Despite losing one of the most targeted and productive receivers in the nation, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane could end up with one of the most talented wide receiver corps in the nation in 2016.
Let's talk about the losses first. Only three wide receivers are lost from a group that helped Tulsa accumulate 4,332 passing yards on the season. Of the three, Keyarris Garrett and Conner Floyd combined for 141 catches, 2,046 yards, and 11 touchdowns on the season. That is approximately 47% of all receiving yards and 46% of all receptions in 2015.
Yes, that sounds like quite a bit of offense to replace.
Here is the fun part looking forward. The 2015 passing game only had Keevan Lucas for four games. During those four games, the rising senior compiled 26 catches for 409 yards and five touchdowns. Project those numbers into a full season and you get 85 catches, 1,329 yards, and 16 touchdowns.
Those projections are not just hopeful thinking for the Abiline, Texas native. In his sophomore season, Lucas accumulated over 100 catches, over 1,200 yards, and 11 touchdowns. There is no reason to think that he will not be able to get somewhere between 80 to 100 catches on the season in 2016 after everything he has been through to get to this level.
Oh yeah, Joshua Atkinson is back again for his senior season. The 6-2 receiver from Carrollton, Texas kept the Tulsa offense rolling despite the loss of Lucas to injury last fall with an impressive 78 catches. He stepped in perfectly as a second outside receiver to Garrett and more than doubled his receiving total from 2014, finishing the season with six 100-yard games.
To complete a very talented trio at the top, rising sophomore Justin Hobbs stepped into the fold and caught 32 passes for 551 yards and two touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. He is the tallest receiver on the roster and seems to be on the same career trajectory as the recently graduated Garrett. Both are 6-4 and averaged over 16 yards per reception last fall. In an even more rare occurrence, both receivers had the same exact catch rate, 60.4%. Hobbs has that ability to break open the defense and give lots of space to Atkinson and Lucas underneath.
So, what you would tend to expect from Tulsa in the upcoming season is a starting trio of Atkinson, Lucas, and Hobbs. Atkinson and Hobbs should be the two outside receivers and Lucas would be the inside slot receiver. That is a significant amount of firepower for the passing game.
Having a competent quarterback to deliver the ball is no issue for Tulsa with Dane Evans returning in 2016. The rising senior threw for over 300 yards on nine occasions, including 421 versus Memphis, 427 versus Oklahoma, and 374 versus Virginia Tech.
That is all great, but what happens if someone is injured? Is there depth?
The answer is a resounding no. The only significant weakness for the passing game moving forward is a lack of depth behind the big three. Only rising juniors Bishop Louie (slot) and Nigel Carter (outside receiver) caught any passes in 2015. The duo combined to make only four catches on the year.
It would not surprise me to see backup quarterback Chad President find his way onto the field and catch a few passes in an attempt to get him on the field more often.
It is a bit more scary as you go further down the depth chart. None of the other six wide remaining receivers on the roster have made a single catch in their college careers. The group is a complete unknown heading into spring practice and beyond.
If all goes well in the coming weeks, the Golden Hurricane have reinforcements coming in freshmen Josh Stewart and Jordan Brown. Both are three-star recruits that have the chance to step in and make immediate contributions on offense. Brown in particular is a very talented player that is committed to Tulsa over offers from Arkansas State, Navy, Southern Miss, and Texas Tech. He could flip late, but he has been committed since July of 2015.
With nearly 500 pass attempts in 2015, there will be plenty of catches to go around moving forward. Expect the top trio to all catch 70+ passes and I would not be surprised to see all three break 1,000 yards on the season. Also expect to see 1-2 receivers take a step forward in the spring to give the group some much needed depth.
No one should be quite at the level of Garrett in 2016, but the passing game as a whole has a chance to be even more explosive.