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Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews: Wide Receiver

Just like last year, a few receivers should be in contention for national accolades at season’s end.

NCAA Football: Hawaii Bowl-Hawaii at Middle Tennessee Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our Conference USA preseason position reviews by looking at the wide receiver position. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”

To elaborate on the grades, "We'll See" means exactly what it means. We don’t know if that position is going to turn out to be a positive due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.

“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for improvement. Depth is probably decent at the position but an injury could be catastrophic.

“Great Shape” means all-conference performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth. You definitely want your team to be here.

The series continues as we look at the receivers in this conference. Usually stacked with talent, this year is no different as more than a few players should be in contention for All-American honors and the Biletnikoff Award.

Great Shape

1. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders have the best receiver in the conference in Richie James and another star in Ty Lee, who led all freshmen in receptions last year. Senior Patrick Smith and a quartet of former three-star recruits - including former Tennessee signee Jocquez Bruce - that are now sophomores gives Tony Franklin a bevy of potential playmakers to choose from.

2. Southern Miss: Allenzae Staggers is one of the most underrated receivers in the country and showed what he is capable of in the New Orleans Bowl. He leads a veteran receiving core in Korey Robertson and Chase Whitehead. JUCO three-star receiver Trevor Terry also had a nice spring and looks to be a factor come fall.

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at Florida International
Old Dominion’s new starting quarterback shouldn’t have to worry who he’s throwing to as Jonathan Duhart is as reliable as they come.
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

3. Old Dominion: The Monarchs lost Zach Pascal to graduation but everyone else who caught a pass last year returns. Jonathan Duhart should ease right in to Pascal’s role as the senior had 48 receptions for 735 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016. Travis Fulgham is another big target as he had eight touchdowns last year. Redshirt freshman Noah Ellison was Old Dominion’s best recruit last year per 247 Sports and earned great reviews in the spring. Ellison is another big target, listed at 6’2”, 189 pounds, and will likely be a solid addition to ODU’s passing offense this season.

4. FIU: The top four receivers from last season all return, headlined by Thomas Owens. Owens had 47 receptions for 652 with seven touchdowns last year. Owens has had the tendency to either have monster games or quiet ones. Like fellow senior Alex McGough, we’ll see if Butch Davis can make him become more consistent in his final season in Miami. The player to watch for who could have a big season is Stantley Thomas. Thomas should be a perfect fit for Rich Skrosky’s dink-and-dunk offense as Thomas has the speed to take it the distance from anywhere on the field. Sophomores Austin Maloney and Tony Gaiter IV had solid freshman seasons as well and provide solid depth.

Good Shape

5. UTSA: The Roadrunners have the most experienced receiving core in the conference entering 2017 as seniors Josh Stewart, Brady Jones, Kerry Thomas Jr. and Marquez McNair each had at least 20 receptions and three touchdowns in 2016. Thomas was the only receiver to finish with a catch success rate over 50 percent though. If UTSA is able to turn 6’4”, 225 pound Oklahoma transfer Danon Cavil into a consistent contributor then the Roadrunners should jump their way to the top of the wide receiver unit rankings in C-USA.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at North Texas
Fant has mainly be used on special teams but now it’s his time to shine as the go-to receiver.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

6. Western Kentucky: WKU must replace massive production from Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris as they combined 175 catches, 3,063 yards, and 31 touchdowns. Only two receivers who were contributors last year return. Fortunately for the Tops both are playmakers. Nacarius Fant has been overshadowed for the majority of his time as a Hilltopper but the senior now figures to be the number one option. Lucky Jackson was solid as a freshman, catching 26 passes for 395 yards and two touchdowns. Behind them are unknown three-star redshirt freshmen and sophomores who have yet to make a name for themselves. I’d bet at least one emerges in 2017.

7. FAU: Kalib Woods is the only reliable receiver for the Owls entering 2017. Woods was the team leader in targets (101), catches (68), and yards (934). Who will be a reliable second option is still a question mark. Kamrin Solomon had a promising spring adapting to Kendall Briles spread offense, as did senior Bobby Mitchell. Nate Terry will also get looks come fall due to his 6’7 frame. I’m still unsure who will emerge but I’m confident that Briles’ offense will produce at least one good receiver opposite Woods.

8. Marshall: Michael Clark and Deon-Tay McManus were decent last year but there isn’t much experience behind them. The Herd’s inclusion here is based purely off of how great Tyree Brady looked this spring. The former Miami receiver had an amazing spring practice and topped it off with a great performance in Marshall’s Green and White Scrimmage as he grabbed four passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Brady appears destined to continue the tradition of South Florida players thriving in Huntington.

9. Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs must replace 3,354 yards and 31 touchdowns worth of production from Carlos Henderson and Trent Taylor. Alfred Smith and Tulane transfer Teddy Veal are talented prospects and should be able to hold their own once the season starts. Veal especially, as he was a standout wide receiver for Tulane. Not to mention a ton of three-star receivers await. I’m giving Tech the benefit of the doubt by placing them here as the potential is obvious and their recent history for reloading at the skill positions suggests they’ll be fine.

We’ll See

10. Charlotte: T.L. Ford II and Workpeh Kofa are nice building blocks for the receiving core. They combined for 63 catches, 759 yards and nine touchdowns last year but they were largely hit or miss game-to-game. With Austin Duke gone, those two are going to have to become more reliable.

11. North Texas: North Texas’ air raid offense will rely on new contributors this season as senior Turner Smiley returns as the only familiar face. Sophomore Tyler Wilson had two touchdowns last year and due to his speed, he appears destined to be the quick slot receiver. Three-star JUCO Jalen Guyton was the best recruit in this year’s class per 247 and he had a nice spring. In this offense there’s catches to go around, we just don’t know who’s gonna do the catching.

12. UTEP: Sophomore Eddie Sinegal and junior Warren Redix are the most experienced returning receivers last year. They combined for 41 catches for 422 yards and three touchdowns last year. But each had a catch success rate under 15 percent. Behind them are unknowns who weren’t exactly highly touted coming out of high school.

13. Rice: Sophomore Kylen Granson has nice size and had a promising freshman season. Senior Temi Alaka came on late and provides good size too. Just like the Miners, they haven’t recruited the best here.

14. UAB: Bill Clark signed three three-star receivers in the past two classes and each were from the JUCO ranks so the Blazers will enter the season with some talent and experience entering the season.