt returns.

T7. Anthony Thomas, 13, 1997-2000: Known as classic move-the-chains type runner, Thomas - one pound lighter than Wheatley, who was regarded as a sprinter - was surprisingly swift, sharing the second spot with Robinson with his eight rushes of 40 yards or more. He is also the only running back in program history with a 70-yard reception and an 80-yard rush.

9. Braylon Edwards, 12, 2001-04: Unlike most of the others on this list, Edwards did not have that signature monster play - his longest reception covered just 69 yards -- but he had more receptions of 40 yards or greater than any other player in school history (12), including five that covered at least 50 yards.

10. Greg McMurtry, 11, 1986-89:McMurtry also did all of his damage as a receiver - his 11 receptions of 40 yards or greater trail only Edwards' production.

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